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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Winston Churchill (1871–1947)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Edgar White Burrill (b. 1883)
 
THE WORK of Winston Churchill, the novelist, divides itself naturally into two parts, the earlier stories dealing with specific epochs in the development of the United States as a nation, the latter with the study of certain tendencies in our contemporary social life. To the first group belong the three distinctly historical novels, ‘Richard Carvel,’ ‘The Crisis,’ and ‘The Crossing,’ which picture the periods of the Revolution, the Civil War, and the expedition of George Rogers Clark. Of the social novels, ‘Coniston’ and ‘Mr. Crewe’s Career’ are concerned with the reform of politics, ‘A Modern Chronicle’ portrays a society woman of to-day and her unsuccessful marriages, ‘The Inside of the Cup’ is a careful analysis of the present-day position and function of the church, and ‘A Far Country’ reverts to politics, with the main emphasis on the domination of big business.  1
  Mr. Churchill was born in St. Louis, November 10th, 1871. He was educated at the Smith Academy in that city, and at the age of sixteen started business life; but an opportunity for an appointment to the U. S. Naval Academy resulted in his becoming the successful candidate, and he graduated from Annapolis in 1894. Resigning his commission, he began work as an editor of the Army and Navy Journal of New York, and the next year became managing editor of the Cosmopolitan Magazine. In that year too he married Mabel Harlakenden Hall, whose name is given to the beautiful summer home at Cornish, New Hampshire,—“Harlakenden Hall.”  2
  Mr. Churchill’s first successful piece of fiction, ‘The Celebrity,’ was a clever fantasy of the mistaken identity type, which brought him sufficient money to take up the serious work he desired. Of his historical trilogy he once said: “My idea has been to treat of the great forces that went to the making of the United States, rather than to study social conditions as manifested in individuals.” In this subjection of plot to a general panoramic background and in the discursiveness of his style, he has been called a follower of Thackeray. To no isolated fragment of his work in this field can superlatives be applied, but in the reach and grasp of the essentials of an epoch, in the depiction of a national evolution, he excels. The precocious hero of ‘Richard Carvel’ (1899) is associated with John Paul Jones, Horace Walpole, Charles James Fox, and other historic personages, and has some stirring adventures; but the interest of the book is not due so much to its succession of unwelded episodes as to its atmospheric quality. In ‘The Crisis’ (1901), a memorable portrait of Abraham Lincoln gives chief value to the story. This epic cycle of American history is in a sense completed by ‘The Crossing’ (1903), the events of which are, however, less momentous than those of either ‘Richard Carvel’ with its setting of the Revolution, or ‘The Crisis’ with its fratricidal passion of the Civil War. Yet, while Sevier and Clark are necessarily of minor importance to Washington and Lincoln, and hence unable to evoke such enthusiasm, it is still true that the protagonist is “the all-conquering genius of a people, and the real dramatic action is the strain and the struggle and the achievement in liberty, territory, and solidarity.”  3
  In 1903 and 1905, Mr. Churchill was a member of the New Hampshire Legislature, and his next novel, ‘Coniston’ (1906), marked his entry into the literature of “practical politics.” The appearance of this novel so convinced a little band of reformers that the author was the most suitable person to lead an organized attack upon the state political machine that he was immediately made the candidate for Governor of New Hampshire of the Lincoln Republican Club on a reform platform. His campaign aroused the people, just as had been the case with his story of the corrupt politics of a generation ago. His next novel, ‘Mr. Crewe’s Career’ (1908), while not to be taken too autobiographically, is none the less to some extent a record of his experiences as he went about the state. In 1912, he was again made the candidate for Governor of New Hampshire.  4
  While these two political novels, together forming a literary unit, may be regarded as a continuation of his method of vividly summing up a national or a local crisis of American history, ‘A Modern Chronicle’ (1910) marks a new departure. Marriage and divorce are the theme. The story treats a difficult subject delicately, with a quiet and firm touch and with pervasive humor.  5
  There is a steady improvement in style noticeable in the later novels, but from the point of view of art, the paramount didacticism of ‘The Inside of the Cup’ (1913) and ‘A Far Country’ (1915) detracts from their power. In one, orthodox theology is brought face to face with the economic causes of poverty and vice; in the other the price paid in honor and ideals for a great success in business is the theme. There is an amplitude to the description of social conditions in both books; much earnest sermonizing and often obvious reflection of present-day currents of thought. What prevents them from becoming at times a series of argumentative episodes is the overwhelming seriousness of the author, whose reasoned faith in humanity and in God gives glimpses as to what an awakened social sympathy can achieve.  6
 
 
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