MARLBOROUGH: HIS LIFE & TIMES
(Cohen A97) (Woods A40)
One million words long and ten years in the making, Marlborough is Churchill’s greatest biography; it may in fact be his greatest book. To understand the Churchill of World War II, the majestic blending of his commanding English with historical precedent, one has to read Marlborough. Only in its pages can one glean an understanding of the root of the speeches that inspired Britain to stand when she had little else to stand with. The great teacher Leo Strauss, commenting spontaneously to his University of Chicago class after hearing of Churchill’s death, named Marlborough “the greatest historical work written in our century, an inexhaustible mine of political wisdom and understanding, which should be required reading for every student of political science.”
Churchill came to the Premiership in May of 1940, fresh from having published the final volume of Marlborough, and having written the first drafts of his History of the English-Speaking Peoples. No finer grounding in the Britain’s destiny, or her sense of purpose in the battle against Hitler, could have been available. Churchill commandeered the English language and sent it into battle, as Edward R. Murrow and John F. Kennedy said; he could not have done so without a thorough grounding in the life and times of John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough. Desmond MacCarthy in his Sunday Times review cannily pointed to the intrinsic appeal of Marlborough and its author when he commented that “the half-successful are more interesting.” Both Marlborough and his biographer were, in the end, half-successful; both stood against tyranny, both ended as spent political forces, and one at least lived to see a greater tyranny arise upon the ashes of its predecessor. “I have accomplished much,” mused Churchill in old age, “only to accomplish in the end nothing.”
The late Henry Fearon, who sniffed at Thoughts and Adventures as “hack work,” judged that Marlborough proved that Churchill’s “wilderness years” were not wasted. Indeed even its critics agree with Fearon that this majestic biography is a major contribution to English literature. Winston Churchill emerges here as “a superb historian, a scrupulous (though not unbiased) authority on 18th century war and politics, an accurate assessor of human nature in all its diversity and conflicting strains of good and evil. Few historians rival his marshaling of facts, planning of the work, his sense of purpose, the sheer rambunctious vigor of his tale.”
This is not to say the work is flawless—quite the contrary. Churchill took up this biography with the primary intention to vindicate John Churchill from the charges, notably by Thomas Babington Macaulay, that he had been an unprincipled charlatan and an avaricious warmonger. This task largely occupies the first volume which, wrote Lord Blake, “is the least satisfactory—too polemical about Macaulay who was wrong but not as wrong as Churchill alleged. He had come to hate Macauley for traducing the great Page 2 of 17 Marlborough Duke, his ancestor, though in his youth Macaulay’s History and Essays were paramount influences on his style. The ensuing three volumes are masterly.”
Actually Churchill held some private reservations about Marlborough. “What a downy bird he is,” Winston wrote to his wife: “He will always stoop to conquer.” In the book, however, Churchill paints the portrait of a saint whose greatest problem was the confused, stubborn, small-minded politicians with whom he had to deal. “Yet [Churchill] too is undone,” notes Manfred Weidhorn, for the book “leaves one with a jaundiced view of all politics… Churchill is so rapt by the complexities, the sporting aspect, the glamour of politics, that this point eludes him, even as he is too engrossed in military strategy to notice the human suffering it produces. Marlborough leaves us with a compelling portrait of a supreme hero, though we remain uncertain whether this Marlborough with his ‘harmony of interests’ ever existed.”
–Richard M. Langworth
From the Reviews
“There are no flat tracts in this long book; the current of events through it never grows languid. Packed with details as it is, few of its pages give one a sense of being overcrowded…The naturally energetic movement of Mr. Churchill’s mind, his intense interest in the historical significance of events and their relation to the characters and motives of those concerned in them, his profound admiration (most infectious) for the chief actor of all, and his training in political life are considerations which help to decide one question: Will its length prevent it winning in the future as many readers as its merits and interest undoubtedly deserve?
“[It is not easy] to recall any full length English biography to put above it. Morley’s Gladstone? Moneypenny’s and Buckle’s Disraeli? Trevelyn’s Garibaldi? No: I don’t feel inclined to do that…The merits of Mr. Churchill’s book lie in its narrative power; its limpid impetuosity which may well carry a reader on to the end, though he may be daunted by the length of the river; a gift for clear popular exposition; an intense interest in military history, and a rare instinct for strategy; and finally a sense, educated in the school of experience, of the nature of the problem (perpetually recurring) of how to get people actuated by different motives and ideas to work towards some common aim in politics and war…
“When a man’s achievement is obvious, emphasis upon it seems commonplace to posterity. The half-successful are more interesting. As with a very high mountain, the reputation of Marlborough was recognizable at a glance as belonging to the higher ranges; but it is only when one starts to walk up such a mountain and looks down from its top upon the imposing protuberances that one realises its real mass and altitude. And this is what Mr. Churchill has enabled us to do.”
-Desmond McCarthy in The Sunday Times, September 11th, 1938
Among Churchill’s publishers, Harrap probably produced the most beautiful trade editions. Printed by the Ballantyne Press, each volume is replete with finely reproduced facsimiles of documents, portraits and magnificent maps and plans; each carries a thorough bibliography and index. Churchill’s dedication to the Grenadier Guards appears in Volume I only, but each volume has its own preface, written at Chartwell, Westerham (the first appearance of Churchill’s home village in the prefaces of his books).
Although Marlborough is the one prewar Churchill work that is fairly common in dust jackets, truly fine copies are scarce. Volumes I-III were and are susceptible to severe fade; the slightest chip in a dust jacket can almost instantly produce a bleached spot on the binding, especially on the spines. Buyers should avoid jackets that state “second impression” on the lower left corner of the front flap, or flaps where this has been cut away. Without jackets, the first three volumes are almost always “faded as usual.” Sets including later impressions cost somewhat less. There is not much demand for the plainer, variant purple binding, although it is less susceptible to fading.
Churchill was immensely proud of Marlborough and inscribed many copies for his friends and colleagues (including some of his most strident political opponents). Enormous prices have been demanded and sometimes realized for inscriptions with good associations, such as Baldwin or Chamberlain; the value of such copies depends heavily on that association.
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First English Edition
Cohen A97.1 / Woods A40a / ICS A40aa
Publisher: George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., London, 1933-38. Four volumes
Plum cloth, beveled outer edges, blocked gilt on top board (Marlborough Arms) and on spine (titles), gilt top page edges, 8vo. Vol. I published 6 October 1933 at 25 shillings ($6); 616 pages numbered (i)-(iv) and 1-(612). Vol. II published October 1934 at 25 shillings, 666 pages numbered (1)-651 (+5). Vol. III published 23 October 1936 at 25 shillings, 612 pages numbered (i)-(ii) and 1-608 (+2). Vol. IV published 2 September 1938 at 25 shillings, 672 pages numbered (1)-(671) (+1). All volumes variously illustrated with portraits, maps, plans and facsimiles. Spines are lettered MARLBOROUGH | HIS | LIFE AND TIMES (space) WINSTON S. | CHURCHILL (space) VOL. [I-IV] and, at the bottom, HARRAP.
Editions, Impressions, and Quantities
The following impressions are known: Vol. I, two (both October 1933); “New Revised Edition” November 1934. Vol. II, two (both October 1934). Vol. III, one (October 1936). Vol. IV, one (September 1938). Volume I only had a second edition.
Identifying first editions: All first editions carry the legend “First Published” followed by a single date on the verso of the title page. All later impressions or editions here carry notes of subsequent printings.
Quantities (according to Woods). Vol. I: 17,000 (but this total includes the “Presentation Edition” of 1939, see A93.4). Vol. II: 15,000. Vols. III and IV: 10,000 each.
Volumes I and II are commonly found with non-first edition dust jackets, some of which have been clipped to eliminate inscriptions indicating later impressions, which appear at the lower left corner of the front flap. To be certain, front flaps should be unclipped. All jackets are printed deep plum with the Marlborough Arms gilt on heavy, mottled grey (Vol. I), cream (Vols. II and III) and light green (Vol. IV) paper.
A jacket on a proof copy of Volume I carries a price of 30s., which was reduced to 25s. when the book went on sale.
Variants (ICS A40ab)
All four volumes exist in purple cloth with unbeveled edges, purple stained top page edges and an abbreviated title (deleting “HIS LIFE AND TIMES”) At least the first two were offered by The Times Book Club; most of them have small TBC labels affixed to the front pastedowns. Since these purple sets often crop up in Australia, Mark Weber theorizes that they are an export variant. ICS has designated this “A40ab” to distinguish it from the first trade edition.
Signed Limited Edition
Cohen A97.2 / Woods A40a
Publisher: George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., London, 1933-38. Four volumes.
The only signed trade edition in the Churchill canon and one of only two publisher’s leatherbound first editions (the other is presentation binding of The Second World War). The edition consists of 155 four-volume sets sold by advance subscription. The binding (by Leighton Straker Ltd., not Sangorski and Sutcliffe, as Woods states) is orange morocco, elaborately trimmed with five raised spine bands decorated with gilt, marbled page ends and a tipped-in page signed by the author. Each book had an acetate dust jacket and came in a grey cardboard slipcase with paper labels, the first of which bears the number of the set. A total of 150 sets were numbered 1-150, but 155 sets were produced. In one of the latter which has surfaced, the word “special” (possibly in Churchill’s hand) appears in the number space; another carries the word “presentation,” but not in Churchill’s hand. (Blenheim Palace’s copy is number 15.)
Clearly this is the most desirable of the first editions, and most of the 155 copies have survived. For years a fine set (most have been well cared for) commanded fourfigure prices, but now prices have begun to gallop well over five figures, especially when the original slipcases are still intact. Yet twenty years ago the sets could be had for a fourth that much or less. Such a rise in value suggests that this set remains a solid investment.
First Edition, Canadian Issue
Cohen A97.3 / ICS A40ac
Publisher: Ryerson Press, Toronto, 1933-38. Four volumes.
The Canadian issue is internally identical to the British but bound in cheaper, plain unbeveled purple cloth boards without the Marlborough Arms, blocked gilt on spine only. Top page ends are stained purple. Jackets are identical to the British but do not contain a price on the front flap. Volumes I-III volumes and jackets bear the imprint RYERSON PRESS. Volume IV bears HARRAP imprints but is bound uniformly with the previous Canadian volumes. Except among advanced collectors there is less demand for this variation and prices run about 20% lower than the First American edition, conditions being equal. Conversely, the Canadian issue more attainable; you could own a jacketed set of this first edition for less than a comparable first edition.
First American Edition
Cohen A97.4 / Woods A40b
Publisher: Charles Scribners Sons, New York, 1933-38. Six volumes.
Emerald green cloth, blocked gilt on spine, 8vo. Vols. I and II published 1933 at $6 the pair; Vol. I, 320 pages numbered (i)-(vi) and (1)-(311) (+3); Vol. II, 312 pages numbered (1)-311 (+1). Vols. III and IV 1935 at $6 the pair; Vol. III, 368 pages numbered (1)-364 (+4); Vol. IV, 296 pages numbered (1)-296. Vol. V published 1937 at $3, 612 pages numbered (I)-(ii) and (1)-(608) (+2). Vol. VI published 1938 at $3, 672 pages numbered (1)-670 (+2). All volumes variously illustrated with portraits, maps, plans and facsimiles. Spines are lettered MARLBOROUGH | HIS LIFE | AND TIMES | [dates of the volume] | (line ) | WINSTON S. | CHURCHILL (space) VOL. [I-VI] and, at the bottom, SCRIBNERS. A double gilt line is blocked at top and bottom of each spine. Dates of the volumes are I, 1650-1688; II 1688-1702; III, 1702-1704; IV 1704-1705; V 1705-1708; VI 1708-1722.
Editions, Impressions and Quantities
Scribners opted to divide the British Volumes I and II into four volumes, labeled I through IV; Volumes V-VI contain the same contents as the British Volumes III and IV. There was only one impression of each volume before World War II. Volumes I and II, at least, were reprinted in 1946 and 1950.
Identifying first editions: All first editions carry the letter “A” beneath the “all rights reserved” paragraph on the verso of the title page. The 1946 and 1950 reprints carry these dates on their title pages, and no “A” on their versos. The reprints are printed on thinner paper and thus bulk thinner.
Dust Jackets and Slipcases
Volumes I and II were originally wrapped in plain white dust jackets with the spine titles printed green, and sold as a pair in a white illustrated slipcase printed green and black. Volumes III and IV were treated similarly, their slipcase printed blue and black. Volume V was sold singly, in an illustrated white dust jacket printed red and black. Volume VI was sold singly in an blue and gold dust jacket. After all six volumes were published, Scribner applied the blue and gold Dust jackets to each and sold them Page 9 of 17 MARLBOROUGH for $16.50 as a set, boxed in a dark green slipcase. Jackets for the 1946 and 1950 reprints were blue and gold on the front face but blank on the flaps and back face, lending credence to the thought that only Volumes I and II were reprinted, to make up some sets, originals of Volumes III-VI being in good supply.
The Scribners set is nicely presented and the earlier volumes are easier to read than their bulky British cousins, but the binding is workaday with none of the special touches of George Harrap. As a result, collectors desiring only one first edition usually prefer the British. Like all multi-volume works, the first volumes sold best, and Scribners Volumes I and II are quite common. Volumes III and IV are less common, and Volumes V and VI are scarce. Collectors who quickly find the first two volumes may wait a long time before completing their Scribners sets.
Despite the greater popularity of the British edition, the First American sells for a high price, especially in its “first state” (slipcases and original dust jackets) or when boxed in its “second state” (one slipcase, uniform blue and gold jackets). Unjacketed sets bring half as much in fine condition, but the spine gilt tarnishes easily, and “asusual” sets with dulled spine lettering are often seen. Odd Volumes I and II cost only a few dollars or pounds; the rest sell for much more because the later volumes are much scarcer, and hoarded by dealers trying to make up sets.
Blenheim (First Derivative Edition)
Publisher: Publisher’s Guild/Harrap, London, 1941
Paperback, 128 pages, illustrated with maps and plans, number 2 in the Guild Books Series, bound in paper wrappers printed orange (not red as per Woods) and black, 16mo. Published February 1941 at sixpence; 64,750 copies were sold in four impressions. Woods misclassified this paperback extract, which really belonged in his reprints section, but it is mentioned here for followers of Woods. Its subject, of course, is the Battle of Blenheim, which Churchill recounts in majestic style. Most rough copies still sell for only a few dollars or pounds; the exceptional pristine copy, with insignificant wear, is worth a significant price.
“Limited Presentation Edition”
Cohen A97.5 / ICS A40ad
Publisher: George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., London, 1939. Four volumes
In 1938 Harrap were confronted with the same overstock of volumes as Scribners. Scribners boxed and rejacketed their original volumes, Harrap produced what its jackets proclaim was a “Limited Presentation Edition,” reprinting the 1934 second edition of Volume I to replenish that volume, and rebinding all the volumes in medium purple cloth blocked gilt on spines only. Jackets are distinctively printed in black and orange on cream stock. Unjacketed copies can quickly be identified by their spine designations: one to four stars instead of volume numbers. The first two volumes being reprints, this is not a first edition, and the only thing that limited it was the size of Harrap’s stock. Fine jacketed sets nevertheless bring good prices. Bindings fade easily, bleaching almost white. Collectors fortunate to own an unfaded set should take care to keep them away from sun or artificial light.
Cohen A97.6 / Woods A40d
Publisher: George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., London, 1947
Two volumes After the war, paper restrictions forced Harrap to reconfigure Marlborough into a two-volume edition, labeled “Book One” [1650-1705] and “Book Two” [1705-1722] on the spine and jackets. They comprise 1052 and 1080 pages respectively and were always sold as a pair. There were seven impressions: 1947/49/55/58/63/65/69, the last two reprinted by photo-lithography.
Identifying first editions: The original states on its title page verso: “This edition in two Books first published 1947”; later impressions are so indicated in this space. The 1947 dust jacket is distinct, printed on very thin paper with a blurb for BBC’s The Listener on the back flap and the Harrap prancing horse logo worked into a multi-ruled design on the back face.
The 1947 first edition has high value, especially in fine condition with near-fine dust jackets. Unjacketed copies cost less and even fine jacketed reprints are good buys.
Note: The publisher issued a handful of 1947 first impressions in leather presentation bindings; today they are worth about double the value of a normal binding.
First Paperback Edition
Cohen A97.7 / ICS A40e
Publisher: Sphere Books, London, 1967. Four volumes
The cheapest version of the complete text was published in four white-wrapped volumes, boxed in a cream slipcase printed sepia. A second impression was boxed in a multicolor slipcase, and in a third impression the wrappers were changed to a different color for each. This unabridged set should not be mistaken with the Scribners four-volume paperbacks, which are abridged. Not often seen, the sets have become valuable with the rise in price of hardbound volumes.
Cohen A97.8 & .9 / ICS A40f/g
Publisher: Charles Scribners Sons, New York, 1968
One volume hardbound, four volumes paperback Scribner applied an introduction by Henry Steele Commager, who controversially edited this extensively abbreviated edition, leaving in most of the soldiering while trimming much of the politics. The 1020-page hardback, published March 1968, was bound in black cloth, blocked gilt on the spine, with an illustrated dust jacket printed black, pink and gold on white stock.
Identifying first editions: The verso of the title page contains the Scribner code “A-3.68[V]”; this edition has seen at least five impressions. Trade Edition jackets have a price on the front flap and a description of the volume on the back face. A book club edition exists, and can be identified by its dust jacket, which repeats the front face illustrations on the back face and carries no price on the front flap.
Later, the text was divided into four volumes (still abridged). Some sets are boxed, the slipcase illustrated with scenes from the PBS television series, “The First Churchills,” and each volume containing the verso code “A-1.71 (C),” indicating January 1971 publication. The paperbacks may, however, have appeared before 1971. On the secondhand market these volumes are of modest value.
Folio Society Edition
Cohen A97.10 / ICS A40h
Publisher: The Folio Society, London, 1991
The most recent appearance of the original four volumes in hardback, this set was completely reset and carried an introduction by Maurice Ashley, Churchill’s chief literary assistant during the writing in the 1930s. The most luxurious rendering since the 1930s signed limited edition, it carries color frontispieces and is bound in maroon buckram elaborately blocked gilt on the cover and spine. Top page edges are stained dark red. The volumes are contained in a maroon buckram slipcase blocked gilt with the Marlborough Arms on two sides. The Folio Society offered this limited edition at $300/£180, with the usual claims that its exclusivity rendered it a prime investment. Although it is a most handsome edition, it remains a reprint.
Danish: MARLBOROUGH / OG HANS TID (4 vols.)
TPublished by Hasselbalch: Copenhagen, one volume at a time in 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952. Sold in card wraps with pictorial Dust jackets, blue leatherette or maroon leather.
Dutch: MARLBOROUGH / ZIJN LEVEN EN SUN TIJD (4 vols.)
TPublished by Kroonder: Amsterdam 1947-48. A particularly desirable foreign edition, this set duplicates in smaller scale the style of the original Harrap Edition, with the Marlborough Arms blocked gilt on top boards, a luxurious red buckram binding, and handsome Dust jackets: definitely worth a place in the advanced library.
French: MARLBOROUGH / SA VIE ET SON TEMPS (4 vols.)
TPublished by Robert Laffont: Paris 1949-51 in multicolour paperback wrappers.
German: MARLBOROUGH (2 vols.)
TFirst published in purple cloth with white dust jackets by George D. W. Callwey: Munich 1968; the volumes subtitled Der Weg zum Feldherrn 1650-1705 and Der Feldherr und Staatsmann 1705-1722. Second edition published in smaller format by Manesse: Zurich in cloth and dark red leather bindings.
Italian: MARLBOROUGH (2 vols.)
TPublished by Mondadori: Rome 1968, based on a the American Abridged Edition; bound in green leatherette. Republished by Mondadori in 1973 in one volume entitled MARLBOROUGH – LA VITA E I TEMPI DEL DUCA DI FERRO.
Swedish: MARLBOROUGH/ OCH HANS TID (4 vols.)
Published by Skoglund: Stockholm 1934-37 in cloth, half leather and unbound.
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