Updated June 2012
T. E. Lawrence to Edward Garnett
[R.A.F. Depot, Uxbridge]
Your letter came to me here (which is Uxbridge) after a long
delay. I've been shut up in camp for a while, and will be for the
It's very good of you to praise my book so, and makes me very proud. I lap it up with both hands - the praise that is - the more greedily that it's the first judgement I have had.
(Don't be shocked by the accidence of this letter. It's being written in the barrack room, and there are 27 lusty people doing jobs about me and muddling me up).
And there's a depth of contrast here. Your letter was dished out at 11 A.M. I put it in my pocket while I went off to hump their swill to the camp pigs: and read it in an easy, as we sat on the stye roof. When I came to your suggestion about a magazine to be called Belles-lettres I'm afraid I laughed. It seemed so far from my swill-stinking overalls! Seriously though, an editorship could hardly be given to a man who had never had any training: or written anything himself (published, that is, in my case!). However it was a pleasant relief to the pigs, and I'm grateful to you.
The criticism touches me exactly. The personal revelations should be the key of the thing: and the personal chapter actually is the key, I fancy: only it's written in cypher. Partly it's a constitutional inability to think plainly, an inability which I pass off as metaphysics, and partly it's funk - or at least a feeling that on no account is it possible for me to think of giving myself quite away. There would be only two ways out of this - one to do like Pepys, and write it out in cypher, as I have done - one to write what is not true, or not complete truth - and the second I don't like.
I'm glad you feel the veracity of the story. It was written in dead earnest, and with as much feeling as a 'don possessed' can muster: and I think it's all spiritually true. Kennington tells me however that some of the incidents will strain people's credulity to snapping point. He finds them improbable.
One of your remarks alarms me: the feeling you admit that parts of it made you wish to do the heavy father. This would be all right if I were writing about a third person - but it seems to approach the indecent to give this impression of oneself. Are they incidents or reflections that cause this trouble? Will you do your best to excise all that seems sentimental when you re-read it?
It's very good of you to be willing to try and cut it down. 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. However there is grand stuff here, and if I could write it... what mania is it that drives a man who has half-killed his brain for four years over one book, so soon as it is finished, to contemplate another? I've been thinking for the last week of writing a study of man in the ranks of the R.A.F. The worst is I'm dead tired, and the disappointment of The Seven Pillars (if you knew how rounded a pearl my conception of it was) has thinned my temper.
However I was thanking you for offering to edit the old thing. Isn't there a certain cowardice in publishing for money (the only motive: a means of escape from the crowd) less than the whole facts I found it needful to put on record? I can understand editing it for artistic reasons: but not for others: and I rather think that should be our standard.
I'll send you the sheets when they release me for long enough to get up to London and pick out the mass of them. They will have to go to you uncorrected, and you will find some of the omissions tiresome: however spots look smaller to a stranger: so perhaps they won't matter as much as I think.
It's very good of you, amongst all your work, to think of attempting it for me: and you will think me very ungrateful if after all I say 'No'.... I hope I won't, but things are variable, and myself most of all: and I must have the deciding word over my own writing while I'm alive.
More gratitude for your praise, which came exactly at the right
My address is No.352087 Aircraftsman J.H. Ross, No.2 Hut, T. Squadron, R.A.F. Depot, Uxbridge if you need it but 'ware letter writing. It's a bad habit.
|Last revised:||5 February 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