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By Culturekiosque Staff

NEW YORK, 18 JUNE 2012 — Sir Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965) is considered by many historians to be among the finest orators and writers of the twentieth century. His speeches galvanized Great Britain at its darkest hour during World War II, and his letters to President Franklin D. Roosevelt were instrumental in building support for the war effort from the United States, the country of Churchill's mother's birth. Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953 for his contribution to the written and spoken word, Churchill became an icon of the post-war age, an internationally recognized leader admired throughout the free world.

Churchill: The Power of Words, on view through 23 September 2012 at The Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan, brings to life the man behind the words through some sixty-five documents, artifacts, and recordings, ranging from edited typescripts of his speeches to his Nobel Medal and Citation to excerpts from his broadcasts made during the London blitz. Items in the exhibition are on loan from the Churchill Archives Centre at Churchill College, University of Cambridge, as well as from Churchill's house at Chartwell in Kent, which is administered by Britain's National Trust.

The physical and intellectual heart of the exhibition is Churchill's own voice, as recorded in some of the broadcasts that were received in the United States, and as set out on the page in his own annotated speaking notes. The exhibition highlights a number of the speeches that he made between October 1938, when Hitler began to dismember Czechoslovakia, and December 1941, when Pearl Harbor brought the United States fully into World War II.

"Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result." — Winston Churchill, 1898

Churchill's broadcast to the United States on 16 October 1938 was made from the political wilderness, as he no longer held high political office in Britain, but is a powerful articulation of the need for the United States to become more engaged in Europe and to play a role in containing Hitler. It is also a clear statement of the power of words and ideas: "They [the dictators] are afraid of words and thoughts: words spoken abroad, thoughts stirring at home — all the more powerful because forbidden — terrify them. A little mouse of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic."

Churchill became Prime Minister on 10 May 1940, the very day that Hitler launched his blitzkrieg offensive against France and the Low Countries. Within weeks, France had fallen, and Britain was facing the possibility of invasion. Churchill's speeches during the aerial Battle of Britain and the German bombing campaign known as the 'blitz,' were composed and delivered at a time of extreme national emergency. Yet Churchill's words were carefully chosen to deliver several messages simultaneously: maintaining British morale, while also sending a message of hope to occupied Europe, a message of defiance to the enemy, and an appeal for help to President Roosevelt and the people of the United States.

Churchill's public writings and speeches are juxtaposed with some of his personal and official correspondence. While resolute in public, his telegram to Roosevelt's key adviser Harry Hopkins, written in August 1941, sees him voicing his fears over lack of greater American involvement in the war: "...there has been a wave of depression through Cabinet and other informed circles here about President's many assurances about no commitments and no closer to war etc." Churchill's immediate response to Pearl Harbor was to fire off a telegram to Irish Prime Minister Eamon de Valera, offering, "Now is your chance. Now or Never. 'A Nation once again'."

On a lighter note, Churchill's letter to the Duke of Devonshire upon receiving the gift of a living lion in 1943, reveals his mischievous side.

Half American by birth — his mother, Jennie Jerome, who became Lady Randolph Churchill, was born in Brooklyn, New York — Churchill became an Honorary United States Citizen just before his death. He was a lifelong observer of American affairs, and New York was both the first (1895) and last (1961) American city he visited. In fact, Churchill's New York City adventures included being run down by a taxi on Fifth Avenue in December 1931 — which secured him a prescription for medicinal alcohol at the height of prohibition; and defending his controversial criticisms of the Soviet Union at the Waldorf Astoria in March 1946.

In addition to the exhibition in New York, The Morgan Library & Museum and the Churchill Archives Centre  launched earlier this spring, a website created to specifically generate interest in Churchill among a younger audience and educators.

Designed by MetaLake, LLC, the website features media-rich content and emphasizes Churchill’s contemporary relevance through the power of his words and their impact on Presidents Obama, George W. Bush, and Clinton as well s a source of inspiration for some of Angelina Jolie's tattoos. 

"We are all worms. But I do believe that I am a glow-worm"


Churchill: The Power of Words
Until 23 September 2012
The Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016
Tel: (1) 212 685 00 08

Headline photo: Winston Churchill, 1941
© Estate of Yousuf Karsh

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