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30 August 1908 holograph letter from Winston S. Churchill to Viscount Northcliffe reflecting Churchill's tempestuous relationship with Northcliffe, referencing Churchill's impending wedding, and expressing remarkably candid frustrations with the press
Salisbury Hall, St. Albans, 1908. ALS. This 30 August 1908 holograph letter is from Winston S. Churchill to British newspaper magnate Viscount Northcliffe. The letter is noteworthy in several respects, reflecting Churchill's frictional association with Northcliffe and his remarkably candid frustrations with the press, and referencing his impending wedding. The letter is inked on a sheet of stationery printed “SALISBURY HALL, ST ALBANS.” (Churchill's mother's home) folded into four panels measuring 8 x 5.06 inches (20.3 x 12.9 cm). Churchill's 229-word, 50-line handwritten missive is inked in black on all four panels, marked “Private” at the upper left of the first panel and dated “30 Aug 1908”. Churchill opens thanking Northcliffe for a gift – “a token of peace & amity from you…” The substantial portion of the letter is devoted to a pained and blunt critique of the role of the press in political discourse: “…if I knew beforehand that I was going to be decently reported I would take pains to produce something worth printing. But what always seems to happen is that when I have something important to say no one takes any notice of it, & when I deliver an ordinary party impromptu it is reported in the first person. The uncertainty about reporting prevents politicians from taking trouble about speeches. In consequence they deliver perfectly idiotic speeches & the newspapers are still further choked off reporting them. You tell your ‘old paper' to report me verbatim at Dundee, at Manchester, & at Newcastle… & I will see that they get good copy... The ‘young paper' is taking a vy friendly interest in the wedding… good luck to you in your travels, & once more many thanks for your gift. Yours vy sincerely, Winston S. Churchill” The ‘old paper' may be the Daily Mail, founded by Harmsworth in 1896. The ‘young paper' is likely The Times, which Northcliffe bought in 1908 and which reported Churchill's marriage plans on 15 August. The gift from Northcliffe is unknown to us, but plausibly wedding-related. References to Dundee, Manchester, and Newcastle are to a series of Churchill speeches beginning in October. Condition of the letter is near fine, with a single horizontal fold from mailing, only slight soiling, and the ghost of an erased “98” inked at the head of the first panel. We previously noted the same notation at the head of a 1905 letter from Churchill to Northcliffe. Notably, 1898 is the year in which Churchill met and befriended Northcliffe. 1908 was politically and personally eventful for Churchill. Just 34, Churchill joined the Cabinet as President of the Board of Trade and was defeated in the subsequent 24 April Manchester by-election – a defeat over which Churchill was “particularly incensed with the Harmsworth Press's Manchester Courier against whom he initiated a libel action” which resulted in a Courier apology and retraction. (Gilbert, Vol. II, p.258) Swiftly thereafter, on 9 May, Churchill was elected M.P. for Dundee. On 11 August, he proposed to Clementine Hozier, whom he married on 12 September. Alfred Charles William Harmsworth, Viscount Northcliffe (1865-1922) was a close associate of Churchill (in turns as vigorous booster and vehement opponent) for nearly a quarter of a century. Churchill and Northcliffe would serve together in the Government during the First World War. Self-made, Northcliffe rose from freelance journalist to head the world's largest periodical publishing empire, which at its peak included the London Evening News, Sunday Dispatch, Daily Mirror, and The Times. Not content to report news, Northcliffe assertively influenced public affairs. Northcliffe was as much the megalomaniac his papers accused Churchill of being. Both men were ambitious, powerful, impatient, and inconsiderate when pursuing an agenda. But where Churchill had an inclination to gracious conciliation in common cause, Northcliffe was perhaps too used to seeing his own opinions in print to avoid condescension and caustic criticism.
      [Bookseller: Churchill Book Collector]
Last Found On: 2018-02-24           Check availability:      Biblio    


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