T. E. Lawrence to Henry Williamson
Extracts, 530 words omitted
Back to Tarka: the worst thing about the war-generation of introspects is that they can't keep off their blooming selves. As you saw, I'm glad to say, by the length and elaboration of my remarks, the book did move me, and gratify me, profoundly. It was the real stuff. I shouldn't, if I were you, attempt to re-do it; the non-successes, the gritty stuff, of real people, are altogether topping as examples of how things come and grow; it's like sculpture: the brokenness of the Venus de Milo is the main virtue of that sentimental but very lovely work. I like best of all the books in which fallible men have burst themselves trying to be better than they can be. Tarka, to anyone who's tried to write, is a technical delight, all the more perfect for being imperfect, here and there. If you write it out again, and make a rounded and gracious thing of it, you'll rob us of the object lesson, and deprive us of what might have been a new and very lovely book, on another subject.
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Now a confession. In the R.A.F. we live in a communism which is voluntary and real. So as soon as the old stag arrived he disappeared. I haven't an idea who has him, out of the seven hundred fellows of us in camp. He will infallibly return, after a few days, or after many days; nothing ever goes wholly astray, nor is anything wasted. They are like townees on a desert island, longing to taste all the book fruit they see on the shelves of all the shops, but afraid to taste, without some guide to tell them what's what.
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Being almost book-blind, themselves, any guide is welcome. So they assume that all my books are eatable. I suffer, once in a way, as now; but generally I'm delighted that they should find me of use. I like these fellows enormously. We are really the same kind of creature - or would have been if I'd had a natural life, and not a mort of extravagant experience - and the nearer I can creep back towards them the safer I feel. They give one a root in the ground.
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The Arab business was a freak in my living; and if I did the wonders they ascribe to me, then, it was wholly by accident, for in normal times I'm plumb ordinary. I don't believe the yarns they tell. Only it seems conceited to refuse to accept public opinion about oneself.
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I wonder what you will do about money. Tarka will not have made much, and the more carefully you write the less you are likely to earn. Do you notice how the writers who are very widely sold are so often careless writers? Dickens, I'm thinking of, and Tolstoi, and Balzac: though Balzac rewrote all his novels in proof, but he wasn't thinking about their form, so much as of the forms of the characters in them. I wish I could think clearly enough about all the writers of the world, and see if it's more than blind chance which makes one seem good and another bad: if only there was an absolute somewhere: the final standard by which everything could be measured. At present we have ever so many surveys of literature: but they aren't so much surveys as sentimental journeys across it. For a survey you must have a measured base: and instead of that we have just opinions and opinions.
Extracts, printed in Genius of Friendship out of sequence, but in the correct sequence here. Full text, 1,114 words, in Letters Vol. 9 pp. 45-8. In GOF the passages above are printed with a final paragraph that comes from Lawrence's letter of 11 December 1928.
|Source:||GOF pp. 15, 17, 20-21|
|Last revised:||5 July 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