August 19, 1922

T.E. Lawrence on Palestine: No One There Trusts the British For Two Minutes

Autograph Letter Signed
1 page
SMC 110
“All of us rallied round General Clayton, the chief of Intelligence, civil and military, in Egypt. Clayton made the perfect leader for such a band of wild men as we were. He was calm, detached, clear-sighted, of unconscious courage in assuming responsibility. He gave an open run to his subordinates. His own views were general, like his knowledge; and he worked by influence rather than by loud direction. It was not easy to descry his influence. He was like water, or permeating oil, creeping silently and insistently through everything. It was not possible to say where Clayton was and was not, and how much really belonged to him. He never visibly led; but his ideas were abreast of those who did: he impressed men by his sobriety, and by a certain quiet and stately moderation of hope. In practical matters he was loose, irregular, untidy, a man with whom independent men could bear.”

-Chapter Six, Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Clayton, who would soon be named Civil Secretary of the Palestine Government in succession of Sir Wyndham Deedes, may have given Lawrence early notice of the appointment, or mentioned that he was involved in discussing Transjordanian affairs on behalf of the Colonial Office with Emir Abdullah, for Lawrence writes,

"Yes I am glad you are going to Palestine. If any person of any race or creed anywhere in that country trusted one single person in the Government for two minutes, things there would be more stable. You'll do more than that!"

Clayton, who did not particularly favor the Balfour Declaration but was, within a limited definition, pro-Zionist, had long played a major political, administrative and intelligence role in the Mid-East. It was as chief of the Arab Bureau of the Cairo Intelligence Department that he “ran," as much as anyone could, and it was in commemoration of that association that Clayton would appear throughout Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

On the 8th of August, 1922, Lawrence told Clayton that he’d written a book “about that dog-fight of ours in Arabia” and that he wanted a drawing of him for one of the illustrations. To this end, he suggested that Clayton sit for William Nicholson in September. This letter, seemingly, is Lawrence’s unpublished reply to Clayton’s consent, remarking as it does on Clayton’s return to Palestine and once again, discussing his struggle with Seven Pillars of Wisdom - “a pile of loose sheets as yet… unfit to publish, for personal as well as literary reasons.” Although Lawrence explains that he has “roughly printed, on a newspaper press” five copies, he advises Clayton not to read the present edition “because there's some rather rough stuff in it” – most likely the horrific and to Lawrence, immensely troubling, account of his torture and rape by the Turks.

Of particular note is Lawrence’s off-the-cuff comment that he could not “come down” to visit Clayton because “I'm trying another job which takes all my time. Perhaps it may chuck me out shortly, & then I'd be delighted.” That job was in fact to begin just two days later: Lawrence of Arabia, for reasons known only to him, would enlist on August 21st, as John Hume Ross, an ordinary airman in the Royal Air Force.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom was not publicly available until 1927, and then in a severely amended text, as Revolt in the Desert. Lawrence did print eight copies (and not the five he mentions here) in February 1922, however. Running to 335,000 words, it is known as the “1922 edition” or the “Oxford Text.” By 1926, he’d trimmed it down to 250,000 words, for what would be a very limited, exceedingly lavish “Subscribers' Edition" with a print-run of less than 200 copies, each with a unique, sumptuous, hand-crafted binding – and 118 illustrations of the principal actors by eighteen different artists.
Autograph Letter Signed, 1 page, octavo, no place [London], 19 August 1922; to General Sir Gilbert Clayton
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