London: Thornton Butterworth Limited, 1930. First edition, first printing. Hardcover. This is a first edition, first printing of Churchill s autobiography. My Early Life sold very well at the time and has seen a great many editions since, many of them collectible in their own right, but of course a premium attaches to first editions. The challenge for collectors is that the plum colored binding of this edition proved especially vulnerable to fading, soiling, and wear; nearly all copies are considerably spine faded. Moreover, the contents proved quite susceptible to spotting.
Two states of the first edition, first printing are identified, with a list of either 11 or 12 Churchill titles in the boxed list of "Works by the same Author" on the half-title verso. With 12 titles on the half title verso, this copy is second state. There were also a number of first edition binding states, bound in either a coarse or a smooth plum colored cloth, with the title stamped on the front cover in either three or five lines. This first edition, first printing, is the second binding state, denoted by five lines on the front cover, and is bound in smooth rather than coarse cloth.
This copy approaches very good condition, despite flaws endemic to the edition. The plum cloth binding is square and tight, retaining vividly bright covers. The spine is uniformly toned, but still retains some plum hue and bright, clearly legible gilt. There is modest wear to extremities and some superficial moisture exposure and consequent mottling at the lower left of the front cover. The contents are bright for the edition. Light spotting appears confined to the endpapers, prelims and page edges. The sole previous ownership mark is contemporary – a brief inked gift inscription on the upper front free endpaper recto dated “Christmas 1930”.
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… Don’t take No for an answer. Never submit to failure. Do not be fobbed off with mere personal success or acceptance. 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. (p.60)
By the end of his own twenty-fifth year, Churchill had been one of the world’s highest paid war correspondents, published 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 eminently forgivable, in keeping with the wit, pace, and engaging style that characterizes the book.
Reference: Cohen A91.1.c, Woods/ICS A37(aa), Langworth p.131. Item #006792