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Updated June 2012

T. E. Lawrence to Lionel Curtis


30.V.23

My Lord,

Your letter was black and white:- white because of that Albright story. There seems a pitiful irony in my helping a mind diseased. A hair of the biter? or was it the picture of a sickness graver than his own? You know with neuroses the causeless ones are worst. If my success had not been so great, and so easy, I would despise it less: and when to my success in action there was added (according to those whose judgement I asked) success in book-writing, also at first venture - why then I broke down, and ran here to hide myself.

Isn't it just faintly possible that part of the virtue apparent in the book lies in its secrecy, its novelty, and its contestability? My hard verdict upon it commands your sympathy? The hope that it isn't as good as Shaw says sustains me... And the blackness of your letter? Because it tempts me to run away from here, and so doing it marches with all my wishes against my will. Conscience in healthy men is a balanced sadism, the bitter sauce which makes more tasteful the ordinary sweets of life: and in sick stomachs the desire of condiment becomes a craving, till what is hateful feels therefore wholesome, and what is repugnant to the moral sense becomes (to the mind) therefore pure and righteous and to be pursued. So because my senses hate it, my will forces me to it ... and a comfortable life would seem now to me sinful.

When I embarked on it, a year ago (it was June '22 that Trenchard accepted me for the R.A.F.) I thought it a mood, and curable: while today I feel that there is no change before me, and no hope of change. That's why your suggestions of one hurt me.

Your arguments, while they make me very grateful to yourself, are not heavy. I called you rich, once, in ideas and in furniture of mind: and you are rich, relative to these poor fellows here. You say my friends feel the absence of me - but personality (which it is my gift to you to exhibit) is of a short range, and in my experience has not touched more than ten or twelve friends at a time: and here I live with twenty very barren men, who feel my being with them. The hut is changed from what it used to be, and unlike what it would be (will be?) if I left. This isn't conceit, but a plain statement; for there would be a change if any one of us twenty was taken away: and I am richer and wider and more experienced than any of the others here. More of the world has passed over me in my 35 years than over all their twenties put together: and your gain, if you did gain by my return, would be their loss. It seems to me that the environment does not matter. Your circle does not draw from me (except superficially) more than theirs: indeed perhaps caenobite man influences as much as man social, for example is eternal, and the rings of its extending influence infinite.

For myself there are consolations. The perfect beauty of this place becomes tremendous, by its contrast with the life we lead, and squalid huts we live in, and the noisy bullying authority of all our daily unloveliness. The nearly intolerable meanness of man is set in a circle of quiet heath, and budding trees, with the firm level bar of the Purbeck hills behind. The two worlds shout their difference in my ears. Then there is the irresponsibility: I have to answer here only for my cleanness of skin, cleanness of clothes, and a certain mechanical neatness of physical evolution upon the barrack-square. There has not been presented to me, since I have been here, a single choice: everything is ordained - except that harrowing choice of going away from here the moment my will to stay breaks down. With this exception it would be determinism complete - and perhaps in determinism complete there lies the perfect peace I have so longed for. Free-will I've tried, and rejected: authority I've rejected (not obedience, for that is my present effort, to find equality only in subordination. It is dominion whose taste I have been cloyed with): action I've rejected: and the intellectual life: and the receptive senses: and the battle of wits. They were all failures, and my reason tells me therefore that obedience, nescience, will also fail, since the roots of common failure must lie in myself - and yet in spite of reason I am trying
it.

Albright should have told his physician to heal himself... but yet my best thanks for handing on the story. It cheered me a little bit, as Brutus must have been cheered when the Roman gossip praised his executed son.

This must be the end of egoistic writing: a safety valve may be
good for a boiler, in saving it from bursting - but it's an abuse of it, to make it a pretext for habitually overloading the poor engine. Wherefore apologies, and it shall not happen any more.

L.

Note. previous letter in this series, 14 May; next 27 June.

Source: DG 417-9
Checked: jw/
Last revised: 28 January 2006


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