Updated June 2012
T. E. Lawrence to Alec Dixon
The weather barometer points to 'stormy'. My private indicator is set at 'calm'. Cranwell is the coldest place on earth, and the windiest: but all the wind is actual. In the metaphorical sense it is one great rest. As soon as I reached here I told everybody whom I used to be. It gave me an uncomfortable month. The back of every chair in the canteen used to sprout a face whenever I entered: and the airmen generally held their breaths waiting for a sign. A month that was. After it their strained lungs expired and inspired air in gulps, and then settled down to normal rate. When a new man comes to the station he is brought to see me: otherwise everything is the same as ever it was. God be praised. The R.A.F. is very good. My discharge date is August 1932. When I wake up suddenly at night it feels close, and frightens me: but six years is yet a long time. God be praised as I said before.
Savage has told me of you and Picton. Well, I go on hoping. My own ignorance of authorship is so profound, so immense, so absolute, that I dare not give a verdict in either of your cases. Authors make themselves by going on writing. Did you ever read Martin Eden, by Jack London? No, it's not like the rest of his work.
The Mesopotamian rebellion of 1920? Didn't Miss Gertrude Bell put together the only account of it in her annual report? It used to be a sort of blue-book thing, published at Bagdad. Try a big Public Library: or the British Museum. There was also a woman (Buchanan?) who wrote a blank book about herself in Arab hands. They were gentle with her but killed her husband.
Leachman was a thin jumpy nervous long fellow, with a plucked face and neck. He was full of courage, and hard as French nails. He had an abiding contempt for everything native (an attitude picked up in India). Now this contempt may be a conviction, an opinion, a point of view. It is inevitable perhaps, and therefore neither to be praised nor blamed. Leachman allowed it to be a rule of conduct. This made him inconsiderate, harsh, overbearing towards his servants and subjects: and there was, I stake my oath, no justification for the airs he took. Leachman was an ordinary mind, but a character of no ordinary hardness. I do not say a great character, for I think it made its impression more by its tough skin and unyielding texture than by any great spread or degree. I should call him a man too little sensitive to be aware of other points of view than his own: too little fine to see degrees of greatness, degrees of rightness in others.
He was blunt and outspoken to a degree. Such is a good point in a preacher, a bad point in a diplomat. It makes a bullying judge, too. I think he was first and foremost a bully: but not a fleshy bully. He had no meat or bulk on him: a sinewy, wasted man, very yellow and dissatisfied in face. He was jealous of other people's being praised.
For his few days with us in Hejaz we were not prepared. 'Leachman', it was a great name and repute in Mesopotamia (a land of fourth-raters) and we thought to find a colleague in him. After less than a week we had to return him on board ship, not for anything he said, though he spoke sourly always, but because he used to chase his servant so unmercifully that our camp took scandal at it. The servant was a worm, a long worm, who never turned or showed a spark of spirit. Any decent servant would have shot him.
Leachman lasted a long time after that: but one day he spat in a sheikh's face at a time when the veil of terror under which we had worked in Mespot had worn thin. The chief upped and shot him in the back, as he was running out of the tent. Both insult and reprisal were almost unprecedented in the history of the desert. Then Leachman wasn't quite what you call a decent fellow, and the sheikh (whom I met a year later) was febrile. As L. died tragically we must hide his fault. Don't make him a hero in your book. He was too shrill, too hot-tempered, too little generous.
News of me, when you want it, from Posh.
|Last revised:||? 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