My encounter with Churchill’s friend.

Almost nine years ago I was in the middle of a Winston Churchill immersion experience, in England with my daughter who is a big fan of the man. We visited the Churchill War Rooms museum in London, his country estate at Chartwell, his birthplace at Blenheim Palace, and his grave.

One of my favorite parts of the museum was a huge collection of quotes, unfortunately displayed in an “interactive” touchscreen format so that I couldn’t easily or thoroughly access them, and I didn’t have the time to write any down, but the essence of one stuck in my mind the way a tasty seed lodges between the teeth and surprises you later on with its savor. I counted on the trusty Internet to help me find the quote after I returned home.

From London we’d taken a side trip to Chartwell, Churchill’s beloved country estate in Kent. We were in his very library, with his own books and furniture. I could just imagine him sitting there enjoying some book that had nothing to do with the government or war; this was the place he came to when he needed to decompress from the strain of his usual days.

from the Internet

I told the docent about the quote I had read the day before, in which Churchill had advised us to think of our books as our friends, and if we couldn’t read them all, at least we could take them off the shelves and touch the pages, and perhaps read a line or two. She didn’t know of this quote, but it was permitted to handle the books on the library shelves, so I did take one down and try to follow his advice.

It was one of those times when I just want to sit down and be there. I’d have liked to read a few lines from several books, or a chapter from one book, or see how they all were organized.  But I was so nervous about meeting this book friend that I didn’t even catch his name. I was trying to keep up a conversation with the docent, and we needed to get through the house to the grounds before the rain started….Now it seems like a fairy story that I was ever there at all.

It’s the anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill, Anna reminded me on her blog that is a compilation of “Seven Quick Takes” on him today. I was going to leave a comment on her blog about how I never could find that quote — and I had tried so hard. But then I thought, it’s been a couple of years since I searched; maybe, just maybe if I look again….

And it came up in flash, on Goodreads. One of these experiences that makes you love the Internet.

If you cannot read all your books…fondle them—peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them, at any rate, be your acquaintances.

The last Churchill place we saw was his humble grave not far from Blenheim Palace, at St. Martin’s Church, Bladon. It was more humble then than now, as it was renovated in 2006.

Mr. Churchill, I honor you on the day of your death; may you rest in peace. One day I hope to get back and spend an hour soaking up your library and making friends with your books.

16 thoughts on “My encounter with Churchill’s friend.

  1. Wonderful post, GJ!
    I am fascinated by Churchill. I love the two films I've seen and I like to watch them again.
    I have a big fat book about him,too. It's nice in small doses. I put the Richard Wilbur poem online for my students. They will comment on it in the next few days.
    I'm taking that Churchill quote and putting it up for them, too. Thanks for lots of stuff today!

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  2. What a treasure, that trip in harmonious company, to such special places and then to have on-going gifts is extra bounty. Ah books… I find I am taking books off the shelves and some out of stored boxes, and looking at them for an answer as to why I own them…to read again, to be researched, to be shared with someone else… and one by one they have an answer.

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  3. I've often felt that way when I'm in famous places, esp. homes. When I was in Oxford, in Lewis's pub. Or in Stratford, standing in Shakespeare's very home! And his church … overwhelming. Even at Biltmore House. The sense of people and place is rather overwhelming, and I feel so small.

    His quote is good advice. I often feel guilty b/c I have many books that I've never read, probably never shall read. Adam reads all his goods. But I do like the idea of books being friends, and we don't have to explore every inch of a friend's soul, and read every page of their lives, in order to be friendly. Thanks!

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  4. What a lovely tribute and what a lovely quote, I will write that down in my quote book. I think it must have been nice to visit a place like that, it looks beautiful.

    It is so true isn't it about books? I think that is why it is so hard to get rid of them. I am always sad even if I didn't like the book very much.

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  5. Oh no! That quote is enabling my book hoarding . . . I told myself I was going to fill a box with books to give away, and I just can't do it. Every time I stop to look through a shelf and pull down a potential give away, I make the mistake of reading a bit and reevaluating. Good argument for print over ebooks also.

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