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Deserts, oil, travelers, spies and then there was Lawrence better known as T.E. Lawrence (1888-1935) or Lawrence of Arabia. He was also considered a liberator, mythical figure and the subject of many stories and a 1962 film. British author and poet Robert Graves (1895-1985), no stranger to controversy himself, was considered one of England’s great Twentieth Century poets and writer of the first real commercial biography of T.E. Lawrence in 1927 (title page shown below) that had a photo of a bust of Lawrence by the sculptor Eric Kennington.
Lawrence had written an autobiography published in England in 1922 as Seven Pillars of Wisdom in a very limited edition. A subscriber’s edition followed in 1926 amidst controversy over which edition is considered best by the experts (PDF files and e-books are available on the web). The seven pillars of wisdom title phrase is borrowed from the biblical book of Proverbs.
The first American edition of that autobiography published in 1935 uses a photo of the same bust as their frontispiece (second photo below). T.E. Lawrence died in 1935. I am not sure if the American edition was published posthumously, but I assume that was the case.
It is the publishing announcement of a new edition of the famous book Arabia Deserta by Charles M. Doughty (1843-1926).
(photo Royal Geographical Society)
About that travel book Arabia Deserta, Lawrence had said “I have studied it for ten years, and have grown to consider it a book not like other books, but something particular, a bible of its kind. To turn round now and reckon its merits and demerits seems absurd. I do not think that any traveler in Arabia before or after Mr. Doughty has qualified himself to praise the book – much less to blame it.” (quoted from the publication below)
New editions of Arabia Deserta come along from time to time like the one from the Folio Society in the link above, a laudable effort and enterprise. It is but one proof that travel literature and biography can still engage us and our minds vicariously in many ways, without the sand blowing in our eyes. The motor-bicycle as such, became a symbol for many writers used on book covers and in films in the decades following the publication of Lawrence and the Arabs.
Robert Graves ends his book with an appendix in the form of a letter written by T.E. Lawrence to the London Times dated July 22nd, 1920 in which he writes ” Of course there is oil in Mesopotamia, but we are no nearer that while the Middle east remains at war, and I think if it is so necessary for us, it could be made the subject of a bargain. The Arabs seem willing to shed their blood for freedom, how much more their oil!”
The hard reality is different, as we all know, many decades later. Did we learn our lessons and what other lessons does history have in store for us now?