Letters of T. E. Lawrence





‘“SINCERITY is the only written thing which time improves,” wrote Lawrence in a letter of May 1, 1928. I have kept this dictum always in mind while selecting the following letters. Yet sincerity is often impossible to the letter writer, particularly if he be addressing, not his most intimate friend, but a number of persons who have been attracted by his achievements, or his fame. This was Lawrence’s fate. Hundreds of people wrote to him and he replied to scores. From the mass of material put at my disposal, my object has been to make a book in which Lawrence’s career, his intellectual development, and the details of his life should be recorded, traced, and documented almost entirely in his own words. To that end I have included not only private letters but anything from his official reports, letters or articles in the press, diaries, unpublished notes and memoranda, which would serve my purpose.’
So begins David Garnett’s preface to the Lawrence Letters — 582 in all — which are shortly to be published in book form. The Atlantic has been privileged to make its own selection from this memorable volume.
Lawrence’s father was of the AngloIrish landed gentry, his mother partly Highland Scottish. They had five sons, of whom the second, Thomas Edward (always called Ned by his family), was born at Tremadoc in Wales on August 16, 1888. Castles were an early and lifelong interest and were to take him on his first visit to the East, there to compare the castles built by the Crusaders in Syria and Palestine with those of Western Europe. — THE EDITOR

To C. F. C. Beeson

Dimanche, le 9Août [1908]
Dear Scroggs, Oh Murder I’ve got in this letter to get from Avignon to Cordes, across about half France: expect a ‘digest’ only. Avignon-Tarascon (Beaucaire across the river glowing in the sunset, looked worthy of Nicolette). The Tarasconnaises are hideous, exactly like grey horses whereas the women of Arles arE glorious: the matrons look superb with their Greek profiles, and tiny Phrygian caps of black cloth. Tarascon-Arles where the thing to see is not the Amphitheatre (most magnificently hideous: —, very Roman) but the cloister of St. Trophimus: indescribably grand. [14 lines omitted]
Carcassonne. I’m not going to describe that: ’t is impossible, impious to attempt such a thing: go and see it, expecting to find the greatest thing of your life, and you’ll find one many times finer. How on earth has it remained unknown with its memories and its remains, when people flock to a St. Michel or the Tower of London? It is ten thousand times finer than these, or a hundred like them, rolled into one. I have 40 odd photos. which do it sad injustice, but nothing could do it anything else: and there are no guides, no fees, no tips, no beggars, hardly any trippers: ’t is a paradise of a place, unhappily there’s no hotel. Carcassonne—Toulouse (a dirty industrial dung-heap of factories and plate glass)-Albi: the cathedral looks like a blanc-mange mould: hideous but enormous and most imposing. —Cordes, which is another of the indescribable, never to be paralleled places. Imagine such a town to exist in our 20th cent. Europe. Perhaps however as you’ve never heard of it, and my précis has been so very much so I may enlarge a bit upon it, and try and construct a Cordes.
First of all, it is in Tarn, in dialect, geographically, ethnographically and climatically distinct from the rest of France. (I cannot understand a word of the patois: no more can the French.) One’s hotel dinners in Tarn (I’m degenerating into a commis-voyageur, and ça criticisera a ‘plat’ with the best) are weird: I don’t in the least know what I ate last night: — I fancy a plough-ox or two (is it nightmare?) some potatoes were they? stewed infant or monkey: things like paving stones but not quite so hard, have n’t the faintest idea what; and to finish something indescribable, described apparently in patois as clarghbult: they were quite possible, but anything from snail to ortolan. The bread — can you ‘degust’ in fancy (blessing your stars’t is only so), leather, steeped in brine and bitter aloes, boiled till soft, with a crust like iron, and an aroma like a brandy snap? Milk they say is to be imported from Europe next year: butter was brought in the year before last, and is now turned into cream-cheese. I should be dead by now only for the Roquefort: ’t is as common as possible, and with enough of it anything is disguised, even the bread tastes not unlike charcoal. If you’re bored or overworn, come to a Tarnais hotel for a week. For 3 francs a night (being the only guest one must maintain the place) one can have as many galvanic shocks following on gasping nerve strained expectation as one can support. I’m coming back on a walking tour: (oh yes you’ve heard that before!)
Cordes is a paradise for a painter. [1 line omitted] Take a hill, too steep for a horse to pull a cart up: add houses, all of xiv century, except a few quite modern comparatively, say renaissance: streets — mostly stairs, irregular and broken, running under archways and tunnels, round corners and into courtyards, expanding sometimes into a ‘place,’ sometimes into a cesspool. Cover these ruelles with grass, heap them with refuse, with vines and with flowers: fill them with a picturesque tho’ squalid population, throw about plenty of ruins, a church or two, town walls, 8 or ten xv cent. fortified gates, exquisitely carved doors luxuriating in iron — wrought Renaissance locks and hinges that would be worth a fortune in England: make your houses of stone, or brick, of tiles, of plaster and wood, but not of one only: patch a stone house with brick or wood and vice-versa — make the plaster fall off where most artistically effective, let the dirtiest and most winding streets have the most flowers and creepers, the finest flamboyant windows and the best arcades: in fact put in whatever is quaint or lovely and tumble-down just where it is most needed pictorially, and most unlikely in reality: deluge it with a blaze of colour, and of dirt, and you are in a fair way to construct a Cordes, though you can never get the real thing with its hand looms and its threshing floors, its pottery and its fruit. An artist might (barring fevers) paint here for a year without a repeat, and all his pictures would be lovely: it is a dream-city, with a little nightmare added as well: and here endeth the paper.
E. L.

Copyright 1939, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass. All rights reserved.

I hope you have n’t to pay excess on these effusions. My people never said anything about it. Castillon I hope on Friday: Saintes 8 days later; after that goodness only knows. 38 punctures: 1400 miles and finding it very hard, but very interesting.



Mottoes for August

[Having visited, planned, and photographed the most important early castles in England and France, Lawrence determined to study the castles built by the Crusaders in Syria and Palestine. He announced his intention of traveling on foot, though C. M. Doughty, to whom he had written at the suggestion of D. G. Hogarth, whom he had recently got to know at the Ashmolean Museum, advised him strongly against such an attempt in the following letter.]

3. 2. [09]

Dear Sir, I have not been further North in Syria than lat. 34. In July and August the heat is very severe and day and night, even at the altitude of Damascus (over 2000 feet), it is a land of squalor where a European can find evil refreshment. Long daily marches on foot a prudent man who knows the country would I think consider out of the question. The populations only know their own wretched life and look upon any European wandering in their country with at best a veiled ill will.
The distances to be traversed are very great. You would have nothing to draw upon but the slight margin of strength which you bring with you from Europe. Insufficient food, rest and sleep, would soon begin to tell.
A distinguished general told me at the time of the English expedition against Arabia that no young soldier under 23 years old, who went through the campaign, had not been in hospital.
I should dissuade a friend from such a voyage, which is too likely to be most wearisome, hazardous to health and even disappointing.
A mule or a horse, with its owner, should, at least in my opinion, be hired to accompany you.
Some Arabic is of course necessary. If you should wish to ask any further questions I shall be happy to reply so far as I can do so. Yours sincerely,

[Lawrence, however, pursued his own plans, undeterred.]

To His Mother

LATAKIA, 29, 8, 09
Dear Mother, Another chance for a note, this time hurried. I wrote last from Tripoli. I went thence to Aarka, and then to Kala’at el Hosn, passing one night on a house roof, and the second in the house of an Arab noble, reputed, as I was told next day, of the highest blood; a young man very lively, and rather wild, living in a house like a fortress on the top of a mountain: only approachable on one side, and there a difficult staircase. If you keep this note I can tell you all sorts of amusing things about him later: name Abdul Kerim. He had just bought a Mauser, and blazed at everything with it. His bullets must have caused terror to every villager within a mile around. I think he was a little cracked.
Then I got to Hōsn which is I think the finest castle in the world: certainly the most picturesque I have seen — quite marvellous: I stayed 3 days there with the Kaimmakam, the governor: a most-civilisedFrench-speaking-disciple-of Herbert-Spencer-Free-MasonicMahommedan-Young Turk: very comfortable. — He sent an escort with me next day to Safita, a Norman keep, with original battlements: The like is not in Europe: such a find. Again I slept with Kaimakam & Co. (Co. here means fleas) and next day I went on again with a huge march, to two more castles, & a bed for the night in a threshing floor, on a pile of tibn, chopped straw, listening to the Arabs beating out their Dhurra in the moonlight: they kept it up all night in relays, till about 2 a.m. when they woke me up, & said they were all exhausted, would I keep watch because there were thieves, & I was an Inglezi and had a pistol: I obliged, thinking it was humbug of the usual sort, (every village distrusts its neighbour) but they told me in Tartus next day that there really were not thieves, but landlords about! Is n’t that charming? These dear people wanted to hide the extent of their harvest.
Next day as above I went to Tartus, by another good castle: then struck far inland, (through a country of flint and steel and handmills, to Masyad, the chief city of the Assassins country: and then to Kadmus another of that gentry’s strongholds, where the ‘Old Man of the mountains’ himself lived: (I slept in his château1) and so to Aleika, to Margat, a castle about as big as Jersey I fancy: one wanted a bicycle to ride round it: to another Banias, to Jebeleh, and here to Latakia, all well.
Monday I want to get off to Sahyun, and then in 4 or 5 days to Antioch, and then to Aleppo in 5. I hope there to hear from you. [5 lines omitted] I will have such difficulty in becoming English again: here I am Arab in habits, and slip in talking from English to French and Arabic unnoticing, yesterday I was 3 hours with an Orleannais, talking French, and he thought at the end I was a compatriot. You may be happy, now all my rough work is finished successfully, and my thesis is I think assured. Iradé2invaluable.

To Sir John Rhys3

Sept. 24 [1909]
Dear Sir John Rhys, I had asked my father to call on the College and explain to whoever was in residence that circumstances prevented my return in time for the beginning of term, but afterwards I thought that your kindness in the matter of obtaining those letters through Lord Curzon demanded a letter from me to yourself.
I have had a most delightful tour (the details naturally won’t interest you) on foot and alone all the time, so that I have perhaps, living as an Arab with the Arabs, got a better insight into the daily life of the people than those who travel with caravan and dragomen. Some 37 out of the 50 odd castles were on my proposed route and I have seen all but one of them: many are quite unpublished, so of course I have had to make many plans, drawings and photographs. As a sideline I have bought about 30 Hittite seals. Mr. Hogarth asked me before I started to bring him back any I came across. Worthy ones will go into the collection in the Ashmolean.
My excuse for outstaying my leave must be that I have had the delay of four attacks of malaria when I had only reckoned on two: even now I am exceedingly sorry to leave the two Castles in the Moabite deserts unvisited.4 I would go to them certainly, only that last week I was robbed & rather smashed up. Before I could be fit for walking again (and it is very hard physically in this country) the season of rains would have begun. It is most unfortunate, for the getting here is expensive: the actual travelling, my beggar-fashion, costs practically nothing of course.
I expect therefore to return to college on the 15th. The loss of a week will not I hope be considered an unpardonable offence. Believe me, yrs. sincerely

P.S. If my father should be happy enough to meet you personally please don’t mention the matter of the robbery: I want to be returned reasonably whole before it comes out. Lord Curzon’s Iradés were invaluable in the matter: they stirred up the local authorities to a semblance of energy, so that the man was caught in 48 hours. Before this I had employed them innumerable times: in fact without them there would have been several times unpleasantnesses.

E. L.

To His Mother

August 1910
[31 lines omitted] The book I had was Petit Jehan de Saintré, a xv Cent. novel of knightly manners — very good: — I have wanted to read it for a long time, but the Union copy was so badly printed that I had not the heart for it. Now I have found (for I f. 25) a series quite nicely typed on fairly good paper. So far I have only got 4 volumes, because they are rather much to carry: it is altogether glorious to have found good French books at last. I can read Molière and Racine and Corneille and Voltaire now: — a whole new world. You know, I think, the joy of getting into a strange country in a book: at home when I have shut my door and the town is in bed — and I know that nothing, not even the dawn — can disturb me in my curtains: only the slow crumbling of the coals in the fire: they get so red and throw such splendid glimmerings on the Hypnos and the brasswork. And it is lovely too, after you have been wandering for hours in the forest with Percivale or Sagramors le desirous, to open the door, and from over the Cherwell to look at the sun glowering through the valley-mists.
Why does one not like things if there are other people about? Why cannot one make one’s books live except in the night, after hours of straining? and you know they have to be your own books too, and you have to read them more than once. I think they take in something of your personality, and your environment also — you know a second hand book sometimes is so much more flesh and blood than a new one — and it is almost terrible to think that your ideas, yourself in your books, may be giving life to generations of readers after you are forgotten. It is that specially which makes one need good books: books that will be worthy of what you are going to put into them. What would you think of a great sculptor who flung away his gifts on modelling clay or sand? Imagination should be put into the most precious caskets, and that is why one can only live in the future or the past, in Utopia or the Wood beyond the World.
Father won’t know all this — but if you can get the right book at the right time you taste joys — not only bodily, physical, but spiritual also, which pass one out above and beyond one’s miserable self, as it were through a huge air, following the light of another man’s thought. And you can never be quite the old self again. You have forgotten a little bit: or rather pushed it out with a little of the inspiration of what is immortal in someone who has gone before you. [5-line postscript omitted]

[Lawrence took first-class honors in history, partly on the strength of his thesis, ‘The Military Architecture of the Crusades’ (since published as Crusader Castles). D. G. Hogarth recommended him for a demyship at Magdalen College, and Lawrence set off for the Carchemish dig, then being begun under Hogarth’s leadership, for the British Museum. He was to look back on these three years at Carchemish as the best in his life.]

To D. G. Hogarth

[About June 24, 1911]
[40 lines about technique of photography omitted] The sour Zap5 went from us, and a horrible fool has come in his place. He is continually interfering, & malingering, with demands for brandy. We got rather tired of this, and so when he produced a preposterous fever, we promised him medicine, and invited him into the kitchen. Thompson put on a pulpit face, and recited the Hebrew Alphabet and ‘the House that Jack built’ in a solemn voice, waving a cabalistic scroll in one hand, the other on the man’s pulse: the whole village crowded round the door to see.
We had given the Zap a glass of one half a Seidlitz powder to hold in the hand, and as Thompson said Amen I poured in the other half. The Zap. dropped the glass & leapt back with a yell, and in a twinkling there was not a man but ourselves in the room: some of the onlookers did not feel themselves safe till they had put the corner of the house between themselves and the devil visibly striving to void himself from the glass in white smoke. ‘Am I not your friend, your raffik?’6 said the Zap: ‘Why did you give me that from which I might have died? What have I done to you which was not good?’ (Many things, but he did not know). We forced Ahmed Hassan & Dahum, the two water-boys, to drink each half a glass, under pain of beating and being laughed at. And since they have gone about delicately, feeling their limbs, & shaking themselves, lest they be ‘transfigured.’ ‘I drank some of their sorcery,’ declared Dahum on the works next day, importantly, ‘it is very dangerous, for by it men are changed suddenly into the form of mares and great apes.’ All the village, and above all the Maggot are rejoiced that the bully Zap is quelled. He can hardly show his face in the place: never on the mound. There are rumours of his return to Biredjik.
This is the third miracle that we have wrought, and our fame as nigromancers is gone abroad to Aintab & Membidj. The powder now foams a tall man’s height from the glass with the noise of a dust-filled wind. [11 lines omitted]
I may live in this district through the winter: it strikes me that the stronglydialectical Arabic of the villagers would be as good as a disguise to me.
[5 lines omitted]

To Mrs. Rieder

[CARCHEMISH], May 20 [1912]
Dear Mrs. Rieder [24 lines omitted], For some reason Mr. Hogarth is very anxious to make me learn Arabic; and so I am going to stay here July & August alone. I hope to go home at Xmas, and to carry Miss Fareedah away with me for six-weeks in England. There will be more digs in Feb. but all through Jan. Miss Holmes will be bereft (inshallah!).
I hope the Parfit7 proposal got better, or died: remember I have n’t heard a word of Jebail for months: Of Carchemish — no bilingual, but very striking historical discoveries. We have nearly a complete post-Hittite history of the site worked out from Greek pottery and inscriptions; the first Hittite clay cylinder, hieroglyphically inscribed, historic-inscribed gate lions, and a new staircase, 400 other fragments of inscriptions, and complete tomb-groups of late Hittite bronze and pottery and cylinders, the first of their kind discovered. About 400 pots are on their way to London, for they were all bought by me in villages and so are our private property — ‘we’ is the B.M.
Mr. Hogarth, who has just visited us, has carried off four packing cases of my stuff for the Ashmolean. We have one piece of Hittite sculpture more realistic and artistic than anything Egyptian: it suggests a flood of light on the development of early Greek art: the Hittite is really finer than most 6th cent. Greek: — and 3 or 4 centuries earlier.
[3-line postscript omitted]

[Almost from the beginning, it seems, Lawrence had felt that the plan he had made with V. W. Richards to build a retreat and print books on a hand press would not fill his life, or satisfy his ambitions. He liked to look forward to retiring from the world, but the ivory tower — whether Pole Hill, or a barrackroom, or the cottage at Clouds Hill — did not satisfy him when he actually was about to enter it. The following letter is important as showing that he had realized this and quite early had made the position clear to his partner.]

To V. W. Richards

CARCHEMISH, Dec. 10, 1913
Dear Richards, It’s quaint, is n’t it, to begin again a correspondence which has lapsed for about a twelve-month? but, you know, I’m about as sick of myself and my affairs as one can well be, and it would be a consolation, if not exactly a comfort, to hear something of the sort from you. The fault was in ever coming out to this place, I think, because really ever since knowing it I have felt that (at least for the near future) to talk of settling down to live in a small way anywhere else was beating the air: and so gradually I slipped down, until a few months ago when I found myself an ordinary archæologist. I fought very hard, at Oxford and after going down, to avoid being labelled: but the insurance people have nailed me down, now.
All this preface is leading up to the main issue — that I cannot print with you when you want me. I have felt it coming for a long time, and have funked it. You know I was in England for a

fortnight this summer, and actually found myself one afternoon in Liverpool St. coming up to you . . . and then went back again. I have got to like this place very much: and the people here — five or six of them — and the whole manner of living pleases me. We have 200 men to play with, anyhow we like so long as the excavations go on, and they are splendid fellows many of them (I had two of them: — head-men — in England with me this summer) and it is great fun with them. Then there are the digs, with dozens of wonderful things to find — it is like a great sport with tangible results at the end of things — Do you know I am keen now on an inscription or a new type of pottery? and hosts of beautiful things in the villages and towns to fill one’s house with. Not to mention seal-hunting in the country round about, and the Euphrates to rest in when one is over-hot. It is a place where one eats lotos nearly every day, and you know that feeling is bad for one’s desires to do something worth looking at, oneself.
Which is the end, I think, of the apologia ... do write and tell me if there is any hope of your pulling it off on your own? Carchemish will not be finished for another four or five years: and I’m afraid that after that I’ll probably go after another and another nice thing: it is rather a miserable come down. I have n’t any money; can I offer you a carpet? They are about the only things remaining out here that are any good: Arabs have no handicrafts.
Remember me to Berry, if you see him: do you know I have n’t read a book for months.

[Lawrence was in England when the war broke out, and he was soon employed in the War Office drawing maps of Sinai. The job in the map department was exchanged in December for that of map officer in the new Department of Intelligence in Egypt, which contained a group of extraordinarily brilliant men. Lawrence, the youngest of them, was the most daring and original, and profoundly influenced them all. A subaltern on the staff, without a Sam Browne belt and always wearing slacks, scorching about between Cairo and Bulaq on a Triumph motorcycle, he was an offense to the eyes of his senior officers.

To a letter written on March 31, 1929, to Liddell Hart on the latter’s Decisive Wars of History, Lawrence appended the following note.]

I am unrepentant about the Alexandretta scheme which was, from beginning to end, my invention, put forward necessarily through my chiefs (I was a 2nd Lieut. of 3 months seniority!). Actually Kitchener accepted it, and ordered it, for the Australian and N. Z. forces: and then was met by a French ultimatum. A landing at Alexandretta in Feb. 1915 would have handed over Syria and Mespot. to their native (Arab) troops, then all in their home stations, and complete, and automatically established local governments there: and then attracted to Ayas (it was Ayas, not Alexandretta) the whole bulk of the real Turkish armies:* and that would have been the moment for the Dardanelles naval effort.

* to fritter itself against the Arabs, not against us.

[The following letter is probably the most remarkable document Lawrence ever wrote. It shows that he had already planned the campaign which he was to carry to a victorious conclusion three years later.]

To D. G. Hogarth

March 22 [1915]
Another uncensored letter: at half an hour’s notice last week I sent you a flood of stuff about Alex: please try & push it through for I think it is our only chance in face of a French Syria. I hope my letter was clear — because I dashed it off in such a sweat that I had no time to think of it at all.
This week is something else. You know India1 used to be in control of Arabia — and used to do it pretty badly, for they had n’t a man who knew Syria or Turkey, & they used to consider only the Gulf, & the preservation of peace in the Aden Hinterland. So they got tied into horrid knots with the Imam, who is a poisonous blighter at the best. Egypt (which is one Clayton, a very good man) got hold of the Idrisi family, who are the Senussi and Assyr together, as you know: and for some years we had a little agreement together. Then this war started, & India went on the old game of balancing the little powers there. I want to pull them all together, & to roll up Syria by way of the Hedjaz in the name of the Sherif. You know how big his repute is in Syria. This could be done by Idrisi only, so we drew out a beautiful alliance, giving him all he wanted: & India refused to sign. So we cursed them, & I think that Newcombe & myself are going down to Kunfida as his advisers. If Idrisi is anything like as good as we hope we can rush right up to Damascus, & biff the French out of all hope of Syria. It’s a big game, and at last one worth playing. Of course India has no idea what we are playing at: if we can only get to Assyr we can do the rest — or have a try at it. So if I write & tell you that it’s all right, & I’m off, you will know where for. Would n’t you like to be on it? Though I don’t give much for my insurance chances again. If only India will let us go. Won’t the French be mad if we win through? Don’t talk of it yet.

To D. G. Hogarth

WAR OFFICE, CAIRO, 20. 4. 15
There are n’t going to be any nice schemes anytime, I believe, at least everything boils up gloriously, & one is told to be ready to start by the Thursday in next week — and then it never becomes the Thursday of this week. Finally the Med-Ex.8 came out, beastly ill-prepared, with no knowledge of where it was going, or what it would meet, or what it was going to do. So we took pity on it, & said that we would be its Intelligence Base, and its map base and so we’ll be here till the end of it. Lloyd and Herbert went off with it, to help it, & Newcombe & I are left. Woolley is in Port Said, controlling the French Navy, & taking prize ships. It’s very dull: but of course I have n’t any training as a field officer, and I don’t know that I want to go fighting up to Constantinople. It would be bad form, I think. The only place worth visiting is A.9 and they are all afraid of going there, for fear of hurting the feelings of our allies:
The Canal is still holding out, and we are forgetting all about it. Turkey, if she is wise, will raid it from time to time, & annoy the garrison there, which is huge, & lumbersome, & creaks so loudly in the joints that you hear them eight hours before they move. So it’s quite easy to run down & chuck a bomb at it, & run away again without being caught.
Everything is going to sleep, & today is 90° in the room, and one feels rather limp and bored.
I bought you a seal the other day. It’s probably the only one you’ll get from us this year, which is almost its only virtue. One would n’t have bought it anywhere else, but in Cairo it was refreshing.
For Leeds I am sending a mediæval dagger pommel — or piece of horsetrapping— bought in Jerusalem lately.
Poor old Turkey is only hanging together. People always talk of the splendid show she has made lately, but it really is too pitiful for words. Everything about her is very very sick, & almost I think it will be good to make an end of her, though it will be very inconvenient to ourselves. I only hope that Aleppo and Damascus will escape a little the fate that has come upon Cairo. Anything fouler than the town buildings, or its beastly people, can’t be: — and I should n’t have believed in them six months back. Carchemish is a village inhabited by the cleanest & most intelligent angels. [7 lines omitted] TEL

To a Friend

AKABA, Sept 24. ’17
Dear [name omitted], I’m sorry, but I felt the usual abrupt beginning would be too much for your nerves, and that you would fall exhausted on to the floor [3 words omitted], without even a Turkish carpet to break the shock of my writing at last. What can have happened? I was pondering last night how for a year I had written no private letter (except to my people, and those don’t count, for my mails are sunk or censored!) and today I go and break the habit. Perhaps it’s because it was a habit, and I’m getting old and stiff (not to say tired, for every year out in Arabia counts ten) and habits must be nipped in their shells.
I’m in Akaba for two days — that for me spells civilisation, though it does n’t mean other than Arab togs and food, but it means you lunch where you dined, and not further on — and therefore happy. The last stunt has been a few days on the Hejaz Railway, in which I potted a train with two engines (oh, the Gods were kind) and we killed superior numbers, and I got a good Baluch prayerrug and lost all my kit, and nearly my little self.
I’m not going to last out this game much longer: nerves going and temper wearing thin, and one wants an unlimited account of both. However while it lasts it’s a show between Gilbert and Carroll, and one can retire on it, with that feeling of repletion that comes after a hearty meal. By the way hearty meals are like the chopped snow that one scatters over one’s bowl of grapes in Damascus at midsummer. Ripping, to write about —
This letter is n’t going to do you much good, for the amount of information it contains would go on a pin’s head and roll about. However it’s not a correspondence, but a discourse held with the only person to whom I have ever written regularly, and one whom I have shamefully ill-used by not writing to more frequently. On a show so narrow and voracious as this one loses one’s past and one’s balance, and becomes hopelessly self-centred. I don’t think I ever think except about shop, and I ’m quite certain I never do anything else. That must be my excuse for dropping everyone, and I hope when the nightmare ends that I will wake up and become alive again. This killing and killing of Turks is horrible. When you charge in at the finish and find them all over the place in bits, and still alive many of them, and know that you have done hundreds in the same way before and must do hundreds more if you can. [2 lines omitted]

To V. W. Richards

Well, it was wonderful to see your writing again, and very difficult to read it: also pleasant to have a letter which does n’t begin ‘Reference your GS 102487b of the 45th.’ Army prose is bad, and one has so much of it that one fears contamination in one’s own. I cannot write to anyone just now. Your letter came to me in Aba Lissan, a little hillfort on the plateau of Arabia S.E. of the Dead Sea, and I carried it with me down to Akaba, to Jidda, and then here to answer. Yet with all that I have had it only a month, and you wrote it three months ago. This letter will be submarined, and then it is all over for another three years.
It always seemed to me that your eyes would prevent all service for you, and

that in consequence you might preserve your continuity. For myself, I have been so violently uprooted and plunged so deeply into a job too big for me, that everything feels unreal. I have dropped everything I ever did, and live only as a thief of opportunity, snatching chances of the moment when and where I see them. My people have probably told you that the job is to foment an Arab rebellion against Turkey, and for that I have to try and hide my frankish exterior, and be as little out of the Arab picture as I can. So it’s a kind of foreign stage, on which one plays day and night, in fancy dress, in a strange language, with the price of failure on one’s head if the part is not well filled.
You guessed rightly that the Arab appealed to my imagination. It is the old, old civilisation, which has refined itself clear of household gods, and half the trappings which ours hastens to assume. The gospel of bareness in materials is a good one, and it involves apparently a sort of moral bareness too. They think for the moment, and endeavour to slip through life without turning corners or climbing hills. In part it is a mental and moral fatigue, a race trained out, and to avoid difficulties they have to jettison so much that we think honourable and grave: and yet without in any way sharing their point of view, I think I can understand it enough to look at myself and other foreigners from their direction, and without condemning it. I know I’m a stranger to them, and always will be: but I cannot believe them worse, any more than I could change to their ways.
This is a very long porch to explain why I’m always trying to blow up railway trains and bridges instead of looking for the Well at the World’s End. Anyway these years of detachment have cured me of any desire ever to do anything for myself. When they untie my bonds I will not find in me any spur to action. However actually one never thinks of afterwards: the time from the beginning is like one of those dreams which seems to last for æons, and then you wake up with a start, and find that it has left nothing in your mind. Only the different thing about this dream is that so many people do not wake up in this life again.
I cannot imagine what my people can have told you. Until now we have only been preparing the groundwork and basis of our revolt, and do not yet stand on the brink of action. Whether we are going to win or lose, when we do strike, I cannot ever persuade myself. The whole thing is such a play, and one cannot put conviction into one’s day dreams. If we succeed I will have done well with the materials given me, and that disposes of your ‘lime light.’ If we fail, and they have patience, then I suppose we will go on digging foundations. Achievement, if it comes, will be a great disillusionment, but not great enough to wake one up.
Your mind has evidently moved far since 1914. That is a privilege you have won by being kept out of the mist for so long. You’ll find the rest of us aged undergraduates, possibly still unconscious of our unfitting grey hair. For that reason I cannot follow or return your steps. A house with no action entailed upon one, quiet, and liberty to think and abstain as one wills — yes, I think abstention, the leaving everything alone and watching the others still going past, is what I would choose today, if they ceased driving one. This may be only the reaction from four years opportunism, and is not worth trying to resolve into terms of geography and employment.
Of course the ideal is that of the lords who are still certainly expected, but the certainty is not for us, I’m afraid. Also for very few would the joy be so perfect as to be silent. Those words, peace, silence, rest, and the others take on a vividness in the midst of noise and worry and weariness like a lighted window in the dark. Yet what on earth is the good of a lighted window? and perhaps it is only because one is overborne and tired. You know when one marches across an interminable plain a hill (which is still the worst hill on earth) is a banquet, and after searing heat cold water takes on a quality (what would they have said about this word before?) impossible in the eyes of a fen-farmer. Probably I’m only a sensitised film, turned black or white by the objects projected on me: and if so what hope is there that next week or year, or tomorrow, can be prepared for today?
This is an idiot letter, and amounts to nothing except cry for a further change which is idiocy, for I change my abode every day, and my job every two days, and my language every three days, and still remain always unsatisfied. I hate being in front, and I hate being back and I don’t like responsibility, and I don ’t obey orders. Altogether no good just now. A long quiet like a purge and then a contemplation and decision of future roads, that is what [there] is to look forward to.
You want apparently some vivid colouring of an Arab costume, or of a flying Turk, and we have it all, for that is part of the mise en scène of the successful raider, and hitherto I am that. My bodyguard of fifty Arab tribesmen, picked riders from the young men of the deserts, are more splendid than a tulip garden, and we ride like lunatics and with our Beduins pounce on unsuspecting Turks and destroy them in heaps: and it is all very gory and nasty after we close grips. I love the preparation, and the journey, and loathe the physical fighting. Disguises, and prices on one’s head, and fancy exploits are all part of the pose: how to reconcile it with the Oxford pose I know not. Were we flamboyant there? [6 lines omitted] L.

(To be concluded)

  1. Demolished by Ibrahim Pasha in 1838!
  2. Lawrence carried Iradés or letters of protection from the Sultan obtained for him by Lord Curzon, then Chancellor of Oxford University.
  3. Sir John Rhys, archæologist and first Professor of Celtic at Oxford, was Principal of Jesus College.
  4. Kerak and Shabek.
  5. Zaptieh, or Turkish gendarme, attached to the dig.
  6. An Arab bound to give the protection afforded by his tribal membership.
  7. Canon Parfitt of Jerusalem, who was setting up as a lecturer in England.
  8. I.e. the Government of India.
  9. The Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, destined for Gallipoli and Salonika.
  10. Alexandretta.