We still need Sir Winston Churchill

One of the great joys of having a copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations to browse through is that when I need a particular famous person, he or she is generally there, at least in the form of the best things he or she said.

So it is this week with someone our world could use: Sir Winston Spencer Churchill (1874-1965), former British prime minister and a master of the English language. His section in Bartlett’s is a wealth of observations which still ring true, from the famous to the simply, elegantly observant. Many of the observations come in handy yet today.

Here are some of my favorites:

“That long (Canadian) frontier from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans, guarded only by neighborly respect and honorable obligations, is an example to every country and a pattern for the future of the world.” — Speech in honor of R.B. Bennett, Canada Club, London, April 20, 1939

“I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” — Broadcast, Oct, 1, 1939 (Some things never change!)

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” — Referring to the Royal Air Force in a speech in the House of Commons, Aug. 20, 1940

“Death and sorrow will be the companions of our journey; hardship our garment; constancy and valor our only shield. We must be united, we must be undaunted, we must be inflexible.” — Report on the War Situation, House of Commons, Oct. 8, 1940

“The late M. Venizelos (a Greek statesman) observed that in all her wars, England — he should have said Britain, of course — always wins one battle — the last.” — Speech at the Lord Mayor’s Day Luncheon, London, Nov. 10, 1942

“The United States is a land of free speech. Nowhere is speech freer — not even here where we sedulously cultivate it even in its most repulsive form. — Speech, House of Commons, Sept. 28, 1944

I can’t think of many people who used the English language better. Getting his words back out into the world, back into our minds and ears, is my little protest against the misuse of the language.

For more fun with words, stop by the new Margaret Serious page on Facebook. What would Sir Winston have made of that?

Type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.


Leave a comment
  • I'm not sure that the current Putin is an enigma. Cutting off food imports might have been a bit unexpected, but communist countries have never been adverse to cutting off their own people's noses to spite someone else's face.

    And, on free speech, I don't think Congress has had the out and out brawls portrayed in most parliamentary countries.

  • In reply to jack:

    Thank you, Jack, and welcome.
    By adding that "some things never change," I didn't mean to imply my own judgment of Mr. Putin, nor to apply Sir Winston's to him. I simply meant that the world seems to continue to think of Russia in terms of Churchill's description.
    As for free speech, remember that Churchill's mother was born in this country. His remarks about the U.S. tended to come from a position of admiration.

  • He did have a great ear for the cadence and euphony of words. E.g.,

    "Their sweat, their tears, their blood bedew the endless plain."

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Yes, that's marvelous. I'll take Sir Winston's euphony over the general cacophony any day!

  • My favorite quote of Churchill's is: “Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

    It applies to war and to life.

    Churchill, however, had to learn his wisdom. What he bobbled at Gallipoli was something that is almost beyond human understanding; yet he did not fold from his error, but went through the hell of WWII and kept going, albeit with a snigger of help from Johnny Walker and the ability to not waste energy by sitting or standing.

    Great post.

  • In reply to Richard Davis:

    Thank you, Richard, and welcome.
    Your point about his learned wisdom is a very good one, and one of the reasons I admire the man.

Leave a comment