Mr. Thomas began lecturing) in the letter written by Major Buxton, so there seems a strong probability that Lawrence conferred it on himself.
Quite apart from these catchy honorifics, Mr. Thomas had some impressive stories to tell his readers and, no doubt, the listeners to his lecture. Lawrence, he says, had 200,000 men available under his command, including those "Knights of the Black Tents," the Bedouins, whose chivalrous conduct at Deraa and elsewhere we have had occasion to note. He asserts boldly that "to accompany Lawrence and his bodyguard on an expedition was a fantastic experience," which may be so, but, his brilliant description reflects his imaginative powers.
"First rode the young shereef, an incongruous picture with his Anglo-Saxon face, gorgeous head-dress and beautiful robes. Likely enough, if the party were moving at a walking pace, he would be reading and smiling to himself over the brilliant satire of Aristophanes in the original. Then in a long irregular column his Bedouin 'sons' followed in their rainbow-coloured garments, swaying to the rhythm of the camel-gait." 32
But, in spite of the attractions of Aristophanes "in the original," Lawrence was also capable of stern action. Thus, after the capture of Akaba, he "jumped on his racing camel" and "rode her continuously for 22 hours across the Sinai Peninsula to Port Tewfik," a world record for a desert journey of at least 150 miles. Arrived there "he sat in a bath for three hours with a procession of Berberine boys serving him cool drinks." 33 We may also recall the occasion when Lawrence interrupted a conversation about Hittite civilisation as a link between Babylon and Crete to confess that "one of the most thrilling sights" he had ever seen was "a trainload of Turkish soldiers ascending skywards" after a train demolition. 34 Another time he told how after a train-wrecking some of the surviving Turks tried to attack him; but, before they had gone "six paces," Lawrence"whipped out his long-barrelled Colt from the folds of his abba and used it so effectively that they turned and fled." * 35 But if they were able to fly, he must surely have missed the lot? Lawrence always carried with him "a heavy American-frontier model weapon." 36
* This sounds like Lawrence's final work-up of the Turkish officer who shot at Pisani.
What audience could resist so glamorous a hero? Especially when they learned that he had risen from the lower orders, "a shy young Oxford undergraduate," "a twenty-eight years old scholar and poet," a "studious archologist," to be "the leader of a hundred thrilling raids, creator of kings, commander of an army, and world's champion train-wrecker." 37
And then the veiled women. It is true that Lawrence in his antifeminist way has told us that there was "nothing female about the Arab movement but the camels," and of the merry jests practised by his light-hearted bodyguard who often caused a female camel on the march to bolt "by thrusting a stick into its rump." Everyone knows that Arabia abounds with veiled women, and they had to be brought in somehow, for you can't sell even a new brand of tomato ketchup without feminine attractions. Women are ingeniously brought into the epic (with coy photographs) as introduction to the story that when Colonel Lawrence was not conducting "major military operations" or "planting tulips" (explosives, not his bodyguard), he "would disguise himself as an outcast Arab woman and slip through the enemy lines. . . . Time and again he penetrated hundreds of miles into enemy territory, where he obtained much of the data which finally enabled Field-Marshal Allenby's forces to overwhelm the Turks in the most dazzling and brilliant cavalry operation in history." 38 There were no Turkish lines in Arabia Petra, but only isolated posts along the Hejaz railway, and, as long as he kept away from them and had reliable guides from Feisal, Lawrence was perfectly safe among the tribes; what little information he brought back was political rather than military, and often misleading at that. Similarly, although he in fact was not present at the variously-reported action of Maulud's forces in October, 1917, Lawrence, according to this narrative "slipped through the Turkish lines in disguise and returned with a copy of the Turkish communiqué of the' battle," 39 a useless feat of daring as they could have read it in the newspapers. When Lawrence and "the Arabs" triumphantly entered Damascus (far ahead of everyone else, of course), "howling dervishes ran in front of him, dancing and sticking knives into their flesh, while behind him came his flying column of picturesque Arabian Knights." 40 After all this, one is not surprised to learn that for Mr. Thomas in the end Lawrence appeared as a mixture or coalition of Marco Polo and General Gordon. 41 He
was a soldier who had been "cited for nearly every decoration that the British and French Governments had to offer." 42
In spite of all disclaimers and attempts to ignore or to snub Lowell Thomas out of the way, Lawrence's immense popular reputation was wholly due to his successful propaganda which at the time was politically gratifying to the Lloyd George Government and supported by them. How otherwise would Lawrence have been heard of outside specialist circles? Contributions to The World's Work and The Army Quarterly and (anonymously) to The Round Table would not have done it. He had to have an impresario, a fugleman, and Lowell Thomas did the job with resounding success -- in fact, he overdid it, to the life-long delight but occasional embarrassment of his hero. But the reputation once made on this scale and in this image could not be altered, and inevitably for a generation every estimate of Lawrence was unconsciously influenced by Thomas's episodes and anecdotes and his optimistic over-valuation. Graves and Hart, for instance, tone down what to English ears sounds Thomas's blatant note, but as a matter of fact they contain just as many anecdotes that strain credulity. But the influence spread beyond them to other writers who joined in the chorus. What is one to say to a passage like this?
"Take the heart of St. Francis or Lincoln, join it to the mind of Leonardo da Vinci and the driving will of Stonewall Jackson; set them in the body of an anchorite or a Stefánsson; add the artful resource of all men of wiles from Odysseus to Sven Hedin and the tongue of a Shakespearian Conrad; stir all this into a wild old desert people on the warpath, and then you might get -- Revolt in the Desert. But to get the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, you are bound to bring in Lawrence himself; for without him there is no troubled Hamlet to this great play." 43
Well, that no doubt was the recipe for the seething cauldron of the Lawrence Bureau, but too many cooks and ingredients spoiled the broth. As a writer, Lawrence was another if not better Shakespeare (they claim); as a soldier, a definitely better Napoleon; 44 and as a character? But the reader will already have guessed. At Oxford he had once sat up all night discussing with a friend the principles on which they should base their lives, and Lawrence"considered that Christ
had lived the most perfect life and he decided to model his on it." 45
Moreover, other recorders of the Arab War somehow took on this splendide mendax style of writing. Thus, Mr. S. C. Rolls (one who was afterwards with Lawrence in Arabia) describes how his armoured car detachment rescued some captive and very hungry British seamen from the Senussi in the Libyan desert. "I tore open my locker and tipped out my emergency rations of bully beef, and in their ravenous haste to get at the contents they ripped the tins open with their teeth." 46 Admirers should make the experiment.
Readers of Seven Pillars will remember the neurotic outburst: "There was a craving to be famous; and a horror of being known to like being known. Contempt for my passion for distinction made me refuse every offered honour," etc? 47 He didn't refuse honours; he accepted all he could get until the moment when refusal was louder than acceptance. The first sentence is true, and explains but does not justify his treatment of Lowell Thomas. He collaborated with Lowell Thomas in the production of the lecture, went -- as he hoped secretly -- several times to bask in it; but when once Mr. Thomas had served his purpose, Lawrence personally and through the books he inspired tried to pretend that he had nothing to do with the lecture, hardly knew Lowell Thomas, and was deeply hurt in the tenderest part of his honour by this self-assertive fellow! But, after all, Lowell Thomas was not pushing himself, and if his lecture contained "crudities," who gave them to him? "In 1919," says Mr. Thomas, "he would spend the whole afternoon with me, going over the details of the campaign, helping me in endless ways with the story." 48 Yet the reader is again referred to the "Publisher's Note" at the beginning of Mr. Thomas's book. * 49
This is exactly the same technique that Lawrence followed with Graves, passing every word of the book, and then persuading Graves to put in a sentence making it look as if Lawrence had not collaborated. 50 Lowell Thomas, perhaps unwittingly, showed that the disclaimer in his book was false when he wrote his contribution to T. E. Lawrence by his Friends. There he confesses that he consulted Lawrence in London in 1919 about setting down the lecture story on paper. Lawrence, who in November accepted a fellowship at All Souls in order to write a book about his Middle East experiences,
* See pages 107-8.
told Mr. Thomas that he himself did not intend to write a book, and had "not the slightest objection" to Thomas's "doing a bit of writing about him." Moreover, Lawrence gave active help, and "regularly" walked out to Richmond Park to discuss the book, and it was on one of these visits that he made his cynical remark about history not being made up of truth, so why worry? 51
We need not rely solely on Mr. Thomas's already quoted testimony to Lawrence's collaboration in the Lowell Thomas book. * In a chapter about the Bedouins, Thomas mentions that after a sheik had done something, Lawrence would allow him to thrust his hand into a bag of sovereigns, and keep all he could hold. 52 This same story was told by Lawrence in a letter to Edward Garnett in 1927, where he boasts that the sheiks thought it the last word in splendour but was economical since it never cost more than a hundred and twenty pounds -- in addition to the subsidies. 53 Moreover, in another chapter, Lowell Thomas reproduces almost word for word passages from a set of instructions on how to behave to Arabs which Lawrence contributed to The Arab Bulletin for the 20th August, 1917. One of these passages is ten or twelve lines long. 54 How could Thomas have these passages if Lawrence or the Arab Bureau had not given them?
Mr. Thomas showed a remarkable complaisance in playing up to Lawrence's peculiar quirk or craving for notoriety while wishing the world to believe that he hated it. How was it possible to reconcile with this contempt for vulgar publicity the undeniable fact that Lawrence was willingly one of the most photographed men of his time, and was always offering himself as a model to painters and sculptors? Apparently at the time of the lecture, people accepted the modesty story along with all the others. But when awkward questions came along, Mr. Thomas invented what he himself frankly calls "a cock-and-bull story." 55 Lawrence, he maintained, had been "tricked" into being photographed. "While I distracted T. E. with a conversation about Hittite archology, his pet subject, Chase sat near us, pretending to fiddle with a high-speed camera of the sort used by tabloid photographers in America." 56 It is incredible that such a feeble story could be believed by anyone who had even glanced
* See page 108.
at the posed and posturing photographs in Thomas's book. Equally incredible is Mr. Thomas's reflection: "I could see no other explanation that would not place T. E. in a false light." 57 Mr. Thomas should have said "in his true light." The falsity lay with the man who posed for Chase's publicity photographs and then pretended to be so shrinkingly modest that this silly story had to be made up. Mr. Thomas assures me that Lawrence was always particularly anxious that "I should give full credit -- in fact more than that -- to Joyce, Dawnay, Feisal, Abu Tyi and others." 58
By way of giving himself written alibis, Lawrence sent a note to Lowell Thomas: "I saw your show last night and thank God the lights were out"; 59 and when Burton the impresario asked him to be interviewed, he wrote: "It is unpleasant to see one's name in print and -- in spite of the nice way Lowell Thomas does it -- I much wish he had left me out of his Palestine show." 60 But it was Lawrence who had persuaded Allenby to let Thomas go to Arabia to start with, Lawrence who had posed for all the photographs, and Lawrence who collaborated in the lecture! It was Lawrence, too, who with "his eyes snapping with glee," told Mr. Thomas that his lecture "had made life impossible for him in London. Wherever he went he was stopped in the streets." 61 As late as 1926, Professor Namier met Lawrence in Air Force uniform, and Lawrence said that he had been walking all afternoon about the British Museum where all the attendants had at one time known him; but he had remained unrecognised till he asked about someone he missed there. On which the Professor comments somewhat caustically that it was obviously useless for him to disguise himself if no one recognised him. 62
He used to call on or write to the publishers and alter his entry in Who's Who, not just adding as everybody does, but cutting out and altering. 63 Thus in 1921 his entry read:
" Lawrence, Thomas Edward, Lieutenant-Colonel, C.B. 1917; D.S.O. 1918; Prince of Mecca, Archologist, Arabic Scholar, Research Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, 1919. Educ. Jesus College, Oxford (scholar), 1st class Modern History School, 1910. Magdalen College, Oxford (Senior Demy B.A., 1911). Went to the East, 1914; 2nd Lt., 1914; Colonel, 1917. Organised the forces of the King of the Hejaz against the Turks, 1917. Chevalier
Legion of Honour; Croix de Guerre with Palms; C.B.: on staff of Prince Feisal. Attended Peace Conference, 1919." 64
In August, 1922, Lawrence wrote to Bernard Shawthat "next year, Who's Who will not have me in it." 65 But, with various suppressions and alterations, his Who's Who entry continued until 1930, when the reader is referred to "Shaw, Thomas Edward," and so went on until his death. In the 1922 version, he dropped the Prince of Mecca and the mention of his decorations, but added: "Adviser on Arab affairs, Mid.-East Div. Colonial Office since 1921." In 1928, he added his publications, but in 1923 he corrected his military record, and instead of "staff of Prince Feisal," put himself on the staff of Wingate for 1917 and of Allenby for 1918. I don't quote the 1920 entry, because there is reason to believe it may have been made without his corrections. 66
It can scarcely be said that Lawrence showed much gratitude to Lowell Thomas for the immense free advertising he received. Mr. Thomas writes a little wistfully about their later relations and his mistake in taking Lawrence at his word and leaving him severely alone, thinking Thomas had lost interest in him. 67 I fear Mr. Thomas rather flatters himself. As soon as the lecture had closed down in England, Lawrence was only too anxious to repudiate him and to give the impression that he had hardly known him and had no share in producing lecture or book. Thus Lawrence in one letter refers to "a Mr. Lowell Thomas," 68 and complains that he has been made "a kind of matinée idol by him." This was in March, 1920, and a month earlier he had written to Colonel Newcombe:
"In the history of the world (cheap edition), I'm a sublimated Aladdin, the thousand and second Knight, a Strand Magazine strummer. In the eyes of 'those who know,' I failed badly in attempting a piece of work which a little more resolution would have pushed through, or left untouched." 69
If he really believed that, why did he proceed to write a very long and elaborate book about his actions in Arabia, and describe it as " A Triumph"? To Hogarth, wanting to find an excuse for publishing his own book, after he had said he would not profit by his war reputation, he wrote: "Yet Lowell Thomas lurks still in the background, and if his book is the fulsome thing I expect, he will force
the truth out of me. It might be better to get my blow in first." 70 But Lawrence had told Thomas that he didn't intend to write a book about himself, although when he said that he had already started to write it! If Mr. Thomas had been aware of the facts he would probably not have undertaken the task or have spent so many afternoons collecting Lawrence's veracious reminiscences and anecdotes. The final repudiation appeared in Graves's book, and may fittingly close this chapter on the making of a hero's fame:
"The advertising of his Arabian adventure, both by the Press and by Mr. Lowell Thomas's cinema lecture-tour, proved most unwelcome to him." 71
But once again, Lawrence had arranged it all himself! What need was there to persuade Allenby to allow Chase and Thomas to go to Arabia, what need to pose for endless photographs and to prime Thomas with examples of the self-advertising anecdotes Lawrence had been telling about himself from boyhood? When Allenby gave the permission he could not have supposed that the reporting of the Arab rebellion would become twisted into making a liaison officer with Feisal the colossus of the whole Middle Eastern front, and of the World War. Once done, it was eagerly backed up by the "great" for political reasons. Mr. Raymond Savage, with evident sincerity, says that if "T. E. had courted publicity," Mr. Savage, as his literary agent, would have been able to give him "as much as he could possibly desire." 72 But Lawrence had been already cleverly and undeservedly "put across" to the great public as the hero of World War I. Lowell Thomas, let me repeat, had made him front-page news for life. What the newspapers don't want is any form of concealed advertising; what they do want is any sensationalsounding information about a public figure which is being kept secret. Lawrence was always most careful to foster the illusion that he was frantically avoiding publicity, which naturally created the suspicion that he had something of great public interest to conceal. Perhaps the last word on this may be left to his friend, Bernard Shaw, who undeniably was an expert on this particular subject:
When he was in the middle of the stage, with ten limelights blazing on him, everybody pointed to him and said: 'See! He is hiding. He hates publicity.'" 73
ACCORDING TO a letter written on that day from Oxford, Lawrence was demobilised on the 1st of September, 1919, 1 and not "in July," as he told Liddell Hart, 2 or the "31st July," as he told Robert Graves. 3 The discrepancy is not of the slightest importance except that it illustrates so well Lawrence's modest confession "that he never forgot anything he's read in a book and that, without an effort, he could recall any date." 4 At least one of his readers fervently wishes that he hadn't kept them nearly all to himself. Like everyone else in that situation of abrupt return to civilian status, he was faced with the problem of what to do with the life suddenly handed back to him after years of servitude.
On the face of it, he seemed more fortunate than most temporary officers just released. Lowell Thomas had made him the hit of the season in London, and was rapidly building him up as the national hero. An Oxford College had given him rooms (very hard to find at the time) and a small subsidy to write a book. But early in the next year he had discovered at least one of the "inconveniences attached to great popularity. He wrote that he loved it though he couldn't afford it: he felt that popular heroes who were poor suffered greatly at the hands of well-intentioned admirers. 5 This brings up the topic of Lawrence's finances, which is another of his ténébreuses affaires. It is impossible to reconcile the different statements he made about his money affairs, and very likely this was done intentionally.
At all events on demobilisation, his army pay ceased and (as already pointed out) he claimed that he received only a small gratuity. His statement that during the war he put all his pay "into the show"
probably means no more than that, like most other young officers, he spent it. His only known earned income at that time was the ?200 a year from All Souls, and that in a period of inflation. Yet on that same day ( 1st September, 1919), he bought a little more than five acres of land at Pole Hill, Chingford, Essex, where he vaguely planned to build his medieval "hall" and to work at a new Kelmscott Press with his friend, Richards. 6 The same letter says that he was so short of ready money at the time that he was not able to go on and buy a hedge at Chingford he wanted, but adds that he expects about ?300 within six weeks. This may have been the war gratuity, of which he said he received only ?110.
At that time he had written a large part of his war book, and certainly then hoped to make money out of it. 7 Moreover, he evidently expected to inherit some of Sir Thomas Chapman's estate, unless it was mere boasting which led him to write to F. N. Doubleday: "My father was kind to me, and spent none of the capital he received from his father. . . . and unless I marry non-supporting wives or have children, all will be well with me." 8 It is hopeless to try to reconcile this render's letter with his sturdy working-man's statement to the Socialist M.P., Thurtle, that he ( Lawrence) was "almost entirely self-made," as his father had "five sons, and only ?300 a year." 9 Although he received no money under his father's will, Lawrence also wrote to Mrs. Shaw stating definitely that he had received money from Ireland. 10 On'the other hand, it would appear that he expected more than he actually received! for this seems the only interpretation of his letter to Mr. Kennington in 1921, where Lawrence says: "A lump of money I was expecting has not (probably will not) come." 11 Yet one can seldom trust him, for in this same letter he uses as another excuse for non-payment a story that his "house in Epping has been burnt down." 12 It was not a house but a hut, and it did not belong to Lawrence though it stood on his land; it belonged to Mr. Richards, and "Lawrence had nothing whatever to do with it, nor did he live with me there." 13
All this is very confused, but one fact stands out clearly -- during the period 1919-22, Lawrence overspent hopelessly and got heavily into debt. He could not resist doing things "in a lordly way," any more than he could resist his impulses of generosity. When he had money, he must spend it, and this led him to make reckless debts
and commitments which he could not afford. It was generous but unwise. If he had really been the well-off Irish squireen Arabian hero he posed as, what could have been a better use of superfluous money than to come to the aid of Charles Doughty, who was in temporary financial difficulties? Lawrence arranged that the manuscript of Doughty's long poem, The Dawn in Britain, should be bought for the British Museum for ?400, and David Garnett thinks that Lawrence had contributed most of the money. But Lawrence was quite unable to afford such a gift, while not long after Doughty inherited a life income of ?2,000 a year. Again, there were few writers of the time more deserving of financial aid than Robert Graves. Lawrence gave him ?50 in addition to the ?200 (thousand dollars) he received from The World's Work. 14 It is characteristic of his vanity that in writing to Sir Edward Marsh, Lawrence turned the dollars into pounds, and claimed that he had been paid ?1,000 -- nearly five thousand dollars at that period! Of course, if he had really been a wealthy young aristocrat, he could have devised no worthier way of spending money than on men of genius like Doughty and Graves; and the same may be said of his plan to patronise living artists by commissioning them to paint portraits to illustrate his projected book. But these grandiose gestures were far beyond his means. When he wrote that one of his reasons for joining the R.A.F. was that he was broke, he was stating a plain but painful fact; for even as late as January, 1927, his bank overdraft is given as ?7,000. It was magnificent, but it was absurd. You can't play Harun Al Rashid in modern London on four or even thirty pounds a week and a bit of land in Essex.