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Updated July 2012

T. E. Lawrence to Geoffrey Keynes


13 Birmingham Street
Southampton

6.8.34.

Dear G.K.

Did your nervous system prickle with discomfort a few weeks ago, when S.S. and I at Heytesbury dissected your nature? Not that you came badly out of it. What mostly worried S.S. was your being, despite it all, a surgeon. I had your Machaon in the back of my mind, but kept silence upon it. A very luminous work, for all its smallness. You see surgery come to its end eventually, extinguished by the growth of knowledge - but that is the common fate of everything human. Science is not a treasure but an organism, expanding itself, halting, dying, but germinating quickly into a new growth. What seems to me noteworthy, today, is the shortness of our generations, the rapid tempo of life. We seem to accelerate in geometrical progressions.

One must not write like that to a scientist. I intended to tell you of my raid upon Heytesbury. All visitors there intrude, as yet, I think. He and she are like children alone in the world.

The huge house, which they are furnishing for a song in memory of the mansion style: the gardens, so lavishly kept up, the quiet sun-impregnated park: the two laughing strangers running about it, making pretence to own it. Yes, Heytesbury was rather like one of the great villas of Roman Britain, after the Legions had gone.

S.S. looked abnormally happy. Much of his hesitant diction has been forgotten. He speaks easily, and is full of private jests. He looks so well, too. I was told that he captains the local cricket team, and the village postman (having exhausted the war books) is going on to his poetry.

Whether it will last I cannot say. The barometer cannot always stand so high. It will be time for outsiders to come along, then. 

We spread out on the floor all the proofs of your engravings, with the lovely title-page, and gloated over them. It will be a gracious and estimable book. The reduction of the mandibles and flourishes at the ends of poems, or to fill up short lines, has been tactfully done. The pages are clean and legible. However they yet have to be read slowly, almost word for word. Type has grown so instinctive to our eyes that we swallow printed books a line, if not a paragraph, at once. That is all right, for things currently written, like The Times; but these chiselled and balancing verses of S.S. deserve to be read almost as minutely as they were made. What an iconic stillness there is about his images, now! He has progressed from flesh-and-blood (in Counter Attack) to bronze. As for The Old Huntsman, it is difficult for me often to trace the connection between that early man and S.S. now. At Heytesbury he showed me his first published poems, the cricket verses. They seemed an age away. One of the good things about S.S. is that he changes freely and completely.

What a careless rag-bag of a letter. All it need have been was a note on the Gooden title piece. As I have told you, I think it plainly yet precisely lovely.

The price of the book worries me. Two guineas is so much. I have not, as yet, even brought myself to order a copy. S.S. is one of the few poets that keep step with their generation and I would have him generally read. Him and Yeats and Day Lewis - whereas it would not matter if Noyes and Humbert Wolfe cost pounds and pounds. Can you contemplate a plain edition afterwards, which I can send to my friends?

Enough of S.S. I feel always like an intruder in his company. I would like him to do just what he liked. [10 lines omitted]
 

An awful letter - but I have enjoyed the proof title for months, and kept on saying that I must write to you. Hence this overdoing it - too late.

Yours

TES.

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Source: DG 811-3
Checked: jw/
Last revised: 18 January 2006

 



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