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A Gentleman of History

In war or peace, Winston Churchill's cigars were never far from his hand.
Peter Welsh
From the Print Edition:
Linda Evangelista, Autumn 95

(continued from page 3)

Dining was always a major event at Chartwell. Churchill preferred simple but sumptuous meals. "Whatever the Good Earth offers, I am willing to take" he once told a chef at the Waldorf-Astoria. Churchill often dined with friends, dignitaries and celebrities from Europe and America. T.E. Lawrence was a regular luncheon guest until his untimely death in 1935. Albert Einstein visited Chartwell. And Charlie Chaplin dined there, as well. Churchill was notorious for dominating conversations in even the most illustrious of company. As Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith once said of Churchill, "His apt to degenerate into a monologue."

Fortunately, Churchill's wit on such occasions was equally well known. At one Chartwell dinner, for example, he asked Charlie Chaplin what his next role would be. "Jesus Christ," Chaplin replied; to which Churchill responded, "Have you cleared the rights?"

And Churchill was always a most gracious host. "It is a marvel how much time he gives to his guests," remarked one visitor to Chartwell, "talking sometimes for an hour after lunch and much longer after dinner. He is an exceedingly kind and generous host, providing unlimited Champagne, cigars and brandy."

Churchill loved Champagne, and it always accompanied lunch and dinner at Chartwell. He also enjoyed Port, claret, Scotch and brandy. His favorite Champagne was Pol Roger, his favorite Scotch, Johnnie Walker Red Label, and his favorite brandy, Hine. Once a friend of Churchill's, South African Prime Minister Jan Christian Smuts, brought him a bottle of South African brandy. Churchill savored a sip of it and, looking appreciatively at his friend, said, "My dear Smuts, it is excellent." He paused, then added, "But it is not brandy."

Real brandy, as author William Manchester put it, was usually consumed after dinner along with, of course, a cigar. After a couple of snifters, Churchill would stay up late reading or writing, often until three or four in the morning, only to awaken a scant five hours later. Churchill sometimes started the morning with a glass of Scotch and soda in bed, and he drank continuously throughout the day. According to Manchester, "There is always some alcohol in his bloodstream, and it reaches its peak late in the evening after he has had two or three Scotches, several glasses of Champagne, at least two brandies, and a highball."

He was rarely drunk, however. "All I can say is that I have taken more out of alcohol than it has taken out of me," Churchill famously remarked. Even drunk, he was usually in top form. Indeed, Labour Party M.P. Bessie Braddock once had the misfortune of accusing Churchill of drunkenness in public. "You're drunk!" she scolded. "Yes," he retorted, "and you are ugly, but tomorrow I shall be sober."

Churchill might just as well have said that he has taken more out of tobacco than it has taken out of him. In an essay from his book, Thoughts and Adventures, titled, "A Second Choice," he wrote, "I remember my father in his most sparkling mood, his eye gleaming through the haze of a cigarette, saying, 'Why begin? If you want to have an eye that is true [and] a hand that does not quiver...don't smoke.' But consider! How can I tell that the soothing influence of tobacco upon my nervous system may not have enabled me to comport myself with calm and courtesy in some awkward personal encounter or negotiation, or carried me serenely through some critical hours of anxious waiting? How can I tell that my temper would have been as sweet or my companionship as agreeable if I had abjured from my youth the goddess Nicotine?" Churchill was, of course, quite particular about how he got his nicotine. Cigars were the only way. He disliked cigarettes very much. Once when his valet declined Churchill's offer to join him for a cigar, telling Churchill that he smoked only cigarettes, Churchill chuckled and said, "Too many of those will kill you."

The years of leisure at Chartwell during the 1930s grew steadily more anxious for Churchill. He watched with great concern the unimpeded rise in Germany of what he would later call "the foulest and most soul destroying tyranny ever to blacken and stain the pages of history." In his six-volume The Second World War, Churchill wrote, "There can hardly ever have been a war more easy to prevent than this second Armageddon."

Unfortunately, Churchill's persistent warnings and vital political counsel went largely unheeded during the rise of Nazism. He was ridiculed as a "warmonger" and ostracized by all parties. Appeasement reigned. When war broke out, however, Churchill was the obvious choice in the minds of most people to lead Britain into battle. On May 10, 1940, he was appointed prime minister. Of this moment, Churchill wrote after the war, "As I went to sleep at about 3 a.m., I was conscious of a profound sense of relief. At last I had the authority to give directions over the whole scene. I felt as if I had been walking with destiny and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial." He added, "I was sure I should not fail."

Late May 1940 was, in many ways, the decisive period of the Second World War. Pearl Harbor and Hitler's invasion of Russia were, of course, vital, but had Britain faltered in the early going and concluded a peace with Hitler, there would have been no place from which to launch an invasion of the Continent. America would not likely have become involved in the European war. And Hitler would have been able to use more of his army in subduing the Soviet Union. By the end of May, however, Belgium and France had been almost completely overwhelmed by the German blitzkrieg, and Britain narrowly averted defeat herself by evacuating, in great haste, some 200,000 British soldiers from the closing jaws of the German Wehrmacht at Dunkirk, on the coast of France. In the wake of this "colossal military disaster," rumors abounded that some of Churchill's ministers were willing to negotiate with Hitler.

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Comments   3 comment(s)

jose acosta — galena pk , texas, usa,  —  December 21, 2012 2:42pm ET

excellent editorial.

jose acosta — galena pk , texas, usa,  —  March 18, 2013 10:29am ET

Thank you for the recent copy you sent to my home I had an active paid for account but some how I never heard from you guys again after a couple on months were sent to me,can you possibly look into this and let me know what happened to my subscription??

David Savona March 18, 2013 10:49am ET

For help with your Cigar Aficionado subscription, please call: 800-365-4929.

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