Churchill ‘borrowed’ famous lines from books by HG Wells

Monday, November 27th, 2006

Churchill ‘borrowed’ famous lines from books by HG Wells:

Dr Richard Toye, a history lecturer at Cambridge University, has discovered that the phrase “the gathering storm” — used by Churchill to describe the rise of Nazi Germany — had been written by Wells decades earlier in The War of the Worlds, which depicts an attack on Britain by Martians. Dr Toye also identified similarities between a speech Churchill made 100 years ago and Wells’s book A Modern Utopia, published in 1905.
Wells wrote A Modern Utopia in 1905. The book was an attempted update of Thomas More’s Utopia, which championed radical ideas including basic state support for citizens. Churchill, then a junior minister in the Colonial Office, did not get around to reading it until his holidays the following year.

Two days after writing to Wells, Churchill gave an address to the Scottish Liberal Council in Glasgow in which he said the state should support its “left out millions”. Historians now regard this as a landmark speech of Churchill’s career.

In 1908, Wells supported Churchill when he stood in a by-election for the seat of Manchester North-West.

In 1931, Churchill admitted that he knew Wells’s work so well he could pass an exam in it. “We need to remember that there was a time when Churchill was a radical liberal who believed these things,” Dr Toye explained. “Wells is often seen as a socialist, but he also saw himself as a liberal, and he saw Churchill as someone whose views were moving in the right direction.”

This, evidently, was a period in which the term “liberal” shifted meaning.

Some of the “liberal” ideas Churchill and Well shared:

  • On the state:
    Like Wells, Churchill said the state should support its citizens, providing pensions, insurance and child welfare.
  • On Utopia:
    Wells entitled his book A Modern Utopia.

    Churchill, two days after expressing his “debt” to Wells, described his own vision of the supportive state as a “Utopia”.

  • On selective breeding:
    Wells advocated the idea of selective breeding, arguing that people should only be able to have children if they met certain conditions such as physical fitness and financial independence.

    Churchill told Wells he particularly admired “the skill and courage with which the questions of marriage and population were discussed”. Churchill was then described by a friend as “a strong eugenist”.

  • On English-speaking peoples:
    Wells predicted the political unification of “the English-speaking states” into “a great fed eration of white English-speaking peoples”. Churchill often argued for to the “fraternal association” or “unity” of the English-speaking peoples, and even wrote a four- volume history of the English-speaking peoples.

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