T. E. Lawrence to Edward Garnett
Your letter is an exasperated one: and why not, you'll say, exasperation being a mode like another? I only wrote to you saying that I wanted to come home. I do, badly. But I cannot, till Revolt is forgotten, and Graves' 'Life' of me has followed it down the road. I fix the provisionally safe date at April 1930. That will give me five years more R.A.F. life: which, in England, is completely to my taste. Before 1935 your tin mines will all be bankrupt again.
The advantage of the night-watchman billet is that it places me in London, where I would choose to live exclusively, if I have to live in only one place. Nobody but a Londoner can really taste all the pleasure of the country. The R.A.F. pays me 3/3 a day: good pocket money: and I recently made nearly ten pounds out of reviewing eleven books. Money for jam, as the airman says. Only I know by bitter experience that whenever a paper pays me it it just going to cease to appear.
Penance, promise, obstinacy, a vow, self-hypnotism... you catalogue my motives. Isn't it possible that I like being in the R.A.F.? Agreed that exile to India is an unmixed misfortune, for a person whose fit years are nearly run out. But I brought the exile deliberately upon myself, by selling Revolt to Cape, and so I must make the best of it. Yet it needn't prevent my saying, aloud and often, that it is a heavy price to pay for the comfort of liquidating my debts. I tried every other possible means first, and I think I could just have met them, without Cape's help: but it would have meant my leaving the R.A.F. and three lost years in India were a lesser price to pay.
I am very sorry to hear that your brother was drowned. The Dorset coast is very beautiful. If he lived, as I suspect, in that little piece of lost England between Weymouth and Swanage (excluding Lulworth) then he was fortunate, both living and dying. Of course yours being the loss, you could not see it that way: but to sorrow too much at others' deaths is to contradict ourselves. Which of us would give anything for a generous extension of our own [life]? The thought that the job will end somewhere, may end soon, is an abiding comfort to 99% of the people over thirty.
Yes, I have time to meditate, I suppose. I do meditate, largely and expensively. So your copy of my Uxbridge notes makes slow progress. I am trying not to rewrite: but I have to rearrange extensively, and to cut out repetitions and expand the sentences which are in an esoteric shorthand. It seems to me that it may all be 50,000 words long: but it is soon to say that. There is not much more than a quarter of it in shape: and even that I dare hardly call in shape: for as I dig further into the loose sheets I continually find myself of 1922 returning to earlier subjects, redoing them better, or correcting what had seemed to him hasty. I think the job may be worth its trouble. It seems to me to convey some of the reality of the Depot at Uxbridge. I called it to you an uncomfortable book, once. It is. There is no trace of me, in it, hardly a ghostly outline of the principle figure. It deals entirely in terms of 'us': and if one of us is mentioned by name, and gives a phrase or an act of his own, it is only to serve as a mouthpiece of us. The unit in the notes is the squad. So it is a libel on the happiness of an airman's life e.g. at Cranwell.
'Concentration, slogging away, rewriting'. You get almost a classical instance of that in The Seven Pillars. Yet Graves says in his book that the Oxford edition is the better, because it is not so faultless. He means frigid, possibly: but The S.P. is, to my mind, redhot with passion, throughout. Never was so shamelessly emotional a book. So where does faultlessness, a meiosis for some faultiness, come in?
Graves' book, is as you say, certainly not Nestlés: but it is too laudatory. All the better, of course, to turn the public stomach, and make it spew when it thinks of me. So 1930 will be really a safe date.
[3 lines omitted] If you want to see the Irish War done by a decent fellow, read Figgis' book. He is splendid on Achill, and on Casement, and Cathal Brugha, and in showing some of the maze of intrigue in which every honest man gave up hope, except Griffiths. Yet Figgis' book is less good, as a study of rebellion, than my S.P., although he was rebelling in English, and had leisure and understandable characters, and the extreme of drama to help him. I am led to think that that I've more of the roots of a writer in me than Figgis had: though the height of a Children of Earth is beyond my reach. A novel, that is, in which the characters are the wind and the sea and the hills. His humans are negligible.
Herbert Read is very like Eliot, isn't he? Eliot must be a strong fellow: he dominates all a group, and writes hardly anything.
No, I have not changed ground on the hospital chapter. I have been firm from the start that it was totally unsuited, because of its power, its bitterness, its length, its late position, for inclusion in a popular abridgement. I kept my horrors further back, where the blood was hot, and let the book just run down to its conclusion. You will not realise the difference between a real book (The S.P. being as truthful as I could make it) and an edition for general consumption, put out just to make money, and to stop the mouths of those who were crying for word from me. To overweight the last pages with matter emotionally more powerful than anything in the body of the book would be to finish up with a bang. Whereas the bang comes in the third act, properly. I cut out all the high emotion. The preface, the murder in the valley, the killing my camel in the camel-charge, the scene at Deraa, the worst of the winter-war, the death of Farraj, the Hospital - all of it. Your amendment was out of tone with what I was aiming at. Too good, perhaps: but that's worse than too bad.
|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