Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Churchill Tells Chamberlain To Get Real In Historic Inscribed Rare Book

by Stephen J. Gertz

In August, 1938, as Nazi  aggression against the Sudetenland threatened war, Winston Churchill  presented Britain's Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, with what  was a sharply inscribed and what would become an acutely historic copy of the fourth volume of his Marlborough. His Life and Times.

The significance of this set thus inscribed cannot be discounted. In fact, Bonham's, which is offering the set in its Knightsbridge, London Books, Maps & Manuscripts sale Tuesday, March 27, 2012, is not discounting it at all, estimating the set to sell for £40,000 - £60,000 ($62,682 - $94, 023).

Each volume in the set was inscribed and dated by Churchill at the time of its original appearance: October 1933 (the year that Hitler came to power);  October, 21, 1934 (Hindenburg dead, and Hitler now supreme leader); October 1936 (Axis declared between Italy and Germany); and here, in volume four, August 1938 (official publication date September 2d), Europe on the brink of war and with Churchill's pointed post-script:

"Perhaps you may like to take refuge in the Eighteenth Century." 

Chamberlain and Hitler, Munich, September 30, 1938.

The inscription captures Churchill's sardonic, mordant wit and rings with poignant irony, written as the world stood on the brink of "sinking into a new Dark Age," with Chamberlain desperately seeking peace at any price and Churchill amongst a few lone voices for confrontation before Hitler became further emboldened against his neighbors and thence the entire Continent.

"My good friends, for the second time in our history a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time" (Chamberlain, announcing the agreement).

"We have suffered a total and unmitigated defeat... you will find that in a period of time which may be measured by years, but may be measured by months, Czechoslovakia will be engulfed in the Nazi régime. We are in the presence of a disaster of the first magnitude...we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road...we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of Europe has been deranged, and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies: "Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting". And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time" (Churchill, denouncing Chamberlain's agreement in the House of Commons).

The provenance of the set is impeccable: from the private collection of Mrs. Francis Neville Chamberlain, daughter-in-law of the recipient, Rt Hon. Neville Chamberlain M.P.

Inscription image courtesy of Bonham's, with our thanks.

CHURCHILL, Winston S. Marlborough. His Life and Times. London: George G. Harrap, 1933-1938. First edition. Four octavo volumes. Publisher's original burgundy cloth.

Woods A40(a).

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