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 Churchill’s 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”
Wolff’s introduction is alone worth the price of admission. The Essays, he argues, offer unique insights not apparent elsewhere. Churchill’s 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 foot–bands, 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.
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.
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.