London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1902. Hardcover. This is the first one-volume edition of Churchill's second book, The River War, originally published as a two-volume edition in 1899. In 1902 Churchill (by then a new member of Parliament) revised and abridged his text, adding a new Preface and excising much of the criticism of Kitchener for political reasons. 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 1,003 copies and 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.
Condition is very good minus, sound, with interesting provenance, and entirely original. The illustrated red cloth binding is square and tight with some wear to extremities, including mild spine toning and minor fraying to the spine ends and upper rear hinge. Nonetheless, shelf presentation and binding color are respectable. The contents remain respectably clean. Modest spotting is primarily confined to the prelims and page edges. All maps and plans are present and complete, as are the original frontispiece and tissue guard, and the original black endpapers.
Two names are inked on the front free endpaper recto – one dated “1902” and the second dated “14 Jan. 1946.” The third ownership name – conveyed via an armorial bookplate affixed to the front free endpaper – is that of “Richard Lucas Mullens”. Major-General Mullens (1871-1952) – ostensibly the second owner of this book – commanded 1 Cavalry Division in France during the First World War from October 1915 until after the armistice of November 1918. Like Churchill, Mullens attended the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. Also like Churchill, he fought in the Boer War, fighting in multiple actions, including Diamond Hill - which was Winston Churchill’s last combat experience before his own service on the Front during the First World War. The Boer War conferred fame on Churchill and facilitated his election to Parliament. For Mullens, it was more conventional honor and glory; he was twice mentioned in Despatches. (The Times, Obituary published 28 May 1952)
Two features distinguish this copy as likely an early binding of the edition. First is the presence of original black endpapers (instead of white). Second is presence of the publisher's catalogue. Cohen (Vol. I, A2.2, p.46) notes "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 corresponded to black endpapers and a bound-in publisher's catalogue. This copy - featuring darker red cloth, black endpapers, and the publisher's catalogue - seems almost certainly among the earlier copies bound and sold by the publisher.
In 1883, Mahdist forces of messianic leader Mohammed Ahmed forced British 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 British-led 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.
Reference: Cohen A2.2, Woods/ICS A2(b), Langworth p.30. Item #006341