London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1900. First edition, third and final printing. Hardcover. This is Volume II only of the first edition, third and final printing, a particularly clean and bright copy. The River War is Churchill's second published book, issued in two volumes, the lengthiest from his time as an itinerant cavalry officer and war correspondent during the waning days of Queen Victoria’s reign.
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. This third and final printing is not only the scarcest issue of the first edition, but also the last unabridged issue to be published until 2020. All three printings of the first edition (2,646 copies total) are virtually identical, issued respectively in November 1899, February 1900, and June 1900. Only 151 third printing copies were bound.
This copy of the second volume is not only scarce, but particularly so thus, in very good plus condition, fully intact and unrestored. The illustrated cloth binding is square, clean, tight, and uncommonly bright. Shelf presentation is compelling, with no discernible color shift between the covers and spine, both of which retain rich navy hue and vivid gilt. Wear is minimal for the edition, trivial shelf wear substantially confined to the bottom edges, incidental hinge wear, and some wrinkling to the spine ends. The only reportable blemishes are a few tiny spots adjacent to the volume number on the spine. Overall, this is an externally gorgeous copy. The contents remain bright and complete; we confirm presence of all of the extensive maps and plans, as well as the frontispiece, tissue guard, and original black endpapers. The sole previous ownership mark is the armorial bookplate of “John Nicholl Hampson” affixed to the front pastedown. Spotting is comparatively moderate for the edition, conspicuous only to the first and final leaves and page edges, otherwise only occasionally intruding into the blank inner margins.
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. On that battlefield Churchill both killed and witnessed the death of comrades. 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.
Reference; Cohen A2.1.d, Woods/ICS A2(a.3), Langworth p.29. Item #007054