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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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T. E. Lawrence, Letters, Volume VII
Correspondence with Edward and David Ganett

Foreword by Jeremy Wilson

T. E. Lawrence once wrote: 'Writing has been my inmost self all my life, and I can never put my full strength into anything else. Yet the same force, I know, put into action upon material things would move them, make me famous and effective.'1

He had started writing early. While working as an archaeologist before the war he contemplated a 'monumental work on the Crusades'2 and 'a book on the background of Christ... Galilee and Syria, social, intellectual and artistic, of 40 b.c. It would make an interesting book. As good as Renan's Life of Jesus should have been, if only he had had the wit to leave out the central figure.'3 Either would have been a major project.

The only book Lawrence did write before the war was a study of seven cities of the East, which he called Seven Pillars of Wisdom: 'I wrote a youthful indiscretion book . . . in 1913 and burned it (as immature) in '14 when I enlisted. It recounted adventures in seven type-cities of the East (Cairo, Bagdad, Damascus etc.) and arranged their characters into a descending cadence: a moral symphony. It was a queer book, upon whose difficulties I look back with a not ungrateful wryness'.4

From the end of 1916 Lawrence served as a British liaison officer with the forces of the Arab Revolt. He soon realised what an opportunity this presented. The 'story I have to tell,' he later told a friend, 'is one of the most splendid ever given a man for writing.'5

Between 1919 and 1922 he rewrote his war history three times – again using the title Seven Pillars of Wisdom. The book was an extraordinary challenge. At its core was a true story of real events. To that he added vivid descriptions of incidents, people and landscape, discussion of evolving strategy and tactics, and a deeply introspective account of his personal motives and dilemmas. He also wished to create a major work of English literature: 'Do you remember my telling you once that I collected a shelf of "titanic" books (those distinguished by greatness of spirit, "sublimity" as Longinus would call it): and that they were The Karamazovs, Zarathustra, and Moby Dick. Well, my ambition was to make an English fourth.'6

In the summer of 1922 Lawrence at last had a version of Seven Pillars he thought good enough to show to critics. It is hard to imagine how he must have felt. Seven Pillars was the outcome of an extraordinary opportunity, high ambition and immense effort. How well had he done?

The critics he chose were Edward Garnett and Bernard Shaw. The latter was too busy to read Seven Pillars straight away (in the event, he probably never read it from cover to cover). So the first opinion Lawrence received was Garnett's.

Edward Garnett was twenty years older than Lawrence, and one of the outstanding publishers' readers of the day. Lawrence had met him in 1920, because of a shared enthusiasm for Charles Doughty's Travels in Arabia Deserta. Garnett's skill lay not only in recognising work worth publishing, but also in befriending and encouraging new writers and helping them attain financial security. Joseph Conrad and D.H. Lawrence were among those whose careers he had advanced.

Garnett pencilled numerous marginal notes in the proof-printing of Seven Pillars. Most of these are now lost, because Lawrence erased them before lending the book to other readers. Those that survive show how valuable they must have been, both in highlighting the book's strengths and weaknesses, and in encouraging its author. Garnett's criticism of Seven Pillars was the cornerstone of the friendship and mutual admiration recorded here.

Some years before, Garnett had abridged Charles Doughty’s Travels in Arabia Deserta, introducing it to a much wider public. Keen to see Lawrence established as a writer and financially independent, he offered to do the same for Seven Pillars. He and Lawrence completed a draft abridgement during the autumn of 1922. But when Bernard Shaw heard of the scheme he condemned it out of hand. Lawrence wavered for a while but finally, on the brink of signing a contract to publish the book, he took Shaw’s advice and withdrew.

The existence of this publishable text nevertheless became important. At the end of 1923 Lawrence agreed to revise Seven Pillars for a lavish subscription edition. The project needed financial support and Garnett's abridgement provided a significant part of his bank's security. It also served as security in 1925, when Lawrence sold the rights to a new abridgement which did not, at the time, exist. Had he failed to deliver, the publisher would have been free to issue the existing text.

Garnett was able to help the Seven Pillars edition more directly when the subscription got off to a slow start. He asked J. G. Wilson, manager of a leading West End bookseller, to suggest the book privately to some of his wealthiest customers in exchange for a free copy for himself. Wilson quickly brought in twenty new subscriptions, removing fears that the costly edition might not be viable.

Lawrence was well aware how much Garnett had helped him, and he did not like to feel materially indebted to friends. He gave Garnett the draft Seven Pillars abridgement and in 1928 the manuscript of his second book, The Mint. That became the subject for another discussion, and they continued to exchange letters from time to time thereafter.

In 1928 a correspondence began with Edward's son David, a novelist, literary journalist, bookseller, publisher and member of the Bloomsbury Group. Apart from writing, and producing fine-press books, they came to share an interest in flying. Lawrence's relationship with David was never as close as his friendship with Edward. But in 1937, when E.M. Forster withdrew from editing a posthumous collection of Lawrence's letters, it was David Garnett who took his place. As a general collection telling the story of Lawrence’s life, David Garnett's 900-page Letters of T.E. Lawrence would have been hard to surpass.

 References not covered in notes to the main text.

1. T. E. Lawrence to Ernest Altounyan 9 January 1933, DG p. 758.
2. See T. E. Lawrence to his family 24 January 1911, HL p. 130.
3. T. E. Lawrence to Sir Herbert Baker 20 January 1928, DG p. 568; Ernest Renan (French writer, 1823–92), Vie de Jésus (Paris, Michel Lévy Frères, Paris, 1863).
4. T. E. Lawrence to Robin Buxton 22 September 1923, DG p. 431. The date 1913 may be a slip of memory, since Lawrence had mentioned Seven Pillars of Wisdom to his family as early as January 1911 (see HL p. 130).
5. T. E. Lawrence to V. W. Richards, undated (late 1922 or early 1923), transcript, TEL Papers. Lawrence mentioned the idea of writing a book in a letter to C. E. Wilson (Army officer, 1873–1938) of 2 September 1917, DG p. 236.
6. T. E. Lawrence to Edward Garnett 26 August 1922, see p. 9.


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