Updated June 2012
T. E. Lawrence to John Buchan
This is disastrous. A day or two ago I got a letter from St. Andrews, asking if I'd take a Doctor of Laws in May next. I naturally concluded it was a student leg-pull, and sent it cheerfully back to the address given, saying that it was no go. How could I be expected to imagine it was serious?
Now it seems you were at the bottom of it, and they meant it. It feels an incredible thing to have happened. I thought that honorary degrees were only given to more or less important people. St. Andrews is a charming little spot, and I loved its University: I'd have liked to have wrapped it up in a clean napkin, like a Stilton, and kept it on my side-table for an ornament. It seemed to me almost the ideal spot for taking learning to one's mistress.
How am I to get out of it now? It would mean endless trouble.
1) Leave for the occasion.
2) Plain clothes? - only airmen are now forbidden plain clothes.
3) A lot of money... calculated on my pay of 27/- a week.
4) A lot of publicity. Lord Thomson put all sorts of silly restrictions on me last September: to stop flying, and drop Winston and Philip Sassoon and Lady Astor and Austen and Birkenhead: he would undoubtedly sack me if I appeared in public at St. Andrews.
Of course I can see that these things can be got round - but only by influence, which leaves always a soreness behind its application. The Labourites think I'm an imperial spy, and the Die-hards thought I was a bolshie, and Lord T. says I'm a self-advertising mountebank. So it would be better for me if the matter could quietly drop. The mere being taken into consideration for an honorary degree it is the honour of it. They've conferred that on me: won't they drop the actual degree, as it would do me harm? You can wangle that as you have (undoubtedly) wangled the other! Try... please.
It was exceedingly nice of you. I don't think I have ever been so surprised in my life.
Plymouth remains excellent. We live most excellently and amusedly, and the whole situation is happy. This R.A.F. is a good solution of most difficulties. That is why I cling to it so closely, and do not want to imperil myself.
T E Shaw
[3 lines omitted]
|Last revised:||2 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