The River War. Winston S. Churchill.
The River War
The River War
The River War

The River War

London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1902. Hardcover. This is the first one-volume edition of Churchill's second book. The River War was originally published as a two-volume edition in 1899. In 1902 Churchill (by then a new member of Parliament) revised and abridged his text, excising much of the criticism of Kitchener for political reasons. There is also a new Preface. For the next 120 years, every one of the many subsequent editions of The River War was based on this 1902 text. This first one-volume edition had only a single printing of just 1,003 copies and so is considerably scarcer than the first edition. This edition has the same distinctive gilt decoration of the Mahdi's Tomb and gunboat as the first edition, but is bound in red cloth.

This copy is in good plus condition, entirely original and unrestored. The illustrated red cloth binding shows some wear to extremities, mild spine toning, and light overall scuffing and soiling, with a single black mark below the author’s name on the spine. The binding has a modest forward lean. Nonetheless, shelf presentation and binding color are respectable. The contents retain a crisp feel. All of the numerous maps and plans are present and complete, as are the original frontispiece and tissue guard. We find no previous ownership marks. Spotting is primarily confined to the first and final leaves and page edges.

Two interesting features distinguish this copy. First is the presence of original white endpapers, instead of the typical black. Second is lack of the publisher's catalogue; Cohen (Vol. I, A2.2, p.46) notes "Most copies will have a catalogue designated '10,000/7/02'." Cohen also notes that "Sales were gradual" and "by 1 June 1908... 407 copies remained on hand" of which 350 were as-yet unbound sheets. Moreover, among the copies we have examined the publisher's red cloth varies quite considerably in hue, from a deep red to distinctly lighter shades. In our experience, darker cloth has always corresponded to black endpapers and a bound-in publisher's catalogue. This copy - the publisher's original binding featuring medium red cloth, white endpapers, and no publisher's catalogue - seems almost certainly among the later copies bound and sold by the publisher.

In 1883, Mahdist forces of messianic leader Mohammed Ahmed overwhelmed the Egyptian army of British commander William Hicks and Britain ordered withdrawal from the Sudan. In 1885, General Gordon famously lost his life in a doomed defense of Khartoum, where he had been sent to lead evacuation of Egyptian forces. Though the Mahdi 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.

Writing about the British campaign in the Sudan, 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 us the candid perspective of the future 20th century icon from the distinctly 19th century battlefields where Churchill learned to write and earned his early fame. The text is arresting, insightful, powerfully descriptive, and of enduring relevance. Because it was significantly revised and because so many subsequent editions were based on this text, this 1902 first abridged and revised edition is as important and desirable as any in the Churchill canon.

Reference: Cohen A2.2, Woods/ICS A2(b), Langworth p.30. Item #006338

Price: $1,200.00

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