Finest Hour 125, Winter 2004-05
BOOKS, ARTS & CURIOSITIES – The Birthday Book Is Back!
The Sir Winston Churchill Birthday Book, compiled by W.M. Bull. New edition by The Churchill Centre, 72 pp., string-bound in leatherette, $25, member price $15 postpaid.
By Richard M. Langwoth
The Sir Winston Churchill Birthday Book is one of the rarest of nearly 700 books published about Winston S. Churchill. Over my twenty-two years as a Churchill bookseller, I did not encounter more than five copies. But the significance of this little volume (at 3 1/2 x 5 inches it easily fits a vest pocket or a handbag) is not measured by size.
Compiled and arranged by W. M. Bull and published by Cassell in 1959, the Birthday Book offers a Churchill quotation for each date of the year (including February 29th). The quotations are arrayed down the lefthand pages, six to a page; opposite them on the right are blank lines to record the birthdays of friends and family. Mr. Bull also provides the correct attribution for each of his 366 Churchill quotations.
For years I’ve carried my own battered Birthday Book to Churchill events, using it to obtain autographs, on their birthdates, from everyone from friends to conference guests like Lady Thatcher and Alistair Cooke, to trustees like Caspar Weinberger and Chris Matthews, to Sir Winston’s family and colleagues.
Remarkably, the quotation for each date invariably seems perfectly to fit most people’s birthdays. Lady Soames’s birthday, September 15th, is typical: “Marlborough yielded neither to success or exhaustion. He was dominated by his theme, or, as might be said, his duty.” My own birthday, July 7th, carries this admonition, which I can only hope I have lived up to as a sometime “minister” in this organization: “People who are not prepared to do unpopular things and to defy clamour are not fit to be Ministers in times of stress.”
Equally apropos are the quotations that fall on certain national anniversaries, suggesting that editor Bull had done his homework:
• April 23rd (St. George’s Day): “Always be on guard against tyranny, whatever shape it may assume.”
• April 25th (Anzac Day): “How much easier it is to join bad companions than to shake them off.”
• May 24th (Victoria Day): “In a world of confusion and ruin, the old flag flies.”
• July 1st (Canada Day): “Never must we fail in exertion and resolve.”
• July 4th (American Independence Day): “The price of greatness is responsibility.”
• July 14th (Bastille Day): “In the poor, remote hamlet of Domrémy, on the fringe of the Vosges Forest, [St. Joan] served at the inn.”
• November 11th (Armistice/ Veterans Day): “They bore themselves well, though greatly troubled.”
After a long and hard search, The Churchill Centre’s former treasurer, Craig Horn, acquired an immaculate original copy of the Birthday Book, marred only by a handful of entries. This inspired Craig and me to finance the manufacture of this new edition as a Churchill Centre keepsake.
Finest Hour’s print experts, New England Foil Stamping, carefully removed the former owner’s few entries, replacing them with blank lines like all the rest. The New England Bindery has bound the book with thread, to resist repeated openings, in a burgundy leatherette cover like the original. As always, we are grateful to the present copyright holder, Winston S. Churchill, and a half-dozen publishers, for permission to quote from Sir Winston’s works.
In every way, including the handsome gilt-stamped burgundy cover, this is an accurate copy of the original—entirely blank inside, for you to begin your collection of autographs and birthdays. Copies are available from Churchill Stores. We hope you enjoy the Birthday Book as much as we have.