T. E. Lawrence ftontispiece The bungalow at No. 2 Polstead Road, Oxford, facing page 48



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There is one achievement which nobody can deny Lawrence, and that was his capacity to convince others that he was a remarkable man. Of course he was, but what was chiefly "remarkable" was his capacity for self-advertisement. He was a soldier among writers and a writer among soldiers. He succeeded in impressing such eminent and different persons as Sir Winston Churchill, Mr. E. M. Forster and Sir Lewis Namier. Unquestionably Lawrence was a determined and ambitious man, guerrilla fighter, and possibly administrator; but an immense legend was fabricated, largely by himself, from materials of uncertain substance. The tragedy of Lawrence's life is that the inner conflict started by the shock of discovering the "secret" was never resolved, so that his very gifts turned to self-destruction. His career and his strangely tortured psychology will always be of interest, if only as a problem involving so many unknown quantities. Perhaps when all the evidence is made public, the problem may be solved. Perhaps not. On the one hand, he cannot avoid embellishing all he does and simply must exhibit himself to the world as this astounding and triumphant character; and, on the other hand, he has an equally powerful impulse of refusal, descending even to the wish "to degrade" himself. Christian egotists, who believe that the universe was designed for their personal salvation or damnation, pass readily from a conviction of supreme sanctity to the neurotic state of "greatest of sinners." Lawrence himself dramatised his neurosis as a war between the irreconcilable elements in the natures of his parents in himself. In a symbolical sense that was true, but the situation went beyond that. It was rather as if he had taken the whole of the Guilty Secret on himself, and had to punish the guilt of his parents in himself. When he is in the upward flight of a phase of comparative optimism and embellishment, it is as if he said to them: "See, in spite of the handicap and the wrong you did me, I am still able to triumph over all difficulties and win to fame and fortune far beyond yours." And then inexorably and, as it were, in the very moment of victory he passed to the phase of pessimism and self-disgust and voluntary "degradation," as if he now said to them
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miles a day for three days! Nobody can deny it, for there are no witnesses; but with Lawrence's proved record of exaggerations who will not feel sceptical?
There is one achievement which nobody can deny Lawrence, and that was his capacity to convince others that he was a remarkable man. Of course he was, but what was chiefly "remarkable" was his capacity for self-advertisement. He was a soldier among writers and a writer among soldiers. He succeeded in impressing such eminent and different persons as Sir Winston Churchill, Mr. E. M. Forster and Sir Lewis Namier. Unquestionably Lawrence was a determined and ambitious man, guerrilla fighter, and possibly administrator; but an immense legend was fabricated, largely by himself, from materials of uncertain substance. The tragedy of Lawrence's life is that the inner conflict started by the shock of discovering the "secret" was never resolved, so that his very gifts turned to self-destruction. His career and his strangely tortured psychology will always be of interest, if only as a problem involving so many unknown quantities. Perhaps when all the evidence is made public, the problem may be solved. Perhaps not. On the one hand, he cannot avoid embellishing all he does and simply must exhibit himself to the world as this astounding and triumphant character; and, on the other hand, he has an equally powerful impulse of refusal, descending even to the wish "to degrade" himself. Christian egotists, who believe that the universe was designed for their personal salvation or damnation, pass readily from a conviction of supreme sanctity to the neurotic state of "greatest of sinners." Lawrence himself dramatised his neurosis as a war between the irreconcilable elements in the natures of his parents in himself. In a symbolical sense that was true, but the situation went beyond that. It was rather as if he had taken the whole of the Guilty Secret on himself, and had to punish the guilt of his parents in himself. When he is in the upward flight of a phase of comparative optimism and embellishment, it is as if he said to them: "See, in spite of the handicap and the wrong you did me, I am still able to triumph over all difficulties and win to fame and fortune far beyond yours." And then inexorably and, as it were, in the very moment of victory he passed to the phase of pessimism and self-disgust and voluntary "degradation," as if he now said to them
-349-
miles a day for three days! Nobody can deny it, for there are no witnesses; but with Lawrence's proved record of exaggerations who will not feel sceptical?
There is one achievement which nobody can deny Lawrence, and that was his capacity to convince others that he was a remarkable man. Of course he was, but what was chiefly "remarkable" was his capacity for self-advertisement. He was a soldier among writers and a writer among soldiers. He succeeded in impressing such eminent and different persons as Sir Winston Churchill, Mr. E. M. Forster and Sir Lewis Namier. Unquestionably Lawrence was a determined and ambitious man, guerrilla fighter, and possibly administrator; but an immense legend was fabricated, largely by himself, from materials of uncertain substance. The tragedy of Lawrence's life is that the inner conflict started by the shock of discovering the "secret" was never resolved, so that his very gifts turned to self-destruction. His career and his strangely tortured psychology will always be of interest, if only as a problem involving so many unknown quantities. Perhaps when all the evidence is made public, the problem may be solved. Perhaps not. On the one hand, he cannot avoid embellishing all he does and simply must exhibit himself to the world as this astounding and triumphant character; and, on the other hand, he has an equally powerful impulse of refusal, descending even to the wish "to degrade" himself. Christian egotists, who believe that the universe was designed for their personal salvation or damnation, pass readily from a conviction of supreme sanctity to the neurotic state of "greatest of sinners." Lawrence himself dramatised his neurosis as a war between the irreconcilable elements in the natures of his parents in himself. In a symbolical sense that was true, but the situation went beyond that. It was rather as if he had taken the whole of the Guilty Secret on himself, and had to punish the guilt of his parents in himself. When he is in the upward flight of a phase of comparative optimism and embellishment, it is as if he said to them: "See, in spite of the handicap and the wrong you did me, I am still able to triumph over all difficulties and win to fame and fortune far beyond yours." And then inexorably and, as it were, in the very moment of victory he passed to the phase of pessimism and self-disgust and voluntary "degradation," as if he now said to them
-349-
miles a day for three days! Nobody can deny it, for there are no witnesses; but with Lawrence's proved record of exaggerations who will not feel sceptical?
There is one achievement which nobody can deny Lawrence, and that was his capacity to convince others that he was a remarkable man. Of course he was, but what was chiefly "remarkable" was his capacity for self-advertisement. He was a soldier among writers and a writer among soldiers. He succeeded in impressing such eminent and different persons as Sir Winston Churchill, Mr. E. M. Forster and Sir Lewis Namier. Unquestionably Lawrence was a determined and ambitious man, guerrilla fighter, and possibly administrator; but an immense legend was fabricated, largely by himself, from materials of uncertain substance. The tragedy of Lawrence's life is that the inner conflict started by the shock of discovering the "secret" was never resolved, so that his very gifts turned to self-destruction. His career and his strangely tortured psychology will always be of interest, if only as a problem involving so many unknown quantities. Perhaps when all the evidence is made public, the problem may be solved. Perhaps not. On the one hand, he cannot avoid embellishing all he does and simply must exhibit himself to the world as this astounding and triumphant character; and, on the other hand, he has an equally powerful impulse of refusal, descending even to the wish "to degrade" himself. Christian egotists, who believe that the universe was designed for their personal salvation or damnation, pass readily from a conviction of supreme sanctity to the neurotic state of "greatest of sinners." Lawrence himself dramatised his neurosis as a war between the irreconcilable elements in the natures of his parents in himself. In a symbolical sense that was true, but the situation went beyond that. It was rather as if he had taken the whole of the Guilty Secret on himself, and had to punish the guilt of his parents in himself. When he is in the upward flight of a phase of comparative optimism and embellishment, it is as if he said to them: "See, in spite of the handicap and the wrong you did me, I am still able to triumph over all difficulties and win to fame and fortune far beyond yours." And then inexorably and, as it were, in the very moment of victory he passed to the phase of pessimism and self-disgust and voluntary "degradation," as if he now said to them
-349-
sorrowfully or resentfully: "See, but for your guilt, I should be on top of the world, but your sin brings me down; because of you I must renounce what in spite of you I have won." Obviously he never formulated his neurosis in those terms, but he came near enough with his description of the war within himself and in the resentment against one woman carried over to all women in their sexual aspect. He could only be friends with a woman if all sex was tacitly but unmistakably ruled out. He could never forgive the fact that the baronet's son was the nurse-maid's child; and viceversa.
It has been said that Lawrence had "no real self," that he was merely an actor who played many parts. But there was "a real self," which is fairly plainly shown both in Seven Pillars and in the letters to Lionel Curtis and Charlotte Shaw -- an unhappy, wistful, tortured, hag-ridden self, floundering between heights and depths, aspiring to the rôle of a knight of the Round Table and tumbling with Hibernian awkwardness into grotesque and even terrible accidents and misfortunes -- who can think of that flogging at Deraa without a shudder of pity for the victim? Yet he had the courage, the skill -- the cunning, if you like -- and the force of will and character to impose on the world his over-valued persona as reality, and to receive world-wide acclaim -- for what? for the clever patter and pictures of a glib showman untroubled by the majesty of truth. And having triumph in his grasp he throws it all away, to escape the mother who now turned instinctively to the brilliant son for comfort. Let him be, as he dreamed, exalted like another Joseph to be ruler of Egypt, she could still follow and madden him with female efficiency and prayer. There was one place where neither she nor any woman could follow him -- a barrack-room. And what a supreme punishment for the abhorred but inexorably shared Guilt -- the baronet's son "gone for a soldier," the "Prince of Mecca" in the ranks! No wonder that, lacking the clue, the world was puzzled, and that the inventive powers of journalists flowered into ever more fatuous absurdities. Like the lady in the French farce, they stood aghast at this apparent repudiation of the only world they knew -- "Des enfants qui veulent travailler! C'est inoui!" But of course he did not mean to repudiate the one thing he really cared for -- his notoriety and above all his hoped-for literary notoriety. Love of literature, respect for all artists, especially
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poets, were wholly sincere in him; and doubtless he would rather have written The Sphinx than take Damascus.
If we look back over Lawrence's life, before he played this final trump card of enlistment, in his bitter game with Sin, we note previous examples of this "impulse of refusal" mixed in with his usual line of romantic over-valuation of self. The most striking is the earliest which we have been discussing -- the rejection of the life of an Oxford scholar, which seemed opening before him, for the life of a private soldier. In spite of all the extravagant talk about his being a greater strategic genius than Hannibal and Napoleon, he had in him the makings of a soldier and a good officer -- but you can't go through Sandhurst as a day-boy with scholarships. There is no evidence for it, but if the Artillery experience really happened, may there not have been a veiled reproach behind it? Perhaps the thought is too subtle for a schoolboy, but Lawrence was always a schoolboy and a very deep one. Whoever thought of the solution of a separate dwelling during term-time, and cycling tours during vacations, neatly solved the problem of reducing his family contacts to a minimum, especially as Lawrence added his pose of eating only a few scraps at any time, which could be invoked whenever he wanted to avoid a family meal.
Hogarth, who must have been aware of the situation, must also have felt that he had solved the problem rather well by finding Lawrence employment so far away as Carchemish; and indeed Lawrence seems to have been happy during that too-brief time. It is trifling but just worth noting that there seems to have been no real reason for taking his first trip wholly on foot and by rail -- the money given him by his father would have sufficed to hire horses or mules if he had not spent so much of it on an over-expensive camera, and banked the rest. He had to demonstrate that he was forced to travel as a pauper, a Chapman of Killua! We see again the same ambivalence in the Carchemish days -- sitting in the evenings with Woolley dressed up in a sixty-guinea jacket, and then wandering with Dahoum like a couple of Arab tramps. The unexpected start in the Army as a staff officer roused all his insolence, and but for Hogarth's protection he might easily have been dismissed by outraged regulars to the Western front in his full substantive rank of second-lieutenant. How brilliantly he turned to account his forcible exile to Arabia needs no demonstration, but as soon as he returned home the temporarily
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exorcised impulse of refusal came back. He took the first opportunity to get rid of his French decorations, and went out of his way to appear to resign his English honours -- though actually he contrived to retain them. When he flew to Cairo, he demoted himself to second-lieutenant by cutting off the crown from his badges of rank. He is given the exceptional honour of rooms in All Souls, but hastens to "degrade" himself by retiring to a garret in Barton Street. He is appointed the actual ruler of Transjordan, and chooses to live in "a hovel," and almost immediately resigns -- was it because the post was too good or not good enough? All Mr. Churchill's kindly efforts to help him by refusing his resignations and offering a choice of Colonial Office posts were pure joy to Lawrence but pure waste, gratifying as they did both aspects of his neurosis and enabling him when his resignation was at last accepted to wind up with the condescending remark:
"Thank the Lord for Winston coming round at last. I did so want not to quarrel with him. He's a most decent person." 18
The last link in the chain of our evidence is provided by the very significant change of name on enlistment. Now this was the normal thing to do for the hero who had seen better days, into which character Lawrence was then busily transforming himself, but it happened not to be allowed in the R.A.F., which was only one of several things about his enlistment he didn't know. At the same time this was the perfect opportunity for him to repudiate and to abandon the borrowed name of "Lawrence," which, as he justly complained, was nominally his merely because of his father's whim when changing names, and an extra source of annoyance and embarrassment since it belonged by right to a contemporary author whom T. E. Lawrence warmly and sincerely admired. (He only began to find fault after D. H. in Lady Chatterley's Lover laughed at a certain "Colonel Florence.") Now, as Ross or Shaw, he could try to shake off the hateful reminder of Guilt. I believe -- though I can't prove -- that long before this Lawrence would have been very glad to throw off all pretence and acknowledge the situation, which, though awkward for a man in the limelight, didn't really amount to anything serious in the post-war moral chaos. Who would have thought the less of him except for a pack of old Oxonian aunts who, unluckily, were the characters most important
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to others who were not able to lean their elbows simultaneously on seven pillars of publicity? Not that Ross and Shaw intended that the deeds of Lawrence of Arabia should be forgotten along with the discarded name. On the contrary, as we have seen, he spent the leisure of years in planning and plotting the career of his veracious memoirs, and in encouraging the vies romancées and biographies of Thomas, Graves and Hart. But there are slight though unmistakable hints in both the later books of the real situation, and the facts that in Captain Hart's book the "Lawrence" was written with inverted commas on the title-page, and that "Ross" or "Shaw" encouraged his friends to address him merely as "T. E." need no stressing. Sometimes it became T. E. S. or Tes, but the student of Lawrence comes to feel at length a cold detestation for the self-important glee with which his servile adulators proclaim themselves the paladins and peers of "T. E." The fact that Lawrence went to so much trouble to maintain that his choice of "Shaw" was pure coincidence and had nothing to do with Bernard is fairly convincing evidence that the name was chosen to stress his intimacy with the Marxist of Mayfair.
Now that this point is reached and a frank explanation of Lawrence's action attempted, if not proved, little more remains to be said, since the story of the writing and production of Seven Pillars -- the one important event of his post-enlistment life -- has already been told. By way of epilogue, we have only to trace the curious little story of his first R.A.F. enlistment, his dismissal and enlistment in the Tank Corps, the desperate intrigue by which under threat of suicide he got himself reinstated, the routine of his later days broken mainly by a "spy story," and his death within a few weeks of his final discharge.
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CHAPTER EIGHT


LAWRENCE'S ENLISTMENT in the ranks of the R.A.F. has been told in different and more or less romantic versions -- of which not the least romantic was his own -- and we are fortunate in having at least the main facts from first-hand witnesses. Perhaps the most striking fact that first comes up is that the Air Force did not want Lawrence, tried to refuse him and had him imposed upon them by high authority, managed to get rid of him, and after two years had him imposed a second time. Who was the "high authority"? In the second case, it was Stanleye Baldwin coerced by Bernarde Shaw and Buchan; in the first case, it has not been revealed or I have failed to discover it. But it must have been someone in a high position, since an Air Vice-Marshal writes that he was "ordered" (and underlines the word indignantly) to get Lawrence into the R.A.F. 1 Sir Oliver Swann goes on to say that he hated the business about which there was nothing open, and that he discouraged all communication with or from Lawrence. 2 In spite of which Lawrence as an A.C. 2 persisted in writing the Air Vice-Marshal letters which are a strange compound of the impudent and the abject. So far as R.A.F. headquarters was concerned, Sir Oliver tells us that he and he alone dealt with Lawrence's entry and movements. 3
What happened next was for long known only through hints in Lawrence's letters and romantic versions not worth mentioning, except for the fact that once more we find Lawrence at his old game of arranging and embellishing the truth. Fortunately, in 1951, an account of what really happened was published in the Sunday Times by the man who at the time was the chief interviewing officer at the London Recruiting Depot, and is now widely known as an author,
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W. E. Johns. He begins by pointing out that the recruiting regulations were then so strict that nobody could get into the Air Force without his real identity being divulged. The practice in the old Regular Army was to accept any otherwise valid recruit without pressing him on the subject of his real name. It looks as if Lawrence may not have been aware that this old custom did not apply in the new Air Force. At all events, when he presented himself before Mr. Johns, in a high state of nerves, 4 under the name of John Hume Ross, the officer was warned by his sergeant-major that the new recruit seemed "a suspicious character." His photograph was not among those of men wanted by Scotland Yard, but he was told he must produce "a reference from his last employer, a moral character and his birth certificate." While Lawrence went off to get these, Johns found out from Somerset House that John Hume Ross did not exist, and, as Lawrence's references turned out to be forgeries, the sergeantmajor "showed him the door."
" Ross" was soon back with an order for enlistment "signed by a very high authority," but now the R.A.F. doctors refused to pass him. Mr. Johns was asked by them to look at the "scars of flogging" * which "Ross" refused to explain -- but there is no mention of any other wounds. The Commanding Officer, on Mr. Johns' report, then telephoned to the Air Ministry and returned with this rather sinister remark spoken "very seriously":

"Watch your step. This man is Lawrence of Arabia. Get him in, or you'll get your bowler hat."


The last phrase is here professional slang for "get dismissed." The doctors still refused to pass "Ross," and he had finally to be passed by "an outside doctor." Lawrence, after a talk, then left for Uxbridge Depot, leaving behind "the memory of a cold, clammy handshake." Everyone in the recruiting office now knew who "Ross" was, and Mr. Johns rang up the recruiting officer at Uxbridge to warn him who was coming:
". . . for by this time Lawrence was making it clear that he had no time for junior officers. Lawrence himself soon saw to it that everyone knew who he was." 5
____________________

Strong evidence that the Deraa flogging story is true.


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Now, if we put together the facts that from the start the Uxbridge R.A.F. officers knew who "Ross" was (which Lawrence, for the purposes of his own myth, later pretended was not the case) and that the R.A.F. did not want him, we have the obvious explanation of why Ross and his squad went through such a tough course of "fatigues" and military training. Lawrence kept a record of all this in The Mint, but echoes of his experiences and complaints are hinted at in his letters. He gratuitously informed Swann that the coarseness of life in the ranks worried him more than he had expected, but he hoped to get used to being at everyone's beck and call. 6 A few days later, in writing Edward Garnett, Lawrence says he put the critic's letter in his pocket when he went to feed the camp pigs, and read it on the roof of the sty, a situation which he contrasts bitterly with an offer of the editorship of a periodical to be called Belles-Lettres. 7 A month later, Lawrence still has not forgotten the indignity of the pig-sty, but, relieved from the stage of recruits' fatigues he now complains that they were drilling in the barrack square all day. 8 Apart from the pig-sty parade, I don't find that Lawrence was told to do anything that was not done by all war-time infantry recruits -- both rankers and cadets -- though he may have been given a bit of a run around, which was rather hard on a man of thirty-five.
Even after he was moved from Uxbridge to the more congenial surroundings of Farnborough, Lawrence still found much to complain of in his new life. One of Bernard Shaw's letters about Seven Pillars had asked what Lawrence had to do in the ranks of the R.A.F., and in replying he pulled out all the stops. On the morning after Christmas, Lawrence had been ordered to wash up for the sergeants' mess, where he found the plates covered with butter and tomato sauce and the washing water cold. In the afternoon he had motor-cycled to Oxford to consult his friend Dr. Hogarth on the abridgement of his great book. For three weeks, he complained, he had been used as an errand-boy, and also for all the other menial duties around the camp. 9 At this period, Lawrence was still planning the publication of his book, and it is evident that he was growing very restive at being treated as an ordinary A.C. 2, with none of the small but highly valued alleviations of fatigues and parades which come to the old or specially employed or favoured aircraftman.

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