Winston Churchill’s The Dream

In 1947 Winston Churchill wrote a short story. The Dream reveals the spirit of the great man behind the public image of heroic soldier, journalist, statesman, wit, and prolific orator and writer.

The idea of The Dream was the result of a casual question from his daughter, Sarah, as the family sat around the dinner table one evening.  She pointed to a vacant chair and asked her father who he would most wish to see sitting there.  Without hesitation he said it would be his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, which surprised everyone because Winston and his father had endured a fractious relationship.  Everyone had expected a great hero; Napoleon or the first Duke of Marlborough.

Man is Spirit

Although Winston was unsure of an afterlife, he did believe there was some spiritual connection with his ancestors and always insisted that “Man is Spirit”.  Indeed Winston was certainly a man of spirit in his own way, in that he had a knack of looking for the positive and making things appear far better than they actually were.  For example, before and during World War Two when all around him saw defeat looming, Winston could see a tiny chink of light and eventual victory.  He projected that idea and made others (eventually) believe there was a victory to be taken.

As a child of the latter Victorian era, Winston grew up in an atmosphere of changing attitudes towards children.  Industrialisation had thrust lower class children into the limelight when they became cheap labour for the burgeoning businesses, particularly the factories and mines.  But, Winston knew nothing of these things because he had been born into a well-known and respected upper class family.  Indeed, he was the eldest son of Lord Randolph Henry Spencer Churchill, who was the second son of the seventh Duke of Marlborough.  As the second son Lord Randolph did not inherit the family’s Blenheim estate.  Instead, he made a career for himself by becoming the Conservative Member of Parliament for Woodstock in 1874, the year Winston was born.

The child Winston

As the first son however, Winston was expected to follow in the footsteps of his illustrious forebears, but he was a sensitive child who, like his father, was prone to erratic mood swings and deep depressions.  Winston could count on the fingers of one hand the meaningful conversations he had had with his father but that was often the way in the nineteenth century.  Indeed, most Victorian upper class children rarely saw their parents; like Winston they had a nanny to tend to them.  Mrs Elizabeth Anne Everest was a typically plump, cheery, kind but strict nanny and the one person who really understood Winston.  He called her “woomany”.  Yet, he worshipped his father even though he could never overcome the obvious disaffection he saw in his father’s eyes, which haunted him throughout his life.

The Dream

In The Dream Lord Randolph appears in Winston’s studio as he is attempting to copy a damaged portrait of his father.  During their stilted conversation Winston recounts his father’s parliamentary speech in 1884.  Lord Randolph comments on Winston’s photographic memory, ‘You recited the twelve hundred lines of Macaulay without a single mistake’.  His voice and facial features were utterly expressionless, but it was probably the nearest to a complement Winston could ever have hoped for from his father.  Winston knew only too well that his father’s disappointment, anger and loathing towards him was deeply embedded; his father had actually thought him to be retarded and incapable of achieving anything substantial in his life.  Had Lord Randolph lived a little longer he would have undoubtedly seen how wrong he had been.

Stella Milner

See also articles on Educating WinstonChurchill the family manChurchill and the First World War, and Churchill’s pets.