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Military Report on the Sinai Peninsula
Towards 'An English Fourth'
Seven Pillars of Wisdom, The Complete 1922 Text
Paperback edition
'The Mint' and Later Writings About Service Life
Boats for the R.A.F. 1929-1935
reports and correspondence


The Forest Giant


Correspondence with Bernard and Charlotte Shaw
Correspondence with E. M. Forster and F.L. Lucas
More Correspondence with Writers
Correspondence with Edward and David Garnett
Correspondence with Henry Williamson
Translating the Bruce Rogers 'Odyssey'
Correspondence with the Political Elite 1922-1935


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Notes on editing The Mint and Later Writings About Service Life

1928 text of The Mint

The easier of our two editorial tasks, in many ways, was preparing the 1928 text of The Mint. We took as our starting-point the 1955 text, already on disk for the forthcoming paperback. We checked this against a photocopy of the manuscript given by Lawrence to Edward Garnett (now in the Houghton Library, Harvard). This process was more interesting than I had expected. First, it showed much about the thought-process behind Lawrence's later amendments, and therefore about his craftsmanship as a writer. Secondly, it drew our attention to a few words which seem to have been mistranscribed in the 1955 version. For example, at the end of Part I, Chapter 22 in the 1955 printing A.W. Lawrence added a footnote to the effect that while TEL habitually spelled the word 'irk' with an 'i', at the end of this chapter he had written it 'urk'. (In Jonathan Cape's 1997 edition, 'irk' was changed to 'urk' throughout.) Yet when we checked the 1928 manuscript, we found that TEL spelled it 'irk' in this and every other occurrence.

That seemed odd, since A.W.Lawrence was a scrupulous editor. The 'urk' error must have been in the source that he used for the 1955 typesetting. What was that source? It cannot have been the 1928 manuscript, where the error is not present - and in fact the manuscript had been sold to a private collector in the US some years previously. Nor can the source have been the 50-copy edition of the 1928 Mint text printed by Doubleday in 1936, when the manuscript was sold. There, too, 'irk' in Chapter 22 is correct.

It seems that AWL's source for the 1955 Mint (which was typeset in the late 1940s) was a copy of the Doubleday printing that he marked up with amendments made by TEL in two typed transcripts. If so, a transcription error in the typescript found its way into the 1955 printed edition. It is not surprising if there are a few transcription errors in the typed copies, since the 1928 manuscript is, in places, quite difficult to read.

What was the history of the typescripts? There was a first copy (with carbons) made as a precaution in 1928. It was followed by at least one further re-typing. The further copies were probably second-generation, made from the first typescript rather than the manuscript, so an error in that first typescript would be present in later versions. As noted above, TEL owned and at different times corrected two of these typescripts. Wouldn't he have spotted any mistranscriptions? On the evidence of the 1922 manuscript of Seven Pillars of Wisdom and his corrected copy of the 1922 Oxford Times proof printing, the answer is no. He picked up most of the errors, but not all. We therefore checked some words we found difficult to read in the 1928 manuscript of The Mint against Lawrence's earlier working draft, now in the British Library.

Later Writings About Service Life

Our edition of The Mint includes a selection of Lawrence's later writings about life in the ranks of the RAF. These extend the narrative begun in The Mint up to his final discharge in February 1935. Preparing this section raised some interesting questions. Notably, what kind of book might he have written if he himself had expanded The Mint, as he spoke of doing fifteen months before the end of his service career:

"You know I have been moody or broody for years, wondering what I was at in the R.A.F., but unable to let go - well, last night I suddenly understood that it was to write a book called Confession of Faith, beginning in the cloaca at Covent Garden, and embodying The Mint and much that has happened to me before and since as regards the air. Not the conquest of the air, but our entry into the reserved element, 'as lords that are expected, yet with a silent joy in our arrival'. It would include a word on Miranshah and Karachi, and the meaning of speed, on land and water and air. I see the plan of it. It will take long to do. Clouds Hill, I think. In this next and last R.A.F. year I can collect feelings for it. The thread of the book will only come because it spins through my head: there cannot be any objective continuity - but I think I can make it whole enough to do. The Mint, you know, was meant as notes for something (smaller) of the sort. I wonder if it will come off. The purpose of my generation, that's really it." (Lawrence to Charlotte Shaw, 9 Dec 1933, TEL Letters Vol. IV p. 210).

Lawrence died soon after retiring to Clouds Hill, so it's not possible to know whether he would have developed The Mint in this way. A few notes of incidents, apparently for Confession of Faith, were found among his papers (and published in Garnett's Letters)

What we know about the Confession of Faith project comes down to this.

  • It would begin with The Mint.
  • It would be autobiographical, and more or less follow the chronology of Lawrence's service career: almost all Lawrence's writing was autobiographical.
  • There would be some similarity in approach to the Uxbridge section of The Mint (Parts I and II). The remark about lacking 'objective continuity' suggests that, like The Mint, the new material would consist of passages about fairly unrelated incidents designed to create an overall impression.

Any different approach would have left a marked break where the new material began.

Part III of The Mint, describing Lawrence's happiness at Cranwell, may give a further clue about what he might have done. The first two parts, written up from his original Uxbridge notes, make up just under 80% of The Mint. He felt that the Uxbridge account was too grim to circulate on its own, and did not fairly represent Air Force life after Uxbridge. So he added Part III as a counterbalance. He wrote it partly with the help of descriptions sent to friends in letters and notes. Charlotte Shaw, for instance, copied some relevant passages for him. To some extent he must have written Part III from memory, which would not have been difficult since he was still working in hangars and living in an RAF station. In one or two instances he was able to incorporate existing material. Thus his anonymous article 'Ramping', rejected by a motor-cycling magazine, became 'The Road'.

As he later recognised, Part III was inadequate. It was simply too short to counterbalance Parts I and II. The shift in mood was so brief that it was Part III that seemed untypical of Air Force life, rather than Parts I and II. As completed in 1928, The Mint was still, as Lawrence admitted, a fragment. Confession of Faith could be far more rounded.

In a sense, by 1935 Lawrence was in a position to carry through his original scheme for The Mint. At the outset, he had seen the Uxbridge training as a gruelling introduction to the description of real service life that would follow: "My determined endeavour is to scrape through with it, into the well-paid peace of my trade as photographer to some squadron. To that I look forward as profession and livelihood for many years" (The Mint). That original career progression had been broken, and he never formally became an RAF photographer (though he occasionally helped out with photographic work at Miranshah). On the other hand, he had later found another worthwhile RAF career, working on RAF marine craft. There was now material, in principle, to extend the autobiographical patchwork narrative from recruit through twelve years of service life - and, through this vehicle, to convey some deeper ideas.

How would he have set about assembling this extension of the text? In part, doubtless, he would have used passages from letters, as he had for Part III. In fact, one can wonder whether some of the descriptive letters he sent Charlotte Shaw over the years were not half-intended as notes for a future book. He knew she kept his letters. Years before, in his Oxford thesis, he had drawn on the descriptions of castles sent to his family during his teenage cycling tours in France. Including the descriptions in those letters had served two ends: it provided content for a letter but also preserved the description.

Over the years I had been increasingly aware of the cumulative extent of Lawrence's descriptive writing about service life, particularly to Charlotte Shaw. When Castle Hill Press subscribers asked for an edition of The Mint to go alongside the 1922 Seven Pillars, the idea came of creating a patchwork service autobiography in the format of a diary. To be sure, the result wouldn't be the book Lawrence would have written; but it would be his writing, and it would bring together the kind of source material he would have called upon to develop Confession of Faith. I thought the idea could work, and was certainly worth a try. The result, 'The Mint' and Later Writings About Service Life, would at last balance Lawrence's description of Uxbridge with a much fuller account of his later service experience.

Some biographers - particularly intellectuals without much practical bent - have seen Lawrence's service years as nihilist drudgery. This impression has been strengthened by editions of The Mint, where the brief section on Cranwell seems too contrived to be altogether sincere.

In our edition, Lawrence's later writings about service life almost double the length of the book. They show his psychological recovery after 1927 and the real satisfaction he derived from his later RAF work. Adding this material transforms The Mint - as Lawrence himself hoped to do in his still-born project Confession of Faith.

Related pages

Design notes
Large-format edition, 2009
Library Edition, 2010


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