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T. E. Lawrence, The Mint

PART II


 

18:  AUDIENCE

Another monotonous failure of a church, in the grey cold rain which rusted our bayonets and made uncomfortable all our clothes. This apparatus of a parade service prejudices into blasphemy what thin chance organised worship ever had over vigorous men. Our blood distrusts and despises that something emasculate in the padre's ascetic face. He aims so crooked, too, when he tries to convict our party of sin. They are yet happy, being innocent of the reflection which creates a sense of sin.

Contact with natural man leads me to deplore the vanity in which we thinking people sub-infeudate ourselves. I watch, detachedly, my fingers twitching when I'm frightened, and smile and say 'Babinski' - judging myself now carried away by instinct, now ruling a course by reason, now deciding intuitively: always restlessly cataloguing each aspect of my unity. Like the foolish early Christians, with their Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, three sides of God, in that Creed for whose performance we just now had to stand up.

Hungry time has taken from me year by year more of the Creed's clauses till now only the first four words remain. Them I say defiantly, hoping that reason may be stung into new activity when it hears there's yet a part of me which escapes its rule: though it's as hard, by thinking, to take an inch off our complexity as to add an ell.

There it goes again: the conflict of mind and spirit. Whereas here are men so healthy that they don't chop up their meat into mince for easy digestion by the mind: and who are therefore intact as we are thereby diseased. Man, who was born as one, breaks into little prisms when he thinks: but if he passes through thought into despair, or comprehension, he again achieves some momentary onenesses with himself. And not only that. He can achieve a oneness of himself with his fellows: and of them with the stocks and stones of his universe: and of all the universes with the illusory everything (if he be positive) or with the illusory nothing (if he be nihilist) according as the digestive complexion of his soul be dark or fair. Saint and sinner touch - as great saints and great sinners.

After church they lectured us in the cinema on savings certificates, telling us we'd be glad of the money when we left the service and faced civil life. Why, we joined up because we'd failed in that civvy life! Don't remind us yet of that bad time with its money troubles. For seven years we are rid of it, able to afford the motorbikes for which all our hut are keeping their shillings.

The lecturer was applauded and left the theatre: but we were still held in our seats. Finally Stiffy appeared, back-handing his moustache; and ascended the platform with a conscious smile. We clapped like hell. The self-consciousness deepened into a smirk which suggested, unfortunately, the anxious painted graces of a cheap professional. He advanced to the central chair and table, doing a little clown-business of astonishment at the cinema screen stretched above his head. We laughed and cheered.

Then he said that for long he had not had his monthly grouse at us: and with a plunge into his matter he began to denigrate women, as hindrances to man's bodily prowess. 'I want you fellows to swank, while you walk out.' (Ploughing the sand: the older the airman, the shyer he is of his fancy dress. It's your recruit who flashes himself publickly.) 'Last week, near Shepherd's Bush, I caught an airman, not from the Depot, eating "land and sea" ' (fish and chips) 'off a barrow in the street. That sort of sloppy creature's the most likely target for bad women.' (Sensation in the back of the hail. Bad women allure us in every novel: and we've read more novels than we've met women.)

It was done genially, well done, and salted with rude items of personal reminiscence which appealed to our vulgarity. It all stank of vulgarity. We clapped and took every broad point with that greasy laughter of the men's bar: a laughter which held derision for the something craven that could so blatantly appeal to our kindness.

He stooped further, to defend his square-folly of violence and cursing, begging fellows not to be thin-skinned and resent what was intended for their good. If it's policy, deliberate, then he condemns himself dreadfully. We forbore with what we believed an infirmity of temper. Now I saw his image falling to our own level: though we may like him, familiarly, as one of us, after this.

That's, of course, his place. Stiffy's an old army ranker, product of wilder days than these, pre-war days when there were ignorant classes. A pity. We'd have our officers not too knowing - or at least not making clear their low knowledge: officers so different that they'd not challenge our comparison anywhere. Tall, vague, occasional beings, spendthrift and magnificent. Godlings to our groundlings.




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