Lost TE Lawrence chapter reveals ‘bitter’ feelings about Arab revolt
A rare edition of TE Lawrence’s “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” has revealed how he was “continually and bitterly ashamed” by the outcome of the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire.
The book, featuring an introductory chapter that was removed from later editions, has gone up for sale at rare book dealers Peter Harrington in London, priced at £65,000 ($75,487).
It was one of a limited run of 100 copies produced to gauge interest in Lawrence’s story in 1924, one of which was sent to the playwright George Bernard Shaw, who advised Lawrence to remove the opening chapter when it entered mass production.
In the chapter, Lawrence wrote that the revolt, which he helped orchestrate alongside Faisal I bin Al-Hussein bin Ali Al-Hashemi, was “an Arab war waged and led by Arabs for an Arab aim in Arabia.”
He added that he believed it would lead to “a new nation, to restore a lost influence” and build “an inspired dream palace of their national thoughts.”
However, the idea of a united Arab state was dashed by Britain and France at the end of the First World War, with Lawrence voicing his displeasure in the chapter at his role in deceiving his comrades.
“The Cabinet raised the Arabs to fight for us by definite promises of self-government afterwards. Arabs believe in persons, not in institutions. They saw in me a free agent of the British government, and demanded from me an endorsement of its written promises. So I had to join the conspiracy, and, for what my word was worth, assured the men of their reward,” he wrote.
“In our two years’ partnership under fire they grew accustomed to believing me and to think my government, like myself, sincere. In this hope they performed some fine things but, of course, instead of being proud of what we did together, I was continually and bitterly ashamed.”
Glenn Mitchell, senior specialist at Peter Harrington, told The Observer: “This ‘suppressed’ first chapter … is an outward statement that it was Lawrence’s intention — his vision, if you like — that the Arab revolt was a war fought by Arabs for Arabs, and, ultimately, Arab independence from both Ottoman Turkey and the great powers. George Bernard Shaw thought that he shouldn’t open his book with such a statement; that it was, perhaps, too frank.
“He is not going to explicitly say ‘I betrayed the Arabs,’ but it is clearly implicit here. In the preface to the trade edition of ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom,’ he gave his reason for omitting it: ‘My best critic (Shaw) told me it was much inferior to the rest’,” Mitchell added.
“The ‘suppressed’ first chapter encapsulates Lawrence’s ambiguity about the whole project of telling his story of the Arab revolt. He believed that it was a story that must be told but that he couldn’t tell, despite his intimate involvement.”