Updated June 2012
T. E. Lawrence to Bernard Shaw
Your lordship errs, and libels me in assuming that I'm intractable and rebellious: ask any of my officers for witness! There is not a humbler little beast: but it would be a long worm without a turning, and so have at you for your letter! You've forgotten that I'm Irish, or that Irishmen persuade only the rest of the world.
It seems I'm to regret the fall of Mr. Baldwin: and to thank you very much for the attempt at a pension. It was exceedingly good of you. Hogarth gave me no idea of it. Why did you think I wouldn't take it? It's earned money which sticks in the throat:- that a man should come down to working for such stuff....
The Government have been very decent to me. They would give me political employ (only I won't look upon the Middle East again) or a commission (only I won't again give an order): and at my asking have twice let me enlist, against their judgement.
People come into the army often, not because it is brutal and licentious, but because they haven't done very well in the fight of daily living, and want to be spared the responsibility of ordering for themselves their homes and food and clothes and work - or even the intensity of their work. Regard it as an asylum for the little-spirited.
You suggest that I'm not genuine in the ranks: but I am: just as good, now, as the others. Not very good, I'm afraid (I will be if I can) since I'm slow, having to learn to do all the daily trifles which others used to do for me. If it wasn't that I've been somebody or something else the authorities would have a fair opinion of what I am.
Your picture of my ending up to find that I am a soldier, by dint of much playing at it, comforts me: for it's the end I want, and am wanting with deadly seriousness. The peace of finding that my horizon was grown so near! If I could be happy drunk I'd drink: but so to take the control off myself might be to loose myself out again: and I want not to be big any more.
You can understand this, for in your phrase 'another magnificent play' isn't it the judgement of the word 'another' which makes you spend time over poor futile Poincaré and his Ruhr?
As for my book, I’ll leave that (a trifle, now far behind me) till we meet, if we meet, in Bournemouth. You prompt my writing another: but the first one was compulsory, and soldiers don't do voluntary things. What is not enjoined upon us is forbidden. While for subject I could only write about the army, and I hate it: and it would be a mean fugitive, wouldn't it, who grumbled at his cave, finding it evil-smelling, and draughty, and too dark?
You ask me what I do with my spare time. Well, the army uses me from 6a.m. till 6p.m. most days: and I'm tired and in bed just after nine. If you fit a meal in, between 6 and 9 there is not very much over. Half-days and Sundays I spend either riding abroad, or in my cottage, reading, writing such letters as this, or turning French books into English to provide the running expenses of the bicycle. I don't sleep much after midnight, so that I've time for thinking then.
I want to talk to you some day about Methuselah. We aren't going that way, if the fellows here are an indication, and I suppose they are extracts of the widest English class. Their only criteria are the physical: they judge, speak, think, enjoy, only in terms of the senses. There is nothing abstract in their lives, no idea for them independent of an external form: and their apex, their sublimation, is the coming together in sex of a man and a woman. And yet you can hold out to me the hope that some day (by dint of trying) I will wake up like them! I believe you no more than I believe your favourable judgement of the book I tried to write. I may be perhaps as like the others as that is like my subject, the subject I tried to capture.
This reads rather too solemn a letter: so let's call it off. Did it ever strike you as a merciful dispensation that we write on sheets, not on rolls?
Will you come to Clouds Hill? I'd like to have you, though it's little worthy of your coming, and I'm afraid Mrs. Shaw (please thank her for her letter and cheque, which I'll explain to her later, when I see her) will find it unclean. I'll send a map showing where it is, to the Hotel. My own movements in Xmas week are restricted, since I'm the clerk who indents for rations for the camp, and they have to come daily, whoever rests. I'll have every afternoon off, and will arrange to be sent your telephone message on the morning of the fine day you'll probably choose for coming.
My noble cycle, the poor beast who allayed my 'shrinking nerves' was taken out secretly by a beast who left her broken, in a ditch: and she is too ruined to mend, even if I could like her again. So I'm not able to go abroad without public leave and a rail-ticket, now.
It isn't true, either, that I'm public here: ninety-nine days out of the hundred I'm an ordinary soldier, accepted by all the others. You only see or hear of the exception. I live the rest.
|Last revised:||1 January 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