I had read an announcement that Colonel T.E. Lawrence had written a book on the Arabian campaign, called The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Only a very limited number of copies were to be printed. They would be sold by private subscription. The price was 30 guineas. I sent in my subscription at once. But at the end of six months it was returned with a statement that it had been received too late. I wrote back that the subscription list must in that case have been filled within twentyfour hours as I had mailed my check the day the announcement was made.
Lawrence himself replied. He said it was too bad, but only a few copies had been printed, and these with the idea that some of his more affluent friends might be glad to have them; and he had no intention of publishing it in a wider way.
"I don't think much of it, myself, as a bit of writing," he wrote, "I find writing very uncongenial: and work done so much against the grain doesn't feel happy. So I suggest that you won't miss much."
But I was not to be put off. I sent him back my check, insisting that I was entitled to a copy of the book. I remembered having read somewhere that he had tried his hand at sculpture. A few photographs of some of my own sculptural attempts lay before me on the desk at the moment of writing him: the portrait bust of an Arab dwarf, and some studies done in Morocco. It occurred to me these might interest him. To avoid confusion I marked on each what it was intended to represent, mentioning that the work was mine, and enclosed then.
"I like your sculpture," he wrote me back,--"and so I must try and get you a copy of my book. Not that it's really a kindness, for the book is no good: but it's the best I can do. My efforts at sculpture, years ago, before the war, were failures also. It's a bore, when you want very much to do something, to find yourself falling down all the time in the technique of expression. You seem to be fortunate in the direct—sculpture—and in the indirect—the films...."
I eventually got the book—two copies of it, by mistake. One of them I returned to Lawrence's trustee, Professor Hogarth at Oxford....
Lawrence's next letter came from Karachi, India:
"I am glad you like 'The Seven Pillars'. It is very difficult to write books, and still more difficult to write the sort of books you mean to write. So all I say of it is that I'm glad it is over....I'm in the R.A.F. because I like it (with no thought of ever writing anything again, about it, or about anything else: nor have I been "up" for years) and because it gives me the necessary bread and butter in the easiest way anybody can earn bread and butter. Yet there are inflictions. I get moved to a new camp every two years or so. I'm forced to be in possession of certain things, and not allowed to possess others. So I can't keep books in the hut, other than the few I can hide in my kit-box....I'm likely to be in the R.A.F. for another six or seven years, if my health keeps fit; and after that will be faced with the job of supporting myself somehow....Karachi is not amusing as a place of exile....India makes me homesick, for it is a shoddy-feeling place. The people seem ashamed of us, and I feel ashamed of myself before them. The Arabs appealed to me because they had complete self-respect, and no sense of being inferior to the English. That pleases me, for I'm Irish, too, more or less...."
In one lettter I asked Lawrence if he had ever thought of having a film made based on certain episodes in The Seven Pillars. He wrote: "I do not envy you your film job. It must be a very difficult art, an expression of yourself (and of the author) at two removes. Indeed I wonder that it is even so good as it seems to be. They babble sometimes to me of making a film of 'Revolt in the Desert’. I have no property in it, so I hope they will not. Hollywood offered $5000 or something, which the trustees turned down. Long may they go on turning it down. I'd hate to see nyself parodied on the pitiful basis of my record of what the fellows with me did."
The last sentence seems to be a reply to some army officers I ran across in Suez, who had seen most of their service in the Near East. They said Lawrence was a publicity-hound.
"If he wasn't, why was he always having himself photographed in an Arab khaftan and a kufiah?" said someone.
"The answer to that may be that most of the photographs were made by Lowell Thomas," I said. “And when Lowell goes after photographs or anything else, he has a habit of getting what he's after."