T. E. Lawrence to E. M. Forster
16 4 28
Forgive the pencil. I am inkless this afternoon.
Don't cut me off from anything you may write in future, because you've sent me one supremely good thing. I've liked everything you've written: some of it very much, some of it less: but liked it all. I've tried to write, myself, and know that a man doesn't ever succeed in mating sound and sense and expectation. We land, always, other than we meant to land. That's presumably the fun as well as the vexation of writing. Your less-good work is very helpful to me, as an amateur of writing: for our minds are parallel enough for me to see your intention behind the expression, (or to flatter myself that I do partly and in some senses see it... oh shades of Henry James in this style of letter!) and just because it may not completely come off, so I may be able to see the works inside it more clearly.
And I don't expect you to be always at your best. Indeed I once said that it was the mark of a little writer to be very particular about his standard. The big men (of the Balzac, Tolstoi, Dostoevski, Dickens stamp) are incredibly careless, here and now. They seem to have said 'well, it doesn't matter. If the readers can't see what I mean, they needn't'. There's a lavish ease about their stuff: and an agony of carefulness about the Henry James and George Moore and Flaubert class. These are two points of view. I like both lots. But don't, please, stand on ceremony with me. The most beautiful parts of all the best Greek statues are their mutilations.
What news of Posh? He is out of the service, I think, now. If you still hear of him, let me hear of his fortunes: even of his misfortunes. He must strike a smooth place, in living, soon: if he is to keep going at all.
Do not take my illnesses seriously. They are only indispositions: and may be partly due to my refusal to see that I'm too old to lead a boy's life much longer. They do not allow, in the Services, for grown ups... the whole treatment and regimen is designed for the immature: and physically I'm in decay, however half-baked my mind may be.
Here is a suggestion which I make with great diffidence and regret, for what may seem to you presumption. Long ago, at Uxbridge, I made some notes on life in the ranks. They are crude, unsparing, faithful stuff: very metallic and uncomfortable. Once I meant to make a book of them, by leaving them to sink down into my mind, and then reviving my memory by their aid, to distil something adequate to what is a very large subject: the enlisted-man-in-uniform.
Only the disappointment which the Arabia book's feebleness bred in me knocked all writing hopes on the head. So I told Edward Garnett, father of the David you know, that he should have the original notes, as a relic. My relics are hawked about, you see, and have a money value. Clouds Hill was floored and roofed out of the sale of my golden Mecca dagger !
Lately I sent Garnett his notes: not the originals, which I've just burnt, but a fair copy, rearranging, pointing, linking, dividing the notes. I've taken away, not one adjective, nor one word, nor one idea: but have lengthened by as much again what was almost a literary shorthand, into what I think is a palatable mess. Palatable? well, hardly: it's presumably oatmeal porridge sort-of-stuff: but a man might get through it, if he added the milk of time and the sugar of patience to its body.
David Garnett would probably lend it to you: but 0 Lord, it's no hospitality to offer to an esteemed friend. Don't choke yourself: don't try to, if porridge and dry bread and dough make you ill in advance. Really to see it is no privilege, and to read it probably pain: but if you send me your imperfections (as I devoutly hope, for they seem to me more meaningful than other people's perfections) I should at least acknowledge to you the existence of writings of mine later and wiser than The Seven Pillars.
I want the existence of these notes kept dark; otherwise asses will want to print them, or read them. Mrs. Shaw: the two Garnetts: Trenchard (my sponsor in the R.A.F.) if he wishes to see them: you. I think that is all I care about. It would have been Hogarth too: but he has gone. He was like a parent who had never stopped growing.
T E S.
|Last revised:||27 February 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