LAWRENCE, T.E., letters, autographs, documents, manuscripts



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An unpublished manuscript of T.E. Lawrence

LAWRENCE, T.E. (1888-1935). 'Lawrence of Arabia'.
Fine Autograph Letter Signed ['T.E.S.' twice] to [Bertram] Thomas, 1 page folio (foolscap) in pencil with a postscript in ink, 14 August 1931. The reverse comprises the full original version of Lawrences's introduction to Bertram Thomas's Arabia Felix with authorial modifications, signed at the foot ('T.E.S.').

Bertram Thomas (1892-1950, explorer, Arabist and British official in the gulf) made in 1930 the first crossing of the vast desert of Arabia known as the empty quarter, travelling south to north from Dhufar on the Indian Ocean to Doha on the Persian Gulf, covering the distance on camel in fifty-eight days. He received many honours for this achievement including the founder's medal of the Royal Geographical Society and, after some lobbying by Lawrence, the Order of the British Empire. His account of the journey Arabia Felix appeared in 1932, and he wrote two further volumes on Arabia, Alarms and Excursions in Arabia in 1931, and The Arabs in 1937. The empty quarter was soon after crossed in the more difficult east-west direction by Harry St John Philby

T.E. Lawrence was a close friend, and agreed with some reluctance to write a preface for Arabia Felix although only on the grounds that he disapproved of prefaces in general. This is made clear in the letter which precedes the complete manuscript of his first version differing entirely apart from a few phrases from the final and longer printed version. It is therefore an entirely unpublished manuscript of Lawrence, previously apparently unknown. The letter is not to be found in either of the editions of Lawrence's letters, edited by David Garnett and Malcolm Brown.

'I have been in London three weeks working day & night to finish a pot-boiling tanslation before the fire goes out. By tonight I had worked myself so stupid that I could do no more. So I went to bed, but was too tired to sleep. So at 2 in the morning I turn on the light and write your preface, which is overleaf.
'I implore you not to have a preface. Publishers are crazy upon them, but they do great harm. If the book is an utter dud they will sell its first edition: and the same if it is good: but in this case they hinder its further sale, like a red-herring drawn across a real scent. By all means appendices by Keith, Meith, Neath Reith and Beith! [The appendix to the first edition is by Sir Arthur Keith] - but no introducer. Make your own bow to the public if you must.
'I give you this advice most seriously and in all honesty ... and I am very hopeful that I will never write anything again, except when or if moved by the spirit, which is quiescent now-a-days. ... I have written you an invaluable blurb. Blurbs are hard writing.
'The C.B.E. is a shot. Probably you are. I wanted it to be an O.M. but Ramsay Mac was afraid. Not that I know him. If so it would be Mr MacDonald.
'I hope the book goes well. Fight with it. It is very difficult for people like you & me with many interests to concentrate upon expression. Only you have an important reason for needing it.'


The postscript urges Thomas yet again to reconsider the question of a preface.

The whole of the verso of the letter is nevertheless occupied by Lawrence's first preface. The preface which eventually appeared, although signed 'T.E.S.' was fact revised to some extent by George Bernard Shaw.

'Before Thomas there was a clear place on the world's map where a sizable man could turn himself round in comfort twice or thrice like a dog, before sinking to rest - Southern Arabia, across which in small scale maps we used to write "Ruba-el-Khahi" [sic] to cover the blank paper, and in a larger scale add (Sand Desert) underneath in brackets to cover more.
'Now that is over. Across the desert are heaps of little names where Thomas set his feet. The world's map is full. ...
'Lord Thomson had planned to cross the Ruba el Khali in R.101 on his return flight from India. The Gods saw differently, and gave it to the queer haxapod that is an Englishman upon a camel. The combination has been fertile. It gave us a work of literature - Doughty's - two great journeys - Shakespear's and [
Harry St John] Philby's - a book of adventure - Palgrave's. Two books of adventure, perhaps if time puts my Sevne Pillars into Palgrave's Class. ...'

[No: 25970]


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