Chartwell, Westerham, Kent: 1955. This typed, signed letter from Winston Churchill to Desmond Flower of Cassell – the wartime and postwar publisher of all of Churchill’s book-length works – symbolically affirms Churchill’s paramount importance to his publisher. The letter is typed on a single sheet of Churchill’s Chartwell stationery. The “15” in the date “15 August, 1955”, the salutation “My dear Desmond”, and the valediction “Yours sincerely, Winston S. Churchill” are all in Churchill’s hand. In the letter, Churchill agrees “to lay the foundation stone of your new building on April 23 next year.” The letter is in excellent condition, bright and complete with only trivial soiling to the extremities, a single file hole at the upper left, and an initial in pencil just below the date. The letter is housed in a removable, archival mylar sleeve within a rigid, crimson cloth folder.
Churchill had proven the essential asset to the postwar solvency of Cassell and Co. Then again, Cassell, whose history with Churchill spanned decades, had more than paid for the privilege.
In December of 1932, Cassell’s Newman Flower – Desmond’s father - 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 intervened 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 Desmond Flower (1907-1997) returned to Cassell from the Army in 1946, he was given the reigns and 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. Between 1941 and 1961 Cassell publications of Churchill’s work included all seven volumes of Churchill’s war speeches, all six volumes of his history of the Second World War, all five volumes of Churchill’s postwar speeches, and (finally) all four volumes of A History of the English-Speaking Peoples.
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.
Just four months before Churchill wrote this letter, he had finally and irrevocably relinquished the reins of power when he resigned his second and final premiership on 5 April 1955 at the age of 80. Perhaps a hint of age and mellowing is evident in his rather relaxed comment about the foundation stone ceremony: “Perhaps when we get nearer the time you will let me know the details.” But in the second and final paragraph we glimpse the still-overbearing author. The second paragraph references a “new project”, one among “others for producing shorter and cheaper variations”, ostensibly of The Second World War, whose final volume had been published in in April 1954. Churchill admonishes Flower “I should not have thought the time had come for that yet.”
As promised in this letter, Churchill was present on 23 April 1956 for the laying of the foundation stone of Cassell’s new offices in Red Lion Square, London. Apropos, Churchill proved as much a stickler with his stonework as he was with his prose, the stone “had to be raised and lowered three times before Sir Winston was satisfied with the position” and ceremonially hammered it into place with a gavel. Item #006283