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Review commentary by Jeremy Wilson on Lawrence, the Uncrowned King of Arabia by Michael Asher

(London, Viking, 1998)

previous page | Page 19 | next page 

Chapter 2: Dominus Illuminatio Mea
Schooldays, 1896-1905 (10 pages)

page/para/line
28/1/4 "a fine collection of brass rubbings . . . which decorated the brothers' shared bedroom at 2 Polstead Road." A minor point, but this appears to be a careless misreading of the sources. Bob Lawrence (Friends p. 31) says "When we were small and shared a large bedroom...". Elsewhere, and apparently referring to a later period, Lawrence's mother (ibid. page 27) says (of TEL's brass-rubbings) "he covered the walls of his bedroom with them." There is nothing to suggest that Lawrence was sharing the room in which he hung the brass-rubbings.
28/1/11.  I have never before seen "heelball" - which according to my dictionary is a substance rather than an object - used as here in the plural.
28/1/14  "He became obsessed with the devices of heraldry" - Why "obsessed"? I know of no evidence to warrant such a strong word. This was youthful enthusiasm, with arguably more intellectual merit than train-spotting.
28/1/24  Asher's object in this over-the-top description of Lawrence's interest in the medieval world (a description which, in tone, goes far beyond the account by Beeson in Friends p. 53, on which it is mainly based) at last becomes clear: "His search for brasses and relics assumed almost the proportions of a sacred quest itself, and while other youths were out watching girls at St Giles's Fair or at the festivities of Eights Week, Lawrence could be found scouring local crypts and churches." This last sentence is based on an intervierw quote with Beeson by John E. Mack (A Prince of Our Disorder, Boston, Little, Brown, 1976, p. 25). However, there could be many reasons why Lawrence shunned these conventional "Oxford" occasions. 
28/1/28  Another example of distorted paraphrase from an un-named source. Beeson wrote (Friends page 53): "The artistry of his tact . . . extricated us from such compromising positions as . . . the crypt of St. Cross in possession of human bones." Asher's paraphrase reads: "He . . . honed his powers of persuasion in dealing with caretakers - once, memorably, when he and Beeson were caught emerging from the crypt of St Cross church with armfuls of human bones."
28/last para:  "Lawrence's interest in the medieval was essentially an attempt to escape from the circumstances of his life, and to cock a snook at the conventions of the bourgeois social landscape, behind which lay his uncertain relationship with Sarah." There is doubtless some truth in the beginning of this statement, but in this Lawrence was by no means alone. Is Asher unaware of the intellectual movement that sought inspiration in earlier periods to escape from the obvious evils brought upon English society by the Industrial Revolution? 
   The word "bourgeois" appears to have been picked up from A. W. Lawrence in Friends page 586: "His medieval researches were, I think, a dream way of escape from bourgeois England as well as a detached study of another civilisation". I myself would not nowadays use the word "bourgeois", which has acquired too much of a political ring. What Lawrence objected to was the complacent well-being of a society that was enjoying the fruits of the industrial revolution, and had sacrificed the values of craftsmanship for often-shoddy mass-production. However, this was romantic and moral emotion, not a political rationale. He accepted the ideals of craftsmanship preached by Morris, but not his politics. A little after the period discussed in this chapter he admired Algernon Blackwood's The Centaur. If you are interested in Lawrence's developing outlook, read it.
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