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T. E. Lawrence to Mrs Thomas Hardy



Dear Mrs. Hardy

This is Sunday, and an hour ago I was on my bed, listening to Beethoven's last quartet: when one of the fellows came in and said that T.H. is dead. We finished the quartet, because all at once it felt like him: and now I am faced with writing something for you to receive three weeks too late.

I was waiting for it, almost. After your letter came at Christmas I wanted to reply: but a paragraph in the papers said that he was ill. Then I held my breath, knowing the tenuous balance of his life, which one cold wind would finish. For years he has been transparent with frailty. You, living with him, grew too used to it perhaps to notice it. It was only you who kept him alive all these years: you to whom I, amongst so many others, owed the privilege of having known him.

And now, when I should grieve, for him and for you, almost it feels like a triumph. That day we reached Damascus, I cried, against all my control, for the triumphant thing achieved at last, fitly: and so the passing of T.H. touches me. He had finished and was so full a man. Each time I left Max Gate, having seen that, I used to blame myself for intruding upon a presence which had done with things like me and mine. I would half-determine not to trouble his peace again. But as you know I always came back the next chance I had. I think I'd have tried to come even if you had not been good to me: while you were very good: and T.H.

So, actually, in his death I find myself thinking more of you. I am well off, having known him: you have given up so much of your own life and richness to a service of self-sacrifice. I think it is good, for the general, that one should do for the others, what you have done for us all: but it is hard for you, who cannot see as clearly as we can, how gloriously you succeeded, and be sure how worthwhile it was. T.H. was infinitely bigger than the man who died three days back - and you were one of the architects. In the years since The Dynasts the Hardy of stress has faded, and T.H. took his unchallenged - unchallengeable - place. Though as once I told you, after a year of adulation the pack will run over where he stood, crying 'There is no T.H. and never was'. A generation will pass before the sky will be perfectly clear of clouds for his shining. However, what's a generation to a sun ? He is secure. How little that word meant to him.

This is not the letter I'd like to write. You saw, though, how I looked on him, and guessed, perhaps, how I'd have tried to think of him, if my thinking had had the compass to contain his image.

Oh, you will be miserably troubled now, with jackal things that don't matter: you who have helped so many people, and whom therefore no one can help. I am so sorry.

T. E. Shaw

Source: DG 564-5
Checked: dn/
Last revised: 5 January 2006

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