London: George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., 1947. First two-volume edition, first printing. Hardcover. This is the first printing of the first (and unabridged) two-volume edition of Winston Churchill’s monumental biography of his great ancestor, John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough.
Marlborough was first published in four volumes between 1933 and 1938. After the Second World War, paper restrictions led the publisher to reconfigure the full, unabridged text of Marlborough into a two-volume edition. This edition was bound in a similar color and style to the first edition, in maroon cloth with the Churchill coat of arms in gilt on the front cover. The two volumes are 1050 and 1078 pages respectively, with the same profusion of maps and plans throughout that characterized the first edition. Between 1947 and 1969 there were seven printings of this two-volume edition. Unfortunately, the thin cloth boards proved quite prone to wear and toning, the bindings often loosen under the weight of the text blocks, and the thin paper of the contents tones and becomes spotted.
This is a good plus set. The maroon cloth bindings are square and tight with sharp corners, the spines mildly dulled, the bindings showing minor blemishes and light wear to extremities, including a touch of fraying and tiny closed tears at the spine ends. The contents are complete, including all illustrations, document facsimiles, maps, and plans. We find no previous ownership marks. The contents show some age toning. Modest spotting appears confined to the prelims and page edges. The maroon topstain is evenly dulled.
Marlborough was conceived a full 40 years before publication of the final volume. Churchill originally considered the idea of the biography in 1898, returning to it in earnest in 1928. Marlborough ultimately took 10 years of research and writing and is the most substantial published work of Churchill's "wilderness years" in the 1930s, which he spent politically isolated, often at odds with both his own party and prevailing public sentiment. Churchill passed into his sixties with his own future as uncertain as that of his nation. It is perhaps not incidental that Churchill’s great work of the 1930s was about a great ancestor. Churchill may have wondered more than once if the life history he was writing might ultimately eclipse his own.
It has been said that "To understand the Churchill of the Second World War, the majestic blending of his commanding English with historical precedent, one has to read Marlborough.” Few would accuse Churchill of objectivity. Nonetheless, as a work of history it drew high praise. Upon reading the proofs, James Lewis Garvin, editor of The Observer, wrote “I think it to be… the greatest of all your works… Your full brush has never had more mastery over space and colour…” Two months after Volume I was published, on 12 December 1933, T.E. Lawrence wrote to Churchill: “I finished it only yesterday. I wish I had not… The skeleton of the book is so good. Its parts balance and the main stream flows… Marlborough has the big scene-painting, the informed pictures of men, the sober comment on political method, the humour, irony and understanding of your normal writing: but beyond that it shows more discipline and strength: and great dignity. It is history, solemn and decorative.” When Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953, it was partly for “mastery of historical and biographical description” on the strength of Marlborough, which was specifically cited and quoted by the Swedish Academy.
Reference: Cohen A97.6.a, Woods/ICS A40(d.1), Langworth p.173. Item #007327