T. E. Lawrence to Bernard Shaw
[38 lines omitted] I agree, of course, that hand-setting is today no more than an affectation. You can do beautiful work by hand, every bit as good as mono, and nearly as good as lino: - but the cost of it falls on flesh and blood. It ranks with boy chimney-sweeps.
No, I am not adjutant, to this camp. Just typist, and i/c files, and duty rolls. I do what I am told to do, and re-write the drafts given to me, meekly. The officers would need to be better than they feel themselves to be, for me to safely exceed the normal rank of R.A.F. clerk. Also I'm not much good as a clerk: though I type a bit better than this, in the daylight.
You ask what is my expectation of life, when I'm discharged. I can tell you, without many 'ifs'. If Trenchard is displeased with me over The Mint, (those notes on the R.A.F. which you saw, and he has seen) he will make me leave the R.A.F. in February 1930. If he does not bear me any grudge, he will leave me alone here and at some camp in England, till 1935. Or Trenchard may himself leave the Air Force, and I find kinder treatment from his successor. However, in 1930 or in 1935, I will have to go out. My notion, if I have then a secured income of a pound a day, is to settle at Clouds Hill, in my cottage, and be quiet.
If I have to earn my bread and butter, I shall try for a job in London. The sort of job will depend on my health. My body has been knocked to pieces, now and then, and often overworked, in the past: so I do not feel sure of lasting very well. I have thought of a night-watchman job, in some City Bank or block of offices. The only qualification for these is Service experience; and honesty is the necessity which bars very many ex-service men from getting them. I can get good references, from people bankers will trust, so I have good hope of getting placed. Better than that, almost; for Sir Herbert Baker, the architect, who is building the new Bank of England, has spoken of me to the Council which runs it, and they have put a minute in their book that my application is to be considered as favourably as possible, if or when I apply.
You see, I have no trade to take up, and am old to learn, and tired of learning things. So I must look for an unskilled job; and I want an indoor job, if possible, in case I am not very fit. And I like London. And I'd like to work by myself. It is not easy to get on terms with people. On night work nobody would meet me, or hear of me, much. I have been thinking hard for the last two or three years of what I should go for, if the R.A.F. came to a sudden end (you see, it is precarious: I depend on the favour of Hoare and Trenchard, and am the sort of fellow on whom people hang tales and believe anything, though I do my honest best to worm along inoffensively) and I have listened or joined myself to the other fellows whenever they have discussed civy jobs:- and of everything I have heard, this nightwatchman job sounds the most likely for me to be allowed to hold for good. You see, there is no more demanded of you than that the safe should be unbroken next morning. You come on duty as the last clerk goes, and the door is locked. You come off duty when the first comer opens the door in the morning. No others ever hear of you, as an individual.
Thanks to Baker speaking to the Bank Committee, with whom he is in weekly touch, my way to the job seems to have been made suddenly easy. His letter telling me only reached me here, so you see it is recent news. I hope you will not tell anyone about it. The Bank Committee will not. The rest of the formalities would be done by their Staff-man. I will not have to see any of the big noises. The Bank of England is rather more than I had hoped for (or wanted) as it is really too good. Also the smaller Banks let their night men sleep in. Of course the new Bank building will have more room in it. A gorgeous place to live in, don't you think? but that is a trifle, anyhow. A single man can live anywhere, if his tastes are quite plain. Mine are getting plain. Up here I have begun to think with pleasure of the idea of eating... once or twice.
Please do not laugh at this sketch of my intentions. What I have wanted and tried to do has always come off, more or less, except when it was trying to write; and then, despite all the good you have said of my books, I am assured of failure. Not complete failure, perhaps. I explain your and my different judgements of my writing by my knowledge of the standard at which I was aiming, and your astonishment that a 'man of action' should be able to do it at all. A relative failure, let's call it. My aim may have been too high for anybody; it was too high for me. But I think one says just 'too high', not 'immodestly high'. I do not think aims are things modest or immodest; just possible and impossible. It is more than ten o'clock, which is after half the night for us, so I must stop tapping away on these keys. It's awfully hard to make up a sensible letter on a typewriter, or so I find: so please forgive the crudities there are. And forgive also the bother [name omitted] gives you, if he does. I find I can't refuse anyone the chance of making the money, out of me, which I will not make for myself. The stuff is boring. I'd give it, like a Dukedom, to anyone who'd accept it.
I haven't answered your last line 'What is your game really?'. Do you never do things because you know you must? Without wishing or daring to ask too deeply of yourself why you must? I just can't help it. You see, I'm all smash, inside: and I don't want to look prosperous or be prosperous, while I know that. And on the easy level of the other fellows in the R.A.F. I feel safe: and often I forget that I've ever been different. As time passes that war and post-war time grows less and less probable, in my judgement. If I'd been as accomplished as they say, surely I wouldn't be in the ranks now? Only please don't think that it is a game, just because I laugh at myself and everybody else. That's Irish, or an attempt to keep sane. It would be so easy and so restful just to let sanity go and drop into the dark: but that can't happen while I work and meet simple-minded people all day long. However, if you don't see it, I can't explain it. You could write a good play, over a room-full of Sydney Webbs and Cockerells asking me 'why'.
|Last revised:||19 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