T. E. Lawrence to Lionel Curtis
Dear My Lord,
Thank you for sending me the Times account of D.G.H. It does its best to give the externality of the man; but everything for which I haunted him and valued him is missing from their picture. He was my background, in a curious sense; the only person to whom I had never to explain the 'why' of what I was doing. He was strangely understanding, and has taken this personal quality into death with him. All personality is like that, except the personality of the very great writers and artists, who are sometimes able, like Hardy, to write themselves out over and over again in their books, till they have convinced us that the veins of what natural ores they contained are exhausted. Whereas nobody could value Hogarth without knowing him. For the general public he will remain the waste Johnson would have been without Boswell. In my own case I feel that I have lost what I valued at Oxford; for D.G.H. was in a real sense a part of Oxford. Indeed I fancy that for me he was Oxford, entire and unqualified. He was a don, unimaginable away from the place, where yet he lived only a few years of his life. But he had what one would have wished to make the atmosphere of a common room - such a common room as would have enticed and gratified Peacock - and I used always to say 'here's a don and a man combined'. He never struck me as a scholar, but as primarily a civilised person.
However enough of all this. You will be distressed at my falling to this typographical degradation. It is part of my duty here to type so much of the technical reports and correspondence as has to go out of our office and workshop. If I do it not, then the professed clerk has to supply my place. This would be well, only that sometimes he will be ill, (everybody is always having days off duty in this place) and we are the only two 'office boys' allowed by establishment. So sometimes I will have his job, and that is mainly the typing of strengths and parade states. Anyway, I have contracted to learn my way about this beastly machine, and as I am very slow to learn anything, it has been already a long business, and will be a long time yet. I am past the two finger stage, and the scales and practises, and have now to exercise my leisure for an hour a day upon the vile bodies of those I know. I propose to wipe off most of my back correspondence; but it is weary work. It is horrible to allot the same space to every letter, regardless of size, and horrible to have to strike each letter separately. Yet so exact is the register of this old and worn-out machine that the only chord I can rely upon for an impression without sticking afterwards is the 'il' group. All the other ties I attempt jam in the gate.
Yes, I'm glad you are saving so much of the land round Oxford. I would like, though, to see not open land, but land cunningly inhabited everywhere. I would buy my estate, to save it from the speculator, and dot it over with little houses, put each where it hid itself, if it could not be made an addition to the landscape. Only I would prohibit that disfigurement of enclosures about each house, that ugliness of wall or railing. They should all open upon the common land, and should have liberty to plant or dig it, indeed, but without protection against a visitor. You could make men behave themselves like reasoning creatures, if you ceased threatening them with prosecutions: and you would prevent that privacy growing up. Indeed I would almost say you would obliterate class. There is none in the common dormitories of our barracks. I agree that barracks are ugly things :- but then look how ugly is the declared purpose of troops' existence in the sphere of things. We cannot help being brutal and licentious, for our intention is unholy, and they must fan in us such passions as serve the brute. But put your dons and scholars on common ground, and allow them, if they improve their neighbourhoods, to improve it for everybody, and not just for themselves... and see what a new mind you might make. I would have Cumnor Hurst a suburb, and Boars Hill populous. A foreground to the City in the distance.
Enough drivel. You are retired to write your book about the Empire. Good. Remember that the manner is greater than the (?) matter, so far as modern history is concerned. One of the ominous signs of the time is that the public can no longer read history. The historian is retired into a shell to study the whole truth; which means that he learns to attach insensate importance to documents. The documents are liars. No man ever yet tried to write down the entire truth of any action in which he has been engaged. All narrative is parti pris. And to prefer an ancient written statement to the guiding of your instinct through the maze of related facts, is to encounter either banality or unreadableness. We know too much, and use too little knowledge. Cut away the top-hamper.
More preaching. This place induces softening of the brain. I notice an incredible shabbiness and second-rating in all our effort here. We talk so much of the climate. A gowk in a paper of this week said that the climate of Karachi was like a taste of Hell in summer, and pitied his fate in having to serve and work in the place. Well, this year it has not once been uncomfortably warm. It has never been hot, in the sense that Baghdad and Cairo are hot. There is no sunlight, no direct glare to hurt men's brains. A climate like St. Raphael in summer, perhaps. Yet they burble of hardship, and sleep at midday, and wear sun-helmets, and cut the work hours to half the hours of England, and excuse themselves any laxity or indulgences of temper or disposition, under the plea of the fatal sun. It is laziness, pure or impure, and simple or complicated. We could work exactly as men do in England, and be all the better for it, for we would then not have time to remember and cultivate all these fancies of fever and disease. Believe me, I am ashamed of my race, here. They deserve to lose ground in the world, for their frivolous ineptitude.
Oh, what a moan. Owt else to tell you? no, I think not. You will see I am back in a shell again, changing my skin, more or less by compulsion of instinct, to make Robert Graves' portrait of me a missing portrait. The leopard changes his spots for stripes, since the stripes are better protection in the local landscape. Ah me.
This hour will not pass. So be it. I will pass instead. Yet the pity of it is that probably I will post you this sheet of nonsense lines, instead of burning it. Take it as what it is, a typewriting lesson, which shows how difficult it is to spell, and how impossible it is to think, for a novice, at least, direct on to the instrument. Now with a pen I can hold my fancy in leash and write what my mind dictates or approves... but with this thing....
H. G. Wells must dictate his novels. That is where all the 'Damned dots' come from. They are irresistible.
|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