It’s difficult to imagine the stress experienced by Winston Churchill in June of 1940, as WWII gathered pace just a couple of months after he first became Prime Minister. Behind the scenes, however, the weight on his shoulders was noticed and felt by all those around him — so much so that on the 27th of the month, his wife, Clementine, wrote him the following superb letter and essentially advised him to calm down and be kind to his staff.
Note: “On ne règne sur les âmes que par le calme” roughly translates as, “One can reign over hearts only by keeping one’s composure.”
(This letter, along with 124 other fascinating pieces of correspondence, can be found in the bestselling book, Letters of Note. Reproduced with permission of Mary Soames.)
10 Downing Street,
June 27, 1940
I hope you will forgive me if I tell you something that I feel you ought to know.
One of the men in your entourage (a devoted friend) has been to me & told me that there is a danger of your being generally disliked by your colleagues and subordinates because of your rough sarcastic & overbearing manner — It seems your Private Secretaries have agreed to behave like school boys & ‘take what’s coming to them’ & then escape out of your presence shrugging their shoulders — Higher up, if an idea is suggested (say at a conference) you are supposed to be so contemptuous that presently no ideas, good or bad, will be forthcoming. I was astonished & upset because in all these years I have been accustomed to all those who have worked with & under you, loving you — I said this & I was told ‘No doubt it’s the strain’ —
My Darling Winston — I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner; & you are not so kind as you used to be.
It is for you to give the Orders & if they are bungled — except for the King, the Archbishop of Canterbury & the Speaker, you can sack anyone & everyone — Therefore with this terrific power you must combine urbanity, kindness and if possible Olympic calm. You used to quote:— ‘On ne règne sur les âmes que par le calme’ — I cannot bear that those who serve the Country and yourself should not love as well as admire and respect you —
Besides you won’t get the best results by irascibility & rudeness. They will breed either dislike or a slave mentality — (Rebellion in War time being out of the question!)
Please forgive your loving devoted & watchful
I wrote this at Chequers last Sunday, tore it up, but here it is now.