My Early Life: A Roving Commission, a wartime reprint signed and dated by Churchill in 1943 during his wartime premiership. Winston S. Churchill.
My Early Life: A Roving Commission, a wartime reprint signed and dated by Churchill in 1943 during his wartime premiership
My Early Life: A Roving Commission, a wartime reprint signed and dated by Churchill in 1943 during his wartime premiership
My Early Life: A Roving Commission, a wartime reprint signed and dated by Churchill in 1943 during his wartime premiership
My Early Life: A Roving Commission, a wartime reprint signed and dated by Churchill in 1943 during his wartime premiership
My Early Life: A Roving Commission, a wartime reprint signed and dated by Churchill in 1943 during his wartime premiership
My Early Life: A Roving Commission, a wartime reprint signed and dated by Churchill in 1943 during his wartime premiership
My Early Life: A Roving Commission, a wartime reprint signed and dated by Churchill in 1943 during his wartime premiership

My Early Life: A Roving Commission, a wartime reprint signed and dated by Churchill in 1943 during his wartime premiership

London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1943. Hardcover. This is a Second World War reprint of British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill’s autobiography of his early life, signed and dated by him. The signature, inked by Churchill in black in two lines on the front free endpaper recto, reads: “Winston S. Churchill | 1943”.

Condition

Condition is very good. The blue cloth binding is square, tight, bright, and clean. We note some shelf wear to extremities – a little rounding of corners and wrinkling at spine ends – as well as some trivial scuffing to the rear cover. The contents are quite clean for a wartime reprint, bright with a minimal amount of spotting that appears confined to the lower right of the title page and the page edges. We find no previous ownership marks. The endpapers show a little transfer browning from the pastedown glue and the top edges show incidental shelf dust. The volume is protected within a quite striking and well-executed full red Morocco goatskin Solander case. The case features a rounded and hubbed spine with gilt decorated raised spine bands, and gilt-framed compartments, each non-printed compartment occupied by a gilt lion rampant. The spine ends are gilt hatched and the covers feature gilt-ruled borders and gilt tooled edges, with Churchill’s facsimile signature in gilt on the front cover. The interior is suede-lined. Condition of the Solander case is pristine.

Edition

Churchill's extremely popular autobiography, covering the years from his birth in 1874 to his first few years in Parliament, was first published in 1930 by Thornton Butterworth Limited. This was at the beginning of a decade the author spent out of power and out of favor, frequently at odds with both his Government and prevailing public sentiment. But in 1940 Churchill became wartime Prime Minister. And also in 1940, Thornton Butterworth went under and a different publisher, Macmillan, acquired the rights to several of Churchill’s books. Hence this 1941 reprint by Macmillan using the original first edition plates.

This Macmillan issue was a simple but handsome production, in dark blue cloth with gilt spine print. There were ultimately four Macmillan printings of My Early Life between 1941 and 1944. This signed and dated copy is the first printing. The first printing is aesthetically superior to the three that followed, being printed on thicker paper and thus being a significantly more substantial book than the subsequent printings.

During his wartime premiership, Churchill was known to gift signed copies of contemporary editions of his books in the publisher’s original bindings, most typically to staff. We have encountered – and offered – several signed or inscribed wartime Macmillan reprints over the years. Owing to the enduring popularity of the work, signed or inscribed copies of My Early Life are generally the most highly desired. It is, of course, particularly affecting to have a copy of Churchill’s ruminations on his youth signed while he was leading his nation during its time of supreme trial.

The moment

1943 was fraught with momentous events of weighty symbolic import. However, the year is perhaps best symbolized for Churchill by a comparatively obscure event – the restoration and unveiling of his portrait at the National Liberal Club in July 1943, nearly thirty years after it was painted. Churchill’s image, painted while he was still First Lord of the Admiralty during the First World War, had been removed and “banished to the cellars” during various periods of political disfavor for Churchill. When he became Prime Minister in May 1940, his portrait was briefly restored to prominent display - only to be removed again when it was damaged by German bombs during the Blitz. When the portrait was finally repaired and re-hung, Churchill remarked that he and his portrait had both “suffered alike the vicissitudes of time and the violence of the enemy.” (Derby Daily Telegraph, 23 July 1943) Both suffered and persevered, which was an apt appraisal of 1943.

1942 had been a low point of the war, full of setbacks and disappointments across the globe for the British. But by the end of 1942, Churchill was able to sum up the state of the war and set expectations thus: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” (Speech of 10 November 1942).

In January 1943 Churchill conferred with Roosevelt at Casablanca and, shortly thereafter, saw the Germans surrender at Stalingrad. By May Churchill was able to declare “One continent redeemed!” with Allied victory in North Africa. The Allies began the liberation of Europe with the invasion of Sicily and the Italian peninsula and, late in the year, Churchill met with Roosevelt and Stalin at Tehran.

In May of 1943, Churchill told the U.S. Congress "I do not intend to be responsible for any suggestion that the war is won or will soon be over." Indeed, Churchill invoked the grim memory of the prolonged outcome of the U.S. Civil War to dramatize his point. "No one after Gettysburg doubted which way the dread balance of war would incline. Yet far more blood was shed after the Union victory at Gettysburg than in all the fighting which went before." So it would be for the Allies. Yet even so, Britain’s fight was evolving into one for victory rather than survival. And despite the battles and bloodshed that still lay ahead, 1943 saw Churchill begin to experience some of the problems attendant to success, including divisions among the allies, about both the conduct of the war and the nature of postwar settlement.

The work

In 1943, the origins and trajectory of Churchill’s newly restored portrait in the National Liberal Club made a good story, but the origins and trajectory of the man himself were – and remain - even more compelling. And there has never been a better telling than Churchill’s own words.

My Early Life covers the years from Churchill’s birth in 1874 to his first few years in Parliament. One can hardly ask for more adventurous content. These momentous and formative years for Churchill included his time as an itinerant war correspondent and cavalry officer in theaters ranging from Cuba, to northwest India, to sub-Saharan and southern Africa. Churchill also recounts his capture and escape during the Boer War, which made him a celebrity and helped launch his political career.

Herein Churchill says:
"Twenty to twenty-five! These are the years!
Don't be content with things as they are.
'The earth is yours and the fulness thereof'.
Enter upon your inheritance, accept your responsibilities....
Don't take No for an answer. Never submit to failure...
You will make all kinds of mistakes; but as long as you are generous and true,
and also fierce, you cannot hurt the world or even seriously distress her.
She was made to be wooed and won by youth." (p.60)

By the end of his own twenty-fifth year, Churchill had been one of the world’s highest paid war correspondents, published his first five books, made his first lecture tour of North America, braved and breasted both battlefields and the hustings, and been elected to Parliament, where he would take his first seat only weeks after the end of Queen Victoria’s reign.

My Early Life remains one of the most popular and widely read of all Churchill's books. An original 1930 review likened it to a "beaker of Champagne." That effervescent charm endures; a more recent writer called it "a racy, humorous, self-deprecating classic of autobiography." To be sure, Churchill takes some liberties with facts and perhaps unduly lightens or over-simplifies certain events. Nonetheless, the factual experiences of Churchill’s early life compete with any fiction, and any liberties taken are forgivable, in keeping with the wit, pace, and engaging style that characterizes the book.

Reference: Cohen A91.6.a, Woods/ICS A37(d.1), Langworth p.139. Item #006704

Price: $10,500.00

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