London: Thornton Butterworth Ltd., 1934. Keystone Library Issue, first printing. Hardcover. This is the first printing of the Keystone Library issue of Winston Churchill’s extremely popular autobiography, covering the years from his birth in 1874 to his first few years in Parliament.
My Early Life was originally published in 1930, sold very well at the time, and has seen a great many editions since, many of them collectible in their own right. But, of course, a premium attaches to first editions. The Keystone Library series was published by Thornton Butterworth in the same setting and binding style as the first edition. There were three printings between 1934 and 1940. Like the first edition, the Keystone Library edition was also bound in a striking purple cloth that proved very prone to wear and fading. With jacketed first British editions now extravagantly rare and extraordinarily expensive, this first printing of the original publisher's Keystone Library issue is an attractive alternative.
This copy is very good plus in a very good dust jacket. The cloth binding is beautifully clean, tight, and square, with sharp corners and strikingly vivid, entirely unfaded hue. We note only a little wrinkling and a hint of toning at the spine ends. The contents are respectably bright and free of any previous ownership marks. The only detraction that prevents our grading this otherwise lovely volume as fine is spotting, heavy to the fore edges, intermittent within, though mostly confined to the blank inner margins. The dust jacket is unclipped, retaining the original pricing on the front cover and spine, and substantially complete, with only trivial loss to the hinge extremities and corners and a tiny hole at the lower front joint. The jacket shows mild spine toning and staining, overall soiling, and light wear to hinges and extremities. The jacket is protected beneath a clear, removable archival cover.
One can hardly ask for more adventurous content than the non-fiction (well, mostly) between the covers of My Early Life. 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.
'The earth is yours and the fulness thereof'.
Enter upon your inheritance, accept your responsibilities....
Don't take No for an answer. Never submit to failure...
You will make all kinds of mistakes; but as long as you are generous and true,
and also fierce, you cannot hurt the world or even seriously distress her.
She was made to be wooed and won by youth." (MEL, p.74)
By the end of his own twenty-fifth year, Churchill had been one of the world’s highest paid war correspondents, published his first 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 forgivable, in keeping with the wit, pace, and engaging style that characterize the book.
Reference: Cohen A91.3.a, Woods/ICS A37(ac.1), Langworth p.136. Item #007616