London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1942. Macmillan edition, first printing. Hardcover. This is a noteworthy wartime reprint of Churchill's much praised collection of insightful essays about leading personalities of the day - including the likes of Lawrence, Shaw, and, most famously, Hitler.
The first edition was published in 1937 by Thornton Butterworth. At the time, Churchill was 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. Also in 1940, Thornton Butterworth went under and a different publisher, Macmillan, acquired the rights to several of Churchill’s books. Here is the first printing of the 1942 Macmillan edition.
This edition is an interesting study in how war and politics affects the printed word. Political sensitivities among the Allies apparently dictated that, for this 1942 wartime edition, the Roosevelt, Trotsky, and Boris Savinkov essays be omitted. The Hitler essay, originally titled "The Fuhrer", is retitled "Hitler and His Choice, 1935". In an interesting oversight by the publisher, the front flap blurb assumes the Roosevelt essay is still present.
There were two printings of this Macmillan edition, in 1942 and 1943 respectively. This is the 1942 first printing. This copy is very good condition in a good minus dust jacket. The blue cloth binding is square, clean, bright, and tight with sharp corners, bright spine gilt, and only light shelf wear to extremities. The contents remain bright with no previous ownership marks, their chief defect being spotting, which is primarily confined to the pastedowns, initial and final leaves, and page edges. The contents remain clean and bright with no spotting and no previous ownership marks. The dust jacket is unclipped, retaining the original lower front flap price. There is shallow loss at the spine ends, a triangular loss to the upper front face, light overall soiling and spotting, and significant toning and staining to the jacket spine. The dust jacket is protected in a removable, clear, archival cover.
The character sketches herein offer remarkable portraits of both their subjects and the author. Churchill's piece about Hitler can be a shock to the modern ear, as it underscores his ability to write a balanced appraisal of his subject while expressing his earnest desire to avoid the war that he would fight with such ferocious resolve only a few years later – indeed the war Churchill was fighting as Prime Minister when this edition was published. Neville Chamberlain, perhaps Churchill’s most vexing pre-war political opponent, wrote to Churchill on 4 October 1937 to say: “How you can go on throwing off these sparkling sketches with such apparent ease & such sustained brilliance… is a constant source of wonder to me. But the result is to give great pleasure and entertainment…” It was written with what has been called "penetrating evaluation, humor, and understanding."
In the course of sketching the character of his contemporaries Churchill necessarily reveals much of his own character and perspective. Churchill's portrait of T.E. Lawrence, published here just a few years before the Second World War, might well have been written about the author rather than by him: "The impression of the personality of Lawrence remains living and vivid upon the minds of his friends, and the sense of his loss is in no way dimmed among his countrymen. All feel the poorer that he has gone from us. In these days dangers and difficulties gather upon Britain and her Empire, and we are also conscious of a lack of outstanding figures with which to overcome them. Here was a man in whom there existed not only an immense capacity for service, but that touch of genius which everyone recognizes and no one can define." (Great Contemporaries, p.164) While some of the subjects of Churchill's sketches have receded into history, many remain well-known and all remain compellingly drawn.
Reference: Cohen A105.8.a, Woods/ICS A43(f.1), Langworth p.185. Item #006978