How far this Morris stheticism was a conscious attempt to escape from the religious servitude imposed on him can only be a matter of conjecture. Though he rebelled against it and at one time claimed to hold the "chilly creed" of "nihilism" 39, orthodox religion of the Anglican type was heavily imposed on his youth, and seems to have
endured up till the time when he left Oxford at the age of 22, in 1910. We are told that he was a regular worshipper at St. Aldate's, where he profited by the teaching of the Gospel by one of the Canons there while he himself took the Sunday school classes twice each Sunday. 40 This began while Lawrence was still at school and involved a walk to Folly Bridge twice every Sunday, a distance of five miles in all. The Sunday school teaching may have gone on until 1910, certainly lasted well into his undergraduate days since he corresponded with his Sunday school boys when he went on his cycle tours. Every year he took the boys on a rowing treat up the river, and in the winter invited them to his home for an evening when he taught them a game in which they had to pick up sixpences with their mouths from a bath of warm water two inches deep, kneeling beside the bath with their hands behind them. 41
His elder brother says that for two or three years Lawrence was an officer in the St. Aldate's Company of the Church Lads' Brigade, and since he could not be an "officer" until he was 19, this must have been from the end of 1907 on. The Church Lads' Brigade was founded by a retired Colonel, and its sponsors include Field-Marshals and Archbishops -- indeed the Church Lads were known as "the bishop's boys." The idea apparently was to present religion to ardent youth with all the glamour of military life, or perhaps vice versa. At any rate, the exact performance of religious duties was inculcated along with the use of uniforms, bands, drills, parades and route marches. The training was probably more military in Lawrence's day that it is now, since a tendency for the military to overtop the religious interests was checked in the pacifist year 1936. The ultimate effect of this service on Lawrence seems to have been rather on the negative side. In later life he wrote unsympathetically of soldiers who thought they could reconcile the religious life with their profession, and eagerly pressed the Labour M.P., Ernest Thurtle, to abolish obligatory Church parades. 42 He went further, and protested against the use of the word "supernatural" in connection with himself: "I do not believe that. There is no more rational being than myself alive." 43 But, as elsewhere, his most vehement protest was against the strong-willed and very religious mother who he considered had imposed all these things on his youth. He resented his mother's repeated attempts to make him religious. Christianity was ruined for him by her persistence. 44 So much of
Lawrence's life was rebellion against and escape from that dominant personality and its ambience! If we accept his own story of his running away to join the Artillery "about 1906," then that must have been his first effective if desperate reaction, a rough sanctuary from which he returned only on terms which gave him a bungalow to himself and the freedom of Oxford. Even from that situation he insisted on an annual escape overseas, which progressively extended from Brittany and Normandy to the Mediterranean and then to Syria.
A CCORDING TO one of his contemporaries, Lawrence's parents had complete trust in their sons and each year gave them a sum of money for their holidays and let them go where they liked. 1 If the family really lived on £400 a year (just about £55 a year each) the sum cannot have amounted to much. And in fact, Lawrence spread stories of his fabulous economy in travelling expenses which are partly confirmed but more often contradicted by his own letters at the time. In point of fact T. R. T. Chapman inherited £25,000 from his brother who died in 1915, and T. R. Lawrence left £17,700.
He was still a schoolboy when, in August 1906, he crossed to Brittany, and when joined a few days later by his friend, C. F. C. Beeson, went on a cycling tour. Each carried on his bicycle a small basket covered with American-cloth, a waterproof and a pair of boots. They also had a volume of Viollet-le-Duc's Dictionnaire Raisonné. 2 Viollet-le-Duc was the antiquarian architect who repaired and restored (some people said over-restored) so many French cathedrals and châteaux-forts during the Second Empire. Among his other works was one on Military Architecture which was translated into English by B. MacDermott in 1879.
Lawrence mentions this book in his thesis, Crusader Castles, but it is impossible to say if he read it as early as 1906 -- it was reprinted in 1907. The point is that at eighteen Lawrence was already making'a study of medieval castles, a fact confirmed by C. F. C. Beeson who says they spent many hours at such places at Lehon, Montafilant and Tonquedec drawing ground-plans and making diagrams of peculiarities of style. He adds that Lawrence was chiefly interested in the minds of the people who had planned these defensive works and in seeing to what extent
their intentions had been put to the test by history. 3 Their main intention was to keep out their enemies, in which they were not always successful, and after the development of artillery the castles became useless. It is said that in one year the then newly-developed French artillery of Charles VII retook from the English sixty castles each of which had cost them a four to six months' siege. The interest therefore was purely antiquarian, and had only a remote connection with the principles of modern warfare. On the other hand, that he concentrated on this military subject, from choice and long before he thought of making it a subject for a thesis, is one more example of Lawrence's interest in the army and matters military.
The letters written home -- nearly always to his mother -- during this trip on the whole, show an earnest young highbrow with a very literary approach to life. Moonlight on the Channel reminds him of Tennyson's "long glories of the autumn moon" and at Dinard he thinks of Milton. He has been reading Ruskin's Stones of Venice, which he finds masterly; as a result he is not surprised to find Renaissance styles dropping out of favour. 4 He writes a patronising and dogmatic letter to his younger brother on the subject of excavating earth mounds, and finds difficulties evidently in getting what he wanted in France, and in trying to adapt Breton ways of living to his vegetarian and teetotal fads. He could not get "a decent drink," which made him very thirsty, the apples were "uneatable," the only other fruits were pears and plums, though he had a "glorious feast" of wild blackberries. There was no milk in Brittany -- "not obtainable anywhere." The dangers of too puritanical an attachment to the strict doctrines of teetotal vegetarianism in a strange land showed themselves by his getting diarrha through eating too many plums and developing Malta fever by being for once successful in his hunt for milk, by getting goat's milk. 5 The Malta fever may have been later than this first trip, but he certainly had it before 1909. Even on this excursion he showed signs of his life-long habit of being unnecessarily strenuous and getting himself knocked about -- in climbing a castle he said he "impaled" himself and tore his face on thorns, and that he cycled to Fougéres on the hottest day of the year, 107̊ in the shade, according to his romantic arithmetic. 6
In April, 1907 -- after he had won his exhibition but before actually joining his College -- Lawrence made a cycling tour round the Welsh
castles. Nothing of much interest is contained in his letters. He told his brother of sitting down to make a sketch, and "you know it takes a lot to make me do that." He gave his mother a broad hint that he wanted a camera, and said he found himself better if he limited himself to two meals a day and a glass of milk at one o'clock.
He got his camera -- or was allowed to use his father's -- in August of that year when they visited France together. Lawrence speaks of a whole day from six in the morning till seven in the evening spent in photographing Richard I's Château Gaillard, during which he took ten photographs. He had found it a hard day and some of the photographs most difficult to take. 7 Study of the castle decided Lawrence that Richard I was far greater than usually supposed and the big fortress was to him undoubtedly a work of genius. 8 Separating from his father, Lawrence made his way to Angers by way of Le Mans. He rode back to St. Malo by way of Le Lion d'Angers and Rennes in a day, and boasted to his French friends at Dinard that he had ridden 250 kilometres in a day. By the route he took it is 123 kilometres from Angers to Rennes, and 69 from there to St. Malo (where there is a ferry to Dinard), so we can allow him only 192 instead of the 250 which (he said) caused his friends to exclaim: "Oh, l-l, qu'il est merveilleux." 9 He had said the year before that to be alone "makes such an addition to one's enjoyment of nature and her prodigal loveliness." 10 He evidently still thought so since he visited the Château de Fougres by moonlight, and felt that "the dream of years" had been fulfilled by a night spent at Mont St. Michel. The romantic in him is shown by what he wrote of that visit:
"It is a perfect evening; the tide is high and comes some 20 feet up the street. In addition the stars are out most beautifully, and the moon is, they say, just about to rise. The phosphorescence in the water interests me specially." 11
When did Lawrence decide to offer a thesis on the castles of the crusaders in Europe and Syria? Various dates have been suggested, from the summer of 1907 (before he even started his course), down to just before his final exams, so that he could make up for his failure to read the usual books. 12 The earliest piece of evidence I have found comes from a letter dated 23rd August, 1908, in which he praises the castle of Niort and adds: "Nothing could possibly have been more
opportune or more interesting for my thesis." 13 For, as in the year before, he spent several weeks of July and August, 1907, in a really extended tour of castles, sometimes along roads deep in dust, sometimes toiling over hills, sometimes battling against head-winds and pelting rain and hail or wilting under the summer heats of the Midi until he likened his miseries to a combination of those of Sisyphus, Tantalus, and Theseus. 14 With a like energy he noted, sketched, ground-planned and photographed the castles which were to prove his thesis -- for he had wisely formed his theory first and then set out to look for the evidence.
From the letters now available his journey can be followed place by place from Le Havre to Aigucs-Mortes and back by the western roads. Whether the itinerary was given him by some older man, such as Hogarth or his tutor, or whether he worked it out for himself from the castles he wanted to see, it was a very good one. Unfortunately with his limited funds and mania for speed he tried to accomplish in six or seven weeks more than could have been seen properly in as many months, with the natural result that he had to admit he had no time for sight-seeing, apart, that is, from his castles. Of course at this date it is not possible to say which of the alternative routes he chose and whether he diverged, but in view of his habit of exaggerating his exploits we may note that, roughly speaking, he reported kilometres as miles. Thus, in a letter to his friend Beeson from the Hôtel du Nord, Cordes, near Albi (Tarn), he says he has had 38 punctures and come 1,400 miles 15 although the route on the map is only about 1,50 kilometres. A week later at the Grand Hôtel du Midi at Chalus (Haute Vienne) he reports that he has ridden nearly 2,000 miles to date 16 and from the maps the total distance does not seem much more than 2,100 kilometres. p0058.* It is claimed that he could do 180 miles a day. 17 As a matter of fact what Lawrence said was that if he had no luggage he could do 180 miles a day. 18 This would be 288 kilometres, quite a bit above the average of what the champion cyclists of Europe are asked to do in the Tour de France race. The 100 miles a day he claimed for his 1908 tour seem from the map to have been about 100 kilometres, but all the same it was a tremendous cycling achievement for an amateur.
This speeding along the roads was probably even more of an
p0058.* These kilometre figures are given only as approximate, but the calculation has been made to favour Lawrence.
attraction than seeing France and visiting castles, much as he genuinely enjoyed that. But speed was a lifelong passion with him, almost the only experience which seemed to alleviate his neurasthenia. It was a nervous stimulus which he seemed to experience as physical pleasure; "I could write for hours on the lustfulness of moving Swiftly," he told Robert Graves. 19 After 1914 he rode a motor bicycle but at the time we are considering it was a pedal bicycle, a model with dropped racing handles and a top gear of unusually high ratio. 20
Those who have come to realise Lawrence's irresistible propensity to dramatise his exploits and advertise himself will not be surprised to know that he circulated a very quotable little story about this bicycle which has been vouched for by his friends. Thus, Vyvyan Richards says Lawrence had "a light little racing bicycle, which was built by Lord Nuffield when plain Mr. Morris at Oxford. The two of them put their heads together to perfect the design." 21 Towards the end of his life Lawrence told Canon Hall that "the diminutive bicycle, specially built for him by Lord Nuffield's own hands for his first wanderings across France, had been stolen outside All Souls." 22 And Professor A. W. Lawrence speaks of his brother's "bicycle, a threespeed machine with one unusually high gear, built to his order in a shop at Oxford by Mr. Morris, who subsequently became famous in the motor industry." 23. Unfortunately for this story, Lord Nuffield assured David Garnett that he "gave up making bicycles before 1900." 24
There can be no doubt that all three statements just quoted were repeated in complete sincerity and good faith, because the writers believed what Lawrence told them. Obviously they only knew of these stories because they heard them from Lawrence himself, as V. Richards himself admits, adding significantly "yet none of these stories was ever told against himself" 25. Of course, it can and will be said that hitherto these exaggerations and untruths I am pinning on Lawrence are trifles, and so they are, though truth itself is not a trifle. But it so happens that they can be convincingly shown to be untrue, while in other cases one may be perfectly certain the tales are false without having complete evidence to prove it. But what are we to think of a man so self-centred, so -- there is no other word for it -conceited, so avid of réclame at any price, that he would stoop to such trifling deceits? And if he would deceive in trifles, for the sake of a
worthless astonishment and admiration, what guarantee is there that he did not do likewise in more important matters where he cannot be so convincingly checked? And further, what is the value of a reputation which is based on a multitude of just such disprovable or suspect stories? There is a difference between deliberately inventing stories, trivial or otherwise, in order to show off, and the mistakes, lapses of memory, inaccuracies to which all men are liable, not to mention the variations in tastes, beliefs and thought at different ages.
The most important and influential part of this trip (which had other important moments for him) was his stay at Aigues-Mortes, the 13th century fortified base for the 7th crusade, begun by Louis IX and completed by his successor. It was too late ( 1240-1280) to be of use to his thesis, unless indeed he later compared its comparatively flimsy walls with the immense ruins of Chastel Plerin ( 1218) near Haifa. But Aigues-Mortes was Lawrence's first contact with the Mediterranean. He felt, he wrote his mother, as if at last he had reached the way to "the South and all the glorious East." He saw "Greece, Carthage, Egypt, Tyre, Syria, Italy, Spain, Sicily, Crete . . ." before him. "I must get down here -- further out -- again! Really this getting to the sea has almost overturned my mental balance, I would accept a passage for Greece to-morrow." 26 Possibly much of this emotion is "literary" like his schoolboyish echoing of Xenophon's "Thalassa! Thalassa!" when he thought he caught a glimpse of the sea from Les Baux. But at any rate he did go to the Middle East the very next year in the face of considerable difficulties and hardships.
Evidently relying on Lawrence's stories, Liddell Hart says Lawrence contracted malaria "probably" when "sleeping out in the marshy delta of the Rhône," when he was sixteen. Lawrence in fact was nearly 19 at the time. Moreover, he wrote a very long letter to his mother on that Sunday, the 2nd August, 1908, and mentions not only the mosquitoes but the curtains round the beds to keep them out. The enormous clouds of mosquitoes in the Camargue and its neighbourhood -- impossible to realise for those who have not experienced them -- would speedily have driven him to the shelter of a hotel and a net if he had tried to sleep out. (The "sleeping out" was just one of his tales; the letters show he was staying in hotels). But Lawrence was badly bitten -- "I'm one huge bite" -- and was infected with malaria in consequence. But this was
not the malaria which recurred throughout his life. The Camargue malaria is comparatively mild and is said to last only nine years. There is every reason to think he was re-infected with a more serious type next year ( 1909) in Syria. 27
Nobody will deny the energy and plain fare of Lawrence's French tours, but the stories have been over-played. He made five recorded tours of France and did not object to Graves saying that he had made eight. 28 He adds "on practically nothing." Vyvyan Richards is more precise: "He used to wander about France on his little light cycle, living on half a franc a day -- 'Plenty of berries at that time of the year, he explained." 29 Another friend gets him down to "2 1/2d a day," or 25 pre-1914 centimes. He certainly lived cheaply on milk and bread, cherries, apricots, peaches, pears, but only until the evening when "more solid stuff is consumed." 30 Another letter expresses a hearty British contempt for the menus of the Tarn region, but leaves one to infer that he had abandoned vegetarianism and was eating meat, since he accuses the Hôtel du Nord, Cordes, of giving him "a plough-ox or two," and "stewed infant or monkey." 31 At Cordes he paid "3 francs a night," and at Montpazier paid Ifr. 5OC. for a "huge room with editions of Chateaubriand, the Comeilles, etc., a glorious Renaissance window . . . all comforts desirable." 32 Nobody is going to suggest that this was luxury, but it is different from the Lawrence Bureau picture of the sternly self-disciplined preparer for mighty deeds sleeping out and living on "a few pence a day."
He let himself in for real hardship and apparently some danger in the next year ( 1909) when, contrary to the advice of Hogarth and Doughty, he decided to tour the castles of Syria and Palestine on foot, in summer, and alone, without a companion or dragoman or baggage animals. Trying to sort out the facts from the self-created legends is, as usual, a complicated and ungrateful task, but it has to be attempted. We may dismiss at once such tales as that he "shortly after landing, adopted native costume and set out barefoot for the interior . . ." and "wandered off alone, along the fringe of the Great Arabian Desert." 33 Nor, except for the season and method of travelling, was there anything unusual or exploratory in his journey. With his letters home and a contemporary Baedeker it is easy to follow his trail and the places he visited. Afoot and with a special interest (i.e., castles) he did not follow altogether the usual tourist routes, but constantly crossed or
touched them. When he says that in parts of his journey he seemed "to have been the first European visitor," 34 he probably meant that in the villages of the Jebel Akrad (which he is describing) no European had asked the peasants for the pilgrim's dole of food and shelter.
It is said the idea of travelling thus cheaply was given him at Oxford by "a half-Irish Arab," 35 or as another describes him, "a Syrian Protestant clerygman . . . the Rev. N. Odeh," 36 from whom he "picked up a smattering of conversational Arabic."
Certainly for such a journey he must have had some knowledge of Syrian Arabic and probably his claim that he knew only "80 words" is as much a romantic understatement as his claim that he eventually "knew 12,000 words" sounds fantastically exaggerated. 37 He was certainly not penniless, since on one occasion he was able to pay seven pounds for a carriage drive. 38 Vyvyan Richards says that Lawrence's father gave him a lump sum, "out of which he bought a revolver and a special camera costing £40." Richards remembered "his delight in the perfect instrument," adding that Lawrence bought the cheapest passage to the East, and -- banked the rest. 39 According to David Garnett, Lawrence went on the P. & O. liner Mongolia, from England, on which the second-class single ticket at that date was £11. These figures suggest that he may have been given £100; Lowell Thomas says £200. A complication is introduced by Lawrence's later statement to Graves that on his way to Syria he stopped in Paris and bought a copper watch for ten francs, the copper watch being an essential stage property in one of his Syrian stories. Obviously he could have picked up the Mongolia at Marseille, but why spend a fare of thirty-two shillings extra merely to buy a copper watch which he could have bought in England? A plausible motive for his going to Paris -- if he did go -- would be to look at the Museum of sculpture and casts at the Trocadéro where there was also a collection of architectural drawings by Viollet-le-Duc and the curator was M. C. Enlart, both of them authorities on medieval castles. But he could not have travelled by Paris and Marseille and at the same time have passed Gibraltar (as Garnett says) on the same journey. Garnett, writing with unpublished letters before him, is no doubt correct; in which case the copper watch bought in Paris on the way to Syria is simply another one of Lawrence's ex-post-facto embroideries or myths. 40
For his protection Lawrence carried a letter (irade) from the Turkish
Government ordering all local officials to give him aid, obtained for him by the head of his college, Sir John Rhys, through the good offices of Lord Curzon. This was not a Foreign Office but a personal service to Rhys, as Curzon was not at that date in the Government. But without this protective letter Lawrence would certainly have been arrested by the Turkish police long before he had carried out his plans. Possibly this precaution was suggested by D. G. Hogarth, who also advised his consulting Doughty and a relative of Hogarth's, H. PirieGordon, who had visited some of the Crusader castles in 1908, who lent Lawrence an annotated map of Syria he had used himself, and gave him photographs of castles taken on his journey. 41 He cannot then be accused of failing to collect expert information before starting or of throwing himself recklessly into an unplanned adventure.
Most of Lawrence's long walk that summer can be easily traced on the map from the information in his letters, except that the fact that one letter is missing leaves an uncertainty as to how he went from Haifa to Tripoli on his way north. Of course, he did not do as much as he allowed people to say. He visited 36 castles 42 and if in print he was credited with "visiting, and photographing in detail, some fifty," why, so much the better for the legend. 43 He had to traverse very mountainous country, and found Syria most difficult going, Esdraelon and the plain around Baalbek being the only flat places in the whole country. 44