The Age of Churchill

The Age of Churchill

The Age of Churchill

The Age of Churchill

Excerpt

The lives of the great occupy a high and favoured place in English letters. Theirs is a long, unbroken tradition, and few men in our day have done more to keep it vigorously alive than Winston Spencer Churchill, whose biographies of his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, and of his ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough, are outstanding achievements in the field of modern biography. Inevitably they must cast a warning shadow across any attempt to give an account of his own remarkable life, and the more ambitious the attempt, the more humbling the shadow must appear. This book is such an attempt; and in acknowledging the shadow it naturally betrays its ambition.

"Are we dealing with the annals of a nation or with the biography of an individual?"

It is Churchill's own question. Posed long ago in respect to a dethroned monarch, it applies even more emphatically to his own life, whose singular range and depth must inescapably lead his biographer far into the ill-defined and always disputed border regions between history and biography. The problem of "Life and Times" is indeed peculiar to political biography; and the more powerful the figure, the more acute the difficulty of mapping out the appropriate territory and the roads that lead towards and across it. If history is, as Marc Bloch has said, "the science of men in time," biography may justly claim to be "the science of one man in his time." Yet, what does this mean? We often hear it said of great public men that at some stage in their careers they "ceased to have a life of their own"; and we equally hear of great sequences of events having developed exclusively, or as nearly exclusively as makes no matter, from the power and initiative of a single man, and in the process assuming his identity. How far can this be . . .

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