T. E. Lawrence to Dick Knowles
Today is the anniversary of our sailing from Southampton. I was very unhappy at tearing up my roots, once more. The first time I left England, in 1905, was a dream of delight: not that it was the first time, of course; but in 1905 I began my own, independent, voluntary travels. France, mainly: then further afield, by slow degrees, until the War cut short that development of me into a sort of Hogarth: a travelled, archaeological sort of man, with geography and a pen as his two standbys. Hogarth was a very wonderful man. You never met him. He was first of all human, and then charitable, and then alive. I owed him everything I had, since I was 17, which is the age at which I suddenly found myself. You may have begun a little earlier, since the being torn out of home is an education in itself.
However, there it is; today is one year of my exile finished. Only two more. I do not show any outward impatience: but I shall be very glad when it is all over, and myself at home again. This travel, or rather this residence in the East, is one perpetual temptation to me to cut loose again on some further project of my own: and I do not want to take off. Taxying is quite fast enough for so wing-crippled a duck. Your first journey abroad, however, will probably be a delight to you. If you do not carry in your head any conviction that A is right and B is wrong, then the contemplation of different ways of doing things, different ways of thinking things, different values, even different habits, provides you with year-long meals of great richness. And to watch the reaction of set characters (such as most of the fellows in Room 2) against their present strangeness, is a delight. I am sure that it is those in the glassiest houses that throw the most stones.
I called myself a wing-crippled duck too soon. Are you yet an A.C.2? So am I. For the moment we are square. The dice are weighted against me, for I cannot get higher, owing to my lack of the needful education certificate. And I do not think I can face the ordeal of working again at sums to pass it! But it is very important that for the moment we are level.
Your letter about man-service interested me. Yes, it is very near the beast. Once I fancied I was very near the angels, and the coming so abruptly to earth was a jar - and a very wholesome jar. Angels, I think, we imagine. Beasts, I think, we are. And I like the beasts for their kindliness and honesty: without really managing to make myself quite like them. I've lived now five years in barracks, and can honestly confess that I have never been really one with my fellows. I have sometimes, for a moment, imagined myself into a unity with them: and before I could seize it and settle down into it, like a rabbit into a burrow, I'd be whisked off to another existence, incontinent. This may be my solitary misfortune (Graves suggests that I'm a unicorn) or it may be the common fate of man, and that only myself complains of it. As though I got a hump on my temper because I had only two legs, whereas a centipede had more than he could count!
Do you ever feel like a unicorn strayed amongst sheep? I fancy so, from your letter. If so, you must prepare yourself for not ever becoming quite a part of the earth - or quite unconsciously happy. Do you remember E. M. Forster, at Clouds Hill? He wrote me from Edinburgh 'so I'm at peace, and quite happy. But I do not know why every year it becomes more difficult to write down those last two words.' Another unicorn, is it? Often I think every man is. But meanwhile the beast remains, sometimes supine, but sometimes rampant. You will find it taking charge of you, at some weak second of your will: and after that you will either be very charitable and forgiving to others, or you will hide it and be superior. Do not, any way, condemn yourself harshly. It is the lot of us all.
However this is not a helpful nib to write a long letter with. I lost my own good (or serviceable) pen after the Forster quotation, above, and have since tried this one right way up, and back down. Both beastly.
Graves sent me an advance copy of his book. I'm relieved to find only two things in it which hurt - one, the story of Lord Curzon crying - the Middle East Committee. That is the version Sir Eyre Crowe used to tell, and I do not think it quite fair either to Curzon or to me. The differences between us were fundamental. The other is my interview with the King. Neither his account (called 'mine') nor Lord Stamfordham's very exactly fits my memory. I had never a notion of fighting the British in arms: nor was I quite as priggish as Graves makes out.
However, these tiny spots apart, it is a good book. [one line omitted]
|Last revised:||17 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