It was in 1904 that Muriel Wilson turned down the man destined to become one of the greatest statesmen of this century. That Churchill unsuccessfully proposed to this society beauty, daughter of a wealthy shipping magnate, is well known; the extent to which he begged her to reconsider her decision, reiterating his undying love for her, is not.
Randolph Churchill's biography of his father had even suggested that Churchill had mercenary motives in proposing to her. These letters, however, reveal that his interest in her was genuinely passionate. They also show that the date of the proposal was some years later than previously thought - about four years before his marriage to Clementine.
In a three-page letter believed to date from 1904 - written just after her refusal and when he was making his name as a Liberal MP - Winston Churchill implores Miss Wilson: 'Don't slam the door . . . I can wait - perhaps I shall improve with waiting. Why shouldn't you care about me some day? I have great faith in my instinct . . . Time and circumstance will work for me . . . I
love you because you are good & beautiful.'
He tells her that he will not take no for an answer and that the more he is 'opposed', the stronger his feelings will be: 'I am not going to be thrust back into my grey world of politics without a struggle,' the young MP says.
And Churchill writes of being torn between wanting to reiterate his feelings and a determination to remain silent after being rejected. He tells her that he wrote 'a long letter three days ago, but decided to burn it', refusing to reveal what he said, 'because you would think me tiresome'.
Later that year, he says in an eight-page letter: 'Of course you do not love me a scrap', adding a line about finding a key to her heart: 'if I could only find it - if you would only let me look for it - which would unlock both our hearts'. He also feels 'mysteriously drawn' to her, yet 'you dwell apart - as lofty, as shining & alas as cold as a snow-clad peak'. Churchill continues: 'I do love to be with you - to watch you, to study you, to come in contact with your nature,' and adds: 'I always feel that I am not hateful or ridiculous in your eyes & that no impenetrable veil hangs between us'.
In another eight-page letter, written the following year, he recommends her to read three poems by Burns, whose 'sad life' he felt reflected his own despondent feelings. One of them, Mary Morison, reads: ' . . . canst thou break that heart of his/ Whase only faut is loving thee?'
He also refers to his life in politics: 'Two speeches every day - always different - are most wearing. I have to wrack my brains for new ideas, & strain my memory to recall them.' But he adds: 'If I stop working I get gloomy. So long as I go on I have less time to think. I have no time to live - because I have, apart from work, no life to live.'
In addition, there is a brief reference to the problems of Russia, in which Churchill expresses sympathy for the 'poor impotent Czar'.
Among the collection of seven letters is a sensitive note from Clementine Churchill, written in 1965 to Wilson's nephew after his aunt's death: 'She was a very old friend of ours, especially of Winston's. I think when he was a young man he was very much in love with her.'
Muriel Wilson eventually married an army officer, who is said to have loved fast cars more than his wife. The fact that she kept the letters - at a time when Churchill was not well known - suggests that his feelings for her were not entirely unrequited. They are the only personal letters by Churchill to have come on to the market.
Christie's in South Kensington will be auctioning the seven letters, which are estimated to fetch pounds 9,000, on 13 May.
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