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T. E. Lawrence to Ralph Iham


R.A.F. Depot,
Drigh Road,
Karachi

22/11/27

Dear Isham,

Your letter is, I think, about the kindest thing I've ever had. I cannot imagine how you get through life, if it's your principle to lend a hand to every breakdown you see on the road. Meanwhile, please believe that there's one very grateful one, here. I'm answering your letter in the Engine Shop office, where I work; but it is not in office hours; and I'm typing it, because this is the only paper the great but niggardly Indian Government issue for the use of the Aircraft Depot, and it will not carry ink. Generally, not having a secretary, I find it an easier matter to write my letters. Also I don't type well!

I cannot take your offer of a job, of course. It would not do to work for any friendly person, in the first place. Then I am not a literary bird; my writing is better than the stuff turned out by the majority of retired Army officers, so many of whom, in England, put off boredom by what Peacock would have called 'The Pleasure of Composition'; but it has not the smallest pretensions to literature - or is it litter - no, it's lit. Even I am not ashamed to own that I have never yet seen or read a line of any of Boswell's books. I would have read them, had I met one in a disengaged moment, for reading is my greatest occupation, when, mercifully, work has run out for the time. And if you are good enough to send me your Boswell book, I'll enjoy it: he must have been a pretty good writer, judging by the way the proper people speak of him.

You are, so say the English papers, very lucky in the swag you carried off from Malahide. I hope it is as good as they say. You talk of having ten years work on it - which is a colossal thing to face. [16 lines omitted]

This Lowell Thomas book comes as a surprise to me; I'd imagined he had finished with my war reputation. However he will not sell much of it. Another 'life' of me is to appear this winter - by Robert Graves, a young poet of my acquaintance, who had the kindness to ask my permission before he signed his contract. I suppose his book is fairly accurate; he referred several parts of it to me, in draft. On the whole I think I prefer lies to truth, so far as concerns myself. Still, his book will not last long. At the worst it will be a rage for a few weeks or months like Revolt; and then, a year or so later, I can get home. Probably in April, 1930.

About your queries from L.T.'s book:-

I was in the Royal Tank Corps, between March '23 and August '25 and was transferred from it back to the R.A.F. Exchanges from Service to Service are not difficult to arrange.

Of course, as you know, Lowell Thomas was not with me on any ride or operation in Arabia. I do not know how long he was in the country, for he arrived while I was up-country, and I had gone up again before he left. I expect he was there some ten or fourteen days, in all; of which we were together in Akaba for perhaps three. [4 lines omitted]

I chose Shaw at random. The recruiting Staff Officer in the War Office said I must take a fresh name. I said 'What's yours?'. He said 'No you don't'. So I seized the Army List, and snapped it open at the Index, and said "It'll be the first one-syllabled name in this". [5 lines omitted]

Please do not let anything I may have carelessly written to you about the R.A.F. give you the wrong impression that I am miserable or uncomfortable in it. It has been a real refuge to me, and I am grateful to the Air People for taking me in. The airmen are not in the least like soldiers, except in their standard of living. I like many of them, and Service life makes up for its roughness in many ways:- for instance one is never lonely - far from it... and it is soothing to know that one's bread and margarine is safe for the term of one's engagement, and that the standard of work expected of one is so reasonably low that one can be positively sure of meeting it. If I were working for any ordinary employer I would be always worrying if I were doing as well as he expected, and I desired. Cheap labour is let off easily.

I am glad you are fond of printing. I think it is one of the richest things any man can do. Have you met St. John Hornby one of the Directors of W.H. Smith & Son, the big English booksellers? He is very rich, and lives in Chelsea, in a huge and terrible house; but in the bottom of his garden is an ex-stable, where he and two printers turn out the Ashendene books. I do not like his type (Caslon is my ideal) but his press-work is the finest ever, and his vellum copies the most sumptuous books in the modern world. Nor does his hobby cost him very much:- less than the upkeep of a car, I believe. He sells his work in small editions. You, I expect, will print your own edition, for the few who really care for good books, and will then let someone have stereos from your type for the million, who will want your new Boswells. You are a most fortunate person: but I shall not envy you if 1930 sees me back in England, fit enough, and rich enough to have a motor-bike and ride it hard. That is my post-war pleasure.

I do not know if you are content with your bargain, as regards those proofs of The Seven Pillars you bought. The first chapter is the only surviving copy, so far as I know. It was cut out because G.B.S. called it very inferior to the rest. Since then, young Garnett has called it a vital chapter... In the rest of the text are quite a number of faulty or variant readings. I gave it, as a bundle of loose sheets, to one of the Tank Corps fellows, who happened to be my half-section in the Q.M. stores, where we both worked. He is now in low water, and is desperately realising his household gods. He wrote and told me, and I advised Wilson as the selling agent, telling him not to expect too much, since my fame was only an artificially filled bubble, and his copy not the standard thing. Now I rather fancy your benefaction will make his path easy for life. Comic how things are... Just spoiled proofs, you know. If you can think of any personal means by which I could make them more nearly worth what you gave for them, you have only to command me. I'm in your debt for your help to Palmer, as much as for the refused offers to myself.

I expect it will take you two or three years to get out the first section of your treasure. I wonder where I will be then? This address will find me till the end of 1929, probably... and after that I will lie on the knees of the Air Ministry: who are considerate and human lords.

Again I'd like to repeat my thanks.

Yours ever

T E Shaw

Source: DG 544-547
Checked: dn/
Last revised: 10 February 2006


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