London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1899. First edition, first printing. Hardcover. This is the first edition, first printing, of Churchill's second published work, an unrestored, intact set in the striking, original bindings. Condition is very good plus. The original bindings are often both significantly worn and broken loose from their massive text blocks. In this case, the bindings are not only unusually bright and clean, but also still anchored to the text blocks. The gilt is bright, including the striking illustrations of gunboats and the Mahdi’s tomb, on the front covers and spines respectively. Of note, we find no appreciable color shift between the covers and spines. Wear is quite modest, mostly light, superficial scuffs and wrinkling at the spine ends. The only appreciable flaw noted is an area of very faintly lighter color to the lower half of the undecorated rear cover of Volume II. Shelf presentation is superior for the edition, some unobtrusive, light mottling the only, and minor, detraction. Moreover, appearance and aging are virtually identical, strongly indicating that this is a lifelong mated pair.
The contents are quite good for the edition, bright and complete. The original black endpapers are present, as are all of the extensive maps and plans, as well as the frontispiece portraits and tissue guards. We find no previous ownership names in either volume. Spotting, common in the edition, is the chief defect, moderate and intermittent throughout both volumes. We find no previous ownership marks. The black endpapers show cosmetic splits at the Volume I rear gutter and Volume II front and rear gutters, the Volume II front gutter split exposing the intact mull beneath, but not affecting binding integrity.
Volume I of first edition, first printing sets often contains a publisher's catalogue bound in at the rear. Churchill’s bibliographer, Ron Cohen, speculates that copies lacking the catalogue were likely "destined for sale in either the American or other overseas markets." This set lacks the rear catalogue. We have previously encountered first printing sets without the rear catalogue, but nonetheless clear indication of having been sold in Britain, as well as a review set of the first printing set lacking the rear catalogue.
This set is housed in a navy leather-covered slipcase with a gilt stamped title, author, and Churchill Coat of Arms on the right side. The slipcase shows light, superficial shelf wear.
The Mahdi, Mohammed Ahmed, was a messianic Islamic leader in central and northern Sudan in the final decades of the 19th century. In 1885, General Gordon famously lost his life in a doomed defense of the capitol, Khartoum. Though the Mahdi died that same year, his theocracy continued until 1898, when General Kitchener reoccupied the Sudan. With Kitchener – to his vexation – was a very young Winston Churchill, who participated in “the last great British cavalry charge” during the battle of Omdurman in September 1898, where the Mahdist forces were decisively defeated. 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.
This first edition is not only compellingly written, but also physically beautiful. The two large, lavish volumes are decorated with gilt representations of the Mahdi's tomb on the spines and a gunboat on the front covers. Each volume is printed on heavy paper with a profusion of illustrations, maps, and plans. They are also scarce; there were 2,000 copies of this first edition, first printing. Moreover, this is one of the few Churchill books for which there was no concurrent U.S. first edition.
Reference: Cohen A2.1.a, Woods/ICS A2(a.1), Langworth p.29. Item #006835