T. E. Lawrence to David Garnett
You see, I have changed dust-holes. This is all ringed by mountains, and on the edge of Afghanistan. There are only 25 of us. We live behind barbed wire. The life contemplative. The peaks around us are sharp, like bottle-glass, and our Fort is in a pit.
Into which drops your sudden letter about The Mint. The Mint? Why I wrote it in 1922. It feels incredibly far off. What was it you wrote six years back?
There are some gorgeous things in your letter. I got to your sentence "the air . . . a new form of transport". Ha Ha. Tell Belloc that yachting is only an obsolete way of going somewhere. Candide indeed. He liked (I believe) digging in a garden: which seems to me about the saddest employment on earth. We are not alike! By 'we' I mean you and Candide, too. As for physicists... 'rot 'em.
A marvellous good thing: 'The Seven Pillars .... was a Triumph. This an agony'. You have it in one word. I should have written an agony after the Title: only for the third part, which is not unhappy. Actually the R.A.F. is excellent living:- sometimes. Here, for example, and at Cranwell. I look back on Cranwell's eighteen months as the happiest I've ever spent.
Trenchard (the person most concerned in the R.A.F.) is going to read The Mint: or is going to try to: so it will be interesting to see if it has any good result in making life easier for the serving fellows. I fear he will not share your feeling that we suffered too much. [10 lines omitted]
The lack of second-remove stuff - intellect you call it - in The Mint, as compared with The Seven Pillars is surely fitting: one is a recollection of two years in the life of a people: the other is a few weeks of strained physical effort in a hut-full of recruits. I wasn't looking on, when I wrote it. I was one of them. Brains take longer to work than senses. So The Mint is purely sensory or sensual. I doubt that brains in it show themselves anywhere: (I hope they don't) except in the not-showing themselves. You try writing such experiences without a reflexion: and you'll see that your criticism is one of the best commendations the little note-book could have earned. If I'd seven-pillared it, by recollecting it in tranquillity - or rather in changed conditions - I'd have done something very unlike the note-book: and very unlike The House of the Dead, too. The House of the Dead is fine, strong, wonderful: but D. had not a crisp side or word in him: so it lacks the particularity of reported notes (Mint) or the subsequent rationalisation of experience (Seven Pillars). That's my memory of Hogarth's translation, read 10 years ago and not since.
Incidentally the original Seven Pillars was more like The Mint. It was losing the draft of it which caused it to be written at a distance.
When you see me in the flesh you'll probably laugh. My appearance is painfully undistinguished! In 1930, I hope it will be. The getting back to England will be an inordinate pleasure. I get shivery when I think of the streets in Westminster, or the roads in the English country. O, put me back, and see how happy I'll be. There's just a film to come out and be forgotten: and then I streak home top-speed. My R.A.F. incarnation should endure till 1935, if I'm lucky.
You are right about the absence of flowers in The Mint. There is a severe beauty in some buildings, which would only be reduced if creepers were grown over them. I tried - deliberately - for that. You see, as I suppose every writer who reads it will see - how deliberate the construction and arrangement of The Mint is. I called its proportion the worst side of The Seven Pillars: and was determined that, what S.S. calls the architectonics of, whatever else I wrote should be, at any rate, calculated.
Your liking for the first-afternoon-football-match pleases me. That page was meant like a seat for anyone tired with the idea of effort. So was the whole third book put in like a benediction after a commination service: and the very occasional landscapes and lyric paragraphs, between stresses.
Old Lincoln (the Steep Street is, or was, Ermine Street) delighted me. The Cathedral, as you saw, I did not like. Yet perhaps it's only because it succeeds too well. I do not think it disappoints as much as it chills. We come to it expecting to be cheered: and it tells us that we are no good at all. (Remigius excepted: the Norman arches and the font, and the organ tones are lovely).
'The worst horrors imaginable'. Oh no! I've not anywhere, here or in The Seven Pillars, really taken the lid off horror. If I told you of our troopship on the way out to India now:- that had the horror of almost final squalidity. I do not think that it is human to go very far into the mechanism of life.
Don't you like Rupert Brooke's sonnets? They are wonderful: especially for a man who was not very good in anything he wrote. Really, people are odd. They are writing apologetically of Rossetti, in the papers, everywhere. He was a magnificent poet. Morris is half-praised. Morris was a giant. Somebody said that Dowson wasn't a great poet; or Flecker. God Almighty! Must everyone be as seven-leagued as Milton and Byron and Hardy? The English world is full of wonderful writing, by live men and dead men. Look at Mr. Weston's New Wine.
I must apologise for that letter which talked about French literature. Your previous note suggested that I might be anti-French, biased against them for political reasons. Whereas I'm always reading the Frenchmen I like: none of them boulevard idols: but wonderful, in my eyes.
Write a fairy story? No. I won't. I propose, in all humility, not to write anything of my own again. Just lately I've been trying to translate a little Greek book, to earn £30 which a Yank has promised me therefor. I have, at different times, done a lot of translating. I think it is the best way of learning to use words. Much harder than choosing one's own ideas, and clothing them. Have you ever translated?
|Last revised:||17 January 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