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Updated June 2012

T. E. Lawrence to Winston Churchill (draft)

Clouds Hill


Dear Winston,

Am I the last beneficiary of your Marlborough I to express his thanks? Probably - alas.

I have spun it out, partly because I work all day on R.A.F. boat-building and reach evening tired: partly because my room in Southampton (the above address is of my cottage, the 'Chartwell' where I want to retire next year) grows colder and colder as the winter deepens. It sends me quickly to bed. But the main reason for my taking so long is because I have wanted to enjoy it for week after week. I finished it only yesterday. I wish I had not. It has been a rich experience.

The skeleton of the book is so good. Its parts balance and the main stream flows. That, I think because it is so distinct, is the chief balance of this book over The World Crisis. Marlborough has the big scene-painting, the informed pictures of men, the sober comment on political method, the humour, irony and understanding of your normal writing; but beyond that it shows more discipline and strength; and great dignity. It is history, solemn and decorative.

We think of you always as the nephew of the Duke, and expect you to be partial. Hence we discount some of your advocacy; hence you need not take pains to weigh the judgements you express. Let 'em have it! We want to see you supporting the Duke through thick and thin. A very telling irony you use, about his money!

Do you notice how shadowed he and Sarah are, as persons? Their responsibilities and offices overpower them. Only Colley Cibber's few lines show the flesh and blood that enwrapped these intelligences. It was a hard age.

I expect the end of Volume II will put them back in their bodies again. A very public person inevitably has more clothes than skin to wear. In this volume you set the scene, develop the actors and - put them ready to begin. How odd that Marlborough's strength should have so grown while he was waiting and sleeping, shelved and inactive. That gives an idea of his bigness. I never realised that he attained his premier power without trying for it. The lack of personal ambition of Vol. I is unearthly. He is never trying, at all.

It is most wise of you to write with restraint - not restraint of opinion or point of view, but of expression. Marlborough essentially disregards the help of fine writing. You gain dignity that way; and the actual style of the book is distinguished. Your prose has many echoes of the period. I suppose you have studied so much of it, and quoted so much, explicitly and implicitly.

By the way I query the 'hospitality' of the second paragraph of page 382. It is possible, but a little more subtle than your usual efforts. Subtlety is a very dangerous quality in Englishmen.

A confession to close it. From 1927 onwards you sent me each part of your Crisis, as it developed. The first two volumes followed me to India, and were there read avidly, to lie with the generality of my books. All my life I have been laying by the books a man wants to re-read, as provision for the old age which so quickly attacks time-expired soldiers or airmen.

Unhappily the books had to lie in a friend's house. They were exposed to borrowers, and dozens of desirables are missing. Among these are your first two volumes. I have found in the shops of England other copies of the first printing to replace them. If I bring these substitutes up with me, some time, will you put your name in them? And forgive me if the originals appear in Foyle's windows for sale? They will be stolen, not betrayed by me. I am so sad at having lost them. They are such god books, and essentially bettered by showing that you have touched them.


T.E. Shaw.

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Source: DG 781-3
Checked: jw/
Last revised: 21 January 2006


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