CHURCHILL IN FEBRUARY
Mementoes from Churchill's "Wilderness Years"
Winston Churchill’s “Wilderness Years” — the ten-year epoch of his political eclipse and ultimate rebirth in the 1930s — began with Churchill’s exit as Stanley Baldwin’s Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1929 and ended with his return to government as Neville Chamberlain’s First Lord of the Admiralty confronting impending war in 1939. Two rarities that we very recently acquired bracket this extraordinary period and both happen to have February connections. As we traverse February, the shortest, yet ever-seemingly endless month, we thought we would share them with you.
Churchill’s literary output during his Wilderness Years was superhuman because Churchill needed to write to pay his bills. He sold a vast number of articles (he called them “potboilers”) to magazines, both in Britain and the U.S, then pushed his publisher, Thornton Butterworth, to collect these articles into books. Thoughts and Adventures, (Churchill’s own title) was a marvelous anthology of largely nonpolitical pieces (including Churchill’s original “Painting as a Pastime” essay). Published in November 1932, the book surprised with the strength of its sales: substantially more than five thousand copies in a few short weeks. The following year, Thornton Butterworth moved Thoughts and Adventures into its popular, budget-priced, Keystone Library series, which virtually replicated First Editions at discount prices.
Our newly acquired copy of Thoughts and Adventures is a Keystone Library edition signed and dated in ink on the front free endpaper: “Inscribed by Winston S. Churchill Feb. 1934.” The inscription and the date are a bit blotty, due to a fussy pen nib, which only humanizes them in a way, visual expressing the shakiness of Churchill’s circumstances in 1934.
One of our favorite photographs of Winston Churchill was taken at his Chartwell desk on February 25, 1939, as he reviewed proofs for the first volume of A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, a project he would soon set aside to rejoin Chamberlain’s government as First Lord. The photograph that we share with you is not original but it is a stunning later printing that we have framed with a vintage autograph album page signature of roughly the same vintage. The result is moody, majestic and redolently February-esque.
We wish you swift and safe passage to March, and thence, “Onwards to Victory.”