In July 1903 Winston Churchill, who was then 28 years old, dined in London with Beatrice and Sidney Webb, ardently leftist social reformers. Afterward Beatrice wrote in her diary: “First impression: Restless, almost intolerably so, without capacity for sustained and unexcited labour, egotistical, bumptious, shallow-minded and reactionary, but with a certain personal magnetism, great pluck and some originality, not of intellect but of character. . . . Talked exclusively about himself. . . . No notion of scientific research. . . . But his pluck, courage, resourcefulness and great tradition may carry him far.”
Considering that this judgment was formed in the course of only a single evening, it was remarkably astute and, as later events made resoundingly clear, prophetic. To be sure, even by his 25th birthday Churchill had made his mark through “the adventures of a storybook character — fighting with the Bengal Lancers on the Indian frontier; scouting for rebels with the Spanish army in Cuba; traveling along the Nile to take part in what was to prove the last great cavalry charge of the British Army in the nineteenth century; and, most dramatic of all, surviving capture by the Boers in South Africa, and then making his escape across hundreds of miles of unfriendly territory.” Yes, he had done all that, but now he was merely a Tory backbencher in Parliament, almost obscenely ambitious politically but with not much to show for his efforts beyond a reasonably well-known name and a considerable body of well-placed people whose opinions of him ranged from admiration to contempt, with any number of stops in between.
(Simon & Schuster) - ’Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill’ by Michael Shelden
As another older woman told the man who became Churchill’s private secretary, “The first time you meet Winston, you see all his faults, and the rest of your life you spend in discovering his virtues.” That remark could (though it doesn’t) serve as epigraph for “Young Titan,” Michael Shelden’s perceptive and entertaining account of Churchill’s life between the ages of 25 and 40. Sheldon is an American professor of English at Indiana State University who, between 1995 and 2007, served as a feature writer for the Daily Telegraph in London. Before taking on that assignment he published well-regarded biographies of George Orwell and Graham Greene, the latter not merely a solid biography but an unsparing portrait of Greene’s dark side, “the debauched connoisseur of brothels, the impassioned adulterer, the spy, the deceiver, the enemy of order.”
Churchill harbored no such demons — he was, if anything, a “romantic at heart,” especially where women were concerned — but he was a spectacularly complicated man whose early career proves the wisdom of the quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson that Shelden does use as an epigraph: “The force of character is cumulative.” From 1900 to 1915 (he was born in November 1874), Churchill was very much a work in progress. He achieved a great deal, held several important posts in the British government, married the great love of his life after unsuccessfully courting other women, then closed out these years of apprenticeship with a disastrous military failure that seemed to destroy his hopes for a brilliant future.