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T. E. Lawrence to Bruce Rogers

R. A. F.


Dear B. R.

Forgive this squalid typewriting. It is easier for my eyes at night. I enclose a note which I have sent to Isham and Emery Walker. That may save time. It is hard, from Asia, to deal quickly with both Europe and America.

Some evil beast devoured the sample sheets you sent me. When you get back to secretaries and offices, again, do please send me more. I am fond of the workshop processes of printing. You are so good as to say a word in favour of the Seven Pillars. I learnt much, in trying to make it. That is about all I'd say for it. To combine representational drawings (above all in colour) with the formality of type seemed to me an impossible achievement: so with my instinct to run up against the inevitable, quickly, I put my pictures as an appendix, and without margins, so that they should burst out of their pages. That explains one oddity.

The printing of woodcuts on the hardest paper is more satisfactory than printing them on smooth stuff. You get a richer texture. And it is not technically difficult, on a small platen, if the paper is just damp enough, and the inking right. Pike, my chief printer learnt the trade on the Seven Pillars, and was, at the end, about the best woodcut printer in London. I wonder what happened to him, by the way? He failed as a private venture, after I had to let him go; and he does not write to me. A difficult man, but a fine workman, and ingenious engineer and artist.

Yes, Wilson, of Bumpus, is a real discovery, as a bookseller, isn't he? I like his infectious enjoyment of a good thing. I am glad he approves of your projected Odyssey. To me it sounds sumptuous printing. Your name will sell it all... but all is only a few hundred copies, and you want thousands of pounds to make our respective ends meet. However that is not my job, now. Good; for the financing and overseeing the Seven Pillars cost me much time and rest. When I had arranged the last copy for the binders my relief sent me to sleep for two nights. No signatures to sheets, you see, and no numbers to plates.

If the finding the instalments of cash worries the firm, then I'm quite agreeable to waiting till the end for the whole lump. I am earning a motor-bicycle, for 1930, and paying off the debt on my cottage in Dorsetshire. Both things will wait till I get home.

Having Emery Walker as your printer will probably make the execution of your pages better than ever. They will understand what you are at, and will give it technical excellence, it will be indeed a BOOK. But a Doves Bible? Hardly. The poetry pages of that are superb. I find the plain text a bit long in the line.

I shall be very keen to see the sample of Centaur. Good, of course; but will it be the final, perfect type of which I've so often dreamed? And which I feel is almost in reach. There are so many almost perfect types. One proof will do me. There will be few corrections, and those will not involve resetting more than the word or words affected. I promise never to lengthen or shorten a line.

The Odyssey is long. Probably 120,000 words. If you want a synopsis you shall have one for each book. Tell me, in that case, how long you would like them to be, in words. If you would be easier without synopsis, a table of contents would take its place, at front or back. Ask for what you want. Also with book-headings, or page headings. I can make anything you want in that respect... or you can make them up as you go along. Topical headlines can be as brief as one word, or as long as the page is wide. It is for you to tell me (easiest on a dummy page) what is fitting. If you will send me a sample sheet of lay-out (not necessarily in Centaur, but of the right proportions), I'll do my bit, as sample of trimmings. As you say, it's a pity we can't meet and talk. Please take for granted that everything is possible, and that it will please me to be ingenious.

Your arrangements for subsidiary publication in U.S.A. strike me as sound, if optimistic, it is the 25th English version of the Odyssey, I believe. So it will not be a great catch, for any publisher. I hope it will be considered not too inadequate, as a text, for its printing and production: that is all I hope.

You call the book-collectors queer for buying even a commercial book, if it has your name on it. But few people are assured enough of their own judgement to say 'This is good' - and your name is the label which tells them that the goods have the classic touch.

I think it will probably take me the best part of two years to do the Odyssey. Your sample took me just over 100 hours and it is not yet properly finished. Agreed that later books will go easier.
The finding a style is hard, and it is not yet fully found. But remember that it is done after I have done the usual day's work of an airman in workshop or office; and that on days when the R.A.F. give me overtime to do I shall not be able to touch the Greek. It is a common tale that no fellow in the Service works; - but I think it is not true. We go to bed very tired, as a rule.

You would have liked Storrs, had you met him. A very, very civilised creature, who reads the Odyssey through at least once a year. He says it is one of the world's best things. I too have the Sassoon books, even as Mrs. Gordon Woodhouse. Sassoon is a great poet, and your editions of him are delightful. There is no one alive whose work is better worth setting. He takes so much trouble with every syllable of it, too. I believe he has a copy of his last book, on green paper, for me. I gave him some of the Seven Pillars.

Mrs. Gordon Woodhouse was playing a little scrap of Bach on her harpsichord, via my gramophone, the afternoon your letter arrived here. I try and carry two or three of her records about with me. I have never heard her play, of course. But the reproductions are lovely.

What a huge letter,

T E Shaw

Source: BR1 [24-8]
Checked: jw/
Last revised: 5 July 2006

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