Jeremy Wilson & T. E. Lawrence

In 2017, we lost Jeremy Wilson, the world’s leading authority on T. E. Lawrence. It was a blow to scholarship, to collectors, and to T. E. Lawrence himself, who may never have had anyone else so comprehendingly versed in, and dedicated to, his life and writing.

In his final years, I had the privilege of corresponding with Jeremy. It was a decidedly one-sided exchange in my favor. Of course we helped some Castle Hill Press inventory find the shelves of discerning readers and collectors. But the main benefit of our correspondence accrued to me, as Jeremy was unstintingly generous in sharing his inestimable knowledge and experience, which was always delivered with wit and decency.

In the early 1970s, Wilson edited an anthology of T. E. Lawrence’s favorite poems (Minorities). This catalyzed Wilson’s appointment by A. W. Lawrence as the authorized biographer of his elder brother, T. E. Lawrence. Wilson devoted the remainder of his professional life and scholarship to Lawrence. In 1990, Wilson published Lawrence of Arabia: The Authorized Biography of T. E. Lawrence to wide acclaim. That same year, Wilson and his wife, Nicole, set up Castle Hill Press to edit and publish scholarly editions of Lawrence’s works and correspondence. For the next quarter of a century, Castle Hill Press served as the premier editors and fine press publishers of material by and about T. E. Lawrence, combining meticulous scholarship and discriminating aesthetic sensibilities to produce a dazzling array of limited editions of Lawrence literature, biographies, and correspondence. Each edition has become instantly collectible upon publication. Many of these editions, or constituent parts thereof, had never before been published.

It is difficult to single out any one accomplishment in the accumulated trove of Jeremy and Nicole Wilson’s Castle Hill press publications. Nonetheless, in my view perhaps their single most remarkable achievement was the 1997 publication of the fullest surviving 1922 ‘Oxford’ text of Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

When Lawrence died in 1935 following a motorcycle crash, his masterwork was rushed into print in the only version readily available – the 1926 “Subscribers” abridgement.  That 250,000-word text released to the world as “Complete and Unabridged” was neither. But it sold very well, so the publishers long resisted publishing the full, 334,500-word 1922 “Oxford Text”, which “could only be a direct commercial threat to the highly profitable investment they had already made.” Incredibly, this 1922 text had to wait three quarters of a century to see publication; the 1922 “Oxford Text” – a third longer – was not published until 1997 when Castle Hill Press finally brought it to the reading public.

Beyond the more subjective questions of literature, in terms of both autobiography and history, “the 1922 text is, without question, superior to that of 1926. In the process of ‘literary’ abridgement, Lawrence cut out numerous personal reflections, some of which were important.” For example, the 1926 text excised Lawrence’s “confession that the flogging at Deraa left him with a masochistic longing… and his recollection of this event a few weeks later when he was present at Allenby’s official entry into Jerusalem. The historical record, likewise often fell victim to abridgement… because of the cuts, [the narrative] does not always account for Lawrence’s time or seem to square with independent records. Worse still, the frustrations and abandoned plans of 1917-18 were largely suppressed in the 1926 text…”

Since it was first published in 1997, the remarkable Castle Hill Press edition of the 1922 Oxford text of Seven Pillars has seen a two-volume limited edition (with accompanying illustrations volume), a one-volume limited edition, a hardcover trade edition, and finally, paperback editions. However, the hallmark is and will remain the first twenty sets produced by Castle Hill Press. For these twenty sets, Castle Hill Press spared no effort or expense, either in meticulous erudition or superb craftsmanship.

The first twenty sets comprise six volumes and a clamshell folio, all housed in two cloth Solander cases.

Two volumes containing the 1922 text are bound by The Fine Bindery in a specially commissioned design of full tan and blue goatskin with dark pink marbled calf onlay, all edges gilt, hand-sewn head and tail bands, leather joints, and suede doublures.

Two volumes containing parallel presentation of the 1922 and 1926 texts are bound in quarter brown goatskin over brown cloth with hand-marbled endpapers and gilt top edges. A single volume containing the eight chapters of the Introductory Book of Seven Pillars in parallel 1924/1936 text is likewise bound in quarter brown goatskin.

A companion volume of illustrations is bound in full black blind-ruled goatskin with all edges gilt and illustrated endpapers. An internal box contains an unbound proof set of the Seven Pillars portraits.

Each of the twenty sets was hand-numbered in both the main text and parallel text volumes and signed by Jeremy Wilson. The set is a simply magnificent shelf presence, a monument to both the author and publisher that made it *almost* worth the 75-year wait.

Despite the superlative bindings, Jeremy Wilson himself stated “the most important thing was the text.” Preparation of the text was meticulous, taking advantage of Wilson’s knowledge as the foremost scholarly authority on T. E. Lawrence:

“My aim in preparing the 1922 Text for publication was to issue it in its ‘best’ form. The initial typesetting was based on Lawrence’s corrected Oxford Times proof. This was then checked against the Bodleian Library manuscript to correct the printer’s many transcription errors and ‘house style’ punctuation changes. I also restored printer’s omissions not corrected by Lawrence, two of which are of considerable interest. At the end of this process, the text published by Castle Hill Press was considerably more accurate than the text of the 1922 Oxford Times proofs.

However, I found that in addition to straight corrections, Lawrence had made some hundreds of amendments on his copy of the printed text. These were clearly intended as textual improvements, and I decided to retain them. That produced a version which incorporates his final revisions to the 1922 draft, and is superior both to the manuscript and to the surviving Oxford Times proofs. Finally, the book was lightly copy-edited to remove the grammatical and punctuation errors inevitable in a manuscript, and also to eliminate Lawrence’s random variations in capitalisation and Arabic transliteration.”

When preparing the limited editions of the Oxford Text, Castle Hill Press also undertook the painstaking, mammoth task of creating a parallel text editon – two large volumes containing complete texts of the 1922 and 1926 versions, typeset side-by-side in double columns. This double-column format aligns the beginning of each sentence that exists in both texts so that readers can see at a glance exactly what was omitted and what was revised, illuminating the significant differences in style and content between the two texts. The parallel text is not only a wonderful work of scholarship, but it also shows why publication of the 1922 text was so important to publish. Just 37 numbered sets of parallel text were produced, the first twenty of which were specially bound and included with the first twenty special sets.

Issued twenty years ago, the first twenty sets produced by Castle Hill Press count, in the opinion of this writer, bookseller, and book collector, among the most noteworthy pieces of twentieth century fine press production.

For the first time, we are able to offer one of these twenty sets, #18, which we acquired from the library of the original subscriber in pristine, as-new condition and which may be viewed HERE. Our full inventory of Castle Hill Press listings may be viewed HERE and our entire T. E. Lawrence inventory HERE.

Poem for the Holidays

This time of year always makes my southern California home feel furthest from my Northeast roots. It is always Robert Frost who brings me to my source.

This season, I have the good fortune to have an evolving draft of a poem written in Frost’s own hand to tell you about – and what’s more, it is a poem appropriate to the spirit of the season. But first, a bit more about Frost for the benefit of those of you unfamiliar.

Great literature is full of contradictions. So it is that the quintessential poetic voice of New England was actually born in San Francisco and first published in England. Iconic American poet Robert Lee Frost (1874-1963) would ultimately win the Pulitzer Prize four times and spend the final decades of his life as “the most highly esteemed American poet of the twentieth century” – but he did not publish his first volume of poetry until he was nearly forty years old. It was titled A Boy’s Will – another irony for a father by then approaching middle age.

When Frost was eleven, his newly widowed mother moved east to Salem, New Hampshire, to resume a teaching career. There Frost swiftly found his poetic voice, infused by New England scenes and sensibilities. Promising as a student and writer, Frost nonetheless dropped out of both Dartmouth and Harvard, supporting himself and a young family by teaching and farming.

It was a 1912 move to England with his wife and children – “the place to be poor and to write poems” – that finally catalyzed his recognition as a noteworthy American poet. The manuscript of A Boy’s Will was completed in England and accepted for publication by David Nutt on 1 April 1913. Yeats pronounced the poetry “the best written in America for some time” and Frost received “two extraordinary tributes in the Nation and the Chicago Dial and a superb review in the Academy.” (ANB) A convocation of critical recognition, introduction to other writers, and creative energy supported the English publication of Frost’s second book, North of Boston, in 1914, after which “Frost’s reputation as a leading poet had been firmly established in England, and Henry Holt of New York had agreed to publish his books in America.”

Accolades met his return to America at the end of 1914 and by 1917 a move to Amherst “launched him on the twofold career he would lead for the rest of his life: teaching whatever “subjects” he pleased at a congenial college… and “barding around,” his term for “saying” poems in a conversational performance.” (ANB) By 1924 he had won the first of his eventual four Pulitzer Prizes for poetry (1931, 1937, and 1943). Fame and a host of academic and civic honors accreted during Frost’s final decades. Two years before his death he became the first poet to read in the program of a U.S. Presidential inauguration (Kennedy, January 1961).

All of which is by way of introducing a poem.

It was not uncommon for Frost to inscribe his books with excerpts from his poems. But we recently acquired a particularly special copy – an American first edition of the author’s first published book inscribed by Frost on the front free endpaper in 10 lines with the full text of the evolving draft of an untitled poem that would be published in 1928’s West-Running Brook as “A Minor Bird”.

The full inscription reads: “I have wished a bird would fly away | And not sing by my house all day, | Have clapped my hands at him from the door | When it seemed as if I could bear no more. | The fault may partly have been in me. | The bird was not to blame for his key. | And of course there must be something wrong | In wanting to silence any song. | Robert Frost | For Elizabeth & Ten Eyck Perry”.

Significantly, this untitled manuscript version of “A Minor Bird” is an evolving draft, following the poem’s first publication in Inlander magazine (of the University of Michigan) in 1926, but preceding the first volume publication in 1928. When published in Inlander, the poem read “may” instead of “must” at line 5, “I own” instead of “of course” in line 7, and in the final, 8th line “ever wanting to silence song” instead of “wanting to silence any song.” This manuscript copy reflects the changes to lines 7 & 8, but does not yet incorporate the change to line 5. The difference between “must” and “may” is substantive, at both the physical and literary center of the poem.

Consonant with the evolving draft, this copy was likely inscribed in November 1927, placing it squarely between the original, 1926 publication in Inlander and publication in West-Running Brook (19 November 1928). We were able to confirm that Henry Ten Eyck Perry (1890-1973), a native of Albany, New York, was a writer and professor of English. Ten Eyck Perry graduated from Yale in 1912, received his doctorate from Harvard in 1918, published a number of books, and taught English at the University of Buffalo. There he apparently interacted with at least one other major American poet; T.S. Eliot wrote in a letter of 26 December 1932 that he was to visit “Buffallo or is it Buffalo Bufallo Bufaloo to stay with Professor Henry Ten Eyck Perry.” The marriage of Elizabeth Ten Eyck Perry (nee Elizabeth McAfee, 1888-1976) led to her involvement with the University of Buffalo, where she was the founding president of the Women’s Club in 1946. In the University of Buffalo’s archives we find reference to two visits from Robert Frost, once to deliver a lecture in 1921 and for a three day stay in 1927. This inscription was likely made in November of 1927, when Frost visited the University of Buffalo as “poet in residence”. The school’s newspaper notes that during his three day visit he had office hours and “his time [was] at the service of students, faculty, and to a certain extent of townspeople.”

It was a particular pleasure to research this particular poem at this particular time of year. The “Minor Bird” is eponymous (and synonymous) with the myna (or mynah) bird, which can mimic human speech. “Song” is a repeated metaphor used by Frost for creative, free expression. Hence, we can infer the author criticizing the impulse to stifle creative expression – a churlish impulse as endemically human as is the urge to creative expression itself. Particularly lovely is that the author chooses to recognize and criticize the impulse in himself. And that this evolving draft shows him making that self-admonition more definitive with the changes that had already been made, as well as the final change – “may” to “must” in line 5 – that had yet to be made when Frost penned this inscription in 1927.

To me, the poem is a conch shell of spiraling, widening, opening awareness.

The poet, in the midst of creative expression, acknowledging the dynamic tension between creation and judgement, his reflexive chastisement of competing voices yielding to acknowledgement and acceptance. The recognition of himself in “any song” which allows him to hear – and thus to give voice himself.

For the season, I found it even more bracing than “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and a gentle reminder that I, too, have “miles to go before I sleep” – in patience, in understanding, and, if I am fortunate, in hearing the chorus that enfolds and enriches my own voice.


The Hunt

The thing to understand about collectors is that we often love the hunt as much as the having.

In the pantheon of ancient Greek gods, Athena would seem the likely favorite for those who love books. She was goddess of wisdom. And don’t get me wrong; I like Athena. But, I’m a book collector, so it is hard for me not to give a nod to Artemis. Because Artemis was goddess of the hunt.

The gentle disquiet of relentless pursuit. The holding of knowledge and resources in a state of readiness. The certainty of the right target and moment. These little rituals of anticipation and finding connect us to the items we put on our shelves. That connection makes us better stewards of the objects we covet. Perhaps, on occasion, we even become a little part of the story our books will carry with them when they pass to other hands.

As a bookseller, we get to share the hunt with you. We write today to share some favorite quarry.

NIC. This is one of our favorite labels for a Churchill-related publication. The “C” means Cohen. Ronald I. Cohen. Ron literally wrote the book on Churchill’s published works. Nearly 25 years of exhaustive research went into his indispensable three-volume, 2,183 page Bibliography of the Writings of Sir Winston Churchill.  Ron’s Bibliography seeks to detail every single edition, issue, state, printing, and variant of every printed work authored by, or with a contribution from, Winston S. Churchill. So when we find something Not-In-Cohen we get excited. Excited like we’ve stumped the teacher, rescued something from the consuming entropy of history, and gotten a present all at once.

Sometimes the object is a pamphlet or leaflet – an inherently ephemeral, fragile publication. The Winged Words pamphlet we recently offered, a previously unknown wartime publication of Churchill’s speeches, is a great example.

Sometimes it is a biggie, a major addition to the Churchill canon.

Seven years ago, my friend, fellow collector, and Churchill Book Collector partner, Paul, emailed me an image of a book for sale. It was the front cover of Liberalism and the Social Problem – Churchill’s third published book of speeches (after Mr. Brodrick’s Army and For Free Trade) published in 1909. But this copy was a paperback – what we bibliophiles call a “wraps issue”.

And it had the same striking half-tone photograph of the author found on the dust jacket of the hardcover first edition (only two substantially complete dust jackets are known to survive).

I confess to an ALL CAPS reply to Paul: “BUY IT. NOW. FOR WHATEVER IT COSTS.” It turned out to be what I’d hoped – something totally unknown and potentially unique. The publisher, Hodder & Stoughton, produced a wraps issue of My African Journey in 1908 (now extravagantly rare), but no wraps issue was known – or even presumed – for Liberalism and the Social Problem. Yet here it was, a publisher’s wraps issue of the second and final printing. Fittingly, it came to us from Glasgow. Scotland has a strong association with Churchill’s Liberal Party membership; during most of his time as a Liberal M.P., Churchill represented Dundee (1908 to 1922). It remains the only known surviving copy.

Sometimes the opportunity isn’t so obvious.

Dust jackets for any Churchill first edition prior to The World Crisis (1923-1931) are exceptionally rare. We’re talking perhaps less than a dozen jackets – total – known to survive for all of the first editions of Churchill’s early works spanning The Story of The Malakand Field Force through The People’s Rights. For some works, like Malakand, no dust jackets at all are known. That was the case for the U.S. first edition of Lord Randolph Churchill until 2009. At the time, we had our eye on a particularly fine U.S. first edition set. We look at a lot of books, but I kept going back to the images of this particular set because the bindings were brighter than any I had ever seen. Eventually, I noticed something odd in one of the images – paper very slightly protruding from the top of the text block. I had a wildly optimistic hunch; could it be that the dust jackets had long protected the bindings, which would account for their brightness? And if so, might it possibly be that when the dust jackets had torn or worn, a previous owner laid them inside the books instead of throwing them away? So I asked.

The good news: large portions of the original dust jackets were indeed safely tucked inside the books. The bad news: I had alerted the seller to their potential value. And this was an auction. And instead of just answering my question, the seller posted both my question and images of the jackets – a complete front flap, front face, and spine of one and a complete rear face and rear flap of another. My quiet inquiry sparked a bidding war which saw the price jump tenfold. Ouch. But another NIC was in the bag and previously unknown 1906 dust jackets were on the shelf.

Sometimes the discovery is not an unknown edition or jacket, but just an unknown fact that an apparently humble book can yield. Bibliographers have long stated that My African Journey was published in December 1908. But a few years ago we found an otherwise unexceptional copy with the original publisher’s review slip laid in – a review slip that stated a publication date of 30 November. This means that it was published not only the preceding month, but on Churchill’s birthday. Maybe I’m crazy, but I sold my own spectacularly fine copy of My African Journey and kept the review copy instead.

I confess to an impertinent child’s delight in inflicting NIC discoveries on Ron Cohen. But the thrill of the hunt goes beyond bibliography

We buy and sell all over the globe – literally dozens of countries on five continents. Despite the fact that home and inventory reside in San Diego, precious few of our finds or customers are proximate to us.


A few years ago, a San Diego customer approached us to sell a relatively modest collection of Churchill’s war speeches. He mentioned in passing that his father has some very early signed Churchill editions.

If I had a nickel for every rumor of a “very special” signed first edition…

Because of that cynicism, I almost flubbed it. I put off pursuing the matter, expecting it to be just one more proverbial goose chase. It was months before I heeded a reminder note to follow up with the customer and get in touch with his father. Honestly, I was not particularly diligent about the opportunity. It took still more months before we finally managed to connect. But we eventually did, and in the beachside home of this tremendously genteel fellow I was shown two remarkable items.

One was a spectacularly fine first printing, first state of Churchill’s first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force. The second was the U.S. first edition of Ian Hamilton’s March (which you can read more about HERE).

Both were signed by Churchill during his first lecture North American Lecture tour in December 1900/January 1901. And provenance was known for both, going all the way back to when the books were signed. I could search years for such books and not find them. These were sitting on a bookshelf not 10 miles from my library.

What’s the point of these trophy stories? Respect the hunt!

Master the arcane. Know the bibliographic detail of your subject better than anyone – or, more specifically, anyone else who might plausibly be hunting the same ground you are. Editions, printings, states, dust jackets, errata – all of it. And that’s just the books. Know the author, too. Where was the author at the time when this copy was allegedly signed and where and how did they typically sign? Know it all so that you know what you see when you see it and can act swiftly.

Time. Spend it. And what better way to spend it than on a quest? Devote an unreasonable amount of time to both your mastery and your hunt.

Obsess. Obsession just means you’re focused. Search. Diligently. Cleverly. Broadly. Intemperately. Relentlessly.

Of course, if this sounds untenable, you have another option; find a suitably knowledgeable and compulsive bookseller to hunt with and for you.

We humbly volunteer.

“The Truth” about Winston Churchill

In July 2015, we wrote about Churchill’s article “The Truth About Hitler” in the December 1935 issue of The Strand Magazine. (Read that post HERE.)

It seems overdue that we write about Churchill’s sequel and companion to that piece – his article “The Truth About Myself” in the January 1936 issue of The Strand Magazine. Just recently, we were preparing to list the first copy of this elusive article we have ever offered. So, with a glass of something brown in hand, I did something radical – I decided to sit down and read it. In the humble view of this Churchill aficionado it is one of the most compellingly revealing and introspective pieces of Churchill’s writing that I have seen in print.

It is also an aesthetically striking and substantial piece, filling eleven pages, profusely illustrated with 17 photographs and a caricature. The article is prominently advertised on the front cover, with the title and author printed in bright yellow on a red banner below an orating and gesticulating image of Churchill.

The counterpoint genesis of the article is not hard to fathom: “…it was as much as I know of the truth about him [Hitler]. And now the Editor wants me to write the truth about myself.” What is most remarkable about this article is how very non-Churchillian it struck me as being. Tonally heavy without the usual full measure of Churchillian wit and sparkle. Given the time, it is not surprising that Churchill used the article and the contrast to draw distinctions between pluralistic and dictatorial regimes. Nonetheless, the majority of the article does what is advertised and talks about Churchill himself: “…in thus revealing my feelings to you upon these great causes, I am perhaps straying too far from myself.”

The article reverberates with the ostracism and pressure directed at Churchill in the midst of his 1930s “wilderness years” in which he was out of power and out of favor, persistently warning about the growing Nazi threat and his countrymen’s complacency. Albeit with a touch of humor (“…it is only the solicitations of our Editor which have induced me to devote a whole article to my own personality… not only am I a modest, but also an extremely benevolent man.”), Churchill directly defends his record against the allegations of his detractors.

Against charges of inconsistency, Churchill states: “There are moments when I feel that I might make a case for being the only consistent politician.” Churchill then does just that, setting his own political evolutions in the context of the shifting political expediencies of others. He also defends his reputation as a contrarian: “…I have a tendency… to swim against the stream. I feel myself often irritated by the overstatement of any particular view… When I see… worshipful forces running in full cry together, my inclinations are to go the other way. I am sorry that it should be so…. However, that is how I feel instinctively.”

The striking, revealing bit is “I am sorry that it should be so.” Churchill even mitigates his strengths, confessing about his reputation as an orator: “The truth is that I am not a good speaker, and I only learned to speak, somehow or other, with exceptional difficulty and enormous practice.” The article is remarkable for oscillations between humble uncertainty and pugnacious self-confidence: “… I feel that most of my mistakes have been due to allowing my judgement to be overruled or deflected by other people’s stupid judgment.” It is in this context that Churchill defends the lingering stigma of the Dardanelles (“The disappointment of my life…”).

The article feels indelibly rooted in the middle of a decade that saw Churchill pass into his sixties with his own future as uncertain as that of his nation: “Young men ought to be ambitious… But such an experience as I have recorded is surely a cure for any form of personal ambition.” This is Churchill on the defensive – on topics ranging from hats (“I am usually caricatured with a tiny hat on my head… I do not delight in hats.”) to war-mongering (“Neither let me say do I delight in war…”)

The article reads almost as a tortuous journey back to self-affirmation: “I am proud to feel the glow of counter-attack. I am glad to spend what is left of my mortal span in trying to rouse the good and brave people of England and of Britain and of her Empire…” The Churchill of the final paragraphs finally evokes the indomitable strength that would see his country through war ahead: “Although I see so harshly the dark side of things, yet by a queer contradiction I awake each morning with new hope and energy revived… I mean to do my part in this while life and strength remain.”

Some time ago, I tried (alas, unsuccessfully) to buy an early draft of Robert Frost’s poem Nothing Gold Can Stay. Here’s the final published version:

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

I loved the early draft precisely because it was not anywhere as good as the final version. In fact, as I researched the poem, I realized there were multiple early known drafts. Successively, these drafts evolved and coalesced into the splendid piece of writing above. But first, they were just drafts, promising, but not quite. Things requiring further effort and alchemy, the mallet and chisel and moment to coax greatness from mere possibility.

Some think it is disrespectful or demeaning to look for the imperfections underpinning greatness. (I once had a colleague accuse me of “effrontery” and “snarking” for pointing out that Thomas Jefferson impregnated one of his slaves.) Others think it irrelevant – that only the brightest facet of greatness is worth beholding.   My own most fascinated regard is for the chancy, messy, iterative insistence of nascent greatness rather than the attainment of it.

I’m reading a lot into this article. Maybe it is the bottom of my glass talking, but it seems a window on the Churchill who might not have been, who was struggling to retain his essential faith in himself, feeling the purpose he needed gutter and dim and yet never go utterly “black dog” dark. A bereft but chin thrusting Churchill, bleeding ink and will, but abiding until his moment. I rather like him.

Friendship, Sex and the R.A.F. – a 1933 Letter from T.E. Lawrence

Why? It seems reasonable to ask. When an author leaves behind volumes of published work, what compels our attention to their mere correspondence? We write today to share an intriguing letter by T.E. Lawrence that helps answer the question.

Central to the life story of T. E. Lawrence (1888-1935) is his military odyssey in Arabia during the First World War. There he found fame as instigator, organizer, hero, and tragic figure of the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire. Lawrence began the First World War as an eccentric junior intelligence officer and ended as “Lawrence of Arabia.” This time defined Lawrence with indelible experience and celebrity which he would spend the rest of his famously short life struggling to reconcile and reject, to recount and repress.

However, Lawrence’s literary and intellectual reach far exceeded the world and words of Seven Pillars of Wisdom.  Lawrence’s friend and admirer Winston Churchill said:  “Lawrence had a full measure of the versatility of genius…  He was a savant as well as a soldier.  He was an archaeologist as well as a man of action.  He was an accomplished scholar as well as an Arab partisan.  He was a mechanic as well as a philosopher.  His background of somber experience and reflection only seemed to set forth more brightly the charm and gaiety of his companionship, and the generous majesty of his nature.”  (Great Contemporaries, p. 166)

Personal correspondence is ephemeral, unpolished, and personal in a manner fundamentally different than published literary works. Perhaps that is precisely why the brilliant, complex, and deeply conflicted facets of Lawrence’s character often glint most tantalizingly in his personal correspondence.

To the point is an original, autograph signed letter dated 2 March 1933 from T. E. Lawrence to his friend and fellow writer Henry Williamson. A mere 125 words long, the letter is nonetheless rich in both references and inferences. Penned at Mount Batten R.A.F. station, the letter is a window into Lawrence’s friendship with Williams, as well as his friendship with writer Robert Graves, and references Lawrence’s angst about ending his R.A.F. career. The letter also eerily presages correspondence regarding meeting with Williamson that would inadvertently precipitate Lawrence’s death a little more than two years later.

The letter is headed: Mount Batten | II.iii.33.

“Mount Batten” was a Royal Air Force station and flying boat base at Mount Batten, a peninsula in Plymouth Sound, Devon, England. A “small and isolated” station and “one of the most enjoyable of Lawrence’s postings.” (Wilson, Lawrence, p.850)

Lawrence himself described it as “about 100 airmen, pressed tightly on a rock half-awash in the Sound; a peninsula really, like a fossil lizard swimming from Mount batten golf-links across the harbor towards Plymouth town. The sea is thirty yards from out hut one way, and seventy yards the other.” (Letter of 20 March 1929)

Lawrence writes:

Dear H. W. | Your letters made me laugh, and then | think hard. You are really two entirely different people,| and if only they could come together what a book we | should have!

“H. W.” is the English writer Henry William Williamson (1895-1977). The “You really are two entirely different people, and if only they could come together…” comment is fascinating. Williamson was “a skillful and supremely observant writer, but nevertheless a man who was introspective, egocentric, insecure, and intensely lonely” – words which could easily be used to characterize Lawrence himself. This is not an incidental parallel. It is interesting that Lawrence’s official biographer, Jeremy Wilson, also observed that from Williamon’s letters “it seems to me that Williamson allowed reality and fantasy to intermingle in his everyday thinking. When that happened, the first casualty… was often the truth. Nevertheless, there were other times when he could write with disarming honesty and self-criticism.” (Wilson, T.E. Lawrence Correspondence with Henry Williamson, p.xii)

When Lawrence read Henry Williamson’s Tarka the Otter in 1928, he recognized that its author had extraordinary descriptive power: ‘I put Williamson very high as a writer,’ he later wrote. From this beginning grew a significant correspondence that lasted until Lawrence’s death in 1935. “While the two were different in so many ways, the similarity that Williamson sensed was real. He was writing to someone he could understand.” Williamson damaged the relationship in 1933 by including Lawrence, unasked, as a character called ‘G.B. Everest’ in The Gold Falcon – even quoting from his letters. Though Lawrence made light of it, his uneasy relationship with publicity and the need to avoid it in order to remain in the R.A.F. ranks put constraints on the friendship. Williamson’s disclosure of acute emotional distress associated with extra-marital entanglements did not help matters. But “Despite these reservations, there really was an unusual quality in their relationship.”

I didn’t answer because you said you were | coming, and now I am sorry you may not. I am | away from Thursday to Monday of next week – this week | it will be before the letter reaches you – but constantly in | the station for the rest.

It is eerie and fascinating to note that Lawrence’s correspondence with Williamson inadvertently precipitated Lawrence’s death. On 11 May 1935 Lawrence received a letter from Williamson proposing to call at Clouds Hill. “the only way Lawrence could be sure of getting a reply to Devon before Williamson set out was to send a telegram.” In mid-morning of 13 May, Lawrence rode his Brough to the post office at Bovington Camp and sent a wire to Williamson. On the way back to his cottage he suffered the accident that put him in a coma and, six days later, took his life. (Wilson, Lawrence, p.934)

My R.A.F. life is very near its end: not to let | it gutter away I am leaving voluntarily next month. | For what? Heaven knows.

In a state of nervous exhaustion following the First World War, his work on the post-war settlement, and writing and re-writing Seven Pillars of Wisdom, in 1922, Lawrence enlisted in the ranks of the R.A.F. under the name of John Hume Ross. Lawrence’s time with the R.A.F. proved remarkably revealing – of his talents, both literary and technical, and of the dynamic tension in his life between his need for quiet anonymity and his fame and engagement with the famous.

It is telling that The Mint, Lawrence’s unstintingly candid portrait about life in the Royal Air Force Ranks, paralleled Seven Pillars – with a tortuous writing, editing, and publishing history culminating in posthumous publication.

Lawrence’s celebrity – and perhaps, as well, his own conflicted feelings about his fame – was a constant threat to his R.A.F life. Though Lawrence references “next month”, he actually submitted his formal request for discharge on 6 March 1933, just four days after he wrote this letter to Williamson: “I, No.338171 A/C Shaw, E., respectfully request that I may be granted an interview with the Commanding Officer, to ask him to forward my application to be released from further service in the Royal Air Force as from the sixth of April, 1933.” The request was granted (though on 19 April Lawrence withdrew his discharge application when offered a posting to the RAF Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment at Felixstowe, where he was again able to work on RAF boats.)

Graves has been very good. Then family jars and | two women overset him. He will recover, I think.

“Graves” is Robert von Ranke Graves (1895-1985), the English poet and novelist, with whom Lawrence had a difficult relationship at this time, owing in no small part because of Graves’s romantic relationship with the writer Laura Riding (1901-1991). The reference to Graves indicates Lawrence’s complicated and uncomfortable relationship with sexuality. Lawrence’s official biographer, Jeremy Wilson, confirms Lawrence’s feelings about Laura Riding: “Lawrence disliked Laura Riding intensely.” Wilson also confirms that the root of Lawrence’s dislike was sexual: Lawrence “felt that both of them had allowed their lives to be dominated by carnality”. (Wilson, Lawrence, p.870) Lawrence had written of the couple in a 1929 letter: “I cannot have patience with people who tickle up their sex until it seems to fill all their lives and bodies.”

The other of the “two women” referenced is likely Nancy Nicholson, Graves’s wife; the three had untenably cohabitated until the menage was upended and Nicholson was left to raise her and Graves’s children alone.

Equally of note, in 1934 Lawrence was similarly put off by Williamson’s emotional disclosure about romantic entanglements.

A cut hand: so I can’t write properly.


It is difficult to just take the postscript literally and not to regard the metaphor for a man who was as brilliant, gifted, and accomplished as he was damaged, confined by his own demons and ultimately cut short in both life and letters.

We offer this letter for sale HERE.

Churchill’s friendship with painter Paul Maze

“Paint like you write or speak. You can do it – every stroke of the brush must be a statement felt & seen…”

  • Paul Maze, letter to Winston Churchill, 12 November 1936

As a wordsmith, Churchill was famous for weaving seemingly disparate threads of history and experience, sentiment and perspective to create a cogent and compelling vision. So perhaps it should not be surprising that Churchill was an accomplished and devoted amateur painter; for Churchill, compellingly sharing his perspective was literal as well as figurative, and recreation as well as vocation.

Churchill first took up painting during the First World War. May 1915 saw Churchill scapegoated for failure in the Dardanelles and slaughter at Gallipoli and forced from his Cabinet position at the Admiralty. By November 1915 Churchill was serving at the Front, leading a battalion in the trenches. But during the summer of 1915, as he battled depression, he rented Hoe Farm in Surrey, which he frequented with his wife and three children. One day in June, Churchill noticed his brother’s wife, Gwendeline, sketching in watercolors. Churchill borrowed her brush and swiftly found solace in painting, which would be a passion and source of release and renewal for the remaining half century of his long life.

This passion would bind Churchill to French-born painter Paul Maze, Churchill’s close friend, “companion of the brush” and artistic mentor, known as the “last of the Impressionists”. This blog post is prompted by our recent acquisition of a first edition set of Churchill’s Marlborough, inscribed by Churchill to Maze (discussed at the end of this post).

Paul Lucien Maze (1887-1979) was regarded as one of the great artists of his generation and “learned the rudiments of painting from family friends that included Renoir, Monet, Dufy and Pissarro.” His work is held in the collections of many major galleries including The Tate Gallery, the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum.

Though born in La Havre, Maze was sent to school in Southampton, “where he began a lifelong love affair with all things English.” During the First World War Maze served as an interpreter and engaged in dangerous reconnaissance “as a non-commissioned liaison officer with the British Expeditionary force, using his sketching skills with great bravery to document landscape details in advance of action.” (Coombs, Sir Winston Churchill’s Life Through His Paintings, p.146) He was wounded several times and highly decorated (awarded the DCM, MM and Bar, Legion d’Honneur, and Croix de Guerre). Maze met Churchill on the Western Front in 1916. Churchill had only recently discovered painting, the passion which Maze would encourage and guide as both friend and mentor for the rest of Churchill’s life. Along with Charles Montag, Maze became one of Churchill’s two most important “companions of the brush.”

Maze was naturalized as a British subject in 1920 after marrying the widow of a wartime friend and “took to painting the London scene with great enthusiasm, relishing, like so many French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, the fogs and dingy back streets as much as the pageantry and grandeur of the City’s setting.”

Churchill’s official Biographer, Martin Gilbert, called Maze “One of Churchill’s closest French friends.” (Gilbert, VI, p.856) This friendship transcended painting, as is evident from shared moments, perspective, and correspondence between them during Churchill’s 1930s “wilderness years”.

Winston Churchill’s monumental biography of his great ancestor, John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, took 10 years of research and writing and is Churchill’s most substantial published work of the 1930s. This decade saw Churchill pass into his sixties with his own future as uncertain as that of his nation. Churchill may have wondered more than once if the life history he was writing about a great ancestor might ultimately eclipse his own.

Maze, too, was writing about the past. In 1934, the year after Churchill inscribed a copy of his first volume of Marlborough to Maze, Churchill contributed a Foreword to Maze’s First World War memoirs, A Frenchman in Khaki. Churchill wrote: “we have the battle-scenes of Armageddon recorded by one who not only loved the fighting troops and shared their perils, but perceived the beauties of light and shade, of form and colour, of which even the horrors of war cannot rob the progress of the sun.”

Richard Langworth has written “To understand the Churchill of the Second World War, the majestic blending of his commanding English with historical precedent, one has to read Marlborough.”

Maze knew and regarded this Churchill – the statesman and wordsmith – just as well as Churchill the painter.

In 1936, while Churchill was still fully engaged in writing Marlborough, he was also publishing articles on the growing Nazi threat. (“Marlborough alone is a crusher – then there are always articles to boil the pot!” 1/7/1937 letter to Clementine) Maze, who shared his friend’s concerns, wrote to Churchill on 13 March 1936 “How right you have been, as events alas now prove. The public is slowly beginning to see it… Do write to the papers all you can… Keep well – England needs you now more than ever…”

In 12 November 1936, Maze attended the House of Commons to watch Churchill speak and wrote to him afterwards: “I was thrilled by every word you said in the House yesterday – as I went down, the usher downstairs said to me ‘you chose a good day to come, he is always fine – none left like him – he always does one good’. I nearly embraced him – I feel so much what he said! I have sent you some brushes… Paint like you write or speak. You can do it – every stroke of the brush must be a statement felt & seen…”

On the eve of war in 1939, Churchill wrote a Foreword to the catalogue of his friend’s first New York exhibition: “With the fewest of strokes, he can create an impression at once true and beautiful. Here is no toiling seeker after preconceived effects, but a vivid and powerful interpreter to us of the forces and harmony of Nature.”

 Later that year, on 20 August 1939, Churchill was painting alongside Maze (at Chateau de Saint-Georges-Motel) when he “suddenly turned” to his friend and said: “This is the last picture we shall paint in peace for a very long time.”

Maze recorded:

“What amazed me was his concentration over his painting. No one but he could have understood more what the possibility of war meant, and how ill prepared we were. As he worked, he would now and then make statements as to the relative strengths of the German Army or the French Army. ‘They are strong, I tell you, they are strong,’ he would say. Then his jaw would clench his large cigar, and I felt the determination of his will. ‘Ah’ he would say, ‘with it all, we shall have him.’”

Maze recorded that Churchill was depressed as he left: “I had written a letter to him ‘only to read when he was over the Channel’: ‘Don’t worry Winston you know that you will be Prime Minister and lead us to victory…’” (Gilbert, V, p.1103)

On 1 September Nazi Germany invaded Poland and on 3 September Churchill returned to the Admiralty and to war. In May 1940 Churchill became wartime Prime Minister. The next month, Maze “managed to escape through Bordeaux… bringing with him a convoy of orphans.” Maze would serve in the Home Guard in Hampshire before serving as an RAF staff officer. (Gilbert, VI, p.857)

As Churchill’s wilderness years and his friendship with Paul Maze remind us, painting was doubtless a vital stillness in the great and turbulent sweep of Churchill’s otherwise tremendously public life. When he finally published a book on the subject in 1948, Churchill wrote of his and Maze’s shared passion: “Painting is a friend who makes no undue demands, excites to no exhausting pursuits, keeps faithful pace even with feeble steps, and holds her canvas as a screen between us and the envious eyes of Time or the surly advance of Decrepitude.” (Painting as a Pastime).

Post-war, Maze’s friendship with Churchill continued, as did the twining of their respective paths. Churchill served as Queen Elizabeth II’s first Prime Minister, Maze as the Official Painter of her Coronation. Maze was a frequent Chartwell guest, he and Churchill painting together into Churchill’s final years, both in England and in Maze’s native France.

The friendship was posthumously sealed by family alliance when, in 1979, Paul Maze’s grand-daughter, Jeanne Maze, married Winston Churchill’s first cousin once removed, Robert W.C. Spencer-Churchill.

Two months after Volume I was published, on 12 December 1933, T.E. Lawrence wrote to Churchill: “I finished it only yesterday.  I wish I had not… Marlborough has the big scene-painting, the informed pictures of men, the sober comment on political method, the humour, irony and understanding of your normal writing: but beyond that it shows more discipline and strength: and great dignity.  It is history, solemn and decorative.” Given the role of painting in settling and steadying Churchill during the turbulent 1930s, it is fascinatingly apt and trenchant that a fellow wordsmith like Lawrence would use the “scene-painting” metaphor.

We are pleased to have just listed a full, four-volume set of British first edition, first printings of Churchill’s Marlborough: His Life and Times inscribed in the first volume in the month of publication to Paul Maze. The four-line, inked inscription on the Volume I half-title reads: “Paul Maze | from | Winston S. Churchill | Oct. 1933”. The set is magnificently bound in full orange morocco (evocative of the Publisher’s original signed and limited issue of the first edition), featuring gilt-bordered, raised spine bands, brown morocco title and author labels, gilt front cover frame rules, beveled edge boards, head and foot bands, hand-marbled endpapers, and freshly gilt top edges, and tissue guard bound in preceding the inscription. The set is housed in a stout brown cloth slipcase with brown satin ribbon pull. A full description of the set may be found HERE.

Kipling’s “Plain Tales”

Among the trove of Kipling’s works we have recently catalogued and offered to our customers, you will not find this copy of Plain Tales from the Hills.

It is the prerogative of the bookseller to collect, and this copy has been appropriated to the collection of this bookseller.

Nearly everyone knows something of Kipling, even if they don’t know it as Kipling’s. Many have a favorite Kipling story or verse. I understand choosing one of Kipling’s Jungle Books or Kim, the poems “If” or “Recessional”, or even the Just So Stories. But for me, Kipling’s vital spark, the deliciously imperfect, often oblique light and shadow glint behind Kipling’s trademark round spectacles, resides in his Plain Tales from the Hills.

Plain Tales from the Hills was Kipling’s first prose collection, originally published in Calcutta when he had just turned twenty-two. The superficial summary is that the stories paint a picture of various different aspects of life in British India. To me, Plain Tales is Kipling finding his voice as an English Euripides, a voice at once both quintessentially of his culture and yet essentially, observationally, compellingly apart. This is the Kipling some would ignorantly veil as an icon of tradition, subtly weaving subversive patterns in the traditional fabric.

From 1882 to 1887 Kipling worked as a journalist in India for the Civil and Military Gazette. There, between 11 November 1886 and 10 June 1887, thirty-nine short stories appeared unattributed under the serial title “Plain Tales from the Hills“. Twenty-nine of those stories, along with eleven new ones, were published in January 1888 by Kipling’s Indian publisher, forming his second book-length work, following Departmental Ditties and Other Verses in 1886.

This particular first edition copy wears its colonial Indian roots with pride. It is the second issue, with the front cover illustration by Kipling’s father, John Lockwood Kipling, of a gated city on the plains below hills. The covers are mottled, with some insect bore holes, several of which penetrate the text within. But the binding and endpapers are original. On those endpapers (the front free endpaper) are Kipling’s initials and the date “July/89” and facing, affixed to the front pastedown, is the decorative bookplate of Nelson Doubleday.

1889 is the year Kipling left India for America, leaving behind “the sights and the sounds and the smells | That ran with our youth in the eye of the sun.” (“Song of the Wise Children” 1902)

Nelson Doubleday was the son of Frank Nelson Doubleday, Kipling’s friend and founder of the Doubleday publishing empire. F.N. Doubleday began work in the publishing industry working for Charles Scribner’s Sons. His 18-year career with Scribner’s included the task of assembling a complete set of Kipling’s works for publication in a collected edition in 1897. His work with Kipling on this endeavor sparked a friendship and partnership that lasted for decades. Kipling affectionately gave Doubleday the honorific nickname “Effendi”, a play on the initials of his name – F.N.D. It was Frank’s son, Nelson who, at age seven, wrote Kipling a precocious letter exhorting him to write more “Just So” stories and suggesting topics for same, thus catalyzing what would become one of Kipling’s most famous and enduring works. Nelson was president of the firm from 1922 to 1946, as was Nelson Jr., from 1978 to 1983.

This copy came to us from the Doubleday family library in a worn but lovely two-piece full leather case bearing the swastika on the front cover. Like perhaps India itself, the swastika serves to remind us that the world – and the words and symbols we use to engage and describe it – are far older than the transgressions and horrors of recent history. The word swastika comes from the Sanskrit svastika, which means “good fortune”, and this ancient hooked cross symbol was used at least 5,000 years before being polluted by association with Hitler’s Reich.  It remains a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Odinism. The swastika is a symbol common to many editions of Kipling’s works and came to Kipling’s attention through his father’s encyclopaedic knowledge of Indian art.

Born in India, Kipling cut his literary teeth there as a newspaper editor and writer, and India’s vividness and vitality clearly proved indelible, both for Kipling and his readers.  Kipling was in his twenties when his stories of Anglo-Indian life made him a literary celebrity, and he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907 “in consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterize the creations of this world-famous author”. He was the first English language author awarded and remains the youngest person to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Beyond the transmogrifications of Disney films, Kipling is chiefly remembered for his celebration of British imperialism, tales and poems of British soldiers in India, and his tales for children.  Despite this reputation, Kipling’s extraordinary body of work “eludes all labels in its range and variety… Kipling’s work is not only of the highest artistic excellence, it is deeply humane and fully expresses the sense of one of his favourite texts: ‘Praised be Allah for the diversity of his creatures.’”

Though rooted in an Empire sensibility that became archaic even before his death, Kipling’s best tales remain iconic, even elemental examples of the storyteller’s craft. “There has yet been no writer of short stories in English to challenge his achievement, which ranges through space from India to the home counties, and through time from Stone Age man to the contemporary world of football matches and motor cars. These stories, moreover, exhibit every kind of treatment, from the farcical to the tragic, and their structures vary from the simplest anecdote to the most complex and allusive philosophical fiction, dense enough to support endless exegesis and commentary.” (ODNB)

That is a lovely erudition.

To me, the plainer tale is that Kipling’s characters – often only half-drawn and furtively glimpsed – are “Other” to themselves more than to place or to one another. Like Frost’s wood, Kipling’s India is “lovely, dark and deep”– a tangled banyan of humanity whose roots continue to propagate and accrete. In the interstices of British Raj and native soil. In the dense, humid, redolent air between reader and writer.

I encourage you to read Plain Tales from the Hills. You just can’t borrow my copy.

Winston & Randolph – a picture and less than 1,000 words

Words were Winston Churchill’s stock-in-trade. And Winston’s words are our own stock-in-trade. But sometimes a photo is worth a proverbial thousand words. This is one.

This February 1950 photo features Winston S. Churchill striding arm-in-arm with his daughter-in-law, June, and son, Randolph, in the constituency Randolph would lose that month to future Labour Leader Michael Foot.

And just in case you still prefer words, this one comes with some.

Inked at the bottom of the image is: “For W. H. Hobbs – Devonport February 1950”.  Below and to the left is the signature of “Winston S. Churchill”. To the right is the signature of “June S. Churchill”, below and to the right of which is the signature of “Randolph S. Churchill”.

This photo is not only striking and particularly noteworthy signed thus, but also a poignant reminder of the disappointments that marked Randolph’s life and his relationship with his father.

Devonport is in the City of Plymouth in the constituency twice unsuccessfully contested by Randolph. His opponent, future Labour Leader Michael Mackintosh Foot (1913-2010), first won the seat in the same July 1945 General Election in which Winston lost his wartime premiership to Labour’s Clement Attlee.  Foot defeated Randolph in the February 1950 General Election by 3,483 votes.  In the General Election of October 1951 – Randolph’s final attempt to return to Parliament – he lost again to Foot (this time by 2,390 votes).  Despite Randolph’s own failure, this same election returned his father’s Conservatives to majority and Winston to 10 Downing Street for his second and final premiership.

Notwithstanding election rivalry, Foot would say: “I belong to the most exclusive club in London; the friends of Randolph Churchill.”  During the 1950 campaign, it would seem that Randolph’s friends were in short supply; it was reportedly Foot and his wife who looked after the rival candidate, sobering him up and seeing him on his train after he had been abandoned by his own party activists. (Morgan, Michael Foot: A Life)  Foot became Labour Party leader in 1980, losing his position when Labour lost the General Election to Thatcher in 1983.

Randolph (1911-1968) had Churchillian gifts which he ultimately failed to fully refine and apply.  British historian Andrew Roberts has said: “Aside from his heroically dismal manners, his gambling, arrogance, vicious temper, indiscretions, and aggression,” Randolph “was generous, patriotic, extravagant and amazingly courageous.”  Randolph dwelt in his father’s shadow and often disappointed him.  Nonetheless, “Winston Churchill never let the sun go down upon his wrath, and when Randolph’s idleness ended in lecture tours and races for Parliament, he lent his support, even when his son’s campaigns were politically unhelpful to him. During World War II, when Randolph served with distinction in North Africa and Yugoslavia, Winston entrusted him with sensitive tasks which he performed with skill and discretion… After the war, Churchill willed his invaluable archive to Randolph; and in 1959, he bestowed the ultimate accolade by inviting Randolph to be his official biographer.” (Richard Langworth) Perhaps symbolically, Randolph completed only the first two volumes before he died in 1968.

June Churchill nee Osborne (1922-1980) was Randolph’s second wife, from 1948-1961.  Their marriage produced Randolph’s second child and only daughter, Arabella.

The photo measures 9.75 x 7.75 inches.  The only notation other than the inscription and signatures of the Churchills is “DAILY GRAPHIC | COPYRIGHT” ink-stamped on the lower right verso.  Interesting to note, it was the Daily Graphic that, in 1895, helped finance a very young Winston Churchill’s first trip as a war correspondent to Cuba by agreeing to accept his letters “for a fee of five guineas each, no mean fee in those days for a first assignment.” (Woods, Winston S. Churchill: War Correspondent 1895-1900)

Provenance of this photo is the family of the recipient, W. H. Hobbs, who served in the Royal Navy with distinction during the Second World War, receiving the Distinguished Service Cross, and was reportedly a Plymouth Councilor in 1950 when this photograph was inscribed for him.

Condition of the photo approaches very good, showing light scuffing, trivial blemishes, and minor wear to edges, the verso with spotting and tape residue and minor scarring at corners.

The photo is removably mounted in an 11×14 wood frame with acid-free, archival mat.

We’re pleased to offer this photo for sale HERE.

FDR’s D-Day Prayer

We have the privilege of being able to tell you about a remarkable memento of a remarkable moment in history. This is the limited edition of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s D-Day prayer, commissioned from the U.S. Government Printing Office by Roosevelt at his own expense and inscribed by him to his secretary, Dorothy Jones Brady.

The inscription, inked in four lines on the front free endpaper, reads: “For Dorothy | Christmastide, 1944 | from | Franklin D. Roosevelt”.

Per the limitation page, one hundred copies were printed “for President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the U.S. Government Printing Office at Washington” in December 1944. This copy is hand numbered “68” of 100.

The Moment

On 6 June 1944, the United States and its WWII allies launched the largest amphibious invasion in history. More than 150,000 soldiers, sailors, and airmen had crossed the English Channel to storm the beaches at Normandy, beginning the campaign that would end with the unconditional surrender of Germany in May 1945.

Roosevelt had addressed America via radio the day before, on the evening of 5 June, about the liberation of the city of Rome by Allied troops: “The first of the Axis capitals is now in our hands. One up and two to go!”

In his national radio address of 6 June, both the situation and the tone were strikingly different. President Roosevelt did not provide a factual report on events, but asked his countrymen to join him in a nearly 600-word prayer he had written himself.

“My Fellow Americans:

Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer.

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.”

Roosevelt’s candid recognition suited the perilousness of the undertaking and the uncertainty of the outcome.

“They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest – until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.”

Even in the midst of the most extreme violence, Roosevelt sought to morally delineate the cause of his nation and its Allies from that of its foes. In so framing history’s largest amphibious invasion, Roosevelt drew a clear line between invaders and liberators, and set definitive limits to the scope and duration of military ambition.

“For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. The fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for the return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home – fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them – help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Roosevelt asked his countrymen for patience and resolve, attempting to prepare them for the inevitable hardship and loss that would attend wresting control of continental Europe from Nazi Germany.

Give us strength, too – strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade.”

Interestingly, future President Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of the D-Day invasion, would title his own 1948 war memoirs Crusade in Europe.

“Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment – let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace – a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.


On 7 November 1944, Roosevelt was re-elected President for an unprecedented fourth term. In December, this limited issue of his D-Day prayer was printed “for his friends at Christmastide”.

The Association

This copy of Roosevelt’s D-Day Prayer was inscribed by FDR for Dorothy Jones Brady, his White House secretary and stenographer.

Brady began her federal career at the Department of Agriculture secretarial pool. Reassigned to the White House, she became secretary to presidential press secretary Steve Early. After substituting several times for the FDR’s secretary, Grace Tully, Brady accompanied FDR on campaign trips and on visits to his home at Hyde Park. She was with FDR when he died on 12 April 1945, less than a year after D-Day and less than a month before Germany’s 7 May 1945 unconditional surrender.

On 18 January 1945, less than a month after Roosevelt inscribed this copy of his D-Day prayer for Brady and less than three months before he died, Roosevelt was in his west wing office working on a speech with Dorothy Brady, Grace Tully, Samuel Rosenman, and Robert Sherwood. Roosevelt “suddenly stopped, look around, and asked “What in this room reminds you the most of me?” Dorothy Brady named “a portrait of John Paul Jones” who was of course the first well-known American naval commander during the Revolutionary War. The choice was fitting; at the height of his youthful promise, before being crippled by polio, Franklin Roosevelt had served for seven years as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, including during the First World War. “When Mrs. Brady returned from the final trip to Warm Springs she found the Jones portrait waiting for her.” (Ferrell, The Dying President)

Brady went on to serve as secretary to cabinet secretaries and assistant to the president of the Pullman railroad car company. She died at age 87 in 1999.

Edition and Condition

In 1935, the president began a Christmas tradition of having addresses or messages by him printed at his own expense by the Government Printing Office. “Most of them are slim quarto volumes bound in boards with gilt lettered backstrips of leather or quarter bound in parchment with a gold-stamped morocco label affixed to the spine. Every copy issued by FDR was numbered and signed by him and as a rule, he also inscribed each book with an appropriate Christmas greeting to the recipient…. The FDR Christmas Books are prime collector’s items, of course, but they fall more within the category of personal and intimate FDR relics or mementos…” (Halter, p.193-4)

The 100 copies of Roosevelt’s D-Day Prayer printed in 1944 were the last of FDR’s Christmas books, and arguably the most poignant.

The original fine binding features a quarter vellum spine over marbled paper-covered boards. A gilt-stamped morocco spine label reads: “D-Day Prayer by Franklin D. Roosevelt”. The contents are printed black, blue, and red on laid paper with untrimmed fore and bottom edges and gilt top edge. The prayer is separated into short stanzas, each framed with a red ruled box.

Condition is near fine. The binding is square and tight with sharp corners and almost no wear. We note mild soiling to the spine, notably at the slipcase cutout. The contents show mild age-toning to the page edges and light spotting, primarily to the endpapers. The blank leaf following the text and preceding the limitation page shows some wrinkling and a vertical crease. The name “(Brady)” is written in pencil beside President Roosevelt’s inscription.

The volume is housed in the original blue paper-covered card slipcase. The slipcase is fully intact with modest toning and wear to extremities.

This piece of history is offered for sale HERE.

Naming the world’s tallest mountain

We have just listed a rather remarkable artefact of British colonial presence in India. Mammoth in every sense, this is the 1847, two-volume, first edition of George Everest’s account of his epic survey of the Indian subcontinent. Everest’s survey is the reason why the world’s tallest peak, Mount Everest, was named for this British geodesist and military engineer.

This elaborate and rare set is a presentation copy in the original binding from the author to the Royal Society of Edinburgh at the behest of the Directors of the East India Company.

Each volume is inscribed on the front free endpaper: “Presented by order of the Court of Directors | of the Hon’ble E. I. Company of Great Britain | to the Royal Society of Edinburgh | By the Author”.

Sir George Everest (1790-1866) joined the East India Company as a cadet and sailed for India in 1806. Engineering successes and proficiency in mathematics and astronomy led to his being appointed chief assistant to the great trigonometrical survey of India in 1817. This survey, dauntingly ambitious on an imperial scale, began in 1802 and “was of international geodetic importance because of its part in determining the figure of the earth.”   Everest’s task was to complete the arc that had begun at the southern tip of India, work which he continued as superintendent after the 1823 death of William Lambton, his predecessor.

Triangulation surveys were based on carefully measured baselines and a series of angles. The initial baseline was measured with great accuracy – a daunting technical and logistical feat in colonial India – since the accuracy of the subsequent survey was critically dependent upon it. The text volume’s frontispiece engraving is of the “Termination of the Calcutta Base Line”. Of note, a significant part of Everest’s work was highly technical in nature and he did not just rely on and reward British ingenuity; Everest “promoted to positions of considerable importance local staff such as the computer Radhanath Sickdhar and the instrument maker Saiyid Mir Mohsin Hussain.” (ODNB)

Everest spent the next two decades intensely committed to the trigonometrical survey. He directly participated in field work, “even though half paralysed from the effects of fever and rheumatism.” When he became too ill to work in the field, Everest returned to England to win support of the East India Company for project completion, to promote scientific interest, and secure improvements in measurement instruments and methods. Everest returned to India in 1830 not only as an elected fellow of the Royal Society and superintendent of the trigonometric survey, but also as surveyor-general of India. Despite further bouts of sickness, “he was able to see the work through to completion in 1841 under Andrew Scott Waugh by which time an arc of more than 21 degrees in length had been measured from Cape Comorin to the northern border of British India.” (ODNB)

In late 1843, Everest retired and returned to England. His 1847 publication of An Account of the Measurement of Two Sections of the Meridional Arc of India earned Everest the medal of the Royal Astronomical Society as well as election as an honorary member of the Asiatic Society of Bengal and fellow of the Royal Asiatic and Royal Geographical societies. In 1856, Everest’s name was given by his successor in India, Andrew Waugh, to Peak XV in the Himalayas, the highest summit in the world at 29,029 feet.

Everest’s two-volume work is a magnificently detailed and elaborate publication, rarely seen on the word market and particularly scarce thus – an author’s presentation copy in the original publisher’s bindings.

The handsome original dark blue cloth bindings measure nearly 13 x 10.25 inches, with gilt spine print, blind ruled spine compartments, and blind ruled front cover borders with blind stamped floral motif at corners and center within. The contents are extensively illustrated.

The text volume includes an engraved frontispiece and two plates, illustrations (one with volvelle), and tables (several folding). The Engravings volume includes thirty-two engraved plates, one plate with volvelle, one double-page map, and two enormous folding plan sections. The lower title page of the Engravings volume bears the oval ink stamp of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. We are pleased to offer this magnificent set for sale, HERE.

As a young cavalry officer and war correspondent serving on the northwest Indian frontier at the end of Queen Victoria’s reign, future British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill mused “…we wonder whether the traveller shall some day inspect, with unconcerned composure, the few scraps of stone and iron which may indicate the British occupation of India…” (The Story of the Malakand Field Force, 1898, p.139) Everest’s “great vision was to calculate the figure of the earth, comparing his great arc with arcs in higher latitude…” His figure was soon superseded and twentieth century satellite technology has completely changed the method of calculating the figure of the earth. What endures is Everest’s importance “as a man of vision who with immense determination carried out his plan to the limits of precision then possible… and whose achievement was of great importance to contemporary geodesy and to the accurate surveying of India.” (ODNB)

Everest’s name, affixed to the world’s tallest peak – a summit synonymous with both alluring mystique and towering ambition – testifies to the place the Indian subcontinent held in British imagination, ambition, and invention and to an enduring influence greater than any “few scraps of stone and iron.”