One of the great joys of my writing life has been the writing of Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill, my short, unconventional biography of Winston Churchill. What a life! What a pleasure it was to write that book.
Part of what I loved so much about writing it was getting the chance to read the work of Churchill himself. In addition to everything else he did, he was an extraordinary writer.
There’s a passage that I love, that I often go back to re-read, because it gives me the exquisite feeling of elevation, one of the most beautiful and transcendent sources of happiness. I feel such awe when I read it. I get choked up every time.
This passage is from Their Finest Hour, the second volume in Churchill’s six-volume history of World War II, and he’s describing a visit he made with his aide to a very poor London neighborhood that had been devastated by the Blitz, the bombing of London.
In case it’s hard to tell what he means by “little Union Jacks,” he means little British flags.
Already little pathetic Union Jacks had been stuck up amid the ruins. When my car was recognised the people came running from all quarters, and a crowd of more than a thousand was soon gathered. All these folk were in a high state of enthusiasm. They crowded round us, cheering and manifesting every sign of lively affection, wanting to touch and stroke my clothes. One would have thought I had brought them some fine substantial benefit which would improve their lot in life. I was completely undermined, and wept. Ismay, who was with me, records that he heard an old woman say: “You see, he really cares. He’s crying.” They were tears not of sorrow but of wonder and admiration.
This passage gives me the feeling of elevation, at thinking of the tremendous courage and love of country of those Londoners, and how deeply Churchill respected it.
How I love that last line…”They were tears not of sorrow but of wonder and admiration.” It brings tears to my own eyes, every time I read those words.