T. E. Lawrence to Edward Garnett
Your telegram came this morning, most happily. I was on guard all yesterday and so felt pretty much in the dumps. It is a hateful, painful waste of time: everybody comes off guard thoroughly miserable: and all the day after feels wet. Besides, I'd had to make up my mind to get shifted from this place, as a precautionary measure. If I stay, there's a risk of trouble. So I've asked to be sent up country. It may be worse, or it may be better. I lose a lot of books, and music, (only gramophone music, but the potted stuff is very well, for people away abroad), and the little conveniences I've arranged myself in the last fifteen months; and begin again: I'm stared at, a good deal, my first month in a new camp.
However the telegram was cheerful. It had my 'Ross' number on it, which excited the Orderly Room: for it was delivered as an official message. I don't know how you sent it. They presumed it was in code, and had a good try at it with their code books: then delivered it to me in despair, wondering if it was mine. I read it in a minute, and was delighted to know that the thing had brought up safely. It took so long to copy out, that I'd have grudged the Post Office its acquisition.
Also I'm delighted that the recipient likes his present. I am very deeply in your debt for advice, and experiences among books, and kindnesses: and I've been wanting for ever so long to make some return. Only being nearly a pauper, by my own wish and will, I can't easily gratify a particular person. It is like making bricks out of thin air. So it was really kind of you to telegraph.
Do not let your enthusiasm for new notes in writing run away over The Mint. It is a new note, I fancy: I've never read any other book of exactly the same character. It is fragmentary, and has the dry baldness of notes: none the worse for that, for The Seven Pillars was prolix: and this Mint is not long-winded: or not often long-winded. Doubtless it would come down 20% with advantage; but in so short a book (is it 80,000 words?) the dozen pages more or less hardly matter: also it isn't a book. It's a note for your private eye: a swollen letter.
It is well-written, I fancy, as prose. The labour of The Seven Pillars taught me a good deal about writing: and I have worked very hard at other people's books and methods. So by now I must have acquired the rudiments at least of technique. I'd put The Mint a little higher than that: and say that its style well fitted its subject: our dull clothed selves; our humdrum, slightly oppressed lives; our tight uniforms: the constriction, the limits, the artificial conduct, of our bodies and minds and spirits, in the great machine which the R.A.F. is becoming. I had to hold myself down, on each page, with both hands.
A painted or sentimental style, such as I used in The Seven Pillars, would have been out of place in The Mint, except in the landscape passages, where I have used it. But I doubt whether any un-versed reader would be able to connect the two books by any tricks of authorship.
The form of the book took a lot of settling. I worked pretty hard at the arrangement of the sections, and their order. Mainly, of course, it follows the course of our training, which was a course: but where I wanted monotony or emphasis, I ran two or three experiences together, and where I wanted variety I jogged 'em up and down. I got all the material out into a skeleton order, and placed it, so near as I could: then I fixed in my own mind the main curves of idea which seemed to arise out of the notes: and re-wrote them with this intention in the back of my mind. So I fancy there are probably hundreds of tiny touches (perhaps only an adjective or comma) of a tendencious nature, which help us to guide your intelligence to the ends I had in view. Only here again I was hampered, as in The Seven Pillars, by having true experiences to write about. I took liberties with names, and reduced the named characters of the squad from 50 odd to about 15: else there'd have been too many fellows in the book, and they'd have confused the picture. Otherwise it is exactly true.
Force - oh yes, I expect parts of it are forcible. That's the worst of feeling things as strongly as I do. Only I hope that some of my contentment and satisfaction in the R.A.F. appears, as well as the abuses I saw. So often we tend to take the sweets for granted. That's why I'm hoping that Trenchard won't ask to see it. He sees the R.A.F. from the top, and I see it from the bottom: and each of us, no doubt, thinks he sees straight enough: but I swear I'm as keen on it as he is: and I do all I can, down here, to make it run smoothly. It's only the little unimportant things in the R.A.F. that make airmen's lives sometimes a misery. I itch to tell him of them, and have 'em swept away. He is like a tank when he gets going.
However, it's no use going into all that. You like the booklet: which I made up to please you. Don't let the snare of ownership stifle your judgement. It is not a classic: but the précis of an (unwritten, and never to be written) book: and as it is not to be published, itself, you and I will never be able to check our judgements by public opinion. So:- regard it as a notebook of mine, given to you because you liked my Seven Pillars, and because I had no further room nor reason for it. I won't tell you it's rubbish: for I wouldn't have given you what I believed to be rubbish, but it's pretty second-rate, like me and my works: it's the end of my attempts to write, anyhow: but please believe that this inner conviction of the thing's not being good enough only increases the momentary pleasure which I obtain from having you praise it. I'd so like something of my creating to be very good: and I bask for the moment in the illusion of your praise. Very many thanks therefore.
|Last revised:||13 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