The Churchill Touch "AT THE time when I knew him best, {Herbert Henry Asquith} was at the height of his powers. Great majorities supported him in Parliament and the country. Against him were ranged all the stolid Conservative forces of England. Conflict unceasing grew year by year to a more dangerous intensity at home, while abroad there gathered sullenly the hurricane that was to wreck our generation. Our days were spent in the furious party battles which arose upon Home Rule and the veto of the House of Lords, whilst always upon the horizon deadly shapes grew or faded, and even while the sun shone there was a curious whisper in the air."

Who could the writer of these Churchillian lines be but Winston Churchill himself? The book they appear in is Great Contemporaries, a collection of biographical sketches that was published in 1937. Most of the sketches are concerned with his British acquaintances -- Lord Curzon, Sir John French, John Morley, Arthur Balfour and others. Among the foreign notables are Hindenburg, the kaiser, Clemenceau and Marshal Foch. An American might especially be intrigued by the impressions of the pre-war Adolf Hitler and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. My personal favorites are the Bernard Shaw sketch, with its spirited (but always fair) polemics, and the witheringly scornful essay on the Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky: "In vain he screams his protests against a hurricane of lies; in vain he denounces the bureaucratic tyranny of which he would so blithely be the head."

Both the 1937 and 1973 editions of Great Contemporaries are out of print. But most public libraries have a copy. BRUCE THOMPSON Marietta, Ga. Out of Patagonia IN 1905, A.F. Tschieffely, one of the great horsemen of his time, set off on a 10,000-mile ride, alone with two horses, from his home in Buenos Aires to Washington, D.C. The trip took 2 1/2 years, crossing the Andes and the jungles of Central America. The purpose of the trip was not to prove the rider's abilities, but those of ordinary Argentinian working horses.

The rider recorded his epic journey in Tschiffely's Ride (Simon & Schuster, 1933). Tschiffely rode through thousands of miles of wilderness, just before it was fenced off and paved over and cut down, and he describes the whole experience in simple, unaffected prose. His focus is on the horses, but we are struck by the enormous hardships he himself endured, including injuries and malaria. We are struck, too, by his superb knowledge of horses and most of all by his obvious devotion to his companions, the horses Mancha, a paint, and Gato, a buckskin.

Tschiffely was received by President Coolidge. Mancha and Gato went back to Argentina by ship, where they were retired as national heroes to a ranch near their birthplace. Tschiffely wrote several other books, notably a biography of British socialist and adventurer R.B. Cunninghame Graham and This Way Southward, a travel book about Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. He died in 1954. A paperback edition of Tschiffely's Ride, titled Southern Cross to Pole Star, was issued by J.P. Tarcher in 1963 but is out of print. STUART BYCZYNSKI Silver Spring

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