Sir Randolph Churchill's letter to his son

Published by @piggymouse1 on 2019-10-31

Churchill took the exam for the Royal Military College at Sandhurst in June 1893, helped by a crammer because his higher mathematics was so bad. He passed on his third attempt, but came ninety-fifth out of 389, meaning he would have to join the cavalry rather than the infantry. ‘My dear Winston,’ his father wrote to his eighteen-year-old son on 9 August,

There are two ways of winning an examination, one creditable and the other the reverse. You have unfortunately chosen the latter method, and appear to be much pleased with your success. The first extremely discreditable failure of your performance was missing the infantry, for in that failure is demonstrated beyond refutation your slovenly happy-go-lucky harum scarum style of work for which you have been distinguished at your different schools. Never have I received a really good report of your conduct in your work from any master or tutor … Always behind-hand, never advancing in your class, incessant complaints of total want of application … With all the advantages you had, with all the abilities which you foolishly think yourself to possess … this is the grand result that you come up among the second rate and third rate who are only good for commissions in a cavalry regiment … You imposed on me an extra charge of some £200 a year. Do not think that I am going to take the trouble of writing you long letters after every failure and folly you commit and undergo … because I no longer attach the slightest weight to anything you may say about your own accomplishments and exploits. Make this position indelibly impressed on your mind, that if your conduct and action is similar to what it has been in the other establishments … then … my responsibility for you is over. I shall leave you to depend on yourself giving you merely such assistance as may be necessary to permit of a respectable life. Because I am certain that if you cannot prevent yourself from leading the idle useless unprofitable life that you have had during your schooldays and later months, you will become a mere social wastrel, one of hundreds of the public school failures, and you will degenerate into a shabby, unhappy and futile existence. If that is so you will have to bear all the blame for such misfortunes yourself.

Your affectionate father, Randolph SC