London: George G. Harrap & Co., Ltd., 1934. First edition, first printing. Hardcover. This is an unusually clean British first edition, first printing of the second volume of Churchill's Marlborough: His Life and Times. During the four years covered by Volume II (1702-1705), Marlborough led England as Captain-General. The volume is a substantial 651 pages with 31 illustrations, 76 maps and plans, and 3 document facsimiles. This British first trade edition is a physically impressive production. Each volume measures 9.25 x 6.25 inches (23.5 x 15.9 cm) and is roughly 2 inches thick (5 cm). Each is bound in plum cloth with beveled edges, the Marlborough coat of arms in gilt on the front cover, and a gilt top edge. Moreover, each volume is profusely illustrated. Unfortunately, the plum cloth bindings of Volumes I-III proved highly susceptible to sunning.
This copy is notably clean and bright for the edition, in near fine condition. This binding of this copy is not only square, clean, and tight, but also atypically bright, with no sunning apart from a faint bit to the extreme spine ends. The contents suit the binding – crisp, clean, and bright with no previous ownership marks, and good top edge gilt. Spotting, endemic to the edition, is here quite minimal, appearing confined to the blank sheet preceding the half-title, the final page of the index, and a single spot on the title page. The fore and bottom edges of the text block are clean.
Winston Churchill's monumental biography of his great ancestor, John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, was initially conceived a full 40 years before publication of the final volume. Churchill originally considered the idea of the biography in 1898, returning to it in earnest in 1928. Marlborough ultimately took 10 years of research and writing and is the most substantial published work of Churchill's "wilderness years" in the 1930s, which he spent politically isolated, often at odds with both his own party and prevailing public sentiment. This decade saw Churchill pass into his sixties with his own future as uncertain as that of his nation. It is perhaps not incidental that Churchill’s great work of the 1930s was about a great ancestor. Churchill may have wondered more than once if the life history he was writing might ultimately eclipse his own.
Richard Langworth says "To understand the Churchill of the Second World War, the majestic blending of his commanding English with historical precedent, one has to read Marlborough." The work was well received. Two months after Volume I was published, on 12 December 1933, T.E. Lawrence wrote to Churchill: “I finished it only yesterday. I wish I had not… The skeleton of the book is so good. Its parts balance and the main stream flows… Marlborough has the big scene-painting, the informed pictures of men, the sober comment on political method, the humour, irony and understanding of your normal writing: but beyond that it shows more discipline and strength: and great dignity. It is history, solemn and decorative." The fourth and final volume was published almost exactly one year before the outbreak of the Second World War and Churchill’s return to the Cabinet to reprise his First World War role as First Lord of the Admiralty. Twenty months after the final volume was published Churchill became wartime prime minister.
Reference: Cohen A97.2(II).a, Woods/ICS A40(aa), Langworth p.166. Item #002492