Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol II (1901).djvu/22

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Churchill
Churchill
10

bered among the intellectual leaders of Oxford society, and he exhibited no special interest in public affairs. Long afterwards, in 1888, he accepted an invitation to speak at the Oxford Union, and in the course of his address he expressed his regret that he had not joined the society and attended its debates during his residence as an under-graduate. Nor did he seek distinction in those athletic recreations which are most honoured at our universities and public schools; he was no oarsman, cricketer, or football player. He was, however, a keen sportsman. He hunted a good deal, kept a pack of harriers, and took an active part in the college 'grinds,' or steeple-chase meetings. He was also one of the founders of the Myrmidons Club, a coterie of Merton men who met at intervals for dinner and conversation. Though he was not averse from society and amusement at Oxford, there is no foundation for the statement that his university career was one of idleness, dissipation, and disorder. Some stories to this effect were maliciously circulated in the newspapers in connection with an incident with which his name was connected. A slight collision with the police occurred after an undergraduate gathering, and Lord Randolph was brought before the magistrates and charged with assaulting a constable. He always maintained that an error had been committed, and that he was merely an innocent bystander who had taken no share in the fracas. As a whole his conduct while at Oxford was creditable. The late bishop of London, Dr. Mandell Creighton [q. v. Suppl.], who was his tutor at Merton, informed the present writer that he saw nothing to censure in the behaviour of Lord Randolph Churchill during his residence at the college, and that he was much impressed by his pupil's ability and mental alertness. He read for honours in jurisprudence and modern history. The legal subjects prescribed for the examination were distasteful to him, but he was deeply interested in the study of history. He obtained a second class in the honour school of 'jurisprudentia et historia moderna' in Michaelmas term, 1870. There were only three names in the first class on this occasion, and among those who appeared with Lord Randolph Churchill in the second class were Mr. A. H. D. Acland (afterwards vice-president of the committee of council on education), the Earl of Donoughmore, and Mr. A. J. Stuart-Wortley. Writing to Dr. Creighton in 1883 Lord Randolph said: 'It has always been pleasant to me to think that the historical studies which I too lightly carried on under your guidance have been of immense value to me in calculating and carrying out actions which to many appear erratic' (see this letter and a communication from the bishop of London in T. H. S. Escott's Randolph Spencer Churchill, ch. iii.) His favourite author was Gibbon. He was intimately acquainted with the 'Decline and Fall,' and it is said that he knew by heart long passages from the great history. While in residence at Oxford in 1868 he published a letter protesting against some attacks which had been made upon his father's conduct as a local landowner in connection with the parliamentary election at Woodstock. Leaving the university in 1870 he did not immediately turn his attention to politics. During a considerable part of the next four years he resided at Blenheim, where he devoted much of his time to his pack of harriers, which he hunted himself. He had some idea of entering the diplomatic service or the army, and was regarded at this period rather as a young man of pleasure and fashion than of affairs. He was frequently in Paris, and it was at the British embassy in that city that he was married to Jennie, daughter of Mr. Leonard Jerome of New York, U.S.A., on 15 April 1874.

His political career began the same year. In the general election of 1874 he came forward in the conservative interest as a candidate for the Marlborough family borough of Woodstock (4 Feb.) In his election address, which was not otherwise remarkable, he referred to a subject in which he continued to display the liveliest interest throughout his public life. After stating that he would oppose any large reduction of naval and military establishments, he added: 'An economical policy might, however, be consistently pursued, and the efficiency of our forces by land and sea completely secured without the enormous charges now laid upon the country.' He was elected by 569 votes against 404 recorded for his liberal opponent, Mr. George Brodrick, fellow afterwards warden of his old college, Merton. He took his seat in the House of Commons as a supporter of Disraeli's new administration. His maiden speech was delivered on 22 May. It dealt with a local question in which he was interested as member for Woodstock the proposal for establishing Great Western Railway works at Oxford. The effort attracted no particular attention, though so experienced a parliamentarian as Sir William Harcourt considered that it showed promise and paid a compliment to the young member. In the session of 1875 Lord Randolph again proved that he was mindful of his local obligations by defending those minute and decadent borough