November 10, 2012
On Nov. 10, 1871, Winston Churchill was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He published his first novel in 1898, and quickly became one of America’s best selling authors. His first novel was so popular that the future British Prime Minister of the same name, who had recently published a history, and was thinking of writing a novel, wrote him a letter on avoiding mistaken identity.
“… Mr. Winston Churchill presents his compliments to Mr. Winston Churchill, and begs to draw his attention to a matter which concerns them both… In future to avoid mistakes as far as possible, Mr. Winston Churchill has decided to sign all published articles, stories, or other works, 'Winston Spencer Churchill,' and not 'Winston Churchill' as formerly. He trusts that this arrangement will commend itself to Mr. Winston Churchill, and he ventures to suggest, with a view to preventing further confusion which may arise out of this extraordinary coincidence, that both Mr. Winston Churchill and Mr. Winston Churchill should insert a short note in their respective publications explaining to the public which are the works of Mr. Winston Churchill and which those of Mr. Winston Churchill.”
The American Churchill acknowledged the suggestion with the comment that he would have reciprocated if he had any middle names. The British Churchill’s full name was Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, he used the surname Churchill in public life. Spencer-Churchill’s mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, was American heiress Jennie Jerome of New York.
The novelist Churchill graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1894, and became the naval editor of the Army and Navy Journal. He resigned his commission to devote himself to writing. He was hired as managing editor of Cosmopolitan Magazine, but soon quit to write fulltime. He published his first novel, “The Celebrity,” in 1898, and “Richard Carvel,” in 1899, a historical novel set in the American Revolution in which the eponymous protagonist serves with John Paul Jones. His second novel made him a celebrity author, selling almost two million copies (there were 76 million people in the United States in 1900). His third book, “The Crisis” published in 1901, was another historical novel; this time set in the Civil War with the heroine a descendent of Richard Carvel. He published another historical novel, “The Crossing,” in 1904.
His other novels, published between 1905 and 1915, were set in contemporary times and were about the social problems of turn of the century America.
Churchill parlayed his popularity into a political career. He moved to a mansion in Cornish, New Hampshire, and was elected to the state legislature in 1903. He was unsuccessful in his attempt to gain the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 1906. He lost the 1912 governor’s race when he ran as the Progressive Party (Teddy Roosevelt’s party) nominee.
In 1917, Churchill went to the battlefields of France and wrote of his thoughts and impressions in “The Dwelling-Place of Light,” his only non-fiction work.
He had begun to paint, and in 1919, he gave up writing, and retired from public life, not emerging until his little publicized novel exploring religion, “The Uncharted Way,” was published in 1940.
In the last years of his life he reflected, “It is very difficult now for me to think of myself as a writer of novels, as all that seems to belong to another life.”
He died in Florida on March 12, 1947.