Updated June 2012
T. E. Lawrence to Henry Williamson277 words omitted
[18-21 March 1930]
I have been too long, perhaps, over The Patriot's Progress: but after my first reading of it everybody in the Hut got hold of it, and I only saw it again yesterday, when I read it for the second time.
It is all right: that is the first thing to say. To do a war-book is very hard now, after all that has been written, but yours survives as a thing of its own. I heaved a great sigh of relief when it was safely over. I like it all.
Your writing scope grows on me. This book is a tapestry, a decoration: the almost-null John Bullock set against a marvellous background. It is the most completely two-dimensional thing possible - and on the other hand you give us your cycle of novels (about yourself, I dare say) which are as completely three-dimensional, full of characters as a Christmas Pudding of almonds, with the background only occasional, and only occasionally significant. I am convinced, by both Tarka and the P.P. that you have many other books to write before you repeat yourself and become a classic.
I sandwiched the P.P. between readings of Her Privates We. The P.P. is natural man, making no great eyes at his sudden crisis: whereas Her Privates We shows the adventures of Bourne, a queer dilettante, at grips with normal man in abnormal circumstances. The two books complement each other so well. Yours is the first quite unsentimental war-book - except perhaps for its last page, and nobody could have resisted that kick of farewell. I should have thought less well of you without that touch of irony here and there.
The incidental beauties of the book - the dew-drops on its leaves - are so common as hardly to be seen. That, I feel, is right in a book whose restraint is so strong. You seem to be able to pen a good phrase in simple words almost as and when you please. You beat Bunyan there, for he got to the end of his P.P. without throwing in a deliberately fine phrase. I noted with pleasure. . . [omission noted]
I begin to suspect that you may be one of those comparatively rare authors who write best about people or things other than themselves. I hope so, because it is the sort that lasts longest, unless one is a very deep man, like Dostoievsky, and can keep on digging down into oneself. I hope you aren't that, because it means misery for the artist, and the two roads happiness and misery, seem to be equally within our choice, and it's more common sense to be happy.
Tarka and this P.P. are better than your novels, I think, because you get further outside the horrific convolutions of your brain in each. The objective, as somebody would probably say, which is the classic rather than the romantic manner.
I have enjoyed the P.P. very much. The Hut fellows say that it isn't properly named, it being not a 'bloody bind' like that Bunyan chap's stuff. 'Bind' is a lovely word: mental constipation. [omission noted]
I shall run out before that and see you. I swear it. Does not your postcard address still live in my breast pocket? (right breast, alas: a pencil holds the honour of my heart's pocket!)
Full text, 831 words, in Letters Vol. 9 pp. 87-93.
|Last revised:||5 July 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