London: Macmillan and Co. Limited, 1906. First edition, only printing. Hardcover. This first edition, only printing of Winston S. Churchill’s biography of his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, is touchingly inscribed by Lord Randolph’s sister, Winston’s Aunt Cornelia. Inked in nine lines on the front free endpaper of Volume I, the presentation inscription reads “Ernest Villiers | with love from | Cornelia Wimborne | Jan., 1906 | Gathering from these pages | what he was, you will | understand how a sister | mourns the vanished | hopes of what might have been”.
Lady Cornelia Henrietta Maria Wimborne (1847-1927) was the eldest daughter of the 7th Duke of Marlborough and sister of Lord Randolph Churchill, who died in January 1895 at age 45 following the spectacular collapse of both his health and political career. Ernest Villiers (1863-1923) was husband to Lady Wimborne’s daughter Elaine Augusta Guest. Fittingly, the inscription was concurrent with the start of Villiers' own parliamentary career; he left the clergy to stand as Liberal member for Brighton, a seat held from 1905-1910.
When Lord Randolph died, his son, Winston, was 20 years old. Lady Wimborne cared deeply for her nephew, who in his childhood visited frequently to stay with his cousin, her eldest son, Ivor. During one such visit eighteen-year-old Winston quite nearly died after he leapt from a bridge during a game with his brother and cousin. Her support, both emotional and financial, played an important role in catalyzing the political career of Britain’s future prime minister. She was in the Ladies’ Gallery when Churchill delivered his first speech in the House of Commons on 18 February 1901. On 27 May 1905 she wrote him, “You know how much we care for you & your career not only for your dear father’s sake, but also for yours, for you are always very dear to us & we want to be a little help to you. Now I know elections & Parliament in general all means a great deal of expense & so we want to enjoy the prerogative of standing in the relation of uncles & aunts”.
Additionally, Churchill’s writing of the biography that she here inscribed could not have occurred without her help. That Churchill would be selected as biographer by Lord Randolph's executors was not a foregone conclusion. Churchill first entertained the idea soon after his father's death, but not until late 1902 was he appointed. Churchill began his research and writing with his Aunt Cornelia. On 9 October 1902 he wrote his mother, “I have been here two days and find very valuable material indeed for my work. Cornelia had kept Scrap Books of almost every incident of my Fathers’ life, and with the letters which she also had, the material is now almost complete.”
Lady Wimborne’s “vanished hopes” for her brother ultimately manifested in her nephew. By the time his biography of his father was published in 1906, young Winston Churchill already had half a dozen books to his credit, half a decade in Parliament, and was just two years from his first Cabinet post.
The first edition of Lord Randolph Churchill is aesthetically pleasing, featuring deep red cloth, untrimmed page edges, gilt stamping, and the family coat of arms on the front covers. However, the red cloth binding of this edition proved quite susceptible to fading and wear and the contents to heavy spotting. Happily, in addition to its noteworthy provenance, this set is a rather better example than often encountered, in very good condition, entirely original with no repairs or restoration. The bindings remain square and tight with only modest wear to extremities, and spine fading is quite light for the edition. The contents have a crisp feel and are clean apart from intermittent spotting throughout, most noticeable at the first and final pages. Apart from Lady Wimborne’s Volume I inscription, the only other ownership marks are the bookplate of the Villiers' daughter, Lady Barbara Child (d.1972), affixed to the front pastedown of each volume.
Reference: Cohen A17.1, Woods A8(a), Langworth p.69. Item #005052