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Churchill: The Wilderness Years

Robert Pearce sees remarkable continuity in Churchill’s outlook, despite the transformation of his fortunes, in the 1930s.

In an otherwise casual conversation, Winston Churchill once gloomily insisted that ‘We are all worms’, but then immediately perked up and added, ‘but I do believe that I am a glow-worm.’ It was a characteristic remark, for Churchill was renowned for ‘black dog’ periods of depression and also for egotistical feelings of immense self-importance. (The statement also betrays his ignorance of biology, for a glow-worm is in fact a beetle rather than a worm.) Some historians-cum-psychiatrists believe he suffered from cyclothymia, a condition marked by mood swings alternating from misery to elation. It is not as extreme as manic-depression but is usually indicative of a personality disorder. Certainly Churchill knew both moods intimately. When he was down, he had to take care to avoid standing on the edge of station platforms lest the temptation to throw himself in front of an oncoming train proved too strong. When he was up, he had an overpowering conviction that destiny had singled him out for some supremely heroic and glorious task.

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