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“Mr. Winston Churchill Presents His Compliments to Mr. Winston Churchill”

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 29, 2019

Before Sir Winston Churchill became a politician, he was a writer. In the late 1890s, Churchill published a pair of books about British war campaigns and continued writing throughout his life.

Around the same time, an American writer also named Winston Churchill was gaining popularity across the pond. His 1899 novel Richard Carvel sold 2 million copies and made him rich.

As the British Churchill recalled in an autobiography of his early life, around this time he reached out to his American counterpart to address the potential for their respective readers to confuse the two. In a letter dated June 7, 1899, it seems that Churchill had a bit of fun with it:

Mr. Winston Churchill presents his compliments to Mr. Winston Churchill, and begs to draw his attention to a matter which concerns them both. He has learnt from the Press notices that Mr. Winston Churchill proposes to bring out another novel, entitled Richard Carvel, which is certain to have a considerable sale both in England and America. Mr. Winston Churchill is also the author of a novel now being published in serial form in Macmillan’s Magazine, and for which he anticipates some sale both in England and America. He also proposes to publish on the 1st of October another military chronicle on the Soudan War. He has no doubt that Mr. Winston Churchill will recognise from this letter — if indeed by no other means — that there is grave danger of his works being mistaken for those of Mr. Winston Churchill. He feels sure that Mr. Winston Churchill desires this as little as he does himself. In future to avoid mistakes as far as possible, Mr. Winston Churchill has decided to sign all published articles, stories, or other work, ‘Winston Spencer Churchill’, and not ‘Winston Churchill’ as formerly. He trusts that this arrangement will commend itself to Mr. Winston Churchill, and he ventures to suggest, with a view to preventing further confusion which may arise out of this extraordinary coincidence, that both Mr. Winston Churchill and Mr. Winston Churchill should insert a short note in their respective publications explaining to the public which are the works of Mr. Winston Churchill and which those of Mr. Winston Churchill. The text of this note might form a subject for future discussion if Mr. Winston Churchill agrees with Mr. Winston Churchill’s proposition. He takes this occasion of complimenting Mr. Winston Churchill upon the style and success of his works, which are always brought to his notice whether in magazine or book form, and he trusts that Mr. Winston Churchill has derived equal pleasure from any work of his that may have attracted his attention.

The American Churchill answered back a couple of weeks later in similar fashion:

Mr. Winston Churchill is extremely grateful to Mr. Winston Churchill for bringing forward a subject which has given Mr. Winston Churchill much anxiety. Mr. Winston Churchill appreciates the courtesy of Mr. Winston Churchill in adopting the name of ‘Winston Spencer Churchill’ in his books, articles, etc. Mr. Winston Churchill makes haste to add that, had he possessed any other names, he would certainly have adopted one of them. The writings of Mr. Winston Spencer Churchill (henceforth so called) have been brought to Mr. Winston Churchill’s notice since the publication of his first story in the ‘Century’. It did not seem then to Mr. Winston Churchill that the works of Mr. Winston Spencer Churchill would conflict in any way with his own attempts at fiction.

The proposal of Mr. Winston Spencer Churchill to affix a note to the separate writings of Mr. Winston Spencer Churchill and Mr. Winston Churchill, the text of which is to be agreed on between them, — is quite acceptable to Mr. Winston Churchill. If Mr. Winston Spencer Churchill will do him the favour of drawing up this note, there is little doubt that Mr. Winston Churchill will acquiesce in its particulars.

Mr. Winston Churchill moreover, is about to ask the opinion of his friends and of his publishers as to the advisability of inserting the words ‘The American’, after his name on the title-page of his books. Should this seem wise to them, he will request his publishers to make the change in future editions.

Mr. Winston Churchill will take the liberty of sending Mr. Winston Churchill copies of the two novels he has written. He has a high admiration for the works of Mr. Winston Spencer Churchill and is looking forward with pleasure to reading Savrola.

I couldn’t find any evidence that either man ever placed a note into any of their books about the possible confusion, but their relationship was cordial. When Mr. Winston Spencer Churchill traveled to the US the next year, he was hosted by the American Mr. Winston Churchill — “He entertained me at a very gay banquet of young men, and we made each other complimentary speeches.” Nonetheless, the confusion continued: “all my mails were sent to his address and the bill for the dinner came in to me”.

Eventually, the fame of the British politician and writer eclipsed that of his American counterpart, whose books slipped from public memory when he stopped writing and withdrew from public life. Mr. Winston Spencer Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953. (via @jackshafer)

A shorter version of this post first appeared in this morning’s Noticing newsletter. You can subscribe to Noticing right here.