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Updated July 2012

T. E. Lawrence to Lionel Curtis

13 Birmingham Street


A puzzling awkward book, your Civitas Dei which has lain on my table after being read, chapter by chapter, in the evenings after work, for months. Awkward because it poses awkward questions and will not lie still. Puzzling because it is like one side of an argument, like talking with you for all of day and afterwards forgetting all that oneself has said.

It must have been awkward and puzzling to do, also. Its selection of events from the history of the world seems at first sight so arbitrary, so disproportioned. 'At first sight' for as one reads the argument comes to the surface like a chased whale, and sounds again under a new sea, and again spouts. I suppose it is likely that in no other way can an argument be carried across the faces of the world and of time. An exhaustive, subtle, engrossing (and even for me, a Gallio in polity) persuasive book.

The bright things in the book are the single-sentence aphorisms
that star its pages. Your statements-on-abstract questions are perfect. I always admitted it, you know. Years back in our joint history I pointed out to some careless politician your deadliness in argument, seeing that whereas an Englishman easily resolved each particular problem, and seldom troubled his head to see a principle behind his practice, you - an Englishman - always begin with the general, and from that deduced the manner of dealing with particulars. Civitas Dei is you at your most devastating. I salute a great swordsman.

Incidentally the book displays courage and common sense, as well as wisdom. For these three things the public will spit on it. Great swordsmen don't care. I disbelieve in even the flat of the sword used against wart-hogs and bog-rats. One does not wrestle with a chimney-sweep, said someone.

I haven't any comment to make on the book: upon each paragraph you and I could spend a happy hour, while Pat's carefully chosen lunch grew cold or was eaten between arguments unheeded and unknown. But I refuse to write you a book in reply - more especially as I think I agree with this one. Touché, I think.

Points: page 8, bottom: 'industrial' excavators: I doubt it. Railways aren't industry: quarries have helped us a little.
Page 18: St. Paul's 'years' in Arabia aren't too certain.
Page 20: Sunlight, thunder or pestilence 'are'; better say 'and' for 'or'.
Page 33: Sheikh, I think.
Page 93: Is it Crookes or Crooks?
Page 102: For Tiberious read Hitler, for Tertullian
Page 111: Blighter who mutilated that Odyssey was called Shaw.
Page 119: In the quotation, four lines from its end, a possible hiatus after men.
Page 129: 8 lines from end. For theatres read amphitheatres, I think, to accord with modern custom.
Page 150: The leaping coronella is rather a rare reptile in the New Forest, I think.
197: Technically a carpenter is a craftsman and not a mechanic, now and in the past.
263: Professor Oman would tell you that King John did not sign the Great Charter. If he does say so, tell Prof. O. that you said sign to see how many pedants would presume to confess themselves to you.
265: Bonfire is a good thing. You mean bale-fire: unless you mean just fire.
268: Don't you anachronise by talking of the Hall and the Abbey as being on opposite sides of the road? See suggested reply to Mr. Oman, above.

Not a misprint visible to my eye, but I have read it with bleared and sore eyes, after motorbiking and motor-boating. Forgive the lapses of an aged sense. A very very good book. Its what I call making use of history.



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Source: DG 808-9
Checked: jw/
Last revised: 17 January 2006


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