Updated June 2012
T. E. Lawrence to F. N. Doubleday
A fine pen, for this will be an inordinately long letter. First of all, very many thanks for your luscious Kipling. It's very good to have the three volumes in one in such excellent type, and on good paper. Did you print it from plates, or was it re-set? It's beautifully done anyhow.
Then the binding. I'm very glad to see your Frenchmen's work. I took it to Bain who was much puzzled at it, and finally confessed he did not know them. He felt this as a personal loss, for it was his pride to recognise every binder. I think it's very pleasantly done, technically as good as anyone ever wants, and the style of tooling is so quiet and respectable. One is ashamed of a Cobden Sanderson on one's shelves: it shouts out its virtue so loudly. This is a self-respecting binding, which will mellow and improve every year it is handled. In fact, as I said once before, very many thanks indeed. It stands between two vellum books, and looks as good as they do, or better. You seem, despite your lament, to get good leather still in U.S.A.
I sent you a little Ricketts binding in white pigskin two days after Kipling came: and have a florid de Santy Xmas-present sort of thing still in hand. It is so hard to get corrugated packing-paper! I hope you will like the Ricketts. It's a feminine sort of thing, I'm afraid.
What I really wanted to write about was Doughty's Arabia Deserta. It's a long book in two volumes (some 500,000 words, I should think) published by the Cambridge Press thirty years ago: full of little cuts and very wise. They printed 240 copies, and broke up the type. A copy now costs £30 in England, and is very hard to find. Duckworth (a publisher in London) produced an abridgement about 10 years ago, and has reprinted it three or four times since: the abridgement was of about 2/3 of the original. The whole book is a necessity to any student of Arabia, but is more than that. It's one of the greatest prose works in the English language, and the best travel book in the world. Unfortunately it's solidly written (not dull at all, but in a queer style which demands care at first), and because of its rarity is far too little known.
Now I'd like to get it out again. I hoped to do it at the Cairo Press: but then Egypt became riotous, and they are vastly in arrears. To do it in England would cost £1,500 for type setting only, and Duckworth won't do it, because it would kill his abridgement. Doughty owns the copyright, and is willing to let it out again for nothing or thereabouts. Do you think any wise man in America would undertake it? I think I could get about 500 subscribers at 2 or 3 guineas a copy - perhaps more: but it would mean a lot of correspondence, and I'm a lazy person by nature. So I thought I'd ask your advice, as a publisher: it's a very great work, and it's a shame it should be so rare: and I like it better than almost any other book. It has of course an immense reputation amongst the elect. Please tell me what you think: and give my regards (as last time) wholly and entirely to Mrs. Doubleday.
T. E. Lawrence
A jest about my own screed. One [name of publisher omitted] and a dull fellow came to see me after some persistent correspondence. I told him I'd not publish in England at any price, but hope to do something for America. He said it was an impossible idea, as it would be pirated, and hinted that I knew nothing of copyright law. I don't - but no one ever heard of a law which could not be avoided by either side, when necessary. So then I said you would probably publish for me in U.S.A., and that the Clarendon Press or someone would do it in England, only the American edition would cost a shilling or so, and the English one be published at £1000 a copy. This sent him off silent, but very angry. As I said, a dull man, and greedy.
I think my MSS may be ready for abridgement about 1921 autumn - or 1922: and I'm aiming to give you about 150,000 words of it: I hope it comes off.
|Last revised:||24 January 2006|
T. E. Lawrence chronology
1888 16 August: born at Tremadoc, Wales
1896-1907: City of Oxford High School for Boys
1907-9: Jesus College, Oxford, B.A., 1st Class Hons, 1909
1910-14: Magdalen College, Oxford (Senior Demy), while working at the British Museum's excavations at Carchemish
1915-16: Military Intelligence Dept, Cairo
1916-18: Liaison Officer with the Arab Revolt
1919: Attended the Paris Peace Conference
1919-22: wrote Seven Pillars of Wisdom
1921-2: Adviser on Arab Affairs to Winston Churchill at the Colonial Office
1922 August: Enlisted in the Ranks of the RAF
1923 January: discharged from the RAF
1923 March: enlisted in the Tank Corps
1923: translated a French novel, The Forest Giant
1924-6: prepared the subscribers' abridgement of Seven Pillars of Wisdom
1927-8: stationed at Karachi, then Miranshah
1927 March: Revolt in the Desert, an abridgement of Seven Pillars, published
1928: completed The Mint, began translating Homer's Odyssey
1929-33: stationed at Plymouth
1931: started working on RAF boats
1932: his translation of the Odyssey published
1933-5: attached to MAEE, Felixstowe
1935 February: retired from the RAF
1935 19 May: died from injuries received in a motor-cycle crash on 13 May
1935 21 May: buried at Moreton, Dorset