Updated June 2012
T. E. Lawrence to John Buchan
(I cannot call you "Colonel" any more: after all, I used to be one myself and disliked it. The Golden Rule applies).
Your letter about my R.A.F. notes was one in which anybody would have taken pleasure. I had banked a good deal on your opinion, you being a discreet and exquisite bookman, and that you should say such good things delighted me. Of course the notes are not intended for publication: but I take it from what you say that if ever a subject does arise to excite my writing faculty, I shall be doing no harm in letting rip. At the moment there is no such excitement. All my 12 years in the Air Force I'd hoped to be let go on a long Flying Boat cruise, to keep its log à la Hakluyt. A novel - no, I think not: my writing practice has all been to put down more and more exactly what I have seen or felt: invention would come very hard. A biography - yes, I had wanted to write Casement, Sir Roger; but the obstacle is that the Government refuse all access to those confiscated diaries from which purported extracts were circulated to influential people when he was condemned; and without them there cannot be a life of him written.
Enough of that. I read yesterday in the paper that you have been chosen as next Governor of Canada. A high-office, to which I grudge you immensely. It means that for three years you will be spent on public functions, doing them excellently, no doubt, but at the sacrifice of all your private virtue. Also I shall feel that something is missing, round Elsfield way. This is perhaps a queer way of congratulating you on breaking into another preserve of the Lords. Cromwell would approve it; but still I feel sorry. You are too good to become a figure.
It was kind of you to try the National Trust for [name omitted]. I have sent him the message, and told him to call on them when he next visits London. The unfortunate man wants badly something other than his present life, obviously. If only he knew what!
My life? Not too good. The Press were besetting this cottage when I reached it. I went to London for a while: they desisted. I returned: they did. The most exigent of them I banged in the eye, and while he sought a doctor I went off again on my wanderings, seeing the Newspaper Society, and the Photographic Agencies, and Esmond Harmsworth (for the Newspaper Proprietors Assn.) with the plea to leave me alone. They agree, more or less, so long as I do nothing that earns a new paragraph: and on that rather unholy compact I am back here again in precarious peace, and liking a life that has no fixed point, no duty and no time to keep.
Don't reply to this rigmarole: print yourself cards like the enclosed: and may you be happy in Canada. Perhaps you may make more out of it than I think: but to me these new countries are bitterly lacking in upholstery.
T E Shaw
|Last revised:||15 January 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