New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1945. Third U.S. issue, fourth printing. Hardcover. Winston Churchill inscribed and dated this 1945 printing of his autobiography of his early life in 1946, almost certainly during his extended trip to the United States (14 January to 20 March 1946), during which he delivered his famous “Iron Curtain” speech.
The five-line inscription on the front free endpaper recto reads: “To | Charles Reid | from | Winston S. Churchill | 1946”. Condition is very good minus, sound and complete with only minor aesthetic detractions. The gray cloth binding is square and tight with light shelf wear to extremities, minor bumps to the lower corners, wrinkling to the spine ends, and light overall soiling. The contents are clean with no spotting or previous ownership marks, though showing mild age-toning.
A Roving Commission (titled My Early Life in Great Britain) was originally published in 1930. This third American issue was printed from first edition plates. There were ultimately six printings of this third American issue, spanning 1941 to 1951. This fourth printing was published on 14 September 1945 and was the printing available in U.S. bookstores in 1946; the next (fifth) printing was published in 1949.
On 9 January 1946 Winston S. Churchill boarded the Queen Elizabeth for his first trip to the U.S. since losing his premiership on 26 July 1945 to a Labour Party general election landslide. As he had in the 1930s, Churchill found himself warning of a clear and imminent danger that neither a war-wary public nor their leaders wanted to face. This time it was not the ambitions of the Third Reich, but those of the Soviet Empire.
On 5 March Churchill delivered his famous “Iron Curtain” speech in Fulton, Missouri. President Harry S. Truman had traveled with Churchill by special train from Washington D.C. specifically to introduce Churchill in Fulton. Churchill incisively framed and defined the Cold War that would come to dominate postwar politics. “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent…” He continued, calling for increased cooperation between the U.S. and U.K. against the growing Soviet threat. The response was immediate – and almost universally negative.
Truman saw the speech in advance and told Churchill that he “thought it was admirable” and “would do nothing but good, though it would make a stir.” (Gilbert, Vol. VIII, pp.196-7) After the speech, Truman claimed he had not known what Churchill was going to say. Prime Minister Attlee disavowed Churchill’s comments. 100 Labour M.P.s formally denounced the speech. Stalin dubbed Churchill “a warmonger”.
In retrospect, parallels to 1930s appeasement of Hitler are obvious. Churchill showed the steadfastness that had brought him through his 1930s wilderness years to the unequivocal vindication of his wartime premiership. Ten days after Fulton he said “I do not wish to withdraw or modify a single word… The only question… is whether the necessary harmony of thought and action between the American and British peoples will be reached in a sufficiently plain and clear manner and in good time to prevent a new world struggle...”
Churchill left the U.S. to return to Britain on 20 March 1946. Ahead of him lay more than five and a half years as Leader of the Opposition until he finally returned to 10 Downing Street for his second and final premiership (1951-1955). By then, the Cold War dominated post-war international relations.
The origins of the contrarian, resolute Churchill who visited the U.S. and inscribed this book in 1946 are evident within its pages. A Roving Commission covers the years from his birth in 1874 to his first few years in Parliament. These momentous and formative years for Churchill included his time as an itinerant war correspondent and cavalry officer in the waning days of Queen Victoria’s reign – experience which made him a celebrity and helped launch his political career nearly half a century before he inscribed this book.
Reference: Cohen A91.7.d, Woods/ICS A37, Langworth p.140. Item #007378