Winston on the hustings as a Liberal in 1906: TO THE ELECTORS OF NORTH-WEST MANCHESTER

Recently we had the privilege of acquiring a compelling artifact from the first political campaign Winston S. Churchill contested as a Liberal in January 1906. This extravagantly rare leaflet publication – potentially unique thus – is the first edition, only printing, of Winston S. Churchill’s Address to the Electors of North-West Manchester, published on 1 January 1906 specifically in preparation for his campaign.

Of the three copies known to us, this is the only privately-held copy of the four-page leaflet. But this is the sole known to retain the canvassing leaf insertion inviting “the undersigned” to declare intention “to support the candidature of Mr. WINSTON S. CHURCHILL at the forthcoming General Election.”

The single-sheet, perforated leaflet insert is clearly meant to accompany Churchill’s message. The upper two thirds is a message from the local Liberal committee introducing Churchill as a “Free Trade and Liberal Candidate”, urging support for him, and stating “Mr. Churchill’s views… will be found in the Accompanying address… To simplify the work of the canvassers, will you please fill up the annexed slip and send it by first post to the Central Committee Rooms.” The bottom portion is perforated, meant for detachment, signature, and submittal in declaration of support for Churchill’s candidacy. The solicited voter is asked to append their signature and address to the statement “Gentlemen, I, the undersigned, intend to support the Candidature of Mr. WINSTON S. CHURCHILL at the forthcoming General Election.” Both the leaflet and insert state “Printed and published by Wm. Hough & Sons” of “Swan Court, Market Street, Manchester.”

In the first days of 1906, Winston Churchill was 31 years old. Already he had been in Parliament for half a decade. Yet already he was on his second political party.

On 31 May, 1904, Churchill left his father’s Conservative Party, crossing the aisle to become a Liberal, beginning a dynamic chapter in his political career that saw him champion progressive causes and branded a traitor to his class. That year, the Liberal candidate for North-West Manchester died and the MLF noted that “it is hoped that in the immediate future another name may be put before the North-West Division.”  It would be Winston S. Churchill.

On 2 January 1906 he published his two-volume biography of his father. Immediately thereafter, he campaigned for eight days in North-West Manchester, hoping to win his first election as a Liberal. Churchill’s party defection was on the minds of the voters. His father’s history was much on his own mind.  “…I have changed my Party… I am proud of it.  When I think of all… Lord Randolph Churchill gave to… the Conservative Party and the ungrateful way he was treated… I am delighted that circumstances have enabled me to break with them…” 

Churchill arrived at Manchester on 4 January 1906 to campaign; this election address had already been published on 1 January. “It was a sober and realistic statement of the Government case and of the general failure of the Tories in the previous Parliament. His strongest arguments turned on the case for Free Trade”. (RS, Vol. II, pp.114-5)

The leaflet consists of a single sheet folded once vertically to form four panels. The upper left of the front panel features the same iconic image of a stern and earnest young Churchill later featured on the dust jacket for Liberalism and the Social Problem (1909) and the wraps edition of The People’s Rights (1910). To the right of Churchill’s image is the statement “NORTH-WEST MANCHESTER | PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION, 1906.” and the titular “TO THE ELECTORS OF NORTH-WEST MANCHESTER”. Churchill’s address, with bolded sub-headings, fills the lower half of the front panel, two inner panels, and two-thirds of the rear panel, terminating in his printed name and “Colonial Office, New Year’s Day, 1906.”

It was a distinctly pointed political document, full of the vehemence of a strident, confident young Churchill, hyperbolic on the hustings: “Few Parliaments in our modern experience have been less deserving of respect… It has spent public money with careless, unexampled profusion. It has hurried to place retrograde legislaton upon the Statute Book. It has consented to every abrogation or infringement of liberty, constitutional or personal, at home or abroad, that was suggested to it. Under its hand the procedure of the House of Commons has been mutilated, and respect for Parliamentary institutions has been notably and notoriously diminished. Jealous of nothing save the leisure of its members, it has bartered Parliamentary rights for longer holidays and easier hours of session, and shirked urgent public business at the promptings of personal indolence… grudged the freedom of speech, conspired against the freedom of trade, parodied the freedom and the dignity of labour… enabled a Minister to maintain in office himself and a small clique of favourites – mostly incompetent – and to rule in default of national esteem and in defiance of popular authority for upwards of two whole years… It is wonderful that a Ministry with so ill a record, and such doubtful and divided aims should fear to present themselves at the bar of public judgment.”

The bold subheadings encapsulate many of the issues that led Churchill to cross the aisle – among them “Free Trade”, “Liberal Policy”, “A Degenerate Parliament”, “The Tory Record”, and “A Fair Chance”.

Manchester had been a Conservative Party stronghold for nearly fifty years. Nonetheless, on 13 January 1906 Churchill, at the age of 31, won the traditionally Conservative seat with 5,639 votes out of a total of 10,037 votes cast with 89 percent of the electorate voting. “His efforts… helped… other Liberal candidates to overturn Conservative seats” in what became a Liberal landslide.

Churchill’s Address was published the same day in The Times and the Manchester Guardian, but this is the only stand-alone publication.

This conspicuously political leaflet and canvassing leaf is a tangible reminder of the bare-knuckle electoral underpinnings of a life spent in politics. Churchill’s political career would last nearly two thirds of a century, see him occupy Cabinet office during each of the first six decades of the twentieth century, carry him twice to the premiership and, further still, into the annals of history as a preeminent statesman. All of that depended on the support of the voters that he needed to place and keep him in office, and who he was already learning to cultivate in this 116-year-old piece of political ephemera that has – remarkably -both survived and made its way to us.


Celebrating the Forthcoming Publication of Churchill in Punch

Gary Stiles has done something really cool. Who’s Gary? Well… Gary is a physician, medical researcher, corporate executive, and student of history. But most relevant to this post, Gary is a lifelong collector of Winston S. Churchill’s memorabilia and writings. And Gary is the author of the soon-to-be published Churchill in Punch. His book is the first ever effort to definitively catalogue, describe, and contextualize all of the many Punch cartoons featuring Churchill.

Why is that a big deal? After all, Churchill was cartooned in myriad publications. What’s so special about Punch? Well, Punch was… Punch. “It is hard to escape the legacy of Punch Magazine. From 1841 to 2002, the magazine cast a satirical eye on life in Britain. It charted the interests, concerns and frustratons of the country and, today, it stands as an invaluable resource for social historians… Punch combined humour, illustration and political debate with a fresh and radical audacity… In the Western world, Punch played a significant role in the development of satire. In the field of illustration, it practically revolutionised it.” (Illustration Chronicles: How Punch Magazine Changed Everything)

Punch or The London Charivari began featuring Churchill cartoons in 1900, when his political career was just beginning. That political career would last two thirds of a century, see Churchill occupy Cabinet office during each of the first six decades of the twentieth century, carry him twice to the premiership and, further still, into the annals of history as a preeminent statesman. And throughout that time, Punch satirized Churchill in cartoons – more than 600 of them, the work of more than 50 different artists. So in both a visually compelling and historical sense, a chronicle of Churchill’s appearances in Punch is a chronicle of Churchill himself – how he waxed and waned, strove and succeeded and failed and strove again, all in the public eye, during an incredible span of decades reaching from the end of Queen Victoria’s reign into the beginning of that of Queen Elizabeth II.

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)

Churchill and Punch was a near-perfect relationship between satirists and subject. That Churchill was distinctive in both persona and physical appearance helped make him easy to caricature. To his persona and appearance he added myriad additional satirical temptations, not just props, like his cigars, siren suits, V-sign, and hats, but also a variety of ancillary avocations and vocations, like polo, painting, brick-laying, and writing. All these were occasionally exalted and most often skewered as well.

Some Punch cartoons were laudatory, some critical, and many humorous, like the man himself. Nearly always, Churchill was distinctly recognizable, a larger-than-life character whose presence caricature served only to magnify.

Now, thanks to Gary, we can see the complete, coherent arc of that character throughout his long public life as portrayed through the myriad cartoons of multiple generations of Punch artists.

Our appreciation and congratulations to Gary for this splendid effort!

Churchill in Punch will be published by Unicorn Publishing Group. We are informed by the publisher that the UK publication date is 9 June, with U.S. publication following on 5 September. Copies may be pre-ordered.

HERE from


HERE via Book Depository (They offer free worldwide shipping)

Discovering a pioneering female archaeologist and other poetic ironies

An archaeologist’s job is to rescue the past from obscurity. So there is irony in seeing an archaeologist forgotten. That’s what nearly happened to Ann Axtell Morris (1900-1945) – one of America’s first female field archaeologists.

We have a natural affinity to archaeologists. As an Antiquarian bookseller, it’s our job to pay attention to sometimes obscure yet worthy parts of our past, and commend that past to the attention of others. Yet – with some chagrin – we confess that we did not know about Ann until a stroke of luck brought her life to our attention a few weeks ago.

That stroke of luck was in the form of a first edition of Robert Frost’s third published book of poems, featuring a charmingly creative and warm inscription to Ann. It turns out that this inscription also involves the man who was the real-life archaeologist said to have inspired George Lucas’s and Steven Spielberg’s legendary big-screen archaeologist, Indiana Jones. But most interesting to us, this inscribed copy caused us to dig into the history of an extraordinary woman who merits remembrance, and whose own inspiration to film had to wait quite a bit longer.

Ann received her bachelor’s degree from Smith College in 1922. She clearly acquired this book while a student. In two lines in black ink Axtell wrote on the front free endpaper “Ann Axtell | Smith College 1920”. Frost later conformed his own inscription to Axtell’s, writing above in four lines in dark blue “Robert Frost | to | Mrs. Earl Morris | née”. A further two lines below Ann’s own, Frost wrote “with admiration we won’t | go into here”. Well, in this blog post we finally go into it.

After graduation, Ann Axtel undertook field training with the American School of Prehistoric Research in France and then entered professional life as an archaeologist. The field was in a golden age; archaeology “had become more scientific and professionalized in the late 19th century.” There were considerable discoveries waiting to be made, an increasingly professional basis for making them, and strong public interest in what was being discovered. In this exciting climate, 1923 Ann married fellow archaeologist Earl Halstead Morris (1889-1956).

Fortunately, Ann and Earl shared professional passion. Beginning during their honeymoon, they excavated and explored ancient Native American sites in Arizona. While their work would take them to sites spanning Mesa Verde in Colorado to Aztec Ruins in New Mexico to a Mayan city in eastern Mexico, Arizona arguably yielded their most important contributions to archaeology. “Together, Ann and Earl wrote many studies on ancient lifeways within the American Southwest and Mexico.” Ann also wrote two popular books on her own, including Digging in the Southwest, “which upended conventional thinking about the Anasazi people”. Over the course of her career, “Ann developed methods to document architecture, petroglyphs and pictographs, and landscapes. Ann’s colorful drawings captured information that then-popular black-and-white photography would have lost.”

Certainly, all three individuals present in this inscription – Robert Frost, Earl Morris, and Ann Axtell Morris – labored for their opportunities.

Frost had repeated flirtations with penury before he published his first book of poetry at the age of 40. And that only after relocating his family to England (“the place to be poor and to write poems”). In 1912 – the same year Robert Frost began his sojourn in England – Earl Morris dropped out of college to join an excavation in Guatemala.

By the time of his death, at age 66, Earl Morris had received numerous awards, including the Norlin Medal, an honorary doctorate, and the Alfred Vincent Kidder medal. And, as a notional inspiration for Indiana Jones, Earl Morris may have catalyzed legend and helped father the most famous of all archaeologists. By the time he died at age 88, Frost had won the Pulitzer prize for poetry four times, spent the final decade and a half of his life as “the most highly esteemed American poet of the twentieth century” with a host of academic and civic honors to his credit, and become the first poet to read in the program of a U.S. presidential inauguration.

Ann pursued her own path with similar passion and achievement, but with quite different obstacles. When she entered the field, archaeology was offering tremendous insights to the world and exciting opportunities for archaeologists… as long as you were not a woman. In archaeology, “women faced discrimination in employment, publication, and fieldwork.” As a result, Ann “often worked without pay and was passed over for opportunities that were instead offered to her husband.” In 1924, when she first arrived in Mexico for an excavation of a Mayan city in cooperation with the Carnegie Institute, Ann was told by the lead archaeologist to babysit his six-year-old daughter and act as hostess to visiting guests. Ann had to convince him to allow her to excavate a small, overlooked temple. Initially relegated to nanny status, Ann would eventually spend four seasons copying the Temple of the Warrior murals, and her final illustrations were published in Temple of the Warriors at Chichén Itzá, Yucatan, coauthored with Earl and a French painter, Jean Charlot.

Co-authorship was not just naturally collaboration, but often a prudent necessity. “Despite her accomplishments,” Ann’s work “was often buried in papers that bore her husband’s name or went entirely uncredited.” Ann wrote two books herself for which she intended to have a popular audience “in order to educate the public about the field. The publishers, however, marketed the books to older children because they did not recognize that women could write literature about archaeology for adults.”

There is poetic irony in the fact that it was the work of Ann’s life to foster greater understanding of the lives and culture of ancient Native Americans and Indigenous Mexicans whose complex societies had been overlooked.

There is further ironic poetry in the fact that this particular work is inscribed by Frost to Ann. Frost’s first decisively American publication is inscribed to one of America’s first female field archaeologists. The book and the inscription limn very different experiences for Robert Frost and Ann Axtell Morris. Mountain Interval was Frost’s third book of poetry, but the first for which the U.S. edition takes precedence; both A Boy’s Will and North of Boston – Frost’s first two books – were first published in Great Britain. When Mountain Interval was published, Frost was newly returned to the U.S. from England and establishing the reputation that would give him that rarest of experiences for a poet – to be recognized and even revered in his own lifetime. The year that Mountain Interval was published, Frost was made Phi Beta Kappa poet at Harvard – from which he had dropped out years before – and elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. In Mountain Interval, Frost’s singular voice is clearly heard in some of his finest poems, such as “Birches,” “Out, Out–,” “The Hill Wife,” and “An Old Man’s Winter Night.” The volume opens with the poem “The Road Not Taken.” We can only imagine how a young woman aspiring to become an archaeologist read Frost’s words:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Ann’s voice has been harder to hear. Ann’s alma mater, where she was an undergraduate when she acquired this book, recognized her with an honorary masters degree in 1935. Unfortunately, her life was shortened by illness and alcoholism. She died ten years later at age 45. We can only speculate what role her professional marginalization played in cutting short her life, her career, and her contributions to her field. Nonetheless, recognition of Ann’s legacy has grown in recent years and “She is widely credited with helping open the field to other women and inspiring generations of readers with a passion for archaeology.”

To the point, one of Ann’s daughters entered her field, becoming both an archaeologist and professor. A film biography about Ann Axtell Morris titled Canyon Del Muerto premiers in 2022. Notably, it is the first time the Navajo Nation allowed a film crew into the magnificent red gorge known as Canyon del Muerto and the film was produced in close cooperation with descendants of the same Navajo with whom Ann worked nearly a century ago.

We will offer this book for sale later this year.

References: American National Biography, National Geographic, The Smithsonian, The U.S. National Park Service

Preparing for spring

Most times I try to put words to a notion, it turns out that a poet has already done it, and done it better. So it is with Robert Frost today, just a few days from the official start of spring here in the northern hemisphere.

… Bring the singer, bring the nester;

Give the buried flower a dream;

Make the settled snowbank steam;

… Bathe my window, make it flow,

Melt it as the ice will go;

… Run the rattling pages o’er;

Scatter poems on the floor;

Turn the poet out of door.

(from Robert Frost’s “To the Thawing Wind”)

On the cusp of spring, we’ve been heeding Mr. Frost. Recent weeks have often found us as busy out of the library as in. Hence we have some (mostly) non-bookish news to relate.

First, Everett Spencer Shelley

This week saw the birth of Paul’s son. We are thrilled to report that Everett, Mom, and Dad are out of the hospital and home. Those of you accustomed to email responses from Paul at virtually all hours of the day may need to temper expectations for a while. Everett, it seems, is having a go at being a nocturnal mammal. Paul, alas, is not. In fact, he is so sleep-deprived he’s even lost his reflexive gift for terrible puns.

Some of you may note Everett’s middle name and wonder if that is a nod to Mr. Churchill. Hmmm…

In the meantime, while Paul was preparing to become a father again, Marc was in Richmond, Virginia, competing in U.S.A. Fencing’s North America Cup as a Veteran (a respectful term for “old guy”). This is one of three national fencing tournaments held in the U.S. each year. Think thousands of people dressed in white trying to stab one another in a convention center.

There were months of training, daily workouts, diet adjustments, and all rest you’d expect from an aging athlete. Despite this, Marc made a poor showing the first day of competition. In classic “adapt and overcome” spirit, he tried a different strategy for the night between the first and second competitions. This cunningly crafted plan involved three different bars, late night (well, technically early morning) fried chicken, brief, inebriated sleep, and then being up at 6:00 AM to compete. Apparently, that’s the winning recipe, since he made the podium at a national tournament for the first time.

If you’re ever in Richmond, may we recommend The Jefferson Hotel bar. Strikingly beautiful place. Strikingly good bartenders. Suffice it to say that given the indulgences of the night preceding and the podium the following morning, the conventional training regimen is officially under review…

But for now, spectating is on the agenda. Track season just started and Marc’s 15-year-old daughter has eyes on the hurdles. A league champ as a freshman last year, Dessa is aiming higher this year. If you happen to be a hurdle, don’t get in the way…

If there is a bookish flag being carried, it is by CBC’s own Aaron Styza. Last year, Aaron founded, edited, and oversaw publication of the inaugural issue of Thuya Poetry Review. For those of you unfamiliar, it is a huge effort to launch a credible literary review. There’s not only the considerable setup and logistics, but the necessity of securing a ludicrous abundance of submissions, all to be carefully read, and from which to cull a select few for publication. All this Aaron and his team did. Click HERE to check it the Thuya Poetry Review website. 

Note that Thuya’s submission period for the forthcoming Issue #2 recently opened…

For those of you sharing a hemisphere with us, our best wishes for coming spring. In Marc’s final minutes in Richmond, just before he caught a ride to the airport, he caught this Cherry tree just beginning to bloom – quite a beautiful herald of the impending season. Spring is a headlong thing, full of urgency, with no patience for hesitation. May the heady thaw and rush of spring find you likewise, making haste in pursuit of your own passions.

Holiday Salutations and Meditations

Seasons greetings from our library to yours!

You know you’re getting older when you become self-referential. Nonetheless, we write to share comments prompted by another blog post, one we wrote last year at this time.

We had just offered for sale an item related to the famous First World War “Christmas Truce” – a remarkable moment of holiday season humanity in the midst of remarkably inhumane conflict.

The point today is not our year-old post, but rather the message we received in reply from one of our customers (in red below) and our own reply (in blue).

Amid the vagaries and vicissitudes of this never-quite-post-pandemic world, we remain mindful of the small, fragile, but hopefully enduring place of books within it. Knowing that any of you reading likely share our bibliophilia, sharing these year-old messages seems appropriate.

Dearest Gentlemen,

20th December 2020, COVID Christmas. Sunday, 5.30am (CST).

First, let me begin with wishing you and your families, a very joyous, healthy and fabulous holiday season with a new year that will not ‘go down in infamy’ as 2020 most certainly will. In times of fright and stress you have brought a respite that was most needed and welcomed. Offerings from a great man and many other great authors gave me a chance for escape, and not to mention, moments of restraint in not pushing the buy button and turning over my first and second born in exchange for your most sought after treasures. I thank you, most deeply.

Second, it was early this dark, damp Sunday morning whilst the household still slept that I made my pot of tea, tended to the pups, sat at the dining room table surrounded only by the illumination of the Christmas lights, and began to read the blog you had so brilliantly written on the truce. Not without saying, it managed to produce a slight lump in my throat and cloud my vision. I would have liked to attribute that to the fog that engulfed the house but I cannot attest to that, honestly. It was moving, to say the least, as was the actual moment in history. I suspect you have all seen the movie Joyeux Noël. This is a must in this house at this time of year…and at any time that we feel things spiraling out of control and leaving us with feelings of hopelessness. Thus, your blog brought me joy to know that there are others out there that appreciate the efforts of men such as Churchill, Buchanan-Dunlop and others not mentioned.

Alas, when I realised that the volumes for offer were sold contentment and, admittedly, a bit of envy settled in. But, I had to give a satisfied nod knowing that these great works are being well looked after.

Not wanting to take anymore of your time, I shall conclude with my heartfelt wishes for you and yours during the holidays. Be well and safe. Looking forward to many more books, emails and blogs in 2021.


Our reply, which ended up being a (hopefully pardonable) florid meditation, follows.

My Dear G*****,

I must respond selfishly to your most extravagantly generous missive. You are a reason that we do what we do.

There are lots of ways to sell books. Frequently, I’m reminded that doing lots of research, writing lengthy descriptions, and then composing even lengthier blog posts may not be the most *efficient way to engage in the antiquarian book trade. But, for better or worse, that’s our way.

Yes, we did indeed sell the set yesterday. And we’ll certainly appreciate the revenue, which is essential not only to keep body and soul knit, but to keep doing what we do. But a message like yours is arguably just as essential as the revenue.

Arguably even more essential.

That you would sit down to write to us on a Sunday morning is simply, exclusively, and unequivocally an act of expansive grace. Of course we owe you thanks for your artfully framed and exceptionally kind sentiments. But – and here’s the selfish part – we owe you a deep gratitude for the affirmation and encouragement.

At its best, bookselling 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 mellow, 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.

Thank you for stirring, G*****. Both us and the great, quiet sea.

May good fortune, high spirits, worthy efforts, and more pleasant trials attend you and yours in the coming year.



Again, at the risk of further self-reference, we wish you and yours good fortune, high spirits, worthy efforts, and more pleasant trials in the coming year.


“…but they will linger.” – Poets and Poetry of the First World War

This post, prompted by new additions to our inventory, touches on four First World War poets – Brooke, Graves, Owen, and Sassoon – and the wounds, exhaustions, extinguishments, and scarred endurances these poets lived and expressed. 

103 years ago tomorrow, at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the First World War ended. Much ink has spilled analyzing how the unprecedented carnage of the First World War fundamentally disrupted and reshaped social, political, and cultural conceptions. It turned out that even the spilling of ink was altered; the romantic conceits of poetry numbered among the many casualties of the First World War, and the changes wrought in some of the leading poetic voices became both reflection and herald of a terribly altered world. “Modernity”, with all of its cruel candor, was born of – and borne by – poetry and poets as much as the battlefields.

Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) rather makes the point. Among his most famous poems is “The Soldier”, published in early 1915, just a few months before his death, roughly half a year after the start of the First World War, and before the protracted horrors of the conflict tainted the poetic sensibilities and national sentiment of his poems.

If I should die, think only this of me:

      That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is for ever England. There shall be

      In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;

A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,

      Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;

A body of England’s, breathing English air,

      Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,

      A pulse in the eternal mind, no less

            Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;

Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;

      And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,

            In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

As if to punctuate his poem, not long after it was published, Brooke died. His body was taken to the Greek island of Skyros, from whence Achilles had sailed for Troy, and buried in an olive grove. 

In The Times, on 26 April 1915, Brooke was eulogized by Winston S. Churchill:

“Rupert Brooke is dead. A telegram from the Admiral at Lemnos tells us that this life has closed at the moment when it seemed to have reached its springtime. A voice had become audible, a note had been struck, more true, more thrilling, more able to do justice to the nobility of our youth in arms engaged in this present war, than any other more able to express their thoughts of self-surrender, and with a power to carry comfort to those who watch them so intently from afar. The voice has been swiftly stilled. Only the echoes and the memory remain; but they will linger.

During the last few months of his life, months of preparation in gallant comradeship and open air, the poet-soldier told with all the simple force of genius the sorrow of youth about to die, and the sure triumphant consolations of a sincere and valiant spirit. He expected to die: he was willing to die for the dear England whose beauty and majesty he knew: and he advanced towards the brink in perfect serenity, with absolute conviction of the rightness of his country’s cause and a heart devoid of hate for fellow-men.

The thoughts to which he gave expression in the very few incomparable war sonnets which he has left behind will be shared by many thousands of young men moving resolutely and blithely forward in this, the hardest, the cruelest, and the least-rewarded of all the wars that men have fought. They are a whole history and revelation of Rupert Brooke himself. Joyous, fearless, versatile, deeply instructed, with classic symmetry of mind and body, ruled by high undoubting purpose, he was all that one would wish England’s noblest sons to be in the days when no sacrifice but the most precious is acceptable, and the most precious is that which is most freely proffered.”

Churchill’s was a lovely, panegyric eulogy, an evocation and echo of Brooke’s own poem, limning the poet’s death in the poet’s own sentimentality and glorification. But Brooke never saw front line action. He died of blood poisoning, presumably brought on by an insect bite to his lip. This may have been fortunate, as Brooke died en route to the charnel house of Gallipoli, where his Hood Battalion of the Royal Naval Division landed days later, and where nearly half a million Turkish and Allied troops became casualties.

The conspicuous romanticism of Brooke’s interment eclipses his undistinguished, unheroic ending – and provides a literary line of demarcation. Brooke’s ending, more than his burial, better symbolizes the bleak and bereft brutality of the First World War battlefields. Brooke’s poems proved an elegy to both himself and to his brand of poeticism, which, as the war progressed, gave way to a poeticism as mudded, bloodied, and bare of romance as the war’s trenches and No Man’s Land. Churchill, who would himself be serving on the Western Front by the end of 1915, had some inkling of the growing disillusions accompanying “this, the hardest, the cruelest, and the least-rewarded of all the wars that men have fought.” But Churchill did not know – could not yet know – the full literary measure of his opening statement “Rupert Brooke is dead.

The death of Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) came three and a half long years of war later and is a study in contrast. After stint at Craiglockhart War Hospital to treat shell-shock, Owen returned to the front. By the end of October, 1918, he found himself poised on the western side of the Sambre-Oise canal. Biographer Guy Cuthbertson relates how “Wilfrid Owen and his band of friends tried to cross the Canal. War veined the water with a dreadful red, before it all mingled to one tint.” (Cuthbertson, p.290) Owen was cut down by a German machine-gunner just a week before the Armistice. 

While still convalescing at Craiglockhart, Owen had written verse of soldiering experience entirely unreconciled to Brooke’s “Soldier”. Fittingly, “Dulce et Decorum Este” was first published in the Hospital magazine, The Hydra, on 1 September 1917.

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

“The War to End All Wars” did not. But it changed poetry. And it made – and unmade – poets. A scrappy pugilist, Robert Graves (1895-1985) reputedly earned the respect of his fellow soldiers and his first command through erudition with his fists, not his letters. After surviving the annihilation of his Royal Welch Fusiliers, he was transferred and met Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967). Graves’s senior by a decade, Sassoon’s pre-war poetry was highly romantic and imitative. “He was always ‘waiting for the spark from heaven to fall’, and when it fell it was shrapnel…” (ODNB)

Graves initially thought Sassoon too gung-ho about the war. Indeed, Sassoon, known as “Mad-Jack”, was awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous bravery and considered for the Victoria Cross. But he was anything but gung-ho when he chucked his MC ribbon into the River Mersey. And when Sassoon wrote a scathing anti-war declaration that was read in Parliament, his friend Graves lobbied for his hospitalization in lieu of a court martial. At Craiglockhart War Hospital Sassoon met a young poet named Wilfred Owen. While Owen published “Dulce et Decorum Este” in the Hospital’s literary magazine, which he edited, Sassoon contributed poems, including “Dreamers” and “Wirers”, that would later appear in his collections Counter-Attack and Other Poems and War Poems. Owen met Graves during the latter’s Hospital visits to Sassoon. Upon release, Sassoon was lucky to be once again merely wounded. His life and literary career, like that of Graves, would be long. Owen, like Brooke, suffered the bargain of Achilles – glory in lieu of longevity. 

Theirs – Brooke, Owen, Graves, and Sassoon – were certainly not the only poetic voices shaping and shaped by the First World War. But these four encapsulate many of the agonies, contradictions, convolutions, and evolutions endured by the poets and poetry of the First World War. Together they span the war’s poetic preambles and its long, more knowing, less exulting and less lyrical aftermath. 

A.J.B. and W.S.C. – “friendship, across the vicissitudes of politics”

We recently had the privilege of spending some time with a compelling inscribed Churchill book – a British first edition of The World Crisis: The Aftermath. The story is one worth telling. Hence this post.

The Aftermath is the penultimate volume of Churchill’s history of the First World War. This particular copy is inscribed and dated to Arthur James Balfour, the man who replaced Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty when Churchill was forced to resign in 1915, who was Prime Minister when Churchill dramatically repudiated the Conservative Party in 1904, and beside whom Churchill worked in both Coalition and Conservative Governments of the 1920s. Of course, Churchill’s own words testify most eloquently to his association with Balfour, which both included and exceeded that of a colleague, mentor, or rival:  “…this remarkable man whom I knew, and whose friendship, across the vicissitudes of politics, I enjoyed in a ripening measure during thirty years.” (WSC, Great Contemporaries, p.240)

The inscription

Churchill inscribed this presentation copy of the first edition six days prior to publication. Using their respective initials, the tone is familiar, befitting their long association, and the first and third lines have a hint of playful versification – almost certainly intentional from a seasoned wordsmith like Churchill. Inked in four lines, the blank sheet recto preceding the half title reads:

A. J. B 


  Winston S. C. 

1 Mar 1929

This was the last book Churchill published during Balfour’s lifetime; Balfour died a year after Churchill inscribed this copy to him.

The edition

A quarter of a century before the Second World War endowed him with lasting fame, Winston Churchill played a uniquely critical, controversial, and varied role in the “War to end all wars”. Then, being Churchill, he wrote about it. The World Crisis was published in six volumes between 1923 and 1931. The first four volumes span the 1911-1918 war years, with two supplemental volumes. This fifth volume, The Aftermath, covers the postwar years 1918-1928 – a decade-long span during most of which Churchill and Balfour both served in high Government office. 

The work has both literary and collector appeal – particularly jacketed first editions like this one. But those comparatively prosaic virtues are far eclipsed in this particular copy by the singular inscription and association. 

The association

Arthur James Balfour, first Earl of Balfour (1848-1930) was among the most significant influences and associations of the first half of Churchill’s political career. The two were already tethered by friendship and politics when Winston was born, and during Winston’s first three decades in Parliament they were almost perpetually connected by oscillations of alignment and opposition, of concurrent and opposing political ascendance. 

Balfour’s early education and preoccupation was philosophy, but in 1874 – the year Churchill was born – Balfour was elected to Parliament as a Conservative. There – notably opposite to Winston – his “lifelong antipathy to the physical process of handwriting” served him well, as it “led him to develop a remarkable ability to dictate lucid memoranda on complicated subjects.” This, coupled with the “habit of rationalistic discussion and debate that prevailed within his family circle”, contributed to Balfour’s formidable capacity for political debate.

Balfour was friends with Winston’s father, Lord Randolph Churchill, and together with two other Conservative MPs they formed a “self-styled Fourth Party”, harrying and rebelling against their party leadership. However, Balfour’s inclination to rebellion proved less than that of either Randolph or Winston and Balfour eventually heeded loyalty to the Conservative Party. Indeed, by 1891 Balfour became First Lord of the Treasury and leader of the House of Commons. Balfour led his party – either in opposition or in Government – for two decades. 

From his exalted position, Balfour supported Winston in his early endeavors. In 1897, it was Balfour who advised that young Winston entrust his first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force, to the literary agent A. P. Watt, who successfully made publication arrangements with Longmans on Winston’s behalf. (R. Churchill, Vol. I, p.367) When Churchill lost his first election, Balfour wrote to Winston “I had greatly hoped to see you speedily in the House… I hope… you will not be discouraged… this small reverse will have no permanent ill effect upon your political fortunes.” (letter of 10 July 1899) When Churchill ran again, this time as a famous hero of the Boer War, Balfour wrote encouragingly “I have great hopes that you will win the seat… you have had fresh opportunities – admirably taken advantage of – for shewing the public of what stuff you are made.” (letter of 30 August 1900).

Churchill won his first seat on 1 October 1900. Taking his seat in Parliament at the age of 26, Churchill was soon following family form, dissenting from, and fomenting backbench revolt against, the Conservative Party – ironically now led by Balfour. In late May 1904, during Balfour’s 1902-1905 premiership, young Winston dramatically left the Conservative Party and crossed the aisle to become a Liberal, swiftly earning a reputation as both a brash young radical and a traitor to his class. Indeed, the great political battle over The People’s Budget and the authority of the House of Lords – battles in which Winston proved such a powerful Liberal advocate – exacerbated the political pressures on the Conservatives. Hence young Winston the Liberal contributed to both electoral and parliamentary defeat of the Conservatives and to Balfour’s resignation as party leader in November 1911 – only weeks after Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty.

Arguably, Balfour’s most important legacies and most potent time in power came in the decades ahead, after he no longer formally led his party. Moreover, the First World War and its aftermath – apropos the title of the inscribed work in question – tethered Balfour and Churchill even more than had the preceding decades. 

In 1911, Churchill pressed Prime Minister Asquith to make Balfour a permanent member of the Committee of Imperial Defence. (WSC, Great Contemporaries, p.255) Churchill’s efforts to dramatically enhance naval preparedness were supported by Balfour “who, though regarding an Anglo-German war as a virtual impossibility… saw the dominant need to maintain British naval supremacy.” (R. Churchill, Vol. II, p.571). In differing with Churchill over submarines, Balfour was more prophetically astute. “Balfour tried without success to get… Churchill, the first lord of the Admiralty, to appreciate that submarines were essentially the weapon of the weaker naval power; and in correspondence with Admiral Lord Fisher it was Balfour who pointed out that, if war should come, U-boats would probably sink British and other merchant shipping without restraint”. It is worth noting that Balfour would prove equally prophetic when, in his final time in office in 1928, “He also wanted additional spending on naval anti-aircraft weapons ahead of cruisers.” (ODNB) On both counts, Balfour anticipated the weapons that would revolutionize naval warfare in each world war – the submarine in the First and the aircraft in the Second.

On the Dardanelles, the strategic initiative that would end Churchill’s tenure at the Admiralty, the two men were in accord. Balfour had supported – indeed had “argued persuasively in favor” of – Churchill’s proposal to attack the Dardanelles with ships alone. (ODNB) When the Dardanelles disaster engulfed Churchill and forced his resignation, it was Balfour who succeeded Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty – to Churchill’s professed “great relief”. (Gilbert, Vol. III, p.468) 

Churchill eventually resigned even his nominal Cabinet posts to spend the rest of his political exile as a lieutenant colonel leading a battalion in the trenches at the Front. Then came yet another dramatic political misstep, this one with Balfour at the center. Within days of his return to London from the Front in May 1916, despite this manifest support for Balfour succeeding him at the Admiralty, Churchill decided to publicly attack Balfour. 

“Twelve years had passed since Churchill had last spoken in the House of Commons as the critic of a Government. Then, his had been the lance of youthful anger hurled, always with agility and sometimes with venom, against the Conservative Prime Minister, A. J. Balfour. It had seemed impudence for so young a Member of Parliament to attack the Leader of the ruling Party, from whose back benches he had only just migrated… When he rose to speak from the front opposition bench late in the afternoon of Tuesday 7 March 1916, it was with the accumulated experience of those twelve years behind him; but it was also with his credibility impaired by the controversies and disasters of the previous year. After twelve years, it was again A. J. Balfour whom he rose to attack.” Churchill assailed the efficacy and urgency of Balfour’s Admiralty administration. “The House of Commons had not heard such a strong indictment of a Government Department since the war began.” (Gilbert, Vol. III, p.716-718) In his attack, and in his prescription for righting the proverbial Admiralty ship, Churchill gravely miscalculated. 

Even in his politically weakened state, Churchill’s defeat in debate was a notable occasion. Balfour’s memorable rebuttal, on 8 March 1916, of Churchill’s attack, brought Churchill to admit that Balfour was “a master of parliamentary sword-play and of every dialectical art” (Mackay, Balfour, 291). As Churchill would say years later of Balfour, “Whatever had to be said, he knew how to say it; and when others blundered into foolish or offensive remarks, he knew how to defend himself or retaliate with point, justice or severity.” (WSC, Great Contemporaries, p.241) This was singular praise coming from Churchill, and it is difficult not to speculate that Churchill had this particular occasion in mind. Perhaps Churchill also remembered – maybe with a touch of autobiographical admission – his bruising House of Commons altercations with Balfour when he framed Balfour’s memory thus: “I had the privilege of visiting him several times during the last months of his life… I felt… the tragedy which robs the world of all the wisdom and treasure gathered in a great man’s life and experience, and hands the lamp to some impetuous and untutored stripling…” (WSC, Great Contemporaries, pp. 241-257)

Balfour’s tenure at the Admiralty ended along with the end of Asquith’s premiership in December 1916. By the time of Churchill’s exoneration and return to the Cabinet as Minister of Munitions in mid-1917, Balfour was already serving as Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s Foreign Secretary. During Balfour’s tenure at the Foreign Office, Churchill would also serve as Secretary of State for War and for Air. Echoing the same resolution Churchill would show a quarter of a center later during the Second World War, Balfour “never swerved from insistence on the military defeat of Germany.” (ODNB) Also echoing the future Churchill, Balfour “had for long attached much importance to Anglo-American friendship” and did much to “smooth the way for American co-operation” in the war effort. Churchill would later say of him “Never has England had a more persuasive or commanding ambassador and plenipotentiary.” (WSC, Great Contemporaries, p.256) And it was the Balfour Declaration that formally stated that the British government supported “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” – an unequivocally Zionist position to which Churchill would also commit. As Churchill would later be to the genesis of the United Nations, Balfour was committed to the U.N.’s ill-fated forerunner, the League of Nations, serving as Lord President of the League’s Council from 1919-1922. Their final service together was in the government of Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin; from 1925-1929, Balfour served as Lord President of the Council while Churchill served as Chancellor of the Exchequer. 

On 1 March 1929 – six days before publication – Churchill inscribed this volume for Balfour. In the autumn of 1928, ill-health had finally removed the octogenarian Balfour from active work. “Out of courtesy and respect” Baldwin insisted on his retaining his office until the 30 May 1929 general election brought the end of Baldwin’s government. Balfour died the next year. Churchill would not serve in a cabinet again until the outbreak of the Second World War, more than a decade later. In 1937, two years before the war that would see him finally ascend to the premiership and cement his own place in history, Churchill devoted an entire chapter of his book Great Contemporaries to Balfour, of whom Churchill wrote:

“He acquired and possessed from earlier life profound and definite conceptions; and by a marvelous gift of comprehension and receptivity he was able to adjust all the new phenomena and the ever-changing currents of events to his solidly-wrought convictions. His interest in life, thought and affairs… was as keen at eighty as it was at twenty: but his purpose, his foundation, and his main theme were obstinate, obdurate, and virtually unchanged throughout the memorable times in which he lived, played his part, and even ruled. He was a man to whom without commonplace extravagance one might apply the word ‘Statesman.’” (WSC, Great Contemporaries, pp.238-39)

It seems worth noting that Churchill’s incisive praise might apply as well to the author as to the subject, perhaps explaining the long association that spanned and survived “vicissitudes of politics”.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

In 1955, a dozen years before the film starring Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn, and Spencer Tracy, octogenarian Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill starred opposite a young Queen Elizabeth II, more than half a century his junior, in their own version of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Substitute generational separation for racial segregation and the vicissitudes of time for the vulgarities of prejudice and we have the scene…

Churchill was 80 years old when he resigned as Prime Minister on 5 April 1955. By that time, Churchill’s Parliamentary career spanned more than half a century. During every decade of that half century Churchill had held Cabinet office, including high Cabinet office during both world wars and two premierships spanning more than eight and a half years at 10 Downing Street. By contrast, Queen Elizabeth II was just 28 years old and had been monarch for little more than three 3 of the 69 years she has reigned to date.

On the evening of 4 April 1955, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip paid Churchill the unprecedented honor of dining with him at 10 Downing Street on his final night as Prime Minister. “Among the guests were not only Clement Attlee, Herbert Morrison, and their wives, but also Anne Chamberlain, Neville Chamberlain’s widow. Churchill’s after-dinner speech that evening was his last as Prime Minister. The notes from which he spoke have survived, set out, as were so many of his speeches, in the ‘speech form’ or ‘psalm form’, as his secretary called it, which he had used for more than half a century:”

Raising his glass, Churchill led his guests in toasting “The Queen.”  After the toast, guests departed and the Queen was escorted to her car by Churchill. (Gilbert, Vol. VIII, p.1120)

We were recently reminded of the moment by a rather extraordinary item – a photograph of Churchill escorting the Queen to her car, signed by both the Queen and Churchill in 1955. The photograph is mounted on heavy cream card, signed below the image by both subjects. Centered directly below the image, Queen Elizabeth II signed “Elizabeth R”. Slightly below and to the right, she dated her signature “1955”. Churchill signed “Winston S. Churchill” below and to the left.

Regrettably, it appears that some time ago the signed, bottom portion of the mount was briefly exposed to moisture. We’d be willing to see flogging re-integrated into the justice system just to appropriately punish those who caused or allowed this damage. But despite the aesthetic detraction to an otherwise compelling piece of history, these are unequivocally and still quite legibly the signatures of Britain’s longest reigning monarch and the first and most iconic prime minister of her unprecedented reign. And the moment captured – both in their image and their signatures – is unequivocally poignant, a lovely intersection of two of the great figures of twentieth century Britain, each honoring one another, one entering the twilight of his long service, the other newly embarked upon hers.

After the Queen left 10 Downing Street that night, Jock Colville, Churchill’s Private Secretary, recorded that Churchill “sat on his bed, still wearing his Garter, Order of Merit and knee-breeches.  For several minutes he did not speak… Then suddenly he… said with vehemence: “I don’t believe that Anthony [Eden] can do it.”” (Colville, The Fringes of Power, pages 707-9)  He was right. But perhaps he was also voicing the sentiment of his secretary, Elizabeth Gilliatt: “I had wished he could die in office.” (Gilbert, Vol, VIII, p.1125) 

At noon the next day, Churchill held his last Cabinet “almost fifteen years after the first Cabinet of his wartime administration, and almost fifty years since he had first sat in Cabinet.” (Gilbert, VIII, p.1122) Then Churchill strode out the front door of 10 Downing Street – the moment captured by this image, in which staff can be seen applauding – to go to Buckingham Palace for his last Audience with the Queen as Prime Minister and formally submit his resignation. 

A final bit of theater lay ahead. When Churchill resigned, the Queen offered him a dukedom (having earlier ascertained from Colville that he would refuse the offer – in keeping with the notion that no further dukedoms would be given to non-Royal personages). Fortunately for all, the greater temptation of ending his life in the House of Commons caused Churchill to decline. Churchill later told Colville, “I very nearly accepted, I was so moved by her beauty and her charm and the kindness with which she made this offer… But finally I remembered that I must die as I have always been – Winston Churchill.” Unaware that Colville himself had reassured the Crown that the offer would be refused, Churchill noted “…it’s an odd thing, but she seemed almost relieved.” 

The ceremonial offer of the dukedom aside, the Queen’s regard for Churchill was clearly genuine. The Queen wrote that same day to Churchill’s wife: “Though I don’t think it was intentional that your kind invitation to dinner should be a farewell occasion, in fact it could not have been more perfectly arranged, coming just before today’s resignation. I hope you will both now have time for rest and relaxation in the sun…” Churchill became “a living national memorial” of the time he had lived and the Nation, Empire, and free world he had served. 

Less than 10 years later, the Queen redoubled the farewell dinner honour she had bestowed on Churchill. The day after Churchill died, on 25 January, 1965, the Queen sent a message to Parliament announcing: “Confident in the support of Parliament for the due acknowledgement of our debt of gratitude and in thanksgiving for the life and example of a national hero” and concluded “I have directed that Sir Winston’s body shall lie in State in Westminster Hall and that thereafter the funeral service shall be held in the Cathedral Church of St. Paul.” This was in accord with longstanding plans; twelve years before, in 1953, at Queen Elizabeth II’s direction, planning for Churchill’s eventual state funeral had begun. The elaborate plans, running to hundreds of pages, came to be called “Operation Hopenot”.

Churchill’s state funeral was attended by the Queen herself, other members of the royal family, the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, and representatives of 112 countries. It was the first time in a century that a British monarch attended a commoner’s funeral.

The outpouring of national and international regard – from friends and foes, sympathizers and opponents alike – was both remarkable and effusive. Before the service in St. Paul’s Cathedral, Churchill’s coffin had passed through the countryside on a train. The Oxford don, Dr. A. L. Rowse, recorded “The Western sky filled with the lurid glow of winter sunset; the sun setting on the British Empire.” Arguably that glow was already apparent in this image of Britain’s young Queen and her first Prime Minister.

H is for Hawk, B is for Book, and other observations

During the summer I incline to read at least a few books that are not on my ever-lengthening “To Read” list. This summer, one of my wild card reads was H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.

No – despite the title this is not a children’s book. It is … well it is an oddly bereft yet emboldening meditation on loss, passion, otherness, and engagement threaded by the life events of the author, the affinities and arcana of falconry, and the peculiarities of the life of T. H. White. Yeah, I know. That’s a lot.

I am a sucker for those who, like the Fates, apprehend and isolate seemingly disparate threads and skeins in the tangle of our days, coax from them pattern and sense and singularity. This Ms. Macdonald most certainly does. Hers is neither a conventional journey nor a garden variety summer read.

And this is not supposed to be a book review…. 

The reason I’m writing is because, buried in Chapter 12 of H is for Hawk, I found this little gem:

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…

Wow. 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. S is for Surprise. A is for Agree.

I found Ms. Macdonald’s entire book engaging, but this particular passage felt like an intentional pluck on my own string. An explanation of what a mere thing can convey. In certain books – for me and, I expect, for some of you reading this post – there is a sense of connection embodied in the physical object that exists simultaneous with, yet apart from, the words therein.

H Is for Hawk. B is for Books. CBC is here to help put them on your shelves. Wishing you good fortune, good company, and good reads in these waning days of summer.

“…as long as you have said you would…” President Theodore Roosevelt on 16 February 1909

Books are our stock-in-trade, but it is hard not to love letters. As we’ve written before, the published work of a seasoned author has inherent limitations. The very acts of drafting and editing, of expert input, careful consideration, and diligent preparation – these can deprive a published book of the immediacy of a moment or perspective. Leave the ink a little too dry on paper that’s just a bit too clean.

But letters. Even from the most careful and polished of writers, letters incline to be more ephemeral, more candid, more distinctly in and of the moment. Often the glimpse a letter offers is only tantalizingly small and beguilingly brief … but tantalizing and beguiling nonetheless.

Which brings us to the subject of this post – a typed, hand-emended, and signed 16 February 1909 letter on White House stationery from President Theodore Roosevelt to his friend, Lawrence F. Abbott, editor of the weekly newspaper The Outlook. The letter, dated just 16 days from the end of Roosevelt’s presidency, touches on a person integral to the murky political machinations that gave birth to the Panama Canal, as well as Roosevelt’s imminent post-presidential future as a contributing writer to The Outlook

The letter is printed on the first and final leaves of a folded, four-panel sheet of “THE WHITE HOUSE | WASHINGTON” stationery. Acknowledging Abbott’s letter “of the 15th” the letter states “There is no reason at all that you should not publish Bunau-Varilla’s article.” Tellingly, a hand-emended caveat added by Roosevelt reads “as long as you have said you would.” From there, the first paragraph – particularly coming from the famously un-reticent “Bull Moose” Theodore Roosevelt – is a study in conflicted political doublespeak. 

Roosevelt spends the rest of the paragraph – four more sentences in fact – continuing to express what can only be considered a dutifully professed but obviously reluctant and qualified accommodation. 

“It is simply that I ought not to be in a con-

troversy with him. It would be like Balfour having a

joint debate with Poultney Bigelow. Let me repeat,

there s no reason that you should not publish the art-

icle. If I had known of it in time I should have ad-

vised against it, but I do not think it would be worth-

while, or, indeed, desirable, for you now to alter your


Interleaved with “Let me repeat, there is no reason that you should not publish the article” and “I do not think it would be worth while [sic]… for you now to alter your intention” are the obvious reservations “…I ought not to be in a controversy with him… It would be like Balfour having a joint debate with Poultney Bigelow… If I had known of it in time I should have advised against it…” The net effect is of TR seeming to claim high moral ground and not press presidential prerogative while clearly wanting and wishing to say no to publishing the article in question.

Why? Well, we can only speculate.

Roosevelt’s manifest concern about an article by Bunau-Varilla (and Lawrence’s attendant sensitivity to Roosevelt) is both intriguing and unsurprising. Philip Bunau-Varilla (1859-1940) greatly influenced the selection of the construction site for the Panama Canal and surreptitiously collaborated with Roosevelt in the orchestration of the Panamanian Revolution.

A Frenchman, Phillipe Bunau-Varilla was integral to the diligent lobbying and dubious political machinations that resulted in the Panama Canal. Bunau-Varilla was no ineffectual dilettante, but truly a relentless, shaping force. “ Gallic was he in his gamecock fierceness, all frown and spiked mustaches. Had he stood a foot taller, he might have looked as formidable as he in fact was. He had the bruising willpower and aristocratic intelligence of the best French education d’elite. Yet he had earned that privilege through scholarships. His great wealth… was self-made.” (Morris, Theodore Rex, pp.85-86)

A decade and a half before Roosevelt’s presidency, Bunau-Varilla had risen to become chief engineer of a preceding canal attempt. Like Roosevelt, he was enamored not only of the feasibility and practicalities, but of the great Idea of the canal. While “it is difficult to apportion the credit for the choice of Panama… Certainly Bunau-Varilla… performed miracles.” (Pringle, Theodore Roosevelt, p.216) 

The pertinent parts of this very complicated story will have to be summarized. When Columbia balked at a Canal treaty, Bunau-Varilla was integral to the solution. He met with Roosevelt at the White House in October 1903 and circumspectly discussed Columbia, a notional Panama, and Canal prospects. By mid-November, Bunau-Varilla had conspired, with U.S. support, to foment the “revolution” that resulted in the secession of Panama and the immediately subsequent Canal treaty with Panama. This was executed by Bunau-Varilla as the expeditiously and very briefly vested “Minister Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Panama”, who managed to conclude the treaty hours before the Panamanian diplomatic delegation reached Washington and learned of the fait accompli. 

Courtesy of Bunau-Varilla, Roosevelt had plausible deniability, a favorable treaty, a lynchpin of his legacy, and the means for an interoceanic express route for the American Navy. No surprise, then, that Roosevelt might feel conflicted about a notional article by Bunau-Varilla.

Bunau-Varilla would incur the lasting resentment of Panamanians, but would nonetheless live “to lose a leg at Verdun and to stump the boulevards of Paris with the rosette of the Legion of Honor in his buttonhole.” (Pringle, Theodore Roosevelt, p.212)

There is, of course, more to the letter.

            “I am very glad you are to publish the three lectures

            in The Outlook. I shall send you on the Tolstoy in a

            few days. The point is that I may want to make addi-

            tions to it, or perhaps send a new article to be pub-

            lished just before it, dealing with the Japanese


In the letter’s second and final paragraph, Roosevelt bends his attention to his imminent, post-presidency “Contributing Editor” role. Roosevelt refers to forthcoming publication of “three lectures in The Outlook, as well as forthcoming pieces on Tolstoy and a piece “dealing with the Japanese question”. After the typed valediction “Faithfully yours,” Roosevelt signed “Theodore Roosevelt” in the same ink as the emendation. Abbott’s name and New York address are typed thereafter.

The letter’s recipient, Roosevelt’s close friend Lawrence Fraser Abbott (1859-1933), was to become Roosevelt’s editor and nominal boss weeks after this letter was written, and would write about Roosevelt following his death in 1919 (Impressions of Theodore Roosevelt). In 1908, as he contemplated the end of his presidency, Roosevelt had no shortage of lucrative, prestigious, and high-profile employment prospects, including a number of offers from publishers. “Roosevelt let his conscience, rather than greed, guide him. He had long ago been approached by the father-and-son team of Lyman and Lawrence Abbott to join their magazine, Outlook, as a contributing editor writing on current affairs… Although Outlook was not a wealthy periodical, its middle-class, mildly progressive profile appealed to Roosevelt” and “He gratefully remembered its support during the crises and controversies of his presidency…” So it was that the Abbotts proudly announced, on 7 November 1908, that “on or after the 5th of March, 1909, Theodore Roosevelt will be associated with Outlook’s editorial staff as a special Contributing Editor.” (Morris, Theodore Rex, pp.540-41) Roosevelt would continue in that role until his death. 

Statesman, reformer, explorer, naturalist, soldier, rancher, and author, Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) was the 26th and youngest ever U.S. president, both herald and agent of America’s assumption of global power. Before the Spanish-American War, as Under-Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt pushed the boundaries of his authority to prepare the American Navy, enabling decisive victory over the Spanish at Manila Bay. But no sooner had Congress declared war on Spain, on April 25th 1898, than Roosevelt declared he would resign to volunteer for the army, contrary to wishes of his friends, colleagues, and President. Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill with his “Rough Riders” became emblematic of his boldness, courage, and unapologetic assertion of both moral and military American hegemony. However, more substantively, it was the Panama Canal – the great linking of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, bisecting, empowering, and asserting the western hemisphere, that would indelibly embody Roosevelt’s unfettered ambitions for America.

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