London: Thornton Butterworth Limited, 1923. First edition, first printing. Hardcover. This is a full British first edition, first printing set of Winston Churchill’s history of the First World War. A quarter of a century before the Second World War endowed him with lasting fame, Churchill played a uniquely critical, controversial, and varied role in the “War to end all wars”. Then, being Churchill, he wrote about it. The World Crisis was originally published in six volumes between 1923 and 1931, the first four volumes spanning the war years 1911-1918 and the final two volumes covering the postwar years 1918-1928 (The Aftermath) and the Eastern theatre (The Eastern Front).
With its larger volumes and shoulder notes summarizing the subject of each page, this British first edition presents handsomely. Unfortunately, the smooth navy cloth proved quite susceptible to wear, the contents prone to spotting and toning. Full, six-volume British first edition sets can be challenging to assemble, further complicated by the fact that the final volume was produced in smaller numbers than the preceding volumes.
This set’s six first printing volumes are in very good condition overall, sound, clean, and complete, despite some age, wear, and flaws endemic to the edition. All six bindings are square and tight. Moderate shelf wear is primarily confined to spine ends and corners, some superficial scuffing to the 1911-1914 and 1915 volumes, and a few small incidences of customary blistering to The Aftermath front cover. Shelf presentation is quite respectable, the gilt print on all six volumes still distinct. The contents retain a crisp feel and spotting is quite light for the edition, with incidental instances to the page edges and appreciable amounts on interior pages confined to The Eastern Front half-title, title, and dedication pages. The only previous ownership marks are the same name and date of “1927” – the year of publication – inked on the front free endpaper recto of each 1916-1918 volume. Age-toning is readily apparent only on page edges and in transfer browning to endpapers from pastedown glue. All contents are collated complete, including The Eastern Front in which all illustrations, maps, and diagrams are intact, including the color, folding map at p.368. Each volume is fitted with a clear, removable, mylar cover.
In October 1911, aged 36, Winston Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty. He entered the post with the brief to change war strategy and ensure the readiness of the world’s most powerful navy. He did both. Even Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener, with whom Churchill had been variously at odds for nearly two decades, told Churchill on his final day as First Lord “Well, there is one thing at any rate they cannot take from you. The Fleet was ready." (The World Crisis: 1915, p.391) Nonetheless, when Churchill advocated successfully for a naval campaign in the Dardanelles that ultimately proved disastrous, a convergence of factors sealed his political fate. Churchill was scapegoated and forced to resign, leaving the Admiralty in May 1915.
Years later, Churchill’s wife, Clementine, recalled to Churchill’s official biographer “I thought he would never get over the Dardanelles; I thought he would die of grief.” (Gilbert, Vol. III, p.473) By November, Churchill resigned even his nominal Cabinet posts to spend the rest of his political exile as a lieutenant colonel leading a battalion in the trenches at the Front. Before war's end, Churchill was exonerated by the Dardanelles Commission and rejoined the Government, foreshadowing the political isolation and restoration he would experience two decades later leading up to the Second World War. And, of course, Churchill famously returned to the Admiralty in September 1939. Despite Churchill's political recovery, the stigma of the Dardanelles lingered. Hence Churchill had more than just literary and financial compulsion to write his history.
Reference: A69.2(I).b, A69.2(II).a, A69.2(III-1&2).a, A69.2(IV).b, A69.2(V).a; Woods/ICS A31(ab); Langworth p.105. Item #006803