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Updated July 2012

T. E. Lawrence to Lincoln Kirstein

Clouds Hill,


Dear Kirstein

Your letter of last December has been troubling me, for you made it hard to answer, and yet I have to answer it. See now, there are, I think, in the world no men very different from ourselves. I walk the streets of an evening, or work in our R.A.F. camps all day, and by measuring myself against the airmen or passers-by I know that I am just an average chap. You write as though there were degrees, or distinctions. I see likenesses, instead.

You get your idea from having read The Seven Pillars and The Mint, apparently. Few people have read The Mint, but many The Seven Pillars. If they all got this same disproportioned view of myself I would believe that there was some falsity of scale or attitude in what I had put down. But these others only find the books natural. I did not mean them to transcend myself, to shout. I hope they do not. Probably they happen upon an unguarded angle of yourself, and so seem to you more significant than is their truth. I have found that in myself. Sometimes a book that is not exceptional to others will mean a great deal to me. From which you should deduce not any superabundance in its writer, but a poverty (in that point) within yourself.

How pompous a paragraph I have written: but you scare me, rather, with your over-impression. Please come and see me, if you get to England again; and then you will see I am your own size - and everyone else's. A very big man will be six feet six; a very small one five foot. Human differences are negligible, except in human eyes.

Pompous again. I am glad you like Melville. He is not enough praised by Americans. Nijinski I saw dance once only, across the whole width of a full London theatre. It was more than beauty, but not like a man. I suppose if I had seen him off the stage he would have been normal. If we meet let us talk a little upon why some people are greater than their work, and others less. I puzzle myself often over that. And why did you so much like The Mint, which is a close photograph of your life in camp?

Now for Gurdjieff. I had read some of his work (in French) a long while ago; not this which you have sent me, but stuff as real. It was closer-knit too, as prose and as argument. I liked it - as I like this Herald of Coming Good - but find myself a little to one side, facing perhaps the same question, but from another angle. Perhaps I am English or European, whereas Gurdjieff and yourself are not. Yet Katherine Mansfield... but wasn't she a New Zealander? I do not know, but Russia and its books and movements fail to strike me directly. Strange, interesting, moving - but there is no impact, no actuality. I find a common tint or tone or texture in all Russian work, and it all misses me in the end, however I like it for the moment.

'Man of action' you call me, in the last words of your letter 'who has done what he chose to his full extent'. Do, for heaven's sake, travel down to where I am next time you reach England, and put these ideas straight. We are all poor silly things trying to keep our feet in the swirl. Even if we succeed, it is not more than a static performance, nor deserving of applause. So I beg you to see me, and disabuse yourself of an illusion. Or do I take a single letter too seriously?

Yours somewhat bewildered

T.E. Shaw

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Source: DG 796-7
Checked: jw/
Last revised: 16 January 2006


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