Some glimpses of Lawrence during the short period of his residence at All Souls are given by Robert Graves, who was then at Oxford as an ex-officer undergraduate. This was an unhappy period for serious Oxonians, when the university was thronged with rowdy and recalcitrant soldier-undergraduates, who, released from years of military discipline and war service, amused themselves by a puerile lawlessness and disregard for university rules. Although Lawrence was a Fellow of All Souls and over thirty, this was just the sort of attitude to please a man of his strangely arrested development, and he carried out, or more often (as one would expect) talked of carrying out, various student rags. Graves says he did tie a Hejaz flag to one of the College
pinnacles, and did ring the station bell of Tell Shahm out of the window at night -- not very awful adventures for an Arabian Knight. For the rest, he contented himself with talking about a plan to plant mushrooms on the College lawn; and talking about a plan to steal the Magdalen deer and pen them in All Souls' inner quadrangle; and talking of a plan to buy a peacock and call it Nathaniel, "after Lord Curzon with whom Lawrence had had a row and who was ViceChancellor" (surely "Chancellor" is meant?) and a Fellow of All Souls.
This perhaps is the moment to investigate Lawrence's Curzon story, which was so widely spread and believed -- perhaps still is. At first Lawrence was proud of the fact that he had met Lord Curzon. He was in uniform and at the Carlton Hotel (so it may have been immediately after his interview with the Eastern Committee in November, 1918), when Dr. Altounyan saw him enter, proudly and happily announcing that he had just had half an hour with Curzon. 15 But evidently Curzon was not attracted into the ranks of the Lawrenceworshippers. One can well imagine that his finicky tastes and prejudices would have been offended by the Barnum performances at Covent Garden. And there were more serious annoyances. Lawrence had posed as the expert on Arab forces, and his remarks on Ibn Saud in his memorandum 16 had been proved hopelessly wrong by the utter defeat of the Sharifians in Nejd. But, though Lawrence's report was probably the basis of the blunder of "backing the wrong horse," 17 the responsibility was also shared by the admirals and generals who had believed him. There was something else to annoy Curzon. In June, 1919, a letter in excellent English was sent to General Clayton by Feisal giving advice about the English occupation of Mesopotamia. Young believed Lawrence had written it, and Lord Curzon thought it "an impertinence." 18 There seems no probability that there was any "row" in the sense of an altercation -- Curzon would not have allowed it, and had other means of expressing his displeasure.
At all events, by the middle of 1920, Lawrence was trying to make Curzon look ridiculous by one of his usual stories. At that time, Professor Ernest Barker saw him in Oxford and Lawrence spoke with pleasure of having succeeded in reducing Lord Curzon to tears. 19 A much expanded and "official" version is given in Robert Graves's book:
"A late member of the Foreign Office staff, who wishes to remain anonymous, has told me an even odder story of Lawrence and Lord Curzon. 'It was at the first meeting of the British Cabinet held to discuss the Middle-Eastern situation. Curzon made a wellturned speech in Lawrence's praise. I could see Lawrence squirming at the praise, which he seemed to think was misplaced, and at the patronage. Lawrence already knew most of the ministers present. It was a very long speech and when it ended, Curzon turned to Lawrence and asked him if he wished to say anything. Lawrence answered sharply, 'Yes, let's get to business. You people' (imagine Curzon addressed as 'you people'!) 'don't understand yet the hole 'you have put us all into.' Then a remarkable thing happened. Curzon burst into tears, great drops running down his cheeks, to an accompaniment of slow sobs.
"It was horribly like a medieval miracle, the weeping of a church image. I felt dreadful; probably Lawrence did too. However, Lord Robert Cecil, who seemed to be hardened to such scenes, of which hitherto I only knew by hearsay, interposed roughly, 'Now, old man, none of that!' Curzon wiped his eyes, blew his nose in a silk pocket-handkerchief, and dried up. And business proceeded." 20
There is a familiar ring about this story, something reminiscent of the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle in Alice. But who was this "Foreign Office official"? If we turn to the Letters, we find this edifying comment from Lawrence himself: "Graves sent me an advance copy of his book. I'm relieved to find only two things in it which hurt -- one, the story of Lord Curzon crying -- the Middle East Committee. That is the version Sir Eyre Crowe used to tell, and I do not think it quite fair either to Curzon or to me." 21
Well, this dignified protest showed a proper delicacy of feeling, and we know from so many of his friends what a "lovely person" Lawrence was, and can imagine the shock to his exquisite sensibility when he opened the book and read the paragraph for the first time. But, as I have had to stress repeatedly, we have Graves's assurance that Lawrence read and passed every line of Lawrenceand the Arabs, and even wrote parts of it. In the very limited and almost unprocurable T. E. Lawrenceto his Biographer Robert Graves43, we find 22
that "the late member of the F.O. staff" was no other than Lawrence himself, who gave Graves the whole story. Turning further in the same book we find a long extract from a letter written by Viscount Cecil (formerly Lord Robert Cecil) to Lord Curzon's dfaughter:
". . . my impression is that your father gave one of his inimitable surveys of the whole position to which Colonel Lawrence listened with the most marked attention, and spoke to me afterwards in the highest appreciation of your father's attitude. It is true that there was, I believe, some difference of opinion on policy between your father and certain other members of the Committee (of the Cabinet), of which I was one, but I feel quite certain that your father never burst into tears, and I am even more certain that I never have addressed him in the way described under any circumstances. You are quite at liberty to use this letter in any way you please. Cecil." 23
After this the Oxford story of the arm-chairs is rather flat. They were a present from an American financier who came in and asked Lawrence point-blank ( Graves was present and heard him) if Lawrence thought that Middle Eastern conditions justified an investment in Mesopotamian oil. Lawrence said 'No'; and the chairs were a slight acknowledgment of his invaluable advice. But, as time went on, it became perfectly clear that this was another of his blunders, for the development of Mesopotamian oil-fields proceeded in spite of the troubles. When oil had been found there in large quantities, Lawrence tried to convince Graves that the American had not said "Mesopotamia "but" Hejaz." 24 In 1919 there was no question of looking for oil in Hejaz, though some of the British officers thought it might be there. The Hejaz was the Moslem holy land, and Hussein would have been very obstinate against giving any oil concessions. It was not until 1944 that Ibn Saud gave a concession to an American company to look for oil; and Abdulla, seeing a chance to discredit the great and successful rival of his family, immediately protested in the name of religion, "as a Hashemite prince," against this "contamination" of the Moslem Holy Land. 25
Although Lawrence continued to use All Souls College as his address, he soon abandoned it as a regular place of residence, and found secret refuge in the attic of an office belonging to Sir Herbert
Baker, an architect, in Barton Street, Westminster. Why was this? How did it happen that a man who very soon was to make the singular claim that he had sought and found monastic seclusion in the noise and promiscuity of a barrackroom, should have been unable to live and to work tranquilly at his book in the calm and near monastic conditions of an Oxford College? According to Sir Charles Oman (himself a Fellow), All Souls was particularly quiet since many of the Fellows were present only during week-ends. 26 It was urged that Lawrence was ruthlessly pursued by the press and film companies, but they could easily have been dealt with (had he really wished) by a courteous reception and a frank declaration that he had no news for them. As he knew perfectly well, it was his pretence of hiding that made the reporters think he had something important he was concealing. There was more substance to his claim that he couldn't afford to be a celebrity, 27 but in an Oxford College that status would not be ruinous. A man can always sport his oak. He told Lowell Thomas that he lacked the three requisites of an All Souls Felltwin -"to be a good dresser, to be adept at small conversation, and to be a good judge of port." 28 At a later date he wrote that he had tried to live with decent people -- "All Souls and elsewhere" -and had failed. There may have been something in this, but it was all really camouflage. The real trouble was 2 Polstead Road, and the situation there was the root of his neurosis and the suffering that is apparent in Seven Pillars and his letters. He partly confessed it to Graves when he said: "I can't live at home: I don't know why: the place makes me utterly intolerable." 29
Although Lawrence had been working on his book for some time and continued to do so, the story of the writing, printing and advertising of Seven Pillars is so complicated and spread over so long a period that it must be dealt with separately, even though this means separating it from the events of the same period of time. The reader must bear in mind that, as Lawrence progressed towards the nervous crisis of his life, he was under the additional mental and nervous strain of writing his book -- a strain which can very easily be underestimated.
Lawrence had been only a week out of the Army -- and hence free from the regulation which forbids soldiers writing letters to the Press -- when he began a public propaganda for the Arab Bureau
ideas by a letter to The Times. Lowell Thomas's lecture, which perhaps as a delicate tribute had opened on the eve of Lawrence's thirty-first birthday, had already made him in the eyes of the ordinary public not only the hero of the great Arab war but the great authority on Arabian affairs. I have already mentioned the swift deterioration of relations between Feisal and the French authorities, during his short-lived and inefficient Damascus government. Hussein, while receiving an English subsidy, constantly attacked France in his Mecca newspaper. Feisal, also receiving an English subsidy -- which naturally aroused French suspicions of their puppet King -- is said by Philby to have used some of it to subsidise "those elements in Mesopotamia and on its frontiers which could be trusted to make most trouble for us." 30 In May of 1920, there was a sudden and bloody uprising in Irak -- British garrisons were massacred, an infantry battalion was ambushed, and Leachman was murdered. Forty thousand troops and an annual expenditure of thirty million pounds were needed "to preserve order," as Mr. Churchill puts it.
Two months later came the defeat and expulsion of Feisal from Syria. Lawrence at once jumped into the debate which followed these disasters with newspaper comments during August, 1920. The scandal of Irak became such an embarrassment to the Lloyd George government that they took Arabian affairs out of the hands of Curzon and Montagu, and entrusted them to Mr. Churchill. Coming fresh to the situation, Mr. Churchill found Lawrence installed in public opinion as the authority on Arabia, and apparently did not know the flimsy basis on which that reputation rested. He really had no choice but to invite Lawrence's collaboration. With the Irish tenor and the military band, the motion pictures of Allenby's cavalry and Lowell Thomas's talk, Lawrence was obviously pointed to as the only popular expert, whose acquiescence must be obtained to any settlement. If he remained outside, sending letters to the newspapers and continuing to stir up trouble, the public would be continuously uneasy.
Rather different accounts are given of the Cairo Conference which met in March, 1921, to try to clear up the Middle Eastern muddle. The Conference, Mr. Churchill says, brought together nearly all the Middle East experts. It lasted a whole month, and came to the decision to make amends to "the Arabs" by placing on the throne of Irak the
Emir Feisal, and keeping him there not by a large and expensive garrison, but by the threat of air bombardment from planes of the R.A.F., which were stationed at an aerodrome on the Euphrates. 31 At that time there were hopes in Europe that aerial bombardment of towns and civilians would be abandoned as a weapon of war by mutual agreement. It is unlikely that modern governments would have kept their word, even if such an agreement had been made, but the decision to control Irak by the threatened use of air power naturally put an end even to any tentative trial. David Garnett says that Trenchard, with Lawrence's support, established this "air control," which was an excellent training ground for the R.A.F., while it was far less costly than an army of occupation. 32 Possibly the real bill was postponed for presentation until twenty years later. It never occurs to some wise men that what they do, or threaten to do, to a weaker may some day be done to them by a stronger.
According to Mr. Churchill, the Conference, having reached its decisions after a month's discussion, submitted them to the Cabinet, and it took an anxious and difficult year of administration to implement the decisions. 33 According to Lawrence's accounts, as reported by Liddell Hart and Mr. Namier, the Conference was a mere farce and camouflage. The High Commissioners for Egypt, Palestine and Mesopotamia, with Governors and Generals from all the area to Aden and Somaliland, were brought together merely to act as obsequious rubber stamps on documentary decisions "prepared by us in London, over dinner tables at the Ship Restaurant in Whitehall." 34 In explaining to Captain Hart what happened, Lawrence dropped the "us" and asserted that he personally "settled not only the questions the Conference would consider, but the decision they would reach." Indeed Lawrence had these decisions printed before the delegation left London, and wished to distribute them before the Conference started, but to this Mr. Churchill for some reason objected. 35
Two very minor episodes at the Conference have been very naturally overlooked, both by Mr. Churchill and by Lawrence. A member of the Iraki delegation, Lt.-Col. J. I. Eadie, was greatly surprised at being asked to act as interpreter between Lawrence and his old friend Jaafar, who had ceased to command "Feisal's army" and had eventually become Prime Minister of Irak. Lawrence had to explain that his Arabic was not good enough to cope with military
technicalities, which is a little surprising considering his alleged success as a military leader of the Arabs. Later on, Colonel Eadie was asked by a senior British representative to read through a large number of Arabic telegrams of protest which had come in from Palestine. Eadie objected that this was Lawrence's job, and not his; but was told that Lawrence did not know enough Arabic to read them. 36
There were several candidates for the throne of Irak beside Feisal, among them a "native son," Saiyid Talib; Ibn Saud; and Khazal Khan. At an earlier date, "a semi-official plebiscite" in Irak had shown no wish for Feisal. 37 According to Philby, Sir Percy Cox had promised that "starting with a representative provisional government" the Irakis. would then go on "to free elections to a constituent assembly, which would determine the future constitution of the country, and, if so desired, choose the future head of State." 38 Now, all this had been determined and promised before the Cairo Conference, and if it had been carried out honestly, nobody could say truthfully that Irak had not been allowed to choose its own form of government. But such a representative body would not have chosen Feisal, and the determination had been reached to impose him on the country. According to Lawrence, Sir Percy Cox protested at Cairo against presenting Feisal as a fait accompli, and said, "he had promised the Baghdad Arabs that election of a king should be as free as elections in England." And Lawrence says that Mr. Churchill replied that so they should be, as in England electors have a choice between candidates which are selected by the parties and that an
English election is not therefore free. 39 If that is true, Sir Percy was very easily satisfied; for this was how the election was carried out:
While the Conference was still sitting, Jaafar wrote to friends in Baghdad saying that all was going well for Feisal. Saiyld Talib (Minister of the Interior in the provisional government and a candidate for the throne) made a speech to a party in his own house, saying that the people of Irak did not want Feisal and would not tolerate his imposition on them. What happened may be told in Philby's words:
" Saiyid Talib had, by Sir Percy Cox's orders, been kidnapped while a guest in his house, and had been carried off in an armoured car to a launch waiting downstream to take him to Basra and internment in Ceylon." 40 The other candidates for the throne were simply ignored, and "Cox organised a plebiscite on the single question: Do
you want Feisal to reign over you?" 41 As the alternative was the continuation of the undiluted foreign rule which the Irakis most wanted to be rid of, it is hardly surprising that 96 1/2 per cent of those voting said 'Yes.' The analogy with the elections to a British Parliament is striking. Thus, a typical example would be for the Government to kidnap and exile the local candidate who was hostile to themselves, refuse to allow any independent candidates, and send down a supporter of themselves brought in from Northern Ireland with the single question to the voters: 'Will you have Mr. So-and-So to represent you in Parliament?' As the only alternative would be no representative at all, 96 1/2 per cent of the constituents would vote: 'Yes.' " And Liddell Hart would obviously highly approve, since he wrote that "Feisal's election by the people was as free as elections in England." 42
There was one arrangement hurriedly made after the Conference had ended which had not been settled over dinners at the Ship Inn, Whitehall. The Conference itself had been somewhat dismayed by a telegram conveying the unwelcome tidings that Sharif Abdulla with armed forces had arrived at Amman "for an attack on the French in Syria." 43 This was gallant, not to say rash on Abdulla's part, especially since his unfortunate affray with the Wahabis. Probably there was not much fear that Abdulla would drive the French out of Syria, but there were no British troops available to check him, and the real fear was that when he was defeated the French would pursue him and occupy Amman. According to Lawrence, it was he who suggested to Mr. Churchill that Abdulla should be installed (without even an English election) as head of a new kingdom to be called Transjordania under British hegemony. 44 At all events, Abdulla was summoned for an interview to Jerusalem, while Mr. Churchill made his way to Gaza, where he was met by the Palestine High Commissioner, Sir Herbert Samuel. And here for once we come on a Lawrence story which is mildly amusing and not solely devised to advertise his preeminence in something. Large Arab crowds at Gaza greeted the two statesmen with shouts of enthusiasm bordering on frenzy. The great men stood bowing and smiling their acknowledgment, though, according to Captain Coote, Lawrence whispered to him that they were shouting in Arabic, not with enthusiasm for the statesmen but for the murder of the Jews. 45 Lawrence added that he
brought the Sharif to Jerusalem avoiding the city, and Mr. Churchill made his decision after half an hour's talk at Government House. It should be noted that Abdulla looked and was an aristocrat, and that like Lawrence himself he could be "charming, a brilliant talker with intellectual and literary taste." 46
Although King Abdulla is not a precise writer and goes in a good deal for Oriental arithmetic, his account of this conference is interesting. He says that Lawrence met him, not at Amman 47, but at Es Salt, whence they drove by car to Jerusalem. Arab notables came to greet Abdulla at Jericho, but a motor-cyclist brought a message to Lawrence saying that the car was not to stop for the crowds, which Abdulla thought "discourteous," and he was annoyed that Lawrence was powerless to alter it. Abdulla dined that night with Mr. Churchill, and next day there was a conference at which six people were present, one of whom was Lawrence. The Sharif was told that his brother was to be king of Irak and that he ( Abdulla) must use his influence to persuade his father and his friends in Irak to accept this. When Abdulla jibbed at writing to the Irakis, he was told that his failure to do so might mean the loss of all, as Ibn Saud might reach Mecca within three days and England could do no more. He was offered the throne of the new country on condition of remaining in "full agreement with Great Britain," and carrying on "a policy of appeasing the French." 48 Now, Abdulla is two months wrong in his dates here. If Mr. Churchill made any reference to Ibn Saud, it looks as if Abdulla must have misunderstood him. The Wahabi leader was not then threatening Mecca, though later in the year he utterly discomfited the Arab Bureau policy of encircling him with Sharifian states (Irak, Hejaz, Transjordan) by completely defeating Ibn Rashid and the Shammar, capturing their capital, Hail, and driving a "solid wedge of Wahabi influence . . . far to the north between the Sharifian régimes." 49 And the use of the word "appeasing" by the translator is surely an anachronism. Yet the account is interesting, if only because it shows the insuperable difficulties of complete understanding between men of alien cultures, as well as the folly of abandoning French, the only language which is lucid and precise, as the language of diplomacy.
Thus was attained another of the "permanent" settlements in the Middle East, of which there have been and will be so many. By
April of 1921, Mr. Churchill and his staff were back in London, and they had scarcely settled down when there came the unwelcome news that the northern part of Transjordania was already in rebellion against its new sovereign. Mr. Churchill therefore sent Lawrence back to the Middle East with a double errand -- he was to act as Chief British Resident in Transjordania, and "to induce King Hussein to give his approval to the general lines of British policy in the Middle East." 50 Philby's words put it politely. The impossible task given Lawrence by Mr. Churchill was to persuade Hussein -- who still saw himself as monarch of all Arabia, somewhat on the lines of Abu Bakr -- not only to agree to the limitation of his kingship to the Hejaz, but to agree to the British mandates for Irak and Palestine. 51 Antonius is very free with allegations of "breach of faith" against the British, but never troubles to tell us why the British people should have incurred the grievous casualties and heavy cost of the war against Turkey merely for the aggrandisement of Arab politicians. But he is right in saying that it was nave in Mr. Churchill (or whoever was responsible) to imagine that Hussein at that time would agree to such a treaty, although years later, with Ibn Saud's Wahabis sweeping down on Mecca, Hussein begged, and in vain, to be allowed to sign it in exchange for British protection. In any case, even if there had been hope that a treaty might be arranged (another permanent settlement for six months), Lawrence was the wrong envoy. If Abdulla was cool to him, Hussein positively disliked him.