Friday, April 24, 2009

Churchill, Trollope, De Kooning

On this day in 1953 Winston Churchill became Sir Winston Churchill when he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. He was 78. She was 27 and had been Queen for a little over a year.

Churchill dominated his era by force of personality more than talent, although he had that too. He was a dismal student, but wrote his classmates' school essays for them. His reputation as a heroic soldier might have had something to do with the vivid personal accounts he wrote for newspapers and in books. At one point he was the highest paid journalist in the world. (People forget that he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953 as well as the knighthood.)

Yet he was constantly in debt, hated paying tailor's bills, drank prodigiously, smoked religiously, alternately charmed and insulted his peers, and, until late in his political career, was considered an unreliable hothead, a rogue, a bit of a charlatan, not to be trusted with high office. At age 40, he was fired from his post atop the Admiralty and retired to the country, where he took up painting. All of this came long before May 1940, when he became the hero of the age. Churchill appears on pages 47, 88, 154, 223, 235, 248, 260, 262, 273 and 275 in A Book of Ages.

April 24 is the birthday of the English novelist Anthony Trollope, born in 1815. Methodical, conservative, retiring, discreet, cautious, predictable, but enormously productive. Novels poured from his pen at the constant rate of 250 words every fifteen minutes. He wrote for three hours every day. But he was a spare-time artist. His days were spent behind a desk at the Post Office. In 1855, at age 40 he invented the familiar red pillar-box where the English still deposit their letters. Trollope appears five times in A Book of Ages

It's also the birthday of the abstract expressionist painter Willem de Kooning. After arriving in America as a stowaway, he worked for a time painting houses in Hoboken, New Jersey before joining the art community in Manhattan. De Kooning appears four times in A Book of Ages.

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