November 30

Winston Spencer Churchill

On this day in 1874 was born a man who never became a printer but whose life was devoted to the maintenance of the freedom of the printed word. Indeed, Winston Spencer Churchill may be credited as being one of the men of our times most responsible for our continued enjoyment of that freedom. As a writer and historian he appreciated the typographic art more than most of the who have been Prime Ministers of Great Britain. His publishers, however, frequently took a dim view of his habit of revising and rewriting his own books from the page proofs.

At one time in his long career, Sir Winston was the honored guest at the 1934 meeting of The Printer’s Pension, Almshouse and Orphan Asylum Corporation, which had been chartered in 1828 to “encourage provident habits and to promote self-respect among a body of skilled artisans to whom mankind is largely indebted,” and which during these years has been outstanding in the furthering of these aims. Rising to acknowledge the toast, to Literature and the Press, proposed by the Rt. Hon. David Lloyd George, Churchill said:

“I have been entrusted with the task of replying to the toast of Literature and the Press. I have to deal with Literature only. There was a time when the two toasts were often lumped together and I was charged with both. But now I find that the press, essentially most immediately concerned with advertisements, has been removed from my custody, no doubt out of the increasing dignity which my years give me. . . .

“The English language is the foundation of English literature, and it is not a bad tongue either. I have not any great familiarity with other tongues, so I am able to pronounce with a considerable measure of authority that a more flexible and comprehensive medium of human speech has rarely been found in any quarter of the globe. It is a good thing that language should not remain in a dead and frozen condition. It should be added to from time to time. I myself have contributed several words to the English tongue. I remember some years ago being confronted with a hideous word ‘hydroaeroplane,’ as ugly to pronounce as to look at, and I invented the word ‘seaplane,’ which I think has obtained a definite root in the civilization of our times.

“The English language and English literature is one of our greatest and perhaps on the whole our most effective treasure. It is the bond which, more indisputably than anything else, unites the English-speaking peoples—not only the great peoples of the British Empire but the English-speaking peoples all over the world. It is a wonderful thing, a community that speaks and reads one language, an educated community in size beyond all rivalry that ever existed on the globe. They are proud of their past, and it seems to me that we should take every care we can to cultivate and develop our own language. . . .

“The printer, the author, the journalist, should not be more concerned in any matter than having the largest public in any language. . . . Do not underrate the great crafts with which we are all in one way or another associated. They all turn round words. Many mock at words, but words are the only things that last forever. . . . For thousands of years they survive, not as mere antiques, mummies, relics from a vanished past, from which we are separated by a gulf, they survive with living force, and even with growing force, and leaping across the gulf of time, they light the world for us today.”

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