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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, War in the Desert

Introduction by Jeremy Wilson

Edward Garnett and T. E. Lawrence abridged War in the Desert from the 'Oxford' text of Seven Pillars of Wisdom in the autumn of 1922. It was the second time Lawrence had thought of publishing an abridgement to make some money. His first attempt had been based on his hurried redraft of Seven Pillars after the loss of the original at Reading station. In the summer of 1920 he wrote eight sample chapters – then inexplicably gave up.1

He nevertheless continued working on Seven Pillars itself, and in 1922 completed a new polished draft. To insure against another loss he had eight copies printed on a proofing press at the works of the Oxford Times newspaper. This cost less than multiple typescripts and carbon copies, but there were countless transcription errors. He corrected five of the copies by hand and had them bound.

On 19 August he lent one of them to the critic Edward Garnett, asking for an unvarnished opinion. Garnett, who was adviser to Jonathan Cape, had met Lawrence in connection with Cape's 1921 reprint of Travels in Arabia Deserta.2

Unknown to Garnett, Lawrence was about to enlist under a false name in the ranks of the RAF. During the next few weeks he would go through the gruelling training course described in his later book The Mint. Lawrence felt he was in the grip of some kind of breakdown and saw the RAF as a temporary refuge. He had no idea whether he would stay there for long.

Seven Pillars offered an alternative course. Its subject-matter was part of a life he was determined to leave behind. But some form of publication, if successful, might earn him enough to live independently as a writer, and run a fine-press – two of his oldest ambitions. Two days after lending the proof to Garnett, he wrote telling him: 'I've had an offer (running up to about £7,000) for serial rights and royalties (England and America) on not more than 120,000 words of that war-monument of mine . . . It would be rather fun cutting it down to 40 chapters, out of 140. However, I've said "Nothing doing".'3 When Garnett's reaction to the book was favourable, Lawrence wrote again, 'for the moment I dreamed again of publishing a little, and so getting cash in hand.'4

It was surely no accident that Lawrence mentioned the abridgement proposal. Before the war Garnett had made a successful abridgement of C. M. Doughty's Travels in Arabia Deserta.5 What would he advise?

The answer came quickly: Garnett not only approved of the idea, but oVered to outline an abridgement of Seven Pillars. The choice of publisher could come later.

Garnett's motives were straightforward. During a long career he had successfully nurtured a number of successful novelists. He admired Seven Pillars and wanted Lawrence to write more. He also knew that the recognition that can flow from publication and favourable reviews is a potent form of encouragement.

In one respect he may have been unique among Lawrence's acquaintances. He knew that writers couldn't live without income, and had no qualms about helping them earn money from their work. He wasn't embarrassed to discuss such things, so writers confided in him. It is only through Lawrence's letters to Garnett that we know how much the money such an abridgement might earn meant to him. £7,000, in 1922, was equivalent to at least £310,000 today.6 At the time, it was enough capital to yield a modest income.

Lawrence accepted Garnett's offer of help. The arrangement between them was informal, without a contract or any kind of obligation. Garnett left Lawrence free to proceed with the abridgement or not. If it became a best-seller, Garnett would doubtless hope to receive something for his efforts; but such considerations were for the future.

Lawrence wrote to him: 'It's very good of you to be willing to try and cut it down. I think that I may have to publish something after all: for I'm getting too old for this life of rough and tumble, and the crudeness of my company worries me a bit. I find myself longing for an empty room, or a solitary bed, or even a moment alone in the open air.'7 He sent an uncorrected set of Seven Pillars sheets, and when Garnett was about to start work wrote, 'If you get it to 150,000 [words] and satisfy yourself, and then I take out 20,000 or so, that should do the trick. What an odd book it will be!'8

While Garnett was in the country recovering from an attack of phlebitis he spent ten days making the outline abridgement. He shaped the book mainly by cutting out entire chapters, especially in the second half. The effect was to strip away layers of complexity and historical detail, leaving an appealing book of travel and adventure.

He sent the marked-up text to Lawrence, who was impressed enough to write, a day or two later, to his mentor D. G. Hogarth: 'Garnett's reduction is in my hands, and is a good one: but it's a bowdlerising of the story and the motives of it, and would give the public a false impression. I don’t like the notion of doing that. It's a favourably-false impression, you see.'9

Hogarth probably replied asking to see the abridgement, since there are several marginal comments in his hand on the draft. First, though, Lawrence went through it carefully. Working at a much more detailed level than Garnett, he cut out numerous paragraphs and sentences, as well as making corrections and changes to wording. He would always refer to this as Garnett's abridgement, but he had invested at least as much time on it himself.

He sent the draft back to Garnett in batches and waited, with some apprehension, to hear 'how much you hate my cutting up of your cutting up of me. You are wrong to imagine that I disliked the abridgement. I like the complete book, of course, much better: but I fully realise that artistically it has no shape: and morally I detest its intimacy: and the abridgement is a good chance of screwing up my mind to lop it: it's now like one of those most genial trees of a bird shape. Things I've always laughed at and longed to possess. Now I'm going to have one of my own: and it will be a delight. I'm most grateful to you for doing it: and when we meet we will have a talk about what to do with the stuff. Though I'm expecting abuse from you for some of my excisions . . .

'Do turn over in your mind who should write the preface: what book-divisions, if any, we should sub-divide it into: if and how we should indicate where bits have been cut out.'10

Four days later Lawrence wrote again: 'I've got on to Akaba with the cutting-up process . . . There is a good deal coming out of the Akaba history: I feel a horrible satisfaction when I'm able to cut a piece out of myself, and draw the edges neatly together. By the way, I think all excisions will have to be marked by an asterisk . . .

'It all sounds, doesn't it, as if I meant to publish the abridgement: and I shall very much despise myself if I do. Only to face thirty-five years of poverty hurts even more than to smash my self-respect. Honestly I hate this dirty living . . .'11

The last of the revised pages went to Garnett on 20 November: 'I have laboured greatly, in a week which confined me to camp, fulfilling a fire-picket . . .

'The results are on their way to you, in a bulky envelope . . .

'I wonder what you will think of them. I haven't numbered or dated the chapters, or indexed them, or divided them into books: because perhaps you will think my work on them too lenient or too drastic, and scrap the pile. The total is about 160,000 words. I've taken out more than I expected, when I began it. The camel-charge is mutilated, for reasons of self-respect. The death of Farraj is taken out, because it looked awkward, hanging in the air, where you had kept it. You kept it only because it was a purple patch: but I think purple patches endurable only in the midst of lumps of dough.

'Most of the rest stands. I feel the transition from the winter war to the expedition against Damascus to be rather abrupt: but that's because of the strain we went through in the intermediate period which seemed interminable to me, and some of whose longueurs I successfully passed into print. But for the public I'm sure the abridgement will be better than the full text. Your cuts have the effect of speeding up the action in a remarkable fashion.

'I found myself utterly unable, in this environment, to make those alterations which my calm moments tell me are necessary to achieve style.

'You will laugh at the vanity of an author, who read the whole surviving text from end to end last night, and got up from the reading with a sense that the barrack room was gone dead quiet. It was half an hour before outside things came home to me once more. I wonder what I would think of the work, if I read it again in 1940? It is certainly uncommon, and there's power sensible under its peculiarly frigid surface . . .

'By the way, enclosed with the text is a draft preface, saying what I would have said. You will cut some of it, and add more: and then we will have to think which of us shall sign it: if you decide that this mutilated trunk is fit to exhibit.

'I'm rather proud of having achieved any sort of revision, in circumstances as distracting as ever encompassed a writer.'12

Garnett did indeed oppose some of Lawrence's cuts. He wrote back: 'I felt excited when I got your letter and the ms. and sat down immediately and went through your revision. I felt sulky, very, when I saw what you've done to the camel charge, and poor Farraj. I perceived that your temperament had neatly revenged itself on mine . . .

'Your Preface is good, but there are two or three phrases such as "I was nearly penniless" – which I think need reconsideration. It opens up such vistas of curiosity! "Why is Colonel Lawrence penniless?" "Why haven’t they done this or that." "Why hasn't he –" etc etc. And you can't go into these inner histories.

'However, apart from a few words, the Preface is good, and is a valuable historical document. It has all your queer flavour, as of some sun-dried fruit, with the lusciousness three quarters dried out of it, but very sustaining and also provocative.

'I'm going to read the whole thing through before I see you – so as to get a definite clear impression of the "abridgment".

'At present I feel sulky at your suppression of the best personal passages. "I gave you up Deraa" I say, reproachfully, like a sobbing woman, "and now you take Farraj's death from me!"

'I'm not sure that you can delete Farraj. You don't seem to see that you are only thinking of yourself in preserving intact and secret these moments. What a world it would be if all the great writers had suddenly shied off "wearing their hearts upon their sleeves". However, I won't abuse you. "Master Edward has been very good," as nurses say to their charges, even while "Master Edward" is scowling.'13

By 23 November the work was nearly complete. Garnett wrote: 'I'm re-reading the abridgement and will let you know what I think of it next week.

'I'll renumber the pages, and chapters, and suggest the divisions into Books.

'When it's in proof you can add the chapter headings, etc. You're an expert in all these matters.

'You've revised the camel charge, "for reasons of self respect". Be it so! Keep your self respect and rob English literature of a passage beautifully spontaneous, Colonel Lawrence!

'I'm not sure whether you can sacrifice Farraj's death. The end of the chapter is too beautiful – and if it hangs in the air let it hang in the air. But I'll reserve my judgment awhile.

'The Preface I think, should stand as it is with the correction of the few lines I indicate. I return it you, with the title I like best. Which I think is the title.'14

The suggested title was The War in the Desert, but Lawrence deleted 'The', as he did in Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Garnett added: 'I think now that the abridgement is done, it should be put in the agent's hands without delay.'15

In 1920 Lawrence had made Curtis Brown his literary agent. Jonathan Cape was likely to be a strong bidder, but Cape was a tough businessman and Lawrence doubtless realised that book contracts are no field for amateurs. Negotiations for a contract began, during which Cape offered an advance of £7,000.

It seems that, on the strength of this, Garnett offered Lawrence a loan so that he could leave the RAF straight away. Lawrence's reply, on 7 December, was revealing. 'For the R.A.F. – no, it still interests me, and as long as it does I'll stick to it: though my hankering after flesh-pots is, I fear, too strong to be resisted when there shall be an alternative livelihood, of a workless character, within reach. So I won't ask for a loan, thanks: and my puritan self hopes that the War in the Desert will be a failure, to compel me to dwell longer in barracks.

'The private press has been a life-dream of mine – and has been twice (1909 and 1914) on the point of coming true. It will come, and will, I hope, be as good as my expectations.'16

Then, when the project seemed safely on track, things suddenly began to go wrong. The first problem arose when Bernard Shaw, another of the critics Lawrence had asked to read Seven Pillars, learned in the press that it had been offered to Jonathan Cape. Until then, Shaw had seemed to approve of the abridgement. He had urged Lawrence to offer it to his own publisher, Constables. Now, though, he opposed it vehemently. He argued in strong terms that if an abridgement were issued no publisher would ever be willing to publish Seven Pillars as a whole.17

In an earlier letter Shaw had described Cape and his business partner G. Wren Howard as 'a brace of thoroughgoing modern ruffans'.18 Now, he took the moral high ground: 'I had ten years on the managing committee of the Society of Authors, and learnt that there is no bottom to the folly and business incompetence of authors or to the unscrupulousness of publishers.'19

It is hard to account for Shaw's volte-face, unless he had a private motive – and that may have been the case. The likely cause was a little-known book Charlotte Shaw had written called Knowledge is the Door: A forerunner. Being an introduction to the science of sub-conscious existence as presented by Dr. James Porter Mills.

Charlotte had attended classes given by Mills in London before the war, and had been deeply impressed. His philosophical teachings became for her something akin to a religion: a day-to-day guiding influence in her life. In Knowledge is the Door she summarised his thinking, drawing on his writings and lectures, and in 1914 arranged to have it issued by A.C. Fifield, a small London publisher. Recently, though, Fifield had gone to work for Jonathan Cape, who had taken over his publishing stock.

Cape probably felt no sympathy at all with the content of Knowledge is the Door, and it had nothing to recommend it from a commercial viewpoint. It came close to vanity publishing, and he probably found it an embarrassment. He kept it formally in print and booksellers occasionally ordered it for a customer; but he took no steps to promote it. Eventually, Charlotte had it reprinted elsewhere.20

Lawrence, who knew nothing of this, had a high regard for Shaw's opinion. He must have been deeply troubled by the conflict between Shaw's advice and Garnett's.

To make matters worse, he was now in difficulties with the RAF. Journalists had discovered – or been tipped off – that he was serving in the ranks. The story was published and Lawrence's Commanding Officer, previously unaware of his identity, urged that he should be discharged.

A simple and obvious solution would have been for Lawrence to sign the contract with Cape. The advance on royalties would have provided cash, enabling him to leave the RAF and live comfortably. But that would have been an open rejection of Shaw's advice.

Had Shaw understood the situation, he might well have argued differently. As it was, Lawrence didn't know what to do. Money was an immediate concern, and he tried hard to keep his place in the ranks, but failed. By the end of January 1923 he was out of the RAF, miserable about the collapse of his plans, and in a frame of mind where any kind of publication seemed impossible. Shaw, perhaps realising what he had done, tried unsuccessfully to get him a Civil List pension. In March, Lawrence managed to enlist in the Tank Corps.

That closed the history of War in the Desert. By the end of 1923 Lawrence's friends persuaded him to issue Seven Pillars in a revised subscription edition. The book, which would be lavishly illustrated with colour portraits, would be priced at 30 guineas a copy (more than £1,700 in today's money). Naturally, Lawrence didn't wish people to think he was making a huge personal profit from the edition. He declared that, as a matter of principle, he would accept no money from his writing about the war. And so the sacrifice he had made when he abandoned War in the Desert at the end of 1922 became permanent. Countless ex-combatants earned money from their war memoirs and saw nothing shameful in doing so. Lawrence, who wrote one of the most notable books about the First World War, earned nothing.

Although War in the Desert remained unpublished, its influence continued. When Lawrence reduced the text of Seven Pillars by 80,000 words for the subscribers' edition, he was surely mindful of the cuts made in the abridgement. Later still, he shortened the subscribers' text for the popular abridgement Revolt in the Desert.

Revolt must have owed something to its unpublished predecessor, though there are some obvious differences. Garnett, for example, had retained most of the Introductory Book, whereas in Revolt Lawrence cut it out completely. Conversely, Garnett had omitted Books viii and ix of Seven Pillars from War in the Desert, but Lawrence heavily abridged them. It seems that Garnett saw what was necessary to make a good story and was happy to omit the rest. Lawrence, however, felt a responsibility as historian of the Arab Revolt. He could not omit something just because it was boring.

Lawrence made two later comments that bear on the question. In March 1927 he wrote to Garnett: 'I was sorry not to use your text for the Revolt in the Desert abridgement. I wrote twice to Cape, and asked for the loan of it: but he was presumably afraid that I meant to destroy it, and so do him out of his power to produce an abridgement of his own if I made default.'21

The other comment was to Robert Graves, at the time writing a popular biography of Lawrence. 'It seems to me nearly unbearable that you should publish the story of the death of Farraj. No doubt it is my fault for putting it in print, in the first case. I suggest it be cut right out. The narrative was so arranged as not to depend on it. Garnett included it in his abridgement, which is a main reason why his abridgement was superseded by my own.'22

As mentioned above, War in the Desert was also a crucial factor in financing the subscribers' Seven Pillars. Between 1923 and 1925 it formed part of the bank's security for the Seven Pillars loan. Had Lawrence failed to complete the subscribers' text, publishing War in the Desert would have refunded the advance subscriptions and in time repaid the loan. Then in 1925, when the cost of the project rose beyond what the bank would lend, Lawrence sold Cape the rights to Revolt in the Desert. Until he delivered the new abridgement, the draft of War in the Desert was Cape's security for a substantial advance on royalties.

To end these notes I will add something about the text of War in the Desert as we have reproduced it here.

The draft, now in the Houghton Library, Harvard, dates from January 1923. The next stage, following signature of the publishing contract, would have been a detailed review by Cape’s copy-editor.

Accompanying the draft are some questions by Garnett, on which Lawrence noted his replies (shown below in italic). These tell us a little more about the book:

1) Contents should be divided into Books i, ii, iii etc. Yes
2) Chapters to be renumbered and the contents of Chapters given. Yes
3) ? Dates. (Dates might be appended to each Book on half-titles). Yes
4) A map will be necessary. Two or three.
5) ? Two frontispieces (or [word illeg.] illustrations?) Feisal, Lawrence in Arab dress, Auda. etc. etc. I have about 20 drawings, in line and in colour, of them. I'd like the publisher to reproduce quite a number.

Revolt in the Desert provides some further clues about the form the book might have taken. Revolt has fewer chapters (37 instead of 77) and is not divided into Books. There are no headline dates.

While Lawrence included two maps in the subscribers' Seven Pillars there is only one in Revolt, perhaps because tipped-in folding maps are costly to produce. We have reproduced the Revolt map in this edition.

The Revolt copy-editor (by coincidence it was A. C. Fifield) pointed out Lawrence's variant transliterations of Arabic words. Lawrence replied frivolously, and the inconsistencies remained. (In our edition of the 1922 Seven Pillars, the source-text used here, they were removed. Likewise the punctuation was revised.)

Lawrence ignored requests for chapter titles for Revolt until Wren Howard explained to him that in the very best books these are drafted to match the length of the book title. As a result, when the book and chapter titles are printed in the running headlines on facing pages, they balance perfectly. Lawrence produced a list of chapter titles, all of an appropriate length, the following day.

For a fuller context to the passages from letters quoted here, see in particular T. E. Lawrence Letters vii, Correspondence with Edward and David Garnett (Salisbury, Castle Hill Press, 2016) and T. E. Lawrence Letters 1, Correspondence with Bernard and Charlotte Shaw 1922–1926 (Fordingbridge, Castle Hill Press, 2000). See also Jeremy Wilson, Lawrence of Arabia, The Authorised Biography (London, Heinemann, 1989), pp. 692–701.

1. He later published most of the chapters as magazine articles. The complete draft is printed in T. E. Lawrence, Towards 'An English Fourth', (Fordingbridge, Castle Hill Press, 2009), pp. 155–249.
2.  Charles M. Doughty, Travels in Arabia Deserta, with an introduction by T. E. Lawrence (London, Jonathan Cape and the Medici Society, 1921).
3. T. E. Lawrence to Edward Garnett 21 August 1922, Letters vii, p. 4.
4. T. E. Lawrence to Edward Garnett 26 August 1922, Letters vii, p. 10.
5. Charles M. Doughty, Wanderings in Arabia, being an abridgement of Travels in Arabia Deserta, arranged by Edward Garnett (London, Duckworth, 1908).
6. On the basis of the Retail Price Index. By other yardsticks the equivalent today would be much higher.
7. T. E. Lawrence to Edward Garnett 7 September 1922, Letters vii, pp. 12–13.
8. T. E. Lawrence to Edward Garnett 9 October 1922, Letters vii, p. 18.
9. T. E. Lawrence to D. G. Hogarth 29 October 1922 (transcript, T. E. Lawrence Papers, Bodleian Library).
10. T. E. Lawrence to Edward Garnett 8 November 1922, Letters vii, p. 24.
11. T. E. Lawrence to Edward Garnett 12 November 1922, Letters vii pp. 25–6.
12. T. E. Lawrence to Edward Garnett 20 November 1922, Letters vii, pp. 27–8.
13. Edward Garnett to T. E. Lawrence c.21 November 1922, Letters vii, pp. 31–2.
14. Edward Garnett to T. E. Lawrence 23 November 1922, Letters vii, p. 33.
15. Ibid., p. 34.
16. T. E. Lawrence to Edward Garnett 7 December 1922, Letters vii, p. 38.
17. Bernard Shaw to T. E. Lawrence 28 December 1922, Letters i, pp. 23–5. Shaw's argument sounds plausible but was disproved by the subsequent history of Seven Pillars. In 1927 Jonathan Cape did publish an abridgement of Seven Pillars: Revolt in the Desert. It was a best-seller, translated into several languages. Eight years later, after Lawrence's death in 1935, Cape published the subscribers' text of Seven Pillars. Its success was phenomenal both overseas and in the UK, where the first printing of 30,000 copies had to be doubled before publication.
18. Bernard Shaw to T. E. Lawrence 17 December 1922, Letters i, p. 18.
19. Bernard Shaw to T. E. Lawrence 28 December 1922, Letters i, p. 24.
20. James Porter Mills, Knowledge is the Door (London, A. C. Fifield, 1914). For an account of his teachings sent by Charlotte to Lawrence in 1927, see Letters ii, pp. 101–5. There is little doubt that the teachings were deeply important to her. Despite her disparaging comments about the book to Lawrence, she had it reprinted by Bumpus in 1937.
21. T. E. Lawrence to Edward Garnett 1 March 1927, Letters vii, pp. 77–8.
22. T. E. Lawrence to Robert Graves, early 1927, T. E. Lawrence to His Biographer Robert Graves (London, Faber & Faber, 1939), p. 99.

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