Kipling’s “Plain Tales”

Plain Tales from the HillsAmong 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.

Plain Tales from the HillsNearly 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.

Title pagePlain 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.

Rudyard KilpingFrom 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.

Nelson Doubleday bookplateThis 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 DoubledayNelson 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.

CaseThis 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 Plain Tales from the HillsSanskrit 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.

Rudyard KiplingBorn 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.

Signed photo of Winston, Randolph, and June ChurchillThis 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.

Michael Foot

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 Churchill

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.

Daily Graphic copyright stamp

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.

Winston, Randolph, and June Churchill

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.

Framed photo

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

FDR’s D-Day Prayer

FDR D-Day PrayerWe 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.

FDR D-Day Prayer

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.

D-DayRoosevelt 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!”

FDRIn 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.

FDR D-Day PrayerAnd 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

FDR inscription for Dorothy BradyThis 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.

FDR and Dorothy BradyOn 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)

FDR D-Day PrayerThe 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.FDR D-Day Prayer

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

Naming the world’s tallest mountain

Mount EverestWe 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.

An Account of the Measurement of Two Sections of the Meridional Arc of India

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 EverestSir 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.

East India CompanyTriangulation 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.

Title page Title page

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.

BindingThe 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.

Illustration MapAs 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.”

So how about a 9,000 word blog post?

On Wednesday, February 1st, Marc had the honor of being invited to Pasadena to address the Zamorano Club, Southern California’s oldest organization of bibliophiles and manuscript collectors, founded in 1928. His talk was titled Living Words: The Language, Life, and Leadership of Winston S. Churchill. Marc spoke for roughly 45 minutes to a full room, followed by Q&A. We include the full text of his talk below.

Greg’s a friend and he knows me pretty well. So there’s no way I would have such a nice introduction unless I paid him. Greg, thanks for taking the money.

So. Winston S. Churchill. Any of you heard of this guy? World War Two. Saving Britain from the Nazis. Spokesman for freedom and democracy. Yada yada…

Winston ChurchillYes? Good…. But the World War II – V for Victory – Blood Sweat and Tears Churchill is not the only Churchill I’m here to talk about tonight.

I’m here to talk about Churchill the wordsmith. About the living, vital, incessant torrent of words that stitched the fabric of his long and incredible life.

That’s because – like all of you here tonight – I love the splendid alchemy of words.

Ink on a page. Symbols scratched on parchment and stone. Sounds hanging in spaces between people, between centuries, between points of view…

Words are the true engine of our intelligence and perhaps the most potent instrument we use to shape the world.

To question, conceive, and span.

As you all seemed to agree back in 1928, books are a pretty darn good place to keep words.

So I hope you’ll pardon me for quoting Churchill for the first of many times tonight.

Winston ChurchillOf our books, he said: “…Peer into them. Let them fall open where they will. Read on from the first sentence that arrests the eye. Then turn to another. Make a voyage of discovery, taking soundings of uncharted seas. Set them back on your shelves with your own hands. Arrange them to your own plan, so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are.”[1]

As a professional bookseller, I spend most of my days in the company of Churchill’s words. Thank you for inviting me to share with you a bit about the Churchill I’ve come to know.

Since I’ll be talking for a while, let me do you the courtesy of telling you what I’ll be talking about.

The title of my talk this evening is “Living Words”. Like us, Churchill loved words. But perhaps more than any of us in this room, Churchill understood – and lived – that “splendid alchemy” I was just talking about a few minutes ago.

I’ll start by giving you some of my own perspective on Churchill. Then I’ll talk about his life, his language, and his leadership – roughly in that order, but of course with some overlap.

Please note the absence of a laptop and projection system. I have given –and suffered through – entirely too many Power Point presentations. So no slides today folks.

The good news is that I have props!

To prevent myself from lulling you to sleep, I will pass around a few precious and quite valuable objects. Please handle them with great care and please do not take any of the items that are in plastic sleeves out of the plastic sleeves.

Oh, and please do give them back.

So. Let’s talk a little about Churchill’s life.

I intend to say a lot of complimentary and interesting things about Winston Churchill today. But before I do, I want to say something else.

Fat. Lisping. Bath-taking. Jumpsuit-wearing. Privileged. Self-indulgent. Spendthrift. Brash. Egocentric. Impulsive. Impatient. Wrong. And sometimes wrong with the same bullish vigor as when he was right.

Sure, Churchill’s moral clarity would both define his long political career and shape the great struggles of the twentieth century. But in May, 1898, when he was 23 years old, this same man wrote to his mother from Bangalore: “I do not care so much for the principles I advocate as for the impression which my words produce & the reputation they give me. This sounds very terrible. But you must remember that we do not live in the days of Great Causes.”[2]

As Churchill recedes into history, there is danger in putting him on a pedestal. In marbling and bronzing him into irrelevance. He was a truly remarkable man, but still just a man. Among those who praise Churchill, there is a tendency to act as if he had unerring judgment and prescience. To envelop him in a blind and dulling reverence.

Let’s not do that.

Infallibility is boring. Churchill was anything but boring. And at times he was markedly irreverent. Why should we be any less?

My own regard for Churchill is for his intense, monumental humanity. For a magnificence of spirit, of mind, and of will that both embraces and eclipses imperfections.


So let’s round out the picture of who Winston Churchill was.

Cartoon of Winston ChurchillEdward Tennyson Reed Cartoon

This is a good time for my first prop. As you might imagine, Churchill was the subject of a great many political cartoons. I have brought one from 1911, called “A Cast of Characters.”

I have always loved this cartoon. It shows – with great irreverence – so many of the roles Churchill already played with such versatility and skill nearly three decades before he became prime minister.

For better or worse, Churchill’s official biography holds the Guiness World Records title for world’s longest biography. There’s a reason.

It has become common for each generation to claim that they have experienced more change – technological, cultural, and geopolitical – than any preceding. When I hear millennials make such a claim, just because they have social media accounts and smart phones, I encourage them to consider Churchill.

The young war correspondent and British imperial soldier who participated in “the last great cavalry charge in British history” would later help design the tank, pilot aircraft, direct use of some of the earliest computers – for World War II code breaking – and ultimately preside as Prime Minister over the first British nuclear weapons test.

This icon of the British Conservative Party dramatically repudiated the Conservatives in his early career and spent 20 years as a Liberal, championing progressive causes and being branded a traitor to his class.

This soldier and scion of British imperialism wrote his first published book in a tent on the northwest frontier of colonial India. He would later bear witness to, and hold power during, devolution of the British Empire, along the way supporting causes contrary to prevailing sentiment of his caste and country – early and vigorously – such as Irish Home Rule and a Jewish national home in Palestine.

First elected to Parliament during the reign of Queen Victoria, Churchill would serve as the first Prime Minister under the currently reigning Queen Elizabeth II.

Churchill lived for more than 90 years. He spent more than 60 of these years as an elected Member of Parliament. He served in the British Cabinet during every decade for the first half of the twentieth century. He occupied high public office during both of the twentieth century’s world wars.

But even that only tells a fraction of his tale. And through it all, Churchill’s career was declared finished and resuscitated a ludicrous number of times.

Among them:

As a student, when he conspicuously failed to excel in most subjects. When he sought to attend the Royal Military College at Sandhurst he twice failed the entrance exams. He just barely qualified for infantry, and ended up taking a cavalry post. Cavalry had lower standards than infantry.

In 1904, he famously “crossed the aisle” in Parliament, leaving the Conservative Party of his father to become a Liberal.

In 1915, he was blamed for disaster in the infamous Dardanelles campaign and forced to resign from the Cabinet. He would go from heading the Royal Navy to leading a battalion in the trenches.

In 1922, he suffered both the loss of his seat in Parliament and the electoral destruction of his Liberal Party.

Throughout the 1930s. These were Churchill’s “wilderness years,” when he was out of power and out of favor, persistently seeking to draw attention, resources and resolve to face the growing Nazi threat. Churchill passed from his mid-50s into his mid-60s with his personal fortunes and those of his country ever receding.

Not until he was 65 years old did he finally become Prime Minister, and then during the most desperate circumstances for his nation and the free world.

Even after the Second World War. In 1945, Churchill’s party was voted out of office. At the end of the war he had done so much to win, he lost his premiership.

Churchill had to accept frustration of his postwar plans and settle for being Leader of the Opposition for six long years until he finally returned to 10 Downing Street in 1951 for his second and final premiership.

And these were only political losses.

Winston Churchill’s father, Lord Randolph, died in January 1895 at age 45 following the spectacular collapse of both his health and political career.  His son Winston was 20 years old.

Churchill lost a daughter to illness in 1921. And another to suicide in his final years.

He lost his fortune to the stock market crash of 1929.

During both of his premierships, he struggled with his health, to maintain and project the vitality that his responsibilities demanded.

But Churchill is even more than an epic tale of resolve and resilience. Much more, actually. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Churchill’s life is his extraordinary breath of both mind and experience.

Before his mid-twenties, Churchill managed to become one of the highest paid war correspondents in the world. He reported from battlefields on three different continents, but also saw more than his share of fighting, including capture and a daring, improbable escape during the Boer War in South Africa.

Fascinated by powered flight, Churchill was a pilot.

During the terrible trench warfare stalemate of the First World War, it was Churchill who helped conceive and promote the tank, ushering in the age of mobile warfare. Mind you, at the time he was in charge of the Navy.

In the darkest days of that war, Churchill discovered painting, which became a passion and source of release and renewal for the remaining half century of his long life. He would ultimately paint more than 500 canvasses.

An implacable foe of Germany in two world wars, Churchill would help conceive and advocate the two transnational institutions most responsible for promoting peace in the world – the United Nations and European Union.

Churchill championed both Irish home rule and a Jewish national home in Palestine – early, ardently, and consistently.

And these were only a few among many progressive causes that the Conservative icon championed, defying the agendas of both his party and class.

It was Churchill who, in the first decades of the twentieth century, did so much to lay the foundations of the modern welfare state, not only championing social programs, but also the funding for them, supporting a graduated income tax, luxury tax, and surtaxes on unearned income.


We could easily fill our evening talking just about the events of Churchill’s life. But there were no shortage of great figures and great deeds in the twentieth century. So I’d like to talk about what made Churchill’s life so compelling – his language and his leadership.

Language first.

Perhaps more than anything else, Churchill was a master wordsmith.

And this was no accident.

In an unpublished essay he penned in 1897, Churchill wrote:

“Of all the talents bestowed upon men, none is so precious as the gift of oratory.

He who enjoys it wields a power more durable than that of a great king.

He is an independent force in the world.

Abandoned by his party, betrayed by his friends, stripped of his offices,

whoever can command this power is still formidable.”

Journalists’ conference autograph booklet

This is a good time for another prop. Remember I said that Churchill had an early – and quite successful – career as a war correspondent.

I’m going to pass around a truly unique item we were pleased to discover a few years ago. This is an autograph booklet from the September 1900 Institute of Journalists annual conference in London, signed by a young Winston Churchill and 28 other of his fellow journalists.

Autograph Booklet from 1900 Institute of Journalists annual conference in LondonIn September 1900, Winston Churchill was just 25 years old, a soldier and war-correspondent who had yet to hold elected office. On September 8th, 1900, Churchill wrote to his mother: “My dear Mamma, I am sorry not to be able to come until Wednesday morning, but I thought it better to attend the Annual Dinner of the Conference of the Institute of Journalists, at which I have been invited to reply for the war-correspondents. It is a good thing now and again to make a speech unconnected with politics and it is also a good thing, and opportunity not to be missed, to speak before the writers of Great Britain…” [3]

We have found no record that preserves Churchill’s remarks at the Dinner, but his autograph we’re passing around proves that he attended. Likely it was less “unconnected with politics” than Churchill let on. Less than a month after he signed this booklet, on October 1st 1900, Churchill won his first seat in Parliament in the so-called “khaki election”. Churchill had returned from the Boer War only in July 1900, spending the summer campaigning hard in Oldham and capitalizing on his capture and daring escape, and war dispatches from South Africa. It was a still very 19th Century Churchill who left this signature in this autograph book. After the election, Churchill would leave for his first North American lecture tour. While Churchill was abroad, Queen Victoria died, and the end of her 64-year reign also closed Churchill’s Victorian career as a cavalry officer and war correspondent adventurer. Churchill returned to England in February 1901 to take his seat in Parliament and begin a 60-year career as one of the 20th Century’s great statesmen. Again, please don’t take this item out of the protective sleeve.

Churchill was 23 when his first book was published – The Story of the Malakand Field Force. It was based on his dispatches to the Daily Telegraph and the Pioneer Mail, but this was his first book-length work.

Ambition was clearly a motivation. In November 1897, he wrote to his mother of the book project: “…It is a great undertaking but if carried out will yield substantial results in every way, financially, politically, and even, though do I care a damn, militarily.” [4]

Having invested his ambition in the book, he clearly labored over it: “I have discovered a great power of application which I did not think I possessed. For two months I have worked not less than five hours a day.”[5]  The finished manuscript was sent to his mother on the last day of 1897 and published on March 14th, 1898.

Many, many more words would follow. Before his death in January 1965, Churchill’s published works would run to:

  • 58 books
  • 260 pamphlets
  • More than 840 feature articles
  • 9,000 pages of speeches

Just the Bibliography of Churchill’s published works requires three volumes.

What’s so special about all these words?

Why should we care about the words of a 20th century politician with some distinctly 19th century sensibilities?

Because of what he saw and how he wrote it. Because we still – maybe even more than ever – use words to frame the world as we see it and to share what we see with others. And Churchill both saw more and framed his perceptions more compellingly than perhaps any world leader before or since.

Let me read a few more of Churchill’s words to you…

This is an excerpt from the opening of Churchill’s first published book – the one I mentioned a few minutes ago – The Story of the Malakand Field Force. Remember that Churchill wrote this book in a tent while serving as a cavalry officer on the northwest frontier of colonial India. This passage is from page 47:

“…the great frontier war had begun.  The noise of firing echoed among the hills…

One valley caught the waves of sound and passed them to the next,

till the whole wide mountain region rocked with the confusion of the tumult. 

Slender wires and long-drawn cables carried them to the far-off countries of the West. 

Distant populations on the Continent of Europe thought that in them

they detected the dull, discordant tones of decline and fall. 

Families in English homes feared that the detonations marked the death of those they loved – sons, brothers or husbands. 

Diplomatists looked wise, economists anxious, stupid people mysterious and knowledgeable.”[6]

Next, a passage from The River War, Churchill’s second published book. The text is arresting, insightful, powerfully descriptive, and of enduring relevance. Mohammed Ahmed was a messianic Islamic leader in central and northern Sudan in the final decades of the 19th century. In 1883 the Mahdists overwhelmed the Egyptian army of British commander William Hicks, and Great Britain ordered the withdrawal of all Egyptian troops and officials from the Sudan.

In 1885, General Gordon famously lost his life in a doomed defense of the capitol, Khartoum, where he had been sent to lead evacuation of Egyptian forces.

The Mahdi died in 1895, but his theocracy continued until 1898, when General Kitchener reoccupied the Sudan. With Kitchener was a very young Winston Churchill, who would participate in the battle of Omdurman in September 1898, where the Mahdist forces were decisively defeated. In this book about the British campaign in the Sudan, Churchill – a young officer in a colonial British army – is unusually sympathetic to the Mahdist forces and critical of Imperial cynicism and cruelty.

This passage is from Churchill’s reflections on the Battle of Omdurman:

“… it was evident that they [the Dervishes] could not possibly succeed…
Nevertheless… they rode unflinchingly to certain death….
The valour of their deed has been discounted by those who told the tale.
‘Mad fanatacism’ is the depreciating comment of their conquerors.
I hold this to be a cruel injustice…. Why should we regard as madness in the savage what would be sublime in civilised men?
I hope that if evil days should come upon our own country, and the last army  which a collapsing Empire could interpose between London and the invader  were dissolving in rout and ruin, that there would be some
– even in these modern days – who would not care to accustom themselves to a new order of things and tamely survive the disaster.”[7]

No doubt – Churchill could be nakedly ambitious, fiercely partisan, and relentless in pursuit of a policy or cause. But even in Churchill’s early works there always seems to be an underpinning sense of balance. Ultimately, he always seemed able to reconcile a perspective broader – and sometimes fundamentally different – than his own. As he did that on the battlefield at Omdurman, so too he did it even in his first years in Parliament.

Free trade was a significant issue in Churchill’s early career – one of the policy issues that led to his break with the Conservative Party in 1904. In this passage from his 1906 book of speeches on the subject, note how his support for the issue – vigorous enough for him to publish an entire book on the subject – is nonetheless tempered and nuanced.

“There is another danger which we must not overlook.
Free Trade is a condition of progress; it is an aid to progress; it is a herald of progress;
but it is not progress. Something more than that is needed.
Free Trade will never be securely defended by a purely negative policy.
It is quite true that the combined influences of free imports and natural advantages
have produced in this country a much greater accumulation of wealth…
But we shall make ourselves ridiculous if we go about saying,
in a world with so much squalor and misery,
how happy, how wealthy, how contented, how luxurious we are.
We must produce, if we are successfully to defend Free Trade,
a positive and practical policy of social reform.”[8]

Trying to find a safe seat

“Trying to Find a Safe Seat”

Which brings me to a suitable prop. This is another pencil cartoon by Edward Tennyson Reed, but this one is the original drawing from 1908 in a circa 1930s frame.

Churchill was 33 years old. He had been the Liberal Member of Parliament for Manchester Northwest since the 1906 General Election, but was forced to stand again for the seat in 1908, following his appointment as President of the Board of Trade – a Cabinet post. Churchill lost the election to the Conservative candidate largely because of his support of Free Trade.

I love this cartoon. The western apparel and motif plays on the fact that Churchill’s mother was American and deftly cues Churchill’s brash, maverick nature. Churchill would be bucked many times by public opinion – and just as many times he would climb right back in the saddle.

Published in November 1908, My African Journey, was a travelogue written by Churchill while he was serving as Undersecretary of State for the Colonies.  In the summer of 1907 Churchill left England for “a tour of the east African domains.”  By now a seasoned and financially shrewd author, Churchill arranged to profit doubly from the trip, first by serializing articles in Strand Magazine and then by publishing a book based upon them.  Churchill’s language is powerfully evocative, a harbinger of his ability evoke a sense of place and time that he would use to such powerful effect in his war speeches three decades later:

“The aspect of Mombasa as she rises from the sea and clothes herself with form and colour at the swift approach of the ship is alluring and even delicious.  But to appreciate all these charms the traveler should come from the North.  He should see the hot stones of Malta, baking and glistening on a steel-blue Mediterranean.  He should visit the Island of Cypress before the autumn rains have revived the soil, when the Messaoria Plain is one broad wilderness of dust, when every tree – be it only a thorn-bush – is an heirloom, and every drop of water is a jewel…”[9]

Almost always, there seemed an undercurrent of philosophy and broader perspective beneath Churchill’s writing and speeches. Something more than the moment. The historian and philosopher Isaiah Berlin would later write of Churchill: “Mr. Churchill’s dominant category, the single, central organizing principle of his moral and intellectual universe, is an historical imagination so strong, so comprehensive, as to encase the whole of the present and the whole of the future in a framework of a rich and multi-coloured past.[10]

Even in his more casual writing, this sense of history permeated Churchill’s words. In a 1931 essay – published nearly 14 years before the Allies would drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima – Churchill wrote:

“Certain it is that while men are gathering knowledge and power
with ever-increasing and measureless speed,
their virtues and their wisdom have not shown any notable improvement
as the centuries have rolled. The brain of a modern man does not differ in essentials
from that of the human beings who fought and loved here millions of years ago…
We have the spectacle of the powers and weapons of man far outstripping
the march of his intelligence; we have the march of his intelligence
proceeding far more rapidly than the development of his nobility.
We may well find ourselves in the presence
of ‘the strength of civilization without its mercy’.”[11]

To be sure, not all was philosophy and history. Churchill was a politician by vocation and pugnacious by temperament. So his wit and tongue were sharp. And when he was wrong or intemperate or vulgar, it was with Churchillian panache. Churchill opposed Indian independence and called Gandhi: “a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well-known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the Vice-regal palace…”

Even the unflappable Gandhi was pricked and goaded. As were most who suffered – deservedly or not – the scourge of Churchill’s tongue and ink.

Churchill said of Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald:

We know that he has, more than any other man, the gift of compressing the largest amount of words into the smallest amount of thought.”

Of Lord Charles Beresford, a British Admiral and Member of Parliament, Churchill said:

He is one of those orators of whom it was well said: Before they get up, they do not know what they are going to say; when they are speaking, they do not know what they are saying; and when they have sat down, they do not know what they have said.

During his days as a young reformer and lion of the Liberal Party, Churchill said of Joseph Chamberlain:

Mr. Chamberlain loves the working man, he loves to see him work.

It would be Joseph’s son, Neville Chamberlain, who Churchill would in turn savage, serve with, and then magnificently eulogize more than 30 years later.

Churchill had a reputation for gallantry toward women, but with proper provocation even a woman could receive a full Churchillian fusillade. When Bessie Braddock, a Member of Parliament told Churchill: “Winston, you are drunk, and what’s more you are disgustingly drunk.” Churchill replied “Bessie, my dear, you are ugly, and what’s more, you are disgustingly ugly. But tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be ugly.”

It may be no credit to Churchill that he was, in fact, paraphrasing W. C. Fields. In the interests of history, I should point out that Churchill was just tired, not drunk, and Bessie – well Bessie really was not a pretty woman.

Apparently Churchill did not find French general and statesman Charles de Gaulle attractive either. The man whose pretentions Churchill would prop up, promote, and support throughout the Second World War, Churchill privately likened to:

“A female llama who has been surprised in her bath.”

As an aside, do take a look sometime. The resemblance is uncanny…

March 7th, 1949 letter from WSC to Desmond Flower

Time for another prop.

The letter I’m going to pass around is from March 7th, 1949 from Churchill to his publisher, Desmond Flower. Flower’s father, Newman, had secured what was called “perhaps the greatest coup of twentieth century publishing.” This was, of course, the rights to Churchill’s Second World War Memoirs.

But landing Churchill had its price. Monetary and otherwise.

In this two page letter, Churchill – who had an entire literary team mind you – personally offers quite granular corrections. To the Index of the second volume.

TLS from Churchill to Desmond FlowerOf particular note is the lovely bit of cutting sarcasm at line 10 of the first paragraph. Churchill notes an index reference to “B.B.C. rejection of Peace Offer by”. B.B.C. was – and of course remains – the British Broadcasting Corporation, which certainly does not have plenipotentiary diplomatic powers. Churchill, rather than just pointing out the error – dryly adds that this language “seems to indicate a startling enlargement of the B.B.C.’s functions.”

You can picture the hapless publisher and his editorial staff being micromanaged and scolded by an author of Churchill’s stature – one they can neither control nor do without.

To be fair, Churchill also did not stint to direct his own quips at himself:

Once, while preparing to be interviewed, Churchill started scribbling furiously on his notepad and said:

I’m just preparing my impromptu remarks.

And of his own fallibility, Churchill once said:

In the course of my life I have often had to eat my words, and I must confess that I have always found it a wholesome diet.

On May 10th, 1940, Churchill became Prime Minister. It was the position to which people had speculated Churchill would rise for more than 40 years. But he had not attained the office until he was 65 years old and Britain at perhaps her most desperate moment in her long history. On May 13th, three days after Germany invaded the Low Countries and France, Churchill gave his first speech as prime minister to the House of Commons. It was also broadcast to the public. Churchill had taken only three days to form a coalition government. His address was just four paragraphs long. He – and the nation he led – were in the crucible. The tone he set was the tone that would see him and his people through the long five years to come. His speech concluded thus:

“I would say to the House, as I have said to those who have joined this Government:

‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.’

You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air,

with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us:

to wage war against a monstrous tyranny,

never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime.

That is our policy.

You ask, What is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory –

victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror,

victory, however long and hard the road may be;

for without victory, there is no survival.

Let that be realised; no survival for the British Empire; no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal.

But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope.

I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men.

At this time I feel entitled to claim the aid of all,

and I say, “Come, then, let us go forward together with our united strength.”

Churchill’s words – sober and soaring, defiant and resolute – would fill the next five years of conflict. I could exhaust our evening on passages from Churchill’s war speeches. I’ll limit myself to just one more. This from the aftermath of the Battle of Britain. On August 20th, 1940, Churchill addressed Parliament. The address was occasioned by the Battle of Britain. Germany had thrown the full might of her air power at Britain in preparation for a land invasion. Britain’s heroic, improbable, and very narrow victory kept Nazi Germany on the other side of the English Channel. In his speech, Churchill famously honored the Royal Air Force pilots who almost single-handedly prevented Nazi invasion of England. Churchill encapsulated and immortalized the struggle when he uttered these words:

“The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire,

and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty,

goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds,

unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger,

are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion.

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

The end of the war brought deep disappointment to Churchill, but no lessening of either his vision, his commitment, or of the words he brought to bear to in support of both. Even though he was no longer prime minister, Churchill’s words were still essential to framing both the dangers of conflict and opportunities for peace vying for mastery in the postwar landscape.

A Leader of the Opposition, in August 1945, he warned the House of Commons:

“…The bomb brought peace, but men alone can keep that peace,
and henceforward they will keep it under penalties which threaten the survival,
not only of civilization but of humanity itself…”

Churchill was an early, ardent, and vital advocate of pan-European integration. In 1946, he spoke at Zurich University promoting a United Europe. This speech that lent bold impetus to formation of what would eventually become the European Union. In a May 7th 1948 address to the embryonic Congress of Europe, Churchill said:

“We shall only save ourselves from the perils which draw near

by forgetting the hatreds of the past, by letting national rancours and revenges die,
by progressively effacing frontiers and barriers which aggravate and congeal our divisions,
and by rejoicing together in that glorious treasure
of literature, of romance, of ethics, of thought and toleration…
which is the true inheritance of Europe.”[13]

Amid the great events and dramatic utterances it’s easy to forget the whimsy and wit that balanced Churchill. Even in the darkest moments of the war, Churchill would often leaven his comments, his own mood, and the sense of the moment. This sense of light and sparkle even in darkness was physically manifest in Churchill’s love of painting. Of painting, Churchill wrote:

“I cannot pretend to feel impartial about the colours.
I rejoice with the brilliant ones, and am genuinely sorry for the poor browns.
When I get to heaven I mean to spend a considerable portion of my first million years
in painting, and so get to the bottom of the subject.
But then I shall require a still gayer palette than I get here below.
I expect orange and vermillion will be the darkest, dullest colours upon it,
and beyond them there will be a whole range of wonderful new colours
which will delight the celestial eye.”[14]

Churchill was undoubtedly a creature of extravagant confidence, sometimes bordering on hubris. But it was his perpetual sense of history that imparted a tempering humility and grace to his words.

For better or worse, Churchill lived long enough to become an icon. By the final years of his second premiership, he became “a living national memorial” of the time he lived and the Nation, Empire, and free world he served. Perhaps, after a life of strife and vigorous opposition, he enjoyed the accolades. But even these he accepted with his characteristic sense of the history with which his life had become entwined.

“I was very glad that Mr. Atlee described my speeches in the war
as expressing the will… of the whole nation…
It was a nation and race dwelling all round the globe that had the lion heart.
I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar.
I also hope that I sometimes suggested to the lion the right places to use his claws.”[15]

I realize that I’m not the only one with some regard for Churchill’s words. When Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953, here is what they said:

“In his great work about his ancestor, Marlborough, Churchill wrote ‘Words are easy and many, while great deeds are difficult and rare.’ Yes, but great, living, and persuasive words are also difficult and rare. And Churchill has shown that they too can take on the character of great deeds.”

The Swedish Academy also said: “There is something special about history written by a man who has himself helped to make it.”

They might also have said: Never in the field of human endeavor has so much history been written by one who made so much history.

Churchill wasn’t just prolific. He was a gifted writer with a distinctive voice. All of the sharp wit, incisiveness, rolling cadences, sweeping sense of history, and unusual foresight that marked his life permeate his writing.

Even so, history offers many prolific and talented wordsmiths. What sets Churchill apart?

Churchill’s extraordinary life is what so compellingly infuses both his writing and his enduring persona. Churchill doesn’t just tell a great story, he is a great story. Since most of what he wrote about were events and issues and people and places central to his life, Churchill’s words reinforce and perpetuate his singularity.

Often the writings of a great statesman are just a polished literary headstone, secondary to a life spent in pursuit and exercise of power. Churchill’s life was writing. He wrote before he achieved power. He wrote after power passed from his aging hands. Words were his personal currency and daily essential.

Of course he wrote for practical purposes. He wrote to sustain himself and his family. He wrote to persuade and influence and assert. But he also wrote as if words were not just a tool, but a compulsion, a part of him that he was driven to exhale onto page after endless page. During the course of his long life Churchill left on paper perhaps more published work – and more that was revealingly himself – than any other great statesman.


So what did Churchill use all these words for?

Now we come to leadership.

Do you remember the unflattering quote I related earlier this evening? The one from Churchill’s letter to his mother, writing from Bangalore, India when he was a 23 year-old cavalry officer? To remind us, the young Churchill wrote: “I do not care so much for the principles I advocate as for the impression which my words produce & the reputation they give me. This sounds very terrible. But you must remember that we do not live in the days of Great Causes.”[16]

In this same letter, Churchill also wrote: “I think a keen sense of necessity of burning wrong or injustice would make me sincere…” Churchill had recently seen his first active service and had conspicuously distinguished himself on a bloody battlefield. He spoke of crying when he met a unit of his fellow soldiers who had become unsteady under fire and abandoned their young officer, who was killed as a result – quite “literally cut in pieces”. To Churchill’s credit, he cried both for the steadfast officer who fell and the faltering men who abandoned him. He closed his letter musing “…I believe that [in essence] I am genuine…” and tried to define the interplay between his head and his heart.

This very young Churchill was impetuous, insatiably ambitious, and unreasonably brave. He was flexing and experimenting with words, just as he was testing and proving his mettle. The “Great Causes” of which he spoke would find him. And find him ready.

Churchill’s words would ultimately shape him as much as they shaped the world he sought to engage and influence.

Churchill used words to encapsulate and project a vision not just of the world as he saw it, but the world as he wished it to be.

This is fascinating. For the twentieth century is full of leaders who imposed a rhetorical vision on their peoples, often to terrible effect. This is part of what makes Churchill so remarkable. Again, Isaiah Berlin best says what I wish to say:

With his words, Berlin said, Churchill showed a capacity “to find fixed moral and intellectual bearings, to give shape and character, colour and direction and coherence, to the stream of events.”[17]

“The Prime Minister was able to impose his imagination and his will upon his countrymen… [He lifted] them to an abnormal height in a moment of crisis…. it did turn a large number of inhabitants of the British Isles out of their normal selves and, by dramatizing their lives and making seem to themselves and to each other clad in the fabulous garments appropriate to a great historic moment… This is the kind of means by which dictators and demagogues transform peaceful populations into marching armies; it was Mr. Churchill’s unique and unforgettable achievement that he created this necessary illusion within the framework of a free system without destroying or even twisting it; that he called forth spirits which did not stay to oppress and enslave the population after the hour of need had passed.”[18]

It may be impossible to have a conversation about Churchill and leadership without discussing the Second World War. So I will steer into the curve.

I’ll talk about two things. First, Churchill’s stirring wartime eulogy of Neville Chamberlain early during the war and second, the history of the war Churchill wrote in its aftermath.

Churchill became Prime Minister in May 1940. Throughout the 1930s he had sounded the alarm and both labored to avert the coming conflict, while also preparing his nation to prevail should it become unavoidable. We see the Second World War now as a dominant, irrevocable landmark in the geopolitical topography of the twentieth century. But in a world barely a generation away from the numbing, unspeakable carnage of the First World War, another such war seemed inconceivable. And those who prophesied readiness and resolve were shunned.

We see Churchill as the inevitable leader for the time. But at the time he was out of power and out of favor, reduced to appealing directly to the public through his writing and speeches, and to working indirectly through sympathetic allies in the bureaucracy and back benches of Parliament.

Indeed, it was the leadership of his own Conservative Party that was perhaps most responsible for ignoring and ostracizing Churchill.

Tall, elegant, and patrician, at home in wing collar with furled umbrella and with a reputation for being austere and dictatorial, Neville Chamberlain seemed a visual and political antithesis of Churchill. As Prime Minister in the late 1930s, Chamberlain famously intensified fruitless efforts to appease Nazi Germany as a means of avoiding the coming war – even as Churchill prophesied war as increasingly inevitable in the face of British military and political weakness. In late September, 1938, it was Chamberlain who signed the Munich Pact with Hitler’s Germany, conceding Czechoslovakia in return for an empty promise of “peace in our time.”

“The Defence of Freedom and Peace” – Churchill’s October 16th, 1938 broadcast address to the American people about the Munich agreement

Are you all OK with one last prop?   I have 8 or 9 minutes of talking left, but I also have one more prop that will take a minute or so to present. It’s up to you… But I have to say that it is a pretty cool item.


The Defence of Freedom and PeaceThis is a textually unique, bibliographically unidentified edition of Churchill’s October 16th, 1938 broadcast address to the American people about the Munich Agreement.

It may seem odd that Churchill – merely a Member of Parliament and representative of neither his Party nor his Government – would address the people of the United States. The fact is that Churchill’s tireless campaigning for prudent rearmament and collective security had given him an independent voice and audience. And Chamberlain’s Munich concession to Hitler turned Churchill’s long running disagreement with Chamberlain into an open breach. So by this time, it was almost as if Churchill was Leader of the Opposition, despite sharing the party of the sitting Prime Minister.

Churchill used his personal platform to appeal directly to the American people with a strikingly blunt assault on the moral and strategic infirmity of the Munich agreement and a clarion call for preparedness.

No other contemporary stand-alone publication of this speech is known.  This pamphlet is definitively contemporary, evidenced by accompanying Chartwell stationery printed: “19th November 1938 | With Mr. Churchill’s compliments.”  Moreover, it is boldly signed by Churchill on the front cover.  But most interesting is the fact that this pamphlet appears likely to have been printed from a late-stage version of Churchill’s speech notes prior to delivery of the speech.

Churchill is known to have made emendations and revisions to his speeches up until the final moments preceding delivery – including this specific speech.

Courtesy of The Churchill Archives Centre, we reviewed Churchill’s original hand-corrected speech notes. We found a number of Churchill’s personal emendations to the speech as delivered which are not incorporated into this printed pamphlet.  Most significant is the conclusion.  A substantial five-sentence passage – essentially the “hard-sell” to the American people, beginning with the line “Far away, happily protected by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, you, the people of the United States…” – appears as the final paragraph in this pamphlet. But this critical paragraph was relocated closer to the mid-point of the speech when delivered.

This pamphlet is not just an amazing collectible item, but a tangible reminder of how very personally Churchill grappled with the words he bent to his purpose.

Not until Hitler invaded the Low Countries and France did Chamberlain lose the confidence of the House of Commons – and lose 10 Downing Street to Churchill.

But Churchill kept him on in the government. The two men worked with shared purpose until cancer forced Chamberlain’s resignation.

On November 12th, 1940, at the height of danger for Britain, Churchill eulogized Chamberlain in the House of Commons. Churchill said:

“The only guide to a man is his conscience; the only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions… we are so often mocked by the failure of our hopes and the upsetting of our calculations; but with this shield, however the fates may play, we march always in the ranks of honour.”

“Whatever else history may or may not say about these terrible, tremendous years, we can be sure that Neville Chamberlain acted with perfect sincerity according to his lights and strove to the utmost of his capacity and authority… to save the world from the awful, devastating struggle in which we are now engaged. This alone will stand him in good stead as far as… the verdict of history is concerned.”

As a piece of moving oratory, for my money Churchill’s eulogy of Chamberlain stands beside the famous funeral oration of Pericles from fifth century B.C. Athens. What most distinguishes it is perhaps a tremendous humanity and humility. Humanity in the sense of a generosity of spirit, a comprehending empathy. And in so clearly recognizing decency in the midst of tragic error, a fundamental humility of intellect and sentiment. This from a man not often recognized for humility.

We see these essential qualities of a comprehending humanity and humility threading the war and its aftermath, and indeed even the earliest years of Churchill’s political life and thought.

Of course when Churchill was done making history, he felt compelled to write it. His six volume history of the Second World War was published between 1948 and 1953.
Perhaps nothing makes the intensely, inevitably personal nature of Churchill’s history of the war more clear than his “Moral of the Work.”

The Moral of the Work

When Volume I was published in 1948, Churchill put his “Moral of the Work” prominently and alone on the page immediately following the author’s Acknowledgements.

It reads, simply:

“In War: Resolution
In Defeat: Defiance
In Victory: Magnanimity
In Peace: Goodwill”

Let me read that again:

“In War: Resolution
In Defeat: Defiance
In Victory: Magnanimity
In Peace: Goodwill”

The boy who had professed not to care so much for principles more than 50 years earlier on the battlefields of colonial India had very much clarified his moral framework. In a cynical post-war world slipping inexorably into a new Cold War, perhaps some considered it banal – or at least overly simplistic – to ascribe a moral to the greatest conflict the world had yet seen.  Churchill did not.

Likely better than most, he well understood the often senseless and bloody chaos and vagaries inherent to the human condition.  Precisely “because we are so often mocked by the failure of our hopes and the upsetting of our calculations” did he recognize the vital role of purposeful resolve, reasoned defiance, and generous decency in public affairs – of that “rectitude and sincerity” in personal conduct for which he eulogized Neville Chamberlain..

The “Moral” testifies to both Churchill’s own statecraft and to the failures of statecraft that precipitated the Second World War and would unfortunately persist in its wake.

The words also trace a vital arch underpinning Churchill’s political thought and character and spanning his public life.  The guiding sentiments encapsulated by the “Moral” allowed Churchill – for all his reputed pugnacity – to achieve farsighted perspective and bridge material, empathetic, and intellectual differences throughout his long life.

As early as 1906, Churchill expressed his thought in similar terms. In March of that year, he told the House of Commons: “As we have triumphed, so we may be merciful; as we are strong, so we can afford to be generous.”[19]

According to Churchill’s Private Secretary, Eddie Marsh, Churchill first composed what became his “Moral of the Work” soon after the First World War as an “epigram on the spirit proper to a great nation in war and peace.”[20]  Churchill was asked to devise an inscription for a war monument in France. He submitted exactly the same words that would become the “Moral of the Work” in his history of the Second World War. It is deeply sad that the inscription was not accepted.[21] The rejection is, in fact, a perfect commentary on the failures of the victors to secure the post-WWI peace, thus ultimately precipitating the Second World War that followed.

Churchill “had seen the danger of another war with Germany even before the first had entered its final phase.  In articles published in both America and Britain during 1917, he insisted even then on far-reaching efforts to meet those German demands that were justifiable.”[22]

On November 23rd, 1919, only a year after Armistice Day and certainly long before the bitter sentiment of the victors had faded, Churchill wrote in the Illustrated Sunday Herald:

“The reconstruction of the economic life of Germany

is essential to our own peace and prosperity. 

We do not want a land of broken, scheming, disbanded armies, putting their hands to the sword because they cannot find the spade or the hammer.” 

Churchill’s warnings would be substantially ignored by the victors.  Fourteen years later a defeated and desperate Germany would elect Adolph Hitler.

Churchill’s moral and pragmatic consistency as a statesman did not waver. In September 1946, in the wake of the war in which he was perhaps Germany’s most implacable foe, Churchill told assembled European leaders:

“The first step in the re-creation of the European family

must be a partnership between France and Germany…

There can be no revival of Europe without… a spiritually great Germany.”[23]

It is interesting to note that many have criticized Churchill for moral flexibility, for changing his fundamental tenets and principles over time to suit circumstance. Superficially, one can see how such a view proliferated.

First, he was in public life for a tremendously long time – allowing him to participate in an incredible variety of public decision, including two world wars.

Second, he was a strong personality, attracting a considerable variety and intensity of detractors over time. But, as evidenced by the decades of consistent political thought underpinning the Moral of the Work we just discussed, what is most remarkable about Churchill is not his malleability, but quite the opposite – his constancy.

Again, the scholar Isaiah Berlin said it better than I can. He wrote:

It is the strength and coherence of his [Churchill’s] central, lifelong beliefs that has provoked greater uneasiness, more disfavor and suspicion… than his vehemence or passion for power or what was considered his wayward, unreliable brilliance…. No strongly centralized political organization feels altogether happy with individuals who combine independence, a free imagination, and a formidable strength of character with stubborn faith and a single-minded, unchanging view of the public and private good.”

In his portrait of Churchill, Berlin wrote that Churchill believed in a specific world order and that “the desire to give it life and strength is the most powerful single influence upon everything which he thinks and imagines, does and is. When biographers and historians come to describe and analyse his views on Europe or America, on the British Empire or Russia, on India or Palestine, or even on social or economic policy, they will find that his opinions on all these topics are set in fixed patterns, set early in life and only later reinforced.”[24]

My own words will be less eloquent than those of either Churchill or Isaiah Berlin. I would say that Churchill comprehended the broad sweep of history as few leaders before or since. History was not a curriculum he consulted or a weight he bore. It was a current to which he committed himself. Which he ruddered and rode. Navigated and became.

And words – a torrent of words – evocative, emotional, reasoning, reckoning – were his constant companion. Churchill’s words charted his course, gave polarity to his compass.

So again, why are we here tonight discussing this particular British prime minister?

Because he shows us what we can do. What we can do.

How we humans can strive and be magnificent, despite every failure, fault, and folly.

Marc KuritzAnd he tells us in his own powerful, compelling words. There is no way to know this man better – to see him, our world, and ourselves the way that he saw – than to read his own words. So I commend Churchill’s words to you, and I thank you for inviting me speak with you this evening.

[1] Excerpt from “Painting as a Pastime” published in Strand Magazine, December 1921

[2] WSC to Lady Randolph, letter of 16 May 1898, Bangalore, Randolph S. Churchill, Companion Vol. I, Part 1 1874-1896

[3] R. Churchill, Companion Volume I, Part 2, p.1197

[4] November 10th, 1897 letter from Winston S. Churchill to Lady Randolph Churchill posted from Bangalore

[5] December 22nd, 19897 letter from Winston S. Churchill to Lady Randolph Churchill posted from Bangalore

[6] The Story of the Malakand Field Force, p.47

[7] The River War, Churchill reflecting on the Battle of Omdurman, Volume II, p.162

[8] For Free Trade, p.78

[9] My African Journey, Chapter I, p.1, opening lines

[10] Berlin, Mr. Churchill in 1940, p.12

[11] “Fifty Years Hence” first published in the November15th, 1931 issue of Maclean’s and the December 1931 issue of Strand Magazine, thereafter in Thoughts and Adventures, p.279

[12] Speech as Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons, August 16th, 1945

[13] Speech of May 7th, 1948 to the Congress of Europe

[14] Painting as a Pastime, p.24-25

[15] Remarks of November 30th, 1954

[16] WSC to Lady Randolph, letter of 16 May 1898, Bangalore, Randolph S. Churchill, Companion Vol. I, Part 1 1874-1896

[17] Berlin, Mr. Churchill in 1940, p.12

[18] Berlin, Mr. Churchill in 1940, pp. 29-30

[19] March 21st, 1906 speech in the House of Commons

[20] Marsh, A Number of People, p.152

[21] My Early Life, p.346

[22] Woods, Artillery of Words, p.86

[23] Speech of September 19th, 1946 at Zurich University advocating pan European integration to the embryonic Council of Europe

[24] Berlin, Mr. Churchill in 1940, pp.16-17

An Atlantic Charter NIC!

We are pleased to have recently discovered 1942 limited and numbered edition of The Atlantic Charter. This is the only copy we have encountered of this edition and is a certifiable NIC.

The Atlantic Charter


That’s short for “Not in Cohen”.

The Atlantic CharterNearly 25 years of exhaustive research went into Ronald I. Cohen’s indispensable three-volume, 2,183 page Bibliography of the Writings of Sir Winston Churchill.  No less an authority than Sir Martin Gilbert effusively praised Ron’s work, calling it:  “…a high point – and surely a peak – of Churchill bibliographic research… adding not only to the bibliographer’s art, but to knowledge of Winston Churchill himself.” Published in 2006, 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. Take it from a professional bookseller – even in the characteristically thorough world of bibliographies, Ron’s stands out. So the rare occasions when we discover a work by Churchill unknown to Ron – an NIC – it is cause for pardonable bit of bibliophilic fanfare.

Hence our excitement about this edition of the Atlantic Charter.

This diminutive but quite attractive book measures 7 x 5 inches, bound in dove gray paper covered card boards with a white front cover title label printed gray and red, the gray paper affixed by flaps secured beneath the pastedowns. The contents are printed in black and red on watermarked, laid paper with untrimmed edges. Eight pages reproduce the eight points of the Atlantic Charter, followed by an illustrated limitation page and preceded by an illustrated title page. The limitation page reads: “Printed by Cecil and James | Johnson at the Windsor Press, | San Francisco, 1942, in edit | ion of sixty copies. Copy No. 15”. The limitation is hand-numbered in red ink.

The Atlantic Charter

The Windsor Press was established in San Francisco in 1924 by the Australian brothers, James and Cecil Johnson, with James as designer, typographer, and pressman and Cecil as manager.

The beautiful, limited edition was quite plausibly printed for the first anniversary of the Atlantic Charter in 1942, which President Roosevelt marked with a 14 August 1942 message to Churchill reaffirming commitment to the principles of the Atlantic Charter.

The Atlantic Charter The Atlantic CharterIn August 1941, Winston Churchill had braved the North Atlantic seas during the Battle of the Atlantic to voyage by warship to Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, where he met President Franklin D. Roosevelt for a remarkable secret conference from the 9th to the 12th. Part of their agenda included an effort to set constructive goals for the post-war world, even as the struggle against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan was still very much undecided and the U.S. had yet to formally enter the war. The eight principles to which they agreed became known as the Atlantic Charter.

The Atlantic Charter

ATLANTIC CONFERENCE BETWEEN PRIME MINISTER WINSTON CHURCHILL AND PRESIDENT FRANKLIN D ROOSEVELT 10 AUGUST 1941 The President of the United States and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom are seated on the Quarterdeck of HMS PRINCE OF WALES for a Sunday service, during the Atlantic Conference, 10 August 1941. In the row behind them, left to right: Air Chief Marshal Sir Wilfred Freeman; Admiral E J King; USN; General Marshall; General Sir John Dill; Admiral Stark, USN; Admiral Sir Dudley Pound.

“That it had little legal validity did not detract from its value… Coming from the two great democratic leaders of the day… the Atlantic Charter created a profound impression on the embattled Allies. It came as a message of hope to the occupied countries, and it held out the promise of a world organization based on the enduring verities of international morality.” (United Nations)

In addition to encapsulating the postwar aspirations of the Allies and catalyzing formation of the United Nations, the Atlantic Charter also testifies to perhaps the most remarkable personal relationship of the Second World War, that between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.

The President of the United States and the Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, representing H. M. Government in the United Kingdom, being met together, deem it right to make known certain common principles in the national policies of their respective countries on which they base their hopes for a better future for the world.

Churchill and FDR

President Roosevelt welcomes Prime Minister Churchill aboard the USS Augusta for the Atlantic Conference, August 1941

  1. Their countries seek no aggrandisement, territorial or other.
  2. They desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned.
  3. They respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of Government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them.
  4. They will endeavour with due respect for their existing obligations, to further enjoyment by all States, great or small, victor or vanquished, of access, on equal terms, to the trade and to the raw materials of the world which are needed for their economic prosperity.
  5. They desire to bring about the fullest collaboration between all nations in the economic field, with the object of securing for all improved labour standards, economic advancement, and social security.
  6. After the final destruction of Nazi tyranny, they hope to see established a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and which will afford assurance that all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want.
  7. Such a peace should enable all men to traverse the high seas and oceans without hindrance.
  8. They believe all of the nations of the world, for realistic as well spiritual reasons, must come to the abandonment of the use of force. Since no future peace can be maintained if land, sea, or air armaments continue to be employed by nations which threaten, or may threaten aggression outside of their frontiers, they believe, pending the establishment of a wider and permanent system of general security, that the disarmament of such nations is essential. They will likewise aid and encourage all other practicable measures which will lighten for peace-loving peoples the crushing burden of armament.”

“Support for the principles of the Atlantic Charter and a pledge of cooperation to the utmost in giving effect to them, came from a meeting of ten governments in London shortly after Mr. Churchill returned from his ocean rendezvous. This declaration was signed on September 24 by the USSR and the nine governments of occupied Europe: Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Yugoslavia and by the representatives of General de Gaulle, of France.”

Nonetheless, the principles of the Atlantic Charter were remote from the realities of war in August 1941.

While Churchill and Roosevelt had agreed to the eight principles of the Atlantic Charter off the coast of Newfoundland, to Churchill’s frustration, America had still “made no commitments and was no nearer to war than before the ship board meeting.” (Gilbert, VI, p.1176) On August 16, while Churchill was still on the battleship Prince of Wales returning from his meeting with Roosevelt, an Anglo-Soviet agreement was signed in Moscow giving the Soviet Union 10 million Pounds of British credit to replace lost war material from British stock. In the meantime, even as they were trying to prop Russia, the British suffered continuing and severe bomber losses over Germany. The strain was telling. Churchill increasingly resented criticism in the House of Commons and faced the prospect that Germany might destroy Russia before the United States entered the war, with the added prospect of Germany gaining control of Russian oilfields. In his live broadcast from Chequers on August 24, Churchill spoke of his meeting with Roosevelt. Perhaps trying to put the best face on the ongoing lack of formal U.S. commitment to the war, Churchill characterized the meeting as being “symbolic” and rather modestly introduced the Atlantic Charter as: “…a simple, rough-and-ready war-time statement of the goal towards which the British Commonwealth and the United States mean to make their way, and thus make a way for others to march with them…”

Not until December 1941, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, did America formally enter the war and not until October 1945 was the United Nations established, embodying the lofty principles of the Atlantic Charter. Even then, the nascent Cold War was already beginning, ensuring that a geo-political reality based on those noble principles would remain as remote as it was in Placentia Bay in August 1941. And as it remains today.

Yes, Virginia, there is another Malakand

So what gets us excited about an ex-library paperback book with a separated rear cover, no front cover, and a badly worn spine?  Normally, nothing.  But we make exceptions when the copy happens to be a previously unknown issue of a first edition of Churchill’s first book.  We even get excited.

leadRecently, we were privileged to discover a previously unknown issue of a first edition of The Story of the Malakand Field Force.  Specifically, we discovered that there is a wraps issue of the Canadian first edition, previously unknown to both bibliographers and the Churchill collecting community.

page_1_image_aThe first edition that many of us know well – the British Home Issue – is bound in medium green cloth with gilt stamped spine print, spine title box horizontally framed with gilt rules, and a blind stamped title box on the upper right front cover with gilt stamped title within.  With only a few more than 1,900 copies bound, this first edition of Churchill’s first book is both elusive and desirable.  Moreover, it is one of the few Churchill books that did not have a concurrent U.S. first edition.

The publisher did also issue a distinctive Colonial Library issue concurrent with the first edition.  These were bound both in paper wraps (for understandable reasons, few examples of the wraps binding survive) and in a hardcover cloth binding with the striking Longmans Colonial Library design featuring a schooner at sea filling the front cover.  While the first edition saw only one printing, the Colonial Library issued no fewer than 10 different editions, printings, and binding variations for the very small number of Colonial issues ultimately produced from 1898 to 1901.

canadian_malakand_casedUntil now, rarest of all was the Canadian issue of Colonial Library sheets, bound in a Colonial Library-style binding, differentiated by the Canadian publisher’s name on the spine and title page.  Per Churchill bibliographer Ronald I. Cohen, there were no more than 250 Canadian copies issued.  Today, these Canadian copies of The Malakand Field Force are among the scarcest books in the Churchill canon.  We have seen only a small handful of copies in original bindings.

title_pageWhat was unknown until now is that, apparently, some of these 250 Canadian copies were issued as softcover (“wraps) issues.

Like its hardcover counterpart, this only known surviving copy of the wraps Canadian issue has a title page cancellans bearing the Canadian publisher’s name.

Perhaps even more improbable than its survival is this copy’s Irish provenance.  The final page of text bears the circular ink stamp of a library in Nass, County Kildare and is dated 1994.library_stamp

In contrast to its hardcover Canadian counterpart, the wraps issue features the British publisher’s name on the spine.  The rear cover – both the recto and verso – seem to have content identical to that of the wraps colonial edition.  Alas, this singular Canadian wraps issue lacks the front cover, so a further bibliographic mystery waits to be discovered.

malakand_spineIn interviews, I’ve often been asked “What’s your favorite book that you’ve offered?” My usual answer is “My favorite is never one we’ve already offered, but one we have not seen yet.”  So here’s my newest favorite.malakand_rear_cover

Churchill is one of the most studied figures of the twentieth century.  His official biography is the Guinness record holder for world’s longest.  Ron Cohen’s three-volume bibliography of Churchill’s works is among the most thorough and exhaustive bibliographies we have seen for any author.  So popular and well-known is Churchill that there is even a bookseller (albeit of questionable sanity) that makes a business of specializing in works by and about him.  And yet there are still new things to discover.  Even about Churchill’s first book.

So – good hunting and happy reading!

My African Journey

Next week, my ten-year-old daughter returns to school to begin fifth grade in her last elementary level year. Doubtless, one of the first writing assignments of her new year will be the ubiquitous, dreaded, and dreadful “What did you do this summer?” This always seems a particularly sadistic form of pedagogy designed to (1) remind you that your blissful summer holiday is over, (2) transmogrify the very memory of respite into a chore, and, should you be truly unfortunate, (3) rub your nose in other people’s more exotic journeys and your own comparative mundanity.


Thankfully, we had a terrific holiday and nobody is going to grade my writing. So, in solidarity with my daughter, I’m writing today about what I did this summer – specifically my African journey.

Of course, that just so happens to be the title of Churchill’s travelogue on Britain’s possessions in East Africa, written while he was serving as Undersecretary of State for the Colonies under Lord Elgin.

In the summer of 1907 Churchill left England for five months, making his way after working stops in southern Europe to Africa for “a tour of the east African domains.”  Churchill enjoyed a proper 19th Century bwana experience, traveling by special train provided by the Uganda Railway, receiving tribute from various chiefs, and shooting all manner of things. In early November, Churchill would kill a rhinoceros, the basis of the striking illustration on the front cover of the British first edition of his eventual book.

By now a seasoned and financially shrewd author, Churchill arranged to profit doubly from the trip, first by serializing articles and then by publishing a book based substantially upon them.

This summer I took a family trip with my wife and daughter to Tanzania. I did not shoot anything. I don’t have a book deal.

But I did take Churchill’s book with me. Years ago we acquired a horribly tatty, poorly rebound first edition as part of an auction lot. It was unsalable, but nonetheless I hung on to it, annoyed by the bits of desiccated leather it shed but unable to simply throw it away.

So I took it to Africa, beginning it while en route and finishing it while there.

Churchill’s book opens thus:

“The aspect of Mombasa as she rises from the sea and clothes herself with form and colour at the swift approach of the ship is alluring and even delicious.  But to appreciate all these charms the traveller should come from the North.  He should see the hot stones of Malta, baking and glistening on a steel-blue Mediterranean.  He should visit the Island of Cypress before the autumn rains have revived the soil, when the Messaoria Plain is one broad wilderness of dust, when every tree – be it only a thorn-bush – is an heirloom, and every drop of water is a jewel…”

My first steps on African soil can best be described thus:


The aspect of Kilimanjaro Airport as one arrives from two long international flights is dark. Because it is late at night. Bats dart and twitch through the air as stiff and disoriented victims of international coach class lurch across the tarmac to the main structure for visa processing and baggage retrieval. Three lines and $100 each later, one wonders if there are specific genetic markers that imbue airport functionaries the world over with a particular taciturnity and inability to form salutary facial expressions.

Next time I’ll come by sea.

The good news is the Africa I visited was far different from Churchill’s, but still strikingly beautiful in flora, fauna, people, place, and time.



In East Africa, one cannot avoid the sensory weight of the fact that this is where humanity came from. Our point of origin as a species. And now, as the fastest growing continent, one filled with both magnificent wildlife and rampant poaching, remarkable resources and profligate corruption, vibrant culture and endemic political strife, Africa is the uncertain emblem of our fate, encapsulating both our beginning and our future. On Africa’s teetering scales rests all that we have been given, all that we might be, and all that we can squander.


In this figurative sense, Africa remains owned by the larger world. Just a little over a century ago, ownership was more literal. Churchill’s Africa was substantially regarded as a patrimony, a place to reflect the contests, commerce, contrivances, and conceits of expatriate ambition. This has not entirely ceased, of course. Nonetheless, for better or worse, the bit of Africa I saw was not waiting to be affected by me, but an Africa accelerating into making itself.



I held as many conversations with our many hosts as feasible. At one point, speaking with one of our cooks, I pointed out that America had been a colony as well. I spoke of the fact that our internal land allocations and borders had been shaped by arbitrary imperial fiat, that we had been obliged to fight for our independence and to struggle once it was achieved, and that we had even fought brutally among ourselves, our bloodiest war having been our fundamentally uncivil Civil War. Concluding my lengthy exposition, I posited that our great difference from Africa lay in time, not circumstance and perspective, our being an extra two centuries removed from our colonial roots. The cook smiled and nodded. Then he replied, with far more pith and deft acknowledgement than his guest, “I believe you are on president number 44. We are on number 5.”


In a Masai village earlier that day, the women had given me a chance at pounding corn. I had felt neither skilled nor appreciated for my clumsy efforts. At least the cook made me feel appreciated.

I spent my last night in Africa in a tented camp in the Serengeti. It is a semi-permanent camp, almost Victorian in the comparative luxury it affords in the middle of such a remote and unspoiled place. In the main tent of the camp, next to the full bar (really) was a small library with a selection of books about Africa. Right before we departed, I secretly left Winston’s book there on the shelf. I like to think he’d be pleased, both with the setting and with the proximity to the bar.

In Churchill’s 1908 Preface to My African Journey he says:

“So much has been written, so many facts are upon record about every country… that a judicious and persevering study of existing materials would no doubt enable a reader to fill himself with knowledge… without leaving his chair. But for the formation of opinion, for the stirring and enlivenment of thought, and for the discernment of colour and proportion, the gifts of travel… are priceless.”

In this respect – “for the formation of opinion, for the stirring and enlivenment of thought, and for the discernment of colour and proportion” – Africa remains unchanged.


The earliest Churchill work for which dust jackets are known to survive

LeadToday we write about a truly extraordinary item that will be featured in our forthcoming fall catalogue.

This first edition, final printing set of Churchill’s second book, The River War, is not only the sole set known to retain the original dust jackets, but is also signed and dated by Churchill on 25 August 1900, during the period when he was campaigning for his first seat in Parliament.

This set comes to us from the collection of Churchill’s bibliographer, Ronald I. Cohen. It is difficult to overstate the singularity and appeal of this set which, jacketed and signed, is among the rarest of prizes in the Churchill canon. All the hyperbole we might conceive pertains.

The Dust Jackets

003962_4These two dust jackets are the only known surviving examples of the dust jackets for the first edition. As such, this is the earliest known work by Churchill for which first edition dust jackets survive.003962_5

A photocopy of this very Volume I dust jacket is featured on p.29 of Richard Langworth’s A Connoisseur’s Guide to the Books of Sir Winston Churchill. The dust jackets are printed on thin, manila stock and printed in black, exactly duplicating the print and illustrations of the bindings, including the Mahdi’s tomb on the lower spines and gunboat on the lower front
covers. The jacket flaps and rear faces are blank.

003962_7These dust jackets, of course, belong to a first edition, third printing set. Given that the bindings of all three printings are identical, and that only seven months separate the first and third printings, it is probable to the point of near certainty that the dust jackets for all three printings were identical. There is neither reason nor – given that these are the sole surviving examples – data to indicate a contrary conclusion.003962_8

That these dust jackets are the sole known surviving examples also seems reasonable. At the time of publication, it was customary for booksellers to discard the dust jackets prior to shelving the books for sale. This custom would only have been encouraged by the exceptionally handsome, illustrated bindings of this particular edition. Moreover, the dust jackets are printed on thin stock which, wrapped around these particularly thick and heavy volumes, must have proven quite prone to damage and subsequent discard.

The understandable impulse to re-allocate these sole surviving first edition dust jackets to a truly fine first printing set is a temptation that Mr. Cohen laudably resisted, given the magnificent state of these bindings and the fact that this set is also signed and dated by Churchill in the year of publication.

The Signature

003962_3Churchill’s dated signature in The River War would not customarily be an afterthought, but the presence of the original dust jackets makes this set the exception.

The author’s signature in black ink in two lines on the front free endpaper verso (facing the half-title recto) reads “Winston S. Churchill | 25. August. 1900.” The ink remains distinct, showing minimal age-toning or spreading.

Such early signatures in Churchill’s early works are scarce, and doubly so when dated. Though he would become one of the great leaders of the 20th Century, it was a still markedly Victorian Churchill who signed and dated this quintessential 19th century work at a time of momentous transition in his life. When Churchill inked his name in this set, he was on the cusp of the political career that would dominate the next six decades of his life and fundamentally shape the world he occupied.

Time and Place

Nearly all of the accomplishments that made Churchill an indelible part of history lay ahead of him when he signed this set of books.

Member_for_OldhamOn 25 August 1900, the day this set of The River War was signed, Churchill was just 25 years old, campaigning hard in Oldham, where he would win his first seat in Parliament on 1 October 1900.

On 12 August 1900, Churchill wrote to his mother, Lady Randolph Churchill: “I must concentrate all of my efforts upon Oldham. I am going to have a thorough campaign from the 20th to the 23rd of this month, speaking at 2 or 3 meetings every night upon the African question, and trotting through Cotton Mills and Iron works by day…” Electioneering apparently lasted longer than Churchill planned; on 27 August the Prince of Wales wrote to Churchill: “…You are I suppose busy electioneering…”

On Saturday, 1 September 1900, Churchill wrote again to his mother: “I enclose a report of my Beverly speech wh[ich] was about the best platform effect I have ever produced. I flattened out all the interrupters in the end to the delight of the audience…. I go to Paris Sunday afternoon with Sunny.” The “Sunny” to whom Churchill referred was his cousin, the Duke of Marlborough, with whom, along with Ivor Guest, Churchill went to Paris for a few days to the International Exhibition.

Thirty-seven days after he inscribed this set on the hustings in Oldham, Churchill won his first seat in Parliament partly on the strength of his status as a veteran and British hero of the Boer War. Before he took his seat, Churchill made his first lecture tour of the U.S. and Canada, which was intended to improve his finances during a time when Members of Parliament received no salary for their service.

While Churchill was still in Canada, Queen Victoria died. In a 22 January 1901 letter, Churchill wrote to his mother, Lady Randolph:

… So the Queen is dead. The news reached us at Winnipeg and this city far away among the snows…

The end of Queen Victoria’s 64-year reign would also see Churchill close his 19th-Century career as a cavalry officer and war correspondent adventurer. The Queen’s funeral took place on 2 February 1901 – the same day Churchill sailed from New York on the SS Etruria for England to take the seat he had won in Parliament. Churchill’s more than six decades-long Parliamentary career – still nascent when he signed this set – would span the Boer War to the Cold War with two world wars in between, and see the world of imperial cavalry charges so vividly recounted in these books almost inconceivably yield to the world of global superpowers and nuclear weapons.

The Edition

21st_LancersThis is a fitting work for Churchill to have signed on the cusp of his Parliamentary career. This third printing of The River War is not only by far the scarcest issue of the first edition, but also the last unabridged issue to this day. All three first edition printings are bibliographically identical, issued respectively in November 1899, February 1900, and June 1900. Only 140 copies of this third and final printing were ever made available. (The balance were destroyed by the publisher.)

Mohammed Ahmed was a messianic Islamic leader in central and northern Sudan in the final decades of the 19th century. In 1883 the Mahdists overwhelmed the Egyptian army of British commander William Hicks, and Great Britain ordered the withdrawal of all Egyptian troops and officials from the Sudan. In 1885, General Gordon famously lost his life in a doomed defense of the capitol, Khartoum, where he had been sent to lead the evacuation of Egyptian forces. Though the Mahdi died in 1895, his theocracy continued until 1898, when General Kitchener reoccupied the Sudan.

With Kitchener was a very young Winston Churchill, who participated in the decisive defeat of the Mahdist forces at the battle of Omdurman in September 1898.

In this book about the British campaign in the Sudan, Churchill – a young officer in a colonial British army – is unusually sympathetic to the Mahdist forces and critical of Imperial cynicism and cruelty. This work offers us the candid perspective of the future great man of the 20th century from the distinctly 19th century battlefields where Churchill learned to write and earned his early fame. Here is a chief architect of the Second World War involved in what has been called the last “genuine” cavalry charge of the British army.

003962_9This work – and in particular this edition – is as important and desirable as any in the Churchill canon. The two massive volumes of the first edition are compelling in every respect. Aesthetically they are lavish and striking; the two large, weighty volumes are beautifully decorated with gilt representations of the Mahdi’s tomb on the spines and a gunboat on the front covers. Internally, they are equally appealing, being profusely illustrated with images, maps, and plans. From a collector’s standpoint the edition is scarce; all three printings of the first edition total only 2,646 sets.

Last but not least, the text is not only arresting, insightful, powerfully descriptive, and of enduring relevance, but also unique to the first edition, which is the only unabridged edition ever published. In 1902 Churchill (by then more mindful of political exigencies) revised and abridged his text, excising much criticism of Kitchener. All editions published since this third and final printing of the first edition are based on the 1902 abridged text.


The overarching context for any description detail is that this set is both jacketed and inscribed, and thus truly singular.

Attending to the mundanities of a detailed condition report, we would grade this set as near fine plus in good dust jackets. Both dust jackets are substantially complete, with all illustrations and printed text intact, but nonetheless with perimeter losses, overall wrinkling and wear, and minor soiling.

The Volume I dust jacket shows losses at the front hinge extremities to a maximum depth of approximately .75 inch, lesser chipping to the balance of the edges, vertical creasing with a few tiny losses at the front hinge, a 1.5 inch closed tear at the lower rear hinge, creasing and closed tears at the flap folds, very light spine toning, and a light stain to the front face.

The Volume II dust jacket shows losses at the spine ends to a maximum depth of one inch, lesser chipping to the balance of the edges, closed tears that extend into “THE” in the upper front face title lettering, some splitting and fractional loss along the rear hinge, short tears and minor loss at the flap folds, very light spine toning, and light soiling.

003962_2Both dust jackets are, of course, protected beneath removable, archival quality clear covers.

The blue cloth bindings of both volumes are, as one would expect, exceptionally bright and clean, with entirely unfaded color and vividly bright gilt on both the spines and front covers. Volume I, which bears the author’s dated signature, shows a little wrinkling to the spine ends, trivial shelf wear to the lower edges, and bumps to the lower corners. The binding remains fully attached, but a little tender at the front hinge. The Volume II binding likewise shows a little wrinkling to the spine ends, just a hint of mottling of the blue color at the bottom edges, and minor corner bumps.

The contents of both volumes remain unusually bright, with modest spotting substantially confined to the prelims and otherwise bright page edges. The original black endpapers are intact, as are all illustrations, maps and plans. All of the folding maps are pristine and properly folded, with no tears or losses. All photogravure portraits, including the frontispieces, are intact, as are their original tissue guards. We find no previous ownership marks other than the author’s Volume I signature.

Bibliographic reference; Cohen A2.1.b, Woods/ICS A2(a.3), Langworth p.29.



This set has resided in the personal collection of Churchill’s bibliographer, Ronald I. Cohen, for nearly three decades. The set was sold by Sotheby’s in the same auction which saw sale of a jacketed first British edition, later printing of Savrola (Churchill’s third published book) signed by Churchill on the same date. This copy of Savrola is now held by the University of Illinois in its Mortlake Collection.

We can reasonably speculate that perhaps both this set of The River War and the companion signed and jacketed Savrola were presented by Churchill to the same Oldham supporter, from whose library they eventually made their way to the 1966 Sotheby’s auction and then eventually to Mr. Cohen (in the case of The River War) and famed British bookseller Harold Mortlake and ultimately the University of Illinois (in the case of Savrola).


Our forthcoming catalogue, which should be available in late September, will feature this set among a large number of brand new listings, all noteworthy first edition works by Churchill in original bindings. Please let us know if you will wish to receive a printed copy of the catalogue.

In Memory of Mark Weber

I deeply regret posting news of the death of my fellow bookseller and Churchill specialist Mark Weber on Tuesday, 21 June, from complications related to a stroke.

We shared abiding respect for Churchill and arcane knowledge of Churchill’s life as expressed through the medium of his words.  Churchill has always held my admiration for his ability to couple a deeply sensible irreverence and disregard for convention with genuine and humane respect, which he extended as readily to competitors as to friends.

Mark would not have called me a friend and it would be disrespectful for me to pretend otherwise.  Nonetheless, I spent so much time over the years poring (often enviously) over Mark’s inventory and catalogues that I feel I must have known him better than many better acquaintances.  And of course we corresponded as colleagues and fellow specialists.

When you occupy the same commercial ground, you sometimes step on one another’s toes.  But you can’t effectively curse someone who shares the same first name as you, and I appreciated what he did.  Mark was a resourceful and enterprising bookseller for a long time before me.  Mark knew his stock well, and he knew our specialty as well as anyone.

With Mark’s passing I lose one of the few people on Earth with whom I shared this particular bibliophilic obsession with Churchill’s life and words.

I will miss our rivalry.  I will miss the conversations we did have about the Churchill canon.  Most, I will miss the conversations we will not have.

Cheers, Mark! May there be no shortage of books, bibliophiles, and Churchillian wit and mirth where you have gone.