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Churchill spent and hour practicing out loud on every minute of his speeches.
Churchill wrote every word of his many speeches — he said he'd spend an
hour working on a single minute of a speech. Above, he is shown
speaking during the 1945 election campaign.
Winston Churchill is best remembered as the
British prime minister whose speeches rallied a nation under a
relentless Nazi onslaught in World War II. But few people know that he
won the Nobel Prize in Literature — in part for his mastery of
Courtesy of Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge
he went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, Churchill didn't
always excel in school. His 1884 school report card states young Winston
is "very bad ... a constant trouble to everybody," and unable to be
"trusted to behave himself anywhere." Click to enlarge.
Now, a new exhibition at the Morgan Library in New York City, Churchill: The Power of Words, holds a megaphone to Churchill's extraordinary oratory.
May 13, 1940, three days after Germany invaded France, Churchill gave
his first speech as prime minister to the House of Commons, a speech
that was later broadcast to the public. "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat," he said, as he helped the country brace for hard times.
Churchill managed to combine the most magnificent use of English —
usually short words, Anglo-Saxon words, Shakespearean," says Andrew
Roberts, author of a history of World War II called The Storm of War.
"And also this incredibly powerful delivery. And he did it at a time
when the world was in such peril from Nazism, that every word mattered."
another landmark speech, Churchill proclaimed: "You ask, what is our
aim? I can answer in one word: victory. Victory at all costs. Victory in
spite of all terror. Victory, however long and hard the road may be,
for without victory there is no survival."
he became prime minister, Churchill had already written an acclaimed
four-volume history of World War I. After World War II, he wrote a
six-volume memoir. His historical writings, along with his speeches,
earned him the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Kiely, curator of manuscripts at the Morgan Library, points out
Churchill's 1953 Nobel Prize citation, a gilt booklet that accompanies
the gold Nobel Medallion. He describes it as "a modern illuminated
The citation, Kiely says, is wonderful. (To see it, click here.) Translated from the Swedish it reads: For his mastery of historical and biographical description, as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.
EnlargeKeystone/Getty ImagesChurchill makes his broadcast to the world on V-E Day, May 8, 1945.
Churchill wasn't born a master orator — he overcame a childhood lisp by practicing enunciation. He understoodthe power of words early in his career.
a 23-year-old British soldier in India, Churchill wrote an essay called
"The Scaffolding of Rhetoric." The original manuscript is in the Morgan
"The climax of oratory is reached by a rapid succession of waves of sound and vivid pictures," Churchill wrote.
are the kinds of things you see 40 years later," says Kiely. "He's
using these vivid pictures and these great, successive waves of sound."
can hear the way he employed these rhetorical methods in the weekly
radio address he gave on Sept. 11, 1940, as he responded to Hitler's
merciless aerial assault on London:
This monstrous product of former wrongs and shamehas
now resolved to try to break our famous island race by a process of
indiscriminate slaughter and destruction. What he has done is to kindle a
fire in British hearts which will glow long after all traces of the
conflagration he has caused in London have been removed.
wrote every word of his many speeches — he said he spent an hour
working on every minute of a speech he made. At the Morgan Library are
several drafts of a single speech from February 1941, when England stood
alone against the Nazi onslaught and Churchill appealed to President
Roosevelt for aid. The first draft looks like a normal typescript; the
finaldraft, says Kiely, "looks like a draft of a poem."
Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, and the Estate of Winston Churchill
spaced and marked his speeches to help him with his delivery. Above is
the final draft of the speech he broadcast on Feb. 9, 1941. Click to enlarge.
Churchill made those markings, Kiely explains,
to indicate how the speech should be delivered. He inserted white space
to remind himself to pause.
"What is the answer that I shall give, in your name, to this great man,
the thrice-chosen head of a nation of a hundred and thirty millions?"
Here, lots of white space is inserted into the final draft.
"Here is the answer which I will give to President Roosevelt."
Another long pause, and then he said:
your confidence in us. Give us your faith and your blessing, and under
Providence, all will be well. We shall not fail or falter. We shall not
weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of
battle, nor the long‐drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us
down. Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.
In the dark
days and darker nights when England stood alone — and most men save
Englishmen despaired of England's life — he mobilized the English
language and sent it into battle.
- President John F. Kennedy on Churchill's speeches
Historian Andrew Roberts says the impact of
Churchill's speeches cannot be underestimated. "An awful lot of people
thought that it was impossible to beat the Nazis," Roberts says. "Yet
what Winston Churchill did, by constantly putting Britain's peril in the
greater historical context of other times that Britain had nearly been
invaded, but had been ultimately successful, he managed to tell the
British people that this could happen again."
April 9, 1963, President John F. Kennedy summed up Churchill's
speechwriting achievements, saying, "In the dark days and darker nights
when England stood alone — and most men save Englishmen despaired of
England's life — he mobilized the English language and sent it into
On June 18, 1940, immediately after
the fall of France, Churchill rallied the British people once more. With
his characteristic Shakespearean gusto, he declared, "Let us therefore
brace ourselves to our duty, and so bear ourselves, that if the British
Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still
say, 'This was their finest hour.' "
Churchill said dictators were afraid of the power of words. "A state of
society where men may not speak their minds cannot long endure."
To listen to the audio of this story, including Churchill himself, click below: