Chartwell, Kent: 1957. This is a 31 August 1957 typed, signed letter from Winston S. Churchill to Desmond Flower of Cassell settling the title and design of the final volumes of Churchill's last great work, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. Churchill’s letter, on his Chartwell Stationery, features his holograph salutation “My dear Desmond,” Churchill’s hand correction of the word “paintings” to “painting”, addition of the words “of Volume IV.” at the end of the final sentence, and the holograph valediction “Yours vy sincerely, | Winston S. Churchill”.
The letter was acquired from an archive regarding Churchill’s publishing history with Cassell. Condition is excellent, clean with a single hole at the upper left corner, consonant with original filing. Churchill’s letter is accompanied by Cassell’s file copy of the 30th August letter from Flower to Churchill, to which Churchill replies. Uncharacteristically, Churchill extravagantly compliments his publisher (on the dust jacket) and unequivocally defers on the title: “It is not for me, who has retired, to decide upon the question of the title of Volume IV...” This is a striking departure from Churchill’s historically overbearing engagement in his literary work.
It is also a pacific end to a long and tumultuously delayed publication. In December of 1932, Cassell’s Newman Flower paid Churchill a substantial advance for A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, planning on completion in 1939. “It required considerable daring to make such a huge commitment to a notoriously willful author in the depths of the Depression.” But the work was not complete when Churchill returned to the Admiralty and to war in 1939. Nearly two decades and both Churchill’s wartime and post-war premierships would intervene before the work was finally completed.
The wait proved a mixed blessing. On the one hand, to the benefit of Cassell, the war transformed Churchill into an icon and elevated his already impressive literary career “to quite dizzying heights.” When Newman Flower’s son, Desmond (1907-1997) returned to Cassell from the Army in 1946, he had to rebuild the firm, which had lost both its offices and warehouse to bombing and now faced the crippling constraint of paper rationing. Churchill’s post-war literary output – all published in Britain by Cassell - was the essential asset to Cassell’s postwar recovery.
But while Cassell could not do without Churchill, they likewise could not control an author of his stature. Despite the fact that he had a literary team, Churchill would often communicate directly and imperiously with Desmond on every facet of writing and publication, varying from issues as granular as typographic errors in a volume’s index to font size and margins. In this context, Desmond Flower’s habituated servility toward Churchill in his 30 August 1957 two-page, five paragraph letter to Churchill is not surprising.
Flower very carefully solicits Churchill’s assent for retitling the final volume: “I know that you have up to the present called it “The Nineteenth Century”. But we feel that this has not quite got the majestic rightness of the titles which you have given to the previous volumes. May we suggest for your consideration “The Great Democracies”.” After a lengthy justification, Flower entreats: “We should feel very happy if this suggestion appealed to you enough for it to be adopted.” The closing paragraphs discuss the specific images secured for the strikingly illustrated dust jacket and close with almost fawningly obsequious good wishes.
But the once relentlessly demanding and tempestuous author was 83. He had resigned his second and final premiership more two years earlier. And now he had laid down his pen, having finished writing the last volume of the last great work of his literary career. Churchill’s reply to Flower echoes with finality, distinctly un-Churchillian in convivial submissiveness and poignant magnanimity. Item #003767