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Updated June 2012

T. E. Lawrence to V. W. Richards

[August, 1920]

[22 lines omitted] (ii) Re Oxford. To finish my 'Boy-Scout' book by Sept. 30 will mean my spending August and September in All Souls: solid: the more you can come down in that time the better I will work: so please don’t limit yourself to Sept. 24 etc. Any date in those days will do perfectly: and the longer the better. Your critical faculty would be invaluable: because though it's only a cheap book written to buy Pole Hill and build its house, yet it's got to have my name on it — therefore I don’t want it to be despicable.

(iii) Re prose. The extract sent is nearly perfect: but prose depends on a music in one's head which involuntarily chooses and balances the possible words to keep tune with the thought. The best passages in English prose all deal with death or the vanity of things, since that is a tune we all know, and the mind is set quite free to think while writing about it. Only it can't be kept up very long, because of mortal weakness and the wear and tear of things, and the function of criticism, revision, and correction (polishing) seems to me to be either

(i) putting a thing into thought
(ii) [putting] thought into rhythm
(iii) putting expression into meaning.

It seems to me that if you think too hard about the form, you forget the matter, and if your brain is wrestling with the matter, you may not have attention to spare for the manner. Only occasionally in things constantly dwelt upon, do you get an unconscious balance, and then you get a spontaneous and perfect arrangement of words to fit the idea, as the tune. Polishing is an attempt, by stages, to get to what should be a single combined stride.


Source: DG 318
Checked: jw/
Last revised: 22 January 2006


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