Winston Churchill was 15 years old and a student at Harrow School when his mother, Jennie Churchill, wrote him the following letter from London on June 12, 1890.
… I have much to say to you, I’m afraid not of a pleasant nature. You know darling how I hate to find fault with you, but I can’t help myself this time … Your report which I enclose is as you will see a very bad one. You work in such a fitful inharmonious way, that you are bound to come out last—look at your place in the form! Yr father & I are both more disappointed than we can say, that you are not able to go up for yr preliminary exam: I daresay you have 1000 excuses for not doing so—but there the fact remains …
Dearest Winston you make me very unhappy—I had built up such hopes about you & felt so proud of you—& now all is gone. My only consolation is that your conduct is good and you are an affectionate son—but your work is an insult to your intelligence. If you would only trace out a plan of action for yourself & carry it out & be determined to do so—I am sure you could accomplish anything you wished. It is that thoughtlessness of yours which is your greatest enemy …
I will say no more now—but Winston you are old enough to see how serious this is to you—& how the next year or two & the use you make of them, will affect your whole life—stop & think it out for yourself & take a good pull before it is too late. You know dearest boy that I will always help you all I can.
Your loving but distressed
— From My Darling Winston: The Letters Between Winston Churchill and His Mother, edited by David Lough, published by Pegasus Books
This article appears in the October 2018 print edition with the headline “Very Short Book Excerpt: Churchill’s Disappointed Mother.”