LAWRENCE, T.E. (1888-1935). 'Lawrence of Arabia'.
Autograph Letter Signed ('T.E. Shaw') to B[ertram] T[homas], 1 page 4to with envelope, Myrtle Cottage, Hythe, Southampton, 21 November 1931. Reporting on his life in the RAF, bewailing his failure to write a preface (for Thomas's Arabia Felix) and praising the book.
'... I am on Southampton Water ... testing a new marine engine for the R.A.F. This note is to report my failure to make any foreword for your Arabia. If you, or it, had been a con-rod, how technically I should have balanced you and summed up - whereas all I feel is a great release and relief, at knowing that your book is good enough. Your journey is told as it deserves: no, hardly that perhaps, or it would be best travel book yet. It is exceedingly well told and will live for generations. ...'
See The Letters of T.E. Lawrence, ed. David Garnett, 1938, page 737. The letter is not published by Malcolm Brown in his edition of the letters, although he publishes a letter to Thomas of 7 December 1931 (not in Garnett) in which Lawrence alludes to having now completed the foreword. He makes no mention in the present letter of having already written a version of the preface [unpublished letter of 4 August 1931].
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 the preface, although only on the understanding that he disapproved of prefaces in general.