London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1943. Macmillan issue from first edition plates, third printing. Hardcover. This Second World War reprint of Winston Churchill’s autobiography has interesting wartime provenance. Per an elaborate printed grey plate affixed to the front pastedown, this copy was a gift from British industrialist Alexander Duckham to a customer in 1943. The presentation plate reads: “Written when he certainly had no conception of becoming 'Pater Patriae' I feel that Mr. Churchill’s autobiography up to 1901 will be an appropriate and acceptable token of goodwill to our customers on our 44th birthday anniversary, November 1943.” The plate is facsimile signed “Alexander Duckham".
Alexander Duckham (1877-1945) was an English chemist, businessman, and early aviation pioneer who in 1899 founded Alexander Duckham & Co. A blender of oils, Duckhams was the second largest of the independent UK blenders after Castrol. By the mid-1930s it was sold in over thirty countries, mainly in Europe and British overseas territories. After the Second World War and Duckham’s death, motoring for the masses became a reality and Duckham's became a household name for engine oil. (Wagner, The Duckham's Story: A Century of Fighting Friction)
My Early Life was first published by Thornton Butterworth in 1930. Macmillan acquired the rights to several Churchill books after Thornton Butterworth went under in 1940 – the same year that Churchill became wartime prime minister. This 1943 third printing of the Macmillan issue (printed from first edition plates) is very good in a good plus dust jacket. The blue cloth binding is tight and clean with bright spine gilt, though with shelf wear to extremities and softened corners. The contents remain bright with a crisp, unread feel. Spotting is primarily confined to the endpapers and page edges. The sole previous ownership mark is Duckham’s bookplate. The dust jacket is unclipped, retaining the original lower front flap price, and substantially complete, with trivial loss confined to the spine and flap fold extremities. Nonetheless, the jacket shows overall soiling and spotting, general wear to extremities, the red spine title is sunned, and there is some differential toning to the upper portion of the front face. The jacket is protected beneath a clear, removable, archival cover.
My Early Life covers the years from Churchill’s birth in 1874 to his first few years in Parliament. One can hardly ask for more adventurous content. These momentous and formative years for Churchill included his time as an itinerant war correspondent and cavalry officer in theaters ranging from Cuba, to northwest India, to sub-Saharan and southern Africa. Churchill also recounts his capture and escape during the Boer War, which made him a celebrity and helped launch his political career.
Herein Churchill says: “Twenty to twenty-five! These are the years! Don't be content with things as they are… as long as you are generous and true, and also fierce, you cannot hurt the world or even seriously distress her. (p.60) By the end of his own twenty-fifth year, Churchill had been one of the world’s highest paid war correspondents, published five books, made his first lecture tour of North America, braved and breasted both battlefields and the hustings, and been elected to Parliament, where he would take his first seat only weeks after the end of Queen Victoria’s reign.
My Early Life remains one of the most popular and widely read of all Churchill's books. An original 1930 review likened it to a "beaker of Champagne." That effervescent charm endures; a more recent writer called it "a racy, humorous, self-deprecating classic of autobiography." To be sure, Churchill takes some liberties with facts and perhaps unduly lightens or over-simplifies certain events. Nonetheless, the factual experiences of Churchill’s early life compete with any fiction, and any liberties taken are eminently forgivable, in keeping with the wit, pace, and engaging style that characterizes the book.
Reference: Cohen A91.6.c, Woods/ICS A37(d.3), Langworth p.139. Item #007285