There were other sides to his highbrow schoolboy's life, among them his fondness for feats of endurance and daring, which went along with a habit of getting himself knocked about and of contracting more or less preventable illnesses. Although he disdained cricket and football and seemingly anything which might be called "sport" except cycling, swimming, canoeing and, later, revolver-shooting, he liked wrestling with other boys. This may or may not have some psychological significance, but the relevant fact is that in one such scuffle he broke his leg just above the ankle. According to
Graves, this happened when Lawrence was 16, i.e., some time between August, 1904 and 1905. At one period of his youth Lawrence took up vegetarianism and is said to have maintained it for three years. If this was simultaneous with the accident, the calcium shortage of vegetarianism might account for both the break and the slow healing.
However that may be, he lost a term at school, and spent the time reading and "doing poker-work." The ankle was still troubling him as late as 1911, when he was on a walking tour near the Euphrates. 2 He was certainly still a vegetarian in 1907, when he wrote from France that he was living on milk, bread, and such fruits as peaches, apricots and cherries. 3
The shock of this broken leg is supposed to account for the fact that he did not grow very much afterwards, some saying that he stopped at 5 feet 3 inches ( Lowell Thomas), some at 5 feet 5½ inches or 5 feet 6 inches (Robert Graves). The average height of males in Great Britain is 5 feet 6 inches, so there was nothing abnormal about that. But if his growth really did stop at 16, then there was something unusual, since the average human male goes on growing until about 20. The fact that the growing ceased soon after the accident does not necessarily imply a relation of cause and effect. There may have been other reasons.
A priori, it seems strange that a man of exactly the average height of his countrymen should have struck so many people as being small; but this certainly is the case. The explanation may be that his head was definitely large in proportion to his slight body, that he had fight hair and blue eyes, and looked several years younger than he was. The precocity of his childhood was followed by an arrested psychological development, leaving him with certain perpetually adolescent traits. He carried through life the self-consciousness which is characteristic of so many Englishmen, above all at the adolescent stage when in that environment nature and nurture are at cross-purposes. Some say he could not look another man in the eyes, and that his own eyes were in constant furtive movement. He had a low apologetic voice, a silly giggle, a schoolboy grin, a habit of playing stupid practical jokes, and above all a perpetual "kidding" so that "I could hardly tell my own self where the leg-pulling began or ended." 4
To all this he added the assertion that be was "sexless," but that, after all, is not a condition of adolescence. On the contrary.
The question is -- how much of this was genuine, how much pose? And do not start away from the word "pose" as unfair, a pre-judgment, an attributing of motive. It is Lawrence's own word for himself. Among the many, many things this self-absorbed man said about himself at various times, he wrote from Arabia towards the end of the war (July 1918) that the war-time, things he had been doing "in fancy dress" were all "part of the pose"; adding, "how to reconcile it with the Oxford pose I know not." 5 If words mean anything those words mean that he admitted two of the most important periods of his life -Oxford and the War -- were play-acting, a pose. From this we may infer that he had little real and lasting conviction in either phase, whether intellectualist or military, he had no real centre to his being. Can a man be part adolescent and part adult? For, behind that mask, real or assumed, was a watchful and clever adventurer waiting always for the moment when he could assert his superior will, an almost fanatical will which had no other purpose than its self-assertion, and therefore took for granted that the moment of success was also the moment of feeling "absolutely bored." 6
If, however, we accept these adolescent traits as genuine, selfconscious but not wilfully deceptive, then we must accept the paradox of a human being remaining partly adolescent while becoming partly adult -- the will to power and the mechanistic skill whether in leadership, intrigue or mere machinery becoming enormously developed at the expense of the vital impulse and all the emotions, discoveries and enjoyments that go with it. Lawrence described himself as "a cold Englishman " -- a doubling up of human chilliness. Look at his Letters, usually cold as a fish, with hardly an expression of warmth even to his mother in his early youth. They have plenty of calculated flattery and an assumption of moral superiority and sensitive right feeling, into which by implication he admits his correspondents and friends, as in Seven Pillars he admits his fellow-fighters, maintaining the Arabs on a slightly lower plane and excluding negroes altogether, being "hurt" that they "should possess exact counterparts of all our bodies." 7 In all of it there is as little vital warmth as there is wit in his special English adolescent "humour." But -- not to be led astray by evidence of the consequences of this self-baffling psychology -might it not be the result of some emotional rather than physical shock, some inner conflict which could not be resolved, a longing to remain
boyish and therefore unaware of a suffering, a humiliation, a resentment coming at the moment of maturing perception? In a sentence -- might not the main clue, though perhaps not the only one, to Lawrence's peculiar psychology lie in his relation to his parents, in his discovery of what they thought their sin and its irreparable wrong to him, as well as to the dissonances set up in him by the influence of two powerful and opposite human personalities?
There is a contrast, worth noting, between the accounts of his parents given by Lawrence to the three biographers who published in his lifetime, and the account he wrote to Charlotte Shaw * which to his disappointment she would not allow Graves to see. 8 Following Lawrence's lead, (he dismissed the book which he had himself collaborated in as "fantastic," 9 and even before it was published, tried to protect himself by saying he expected it to be a "fulsome thing" 10 ) Lowell Thomas With Lawrence in Arabia has been treated with contempt. Liddell Hart does not mention it; Graves dismisses it as "inaccurate and sentimental," 11 but since Lawrence collaborated with Thomas on the usual terms of disclaiming the help given by a note in the book, who is to blame? In any case little is said in Thomas's book about Lawrence's father, and less about his mother. Thomas Lawrence is here said to have been a "great sportsman," at one time owner of estates in Ireland, who lost "most of his worldly possessions during the Gladstone period" when he "brought his family across the Irish Sea to Wales." 12 Lowell Thomas's book says that Lawrence's mother did not wish him to go to Syria, but eventually consented and "allowed him two hundred pounds for the trip." (According to Lawrence, the family income at the time was £300 or £400 a year). Her visit to China as a missionary with her eldest son in the 1920 is mentioned, and is true. 13
Graves has "County Meath," the "Leicestershire stock," "Sir Walter Raleigh," "great sportsman," and "mixed blood," for the father. He met the mother and admired her strong character and personality. Her features he found like those of Lawrence. He mentions the China mission, and records an utterance of Lawrence's mother which should be of interest to psychologists: "We could never be bothered with girls in our house." Graves thinks that
* She was much offended by a letter from Graves about Lawrence, the only offence in which was that Graves rightly refused to be treated patronisingly by Shaw.
Lawrence's house saw so few women because of this atmosphere. 14
The much longer and more detailed account of Liddell Hart's book (written by Lawrence himself) is more outspoken, and gives valuable information to any reader who has the clue while hiding it from others. Lawrence there speaks of his "adopted surnames," which "did not belong," and they are: Lawrence, Ross, Shaw. He shows his resentment at the ambiguous situation of himself and his brothers in a bitter sentence where he says that his father's family "seemed unconscious of his sons, even when after his death recognition of their achievements might have done honour to the name." What name? He had just repudiated "Lawrence," so that he must mean "Chapman." The five brothers, Lawrence proceeds, were taught to be self sufficient, but after the war when two were killed the others could not rid themselves of their loneliness -- but was it only after the war? Lawrence wrote that when he was asked how he stood the company of his fellow-airmen in the barrack room he might answer that he was at home again in his boyhood days. He adds that to claim the lower class as his birthright hardly coincided with the truth. 15 Of course, he never thought of himself as a plebeian, except for purposes of self-dramatising.
Lawrence's rhetorical style strains for effect and the avoidance of the stereotyped phrase, and in the end so often achieves a near rather than clear statement; and here he was being intentionally "mystifying." But it seems a fair inference that he resented very much indeed being ignored by his father's family after ' Lawrence' of Arabia had become world-known. True, he claimed that he didn't mind, but he meant from the point of view of conventional "morality." Humanly, socially, personally, he cared intensely and understandably.
What Lawrence wrote about his parents in this book of Liddell Hart's is even more interesting, and in spite of mannerism and "mystification" much more nearly authentic than what he gave the two previous biographers. His father, he says, was reduced to "a craftsman's income "by his" self-appointed exile," but then "the landowning pride of caste "would not permit him to work for money. With five children the "family's very necessaries of life were straitened," and they could only live because the father "denied himself every amenity "and the mother" served the household like a drudge." His mother, he says, was Calvinist, ascetic, "a woman of character and
keen intelligence," she possessed "iron decision" but was "charming, when she wished." She kept to herself and did not allow her children to know their neighbours. There was a "difference in social attitude" between the parents, for the father was "courtly, but abrupt and large, a man who "shot, fished, rode, sailed" with the "certainty of birthright experience," and "never touched a book." It seems that he carried his disdain for work so far that he never wrote a cheque himself -- or was this a precautionary measure? 16
There is another factor influencing the character of Lawrence's father which is of importance to our enquiry. He had been reared in the surroundings of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy and developed the outlook of that class. Then this naturally self-confident and sociable sportsman had been compelled because of the situation created by his second ménage to cut himself off from his very roots.
The dominant personality of the two parents was obviously Lawrence's mother, with whom Lawrence had in common not only such an obvious physical feature as their strikingly blue eyes, but also significant traits of character. The most significant of these is her strong will-power, which had not only enabled her to draw Thomas Chapman away from his family and from the surroundings he loved, but enabled her to raise herself to such a status as to be an equal mate for a gentleman. The letter Lawrence wrote to Charlotte Shaw from Karachi which has been referred to earlier completes the picture of his parents traced in Hart's biography. Lawrence's views of his mother's influence on his home and upbringing are of vital importance in assessing his own temperament and character. He says that his mother's Calvinist conscience compelling her to make him atone for their sin she converted this typical Anglo-Irish squire to the habits of a person of her own background. A woman who could do that must have possessed remarkable qualities, and above all a strength of will superior perhaps even to the ruthless will of her famous son. He said that her devotion to the father of her children was not lessened by the fact that he was a perpetual reminder of her sin in taking him from the other woman -- indeed her success had its pleasures as well as its pangs, while her attitude towards her children could not but be affected by her religion and a state of mind which was utterly convinced of its own rightness. The couple were terrified at the prospect of their secret being dis-
covered, especially by the children. Of course it inevitably came to their ears. It seems possible that in the case of T. E. Lawrence we might link the shock of discovery and the burden of keeping the secret to himself with his running away to join the Artillery and certainly with his being given a small bungalow to himself, so that he saw as little of his family as possible. Although they maintained a smooth facade to the outer world the difference in background between the father and & mother and the social difficulties inherent in their life together must have led at times to strain, a strain of which Lawrence felt himself the nervous Victim. 17
In this situation, so incapable of any solution, lies the chief cause of Lawrence's bitter futile tragedy. It was at once so trifling in the scheme of things and so overwhelmingly important in the narrow society of the day. The misfortune was double. In the first place was the single but incalculable shock of discovering the "state of sin" acting on a gifted, intensely vain and susceptible youth -- a shock which, in spite of his assertion that it did not affect him, obviously left reverberations of resentment throughout his life. In the second place, there was this conflict of which he speaks, inevitably created by the opposing influences of two such different types of parent. Under such stresses -- given the additional burden of conventional Oxford -- natural human weaknesses and faults became exaggerated and incorrigible. The invisible but unpassable circle of loneliness drawn about his childhood became a fixed habit -- "I'd rather be a prig than be sociable." 18 He hid his feelings of guilt under the mannerisms of the Oxford poseur. The high-spirited self-esteem of youth became a derisive pride ("the colossal bladder of my vanity") which scorned while it craved notoriety. Natural impulses were lost in the cultivation of a consuming will-to-power which was to compensate for all inferiority and yet always dropped to apathy or disgust at the moment of achievement -- the will was not exercised to an end, it was itself the end. Hence the craving to be liked, which led to so deliberate and calculated a building of "friendships separated by bulk-heads." 19 Hence, too, a defensive callousness which offended even so devoted a patron as Hogarth. Hence, obviously, the need for mystification and more or less absurdly improbable anecdotes about himself accepted and broadcast by "the Lawrence Bureau."
But doubtless the reader has already seen the danger that his
undeniable shock and suffering may be forced to explain everything in the man and his life, as is the case too often with the formulas of psycho-analysis. Human minds and bodies, aspirations and sympathies, cravings and revulsions, are not as simple as that. But to attempt to tell the story of Lawrence while ignoring this situation is like putting on Hamlet without the king and queen and above all, without the haunting ghost.
Lawrence admired and imitated his genial, aristocratic father; rebelled with all the strength of his powerful will against the strong will of the mother he thought so remorselessly religious. His father was said to have been among the best snipe and pheasant shots in Ireland and a yachtsman. 20 Was it mere coincidence that Lawrence in his younger days made himself a first-class revolver shot (pheasant shooting being hopelessly beyond his means) and in later life an expert in speed boats? It is perhaps far-fetched -- and yet perhaps not -- to see even in Lawrence's over-strenuous cycling an attempt to live up to paternal stories of "hard riding" in the hunting field. For the cosmopolitan there is wry humour in noting how members of even the most unimportant politico-economic group conceive themselves superior to all the others on the usual fallacious racial prejudices. Here the Anglo-Irish stand high, and in his wanderings Lawrence found no man equal to his own English, which he attributed to his father's "blood" in him. Lawrence wrote Graves that he never looked at a man's face, nor recognised one; he thought this was "hereditary," because once in the street his father had trodden on Lawrence's foot in passing and had apologised without recognising his Son. 21
Nowhere is the link between father and son more noticeable than in their attitude towards work and money. By his unorthodox rashness the father was reduced as we have seen, to a "craftsman's income" -- meaning an "artisan's wage"? -- but his "landowning pride of caste" would not allow him to do any work for his children and their mother. This imitation feudalism in the 19th century was obviously an anachronism, dating from the Dark Ages. In that epoch of perpetual civil war the knight's overlord gave him land and serfs to work it for him, and forbade him to work on pain of derogation in order that no peaceful means of gain should mitigate his military efficiency and ferocity. In the 19th century the only people who had
any justification for maintaining this knightly "pride of caste" against work were the regular officers of the Royal Navy and Army; and we shall have often to note Lawrence's intense bitterness against "regular officers." Why? It must have been that he felt himself in every respect their equal, and indeed one of them, except for the one derogation which had debarred him entry to their aristocratic enclosure. But by 1880 the ancient exemption hardly applied to those land-owning scions who merely amused themselves with shooting and fishing and so forth. As gentlemen and nothing else they rather laid themselves open to the taunt of Lawrence's friend G. B. Shaw in Man and Superman:
" BRIGAND: I am a brigand. I live by robbing the rich.
TANNER: I am a gentleman. I live by robbing the poor. Shake hands."
Inadequate as was the "craftsman's income," as he did not earn it, the money must somehow have been wrung from reluctant Irish tenants.
In his later years probably no one would have agreed with Shaw more thoroughly than Lawrence, but by that time the genteel pose which he had taken over from his father had become second nature. He would have liked an income but was determined not to work for it ("there is nothing so repulsive as working merely for a living -- only things are so bad just now that many people are doing that in despair. I refuse to do it . . .") 22 and resented the fact that his father's family wouldn't give him £300 a year. 23 In his early days he had nothing but scorn for "professionalism" in the arts and in politics, 24 and he asserted that he had taken no money for his book and had used his pay only "for official purposes." The whole obsolete attitude was one of the self-created obstacles with which he tripped himself up; but he certainly derived the prejudice from his landowner father. Perhaps Lawrence's vagueness about facts and numbers had the same origin.
If Lawrence's father was at one time a hard drinker (as he asserts), his son certainly did not imitate him in that respect. And it is easy to see why. While the father might boast unscathed of his skill in snipe and pheasant shooting, yachting and riding, he would not have dared to recall old carousals before the fanatically teetotal mother. Indeed Lawrence throughout life maintained prejudices which show a curious
ignorance of the physiology of taste. As late as 1934 he feels inclined "to smile at these wine-palates" and goes on to make the absurd assertion: "They deprive themselves of the faculty of judging between waters, by coarsening their throats with fermented drinks -- and that is a loss of their tastes." 25 How did he know? And did he really think we taste with our throats? As one who preferred Acqua Vergine to Acqua Marcia, Hilaire Belloc (whom he was attacking) might have felt inclined "to smile at" a connoisseurship of water based on Arab wells contaminated by camel urine and the chlorinated water-tanks of Army camps. Here of course the mother's influence is palpable, though he did evade' it once to the extent of saying that gin (of an things!) "has the most beautiful limpidity of anything on earth." 26 Though Lawrence yielded to the extreme religious compulsion of the household in his youth, he told Liddell Hart that he had discarded conventional religion and " did not notice its loss." 27 If it is much harder to point to specific instances of this maternal influence than in the father's case, it was none the less there, perhaps the more formidable and permanent as it was something to be resisted or evaded at all costs. "I can't live at home: I don't know why: the place makes me utterly intolerable." 28
Lawrence believed that he had known about the situation at home before he was ten. It seems a tender age at which to understand, face and suffer such a complication. This "before I was ten" is very likely a rhetorical expression deriving from Lawrence's vagueness over numbers. But, whatever the age at which he did become aware of this trouble, one cannot help connecting with it a curious episode which has been mentioned but left unexplained by Lawrence and his biographers. Readers of the Letters must have puzzled over a sentence in a letter to Lord Wavell written just after Christmas, 1923, when Lawrence was a private in the Tank Corps. After commenting graphically but unfavourably on the drinking habits of the troops, he adds: "The old army, in my recollection, did at least carry its drink. Don't you agree?" 29 This "old army" reference struck me as a curious remark, and I had nearly dismissed it as one of Lawrence's usual mystifications, when I suddenly recollected a sentence in Liddell Hart's biography which was more precise but not very generous with details: "In his teens he took a sudden turn for military experience at the urge of some private difficulty, and served
for a while in the ranks." 30 This sentence, as it turns out, was based on two statements made by Lawrence himself. In the first he says that about 1906 he enlisted in the Artillery and "did eight months" before he was bought out. In the second he says he ran away from home and served in the Artillery for six months -- the discipline didn't worry him but he was terrified by the fighting of his fellow-soldiers at the weekends. 31
Of course this might be dismissed as one more of Lawrence's leg-pullin0g "Milesian tales, in which case it has no significance. If it is true, then it must have been (as he says) somewhere between August, 1905, when a published letter shows him on a cycling trip in England, and August, 1906, when he was in Brittany. He was then 17 and under age and presumably a little under height, but when recruits were badly needed such small difficulties were then overlooked. So far as I can find there is no other reference to this experience in the Letters or the reminiscences of his friends. If, in spite of the lack of any corroborative evidence but that one allusion to the "Old Army" in his letter to Wavell, Lawrence's story is accepted as true, then it is surely rather striking evidence of his early interest in soldiering and a first attempt to deal with some seemingly insoluble "private difficulty" by trying to hide in the ranks. As to the motives for his running away -we might draw obvious inferences from the remark to Graves that home life made him "intolerable, while his mother's attitude had made him shrink from a home where he felt he could call no secret his own.