London: Thornton Butterworth Ltd., 1940. First edition, sixth and final printing. Hardcover. This is the first edition, sixth and final printing, of Churchill's extremely popular autobiography in the quite scarce dust jacket unique to this wartime printing. The front face of this jacket features a striking, red-hued photo of Churchill. The rear face advertises Churchill's Thornton Butterworth works of the 1920s and 1930s, including The World Crisis, India, Great Contemporaries, and Step By Step. This final printing of the first edition is also notable for being the very last book published by Churchill's longtime publisher, Thornton Butterworth, which went under in 1940; this printing was published in December 1940 during the first year of Churchill's wartime premiership, three months after Thornton's voluntary liquidation but just before final arrangements regarding reversion of copyrights.
This is an impressive example of a notoriously fragile edition, very good plus in a very good plus dust jacket. The plum-colored binding of all six printings of the first edition proved especially susceptible to fading, soiling, and wear. Moreover, most copies we have encountered of this sixth and final printing seems to suffer some blotchy, orangish discoloration. This copy is square, clean, bright, and tight with sharp corners. Trivial shelf wear is confined to extremities and the binding shows only faint mottling confined to the spine. The contents are internally bright and differential toning of the endpapers corresponding to the dust jacket flaps confirms that this copy has spent life jacketed. Spotting and age-toning are primarily confined to the text block edges, with only intermittent intrusions of spotting into the blank inner margins. The sole previous ownership mark is contemporary – a name and “April 1941” date inked on the front pastedown. The dust jacket is remarkably bright and complete, only lightly soiled with minor shelf-wear to extremities, including some wrinkling and short closed tears. There is no toning to either the spine or the red-tinted, illustrated 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… Don't take No for an answer. Never submit to failure... " (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 characterizes the book.
Reference: Cohen A91.1.h, Woods/ICS A37(ab.6), Langworth p.131. Item #007786