Updated June 2012
T. E. Lawrence to Edward Garnett
Only red ink in hand:-
I'm afraid I seemed arrogant to you the last time: but it wasn't that. My mind on literature is not yet crisp. I have looked in poetry (the crown and head, the only essential branch of letters) everywhere for satisfaction: and haven't found it. Instead I have made that private collection of bonbons: chocolate éclairs of the spirit: whereas I wanted a meal. Failing poetry I chased my fancied meal through prose, and found everywhere good little stuff, and only a few men who had honestly tried to be greater than mankind: and only their strainings and wrestlings really fill my stomach.
I can't write poetry: so in prose I aimed at providing a meal for the fellow-seekers with myself. For this the whole experience, and emanations and surroundings (background and foreground) of a man are necessary. Whence the many facets of my book, its wild mop of side-scenes and side issues: the prodigality and profuseness: and the indigestibility of the dish. They were, when done, deliberate: and the book is a summary of what I have thought and done and made of myself in these first thirty years. Primarily it's that, and not a work of art: and when the book was finished and I read it, the fact that it wasn't a work of art rose up and hit me in the face, and I hated it, because artist is the proudest profession. I never hoped to be nearly one, and the chance allures me.
So far for the architecture of the book:- and now for the ornament: the style of it. As you, a critic, have seen, the thing is intensely sophisticated: built up of hints from other books, full of these echoes to enrich or side-track or repeat my motives. It's too elaborate and conscious a construction to admit simplicity - or rather, if I were limpid or direct anywhere people would (should) feel it a false stillness. Yet I felt that I could reach the static, by very exercise of this fault. Will can only be expressed by activity: thought exists for others only when it comes out in words: so I could transfuse my feelings, by putting them into a gesture, a conversation, and sunset or noon-day-heat, or even into the cadences of vowels and consonants which made up a phrase. By avoiding direct feeling I would keep the emotional expression on the plane of the rest of the construction. That's the reason of all that resolution of the personal, the indirectness of which offends you: and my temptation is to go more abstract, more complex, rather than more open.
I never tried (before last time) to say, or even to think concretely, upon my technique, and I was feeling after words all the debate. Whence the hesitation and the too abrupt statements, for which I apologise heartily.
I've been reading a little of your abridgement, and doing my last corrections: but the difficulty of working in this gust of life is heart-rending: and so it is going slowly. The necessary changes are less drastic than I expected: and the excisions so far are not enough to cause you any disappointment.
Note: Lawrence was reviewing Garnett's draft abridgement of the 1922 'Oxford Times' Seven Pillars.
|Last revised:||6 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