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Updated June 2012

T. E. Lawrence to Bernard Shaw


Dear Mr. Shaw

The camel-shooting, first time, was a fluke: and I have not inclination to repeat it. Suddenly it came to my mind that you still had the book: and I remembered that it was the longest book written: and that your time was rubies: and that if you spent hours over it I might be preventing, and would surely be delaying, another Caesar or Heartbreak: and in remorse I wrote to you. Please don't, out of kindness, bore yourself. It's more like the heaps of stone-chips left in the quarry after the builders had finished, than like the great pyramid itself: though I'll confess that I found the pyramid a sad sight: vulgar in size, untidy in surface, singularly sedative in shape. (As many s's in that as ever Swinburne used.)

It's amusing, though probably you meant it without significance, that you mention Caesar. Your picture of him is one of the few of great men with any life in them: and to it and Heartbreak are due my sending you the Seven Pillars. Also the Commentaries are one of my pet books. I carry them, and read them regularly: in fact I'm reading them now. They are the antithesis of mine: indeed I suspect that no successful general ever spilled so much of himself on to paper as I did.

Why Gordon? There is only a superficial likeness I think: though my mother was a Gordon. My father was Anglo Irish, with Dutch strain. The death of Childers struck me as a very definite tragedy: Greek type. I wonder what you will do with my 'dangerous potentialities' when you have finished the book: if you do finish it, and your letter sounds determined. It won't be so odd as what I've done with myself. I'm now an airman in the Air Force: one of those funny little objects in blue clothes who look forlorn when they walk about the Strand. It keeps me alive (just) and keeps me out of mischief. One of its consequences is that I'm afraid I can’t come and see you: they give us very little leave, and rather too much work. At present I’m stationed by Aldershot. As the Press would talk rot about my eccentricity, please don't talk very much of it. It's not a secret, and not common knowledge: you see, people generally took for granted that I had enough money - or the determination to make some: whereas I have none at all, and have never worked for it: and won't.

The book is being abridged. Edward Garnett, a critic, has cut it to 150,000 words, and I'm going to see if a publisher will pay for these miserable orts. If so I'll become a civilian again. You have no idea how repulsive a barrack is as permanent home. It reconciles me to the meanness of the abridgement.

Yours sincerely,

T. E. Lawrence

Source: DG 387-8
Checked: jw/
Last revised: 1 January 2006



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