In 1935, British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin refused to appoint Winston Churchill to a cabinet post. Asked to explain himself, Baldwin responded: “If there is going to be a war–and who can say there is not–we must keep him fresh to be our war prime minister.” The historian Max Hastings notes that Baldwin said this with a hint of jocularity, but he seemed to understand it was also quite true. Five years later, Leo Amery wrote: “I am beginning to come round to the idea that Winston with all his failings is the one man with real war drive and love of battle.”
While Churchill was always conscious of his own image, this aspect of his personality was ingrained and authentic. That is one of the clearest conclusions to be drawn from the summer exhibit on display at New York’s Morgan Library and Museum, “Churchill: The Power of Words.” There, among a fine collection of Churchill’s writings, speeches, and correspondence plus a 20-minute audio-visual presentation of excerpts of Churchill at his most inspiring, is a true gem. The exhibit includes a school report card for young Winston. His grades were mostly fine, but among the notes written by his instructors was the following, next to “General Conduct”:
Very bad–is a constant trouble to everybody, and is always in some scrape or other. He cannot be trusted to behave himself anywhere. He has very good abilities.