Description: Winston Churchill Confers with Proofreader on Biography of His Ancestor
“I send you herewith Volume I with the corrigenda dealt with.”
In this brief letter to the chief copy editor for his publishers, Winston Churchill transmits a copy of Volume I of his four-volume biography of his ancestor, John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650-1722). Churchill has dealt with the “corrigenda,” or errors in a printed work.
The first volume, published by George G. Harrap and Company in October 1933 and by Charles Scribner’s Sons in the United States, had cumulative sales of 17,000 copies, a respectable but not exceptional run. Subsequent volumes published in 1934, 1936, and 1938, sold fewer copies, but the last two volumes sold 10,000 copies each. After Churchill’s death in 1965, American political philosopher Leo Strauss called Churchill’s biography of 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.”
Historian G. M. Trevelyan (1876-1962) at the University of Cambridge had recently completed his magnum opus, England Under Queen Anne, 3 vols. (1930-1934), and likely had a different view of Marlborough.
WINSTON CHURCHILL, Typed Letter Signed, to Charles C. Wood, August 21, 1934. 1 p., 8" x 10", on “Chartwell” stationery. Expected folds; small tear at bottom, paper clip rust residue at top; some foxing.
“I send you herewith Volume I with the corrigenda dealt with. You will see from the enclosed letters that there are one or two extra points which have been brought to my notice. I accept all the corrections which are found in this volume and I am very much surprised to find how few errors there are – nearly all of which are trivial.”
“I have dealt with Professor Trevelyan’s complaint. Do you not think there should be a short prefatory note to the new edition? If so, I attach a draft.”
Winston Churchill (1874-1965) was born to a British father and American mother at his family’s ancestral home in Oxfordshire, England. After education at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, Churchill served as an army officer in India and Africa and became an accomplished writer. Over a political career that spanned fifty years, he held many political and cabinet positions, including First Lord of the Admiralty from 1911 to 1915 and again from 1939 to 1940. In 1922, Churchill bought the manor house of Chartwell in Kent, and he later spent most of his retirement there. During the 1930s, he took the lead in warning against Nazi Germany’s hostile ambitions. He served as Prime Minister from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955. His speeches inspired British resistance to Nazi Germany, especially in 1940-1941, when the United Kingdom stood almost alone against Adolf Hitler. After suffering a serious stroke in 1953, he retired from political office in 1955. In 1963, he became the first person to be made an honorary citizen of the United States.
Charles C. Wood (1875-1959) joined the publishing firm of George G. Harrap & Co., Ltd., in 1912. He served as chief copy editor on Churchill’s monumental biography, Marlborough: His Life and Times, published in four volumes between 1933 and 1938. In 1948, Churchill hired the retired Wood to proofread his massive multi-volume work, The Second World War. Wood joined Churchill’s staff of secretaries, research assistants, and advisors. Wood became “an essential member of the team and no error escaped his eye.” Wood was as abrasive as Churchill was demanding, and Churchill once called Wood “indefatigable, interminable, intolerable.” The process of proofreading both The Second World War and A History of the English-Speaking Peoples was called “wooding.”
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