London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1900. First edition, second printing. Hardcover. This is the first edition, second printing of Churchill's second published work, an unrestored, fully intact set in the striking, original bindings. Published in two massive volumes, this edition is compelling in every respect. The text is arresting, insightful, powerfully descriptive, and enduringly relevant. Mohammed Ahmed, the Mahdi, was a messianic Islamic leader in central and northern Sudan in the final decades of the 19th century. In 1883 Mahdists overwhelmed the Egyptian army of British commander William Hicks and Great Britain ordered withdrawal of Egyptian troops and officials from the Sudan. In 1885, General Gordon famously lost his life in a doomed defense of the capitol, Khartoum. Though Ahmed died that same year, his theocracy continued until 1898, when General Kitchener reoccupied the Sudan.
With Kitchener was a young Winston Churchill, who participated in decisive defeat of the Mahdist forces and the last "genuine" cavalry charge of the British army during the battle of Omdurman in September 1898. In this book, 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 the young Churchill’s candid perspective from the distinctly 19th century battlefields where he learned to write and earned his early fame long before he became a 20th century icon.
This first edition is not only compellingly written, but also beautiful and bibliographically important. The two large, lavish volumes are decorated with gilt representations of the Mahdi's tomb on the spines and a gunboat on the front covers. Each volume is printed on heavy paper with a profusion of illustrations, maps, and plans. This is one of the few Churchill books for which there was no concurrent U.S. first edition. And the first edition is scarce. There were just three printings of the first edition (2,646 copies total). All three printings are virtually identical, issued respectively in November 1899, February 1900 (503 copies), and June 1900 (140 copies). Bibliographically it is notable that the first edition is the only unabridged edition to this day. In 1902 Churchill (then a new Member of Parliament) revised and abridged his text, excising much of his criticism of Kitchener for political reasons. All subsequent editions of The River War are based on this 1902 abridged and revised text.
Condition of this first edition, second printing set in the fully intact, unrestored original publisher’s cloth is very good plus. This second printing is readily distinguished from the first printing only by the words "Second Impression" on the title page and a 1900 date replacing 1899. The dark blue cloth bindings are a treat, not only square, clean, and tight, but also unfaded, with excellent shelf presentation. We note modest wear to extremities, including minor corner bumps, and light overall scuffing, mostly to the blank rear covers. The considerable weight of the text block of this edition inevitably strained nearly all surviving original bindings. This set is noteworthy for uncompromised, tight bindings. Some concavity to the Volume II spine is the only visible toll of the massive text blocks. The original black endpapers are intact, with no sign of the typical cracking at the gutters. Likewise, all illustrations, maps, and plans are intact, as are the protective tissue covers at each frontispiece. The contents are quite respectable, despite moderate spotting intermittent throughout. We find no previous ownership marks. The page edges are clean apart from spotting. Not fine, but certainly an impressively well-preserved, unmolested set with impressive shelf presentation.
Reference: Cohen A2.1.c, Woods/ICS A2(a.2), Langworth p.29. Item #005951