Churchill’s Collected Essays, Invaluably Compiled by Michael Wolff

Churchill’s Collected Essays, Invaluably Compiled by Michael Wolff

Excerpt­ed from “The Brief, Sparkling Life of the Col­lect­ed Essays,”  my essay for the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project. For the orig­i­nal with more pho­tos, click here. To sub­scribe to week­ly arti­cles from Hills­dale, click here, scroll to bot­tom, and fill in your email in the box enti­tled “Stay in touch with us.” Your email address is nev­er giv­en out and remains a rid­dle wrapped in a mys­tery inside an enigma.

Origin of the Collected Essays 

Upon announce­ment of the Col­lect­ed Works (1974), crit­ics com­plained that they were incomplete. Win­ston Churchill had writ­ten hun­dreds of articles not in his books. To its cred­it, the Library of Imperial His­to­ry decid­ed to fill the gap.

The publish­ers com­mis­sioned Michael Wolff, for­mer­ly one of Ran­dolph Churchills assis­tants on the Offi­cial Biogra­phy. His task was to com­pile Churchill peri­od­i­cal writ­ings not already in the Col­lect­ed Works. The result was four sat­is­fy­ing vol­umes that would then have cost a for­tune to acquire in orig­i­nal form, assum­ing one could even locate them. Many peri­od­i­cals were obscure, quick­ly read and dis­card­ed, their con­tents for­got­ten. Thus the unique val­ue of the Col­lect­ed Essays.

Michael Wolff com­piled near­ly 2000 pages of rare arti­cles, pub­lished for the first time in vol­ume form. Fastid­i­ous­ly, he subdi­vid­ed the essays into War, Poli­tics, People, and a catch-all vol­ume, Churchill at Large.

The authentic voice of Winston Churchill

Wolffs intro­duc­tion is alone worth the price of admis­sion. The Essays, he argues, offer unique insights not appar­ent else­where. Churchills books went through many reviews and drafts, and were some­times revised with new infor­ma­tion. The result was pol­ished and accu­rate, Wolff wrote, but

a long way removed from the orig­i­nal Churchillian utter­ances as he dictat­ed the first para­graphs in the mid­dle of the night, per­haps many months before. This is where spe­cial inter­est attach­es to these essays. For the most part, they rep­re­sent the authen­tic voice of Win­ston Churchill…. 

Of course, this some­times works to Churchill’s detri­ment: the style is occa­sion­al­ly less than best, the ideas not prop­er­ly devel­oped. But Churchill was nev­er a dull man, was almost inca­pable of writ­ing or speak­ing a dull sen­tence…. As a bio­graph­i­cal record these essays are there­fore unique, and as lit­er­ary yard­sticks they are of great inter­est. As his­tor­i­cal and polit­i­cal works, they aid in under­stand­ing Churchill and his place in history.


Some schol­ars dis­agree. Churchill repeatedly revised and rewrote his books and speech­es because he want­ed them exact­ly right. Whatever your opinion, the Col­lect­ed Essays remain unique and valu­able. They are indis­pens­able to stu­dents of our author.

The orig­i­nal arti­cles were raced into print because Churchill always need­ed mon­ey and was anx­ious to move on. Even WSC referred to some as potboil­ers. Why labor over “Are There Men on the Moon?” or “I was Aston­ished by Morocco”? His staff enjoyed work­ing on them because the boss rare­ly indulged in end­less revision. We all loved doing potboilers, said sec­re­tary Grace Ham­blin.

War and Politics

Vol­ume I, Churchill and War. runs from young Winston’s 1895 Cuban dis­patch­es into the Sec­ond World War. Wolff includes two fore­words by WSC, to Louis Spears’s Pre­lude to War and Pitt’s War Speech­es. Better than half the vol­ume cov­ers the First World War, and a large por­tion of the rest is the run-up to the Second. 

Churchill and Politics spans the great issues of 1903 to 1946: Free Trade to Social­ism, India to the Abdication. The finale, “If I Were an Amer­i­can,declares Amer­i­ca the hope of the future. Occasional­ly Wolff pro­vides a prefa­to­ry note. No one would know what “Sheffield and Its Shad­ow(1903) is about with­out one. Many issues once bet­ter known, like House of Lords reform, could do with pre­faces today.

People and “Everything Else”

Vol­ume III, Churchill and People, delves as far back as King Alfred the Great and Shakespeare’s Julius Cae­sar on up to fig­ures Churchill knew, but not then in Great Con­tem­po­raries. Includ­ed are such obscu­ri­ties as William Wil­lett, who conceived of Daylight Sav­ings Time. 

Churchill at Large is a cornucopia for “everything else.” It runs from young Win­ston’s 1899 short sto­ry “Man Over­board! to his eerie 1947 con­ver­sa­tion with his father’s ghost in “The Dream. A grand review of the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry is “Great Events of Our Time. So are his impres­sions of Amer­i­ca from 1906 to 1946, and his retelling of “The World’s Great­est Sto­ries,” from Don Quixote to Uncle Tom’s Cab­in. Here too are his clas­sic 1930 what-if, If Lee Had Not Won the Bat­tle of Get­tys­burg, and his contro­ver­sial 1920 arti­cle, “Zion­ism ver­sus Bol­she­vism.

Centenary Limited Edition

Like the Works, the Essays were elab­o­rate­ly bound in full vel­lum. They were blocked gilt with titles on spine and Churchill arms on cov­er, all edges gilt, inside edges of boards tooled gilt, silk page mark­ers, mar­bled end­pa­pers, head- and footbands, etc. Each vol­ume was housed in a dark green leatherette slip­case with the Churchill Arms gilt on top panel. 

In 1987, I dis­cov­ered the remain­ing unbound sheets of the Essays at the bindery in Corn­wall, and a number of sets were bound in mate­ri­als oth­er than vel­lum. Chief among these are cream moroc­co (green slip­cas­es) and red moroc­co (red slip­cas­es). These dif­fer from the more modest­ly bound Cen­te­nary Edi­tion, and are labeled Cen­te­nary Lim­it­ed Edi­tion on the half title and title page.

Centenary Edition

Inter­nal­ly this was the same as the above, except for words Cen­te­nary Edi­tion on the half title and title page. It was bound in quar­ter navy moroc­co with the Churchill Arms blocked gilt on the cov­ers and the spine titles blocked gilt. While fitted with page mark­ers and mar­bled end­pa­pers, the vol­umes lacked gilt dentelles on the inner boards, and only the top page edges were gilt. Like the Cen­te­nary Lim­ited Edi­tion, some unbound sheets were also lat­er bound in full red moroc­co. Orig­i­nal­ly, the Centenary Edi­tion was not indi­vid­u­al­ly slip­cased. How­ev­er, copies sold in the 1990s were often boxed in sets of four.

Grateful thanks

For kind assis­tance in research and for pho­tos, the author wish­es to thank two lead­ing Churchill spe­cial­ist book­sellers: Bar­ry Singer of Chartwell Book­sellers in New York City; and Marc Kuritz of the Churchill Book Col­lec­tor in San Diego. Apprecia­tion also goes to the late Mark Weber, for his many con­tri­bu­tions to our knowl­edge and friend­ship.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

RML Books

Richard Langworth’s Most Popular Books & eBooks

Links on this page may earn commissions.