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.
Filed under: Browsing through Bartlett's