Lawrence and Clive
HE himself affirmed that his name of Shaw was real — that those of Ross and Lawrence were assumed. It was as T. E. S. that he initialed T. E. Lawrence’s book, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. He was Shaw when he died. It is, however, as Lawrence that he was known, and as Lawrence of Arabia that his name will be perpetuated in his memorial.
His was a strange and splendid, almost Messianic, figure — a scintillating personality whose light wnuld not be hid. He strode through the decade of the twenties famous but unknown, shadowy yet familiar to the world.
That world was the world at large — not merely some literary coterie or clique of soldiers or statesmen. He was known to kings and to petty shopkeepers in Damascene bazaars — to common men in England as well as to the jumpy chancelleries of Europe. He was known in part at least to all, and wholly to none. He appeared to some as a dangerous and sinister influence, to others as an heroic figure of Romance. For some he still lives: the desert people look forward to his second coming.
He allowed no man to see his every side. His many-faceted character he displayed only one part at a time, for he was very conscious ‘of the bundled powders and entities within me; it was their character which was hid. There was a craving to be liked — so strong and nervous that I could never open myself friendly to another.’
Yet none was aware of any lack.
We like to judge our great by known standards. Lawrence has been likened to Marlborough, to Caesar even, and to Napoleon. But no comparison yet made fits on more than one side at a time.
Most of all he resembles Clive. It is astonishing how closely these two ran in parallel, in both character and career.
Both at school were difficult pupils, but each read the classics for pleasure in later life. Clive was to choose Horace, and Lawrence, Homer. Each read voraciously, and Lawrence, like Clive, ‘ read for his own enlightenment.’ Each had a clear, vigorous English style. Both made life a burden to their less agile-minded seniors.
Neither could command influence, or ‘interest,’ as Clive would have called it. At an early age they were both faced with the larger problems of war. Each had to build his own army with alien and indifferent materials. The impudence which took Arcot captured Aqaba; the boldness of Plassey was equally decisive at Deraa. When Clive was twenty-seven he was pronounced by Pitt ‘a heaven-born general.’ Lawrence at thirty brought the Arab Revolt to a successful conclusion.
Clive and Lawrence each made three Eastern kings, but both professed the same contempt for the trappings of ceremony. When Shah Alam, for instance, was crowned in Benares, the throne was an English dining table, covered with embroidered cloth and surmounted by a chair, in Clive’s tent. When Feisal, one of Lawrence’s kings, was crowned in Baghdad — although unfortunately it cannot be showm that Lawrence had anything to do with this — the seat of his throne was the head of a beer barrel. Covered with suitable material, it was carried upended on the heads of four porters to the place of the ceremony, with the XXX on the underside exposed for all to see.
In a venal age Clive was moral. Faced with every kind of temptation, he retired, ‘amazed at his own moderation,’ with a legitimate fortune only a quarter of what it might have been. Lawrence, in a more particular age and with less temptation, made nothing.
Both were afflicted with too high a standard of honesty for their times. Each, however, once made promises which he knew would not be fulfilled — Clive in the case of the Omichand treaty, ‘with a design of disappointing the expectations of a rapacious man,’ Lawrence in confirming British promises of Arab freedom.
The one started what has since become known as the Clive Fund for the relief of invalided British soldiers, with a gift of £70,000. The other handed all the profits from his Arabian books to a Royal Air Force charity.
Clive died a suicide at fifty. Lawrence died at forty-six, almost as much the victim of his own hand.
But men of their kind, as Lawrence wrote of Allenby, are not to be judged by our standards, ‘any more than the sharpness of the bow of a liner is to be judged by the sharpness of razors.‘
Even in 1915 Lawrence was beginning to be famous — not indeed as the leader of the Arab Revolt, for that was as yet unborn, but as one who could quell brass hats of any size by the mere power of the eye.
In those days Cairo was a hotbed of generals, supporting not less than three full-fledged General Staffs. Out of this confusion arose Lawrence — an impish, unmilitary figure, generally beltless, with hair of unorthodox length and a preference for black patentleather dancing pumps.
Boyish in appearance then, he was never to look much older. Kennington’s portrait bust of him, done in the middle thirties, might be that of a youth. Never was he to show any of that physical deterioration, that thickening, which comes as manhood advances. He was a little man — five feet five, to be exact — and too small to pass for enlistment at that time. So, it has been noted, was Napoleon. These facts have been remarked as having a delicate flavor slightly discreditable to the Army — as if by lowering the height requirement the ranks could have been filled with minute geniuses.
The Lawrence of those days was not without ambition. He wanted to be a general and knighted by his thirtieth birthday. When, in 1918, he reached that landmark, he was only a lieutenant colonel, a Companion of the Bath and of the Distinguished Service Order. But by that time all desire for titles had gone.
When he went to Arabia he was twenty-eight. He had traveled the Middle East and dug archaeologically with Hogarth and Flinders Petrie. He had written a book, rather too specialized to be entertaining, called The Wilderness of Zin. He had rearranged the mediaeval pottery in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. He had silversmithed and sculptured — including, it is said, some of the figures outside the Nonconformist Chapel in the Iffley Road. He had even been a foreman coaling ships at Port Said, sleeping on the honey-colored breakwater by the flat whispering sea.
These things were in the civil sense. Militarily he was well prepared for war. In his teens he had studied mediseval siege craft. He had read, — Napier’s Peninsular War, Coxe’s Marlborough, Mahan on Sea Power, Henderson’s Stonewall Jackson, — books which were for Lawrence ‘the usual schoolboy stuff.’ Before he went to Oxford a private difficulty had led him away from home to enlist in the regular army, from which one must assume that he was either ‘bought out’ or prematurely discharged.
Later, at the University, he became ‘tolerably’ well read in the art of war. Jomini and Clausewitz, Cæmerrer and Moltke, von der Goltz and the post1870 Frenchmen, led him to ‘browse’ through the thirty volumes of Napoleon’s correspondence. These last carried him to the textbooks Napoleon himself had used — Guibert, Bourcet, and Saxe.
Even then in his mind lay the germ of the Arab Revolt. As a schoolboy he had dreamed ‘of hustling into form, while I still lived, the new Asia which time was inexorably bringing upon us. Mecca was to lead to Damascus; Damascus to Anatolia, and afterwards to Baghdad.’
This thought, original to his mind, was already present in the minds of others — in Lord Kitchener’s, for instance. Lawrence spoke with him a year or so before the war, of German dangers in the Middle East. Kitchener, aw are of the peril, told him that there would be a world war within three years and that the lesser question would be settled with the greater. ‘So run along, young man,’ he said, ‘and dig before it rains.’
Kitchener was right, as he usually was. He was not then that lonely tragic figure he was later to become, Wrecked by his own inarticulateness on the wordy brilliance of his colleagues.
Kitchener was not long dead when Cairo rid itself of Lawrence. He left gladly — to become the mainspring of a campaign, to make three kings, and to write one of the great books of the world. All was to come about within a decade.
In the archives of the War Office lies Lawrence’s official report of the Arab Revolt. It is said that all credit for every act and every decision is given to Feisal as titular Commander in Chief of the Arab army, and that the pronoun ‘I’ occurs in it only once and that on the last page. If this is the case, the report must constitute a feat of objective writing — and be as dull as Hamlet without a Prince of Denmark.
Lawrence wrote his own story of the Revolt in Seven Pillars of Wisdom. It is not necessary to outline the story told there. The details are well enough known, and to retell it is hardly possible. The book is short, for all its better than a quarter of a million words.
There is a curious quality about the writing — an iciness, logical and direct, almost painful. It is impossible to escape the succinct domination of the style; one is held by its strength until one longs for the relief of an occasional oasis of weakness. There is a beautiful and ready use of language. The employment of Elizabethan words is unconscious-appearing, without pedantry or sense of the antique.
What influences were joined to produce the sense of power are not at once apparent. The most obvious, because they were Lawrence’s favorite authors, would be Malory and Homer. Imagination alone could hardly make one feel that, if the swing and the exact choice of epithet are Homeric, the smooth flow of the prose is that of the Morte d’Arthur.
The book builds up steadily with undeviating force to the main climax. The narrative, always at high tension, is a joy to read. It leaves one marveling, and exhausted.
Lawrence makes no pretense of impartiality. Everything is subordinate to the Revolt. Outside happenings — the deeds of Allenby’s army, the acts of statesmen — are viewed from an Arab perspective. Lawrence is on the inside looking out. There is no hint of how things looked from the outside looking in. Nor should there be, for this is his own story.
There is a sense of disillusionment which increases as the drama progresses. At the beginning there is the young Lawrence, glad to be free of wartime Cairo. He is ‘the world’s imp,’ as old Auda called him, impatient and scornful, yet wise and modest. That figure fades with the passage of the book. High hopes turn to dust. Victory has no savor. At the end there is a Lawrence looking at the world with cynical old man’s eyes.
The book is tragedy overhung with the shadow of empty promises. The Arabs, trusting persons rather than institutions, looked to Lawrence and his personal integrity as their guarantee for the fulfillment of the British bargain. Clear sight of his position came only when an Arab friend confronted him with a file of documents and asked which pledge was to be believed. Blandly he replied that England always kept her word. . . .
The Revolt itself had begun on false pretenses. Through the High Commissioner in Egypt the British had agreed to the Arab demands for freedom, —• not only in Arabia proper, but in Syria and Mesopotamia, — ‘saving the interests of our Ally France.’ In this obscure sentence was hidden the secret Sykes-Picot treaty, by which England, France, and Russia were to divide parts of the promised areas and to proclaim spheres of influence over the rest.
McMahon, High Commissioner for Egypt, had warned the Foreign Office that the utmost care should be taken to deal honorably with the Arabs, and no one on the spot knew of this treaty. It had been made by separate wartime branches of the Foreign Office, which refused knowledge to its left hand of what its right hand did. It was only when the Russian Revolution came that the fact of the treaty was published by the Bolsheviks. The Turks naturally took pains to broadcast the details where they would do most good.
One has to think back to the war days to remember that, beyond the temporary annoyance of embarrassment, anyone else would have regarded the end as justifying the means. At best another man would have salved his conscience with a plea of force majeure. Lawrence, however, felt personally responsible. Had he been honorable, he felt, he should have sent the Arabs home, but he believed that too much of the war in the East depended on Arab support. He resolved instead to make the Arab Revolt the engine of its own success, as well as the servant of the Egyptian campaign — ‘ to lead it so madly in the final victory that expediency should counsel to the Powers a fair settlement ’ of Arab claims.
For his own part, he had no refuge. He felt besmirched. He had become a man of divided loyalty, the victim of his own morality. That he refused all ranks, decorations, and moneys which might conceivably have come to him through his part in the Revolt was not enough. Its possible outcome did not obscure for him the fact of the fraud.
In that moment of bitterness he set out on his long and dangerous ride alone to Damascus. It was a moral purge, undertaken in the hope that he might be able to relieve his soul. It was also an act of single-handed heroism which is dismissed in a paragraph. Whatever his reason for not giving the details of this adventure, the omission is deliberate, and based perhaps on the feeling that the journey had too personal an aspect and was not a contribution to his history.
If his object was to relieve himself of a feeling of guilt, he failed. Guilt was to remain with him to overshadow his life. And now in these after days it is perhaps interesting to note what he called ‘the issue of the fraud.‘
In 1922 the British, under Lawrence’s guidance, were to untangle their promises, ‘finding solutions,’ Lawrence says, ‘fulfilling (I think) our promises in letter and in spirit. ... So we were quit of our Eastern adventure with clean hands.’ The French, however, got Syria on claims which went back to the Crusades. M. Pichon pressed these claims in a long speech at Versailles, drawing from Feisal, a descendant of Saladin, the bland query: ‘But, pardon me, M. Pichon, which of us won the Crusades?’
The sense of personal fraud was to remain with Lawrence until he could wish that death would take him. But for him, as for the Arabs, life was ‘a thing inevitably entailed to man, usufruct beyond control. Suicide was a thing impossible and death no grief.’
But, if death was no grief, it was not a small thing, to Lawrence at least, and where his own were concerned. He could throw himself into cold rages at a single Arab casualty. He could be ruthless, but not wanton. If he took life, it was a deliberate contribution to this one thing that had become an obsession.
He even on occasion constituted himself the executioner — ‘we wrote our lesson with gun or whip immediately in the sullen flesh of the sufferer. . . .’ But there again he only charged himself with the dreadful duty because to allow an Arab to do so would have opened the way to a blood feud within the cause. ‘I made him enter a narrow gulley of the spur, a dank twilight place overgrown with weeds. . . . The walls were vertical. I stood in the entrance and gave him a few moments for delay which he spent crying on the ground. Then I made him rise and shot him through the chest. He fell down on the weeds shrieking. . . .’
These obvious things — and there were others ‘not to be mentioned in cold blood for very shame’ — produced their changes in him by their cumulative impact. But more subtle forces were at work as the Arab began to possess him.
‘In my case the effort for these years to live in the dress of Arabs and to imitate their mental foundation quitted me of my English self and let me look at the West with new eyes: they destroyed it all for me.’ When at last he came up with British troops in the mass the full revulsion of feeling against them came over him. They were demeaning themselves by common service. ‘This death’s livery which walled its bearers from ordinary life was a sign that they had sold their wills and bodies to the State and contracted themselves into a service not the less abject for that its beginning was voluntary.’ That night he felt himself nearer to his Arabs, and he resented it.
For simplicity’s sake Lawrence can be called great — if the compound of mental and spiritual qualities, of wide knowledge and intellect, of leadership and courage, of achievement even, count for greatness. Some have gone farther and called him a military genius — a large word to apply to a man who had but one problem to solve, and that only limited in extent.
His one problem was not relatively a hard one. Its limits were nicely set and admirably suited to his temperament. His forces were small, never more than a handful, and always under his command and eye. He had to trust no one for the execution of a plan. He could see to it himself, using his superb courage and making his extraordinary gift of leadership felt.
His were not the major risks of defeat. If he had been beaten the result would have been, not the inevitable loss of all, but merely that the Arab dream was postponed temporarily and Allenby’s way made rather harder. Had Allenby been beaten, Lawrence’s whole strategy would have gone for nought. His Arab Revolt was subsidiary to the main campaign on which it depended for its success. Each, whatever the political motives involved, had as its common military objective the destruction of the Turkish armies.
Lawrence’s Arabs lay along the flank of an enemy already fully occupied. They fought in a friendly country whose population, bitterly hostile to the Turks, was ready to rise at the least opportunity. For all practical purposes Lawrence was fully protected on both flanks and in the rear.
He need initiate nothing for himself, and nothing which did not offer absolute certainty of execution. All time was his. When Allenby, for instance, was busy at Jerusalem, Lawrence decided — perhaps thinking rightly that the time was not ripe — to confine himself to rather niggardly half measures. When the moment came for Allenby’s last blow, Lawrence gave generously to assist a plan which succeeded beyond possible expectation.
Allenby had combined all the forces at his disposal in one perfectly coordinated sweep. Nothing was left undone which might contribute to the deception of the Turks, until the preparations assumed the proportions of an immense practical joke.
When the cavalry were marched from the Jordan front to bide their time hidden among the orange groves at Jaffa, the horse lines were filled with horses of painted canvas. Men were left to feed and water them — even to sound the proper trumpet calls into their dummy ears. Every condemned tent in Egypt was pitched to shelter a stage army which was set marching up to the front each day and back again at night. The dust clouds made by the phantom supply train proper for so large a force were made by mules dragging branches.
When the blow fell, it was swift and sure. The cavalry were boldly pushed through the corridor along the sea. The infantry were left to roll the Turkish flank back on itself. There followed the annihilation of the Turkish armies. In thirty-six days the front was advanced three hundred and sixty miles. Seventy-two thousand Turks and four thousand Germans and Austrians were taken prisoners, to say nothing of every one of the Turks’ three hundred and fifty guns.
Even so, Lawrence could find it in himself to complain of British slowness in that brilliant sweep of Allenby’s. Slowness was not a fault — if fault there was. The 5th Cavalry Division, for instance, covered the two hundred miles of hard fighting which separated them from Damascus in under eleven days. With Deraa roughly as the centre of a circle, they swung on its circumference. Slipping across a chord of the same circle with only seventy miles to go, Lawrence’s Arabs were first in Damascus only by a matter of hours.
Lawrence’s criticism, unfair as it is, is intelligible. It is symptomatic of front-line psychology — as indeed is his scorn for the regular officers. ‘They do their best,’ he remarked to Liddell Hart later, ‘but it’s a pity it’s such a rotten best.’ This mass indictment is as ungrateful as it is undeserved. That he had suffered much at the hands of regulars is true. That he owed everything to regulars is equally true.
The whole success of the Arab Revolt was built on the complex foundation of a regular staff, and not in the sphere of operations alone. There were loans to the Arabs of armored cars and aeroplanes, of guns and machine guns and the men to man them, of thirty-five hundred camels, of camel corps, and of infantry to stiffen the Arab army.
Most important of all, perhaps, was the Allenby supply service, and the very able officers who manned it. What would have been Lawrence’s worst problems were solved for him. Feisal’s supporting tribes for miles around were provided for, in addition to which fifty tons of stores were delivered to his Arab army daily with unfailing regularity.
In the background were the gaping money bags pouring gold sovereigns into the Hejaz. They were the lifeblood of the Revolt, running rich and heavy in its veins. All told, ten millions sterling was the direct cost of the Revolt.
Allenby was once asked whether Lawrence would have made a good general of regular forces. ‘A very bad general,’ he replied, ‘but a good Commander in Chief.’ And when Lawrence was asked his opinion of Allenby he said, ‘A great man. . . . And surely a man who can persuade armored cars, cavalry, infantry, camel corps, aeroplanes, warships, and Bedouin irregulars to combine in a single military movement is a great man, is n’t he?’
Lawrence might have added a railway and a twelve-inch water-pipe line all the way across the desert from Egypt, for even those prosaic things do not work of themselves. Without them there could have been no Palestine campaign. And if the Turkish armies had not been annihilated at Megiddo there would have been no armistice in 1918.
As General Wavell in his official history remarks: ‘The famous epigram of Tacitus on the Romans, “They make a desert and call it peace,” might aptly be inverted for this British advance, “They turn a desert into a workshop and call it war.” ’
When in 1922 a European monarch complained that the day’s news had brought word of five fresh republics in Europe, Lawrence was able to reply, ‘Courage, sir. We have just made three kings in the East.’ Feisal had been crowned king in Baghdad, Abdullah ruled in Transjordania, and Hussein had been set up in Mecca. The Arab Revolt was ended, and British promises had been redeemed.
This end was as much Lawrence’s work as the achievement of the campaign in the field had been. He spent those years after the war fighting for Arab independence. His new battleground was the conference table, with the intangible ammunition of words, in a struggle no less wearing than the desert campaign when a bullet was an unanswerable argument.
The manufacture of this threefold Arab empire was not enough to occupy his energies. He was at the same time writing, and in larger measure rewriting, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Text I was lost, stolen from him when he left his bag for a moment on the platform of Reading Station. Text II he burned because he was dissatisfied with it. Together these two amounted to 650,000 words. Text III, the basis of Seven Pillars as we know it, came to 350,000 words. These three texts, a sum of nearly a million words, were written as a leisure task in the three years between February 1919 and February 1922.
He had been exhausted when he reached Damascus. These three years of incredible labor left him worn out mentally and spiritually.
Suspicious that he might be exploiting his fame as Lawrence of Arabia, he refused any employment under that name. He had already refused to accept any reward, including his army pay, which might, however remotely, have come from his part in the Revolt.
He was without interest in life, and he lacked even the bare means to support it. Penniless and almost starving, he enlisted. The Royal Air Force offered all he needed. For his body, bread when he must eat, clothing, and a place to sleep. Mentally it eased him of any responsibility for his own life or anyone else’s. For his spirit there were rest and forgetfulness. It was the resort he had foreseen in Seven Pillars — ‘mind suicide, some slow task to choke at length this furnace in my brain.’ He became what he had railed at so bitterly in Palestine — a man who had ‘assigned his owner the twenty-four hours’ use of his body, and sole conduct of his mind and passions.’
To one filled with the feeling of hopeless futility it was as natural a choice as anything else. The ranks were his first love. Now they offered him a living and oblivion. If he had lived seven centuries ago he would have entered a monastery as an escape from a wretched world.
His own explanation may be contained in his reply to his commanding officer when his identity was yet unknown. ‘Why did you join the Royal Air Force?’ he was asked, and replied, ‘I must have had a mental breakdown, sir.’ He had difficulty in soothing the ruffled feelings of his commanding officer; but there was probably truth in his reply.
He must have been an odd figure in the ranks. Never noted for his reverence, he set himself to be a good soldier. Life was more comfortable that way. Occasionally, however, his old self got the better of him. Graves tells a story of a brush with a sergeant instructor who asked him, ‘What are you grinning at there?’ ‘Do you really want to know, Sergeant?’ asked Lawrence. As the sergeant did, Lawrence explained what had been occupying his mind during arms drill. For fifteen minutes sergeant and squad listened as he quoted. It was a joke of Lucian’s in late Greek dialogue.
It was after he had gone to India as an aircraftsman — the Royal Air Force equivalent of a private — that he was asked to do his translation of the Odyssey. Bruce Rogers, having just finished the Seven Pillars, realized that at last he had found the man for his pet project, which was to be printed in a style worthy of the poem.1 If anyone could bring an original point of view to bear on the problem of translating Homer, it would be Lawrence.
Problem it is. The mere turning of Greek, and simple Greek at that, into intelligible English is obviously not difficult in itself — a schoolboy can do that. The translation of a great poem must be more than merely intelligible. The English must be a supple instrument which deals faithfully with the text without sacrificing breadth of feeling.
The Odyssey has had different meanings for each of its many translators. To one it is a series of lessons in morals, to another a great fairy tale, and to others an archaic historical document. For Lawrence ‘the tale was the thing’: ‘it was the oldest book worth reading and the first novel of Europe.’
He was a Homer addict, without a doubt of the effect he wanted to obtain. He wished that his translation should be worthy. ‘It seems only a sort of game,’ he wrote to Bruce Rogers, ‘to try to bring him down to the ordinary speech of my mouth, and yet that is what a translation ought to mean.’
He wanted to make the Odyssey readable for the many who had become accustomed to think of it as a ‘classic,’ with all the associated clutter of the word. In this he was following the example of Palmer, who was the first to substitute ‘you’ for ‘thou,’ an alarming step for the orthodox classicist. Lawrence brought to the work the ability of the archaeologist of catholic and unpedantic taste to simplify the technicalities in the story; but the desire for simplification occasionally led him into error.
For instance, in the scene in Alcinous’s household, he describes the serving women at their weaving, ‘and so close is the texture of their linen that even fine oil will not pass through.’ The literal meaning is ‘and from the close-spun linen drops the liquid oil,’ which is surely as intelligible as Lawrence’s version. Indeed it is more so, for presumably the threads, having been steeped in oil for easy spinning, would drip with it when woven tight.
Nor is his choice of epithet always the happiest. As an incursion into extreme literalness, for ϵλικας βους he gives ‘screw-horned oxen,’ which is not only obtrusive but very improbable.
But the Homeric epithet will always remain one of the translator’s greatest difficulties. There are certain inevitable conjunctions — ‘wine-dark sea,’ ‘rosy-fingered dawn,’ ‘gray-eyed Athene,’ ‘winged words’—which almost defeat any attempt at departure from established rendering. One can try to escape, as Lawrence has done, by calling ‘red-cheeked ships’ ‘raddled ships,’ but the effort hardly seems to be worth-while. The epithetic repetitions are part of the poem’s charm.
Lawrence was doubtful whether his Odyssey — the twenty-eighth rendering into English — could be a success. He insisted, moreover, that it should be published without a translator’s name on the title-page. He gained his point, but in the end he consented to sign the translator’s note as T. E. Shaw — the name which by now was legally his by deed poll. ‘I know,’ he wrote to Bruce Rogers, ‘that my writing without a name is n’t worth much. In London I can get it published, just (not always); and they pay me about 30/a thousand words, at best, for it.’
As a note to collectors it might be worth remarking that four years of anonymous work had brought him about thirty-five pounds. One can assume that there are about thirty thousand of his published words to be found by those who have the curiosity to seek and the power to find. No doubt they would be extremely valuable.
The Odyssey, however, was a literary event, and not only because of the clamor of his name. It is readable and well suited to the modern taste, but one cannot imagine Swinburne praising it for its ‘ inextinguishable fire ’ or Keats writing a sonnet to it.
Lawrence’s life in the ranks was punctuated by the discovery of his whereabouts by the press. He despised the press, and because of his refusal to speak through it he was made an unwilling mystery. The press, loving those who despise it, for they are News, made life a burden to him whenever they found him out, as in the end they usually did.
For a man who claimed to be shy and to dislike publicity, he had a strange liking — almost an eagerness — for seeing himself, as he thought, through the eyes of others. He carried modesty almost to the borders of conceit. Always supremely conscious of himself, he never tired of recalling how he looked or what he wore on this or that occasion. The instances recur throughout the Seven Pillars with puzzling insistency. With this consciousness of self went a desire to be painted and sculptured, even photographed. There is, in fact, hardly an English artist of note of the last fifteen years who has not at some time or other done a Lawrence, and there seems to be an unfailing supply of photographs.
His own explanation is characteristic: ‘My impotence of vision showed me my shape best in painted pictures, and the oblique overheard remarks of others best taught me my created impression. . . . The eagerness to overhear and oversee was my assault on my own inviolate citadel.’
He had warmth and a gift for friendship, but that within him always made him hold back some part of himself from each of his many friends, with the result that they were often jealous of each other in their common friendship with him. Aware of this, he treated them carefully in regard to each other, as a woman would her admirers.
Not a woman hater, he neither avoided nor sought their company. ‘If they’ (he called them ‘the lower creation’) ‘forced themselves on me I hated them. To put my hand on a living thing was defilement, and it made me tremble if they touched me.’ Yet he had a longing for ‘the absolutism of women . . . and lamented myself most when I saw a soldier with a girl . . . because my wish was to be as superficial, as perfected; and my jailer held me back.’
He regarded the words ‘intuitive’ and ‘feminine’ as almost synonymous, seeming to deny to woman the power of reasoned thought.
The Seven Pillars provides the key to the man. He was neither irrational nor erratic. He was governed by reason. His character is not difficult to understand, provided one admits certain premises — that his reasoning was invariably ethical, backed by knowledge and a great power for analytical thought.
Early in 1935, Lawrence took his discharge, ‘time-ex.,’ from the Royal Air Force. He had served twelve years and now he was prepared to taste leisure for the first time in his life. But the burden of leisure was great. To Kennington the artist he wrote, ‘Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.’
On Monday, May 13, he rode out on his motor cycle. To ride it very fast indeed was his one luxury. He felt that on a motor cycle he took more than a fair proportion of the risks of the road. He knew that ‘ it would end in tragedy one day,’ but it was part of his claim that his life was his own to do with as he wished. Returning home, he swerved to avoid two boys on bicycles. He was pitched over the handlebars. A week later he died.
If his death was tragic waste, it was no more so than the wasted twelve years of his life. What he could have done if he had wanted, what he might have done if he had lived, none can know. He who had given everything of himself for an alien race had nothing left for that England which he loved well.
- An American, Colonel Ralph Isham, generously supported the project with money and friendly encouragement. — EDITOR↩