T. E. Lawrence to E. M. Forster
Here it is: possibly you need to know Palestine well to enjoy it as much as I did: it seemed to me of the very best: and my conscience has lately assailed me for not returning it to S.S.
By the way:- of consciences - Did Posh (Palmer that is) ever write to you? Probably not. In revenge I'll betray his confidence. When he got your book and note (about 9.30 p.m. one evening) he marched out of the hut, and was absent till reveille next morning. Indeed he was late for reveille, with an unslept-in bed, and only just avoided trouble there-on-account. By local signs I judge he sat in Clouds Hill part of the night. The book and letter are now hidden in his kit. We're quaint little souls, aren't we?
The night-jar came and made music only in your honour. She has now abandoned Clouds Hill... or was there a second and more fortunate stone thrown? She would be less heavy, as a necklace, than an albatross.
I've long ago finished the India book. Half-through I laid it aside for a while, saying 'The sensation is finished. India, a continent, is on the canvas complete'. Afterwards a remorse for the interrupted action took me, and I went on. Then the characters asserted themselves, and became so lively that the continent faded (till near the end) and the book became breathlessly exciting. It's a three or four-sided thing, more like sculpture therefore than painting. Extraordinarily satisfying, to the reader, in the multiplicity of its effects and cross-lights and bearing. Purple passages are pp.251 seq. the roof-conversation. Wonderful that. It advances Aziz and Fielding incredibly: pp.288 seq. the orgiastic work. That's what I mean when I regret the absence of life in my writing. You can shape so spare and trim a thing out of an innumerable heap of impressions and materials.
The scene in the Club: from p.180 onwards: wicked: but very nobly done. Did you know that was a possible combination! It's a most punishing chapter for anyone who has, like me, the Englishman's reaction to other people's tragedies. Just before it comes the Godbole conversation, miles away from our mind, but just as present to you. And then chap XIV: the landscape of the caves. Oh, it's despairingly well done.
The truth is of course that you are a very great writer, and that it's irredeemably weak of me to envy you, even to imagine my following or working by your methods. But I've always stood on the plain, like an ant-hill, watching the mountain, and wishing to be one, and can't very well now reproach myself with the longing, since it won't stop.
If excellence of materials meant anything, my book would have been as good as yours: but it stinks of me: whereas yours is universal: the bitter terrible hopeless picture a cloud might have painted, of man in India. You surpass the Englishman and surpass the Indian, and are neither: and yet there is nothing inhuman (like Moby Dick) in your picture. One feels all the while the weight of the climate, the shape of the land, the immovable immensity of the crowd behind... all that is felt, with the ordinary fine human senses.
A marvellous book. My final hope is that you never do worse than this again.
If the flea may assert a kindred feeling with the lion... then let me suggest how my experience (and abandonment) of work in Arabia repeats your history of a situation-with-no-honest-way-out-of-it. You on the large thinking plane, me on the cluttered plane of action... and both lost.
|Last revised:||10 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