The Hope of the World

Yes, that’s a hell of a pretentious title. Or magnificently idealistic, depending on your perspective.

By happenstance, we recently acquired three works from three First World War leaders – all first-hand accounts of the ultimately ill-fated ideals threading the peace treaty that ended the First World War and the formation of the League of Nations. Both were intended to prevent a Second World War, the one that began only 20 years after the First.

Woodrow Wilson and The Hope of the World

This little book – quite uncommon in the dust jacket – chronicles the failed advocacy of President Woodrow Wilson, at the end of the First World War, to persuade the United States to ratify the Treaty of Versailles and join the embryonic League of Nations. It contains “Messages and Addresses delivered by the President between July 9, 1919 and December 9, 1919”.

Before the United States entered the First World War in April 1917, President Wilson had sought to keep America out of the “European war” and “appealed to American citizens to ‘act and speak in the true spirit of neutrality, which is the spirit of impartiality.’” Yet even before a reluctant United States formally joined the war, President Woodrow Wilson pursued the idea of a League of Nations. “On 27 May 1916 the president announced his vision of collective security… calling for a new global community of democratic nations to preserve world peace and protect universal human rights.” Wilson anticipated that “a postwar League of Nations, … would replace Europe’s discredited balance of power and old alliances. ‘There must be, not a balance of power, but a community of power; not organized rivalries, but an organized common peace.’ This was his vision of a new ‘covenant’ among ‘democratic nations.’” At the Paris Peace Conference that convened in January 1919 at Versailles, Wilson “made drafting the covenant for this new international organization his top priority and insisted on its inclusion in the peace treaty.”

But while Wilson had an international constituency, he lacked a critical domestic one. “On his return home, Wilson presented the treaty to the U.S. Senate. Wilson’s 10 July 1919 speech presenting the Peace Treaty and League of Nations to the United States Senate for ratification is the first address in this volume: “We entered the war as the disinterested champions of right, and we interested ourselves in the terms of the peace in no other capacity”. He asserted “it was not easy to graft the new order of ideas on the old.” Wilson called the League of Nations “not merely an instrument to adjust and remedy old wrongs under a new treaty of peace”; it was, he said, the “only hope for mankind.”

The U.S. Senate, and particularly Henry Cabot Lodge, leader of the Republican majority, opposed Wilson and ratification. In the face of Senate opposition, “Wilson… decided to appeal directly to the American people and in September 1919 went on a speaking tour of western states.” However, Wilson “failed to mobilize public opinion effectively against Lodge and the Republican-controlled Senate. During the western tour, Wilson’s health collapsed. On 2 October 1919, back in Washington, he suffered a massive stroke.” With Wilson’s health, hope of U.S. participation also collapsed. “The Senate rejected the treaty on 19 November 1919 and again on 19 March 1920, thereby preventing the United States from joining the League of Nations – a critical absence that crippled the organization from its inception.

“A Practical Suggestion” from Jan Smuts

We were thrilled to recently acquire this copy of legendary South African and Commonwealth leader Jan Smuts’s book on the post-First World War Peace – thrilled because this copy was inscribed by Smuts in Paris in 1919.

Renowned South African soldier and statesman Jan Christiaan Smuts (1870-1950) served as both the 2nd (1919-1924) and 4th (1939-1948) Prime Minister of South Africa. He was an important figure in world politics, serving in the British War Cabinet in both the First and Second World Wars, and having a hand in the formation of both the League of Nations and the United Nations. Smuts was the only person to sign the peace treaties ending both the First and Second World Wars, and was the only person to sign the charters of both the League of Nations and of the United Nations. With respect to the former, “he may justly be called one of the principal progenitors of the League of Nations.”

During the First World War, “In the midst of his public duties, Smuts also re-established his ties with his Quaker, Liberal, and radical feminist friends… They… undoubtedly strengthened his liberal internationalism…. After armistice he was responsible for the demobilization plans of all the British departments and for compiling the British brief for the peace conference… Smuts’s experience of the South African War and the influence of his radical and pacifist friends deeply informed his opposition to the idea of total war, or indeed total surrender, and his keen advocacy of a new international order, embodied in his pamphlet The League of Nations, a Practical Suggestion… At the Paris peace conference, where with Botha he represented South Africa, Smuts continued to argue in vain for a magnanimous peace; he despaired that the Versailles treaty was ‘conceived on a wrong basis that… will prove utterly unstable and only serve to promote the anarchy which is rapidly overtaking Europe.’ He even threatened to resign as a delegate and lead a campaign against the treaty as ‘an abomination’… Nevertheless, when Lloyd George asked pointedly whether he was prepared to return the German colonies in south-west or east Africa, Smuts equivocated – and signed the treaty.” (ODNB)

In his work and in this book, Smuts had advocated that the nascent League of Nations “occupy the great position which has been rendered vacant by the destruction of so many of the old European Empires and the passing away of the old European order.” Smuts wanted the League to “be put in the very forefront of the programme of the Peace Conference and made the point of departure for the solution of so many of the grave problems with which it will be confronted.” Smuts’s vision was not realized. The failures of the post-World War I peace and the inadequacies of a League of Nations far more limited than Smuts had advocated helped precipitate the Second World War two decades after Smuts wrote this book. Smuts was destined to play an even greater role in that war and, in the wake of it, in the formation of the more robust and enduring institution of the United Nations.

David Lloyd George – a purpose rooted in “the present as much as the past”

The final work prompting this post is, like the two above, about the First World War settlement. But unlike the two works above, it was written on the eve of the Second World War.

This is a two-volume, first edition, first printing set of David Lloyd Goerge’s memoirs of the peace conference that ended the First World War. As British Prime Minister from 1916-1922, Lloyd George was a principal architect of the conference and peace. This set captured our attention for its exceptional condition, still housed in the original publisher’s slipcase and retaining most of the original glassine dust wrappers. But the set is even more noteworthy for timing than for condition. It is no accident that Lloyd George was publishing his memoirs of the peace settlement that ended the First World War in 1939, on the eve of the Second World War. The extensive blurb on the slipcase concludes “an account by one of the three men who directed it of the entire bewildered drama that still has its echoes in the Europe of 1939.”

These two volumes were widely regarded as “the continuation and conclusion” to Lloyd George’s Memoirs of the First World War, published in six volumes between 1933 and 1936. In those six volumes, David Lloyd George was not just continuing, amid the rise of Hitler’s Third Reich, to “debate on the strategy and ethics of the First World War.” He was “also implicitly arguing the case for a totally different approach towards Germany and international affairs in the 1930s. Their purpose was the present as much as the past.”

The same can be said of Memoirs of the Peace Conference. From 1936 on, “Lloyd George’s main preoccupation now was trying to reverse the effects of Versailles… As Germany fell into totalitarian dictatorship under Hitler, Lloyd George renewed his attacks on the reparations and unjust frontiers imposed on the defeated Germans. He was critical of the league and the failure to disarm as laid down in the peace treaties, and highly censorious of the French.” All of this was perhaps quite reasonable, but it was a time of great errors in judgement and Lloyd George was not immune. Lloyd George visited Hitler. Thereafter he wrote ecstatically of Hitler as ‘the greatest living German’, ‘the George Washington of Germany’ (Daily Express, 17 Sept 1936). It was a serious miscalculation… and did him much harm.” Nonetheless, “Right down to September 1939 he was a major political player.” Lloyd George “made one last great Commons speech, on 8 May 1940, when his devastating attack on Neville Chamberlain helped to bring the prime minister down and led to the succession of Winston Churchill.”

The presence of the past

The world learned at least something from the failures of the post-First World War peace. Although the world is riven with lesser conflicts, there have been no conflicts as internationally encompassing and devastatingly destructive as a world war for 80 years – four times the interval between the First and Second World Wars. The United Nations, successor institution to the League of Nations, has seen far more expansive international participation, and taken on broader and more robust roles in international affairs.

But the binding cords of international accord visibly fray. Disarmament treaties expire without being replaced. Longstanding treaties promising mutual aid among democratic nations falter or fray. Alliances among aggressor nations strengthen. International trade norms and rules are likewise flouted or dismantled. Efforts at new, multi-lateral trade agreements fall short of their potential as the United States suffers radical political oscillations and flirts with protectionism and isolationism. International courts issue indictments and warrants for wantonly belligerent heads of state, who shrug them with impunity. Freedom of speech and of the press and even citizen preference for, and confidence in, self-government precipitously declines.

When institutions and norms and values and even good will fail, there is history. To remind us that hope is the responsibility of each successive generation. That each generation is burdened with imperfection, ugly compromise, and failure. That relentless effort to achieve a comprehending awareness is not an esoteric intellectual pursuit, but a necessary foundation for constructively engaging and shaping the world. That books remind us. They fill shelves and rooms and whole libraries with the weight of what we have thought and tried. All so that we might remember and understand and, perhaps, be able to do better when we try again.


Churchill Book Collector

References: ODNB, ANB, Cambridge University Press

Churchill der Weltlugner

For those of you unfamiliar with polemic German, that translates “Churchill the World Liar.” This subtle and gently nuanced critique, below an unflattering original caricature of Winston S. Churchill appears to have been inked by a German soldier on 3 October, just a month after the Second World War began. This ostensibly unique, hand-drawn poster survived nearly five years of war before it was recovered from captured German barracks by an Allied solder.

The piece measures 12.25 x 8.5 inches (31.1 x 21.6 cm). The drawing features a slightly demonically-rendered countenance of Winston S. Churchill wearing a hat high on his head, cocked to the right with a stylized, gloved hand clawing around the brim. Churchill’s eyes are slightly asymmetrical and horizontally elongated, the roundness of his face slightly and unflatteringly exaggerated, his mouth open. The net effect is oddly evocative of an inebriated, rotund, clumsily malign and yet simultaneously ridiculous German burgher. The drawing, measuring 4.5 x 3.5 inches (11.4 x 8.9 cm) and framed by two border rules, occupies the upper center of the paper below a prominent, underscored title labeling the image “Unser Feind!” (“Our Enemy!”). Lightning-shaped arrows originating from the underscoring beneath the title point unsubtly to either side of the image – just in case the identity of the subject “Unser Feind” is in question. Centered directly below Churchill’s image are two further lines: “Churchill, | der Weltlugner”. (“Churchill, the World Liar”). At the lower right corner, just inside of a single border rule, the image is dated “8 Okt. 1939” and signed by the artist. The signature is indecipherable.

Condition is very good, particularly given the age and wartime experience of the piece. There are pin holes at the corners, a small hole in the second “h” of Churchill’s name, and a small vertical hole, wider at the center and pointed at the ends, in Churchill’s upper right forehead; it requires little imagination to perceive the shape of this hole as consonant with a knife point. There are five small circular stains adjacent to the upper and lower vertical center, some light spotting to the blank lower portion of the drawing, light overall soiling, the soiling heavier to the upper verso, where we also note a small paperclip rust stain.

Clues to provenance are tantalizing. 3 October, when this piece was drawn and signed, was an optimistic day for the Wehrmacht; on this day in 1939, French forces completed their withdrawal from advanced positions in German territory and the last significant units of the Polish army surrendered, allowing German forces to begin redeploying from Poland to western Europe. Two days prior, on 1 October, Churchill, then still First Lord of the Admiralty, made his first wartime radio broadcast.

Of course Churchill was not yet wartime Prime Minister and the stern rhetoric that characterized his wartime speeches was perhaps somewhat tempered. Even so, any German solder listening would have rightly regarded Churchill as “Our Enemy!” Even as Britain’s allies were falling with shocking speed, Churchill spoke of resistance, resolve, and implacable opposition to Germany’s ascendant Fuhrer. Churchill told the British people to “…prepare for a war of at least years. That does not mean that victory may not be gained in a short time. How soon it will be gained depends upon how long Herr Hitler and his group of wicked men, whose hands are stained with blood and soiled with corruption, can keep their grip upon the docile unhappy German people. It was for Hitler to say when the war would begin, but it is not for him or his successor to say when it will end. It began when he wanted it, and it will end only when we are convinced that he has had enough.”

We do not know what befell the artist who created this poster, or the soldiers who had it in their barracks four years, eleven months, and fifteen days after it was signed and dated. Nonetheless, we can be sure that the world and the war looked much different to Germany and her soldiers than it had on 3 October 1939.

At the upper left of the poster’s verso is a dated notation in pencil in four lines: “18 Sept 44 | The Jerries left this | behind at their now our | barracks.” Below and in a different hand, also in pencil, is a translation of the poster “Our enemy | the world liar”. Pin holes at the center of circular thumbtack indentations at each corner make it seem more than probable that this poster was displayed informally. Perhaps that is how it was discovered by the presumed allied soldier who made the notation on the back of the poster. The term “Jerry” to refer to the Germans was used generally by Allied soldiers and civilians, but originated with, and was most used by, the British. We cannot be sure of exactly where or by whom this poster was found, but in the European theater in mid-September 1944, Operation ‘Market Garden’ – involving one of the largest airborne operations in history – was underway. On Monday, 18 September 1944, British ground troops linked with U.S. 101st Airborne Division in Eindhoven, Holland.

The juxtaposition of the sentiments with which this unique artifact was drawn at the beginning of the war, and the manner in which it was discovered and claimed almost five years later, limn the brutal arc from the heady initial blitzkrieg of German ascendance to imminent, ignominious, and utter defeat.

This piece was once part of the extraordinary collection of Philip David Sang (1902-1975). Sang donated manuscript collections to Brandeis University, Yale University, the Illinois State Historical Museum and to Southern Illinois University, among others. He also loaned items from his vast collection to many museums and libraries for historical exhibits. Following his death, his widow, Elsie Olin Sang, sold many of his remaining manuscript and archival collections. This piece thus made its way to a colleague in the book trade, who held it for a number of years before conveying it to us.

As for the subject of this caricature, the artist hardly needed to go to the trouble of identifying his subject as “Churchill”. Prolific and almost instantly recognizable caricature would characterize most of Winston Churchill’s long life. Years before this particular caricature was drawn, Churchill said “cartoons are the regular food on which the grown-up children of to-day are fed and nourished. On these very often they form their views of public men and public affairs; on these very often they vote… But how… would you like to be cartooned yourself? How would you like to feel that millions of people saw you always in the most ridiculous situations, or portrayed as every kind of wretched animal, or with a nose on your face like a wart, when really your nose is quite a serviceable and presentable member? How would you like to feel that millions of people think of you like that? – that shocking object, that contemptible being, that wretched tatterdemalion, a proper target of public hatred and derision! Fancy having that process going on every week, often every day, over the whole of your life… But it is not so bad as you would expect. Just as eels are supposed to get used to skinning, so politicians get used to being caricatured. In fact, by a strange trait in human nature they even get to like it. If we must confess it, they are quite offended and downcast when the cartoons stop…” (Thoughts and Adventures, 1932) So recognizable did Churchill become that for his final political campaign in 1959 his poster was a simple, solid blue profile of his instantly recognizable countenance, with the inevitable cigar protruding – the alleged Weltlugner become instead a Weltfuhrer.


Anthony Eden’s “England”

Robert Anthony Eden, First Earl of Avon (1897-1977) famously resigned his Foreign Secretary post in the British Cabinet on 20 February 1938 in protest of the Government’s appeasement policies. “Although Eden had resigned over the appeasement of Italy rather than Germany, there was no doubt that he was also frustrated and irritated by the pro-Germans in Chamberlain’s Cabinet…” (Roberts, Walking with Destiny, p.423)

Like his fellow anti-appeaser, Winston Churchill, Eden was out of step with both his Party leadership and prevailing public sentiment in his assertion of the imperative to rearm and to resist the rise of European fascism. But unlike Churchill, Eden was not already in political exile,  instead risking his career with his resignation. The following year, in a Strand Magazine profile of the once and future Foreign Minister, Churchill praised Eden for his “readiness to sacrifice unhesitatingly his great position for the sake of his convictions … even the most hostile critic must recognize the strong fibre of his nature, and the resolute purpose of his mind.”

A decade later, Churchill recalled receiving a phone call late in the night of February 20 “as I sat in my old room at Chartwell… that Eden had resigned. I must confess that my heart sank, and for a while the dark waters of despair overwhelmed me… During all the war soon to come and in its darkest times I never had any trouble in sleeping… But now, on this night of February 20, 1938, and on this occasion only, sleep deserted me. From midnight till dawn I lay in my bed consumed by emotions of sorrow and fear. There seemed one strong young figure standing up against long, dismal, drawling tides of drift and surrender, of wrong measurements and feeble impulses. My conduct of affairs would have been different from his in various ways; but he seemed to me at this moment to embody the life-hope of the British nation… Now he was gone. I watched the daylight slowly creep in through the windows and saw before me in mental gaze the vision of Death.” (The Gathering Storm, pp. 257-8)

A Marvelous Artifact

We were recently reminded of this pivotal pre-Second World War moment by a marvelous artifact of the moment. This exceptionally rare volume from the first month of the Second World War is the privately printed, finely bound, limited, and hand-numbered edition of future British Prime Minister Anthony Eden’s 26 April 1938 “England” address. This anti-appeasement speech was given at the Festival Banquet of the Royal Society of St. George just two months after Eden’s resignation. Not only is it one of just twelve copies, but it is also compellingly inscribed by Eden during the Second World War and further accompanied by a wartime autograph presentation letter signed by Eden’s foreign office secretary.

Edition and Condition

The edition is hand-numbered “5” of only twelve copies. Per the Colophon: “This speech was printed privately, in hand-set Centaur type on hand-made paper, by Peter Harvey, at Coed y Maen in the County of Montgomery. It was completed in September 1939, and bound by Nesta Williams Wynn. This edition is limited to twelve copies, of which this is number 5.” The limitation number is hand-written in black.

The binding is full orange Morocco goatskin with raised, blind-rule framed spine bands. The sumptuous paper on which the contents are printed is water-marked and bound with untrimmed edges and decorative endpapers.

As lovely and rare as it is, what renders this item most compelling – not to mention truly unique – is the inscription and presentation letter.

Inscription and Presentation

Eden’s inscription is inked on the recto of a preliminary blank in 11 lines:

To Paul | who was one of the first to see that | “The danger signals are up in many colours | and in many lands”, | in recollection of much | stress of mind and toil | endured together in abortive | attempts to awaken the appeasers, | from | Anthony | November 1942”.

The recipient, Paul Vychan Emrys-Evans (1894-1964), was “Educated at Harrow and King’s College, Cambridge. During the First World War, he served as a lieutenant in the Suffolk Regiment (1914-17) and was wounded in France in 1916. He worked for the Foreign Office from 1917-23 and was later a Conservative MP for South Derbyshire from 1931-45. He was Parliamentary Private Secretary successively at the War Office and Dominion Affairs in 1940-41 and thereafter, from 1941-45, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs. (Gilbert, V, p.903)

Laid in is an autograph note signed on Foreign Office stationery from Foreign Office secretary Valentine Lawford dated “Nov 23rd 1942”. The note reads “Dear Emrys-Evans, The Secretary of State has now inscribed your copy of Peter Harvey’s Edition of his speech on England; and I return it, herewith. Yours sincerely, V. Lawford

The secretarial letter is written and signed by Valentine Lawford (1911-1991), who entered the diplomatic service in 1934 and was assistant private secretary successively to Lord Halifax, Anthony Eden, and Ernest Bevin. He attended the Moscow, Quebec, and Yalta conferences and was appointed to the United Kingdom delegation to the United Nations in 1946, leaving service in 1950.

The Speech

It is difficult to imagine a more quintessentially English venue for Eden’s speech. “The Royal Society of St. George was founded in 1894 with the noble object of promoting ‘Englishness’ and the English way of life.” Eden’s speech was an eloquent effort to connect Englishness to the imperative of resisting fascism at a time when both his government and prevailing public sentiment were still substantially pro-appeasement.

In his speech, Eden praises England’s greatest bequeathal as “the art of self-government by a free people.” Eden’s speech is relatively short, but almost Churchillian in its invocation of social, political, and historical perspective in order to provide validating contextualization for a resolute course of action. In Eden’s case, the cause is preservation of constructive democracy and the need to arm and, if necessary, be prepared to resist, the belligerent aggressiveness of rising European autocracies – namely Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany.

“For us” Eden asserts “freedom is a condition of true international understanding. There can be no lasting peace without freedom.” This Eden asserts as the foundation of an anti-appeasement argument. After touching upon the horrors of the First World War – in which he notes he was a combatant – Eden sets the desire and expectation of “old ways of life with the old security” against the fact of living in a period when society “has rushed forward at a pace which could not be checked or controlled.” Eden speaks of the difficulties of democracy, which can degenerate “rapidly into licence… or repressive restrictions upon liberty” as soon it is deviates “from the narrow path too far either to the left or to the right… either of which inevitably leads to tyranny.”

Echoing an anti-appeasement clarion, Eden quotes Jan Smuts, former Prime Minister of South Africa (who would return to lead his country during the Second World War in September 1939, the very month this volume was published): “’The issue of freedom, the most fundamental issue of all our civilization, is once more squarely raised by what is happening in the world, and cannot be evaded. The danger signals are up in many colours and in many lands.’” It is this line which Eden quotes in his inscription to Emrys-Evans in this volume. Pointing out the rise, accomplishments, and appeal of autocracies, Eden asserts that “A united effort for the spiritual and material rearmament of the nation is the need of the hour.”

The Man

The rest of Eden’s career would be spent serving and succeeding Churchill. Eden would not remain long in the anti-appeasement wilderness, but would nonetheless endure a very long wait for his own opportunity to lead, which would prove both bitter and short when it came. Eden was destined to become one of the most eminent, qualified, and frustrated political lieutenants in British history before he finally became Prime Minister.

Educated at Eton and Christ Church Oxford, among his panoply of accomplishments, Eden served on the western front from 1915-1918 and was awarded the Military Cross. He served as a Conservative Member of Parliament from 1923-1957. His posts included Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign Office (1931-1933), Lord Privy Seal (1934-35), Minister for League of Nations Affairs (1935), and Foreign Secretary (1935-38, 1940-1945, and 1951-1955).

With Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, war came to Britain. “On 3 September, when war was declared, Eden accepted office in the National Government as dominions secretary. Churchill returned to the Admiralty, but unlike Eden as a member of the war cabinet. Although Eden was disappointed with the division of the spoils, he regarded it as his patriotic duty to serve.”

When Churchill became wartime Prime Minister in May 1940, Eden returned to power and, in December, to the Foreign Office, where he remained until July 1945. In November 1942 – the same month Eden inscribed this book – Churchill also made Eden Leader of the House of Commons, “an almost insupportable burden in addition to his duties in the war cabinet, on the defence committee, and in running the Foreign Office.” (ODNB)

A reasonable expectation might have been that, when Churchill’s wartime coalition government fell in July 1945, Eden would succeed Churchill as Leader of the Opposition and eventually become the next Prime Minister when the Conservatives returned to majority. But such were Churchill’s stature and inclinations that Eden was not given the reins until Churchill resigned his second and final premiership in April 1955.

Eden’s long-delayed premiership proved both brief and fraught with challenge, including the Suez Crisis, and showed Eden prone to reveal “irascibility, his inability at times to delegate, and his touchiness in the face of criticism.” Nonetheless, the passage of time sees Eden “increasingly recognized as a serious and patriotic figure who worked under the most appalling pressure for nearly three decades at the front line of British and world politics.” (ODNB) Eden was appointed a Knight of the Garter in 1954 and created 1st Earl of Avon in 1961. Many honors accrued to Eden, and he was an active chancellor of Birmingham University for nearly three decades.


Thoughts on “the gentlest of infirmities”

Recently, I went to a record store with my teenage daughter, where she showed shiny-eyed reverence for old vinyl records – objects that I would have been unable to unload at a garage sale just a few decades ago. I pointed out that she has a subscription to multiple music platforms, each with enormous, on-demand song catalogues that stream with high fidelity through the device of her choice. I pointed out the aesthetic and practical inefficiencies of spinning a frisbee under a needle as a means to consume music, not to mention the silliness of filling shelves with heavy, fragile vinyl discs. Then, I remembered how many bookshelves we have in our house. And, yes, I bought her some vinyl records. Let’s acknowledge that there is much about book collecting that makes no sense.  

While I’m at it, I’ll also acknowledge that, at the end of the year I tend to get a bit reflective. Hence this post, which revisits and connects a number of perspectives I’ve shared over the years and also shared in our new 2024 catalogue. (Click HERE or on the adjacent image to view the catalogue.)

But I was talking about book collecting and how it makes no sense. So back to it. 

Author Nicholas Basbanes wrote a lovely book about the afflicted, aptly titled A Gentle Madness. That title derived from an affectionate description of Isaiah Thomas, the Revolutionary War-era printer, publisher, and author who founded (and contributed his entire, considerable personal library to) the American Antiquarian Society – a still-extant repository for printed records of the United States. Isaiah Thomas was eulogized by his grandson as “touched early by the gentlest of infirmities, bibliomania.”

What was “mania” then is certainly no less now, in our age of almost instantaneously available and nearly infinitely portable information. Sorry Alexandria – one can now carry a literal library on a phone. So why fill shelves with books?

Books are a tenuous combination of perishable materials and discordant chemistry – various types of ink and paper, glue and string and cloth, materials that may be animal, vegetable, synthetic, or all three. The constituent elements of books court entropy and conspire to decohere almost from the moment they are bound together. For the vast majority of books, their purpose is fulfilled in being read and wrecked.

But a very few live a different life. Collectible books transmogrify, becoming something precious, a lingering signal amid the static, objects with a greater purpose than their consumption. And, often, the longer they endure, the better they are regarded.

Here’s something even less sensible. One may pay lots of money for rare or collectible books. But one shouldn’t own them.

That’s right. This bookseller is telling you that you shouldn’t own what you buy.

OK – a clarification so we don’t hear from an attorney… We encourage you not to regard your collectible books as if you own them. We respectfully suggest that your job as a discerning collector is to make sure your collection outlives you and your custody thereof. Relish, of course. Covet, obsess, and even, if you must, brag a little. But foremost, serve as a diligent and conscientious custodian. Take care to preserve what is in your custody. And make sensible provisions to ensure that your charges find a successor custodian with commitment and sensibility equal to your own. Your job is to ensure that what comes into your possession eventually passes from your hands to the next with as much defiance of age and injury as possible.

Why? This is a reasonable question to ask given the assertions above.

Many answers occur. Just to keep things interesting, here’s an answer from a book about… falconry:

“I once asked my friends if they ever held things that gave them a spooky sense of history. Ancient pots with 3,000 year old thumbprints in the clay said one. Antique keys, another. Clay pipes. Dancing shoes from World War II. Roman coins I found in a field. Old bus tickets in second hand books. Everyone agreed that what these small things did was strangely intimate. They gave them the sense as they picked them up and turned them in their fingers of another person, an unknown person a long time ago, who had held that object in their hands. “You don’t know anything about them, but you feel the other person’s there” one friend told me. “It’s like all the years between you and them disappear. Like you become them somehow.” History collapses…”

(from H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald)

Nested within a greater dialogue of what it means to heed and hold a hawk is this rather lovely explanation of why one might wish to have and hold a book. Ms. Macdonald’s passage is an explanation of what a mere thing can convey. In certain books there is a sense of connection embodied in the physical object that exists simultaneous with, yet apart from, the words therein. For some of us, a book can be a small miracle of ephemeral, sentient alignment that we are compelled to conserve. Stewardship of these items is not mere collecting, but an act of safeguarding fragments of our collective, evolving humanity.

Yes, there is a market for rare books. And that market is just as ancient, enduring, and capriciously evolving as the learnings, loves, and lusts that drive us to possess books. But there is also something beyond mere collecting and commerce.

Among and between the pages and stacks and libraries and those who tend them, there is a conversation – a ranging, intermittent, and only vaguely coherent, but nonetheless constant conversation about the conceptions and expressions of who we are and who we hope to be as a species. As the books and ideas therein age and stratify, so too does the conversation. It becomes a susurration, a sort of quiet cultural undercurrent, consistently masked by the prevailing daily tides and wind and weather. But that doesn’t mean the conversational current is either irrelevant or unnecessary. Want of it, one feels, would still the great ocean of our experience, losing it by failing to gently stir its depths while the majority of our energy is always focused on disturbing the surface.

May you be afflicted with “the gentlest of infirmities” and an abundance of shelves.

Escape from Robben Island

We recently had the good fortune to acquire a worn but complete and fully intact ex-library set of the 1900 first edition, second printing of Winston Churchill’s The River War. This is Churchill’s second published work, the lengthiest from his time as an itinerant cavalry officer and war correspondent during the waning days of Queen Victoria’s reign.

Perhaps – understandably – this does not elicit a collector’s “Wow!” Second printing. Worn. And ex-library? But before you turn up your nose, maybe you should ask which library. This particular set was acquired within months of publication by the Robben Island Public Library, on 9 July 1900.

Tiny, 2 square mile (just over 5 square kilometers) Robben Island, off of South Africa’s western cape, began use as a place of imprisonment or exile in the mid-1600s, but gained worldwide fame as the prison that held Nelson Mandela for 18 of the 27 years of his imprisonment. During the second half of the twentieth century, Robben Island was used by the South African government as a prison for political prisoners and convicted criminals. It ceased to be used as a prison in the mid-1990s, concurrent with the fall of Apartheid and during the inaugural presidency of Nelson Mandela under a multi-racial South African democracy. South Africa declared the Island a National Monument in 1996 and the island was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.

Provenance of this set is unequivocal, the oval stamps of “Robben Island Public Library”, most featuring the stamped “9 JUL 00” date of accession and one, on each title page, inked by hand “D.1./00.” Dated accession stamps are found on the Volume I half title, frontispiece recto and verso, title page, first Contents page, first page of text, p.166 portrait, and each of the maps. Dated accession stamps are found on the Volume II initial blank recto, half title, frontispiece recto and verso, title page, all maps, p.270 portrait, and p.301.

There is one further bit of provenance within the set. Each lower front pastedown features the tiny, gilt-printed sticker of “T. Maskew Miller, | Bookseller, Publisher and Stationer | Cape Town & Bulawayo”. Miller (1863-1930) established his eponymous business in Cape Town in 1893, initially importing books and stationery, later expanding into publishing. His Bulawayo branch was established in 1897. It seems virtually certain that Miller originally supplied these books to Robben Island’s Library.

There are no external library marks, no card pockets or chronicle of use, and no deaccession markings. This is consonant with the fact that the library was surely a modest affair. According to the Robben Island Museum, the Robben Island Library dates from the early 1890s, during which time the island was being used to quarantine lepers and “a library was opened in a ward formerly used for the chronic sick.” The Museum states that the small population of Robben Island still supported a library in the 1920s.

Of course, any speculation regarding whether this set was ever read by Mandela is so unsubstantiated as to be fanciful. But we do know that Mandela was a voracious reader and can certainly speculate that this “tale of blood and war” and colonial subjugation of Africa would have fallen within the scope of his literary appetite. Moreover, we know that Churchill was an affecting presence during Mandela’s time at Robbin Island (1964-1982). Mandela recounted, in the late 1960s, having passages of Churchill’s wartime speeches recited to him and his fellow prisoners by an Anglican priest and, in the late 1970s, watching a documentary about the WWI sinking of Prince of Wales. Of the film, Mandela recalled: “What moved me most was a brief image of Winston Churchill weeping… The image stayed in my memory a long time, and demonstrated to me that there are times when a leader can show sorrow in public, and that it will not diminish him in the eyes of his people.” (Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom)

It requires no speculation to note the fascinating timing of this set. In October 1899, the second Boer War erupted between the descendants of Dutch settlers in South Africa and the British. Churchill, an itinerant, adventure-seeking young cavalry officer and war correspondent, swiftly found himself in South Africa with the 21st Lancers and an assignment as press correspondent to the Morning Post. Not long thereafter, on 15 November 1899 – only 8 months before the “JUL 1900” accession date of this set – Churchill was captured during a Boer ambush of an armored train. His daring and dramatic escape less than a month later made him a celebrity and helped launch his political career.

Following his escape, “For the next six months, he encountered fire, took part in the bloody and unsuccessful battle of Spion Kop in January 1900 and, as the war turned in Britain’s favour, was present at the relief of Ladysmith and the occupation of Pretoria.” (ICS) The very month this set of books was stamped in the Robben Island Library – July 1900 – Churchill arrived back home in England from South Africa. Churchill spent the summer campaigning hard in Oldham, where he won his first seat in Parliament on 1 October 1900 in the so-called “khaki election” on the strength of his status as a hero of the war.

While their paths were incomparably disparate in most respects, it can be said of both Mandela and Churchill that their paths to the leadership of their respective nations passed through South African prisons.

Though Churchill’s escape proved swift and salutary, this particular artifact of Churchill-as-author served a longer sentence. We are fortunate that these books improbably survived their term on Robben Island to find us now, oceans and continents and a century and a quarter removed from their first home.


“The P.M. also has them typed in this curious way – like Psalms…”

If you are an antiquarian bookseller, then no physical object is just an object. Each item we handle, however mundane it may physically appear, encapsulates, represents, preserves, or conveys something greater than just the sum of its physical attributes.

Take, for example, four old typed sheets, pasted on some blue notepaper. These humble sheets are a proverbial front row seat to one of the most gifted orators in recorded history and a physical artifact of the Second World War. They are also a connection not only to Winston Churchill in the early days of his wartime premiership, but also to a man who closely, long, and loyally served and observed Churchill.

The Object

These sheets are the final paragraphs of Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill’s 8 October 1940 speech to the British House of Commons, typed and hand-emended on four pages in Churchill’s distinctive ‘psalm form’, along with a manuscript note from Churchill’s Private Secretary, John Rupert “Jock” Colville, explaining the origin and use of these pages.

Four typed sheets are pasted on to the recto and verso of blue-ruled notepaper. In his own hand, filling the first six lines of an additional sheet of blue-ruled note paper, Colville provides both explanation and provenance: “The end of the P.M.’s speech in the House on Oct 8th. | These pages are flimsy copies of the actual text from which he | spoke and are those from which I checked and followed | the speech as it was delivered. | The P.M. also has them typed in this curious way – like | the Psalms, as Lord Halifax says!

The “Tuesday, October 8th” entry in Colville’s diary, published many years later, refers to these very notes: “I followed the speech from a flimsy of the P.M.’s notes, which are typed in a way which Halifax says is like the printing of the psalms.” (The Fringes of Power, Downing Street Diaries 1939-1955, p.258)

Of course, Churchill’s speech has been reprinted many times in many volumes and can readily be read off not only myriad printed pages, but also off of any screen after a moment’s quick search of the internet. But you experience something entirely different when reading Churchill’s words thus, looking over Colville’s spectral shoulder, holding the same pages he held, and mouthing the words as you imagine listening to them as they were actually delivered by Churchill in the House of Commons on 8 October 1940.

Colville’s confirmation that Halifax coined the term for the layout of Churchill’s speeches (allegedly because it reminded the pious Halifax of lines from the Book of Psalms) is a delicious bit of irony. Halifax had been Neville Chamberlain’s Foreign Secretary and an architect of the failed policy to appease Hitler. It was Halifax’s unwillingness to succeed Chamberlain that cleared the way for Churchill to become Prime Minister; Halifax instead became Churchill’s ambassador to America. Halifax’s “psalm” observation is no accident of liturgical linguistics; the church-going, fox-hunting, politically adept aristocrat was given the nickname “The Holy Fox” by none other than Churchill.

Churchill’s speeches were not only typed out in ‘psalm form’ but then “hole-punched with a tool Churchill called ‘Klop,’ named for the noise it made…” so that they could be “fastened with a… short piece of yarn with metal bars at each end, which allowed him to flop from sheet to sheet…” (Langworth, The Churchill Project)

The four sheets are hole-punched at the upper left. Consonant with Colville’s note that these pages “are those from which I checked and followed the speech as it was delivered”, there are two minor emendations.

Colville’s explanatory note shows loss and scarring along the right edge and a paperclip stain to the upper left. The typed speech sheets remain as originally glued to the note paper, with some attendant original wrinkling. They are marked in pencil at the upper right “E” and “F” respectively.

The Moment

On 8 October 1940, Britain and her Prime Minister were suffering the dire consequences of appeasement. The four pages of Churchill’s speech, comprising the final, two-paragraph peroration, encapsulate the state of Britain in October 1940, beleaguered, alone, and enduring the sustained air assault by Hitler’s Luftwaffe that would become known to history as the Battle of Britain.

The day Colville held these notes while he listened to his boss deliver the words in the House of Commons, he arrived for work at No. 10 Downing Street and “found everybody crouching in the shelter because bombs had fallen in the Horse Guards Parade and on the War Office.” There was no forgetting that London was under attack, even at comparative ease in the waning hours of the day. Colville recorded that in the evening, after the speech, Churchill “was in great form – as always after a speech has been successfully achieved – and amused [Anthony] Eden and me very much by his conversation with Nelson, the black cat, whom he chided for being afraid of the guns and unworthy of the name he bore. ‘Try and remember,’ he said to Nelson reprovingly, ‘what those boys in the R.A.F. are doing.” A year later, Colville would be one of “those boys in the R.A.F.” but that night he spent like the rest of his fellow Londoners, beneath the bombs, recording of his sleep “The air in the shelter went wrong in the middle of the night and I almost stifled.”

Churchill’ speech was long. He spoke of homes destroyed in the Blitz, and of personally visiting the destruction, showing his gift for encapsulating and projecting British resilience: “I have never been treated with so much kindness as by the people who have suffered most. One would think one had brought some great benefit to them, instead of the blood and tears, the toil and sweat which is all I have ever promised.” Churchill resisted calls for in-kind reprisals on Germany, insisting that only military targets should be attacked. Churchill also spoke of U.S. aid to Britain and addressed press criticism of Britain’s recent Dakar expedition.

He also spoke of Spain, which is where the four pages of Colville’s copy of Churchill’s speech notes begin. In his closing, Churchill strikes a characteristic tone – boldly defiant, lyrically inspiring, and soberly realistic all at once.

“Because we feel easier in ourselves
        and see our way more clearly
          through our difficulties and dangers
              than we did some months ago;

        because foreign countries,
                     friends or and foes,

          recognise the giant,
                               resilient strength

            of Britan and the Br. Empire,

do not let us dull for one moment
      the sense of the awful hazard
                 in which we stand.

Do not let us lose the conviction
       tt it is only by supreme and
             superb exertions,
                     unwearying, indomitable

       tt we shall save our souls alive.

No-one can predict or even imagine
      how this terrible war against
             German and Nazi aggression
                   will run its course,

      or how far it will spread,

        or how long it will last.

Long dark months of trial and tribulation
         lie before us.

Not only great dangers,

      but many more misfortunes,

              many shortcomings,

                        many mistakes,

                                    many disappointments

      will surely be our lot.

Death and sorrow will be the companions
        of our journey,
            hardship our garment;

        constancy and valour are our
                   only shield.

We must be united;

            we must be undaunted;

                         we must be inflexible.

Our qualities and our deeds
      must burn and glow
               through the gloom of Europe

      till they become the veritable beacon
               of its salvation.”

Colville himself noted that this peroration “was eloquently spoken and enthusiastically received.”

Jock Colville

The Second World War was only a month old when, on 3 October 1939, a brilliant 24-year-old civil servant in the Foreign Office was appointed Assistant Private Secretary to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Seven months later, when wartime leadership famously passed to Winston Churchill, Sir John Rupert Colville (1915-1987) began working for Churchill. Colville would remain “almost constantly at Winston’s side” for the majority of Churchill’s two premierships (May 1940-July 1945 and October 1951-April 1955).

Colville’s 10 Downing Street service to Churchill was interrupted only by Colville’s active service as an RAF pilot between October 1941 and December 1943. Apart from Colville’s official contributions to history, we are obliged to him for his defiance; although it was forbidden under wartime regulations, Colville kept meticulous diaries that he locked nightly into his 10 Downing Street desk. Significant excerpts from this diary were eventually published in 1985, self-deprecatingly titled The Fringes of Power: Downing Street Diaries 1939-1955. Colville’s diaries continue, even now, to illuminate Churchill’s wartime leadership. Most recently, New York Times bestselling author Eric Larson relied heavily on Colville’s diaries in writing The Splendid and the Vile (2020), his novelized take on the first year of Churchill’s wartime Premiership.

Of course, Colville did more than observe and record. On 8 October 1940, after following the speech from these very notes, “John Peck and I corrected the official report and altered the text in many places to improve the style and the grammar; for the P.M.’s speeches are essentially oratorical masterpieces and in speaking he inserts much that sounds well and reads badly.”

Colville’s compulsive will to write, his position at the epicenter of action, Churchill’s deep confidence in him, and his keen and discerning intellect render Colville’s diaries a significant contribution to the known history of Churchill and his time. In the interwar years, Colville served as Private Secretary to Queen Elizabeth II (while she was still Princess Elizabeth) and married one of her ladies-in-waiting. Colville raised funds for the establishment of Churchill College, Cambridge (where his diaries now reside), and was eventually a trustee of both Winston’s and Lady Churchill’s estates.

Colville was knighted in 1974, having previously been awarded the Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in 1955, and the Companion of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) in 1949. 


Vivienne & Winston

Florence Vivienne Entwistle, nee Mellish (1889-1982) first photographed Winston S. Churchill sometime between late December 1949 and early February 1950. Her journey to both photography and the Churchill family was intriguingly oblique.

She had trained and performed as a singer. Upon marriage to the artist Ernest Entwistle, she took up a successful career as a miniaturist. Her photographic career did not begin until 1934, when, midway through her forties, she began assisting her husband and son, Antony Beauchamp, with photography. When Antony set up his own studio, she did the same, adopting the name “Vivienne”, photographing an array of public personalities, including five successive prime ministers.

Vivienne’s relationship with the Churchills had a rocky start. On 18 October 1949, the Churchills’ daughter, Sarah, married Antony. Winston and Clementine “learned of the marriage… from the newspapers” and were “greatly upset… particularly Clementine, who took it very hard indeed.” Nonetheless, on 19 December 1949 Winston and Clementine visited Antony’s mother, Vivienne, in her studio and on 20 December Clementine wrote to Sarah “We have made friends with Antony’s father and mother and we had an agreeable luncheon together.” (Gilbert, Vol. VIII, p.496)

It was then, or very soon thereafter, that Vivienne made her best-known image of Winston Churchill. It may have been captured when Churchill first visited Vivienne’s studio in December 1949. Given that it was used in a campaign publication for the February 1950 General Election (see Cohen A247.2), it was taken no later than early 1950. We can also be certain that it was captured in Vivienne’s studio; Vivienne was known for requiring her subjects to come to her. Indeed, Vivienne’s autobiography is titled They Came to My Studio (1956) and this very image of Winston graces the dust jacket. Vivienne recalls (p.16) that this iconic and often reproduced image was the last of their photo session, the product of Churchill agreeing to give her “only one more minute” after he had already risen to go.

The relationship with the Churchills became familial. Vivienne “is possibly the only photographer to have had the privilege of photographing the entire Churchill family.” Vivienne eventually made exceptions to her in-studio rule for the Churchills. The National Portrait Gallery holds 214 of Vivienne’s portraits, including her most famous one of Winston (NPG x45168) and fourteen others of Winston, Clementine, and their grandchildren, the majority of which were taken at the Churchills’ country home, Chartwell.

We have the good fortune to currently offer three signed Vivienne portraits of the Churchills, all of which have a story to tell beyond just the general improbability of having been captured by the mother of the man who maritally absconded with their daughter.

Our first offering is a pair – one of Winston and one of Clementine – each signed, respectively by Winston and Clementine. Significantly, Winston’s print is not only signed, but dated in his hand “1950”.

The date is significant; widely used during his second and final premiership (1951-1955), this portrait is often mistakenly dated to 1951, even by the National Portrait Gallery. A date of “1950” in Churchill’s own hand rather decisively settles the issue. Of the image of Clementine (p.28), Vivienne recalls “I was proud when Lady Churchill came to me, because she so rarely consents to go to a studio. I believe she came – as she does so many things – for her husband’s sake.”

Our second offering is another Vivienne studio print of Churchill, but this one signed by both Churchill and Vivienne, and accompanied by a 17 November 1953 presentation letter signed by Churchill’s personal private secretary. This double-signed studio print was a gift to a collector upon the occasion of Churchill being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Notably, the fact that Churchill would receive the award had been announced only a month prior, on 13 October 1953, and the award ceremony did not take place until 10 December 1953. So this collector was demonstrably eager and swift in both requesting and receiving this signed photograph.

But, in our opinion, the accompanying presentation letter from Jane Portal suggests the more compelling story – one that renders the minor scandal of Sarah and Antony’s marriage quite tame by comparison.

Jane Williams nee Portal, Lady Williams of Elvel (1929-2023) “was the niece of both Air Chief Marshal Charles ‘Peter’ Portal and of ‘Rab’ Butler, who served as president of the board of education in Churchill’s wartime coalition government and as chancellor of the exchequer when Churchill returned to power in 1951.” (Stelzer, Working With Winston, p.222) “It was “Uncle Rab” who told his niece in December 1949 that Churchill was looking to hire a new secretary and suggested that she apply.” (Freeman, ICS, 16 July 2023) Portal worked for Churchill from December 1949, when he was still Leader of the Opposition, until April 1955, when he resigned his second and final premiership.

Why Portal left turns out to be quite the story, which took years to be told. Churchill had asked Portal to continue working for him, but Portal left Churchill’s service anyway. Ostensibly, she left to elope with Gavin Welby, from whom she was later divorced. “In 1975, Portal married Charles Williams, Baron Williams of Elvel. Her long life “extended just far enough to enable her to watch her son Justin Welby the Archbishop of Canterbury, crown King Charles III in Westminster Abbey”. (Freeman, ICS, 16 July 2023) But in later years it was discovered – and disclosed by Lady Williams – that her son, the Archbishop, was the issue of an affair immediately preceding her first marriage with another Churchill staffer, Montague Browne. Browne remained in Churchill’s service almost continuously until Churchill’s death in 1965.

All of which is to say that this is why we love doing what we do. Sure, a little bit because these portraits of Winston and Clementine provide indirect testimony to the intriguingly dramatic, sometimes scandalous, and occasionally even salacious web of relationships appended to the long public life of Winston Churchill. But, more broadly and much more significantly, because of how physical artifacts can viscerally connect us to lives long ago spent in an ever-receding past.

A decade before Vivienne captured her portrait of Winston, in November 1940 the newly minted wartime Prime Minister told the House of Commons: “History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days.” Each object we handle, if we are able to discover and tell its story, steadies and brightens the lamp.


“…don’t believe that I’ll be a famous man.” A letter from T. E. Lawrence on the cusp of his becoming indelibly “of Arabia”

In late 1919, T. E. Lawrence was still fifteen-and-a-half years away from his untimely death. That summer, Lawrence had taken the first steps to realizing his pre-WWI ambition to set up a private press with an Oxford Friend by purchasing a property on the edge of Epping Forest. Only months before, he had begun the famously long and tortuous process of writing his account of the Arab Revolt, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. He was only beginning to realize that the rest of his life would not be the retired and retiring printer of books, but would instead be defined by his First World War role in Arabia.

The context is important for the letter Lawrence wrote on 21 November 1919 to an admirer who apparently requested his autograph. The admirer was reportedly a Boy Scout who also solicited autographs from Victoria cross winners, eventually amassing a significant collection.

Lawrence’s letter is noteworthy for a number of reasons. For being signed with his surname “Lawrence” rather than the “Shaw” surname he would soon assume and use for the rest of his life. For capturing Lawrence on the cusp of the fame he would spend the rest of his famously short life struggling to reconcile and reject. And for explicitly mentioning the man who was making a fortune by making Lawrence uncomfortably famous even as this letter was being written.

Lawrence was no stickler for stationery, and would write on almost anything; we once discovered an unpublished letter from him written on the back of an RAF “Application for Mechanical Transport”! Characteristic of Lawrence, this letter is on an unadorned, undistinguished sheet of wove paper measuring 7 x 4.5 inches (17.8 x 11.4 cm), which shows evidence of having been trimmed along the left edge (notionally before Lawrence penned his missive). In eleven lines in Lawrence’s hand in black ink on one side of the sheet, he wrote:

21. XI. 19 | Yes, old son, here’s my signature, | but don’t believe that I’ll be a | famous man. It’s just an | American cinematograph artist | who found out that I was a | novelty in a Fehalai [sic] war, and | is making a lot of money out | of it. | T E Lawrence | P.S. I wish I was making something too!”

T. E. Lawrence’s (1888-1935) remarkable odyssey as instigator, organizer, hero, and tragic figure of the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War transformed him from an eccentric junior intelligence officer into “Lawrence of Arabia.” But that would not have happened without “an American cinematograph artist”.

By late 1919, then 31-year-old Lawrence had experienced the failure of the Paris Peace Conference to achieve the security and sovereignty he had sought for Prince Feisal and his Arab compatriots. “Lawrence was affected deeply by his sudden political isolation and the failure to win a better settlement for Feisal… By the autumn… the strain had taken its toll… By a supreme irony, while Lawrence was trying to come to terms with the failure in Paris, London audiences were being treated to a romanticized version of his wartime career…” (Wilson, Lawrence of Arabia, pp.621-2)

This was the result of the relentless – and relentlessly effective – promotional efforts of Lowell Thomas (1892-1981). In 1917, when the United States entered the First World War, Lowell Thomas and his cameraman Harry Chase (1883-1935) were sent to Europe to find stories that would build American public support for the war. The Western Front understandably failed to inspire, so Thomas embarked for Palestine, drawn by Allenby’s campaign to wrest Jerusalem from the Ottomans.

Jerusalem had been under Muslim control since the crusaders were ejected in 1187. “For Britain the fall of Jerusalem was a notable propaganda coup…” (ODNB) Likewise, Allenby was a coup for Thomas, who would have a hand in Allenby’s subsequent portrayal “as a modern-day Richard Lionheart”. (Punch, 19 Dec 1917) Already preloaded with literary and religious associations, Palestine and the holy city of Jerusalem, along with its liberators, was the story Thomas was seeking. But there was a bigger prize than Allenby and Jerusalem, where, in early 1918, Lowell Thomas also met T.E. Lawrence (1888-1935), who consented to let Thomas capture him in photographs and on film.

This proved fateful. While Allenby became a Field Marshal, his officer, T. E. Lawrence, surpassed all military rank, propelled into legend.

Returning to America, Thomas began giving popular lectures on the war in Palestine, replete with dramatic film and images he and Chase had captured. Thomas was invited to take his lecture and film extravaganza to Britain and, in August 1919 – just a few months before Lawrence wrote this letter – began a tremendously successful run at Covent Garden. Thomas thereafter also toured England. Gradually, the show that had begun as “With Allenby in Palestine” evolved to “and Lawrence in Arabia” or “And Colonel Lawrence in Arabia”. Eventually Lawrence achieved top billing and became simply “of Arabia”. He has remained thus for more than a century.

Lawrence’s feelings about the resulting fame were famously complicated. Even this short letter is revealing. Lawrence’s personal courage and commitment to the cause of the Arab Revolt are beyond dispute. And yet in this letter he belittles both himself and his Arab comrades-in-arms, saying “I was a novelty in a Fehalai war…” Lawrence’s misspelling does not conceal the sentiment; fellah (plural fellaha) is a peasant in Arabic-speaking countries – hardly a fulsome portrayal. Lawrence also twice mentions money – both that Thomas “…is making a lot of money…” and his wish that he, Lawrence, “…was making something too!” In a contemporary letter, Lawrence wrote of Thomas’s promotions “They are… making life very difficult for me, as I have neither the money nor the wish to maintain my constant character as the mountebank he makes me.” (Wilson, p.625)

Lawrence’s biographer said of him that, in 1919, “One consequence of this sudden fame was that Lawrence began to receive large numbers of unsolicited letters… Understandably he wanted none of this, and he replied to few of the letters.” (Wilson, p.626) Fortunately, Lawrence did reply to some, as evidenced by this letter; we cannot know what prompted Lawrence in this specific case, but we do not need to know in order to appreciate both that he did, and that his reply has survived.

Lowell Thomas’s glamorous and romantic image of Lawrence permanently alloyed with the man and his accomplishments. In the years after he wrote this letter, Lawrence would work with Winston Churchill to achieve a settlement that kept faith with the Arabs for whom he had fought. Lawrence would write, destroy, rewrite, suppress, and endlessly fret his written account of the Arab Revolt. Lawrence would even change his surname to “Shaw” and enlist in the RAF in an attempt to distance himself from the indelible celebrity thrust upon him by “an American cinematograph artist”. Nonetheless, he would become and remain “Lawrence of Arabia”. This letter is an artifact of the earliest days of that indelible, inexorable fame.

Click HERE to browse our entire inventory of material by and about T. E. Lawrence.


“Burn Everything” – a trove of material hoarded by Winston Churchill’s Chief Clerk during the Second World War

We write today about a compellingly expansive, eclectic, and interesting collection of material that provides a window on the world of, and adjacent to, Winston Churchill. Only one of our customers will own this archive, so we write about it to share it with everyone else.

Among the many items in this archive is a 29 September 1941 photograph of then-Prime Minister Churchill and his Private Office Second World War staff on the 10 Downing Street garden steps. The image conveys just what a small and intimate group it was. There are only nine figures in the image, including Churchill. At the back right is Charles Barker, who served Churchill’s entire wartime premiership as Chief Clerk, from 1940-1945.

This archive consists of material accumulated and saved by Barker. At the heart of the archive is a magnificent presentation copy of Churchill’s history of the First World War, a wartime edition presented to Barker as a gift for Christmas, 1942, featuring not only Churchill’s dated inscription, but also a typed and dated 10 Downing Street presentation slip. This item is but one of more than 70 individual items in the archive, ranging from books to correspondence and envelopes to photographs, to various mementos, including noteworthy invitations, tickets, and passes. All of these items are interesting. Many are treasures in their own right. Collectively they form a significant, singular, and compelling archive of Winston Churchill and his wartime leadership compiled by a member of his staff who served Churchill closely at 10 Downing Street throughout the Second World War.


This archive came from the collection of British army veteran and noted Churchillian Major Alan Taylor-Smith (1928-2019) of Westerham, Kent, proximate to Churchill’s beloved country home, Chartwell. Not merely a collector, Smith also had his own research and notes on the recipient, as well as how this material was acquired, which are included with the archive.

Charles Barker

Barker, ultimately a 37-year career British civil servant, worked directly for Churchill for the entirety of Churchill’s wartime premiership, from May 1940 to July 1945. During the War, Barker “kept both the papers and the private secretaries in order… cheered up the doleful and was cynically destructive of pomposity. Life at 10 Downing Street would have been less efficient and less enjoyable without him.” (Colville, Winston Churchill and His Inner Circle, p.80)

In his book, The Fringes of Power, Barker’s Private Office colleague John ‘Jock’ Colville described Barker as “efficient and entertaining” and “popular with the Private Secretaries.” Apparently “an expert at old silver”, Barker would impress members of the War Cabinet by valuating their treasures. He also had a fondness for locks, and fancied himself an amateur locksmith. As related by Major Taylor-Smith, one of the first duties assigned to Barker by Churchill was to retrieve King George VI’s despatch box each morning and deliver it to Churchill at his bedside at 7AM. Barker reportedly amused Churchill when he showed him how the King’s despatch box could be opened without a key by simply removing the hidden screws. Barker had “two intelligent men, Pat Kinna and Donald MacKay, working under him and jointly they kept the office in apple-pie order.”

Treasures and locks are a conspicuous theme for this archive. But instead of silver and keys, there are wax seals pressed onto envelopes that read urgent, personal, and secret. There are official wartime photographs; there are staff passes that allow the holder to enter the rooms where wartime decisions were made and the theater in which the war was fought. Together, these artifacts encapsulate a significant period of service to crown and country from the perspective of a vital member of Churchill’s retinue at a singular moment in history.

Present in the archive is a typed letter detailing the breadth and depth of Barker’s service, written by Sir Eric B. Bowyer, “Dear Barker, | your retirement on the 31st October [1956] ends a | long and varied career of more than 37 years in | the Civil Service, during which period you have | served the former Ministry of Pensions, | H.M. Treasury, Control Commission for Germany | and since 1948 in this department [ministry of pensions and national insurance]. During your | service of over five years from 1940 with the | Treasury, you were attached to the staff of the | Prime Minister and it is pleasing to recall that | during that service you were awarded the M.B.E.” Barker was awarded his M.B.E. in the 1946 New Year Honours, of course on Churchill’s recommendation; the December 1945 notification from “Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood” is among the items in this archive.

In his notes accompanying this archive, Major Alan Taylor-Smith reported that Charles Barker resided at 4, Larches Avenue, East Sheen, in south-west London. This is the address to which many letters to Baker in this archive are addressed. Barker attended East Sheen Grammar School and there he was eventually buried in Grave Plot 307 of the East Sheen Cemetery.

Burn Everything

Among the first duties Churchill assigned his new Chief Clerk in May 1940 was to regularly empty all the War Rooms and 10 Downing Street waste baskets then burn everything that might be deemed secret. This was not a janitorial duty, but a matter of national security. Information leaks were a constant fear, and the compartmentalization and containment was an essential practice. The entire D-day invasion, for example, was almost cancelled when twelve copies of the top-secret invasion plans blew out the window of the War Office of London and fluttered down onto the crowded street below. Historian David Howarth writes of that nail-biting event in his biography, “Staff officers pounded down the stairs, found eleven copies, and spent the next two hours in an agonized search for the twelfth. It had been picked up by a passer-by, who gave it to the sentry on the Horse Guards Parade on the opposite side of Whitehall. Who was this person? Would he be likely to gossip? Nobody ever knew.” To wit: gathering and burning documents was a vital and trusted task – far more mundane than James Bond variety secrecy, but deadly essential nonetheless.

So indispensable were Churchill’s wartime Private Office staff that in the event of an invasion there were detailed plans specifying that “Churchill, his family and his Private Office staff would be living at Spetchley House, near Worcester…” The evacuation plan was named ‘Black Move’ and “…this plan envisaged him [Churchill] and his party travelling to Worcestershire in six cars, along a carefully prearranged route, with Colville and Barker taking the current Cabinet papers in their cars, with a three-ton lorry to follow with the remaining Cabinet and other secret papers.” (Gilbert, Finest Hour, p.601).

History thanks Barker’s Private Office colleague, Jock Colville, for not quite following instructions; although it was forbidden under wartime regulations, Colville kept meticulous diaries which he locked nightly into his 10 Downing Street desk. Significant excerpts were eventually published decades later, making a noteworthy contribution to the known history of Churchill’s wartime administration.

Charles Barker may have been less overtly defiant, but – luckily for us – exercised his license to arson with some discretion and restraint. This archive indicates that Barker saved many items of interest that didn’t strictly require disposal for purposes of secrecy.

According to Major Taylor-Smith’s notes, “Charles decided to keep everything from the Cabinet waste paper baskets that was not Secret but interesting. He took it home to East Sheen and put into a leather suit case…” Taylor-Smith reports “I bought this filled suitcase in an auction in Battle, East Sussex after Barker died. Grace Hamblin, Winston’s Literary Secretary 1932-1945 and Clementine’s Companion 1945 to 1966 and first Curator of Chartwell and I sorted everything in the case…”

Certainly, not all of the treasures contained in that suitcase reside in this archive, but more than 70 individual items do.

Archive Contents

An inscribed presentation copy of The World Crisis

This copy of the first Second World War issue of Churchill’s acclaimed history of the First World War is inscribed entirely in Churchill’s hand in five lines on the front free endpaper recto: “To | Charles Barker | from | Winston Churchill | Christmas 1942”. Tipped onto to facing front pastedown is a presentation note on 10 Downing Street stationery with the typed message: “With the Prime Minister’s | best wishes for Christmas and the | New Year | December 1942.”

This first abridged and revised edition – The World Crisis 1911-1918 – was published by Thornton Butterworth just as Churchill was beginning his “wilderness years” decade. Churchill spent nearly the entirety of the 1930s out of power and out of favor, frequently at odds with both his Government and prevailing public sentiment. But in 1940 Churchill became wartime Prime Minister. And also in 1940, Thornton Butterworth went under and a different publisher, Macmillan, acquired the rights to several of Churchill’s books. This inscribed presentation copy is the 1941 first printing of the wartime Macmillan edition.

Barker’s six-volume, first edition set of The Second World War

This full, six-volume, British first edition set features manuscript facsimile compliments slips, a printed compliments card, and Charles Barker’s name. Five volumes are the first printing of the first edition; Volume IV is the second printing of the first edition. Laid into Volume I (formerly tipped on but now loose) is a compliments slip printed on Churchill’s Hyde Park Gate stationery with a facsimile autograph message in Churchill’s hand: “With all good wishes | Winston S. Churchill”. “Charles Barker’s Copy” is written in pencil on the Volume I half title. Tipped onto the Volume II pastedown is a plain compliments slip with a facsimile autograph message in Churchill’s hand: “With all good wishes | from | Winston S. Churchill”. “Charles Barker’s Copy” is written in pencil on the blank recto preceding the half title. Tipped onto the Volume III half title is a publisher’s presentation card printed “With the Compliments | of | the Author” and “Charles Barker’s Copy” is written in pencil on the blank recto preceding the half title. A simpler “Charles Barker” is written in pencil on the Volume IV blank recto preceding the half title. Tipped onto the Volume VI front free endpaper verso is a plain compliments slip with a facsimile autograph message in Churchill’s hand: “With all good wishes | from | Winston S. Churchill”.

Personal correspondence

There are 16 letters addressed to Barker spanning 1945 to 1968. 10 of these letters retain their original envelopes. The majority of the correspondence is from fellow Private Office staff. 7 letters are on 10 Downing Street stationery, 2 are on Buckingham Palace stationery, 1 on Foreign Office stationery, 1 on House of Commons stationery, and 1 on Colonial Office stationery

6 letters are from Jock Colville. Sir John ‘Jock’ Rupert Colville, CB, CVO (1915-1987) served Churchill’s two premierships, interrupted only by his active service as an RAF pilot between October 1941 and December 1943. In the years between Churchill’s premierships, Colville served as Private Secretary to Queen Elizabeth II (while she was still Princess Elizabeth). His letters to Barker are full of delicious quips and glimpses. In a 13 July 1947 letter on Foreign Office stationery, Colville reports on his impending departure for a new post as private secretary to Princess Elizabeth: “The foreign scene is dismal in these days and one’s soul shrivels before the negative, endlessly uncreative and relentless obstructed policy which our gallant Allies oblige us to pursue. It will be a relief to devote one’s energies to other tasks… From all accounts my quote Mistress unquote is a young lady of great vivacity and charm combined with a most precocious sense of responsibility.” In a 4 November 1947 letter on Buckingham Palace stationery Colville reports “I showed your letter of the 30th October to The Princess Elizabeth who was delighted that her speech at Clydeside should have had such an admirable affect [sic] in Germany.”  In a 7 November 1951, newly returned with Churchill to 10 Downing Street, Colville writes “The old Man is full of vigour but more benign than ever.”

A 4 November 1952 letter from Anthony Bevir on 10 Downing Street stationery refers to an cryptic commitment to celebrate with “two dozen oysters a head” when an “Archbishopric falls vacant in my time.” Sir Anthony Bevir, KCVO, CBE (1895-1977) served as private secretary to both Churchill and Attlee (1940-1955).

A letter from Brendan Bracken on House of Commons stationery intriguingly offers Barker a job prospect. Brendan Bracken, 1st Viscount Bracken, PC (1901-1958) was a journalist, Member of Parliament, and wartime Parliamentary Private Secretary and Minister of Information to Winston Churchill. Bracken was created Viscount in 1952. On 17 November 1947 he wrote to Barker commending to him a job writing a feature in The Telegraph in the employ of Lord Camrose.

2 letters are from John Martin. Sir John Martin, KCMG, CB, CVO (1904-1991) served as a private secretary to Churchill throughout the Second World War and was knighted in 1952. He wrote to Barker on 2 January 1952 “…the recent happenings at No 10 take me back to battles long ago. I sometimes feel it a little tantalizing to be out of it this time…”

2 letters are from Sheila Minto, both on 10 Downing Street stationery and full of 10 Downing Street doings and scuttlebutt. Her handwriting is challenging to parse, but the content is tantalizing. Sheila Minto, LVO, MBE (1908-1994), nicknamed ‘The Queen Bee’, served as a chief administrator of Number 10 Downing Street through eight prime ministers.


There are 12 additional envelopes without correspondence. These are testimony to how seriously Barker took his charge from Churchill. Clearly Barker observed the edict of secrecy and either secured or destroyed the letters, but – whether because of the contents they held, their severable appeal, or both – he kept the envelopes.

Two of the envelopes are hand-addressed to Churchill, one marked both “Urgent” and “Personal and secret”, the other merely “Personal and secret”, both featuring Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s wax insignia seal securing the flap. Another hand-addressed envelope, from The Princess Alexandra of Greece, features her insignia seal in silver wax securing the flap. A large, franked, string-secured manilla envelope conveyed a photograph hand-addressed directly to Churchill. A 10 May 1944 “VIA TRANS-ATLANTIC AIRMAIL” envelope addressed to Jock Colville from “Empire Information” in Canada was opened and resealed with a notably official sticker printed “OPENED BY | EXAMINER 4092”. Other envelopes are addressed either to Barker’s Private Office colleagues – namely Jock Colville and John Peck – or to Barker himself.


There are a total of 25 Photographs in the archive. Of these, 15 are wartime photographs, 14 feature Churchill, 10 are original press or military photographs with original captions and/or wet stamps, and 6 feature Barker. Size of the photographs ranges from 11.75 x 8.5 inches (29.8 x 21.6 cm) to 2.5 x 2.5 inches (6.4 x 6.4 cm, a set of 5 photographs still in their original Kodak folder with Barker’s name written thereon by the developer).

At least 9 of the photographs are of Churchill or his wife, Clementine, with other world leaders (including U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Chinese President Chiang Kai-Shek, Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, Eleanor Roosevelt, and British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden) at wartime conferences with world leaders, including the 1944 Quebec Conference and 1945 Crimea (Yalta) Conference. Among the images are also dozens of seniorAllied military and civilian figures.


There are 12 items we categorize loosely as mementos.

Barker saved his two original, personal, numbered passes to the 1944 Quebec Conference attended by Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Mackenzie King. One of these two passes, impressively printed in red and black and signed by both Barker and the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, is Barker’s “Quebec Conference GENERAL PASS COVERING ALL CONFERENCE PREMISES”. There are also copies of Barker’s numbered “ALLIED EXPEDITIONARY FORCE PERMIT” specifying that it was valid “7 JUL 1945 until 7 OCT 45” for AEF OP AREA including GERMANY”.

An intriguing, elaborate, deliciously ironic wartime holiday card from “France Libre” (The political entity headed by Charles de Gaulle that, during the War, claimed to be the legitimate government of France). The card is printed on the front with a tricolor France Libre device, bound in tri-color string, and within features a photograph of a rather silly looking French seaman blowing a bunting-festooned horn and wearing a France Libre device. The card’s interior is printed “Meilleurs voeux pour Noel la Nouvelle Annee” and hand-emended with the valediction “Bien Favoise”. Certainly Barker and his colleagues must have truly appreciated the “Free French” contribution to the war effort – a conspicuously fancy holiday card. There is also the irony that Churchill had been forced in 1940 to order the sinking of the French fleet by the British Navy at Mers-El-Kebir, owing to the fact that said French fleet chose to bravely resist their ally, Britain, rather than the Nazis who had invaded and occupied their country.

Still another elaborate holiday card is from the “British Embassy Dakar”. There are other Africa mementos – a 1958 invoice and receipt for “Barker & party” from “Andy’s Look-Out Hotel” in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa and a printed advertisement card of “Sheppards Hotel” in Fort Victoria (now Masvingo), Zimbabwe.

We note a curious typed list including English artists, architects, and dates, terminating in some notes on how and when silver items were hallmarked per the London Assay Office. We speculate that this relates to Barker’s noted expertise in old silver.

Last but not least, punctuating both the archive and Barker’s long association with Churchill, are Barker’s documents from Churchill’s 30 January 1965 state funeral at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Barker’s personal invitation to the funeral is framed and accompanied by Barker’s St. Paul’s seating ticket, as well as two booklets provided to funeral attendees – The Order of Service for the Funeral of The Right Honourable Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill and the Ceremonial to be Observed at the Funeral. 

The final item in the binder is Major Alan Taylor-Smith’s notes on Charles Barker and the provenance of this archive, printed on four A4 sheets.

It has been a delight to spend some time with the artifacts in this archive, appreciating the glimpses the voices, perspectives, and moments they encapsulate, and communicating some of what we found with you.


Remembering Patrick Powers

A few months ago, just before Christmas, I lost a friend and the Churchill world lost an erudite scholar.

Patrick Powers spent more than half a century teaching at various Catholic colleges in New England. He leaves a wife and sons, relatives and friends and colleagues, but, perhaps most of all, students. So many students, whom he engaged and provoked, challenged and inspired.

Among Patrick’s admirers, there are many more capable of writing traditional obituaries, which have already been composed and read. What I wish to say here about Patrick, I say as a friend.

I learned of Patrick’s bleak and imminent prognosis not many days after he did, on 13 December. I was planning to visit him in January and pestering him for approval of dates. Annoyingly, he was not answering. After a few days of my prodding, he responded, uncharacteristically via text, and shared his terrible news. He may be the only person I know who could tell me both that he just learned he is dying and that he is “Grateful for everything” in the same message.

We argued, Patrick and I. Constantly. With vigor, pointedly, and with the edge-of-insult directness that two intellects who love to argue and truly regard one anther can apply without worrying about offense. I loved him for it. It was our habit to announce at the beginning of a phone call whether we were constrained for time, since we both knew that phone calls would otherwise last and wend far beyond whatever pretext prompted them.

When I learned he was dying, it hit me that I had argued with my friend for the last time. I confess to a terrible selfishness; this, more than anything, truly left me feeling bereft. Later that day, I wrote to Patrick’s wife some of what I share in this post. It took me some hours to find words. This made me laugh out loud, because I knew that Patrick would have relished my being at an uncharacteristic loss for words.

Regarding faith, I like to think I had a sense of what Patrick believed. And he knew what I did not believe. If we could speak again, I would tell him that he now has the opportunity to settle the question for us. I would ask him if he might do me the courtesy of letting me know what he has found and how he finds it. He would likely tell me to find faith and stop simply looking for answers.

Here’s what I know – and what I hope he knows/knew (as the metaphysical case may be). I expect Patrick is unable to tally the number of minds he has touched and kindled, prodded and provoked. This is a worthy legacy. This, and the ripple effects, are a quietly sublime and worthy immortality, irrespective of any other.

It is no accident that the night before he died, Patrick was grading the work of his students. And, of course, in his final days, he was still refining his thoughts on exhaustively interpreting Churchill’s Savrola. We should all hope that his efforts – at last review, a prologue and epilogue that threaten to exceed the actual text – see publication.

I told Patrick’s wife, Mary Ann, that this infidel won’t insult Patrick by pretending to pray for him. But I did wish him as peaceful, swift, and merciful a journey as the difficult circumstances permitted. And this he had. I am grateful for that, as for many other things.

If we were able to joyfully, vehemently argue today, as we did so many times, I might just concede Patrick – just this one time – the last word. I might even prayerfully steeple my hands, as I once did as a boy in Catholic school, bow ever so slightly, and incline my head to him with a deferential-yet-definitely-also-sardonic smile. I’d also concede that he summed up matters between us well enough; I’m “grateful for everything” too.

Then, if he was really fishing for hagiography and praise, I’d hit his Catholic sensibilities with some Yiddish and call him a Mensch. For so he was.

Godspeed, Patrick.