T. E. Lawrence to Edward Garnett
Now your letter has come to me; after I'd copied the other side of this sheet for your eye. I wanted you to like The Mint: and I'm ever so glad you do. Please do not let the proprietary feeling warp your judgement. It is well written, in its way, and well-observed, too, so far as it goes. Being a small thing, of limited scope and range and aspect, my deficiencies of talent are betrayed less than, for example, in The Seven Pillars. In The S.P. I tried to draw a movement, and a country, and a race at war. The result was rather a flop. In The Mint I just picture the experience of a handful of my own countrymen during some months. Of course it was more successful.
Your praise goes further however than this: and I cannot follow you into it. The Mint is only notes: ever so much that should have been there is forgotten. They worked us too hard at Uxbridge (where I was weary after 1½ years with Winston, with the 3rd version of The S.P. to write, meanwhile), for me to have proper leisure to see with untroubled eyes: and the re-writing here, done carefully and arduously over six months, every day, and all my spare hours from 2 p.m. till bed-time at 10 o'clock:- even that was not untroubled. So do not imagine that you have, in The Mint, my full strength, as it was lavished on The S.P. You have me six or seven years older: that is it.
One thing which you say I must challenge: that I put much of myself into it. It is not true. The S.P. is unbearable to me, because of the motley I made myself there for everyone's seeing. That's why it won't be published, in my living. The Mint gives nothing of myself away: personally, I shouldn't mind its appearing to-morrow: but the other fellows wouldn't understand how I'd come to betray them: and Trenchard would not have it. It would hurt him: and I value his regard beyond that of most men. He is very great. His R.A.F. is bigger than my Mint; and I'd not dream of doing anything which would imperil the R.A.F. or blacken it; or make him think it was imperilled or blackened, or in danger of it, through me.
So please be discreet in your showing The Mint round. That is why I asked you not to circulate a typescript. The MS is obviously as private as a letter, and people will respect it... but a typescript is a chilly inhuman thing.
My terms to Cape, and to every other publisher, are a million down in advance of a royalty of 90%. Make clear to him, when you submit it, that I am not proposing to change my publisher: merely to do without a publisher, in future. He realises that I dislike being bound, even by fictitious ties: so here's a fiction for a fiction!
Assure Cape that I haven't any more notes or MSS. in my bag: and no projects of writing in my head. That is all over, I think and hope. I leave for Peshawar (20 Squadron, R.A.F.) on Wednesday 23rd May.
[on the back of the letter:]
Extract from a letter to G.B.S.
'Your literary criticisms are much more exciting. You put your finger on two of the three or four inventions in the book: first the purple night-scape in the story of the dead infant. What Corporal Williams said was: 'Christ, it was as black as hell.' I found that in my notes, and copied it. When I read it, stark on paper, here in Karachi, the whole story felt true. So I pulled out his too-likely phrase, and piled black Pelion on Ossa, to shake the scene out of fact into Dunsanity. Overdid it, of course, as usual. Now I'll write and tell Garnett to cross out the purple lines, and restore the bald reality.
'The other passage, about Queen Alexandra,* shows that I've wholly missed my target with you. As I worked on it I was trying to feel intensely sorry for the poor old creature who had been artfully kept alive too long. I was trying to make myself (and anyone else who read it) shake at the horrible onset of age. And you find a touch of the grinning street-arab. Mrs. Shaw found it cruel. I was saying to myself 'You'll be like that, too, unless you die sooner than the Queen...,' but it wasn't just personal. There were all the hundreds of younger fellows round me in the church, and I was smelling instead the decay of Marlborough House. It only shows how aims miscarry. I didn't want to take it out of the parson even.
'That's the sort of thing that pulls me up with a jerk when I let the comment of other people influence me to think myself a writer. Perhaps I have a punch in each hand: I know I feel things passionately; but you wouldn't call a punch-owner a boxer, if his aim in the ring was such that he knocked out the referee, and downed four posts. And if you'd tried to paint a Japanese sunset, and the best critics of art in England gasped and said 'Sheer genius, that portrait of Mr. Lloyd George': what would you judge yourself then? I'm like a hen who lays a clutch of Mills' bombs in a flurry of ambition to play tennis.'
* Is copied from a letter to Mrs. Shaw at the time, and which she kept, and loaned back to me, last year. Much of the Cranwell part comes out of private letters of the time.
The rest of G.B.S' letter was practical, and dealt with the future of The Mint, and how it could be published, or revised, or privately printed, or what.
I replied that writing books might be an inevitable act of nature: but that publishing them was an indulgence. This Mint was a note-book for a book that will never be written. So it has now no raison d'être: except that you asked for it, as a souvenir of me; and therefore it escapes the flames. But as for publication, he might as well grab a bundle of my letters and insist on censoring them into a polite volume. The Seven Pillars was given a restricted circulation, because it was historical - the only record of its experience. . . The experience of The Mint is open to anyone who enlists: and therefore it has no scarcity value.
G.BS. and Mrs. Shaw had your text of The Mint shown them before it was posted to you. No one else saw it, or any part of it.
|Last revised:||25 July 2008|
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