T. E. Lawrence to E. M. Forster
I am happy in another wonderful letter from you about The Mint. I suppose mothers and fathers make secret fools of themselves, over their children, in the way I do over my books. I can see what ungainly, silly things they are: yet I can't help feeling happy and warm, in the hollow place between my ribs and my navel, whenever somebody, even a futile somebody, speaks well of them. And when you, who are one of the shining ones of the English language, say nice things... well, you can't imagine how the worm then tries to uplift itself! I am not impugning your imagination, in that remark, but your worminess. Never having been a worm, you can't really know a worm's feelings.
Pickard Cambridge, an Oxford philosopher, rushed out to his villa's lawn, in a great thunderstorm, and dug up clod after clod of it, clumsily, with a spade: 'to relieve the worms oppressed by their covering of grass', as he told his wife, who was trying to drag him in, out of the wet.
Of course The Seven Pillars is bigger than The Mint. I let myself go in The S.P. and gave away all the entrails I had in me. It was an orgy of exhibitionism. Never again. Yet for its restraint, and dignity, and form, and craftmanship, The Mint may well be better. By that I don't mean that The Mint has no emotion, or The Seven Pillars no balance: only comparatively it's so. E. Garnett, curiously enough, calls The S.P. reticent, and The Mint a giving away of myself. Why, so far as myself is concerned, I wouldn't hesitate to publish The Mint tomorrow!
In truth however, the publication isn't in my hands. Trenchard is not the primary obstacle: though for him I have an admiration almost unlimited. He's a very great man. I think he overestimates the harm which The Mint would do the R.A.F.: but what really holds me back is the horror the fellows with me in the force would feel at my giving them away, at their 'off' moments, with both hands. To be photographed, they put on what they call 'best' clothes, and brush their hair, and wash. To be portrayed, as in my book, unadorned would break their hearts. You must remember that The Mint is photographically exact: many of them have their real names! No hut-full could trust itself to live openly together, if there was a risk of their communion becoming public copy, in a few years time.
So The Mint shall not be circulated before 1950. By then the characters will not matter. Poor old Stiffy is keeping a hotel in Essex now. He'll be dead, and Trenchard, and perhaps myself: (dead or aged 62, the last item. What a quaint performance The Mint will seem to a white-beard of 62!)
I cannot understand quite why E. Garnett chides me so. Surely he over-estimates the importance of publication? Books give pleasure: but think how many good ones there are which you haven't yet read. Why fuss over one more or less? Especially as I don't propose to burn it. It is quite safely preserved, and if our next generation want to read our stuff, then they'll have their chance. Usually it's the next but one which revives us, after much derision.
He calls me a writer, and curses me for not writing. Really, I am not a writer, I think. There's no sort of demon lurking in my brain urging me to put down on paper, or that. Yet, despite this handicap, I'd point out that I have written two books: one of 300,000 words, and one of 80,000 words, in nine years. It seems to me not much less an output than - let's say - yours (though I don't mean to suggest that my stuff ranks in the same class as what you do). Edgar Wallace writes a lot. But he's even less like The Mint than your novels are. The Seven Pillars was a most exhausting performance. It is in its fourth edition, in the Subscribers' text. The Mint has been written out four or five times. Young Garnett found parts of it careless. I can assure you that parts of it may be incompetent, but not a word is careless or uncalculated. I've done my very best with every line of both books. Overdone it, rather than underdone it. Edgar Wallace does not take half my pains, I think.
What you say about the emphasis I get on simple words like Moon or chocolate biscuits, mayn't it be partly because I do try and feel every article or emotion which comes into the book? I tie myself into knots trying to re-act everything, as I write it out. It's like writing in front of a looking-glass, and never looking at the paper, but always at the imaginary scene. That, and a trick of arranging words, so that the one I care for most is either repeated, or syllable-echoed, or put in a startling position.
You'll laugh at all these tricks and dodges of the amateur, trying to get the effects of an artist, by synthesis. Yet your praises show me that I've sometimes pulled it off.
As for showing The Mint round: that is rather the Garnetts' privilege, isn't it? I've given them the editio princeps, and they can show it, or lock it up. I've begged E.G. not to let its existence get into the literary gossip pages. Because I should then have to tell a lie, and deny that it exists. As a matter of fact I have written a letter to Savage, who acts as agent for Revolt in the Desert, and told him to say so, publicly, if anything comes out.
'Waiting for your next - ladies or fairy tales or....' The same to you: only for Heaven's sake don't drag yourself unwillingly into print. Nearly every author has written too many books. I like long books: but few books. If you do no more - why I shall re-read (I often do) what you have already done. If you write more, I shall read them too: but I do not value the to-come above the alreadys.
My next - if an American of wealth is attracted by the sample Book 1 I sent him two months back, and offers me good terms for more - will be an English literal translation of the Odyssey, to be published without translator's name, in the States. In translating you get all the craftsman's fuss of playing with words, without the artist's responsibility of their design and meaning. I could go on translating for ever: but for an original work there's not an idea in my head.
Such an egotistical letter: but you rather asked for it: and making me try to justify myself forces me to dig in, for motives and reasons. You know, I hope, that in reality I don't think very much of - or about - myself.
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