Winston Churchill (November 10, 1871 – March 12, 1947) was an American best selling novelist of the early 20th century.
He is nowadays overshadowed, even as a writer, by the very much more famous British statesman of the same name, with whom he was acquainted, but not related. Their lives had some interesting parallels.
Churchill was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Edward Spalding Churchill by his marriage to Emma Bell Blaine. He attended Smith Academy in Missouri and the United States Naval Academy, where he graduated in 1894. At the Naval Academy, he was conspicuous in scholarship and also in general student activities. He became an expert fencer and he organized at Annapolis the first eight-oared crew, which he captained for two years. After graduation he became an editor of the Army and Navy Journal. He resigned from the navy to pursue a writing career. In 1895, he became managing editor of the Cosmopolitan Magazine, but in less than a year he retired from that, to have more time for writing. While he would be most successful as a novelist, he was also a published poet and essayist.
His first novel to appear in book form was The Celebrity (1898). However, Mr. Keegan's Elopement had been published in 1896 as a magazine serial and was republished as an illustrated hardback book in 1903. Churchill's next novel—Richard Carvel (1899)—was a phenomenal success, selling some two million copies in a nation of only 76 million people, and made him rich. His next two novels, The Crisis (1901) and The Crossing (1904), were also very successful.
Churchill's early novels were historical, but his later works were set in contemporary America. He often sought to include his political ideas into his novels.
In 1898, a mansion designed by Charles Platt was built for Churchill in Cornish, New Hampshire. In 1899, Churchill moved there and named it Harlakenden House. He became involved in the Cornish Art Colony and went into politics, being elected to the state legislature in 1903 and 1905. In 1906 he unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for governor of New Hampshire. In 1912, he was nominated as the Progressive candidate for governor but did not win the election and did not seek public office again. In 1917, he toured the battlefields of World War I and wrote about what he saw, his first non-fiction work.
Sometime after this move, he took up painting in watercolors and became known for his landscapes. Some of his works are in the collections of the Hood Museum of Art (part of Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College) in Hanover, New Hampshire, and the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, New Hampshire.
In 1919, Churchill decided to stop writing and withdrew from public life. As a result of this he was gradually forgotten by the public. In 1940, The Uncharted Way, his first book in twenty years, was published. The book examined Churchill's thoughts on religion. He did not seek to publicize the book and it received little attention. Shortly before his death he said, "It is very difficult now for me to think of myself as a writer of novels, as all that seems to belong to another life."
Churchill died in Winter Park, Florida in 1947 of a heart attack. He was predeceased in 1945 by his wife of fifty years, the former Mabel Harlakenden Hall. They had three children, including their son Creighton Churchill, a well-known writer on wines. His great-grandson is the Albany, New York, journalist Chris Churchill.
The British statesman
Churchill met and occasionally communicated with the British statesman and author of the same name. It was the American Churchill who became famous earlier, and in the 1890s he was much better known than his British counterpart.
The British Churchill, upon becoming aware of the American Churchill's books, wrote to him suggesting that he, the British Churchill, would sign his own works "Winston Spencer Churchill", using his full surname, "Spencer-Churchill", to differentiate the books of the two authors. This suggestion was accepted, with the comment that the American Churchill would have done the same, had he any middle names. In practice, after a few early editions this was abbreviated to "Winston S. Churchill"—which remained the British Churchill's pen name.
Their lives had some interesting parallels. They both gained their tertiary education at service colleges and briefly served (during the same period) as officers in their respective countries' armed forces (one was a naval, the other an army officer). Both Churchills were keen amateur painters, as well as writers. Both were also politicians; although here the comparison is far more tenuous: the British Churchill's political career being infinitely more illustrious.