Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Churchill Series - Apr 20, 2006

(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

In 1896/97 Churchill, then serving as a cavalry subaltern in India, experienced an intellectual awakening. Hitherto an indifferent student, he began a wide-ranging and intense self-education which he continued throughout his life until its last days.

Historian John Keegan tells us something about the awakening and reaches a conclusion about the young Churchill, who turned 22 on November 30,1896:

(Churchill’s demands for books) were met by his mother, who sent him expensive books by the crate during his Indian years. …

The mainstay was Gibbon, the greatest of all English historians, whom “through the glistening hours of the Indian day, from …stables till the evening shadows proclaimed the hour of Polo, I devoured.”

Even before finishing all eight volumes of Gibbon, however, he had embarked on Plato’s
Republic and then the twelve volumes of Macaulay’s History of England. …

Shortly afterward he launched into Schopenhauer, Malthus, Darwin, Aristotle’s
Politics, Pascal, Saint-Simon, and Adam Smith. …

The young Churchill, in his leap to self-education, must have been the most unusual cavalry subaltern in any European army.
John Keegan,
Winston Churchill. (pgs. 38-39)