London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1900. First edition, first printing. Hardcover. Imagine it is November 1961. Winston S. Churchill is almost 87 years old. You write a long and earnest letter to him, seeking his signature. “Amongst books written by you, I am the proud possessor of your “LONDON TO LADYSMITH VIA PRETORIA”…To me it is the best book relating to the Boer War or any war that I have read… I would very much like to have your autograph on my copy. I hesitate to trouble you, still I make bold to request you to autograph LONDON TO LADYSMITH… Shall I send it to you, for that purpose?”
The happy ending of the story would be to find this copy with Churchill’s signature. Instead, within we found a copy of the letter sent to Churchill and an envelope in reply from Kensington, indicating it was sent from Churchill’s Hyde Park Gate home in London just nine days later. In the envelope we found a printed card from “The Private Secretary to the Rt. Hon. Sir Winston Churchill…” that reads “Sir Winston Churchill wishes to thank you for your letter and to express his regret that, owing to the large number of similar requests he receives, it is not possible to do as you ask.”
Sigh. One can imagine the recipient’s disappointment. Still, we have not previously encountered such a card and the original envelope in which it was posted.
Additionally, laid in we found both 1949 and 1961 receipts for the book, as well as six English and Irish newspaper clippings contemporary to the correspondence with Churchill, spanning 1959 to 1972 specifically regarding Churchill’s Boer War experience.
The book itself is the first edition, first printing, of Churchill’s fourth published book. London to Ladysmith via Pretoria is the first of Churchill's two books based on his newspaper despatches sent from the front in South Africa, where his capture, captivity, and daring escape made him a celebrity and helped launch his political career. The British first edition is striking, bound in tan cloth with an illustration of an armoured train on the front cover accompanied by the author's facsimile signature and with the Union flag and Transvaal flag in gilt on the spine beneath a red subtitle. The binding is visually arresting, but the first edition proved notoriously fragile and prone to wear, soiling, toning, and spotting.
This copy is in good plus condition, sound, complete, unrestored, though with some modest aesthetic flaws. The illustrated cloth binding is square and tight and shelf presentation is quite good for the edition, only mildly toned with the red and gilt spine print and decoration still distinct. The corners remain sharp, despite some shelf wear to hinges and extremities. A faded previous owner name (“Evans”) and address (“20. Apsley Rd.”) are inked on a blank portion of the upper front cover. The blank rear cover shows considerable soiling. The contents are bright and retain a crisp feel and all maps and plans are intact, as are the original black endpapers. Spotting is reasonable for the edition, primarily confined to prelims and page edges. The sole previous ownership mark within is the tiny bookseller’s ink stamp of “GEORGE’S, Park Street, Bristol” on the front free endpaper verso. “Wm. George’s Sons” is the name on the 1961 receipt laid in.
London to Ladysmith via Pretoria contains 27 letters and telegrams to the Morning Post written between 26 October 1899 and 10 March 1900. It was published in England in mid-May 1900 and sold well. Churchill returned from South Africa in July 1900 and spent the summer campaigning hard in Oldham. Churchill had lost the Oldham by-election – his first attempt at Parliament – in July 1899. Since then, as Arthur Balfour (who became Prime Minister in 1902) put it in a 30 August 1900 letter, the young Churchill had had “fresh opportunities - admirably taken advantage of – for shewing the public of what stuff you are made.” Indeed; Churchill won his first seat in Parliament on 1 October 1900 in the so-called "khaki election".
Reference: Cohen A4.1.a, Woods/ICS A4(a.1), Langworth p.53. Item #006172