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T. E. Lawrence to William Rothenstein


Dear Rothenstein,

Yes, I was a sudden loser when Hardy went. Not that I could be a friend of his: the difference in size and age and performance between us was too overwhelming: but because I'd seen a good deal of him, and he was so by himself, so characteristic a man, that each contact with him was an experience. I went each time, nervously: and came away gladly, saying 'It's all right'. That's the spirit in which most of us R.A.F. fellows go up into the air. We are always glad to get down again: yet no consideration would keep us (will keep us) from snatching the first chance to fly once more.

I regret Hardy's funeral service. Mrs. Shaw sent me a copy. So little of it suited the old man's nature. He would have smiled, tolerantly, at it all: but I grow indignant for him, knowing that these sleek Deans and Canons were acting a lie behind his name. Hardy was too great to be suffered as an enemy of their faith: so he must be redeemed. Each birthday the Dorchester clergyman would insert a paragraph telling how his choir had carolled to the old man 'his favourite hymn'. He was mild, and let himself be badgered, out of local loyalty. 'Which hymn would you like for to-morrow Mr. Hardy?'. 'Number 123' he'd snap back, wearied of all the nonsense: and that would be his favourite of the year, in next day's Gazette.

I wish these black-suited apes could once see the light with which they shine.

I wonder if Max is right in saying that women write good letters: good for their men perhaps: but Byron and Keats and Horace Walpole and Chesterfield are not to be matched by any four women's letter writing I've read. Perhaps he means of unpublished letters: the sort that do not get into print. But even there I think he would be wrong. There are few good letter-writers, I fancy: as few as there are good sonnetteers: for the same reason: that the form is too worn to be easy, and there are too many who try. It's a less crowded profession, is epic poetry: and that's why there are few bad epics.

I saw Robert Bridges three or four times, while I was at Cranwell and Bovington. A rarely attractive being: always on the tips of his toes, and so distinct from the crowd. Even that hill-top garden isn't rare enough for his setting. But I like his music room. Sassoon was very happily inspired when he gave him that Dolmetsch clavichord. Will you remember me to him, if you write again? I liked him, and he was kind to me.

Hogarth shone in Oxford, because he was humane, and knew the length and breadth of human nature, and understood always, without judging. Oxford seems to me a quite ordinary fire-less town, now he is gone. He was like a great tree, a main part of the background of my life: and till he fell I hadn't known how much he had served to harbour me.

It is interesting that G.B.S. sits again to you. He is beclouded, like Hardy and Kipling, with works which tend to live more intensely than their creator. I doubt whether you can now see him: you know too much. His best chance would be to find some foreign artist who did not know his face; and to be painted by him as 'Sir George Bernard'. So perhaps we would know what he would have been if he had not written. Lately I've been studying Heartbreak House: whose first act strikes me as metallic, inhuman, supernatural: the most blazing bit of genius in English literature. I'd have written that first, if I had choice.

Kennington, and John: both hag-ridden by a sense that perhaps their strength was greater than they knew. What an uncertain, disappointed barbarous generation we war-timers have been. They said the best ones were killed. There's far too much talent yet alive.

Two pages of nonsense: for your three sheets. I am in your debt. But deserts do not produce any social graces.


T. E. Shaw.

Source: DG 582-583
Checked: dn/
Last revised: 10 January 2006

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