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Youth 1888-1914

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Seven Pillars of Wisdom

triumph and tragedy

Jeremy Wilson

My work on the complete Oxford Text of Seven Pillars of Wisdom (Castle Hill Press, 1997, 2003) gave rise to disquieting questions about the way Lawrence had abridged the text that he issued to subscribers in 1926.

However, it was not until the spring of 2004, after the one-volume edition of the Oxford Text had been published, that I had time to look into this more deeply. My conclusions formed part of an essay printed privately that year. Later, to round out the history of Lawrence's Seven Pillars, I added material from a lecture that I had given to the Oxford Bibliographical Society to mark the 50th anniversary of Lawrence's death (published in Matrix V, Andoversford, Whittington Press, 1985). I have made some further revisions in this online version.


Page 1: The Story of Seven Pillars, 1917-22 - the first draft - the abandoned 1920 abridgement - the polished third draft - the Oxford Times printing - Edward Garnett's abridgement - Bernard Shaw opposes the abridgement - the scheme for a subscription edition

Page 2: The subscribers' abridgement, 1924-6 - setting to work - the evolution of the text

Page 3: Which text is better written? - Lawrence's unbalanced abridgement - conclusion

The story of Seven Pillars: 1917-23

Writing and fine printing were T. E. Lawrence's two most enduring ambitions. In his youth, inspired by the work of William Morris, Lawrence planned with his friend Vyvyan Richards to set up a private press. The project was well advanced by the outbreak of war in 1914 and was revived in 1919, when Lawrence bought land for the purpose at Pole Hill on the borders of Epping Forest. He admired and studied the work of contemporary printers. His library contained many private press books, including a copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer bound by Cobden-Sanderson.

Lawrence's ambition to write a major work of some kind is evident in his pre-war letters. While at Carchemish he contemplated several projects. One was a 'monumental' history of the Crusades; another, a study of life among the nomadic Soleyb - to be something like C.M. Doughty's Travels in Arabia Deserta. The title Seven Pillars of Wisdom was originally given to a third pre-war project: an abandoned book about seven great cities of the East.

Although Lawrence contributed to archaeological reports, it seems that he completed none of these private writing projects before the outbreak of war. We do not know how much of the first Seven Pillars he had written before he destroyed the draft.

Two years later, while serving as a British liaison officer with Emir Feisal's irregular forces during the Arab Revolt, he realised that chance had given him the kind of subject he had hoped for: 'the story I have to tell,' he later wrote to a friend, 'is one of the most splendid ever given a man for writing.'1

Lawrence's intention to write a book is mentioned in correspondence as early as September 1917.2 He began making notes on the army message pads he carried with him. The notes were often descriptive rather than military, since there was a risk they might fall into enemy hands. Some contained outline word-pictures of people and places. He described them later as 'observations on the road, scribbled at random in the saddle, without much reference to place or time: they included sketch-maps, tribal notes, personal thumb-nails, complaints and things.'3

Damascus, the culmination of the Arab Revolt so far as Lawrence was concerned, fell at the beginning of October 1918. He then returned to England, where he made no secret of his plans to write a book. Neverthess, he told Doughty, 'I'm afraid it is not likely to be written for publication, since some of it would give offence to people alive (including myself!), but I hope to get it put on paper soon.'4

The first draft

Relatively few letters by Lawrence survive from 1919-21, so there is little direct evidence about the early development of Seven Pillars. He wrote most of the first draft in France during the spring of 1919, while attending the Paris Peace Conference. This version ran, he said later, to about 250,000 words. It was hardly complete when, in November 1919, it was stolen from him at Reading Station. The loss was reported in the press, but nothing was ever found.

Only the early chapters survived, because someone who had borrowed the manuscript from Lawrence's friend Lionel Curtis had made a typed copy.5 Lawrence set about rewriting the rest from memory. During the first three months of 1920 he completed a hurried new draft, though it was 'hopelessly bad as a text.'6

Before he returned from Paris, All Souls College had awarded him a research fellowship which provided an income and rooms in Oxford. However, Lawrence preferred to live in London. He borrowed an attic room above the offices of a friend, the architect Sir Herbert Baker, at 14 Barton Street, Westminster.

During 1920 he promoted a scheme to get Doughty's Travels in Arabia Deserta reprinted. This was no easy task, since the book is very long - he estimated it at 500,000 words - and Doughty's writing style is an acquired taste. His discussions with publishers gave him some knowledge of the British book market. On the strength of that, he seems to have developed a plan for a private edition of Seven Pillars.

He almost certainly intended to print it with his friend Vyvyan Richards at Pole Hill, near Chingford in Essex. They had first planned to set up a private press there a decade earlier, when they graduated from Jesus College. Richards had taken a teaching post in Chingford, and looked for a suitable site for the neo-medieval timber hall they planned to put up. Lawrence had at first rented the land, at Pole Hill. After the war, one of his first acts had been to buy it.  

The abandoned 1920 abridgement

The All Souls Fellowship provided enough money to live modestly in free accommodation. But to pay for the building at Pole Hill and the costs of producing and illustrating Seven Pillars, Lawrence would need a substantial sum. He decided to offer a popular abridgment of Seven Pillars to his friend F. N. Doubleday, the American publisher. It was to be published in America only: 'Unless I am starving (involuntarily) there will be no London publisher. My whole object is to make money in U.S.A. and so avoid the notoriety of being on sale in England'.7

He aimed to make the abridgement, which would be based on the hurried second draft of Seven Pillars, during the late summer of 1920. By July he was thinking about its physical appearance. He wrote to Doubleday seeking agreement on matters such as maps and illustrations: 'Is 150,000 words too many? I want eleven or twelve point type, no leading: about a 400 word page, if possible. No headlines. The type and style of The Rescue pleases me. If the type-panel was pushed up to the top and the numbers put down below it would do well'.8 We do not know what Doubleday thought about these requests. Authors do not normally lay down design parameters for their publishers.

By August, Lawrence had drafted about 40,000 words of the abridgement - eight chapters. Then, abruptly, he abandoned it. It seems likely that Doubleday told him it could not succeed commercially if it was published in America alone. Although Lawrence was famous in Britain, he was little known in the US.

The polished third draft

Meanwhile, Lawrence had started work on a new polished draft of the complete Seven Pillars. This, the third version of the book, was to become known as the 'Oxford Text'. It was 'composed with great care'.9 Before the war he had hoped to publish a book that would rank with Arabia Deserta. Now, he was aiming far higher. He had begun reading widely and seeking acquaintance with contemporary writers. He met Conrad, Graves, Kipling, Sassoon and many others. He hoped that the new Seven Pillars would be a 'titanic' book, comparable in stature to The Brothers Karamazov and Moby Dick.

Despite the setback over the abridgement, he seems to have been confident that he could produce a fine-press edition. While working on the new text, he began to collect illustrations. He had been painted and sketched by Augustus John during the Peace Conference, and had acquired one of John's two oils of Feisal. During 1920 he went round London art shows to see the work of other contemporary painters. Finally he approached Eric Kennington, who had served as a war artist, seeking advice about illustrating Seven Pillars. Kennington read it and was fired with enthusiasm. In March 1921 he travelled at his own expense to the Middle East, equipped with artist's materials and introductions. He returned to England in June with a remarkable series of pastel portraits, which he exhibited that October at London's Leicester Galleries.

Lawrence sent four of the pastels to Whittingham and Griggs, to be reproduced as colour plates by chromo-lithography. This tells us one of the few things we know about his early scheme for a fine-press edition. Its format, revealed by the size of the plates, would later be used for the subscribers' edition.

From this time on, the 'Kennington Arabs' were central to Lawrence's plans for publishing Seven Pillars. He soon decided to balance the Arabs by commissioning portraits of British participants in the Revolt. During the next five years he organised artists and sitters, until he could put twenty Europeans alongside the best twenty of the Arab portraits.

Meanwhile work on Seven Pillars was progressing fairly slowly. Early in 1921 Lawrence joined the Colonial Office as an adviser on Arab affairs to Winston Churchill, the new Secretary of State for the Colonies. He had started the polished third draft of Seven Pillars in London, but had to continue it while travelling on diplomatic missions to the Hejaz and Trans-Jordan.

In September 1921 he abruptly cabled Whittingham & Griggs, halting work on the plates. He wrote to Kennington from Cairo: 'My reasons . . . are three. I do not know their order of magnitude. A lump of money I was expecting has not (probably will not) come. My house in Epping has been burnt down. In the leisure hours of this trip I have read half the manuscript of my book: and condemned it. Not good enough to publish, because it isn't as good as I can make it, (unless I deceive myself).

'The stoppage is only to prevent too big a bill this year. Next year I will have more money, and will be able to carry on. Meanwhile I'll be barely solvent . . . The job will go through none the less.'10

Lawrence's uncertainty about money at this time probably relates to the death of his father's sister, Caroline Margaret Chapman. In her will she had bequeathed 20,000 to Thomas Chapman, intending it to pass eventually to his sons. She died in 1920 after a long illness, unaware that her brother had predeceased her by several months. He had almost certainly known about the bequest.

After his death in 1919 Sarah Lawrence may well have spoken about it to Lawrence - the only one of her children with whom she discussed Chapman affairs. It transpired that Caroline Chapman's will had been badly drafted. It did not stipulate that the money should pass, in the event that Thomas Chapman died before her, to his heirs. As a result, the bequest went to the residuary legatees, who were Lawrence's half-sisters, Thomas Chapman's legitimate children. They were already well provided for, having inherited generous sums of family money both under the terms this will and before that from Francis Chapman. Influenced no doubt by their mother - the wife Thomas Chapman had abandoned - they passed none of Caroline Chapman's money to the surviving Lawrence brothers.

At the beginning of 1922 Lawrence's work at the Colonial Office was winding down. By then, however, the cumulative strain of his wartime and diplomatic roles, plus exhaustion from writing Seven Pillars, had affected his mental balance. Fearing for his sanity, he began arranging to enlist in the ranks of the RAF. He saw service life as some kind of haven, a modern equivalent to a monastery.

In February he took three months' leave, determined to complete his third draft of Seven Pillars. A letter to St John Hornby, proprietor of the Ashendene Press, tells something of ambitions: 'When my press starts we will exchange products (enormously to my profit, for I'll be working just soon enough to get a gratis Faery Queen in return for my printed prospectus!)'11 The Ashendene Faery Queene was issued in 1923.

By now, however, Lawrence had lost confidence in his work on Seven Pillars. Writing to Kennington two days later, he said: 'The real trouble is about my book, which is not good: not good enough to come out. It has grown too long and shapeless, and I haven't the strength to see it all in one piece, or the energy to tackle it properly. After I've got out of the Colonial Office and have been fallow for a time my interest in it will probably come back and then I'll have another go at it: but not at present.'12 Reading between the lines, it seems that he had lost the creative inspiration that had taken Seven Pillars to this point. It would never return.

The Oxford Times proof printing

Wishing to circulate his completed third draft for comment, Lawrence arranged to have a few copies printed on a proofing press at the Oxford Times printing works. In April 1922 he told Stewart Newcombe: 'I spend whole days sitting at a table writing out my Seven Pillars straight enough for a printer to read'.13 Even so, the manuscript he sent to the Oxford Times contains countless amendments.

At different times Lawrence gave inconsistent dates for the printing of the Oxford Times edition. However, contemporary notes and his surviving correspondence with the printers suggest that he sent the first sections for typesetting in late January 1922. The last sections were printed in the third week of July. Handwritten numbering on the chapters of the manuscript, now in the Bodleian Library, reveal the chaotic sequence in which they went to press. This was a precaution against unauthorised circulation of the complete text. All the potentially sensational material was typeset in the final batch.

Just eight copies were printed, set in double columns of 7-point type. Since the text was printed in random sequence, conventional folded sections were impossible. Each page of the Oxford Seven Pillars is a on separate leaf. New chapters are headed only by the printed word 'Chapter'. Lawrence added the chapter numbers and pagination by hand after putting the pages in order.

His opinion of the text continued to waver, making it hard to tell how serious he thought the problems were. In April he told Kennington he would probably instruct Whittingham & Griggs to restart work on the portraits in July (the month he planned to leave the Colonial Office). That surely implies that he expected to print the book fairly soon. When Vyvyan Richards read one of the Oxford Times copies and praised the choice of adjectives, Lawrence replied: 'I'm most glad of this, for I took great care with them. There's a fault or two however in every paragraph, but not other than I can correct in a week's care. These stylistic changes are easy and pleasant to make.'14 In another letter he mentioned that: 'Progress in revision (which mainly means shortening) will move by cutting out the geography and tribal stuff.'15

Lawrence had been unable to afford printer's corrections, so there were many typesetting errors in the Oxford Times copies. During the autumn of 1922 he corrected a master set of the pages, then repeated the corrections in four more copies. He added preliminaries (in manuscript in one copy, now in the Huntington Library, and typewritten in the others) and had them bound by C. & C. McLeish. His plan was to send them to people he thought qualified to criticise the book on literary or historical grounds.

Edward Garnett's abridgement

At the end of August he enlisted secretly in the RAF. A fortnight earlier, while the Oxford copies were still at the binders, he had written to Edward Garnett and Bernard Shaw, asking whether they would read and comment on the book. Both agreed to do so, but Shaw was busy with other commitments. So the first comments came from Garnett.

A well-known figure in the English literary world, Edward Garnett greatly admired Travels in Arabia Deserta. In 1908 he had made a popular abridgement. Now working freelance, he was acting as literary adviser to Jonathan Cape.

Garnett heaped constructive praise on Seven Pillars. When Lawrence mentioned that he had turned down an offer of 7,000 for a version shortened to 120,000 words, Garnett promptly offered to make such an abridgement, backing the suggestion with the opinion that the Oxford Text was too long.

Lawrence was tempted. Early in September, while stationed at the RAF recruits' training depot at Uxbridge, he wrote: 'I think that I may have to publish something after all: for I'm getting too old for this life of rough and tumble, and the crudeness of my company worries me a bit. I find myself longing for an empty room, or a solitary bed, or even a moment alone in the open air'.16 He therefore corrected a sixth set of the Oxford Times pages and sent them to Garnett, who made a draft abridgment during October.

As Lawrence looked through Garnett's suggested cuts his enthusiasm for the project waned. Nevertheless, 'if the abridgment is approved by a publisher I'll find myself rich - according to my standard. Whether I'll continue in the RAF then, or return to London life, I don't know.'17

We do not have all Garnett's letters to Lawrence, so we can only guess at his thinking. One motive, certainly, would have been to encourage Lawrence to go on writing. A published abridgement would provide the reassurance of favourable reviews - and also financial independence. However, Garnett himself wrote and edited for a living. He may well have been influenced by the prospect of editor's royalties on a book with such good sales potential.

Other writers who read Seven Pillars did not suggest that it should be shortened, at any rate for literary reasons. Forster wrote: 'I hope you won't have a public edition, because that means cutting, and if anything, there ought to be more - as much more about yourself as you would consent to add.'18 Siegfried Sassoon was emphatic: 'I know all about condensation, and I haven't felt the least sign of diffuseness -. On the contrary, I've felt as if you'd been given the last bale of paper in the world to write your book on, and you'd never forgotten that you mustn't put in an unnecessary word.'19

These opinions came later. By the time Lawrence received them, Garnett's abridgement was done. Lawrence could not decide what to do with it. 'With all the drawings (over 50 now) I feel less and less inclined to publish the whole work, and almost decided not to publish anything. My mind wobbles between the need for money and the desire to be withdrawn, and it's a pitiable exhibition on my part. I wish the beastly book had never been written. Garnett's reduction is in my hands, and is a good one: but it's a bowdlerising of the story and the motives of it, and would give the public a false impression. I don't like the notion of doing that. It's a favourably-false impression, you see.'20

On 1 December Lawrence told Garnett that he could mention the abridgment to Jonathan Cape. That same day, Bernard Shaw wrote, giving his first considered reaction. He had only sampled the book, but his wife Charlotte had read it from cover to cover and was hugely enthusiastic. Shaw suggested that the whole text should be placed in the British Museum, embargoed for a hundred years, since parts of it could not possibly be published - but he too felt that an abridgment should be made for general circulation.

Lawrence, warmed by this apparent approval of his plans, replied to Shaw on 7 December telling him about Garnett's version. If it were published 'I shall become a civilian again. You have no idea how repulsive a barrack room is as a permanent home'.21 Significantly, in a letter to Garnett written the same day, Lawrence said: 'The private press has been a life-dream of mine - and has been twice . . . on the point of coming true. It will come, and will, I hope, be as good as my expectations.'22

Bernard Shaw opposes the abridgement

However, Lawrence's advisers now began to contradict one another. Cape, supported by Garnett, moved swiftly towards a contract. It would have given Lawrence some 7,000. Shaw, on the other hand, viewed Cape as a 'modern ruffian', and recommended Constable, his own publisher. For a third view, Lawrence turned to a wartime acquaintance, Raymond Savage, who was manager of the literary agency Curtis Brown. Lawrence told Savage that he wanted the book to produce an income of 300 a year. Also, he requested the last word on the type, format and paper.

On 28 December 1922, G.B.S. let fly in a spectacular volte face: 'I cannot wait to finish the book before giving you my opinion, and giving it strong. IT MUST BE PUBLISHED IN ITS ENTIRETY, UNABRIDGED . . . you must not for a moment entertain the notion of publishing an abridgment first, as no publisher would touch the whole work afterwards'. He continued in the same vein, concluding, 'I had ten years on the managing committee of the Society of Authors, and learnt that there is no bottom to the folly and business incompetence of authors or the unscrupulousness of publishers, who, being in a gambling business where one live book has to pay for ten duds, cannot afford to lose a single opportunity.

'You must not mind my shoving into your affairs like this. How else could I be of any service?'23

The Shaws felt, and continued to feel, that Garnett's advice was wrong. Perhaps they also suspected his motives. Some years later, Charlotte wrote: 'how I wish I believed in Garnett's critical instinct. I don't, you know, one little bit. Each discovery I make about his views and his general philosophy of life inclines me to trust him less and less. I think him conventional and not courageous. I shall never forgive him for wanting to publish a maimed edition of the Seven Pillars'.24

Certainly, some of Garnett's judgements showed little sympathy with the book. For example, he disliked Lawrence's introspection and suggested breaking up the 'Myself' chapter, which other readers thought essential. Also, while Doughty's length and difficult prose might have justified reducing Arabia Deserta, there was much less reason to abridge Seven Pillars.

Garnett's statement that the Oxford Text was too long nevertheless struck a chord with Lawrence, who had said the same while preparing it for the printer - i.e., before anyone else had read it. His reason may have been his hope to print it in a single fine-press volume. In 1923, during discussions with his friends about alternative schemes for the book, he would write to D. G. Hogarth: 'If I can get it to 250,000 words it will go in one vol. of 450 words a page.'25

In late December 1922 Lawrence, whose RAF enlistment as 'J.H. Ross' had just been revealed by the press, told Savage that the abridgment was off. He wrote to Cape personally: 'The cash (my only motive for doing the mean thing which a censored version is) would have been most grateful: and the bother will have upset you. However there it is.'26

Needless to say, Cape did not accept the decision easily. During the weeks of uncertainty that followed several ideas were mooted while Lawrence strove to keep his place in the Air Force. Lawrence wrote to Shaw at the end of January 1923: 'I cancelled (or rather I refused to complete and sign) the contract with Cape for publishing an abridgment. Cape was furious . . . a while later I was sorry to have cancelled it, and I began to think of publishing, not an abridgment, but the whole story, as you have advised. So I sketched to Cape the possibility of a limited, privately-printed, subscription edition of 2000 copies, illustrated with all the drawings made for me by some twenty of the younger artists. Cape was staggered for the first moment, but then rose to it - suggesting half profits, and a serial issue of a quarter of it in the Observer, and American copyrights, and all the necessary decorations. It took the form of a beautiful contract, sent me to sign: and that very day I got my dismissal from the Air Ministry: and so I've cancelled it too.'27

The moves to publish Seven Pillars had now reached a total dbacle - but Lawrence did not for one moment abandon his long-term ambition to print the book. Within a week, he was writing to C. E. Wilson, one of the British officers involved in the Revolt, arranging for Kennington to paint another portrait... then to William Roberts and Paul Nash, again seeking illustrations.

Lawrence re-enlisted, this time as a private in the Tank Corps. He was stationed at Bovington Camp in Dorset. The Oxford Seven Pillars continued to circulate. During 1923 it was read by literary figures such as Sydney Cockerell, J. L. Garvin, Thomas Hardy and Rudyard Kipling. Lawrence also sent it, with appeals for factual corrections, to wartime colleagues: General Bartholomew from Allenby's staff, Robin Buxton of the Imperial Camel Corps, D. G. Hogarth from the Arab Bureau, and so on. In May, he wrote to Archibald Wavell, the latest reader: 'though (as of a son) I can see and say no good of my book, yet I'm glad when others praise it. I hate it and like it by turns, and know that it's a good bit of writing, and often wish it wasn't. If I'd aimed less high I'd have hit my mark squarer . . . Apart from literature, how does it strike you as history?' He continued: 'To publish the whole book might cause a new clamour, for I don't hide from myself that it might be a successful book, as sales went. To censor it would mean practical re-writing, and I'm weary of the work put into it already: also it feels a little dishonest to hide parts of the truth.... Against these instincts you have to set the vanity of an amateur who's tried to write, and would like to be in print as an author: and my need of money to live quietly upon.'28

The scheme for a subscription edition

During May 1923, Lawrence's friends put him under increasing pressure to publish. He wanted the smallest possible edition, and joked about finding a millionaire who would underwrite a single copy. Bernard Shaw, on the other hand, was pushing for wide circulation at a reasonable price. While they debated, Lawrence used his money from All Souls to pay for more illustrations.

In August 1923 he toyed briefly once again with the idea of issuing Garnett's abridgment; but by now his friends had decided to force a decision, offering to back a viable fine-press edition of the whole book. By the end of the year, the basis for a subscribers' edition was established. First estimates for printing the text and illustrations were a little under 3,000. Lawrence, who intended to revise Seven Pillars using one of the two unused sets of Oxford Times pages, rented a cottage to work in. This was Clouds Hill, near Bovington Camp. 'There I can revise my text in about a twelve-month, allowing say 2 hrs average per day . . . the whole project may be complete within 18 months . . . Clarendon Press might well print: I want Caslon eleven point or its nearest monotype equivalent.'29 The book's format - 10x8 ins - was pre-determined by the four colour plates that Whittingham & Griggs had been storing since 1921. The typeface had also been chosen long before, when Lawrence and Richards were planning to print an edition at Pole Hill. They had spread out Lawrence's fine-press books at All Souls, and finally settled on the Caslon used in the Essex House Press Pilgrim's Progress.

The decision to publish a subscription edition was finally taken at a meeting in Oxford on 9 December 1923. Those present were Lawrence, D. G. Hogarth, Lionel Curtis and Alan Dawnay. Given the 3,000 estimate of costs, the meeting had to decide between selling about 300 copies at 10, or 100 copies at 30 guineas. In either case the book would include the portraits that Lawrence had commissioned.

At the time, Lawrence estimated the length of the Oxford Text reasonably accurately at 340,000 words. For him, the main difference between the two schemes was the amount he would wish to omit if there were to be a wide circulation. He had written to Hogarth: 'If as many as 300 copies were sent out, the book would have to be severely cut down, and that means another edition some-day, and consequently no rest now. The fewer the copies the less the cuts.'30 He had also mentioned the 300-copy scheme in letters to Sydney Cockerell: 'The new edition will be shorter and more discreet than the old.'31 It would be 'widely different - and better, if my skill has not wholly gone.'32

At the Oxford meeting, the 100-copy scheme was chosen. Therefore, Lawrence agreed to leave the text largely alone. The length was to be 'between 300,000 and 330,000 words: preferably the lesser number.'33 It would be 'corrected only in blemishes of prose: uncensored and unimproved'.34 To Robin Buxton, whose bank would finance the edition, he wrote: 'The text will be revised, but the sole criterion of the revision will be literary fitness: I propose no improvement in morals or decency: and it will be very little (not more than 10% probably) shorter.'35

Buxton, who had proposed the 100-copy scheme, may have found this reassuring. If Lawrence, in his fragile state of mind, once started re-working the book, he might never finish. There may be a tinge of regret in Lawrence's comment, a fortnight later, to Edward Garnett: 'Yes, it will be revised, but only in petto. No good cuts or noble changes, no re-writing; just punctuation, and insect-blemishes removed.'36

Buxton would not have been alone in feeling cautious. It was eighteen months since Lawrence had enlisted in the ranks, evidently suffering from some kind of breakdown. In the Tank Corps, where he was now serving, he often seemed deeply depressed. A few weeks earlier he had written to Lionel Curtis: 'My thoughts are centering more and more upon the peace of death, with longing for it. Is it, do you think, that at last I am getting old? Do old people secretly dwell much upon their inevitable end?'37 His friends were understandably anxious. One of their strongest motives for backing the Seven Pillars project was a hope that intellectual activity might prove therapeutic.

The decision to publish a 30-guinea subscription edition was a turning-point in Lawrence's life. In an important sense, it proved to be tragedy. Until then, as the letters already quoted show, he had felt no qualms about earning money from Seven Pillars. He had seen it as the potential source of sufficient capital to provide him with an income for life. From this point on, however, he stated that he would take no money from the book. He would later represent this as a decision of principle: he could not accept financial rewards for his dishonest wartime role or anything connected with it. Perhaps, in time, he came to feel that. However, no such scruple is evident in the letters he wrote before December 1923.

The immediate trigger for his decision was probably the high subscription price for the 100-copy edition. According to the conversion calculator on the Economic History website, 30 guineas (31.10s) in 1923 was equivalent to 1,130.79 in 2002. Potential subscribers, unaware of the cost of reproducing the Seven Pillars illustrations, might well have suspected Lawrence of milking his reputation for personal gain. By refusing to take any profit at all he avoided that accusation; but the consequences of this self-inflicted privation are incalculable.

Page 2: The subscribers' abridgement, 1924-6


1. T. E. Lawrence to V. W. Richards, undated (late 1922 or early 1923), MB p.224.

2. See T. E. Lawrence to C. E. Wilson, 2 September 1917, DG p.236.

3. T. E. Lawrence to Charlotte Shaw, 11 June 1926, Letters I p.183.

4. T. E. Lawrence to C. M. Doughty, 25 December 1918, DG p.271.

5. On 2 May 1997, Stride & Son's saleroom in Chichester sold a 79-page carbon-copy typescript of the whole of the Introductory Book and more than half of Book I from the first Seven Pillars draft. The typescript was formerly in the possession of Ralph M. Robinson, who had borrowed the manuscript of these chapters from Lionel Curtis.

6. T. E. Lawrence, Some Notes on the Writing of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, 1927, reprinted in SP35, pp.21-3.

7. T. E. Lawrence to F. N. Doubleday, 29 March 1920, MB p.176.

8. T. E. Lawrence to F. N. Doubleday, 21 July 1920, Transcript in TEL papers.

9. T. E. Lawrence, Some Notes (op. cit. Note 6 above).

10. T. E. Lawrence to Eric Kennington, 1 October 1921, DG p.333.

11. T. E. Lawrence to St. John Hornby, 14 February 1922, Transcript in TEL papers.

12. T. E. Lawrence to Eric Kennington, 16 February 1922, quoted in the introduction to T. E. Lawrence, Minorities (London, Jonathan Cape, 1971), p. 43.

13. T. E. Lawrence to S. F. Newcombe 16 April 1922, Transcript in TEL Papers.

14. T. E. Lawrence to V. W. Richards, undated (late 1922 or early 1923), MB pp.224-5.

15. T. E. Lawrence to Douglas Carruthers, 19 August 1922, transcript in TEL Papers.

16. T. E. Lawrence to Edward Garnett, 7 September 1922, DG p.366. Lawrence described life in the RAF recruits' training depot in The Mint.

17. T. E. Lawrence to R. D. Blumenfeld 24 November 1822, Transcript in TEL Papers.

18. E. M. Forster to T. E. Lawrence, mid-February 1924, LTEL p.62.

19. Siegfried Sassoon to T. E. Lawrence, 26 November 1923, LTEL p.154.

20. T. E. Lawrence to D. G. Hogarth, 29 October 1922, DG p.374.

21. T. E. Lawrence to G. B. Shaw, 7 December 1922, Letters I p.16.

22. T. E. Lawrence to Edward Garnett, 7 December 1922, DG p.183.

23. G. B. Shaw to T. E. Lawrence 28 December 1922, Letters I pp.24-5.

24. Charlotte Shaw to T. E. Lawrence, 9 April 1928, British Library; to be included in Letters III (2007).

25. T. E. Lawrence to D. G. Hogarth, 14 November 1923, DG p.440. Reading this letter while drafting my preface to the one-volume edition of the Oxford Text (Castle Hill Press, 2003) led me to think that the original target length for the subscribers' edition had been 250,000 words. However, as shown in letters quoted here, the scheme as agreed the following month was for a longer text.

26. T. E. Lawrence to Jonathan Cape, 1 January 1923, Transcript in TEL Papers.

27. T. E. Lawrence to G. B. Shaw 30 January 1923, Letters I p.36.

28. T. E. Lawrence to A. P. Wavell, 11 May 1923, MB pp.234-5.

29. T. E. Lawrence to D. G. Hogarth, 14 November 1923, DG p.440.

30. T. E. Lawrence to D. G. Hogarth, 6 December 1923, Transcript TEL Papers.

31. T. E. Lawrence to S. C. Cockerell, 27 October 1923, Viola Meynell (ed.) Friends of a Lifetime (London, Jonathan Cape, 1940) p. 360.

32. T. E. Lawrence to S. C. Cockerell, 23 October 1923, op. cit. Note 31, p. 359.

33. T. E. Lawrence to Eric Kennington, 13 December 1923, MB p.252.

34. T. E. Lawrence to G. B. Shaw, 13 December 1923, Letters I, p.48.

35. T. E. Lawrence to Robin Buxton, 13 December 1923, DG p.443.

36. T. E. Lawrence to Edward Garnett, 1 January 1924, DG p. 450.

37. T. E. Lawrence to Lionel Curtis, 25 September 1923, quoted in Jeremy Wilson's introduction to T. E. Lawrence, Minorities (London, Jonathan Cape, 1971), p.45.

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