Napping with the greats

Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill, Gustave Flaubert and Vladimir Nabokov all did it, Churchill, moreover, with a whisky and soda accompaniment.

Each of them, according to the daily schedules of the Great featured in a recent Lapham’s Quarterly, had a daily nap or “lounge”. The schedules make for amusing reading. And relaxed living.

Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Here’s a typical day in the life of Churchill around 1930, shortly after he, and the rest of the Conservative Government under Stanley Baldwin, had been voted out of power in the General Election of 1929.

The year 1930 was the beginning of a period known as Churchill’s “wilderness years” in which he spent much of his time writing.

  • 7:30am: Wake up, breakfast, read and dictate while in bed
  • 11: Get out of bed, take walk, drink whisky and soda
  • 1pm: Three-course lunch
  • 3:30: Retire to study
  • 5: Another whisky and soda, nap
  • 6:30: Get up, bathe, dress for dinner
  • 8: Dinner, drinks and cigars
  • 12am: Retire to study again
  • 1: Go to bed.

Charles Darwin (1809-1882)

In 1865, Darwin was 56 years old, though he looked much older on account of the beard he had recently adopted, a feature which came in handy for critics and their caricatures. It was about six years after the publication of On the Origin of Species. This is how he spent a typical day:

  • 7am: Get up, take walk
  • 7:45: Breakfast
  • 8: Work in study
  • 9:30: Go to drawing room, read family letters aloud
  • 10:30: Return to study
  • 12pm: Another short walk
  • 12:45: Lunch with family, read newspaper, answer letters
  • 3: Lounge on sofa
  • 4: Another short walk
  • 4:30 Return to study
  • 6: Rest in bedroom while wife reads aloud
  • 7:30: Tea while family eats dinner, backgammon
  • 10:30: Go to bed.

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880)

In 1850, Flaubert was 29 years old and still beautiful. He was about to set off on his epic debauch with Maxime du Camp through Greece, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt, a trip which resulted in the venereal disease that would affect him for the rest of his life, and produced some of the most remarkable letters and notes ever written.

It was a decisive time in his life for it was also the year he started writing Madame Bovary. This was his day in 1850, a far cry from how he would spend his days in the Middle East.

  • 10am: Wake up, ring for valet, fill pipe, go through mail, converse with mother
  • 11: Light breakfast of eggs, vegetables, fruit or cheese, and cold chocolate drink
  • 12pm: Lounge or walk through woods with family
  • 1: Begin writing
  • 7: Dinner
  • 9: Continue writing
  • 1am: Go to bed.

Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977)

In 1968, Nabokov was writing his longest novel, Ada. Lolita and the vast fame and notoriety it brought him was 13 years in the past. He and Vera had made their last migration – from the US to Switzerland – 7 years earlier. On arrival they had set up residence in the Montreux Palace Hotel, which is where they stayed until his death.

  • 6am: Get up, begin writing
  • 8:30: Breakfast with wife, read mail
  • 9: Continue working
  • 11: Hot soak in bath, sponge on head
  • 11:30: Stroll with wife, eat lunch
  • 12pm: Nap
  • 2: Continue working
  • 7: Dinner, play Cyrillic Scrabble
  • 11: Struggle with insomnia for an hour.



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