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Updated July 2012

T. E. Lawrence to his family


May 11, 1912

Letter from Mother (Oxford) and Will on April 27 arrived. I see Pirie-Gordon is recovering his anaemia. Has he become agent generally for the Duke of Beaufort?

Please send the boots out to Miss Holmes: nothing more at present wanted. I will write if need be. If any of you likes to wear them for a little please do: they are more likely so to escape the Turk custom-officer. But the duty is charged only on the declared value. Addess Miss Holmes, Jebail: not B.P.O. Beyrout. My old, last times' tramping boots are to go down the Euphrates in a few days' time: quite worn out. I shall be sorry to see the end of them.

Will may like Galsworthy's book (1/-) on Shakespeare: it is written from a very fresh standpoint, though he rather obscures the merits of the plays by considering them as dramatic works. It always seemed to me that the rather unworthy humour was Shakespeare's concession to theatrical demands. The poetry, if anything, unfits them for presentation, since one cannot find a man worthy to do anything more than think of it.

I have been reading a good deal of Shakespeare lately: some Dante: more Spencer and Rossetti. Generally I take down a vol. of the Acta Sanctorum with me to the mound. The Roots are as good as ever: not many books will be read 6 times by me, unless they have a little more than prose in them. The Rabelais will be a consoler: one wants something o'nights with a little more thought in it than Shakespeare. Richards seems to have been a little cavalier: still he always is, so it doesn't much matter. I may hear from him shortly.

Many thanks the family for writing so often of late. I think I have done as well on my part, though of course I have less to say. If Mother writes every Thursday, then some letters went wide in the three-weeks gap. Of late I have got a letter by nearly every post. Has Will noted Hewlett's new book on Brazenhead? The Times and Spectator commend it highly: if it is a modern work, and represents a return to his old manner it will be of some interest, stylistically. We should have a Tauchnitz ed. of it, when published. Hewlett always seems to me to demand green in his binding: but as you please. Artemision should be in blue or crimson and white: the latter for preference I think. Brown end papers. Euphrates is going down, slowly.

The Soleyb (Solubbies they never are: it is a confusion of the word for Crusader with the tribe name: due to Blunts etc.) are not gypsies (Nouri) and deny all connection with them. They are pagan, and by common consent the original, pre-Arab, inhabitants of Arabia. They go on foot, often, by preference, since some have wealth and baggage-camels: are great hunters of gazelles, hospitable simple folk, in no way fanatical. They are much despised by the Arabs, who as you will see in Doughty are feather-brained and rampol-witted. He always has a good word for the Soleyb, but told me he thought their mode of life would be very primitive. Yet the Arabs are low in the scale, and I think travellers generally are inclined to see the Soleyb through their glasses. A Mohammedan race in the place of the Arabs naturally tells many ill tales of subject heretics (cf. the Irmailiyeh, Assassins, of Syria, and the wandering aborigines (Haddad) of the Sahara you quote.) Neither people is to be despised, when set along the Arab: but the fanaticism, and the blood-feeling makes the latter worthless as judges. You see this in the Arab Chroniclers of the Crusades.

I am not trying to rival Doughty. You remember that passage that he who has once seen palm-trees and the goat-hair tents is never the same as he had been: that I feel very strongly, and I feel also that Doughty's two years wandering in untainted places made him the man he is, more than all his careful preparation before and since. My books would be the better, if I had been for a time in open country: and the Arab life is the only one that still holds the early poetry which is the easiest to read. The Sahara is not Semitic, in atmosphere or in its past. However, no hurry about that: know only that the Soleyb have no touch of Gypsy blood in them (they would not mate with nouris for the world) and that nobody but Doughty has met the real ones: (and Zwiemer, but he is hopelessly untrustworthy). Burton's were pinchbeck. They never touch Egypt or Sinai; but wander among the Aneyza, as far as Resafeh: sometimes a few will come into Damascus: more to Baghdad (from which I would start): usually they will only trade with towns like Resafeh, through the agency of half-nomadic Arabs. A spring and summer with them (which is what I was thinking of) would be a fresh experience: but I have no intention of making a book of it. I would not even go down in Arabia proper: the S. Mesopotamia is much like it, without the great difficulty of access. So there would be no map: no inscriptions: and I do not like the modern habit of wrenching all legends into the purpose of anthropology. Will might have any folk-lore I bring back, if he will produce it decently, without connecting them, by an analogy of parables, with the 5 nations, the Bushmen, and the Hadendoa. I am sorry his Mods went but haltingly. The Examiners as Mr. Jane explains are only human: sometimes only machines. There is more scope in a final school such as History where traditions are less formal. I fully expect Theses will be frowned upon: partly my fault, in straining the statue far beyond what ever was intended. Simple pieces of secondary work were supposed. Yet there will always be room for a good Thesis: though they will be less essential to a good degree than was prophesied my year. Remember a family tradition will be found if your subjects have novelty and purposefulness. I should not write a thesis on any part of the French Revolution, if I were you. It is too complicated a subject to handle as a beginner, and annalistic work is worse than useless. No one has any idea what caused La Vendée, simply because its growth was as natural as a buttercup's. However you may be in Mr. Jane's hands. I warn you that he and Mr. Barker will be an ill-matched pair to drive. The only way to run them is to keep your own line between, and utilise such of each as harmonises which is exhausting, but very profitable. It will mean your reading much less that I did. Do persuade Mr. Barker to let you off the waste of time of lectures. Mr. Jane's tuition would be a great joy to you: it is not filling, but intensely stimulating. He will give you the minimum of pertinent facts, and leave you to mould them to your purposes. Don't hesitate to argue with him. He does not know till it is challenged, half the reasons which make up his mind. Mr. Hogarth's approval of my visit to the Soleyb was a little qualified. He thought it a good idea, for my purpose, but had no wish to share. Borrow's philology is a modern laughing stock: he had Romany on the brain, and any statement of his, in the absence of confirmation, is a strong counter-proof of itself.

The digs are cheering up a little: today we got a good little pedestal, on the backs of two basalt lions, and a memorial altar, with four lines of close-written Hittite linear inscription. Tomorrow we begin our last hope, the trial pits on the remaining section of the site. If they fail we close the digs for good and all. It has been very hard work lately. We have to be overseers, moving the big stones, and with ropes and crowbars only a five-ton block is a ticklish monster to handle: also we are doctors, curing wounds and scorpion bites (the latter instantly with ammonia): then we had a strike, engined by the village sheikh, who wants to be overseer of our men, that he may levy toll on their weekly pay: also great troubles from all sorts of pseudo-claimants of the mound, from the Vali of Aleppo, local gentry, and above all our Imperial Commissaire. Him however, we have now got either stiffly reprimanded, or recalled. So that for a little we may be without worries. Digging in Turkey is not all joy: the actual work is splendid, but not the being protector of-the-poor-and-enemy-of-all-the-rich-and-in-authority which that involves. What with police, and feudal gentry, and shifty tricksters in the village the path has been a little thorny. Our donkey-boy till last week was only getting 15 of the 45 piastres we pay him: the percentage of the sheikh accounted for the rest: since he was a boy and helpless.



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Source: HL 205-8
Checked: jw/
Last revised: 8 April 2006


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