T. E. Lawrence to Edward Garnett
I. VIII. 27.
The slow months begin to total respectably. When I got here it was 7/1/27: and now I'm past the half year. Did ever free agent so long to be three years older?
This is a reply to your letter of June 27, which ended up with a well-introduced remark about my Uxbridge notes. I write this on the back of one, to show you that the not sending them as they are is only kindness to you. I wrote them pell-mell, as the spirit took me, on one piece of paper or another. Then I cut them into their sections, and shuffled them, as Joyce is supposed to have shuffled Ulysses. With the idea of curing you of any delusion you might be persuaded by the chorus of critical England to entertain of me as a person of literary promise or capacity - where was I? - Ah yes: to disillusion you as to my literary ability - where was I? Ah yes:- to show you that I can't write for toffee, I decided to send them you. You would have thought them the raw material of a paper-chase. So I began at Clouds Hill to stick each class in some sort of order on to sheets of paper, meaning to have them stitched for you. But that did not work, for the sections were too intertwined.
So I am copying them seriatim into a notebook, as a Christmas (which Christmas?) gift for you. It is a posh manuscript, in my most copper-plated hand. It will be bound, and gilt-edged. Can I do more? (or less.) Please regard it as an expensive gift. Copying my old notes is like eating my yesterday's vomit. I add nothing but take away repetitions, where vain. I 'did' three Church parades for example: and I believe they can be boiled to two: or even to one, which would be the quint-essence and exemplar of all my church parades.
Enough of this stuff. Do not expect it for ever so long. It is done against the grain. About a third of it is done. Am I making a fool of myself? Would you rather keep your illusion? There are sixty sheets like this. You understand they are not emotions remembered in tranquillity: but the actual fighting stuff. Photographic, not artistic. All were in pencil. It's better than The Seven Pillars, in its class: as like as butter and cheese: that is, not like at all: but equally rotten. The S.P. showed that I could not ratiocinate: this that I can't observe.
Your letter of 27.VI.27.
[3 lines omitted] The Smerwick massacre was more Grey than Raleigh. R. was picturesque, and a braggart. People ascribed to him more action and less sensibility than the truth. Did you ever read his poem ?
I rejoice that you are going to read The Seven Pillars: and I'll hope to have your critical opinion, when you end it. It matters to me, for I put months, years, of work into it after you said it was worth working at. You will find hardly a sentence of the Oxford text standing. If I'm any good at all at writing, the revised S.P. should betray it.
Graves has worked too quickly. His book is only milk and water. Which of us, he or I, is milk?
A happy ending to a book (? Revolt in the Desert, if it is a book: I think it is: a dishonest little sweep of a book) is worth 5 more sales in 10. Cape wouldn't have had a best-seller (but oh yes, a great success d'estime) if the hospital chapter had been kept. And if it had not sold I'd be hopelessly in debt, and forced to leave the R.A.F. (which is my condition of contentment) to earn money and become solvent. Do realize that I was hard up against it last year, and could not be artistically scrupulous. Your standards are appallingly high and high-brow. [4 lines omitted]
John Buchan sent me a jolly letter. 'When you do not get inundated with adjectives' (the dear things, I like driving them four in hand: or 40 under my bonnet) 'you are the best living writer of English prose.' He does not mean it, but I take all praise at its face value.
You puzzled me with your
'Major Herbert Read'. You mean
Herbert Read, one of T. S. Eliot's school: a very excellent critic? He
won't commit himself. But his mind is keen, and highly (too highly)
tempered. I hope he will put something helpful on paper. None of the
reviews yet have helped me to write better: yet, for all their writers
knew, I might have wanted to.
Do not have any anticipations. I will not pull off another accident.
|Last revised:||13 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