London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1899. First edition, first printing. Full leather. This is a finely bound two-volume set of the first edition, first printing, of Churchill's second published work – the lengthiest from his time as an itinerant cavalry officer and war correspondent during the waning days of Queen Victoria’s reign. This set was personally hand-bound by the proprietor of Felton Bookbinding Ltd. in full navy Morocco goatskin deferential in color and design to the publisher’s original illustrated cloth. Both binding illustrations – the Mahdi’s tomb on the spines and the gunboat on the beveled-edge front covers - were recreated from newly commissioned artwork and dies. The contents were bound with silk head and tail bands, all edges gilt, and handsome marbled endpapers. The set is housed in a stout, cloth-covered slipcase gilt-stamped on the right side with both the gunboat and the facsimile author’s signature from the front covers of the volumes.
Condition of the newly commissioned bindings and slipcase is as-new. The contents are quite respectable for the edition. Spotting, common in the edition, is the chief defect, moderate and intermittent throughout both volumes. All of the extensive maps and plans are present, as well as the frontispiece portraits and tissue guards. We find no previous ownership marks in either volume, though there is evidence of some previous erasure at the foot of each title page. The original Longmans catalogue has been retained at the end of Volume I, as originally issued and bound.
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. 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. This magnificent fine binding is aesthetically faithful to, while dramatically improving upon, the elegant design of the original publisher’s cloth binding.
Reference: Cohen A2.1.b, Woods/ICS A2(a.1), Langworth p.29. Item #007021