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T. E. Lawrence to H.S. Ede


16.4.28.

Dear Ede

I am ink-less for the afternoon, and wasting my time, watching over some Aryan brothers who are working. So to fill the void I am scribbling letter after letter. That is not a good way of doing things.

Aitken has disappointed me. I had confidently expected him to report the loss of 13,364 Turner water-colour studies, and all the withdrawn Chantrey purchases. Never has a gallery had such a chance since Julius Caesar failed to weed out the Library of Alexandria. To his anonymous assistant we owe the selective perfection of Greek literature. The past (just-past) reputation of English art hovered for a moment, a timid butterfly, in Aitken's hand: and escaped. Assure him that Nelson was not scrupulous, either in love or war, though he talked much of duty. Assure him also that the mutilations are the chief beauty of the sculpture in the B.M. Knock the Derwent-wooden nose off my bust some day, in Your Great Hall: and see what a fine thing will remain, after the caretaker has swept up.

I'll look forward to seeing your Brancusi bit, some day. Dobson showed me photographs of his work, and they were just right: but I have never seen any one in the round: and sculpture never seems 'it' unless you can imaginatively put your hands round it, back and front, and feel the solidity in between. You'll observe I talk like a grocer, selling butter. Don't expect a perfectly natural airman to know what planes and plastic values and significant forms are. When a man starts talking to me of impastos I say epicyclic gears at him: and a slow fog of misunderstanding creeps between us.

So many plasticians seem to admit to their notice the outside of machinery, and to exclude its purposefulness, which is to put the skin before the will.

I hope that the Gallery has now reopened, and restored itself, as the best art entertainment in London. You may feel that it's hopelessly slow and cloggy: but I confess that Frys and Ivor Churchills and Courtaulds do not sum up more than the yesterdays of expression, in my backward regard. It makes me smile, sometimes, to think that all the varying pictures produced in 1928 will all date themselves, by some subtlety of likeness, to 1928, in the eyes of 2028. Yet today we are hardly on speaking terms.

Of pictures and sculpture I'm not talking, now, but of the writing gangs: the Joyces and the Kiplings, the Steins and Wells, the Forsters and D.H. Lawrences: they will all date within 20 years, by some yet-imperceptible solidarity. There will be a common thread between T.S. Eliot and Alfred Noyes.

Your letter of Feb. 4 was particularly ripe, and fertile. 'Clean and clear, hard and cold and BALD'. Yes: I think that's a good ambition: (if bald be taken metaphorically. My hair is particularly thick, most unsmart, and unairmanlikely thick, at the moment. A thatch against the sun). In writing nearly everybody tries for hardness and clearness: but the unconscious drag all the while is to cover up. A Negro might make quite uncovered things, if he and his people had never thought of clothes: but for a clothed race to be deliberately naked in art intention is to be ever so unnatural. We should not, in thought, pass the bounds we set ourselves in deed: or our ideas will not ring true. And to live bald and hard and clean: ah; that's beyond a fellow's power, except he be solitary. In the ranks of the R.A.F. we get very near it, for the oppression of discipline makes us unable to pretend amongst ourselves, to be better than just ordered bodies: and our outward sameness of dress means that we wear no clothes at all: but not even here do you get a community of understanding.

You say that my circle centres bit by bit on myself: and therefore turns faster and is dangerous. People who lived in Nitrea, in the old days, to fight down the world, did grow their eyes inward: only inside me is too vacant a place to take much exploring. I live, happily enough, just spending and taking the small coin of our trivial working-days. If a fellow has to live in his flight, and wants to, why, soon, the edge of his flight is his horizon. All the world frets and tries: and in the end we level off, thankfully enough. I'm trying to get a little bit of that contentment, while I'm still alive.

Yours ever

T.E.S.

Source: DG 590-592
Checked: dn/
Last revised: 13 January 2006


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