ARMS AND THE COVENANT
American title: WHILE ENGLAND SLEPT
(Cohen A107) (Woods A44)
“For five years I have talked to the House on these matters—not with very great success. I have watched this famous island descending incontinently, fecklessly, the stairway which leads to a dark gulf. It is a fine broad stairway at the beginning, but after a bit the carpet ends. A little farther on there are only flagstones, and a little farther on still these break beneath your feet…if mortal catastrophe should overtake the British Nation and the British Empire, historians a thousand years hence will still be baffled by the mystery of our affairs. They will never understand how it was that a victorious nation, with everything in hand, suffered themselves to be brought low, and to cast away all that they had gained by measureless sacrifice and absolute victory—gone with the wind! Now the victors are the vanquished, and those who threw down their arms in the field and sued for an armistice are striding on to world mastery….We should lay aside every hindrance and endeavour by uniting the whole force and spirit of our people to raise again a great British nation standing up before all the world; for such a nation, rising in its ancient vigour, can even at this hour save civilization.”
Winston Churchill’s finest (and most ominous) prewar warning occurs on the penultimate page of Arms and the Covenant, his collection of speeches from 1928 to 1938. It is available in no other Churchill book as the last four paragraphs of this famous speech on 24 March 1938 are absent from the Complete Speeches. The words summarize the theme of this volume, a precursor to the official theme of The Gathering Storm: “How the Englishspeaking peoples through their unwisdom, carelessness, and good nature allowed the wicked to rearm.” “Years later,” wrote William Manchester in The Last Lion, Volume II (1988), “the White House revealed that a copy of While England Slept…had lain on President Roosevelt’s bedside table, with key passages, including an analysis of the President’s peace initiative, underscored.”
The forty-one speeches, all but two delivered in the House of Commons, were collected by Churchill’s son Randolph, then carefully reviewed and revised by Churchill himself. “It is common knowledge that Mr. Churchill devotes more time than any other modern orator to the preparation of his speeches,” said the publisher. Imagine then the keenness and polish of these, having been subjected to Churchill’s editing a for second time.
Together they remind me of a concert with three movements: a light, sometimes even humorous, beginning (“Germany Disarmed”); a gathering solemnity (“Germany Rearming”); and a terrible crescendo (“Germany Armed”), ending in the awful finale of March 1938. Part One begins with Churchill’s 1928 “Disarmament Fable.” Once, all the animals agreed to disarm, but the buffalo and stag wished to keep horns as defensive weapons, while the lion and tiger said teeth and claws were ancient and honorable weapons that should also be allowed. The discussion broke up and the animals “began to look at one another in a very nasty way.” Part Two traces the sad, dreary progress of German rearmament and Britain’s refusal, first to see it and later to match it. Part Three recounts the accumulating result of Britain’s lethargy: the lagging defense program, the arrogance of the dictator nations, Eden’s resignation as foreign secretary, the Austrian Anschluss.
The book appeared well before the Munich Agreement (dated September 29th,1938 ), a time when prevailing opinion held that Hitler had made his final demands and very few, including Churchill, insisted otherwise. “The idea that dictators can be appeased by kind words and minor concessions is doomed to disappointment,” he told the League of Nations Union on June 2nd. “Volcanic forces are moving in Europe, and sombre figures are at the head of the most powerful races…we must stand by the League Covenant, which alone justifies a general rearmament; and on the basis of the Covenant we must unite with other countries desiring freedom and peace.”
Three weeks later, Arms and the Covenant was published. The American Edition did not appear until late September, so its publishers had three further months and the Munich pact to contemplate a title. They chose appropriately: While England Slept.
-Richard M. Langworth
From the Reviews
“The vigorous and moving criticism of British international policies which Winston Churchill has been voicing, in Parliament and elsewhere, make up the text of an absorbingly interesting volume….It could hardly be more timely, for in the immediate past (and unfortunately still in the present) have come about the very threats to Anglo-French peace and freedom which Churchill has been forecasting….In all this brilliant Englishman’s sharp forecasts on China, Spain, Italy, Austria, Czechoslovakia, now become history instead of prophecy, there is absorbing interest. A few years may tell how accurate are his predictions of events which fate has not yet unrolled for our inspection. A really thrilling book.”
–The Baltimore Sun, 1938
Arms and the Covenant holds a special place in the literature as the forerunner to Churchill’s classic war speech volumes and really sets the stage for them. Although it is unfortunately not indexed, each speech is preceded by a useful “Diary of Events” compiled by Randolph Churchill, which helps place the speech in its context. It is a shame so few were listening at the time: Arms and the Covenant had the lowest sale of any Churchill book in the 1930s.
Fine, blue jacketed copies are occasionally seen with the jacket clean and unchipped, and, being of good stock, it often is. Red and yellow jacketed copies are much rarer and generally cost more on the antiquarian market. Fine unjacketed copies bring lower prices, but even “very good” examples have value. The binding is susceptible to fade and copies should be kept out of direct light.
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Cohen A107.1 / Woods A44(a)
Publisher: George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., London, 1938
Blue cloth blocked with thin double-line border on top board. Spine blocked gilt with title and author name within a three-line border toward the top and the Harrap logo and name toward the bottom. Top page edges stained blue. 8vo, 468 pages numbered (1)-(466) (+2), frontispiece (Steichen photo of Churchill) before title page. The verso of the half-title contains a list of 17 of the author’s other works. Endpapers are white. Published 24 June 1938 at 18 shillings ($4.50).
Impressions and Quantities
A single impression of 5000 was issued, but not all were sold, and the book was reissued in June 1940 at 7s. 6d. ($1.87). According to Woods, 3381 were sold at the original price and 1,382 at the lower price, leaving 237 unaccounted for. (Contrary to Woods, there was no Odhams reprint.)
The original dust jacket is printed dark blue on laid blue paper, carrying the 18/ original price on the front flap. The front face carries the title, author’s name and a subtitle “Speeches on Foreign Affairs and National Defence.” The remainder issue (original binding) is wrapped in a new dust jacket printed red on yellow paper, carrying the 7s. 6d. price. Although some collectors insist on acquiring copies in both jackets, the books underneath are uniform throughout.
First American Edition
Cohen A107.2 / Woods A44(b)/h2
Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1938
Dark blue cloth blocked silver and red. The top board bears the title in silver on a 3/8-inch high red band near the top; five similar red bands appear on the spine reading WHILE | ENGLAND SLEPT | [decorative device] |CHURCHILL toward the top and PUTNAM toward the bottom. Top page edges stained red. 8vo, 415 pages numbered (i)-xii and (1)-(404), frontispiece (Steichen photo of Churchill) before title page. The verso of the half-title contains a list of 18 Churchill works (including this one). Endpapers are white. Published 30 September 1938 at $4.
Four impressions were issued in the following quantities: 5000 (September 1938), 2500 (October 1938), 1000 (October 1940), 1000 (September 1941).
Identifying first editions: impressions are not individually dated: all title pages contain the 1938 date. However, the title page verso of first editions contains no indication of a later impression.
Some books may exist with unstained top page edges. The fourth impression was bound in red-orange cases blocked blue and silver on spines only, instead of the style described above.
Printed black and red on white paper, with the Steichen frontispiece photo on the front face. First edition jackets contain the book description on the front flap, three English review excerpts on the back flap, and a description of Great Contemporaries on the back face. The second impression jacket is identical while the third impression advertises Rufus Isaac First Marquess of Reading on the back clap and The Voice of Destruction on the rear face. The fourth impression jacket contains American review excerpts on the front flap, an advert for The Reconstruction of Europe on the back flap, and adverts for three other books including Churchill’s Blood, Sweat, and Tears on the back face.
This volume was completely reset with American spelling by the publisher. Although not quite as handsome as Harrap’s (who were in a class by themselves for elegant trade bindings), it is nicely produced and uniform with Putnams’ Great Contemporaries; Step by Step; and Blood, Sweat, and Tears, with an interesting dust jacket. The quantity produced, almost double that of the English edition, suggests that the American public was readier to listen to Churchill—but note that the last two impressions came almost two years after the first two. Also, Putnam had the advantage of publishing in the aftermath of Munich, when many outside Britain began to conclude that he had been right all along.
Like the Great Contemporaries, the American edition has never approached the price of the English, although it is encountered infrequently in the dust jacket. The binding was of high quality so fine unjacketed copies are more common; the dust jacket is susceptible to wear. Reprints cost about half , but their press runs were small and the first edition is most often encountered. While England Slept is the most available of only three known editions of this work.
Books for Libraries Issue
Cohen A107.4 / ICS A44c
Publisher: Books for Libraries Press, New York, 1971
Purple leatherette blocked gilt on spine only; an offprint of While England Slept with identical pagination; the frontispiece is reproduced on regular page stock. This volume was offered at $35 until 1996 by N. W. Ayer, after which it finally, and regrettably, went out of print. It is one of the Churchill titles most in need of a reprint, for it contains many lessons that are not entirely irrelevant to later times.
Danish: MENS ENGLAND SOV
Published by Gyldendal: Copenhagen 1939, 4,000 copies unbound in bright orange-red wrappers, priced at kr8.75.
Swedish: NÄR ENGLAND SOV
Published by Skoglund: Stockholm 1938 in cream card wrappers (kr12.50); or in blue cloth (kr17.50). Both carried orange, white and black jackets with a quote from Churchill’s 7 November 1933 speech.
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