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Pillars of Wisdom

A recent visit to Cloud Hill, the tiny dilapidated cottage that T E Lawrence first rented, and then purchased, as a writing retreat (and where he received visitors such as Thomas Hardy, Bernard and Charlotte Shaw and E M Forster), I am developing a fascination with the man. So far this fascination has resulted in a revisiting of Lawrence of Arabia and adding The Seven Pillars of Wisdom to my birthday list.  Unfortunately, it has not steered me beyond Chapter Three of what can only be described as a ‘difficult read’, but some of the book’s richest gems lie at the very beginning. (Oh yes, we have a maps, the author’s preface, a list of plates, a preface by A W Lawrence, an introductory chapter and a postscript, all before we even reach Chapter One.) I particularly like the list of queries raised by the London printers, which hint at Lawrence’s humour:

Q. I attach a list of queries raised by F who is reading the proofs. He finds them very clean, but full of inconsistencies in the spelling of proper names, a point which reviewers often take up. Will you annotate in the margin so that I can get the proofs straightened?

A. Annotated: not very helpfully, perhaps. Arabic names won’t go into English, exactly, for their consonants are not the same as ours, and their vowels, like ours, vary from district to district. There are some ‘scientific systems’ of translation, helpful to people who know enough Arabic not to need helping, but a wash-out for the world. I spell my names anyhow, to show what rot the systems are.

Q: Slip 1. Jeddah and Jidda used impartially throughout. Intentional?

A: Rather!

Q: Slip 16. Bir Waheida, was bir Wahaidi.

A: Why not? All one place.

Q: Slip 20. Nuri, Emir of the Ruwalla, belongs to the chief family of Rualla. On Slip 23 ‘Rualla horse’ and Slip 38, ‘killed one Rueli.’ In later Slips ‘Rualla.’

A: Should also have used Ruwala and Ruala.

Q: Slip 28. The Bisaita is also spelt Biseita.

A: Good.

Q: Slip 47. Jedha, the she-camel, was Jedhah on Slip 40.

A: She was a splendid beast.

Q: Slip 53. ‘Meleager, the immoral poet.’ I have put ‘immortal’ poet, but the author may mean immoral after all.

A: Immorality I know. Immortality, I cannot judge. As you please: Meleager will not sue us for libel.

Q: Slip 78. Sherif Abd el Mayin of Slip  68 becomes el Main, el Mayein, el Muein, el Mayin, and el Muyein.

A: Good egg. I call this really ingenious.

It seems rather a shame not to share this with you – Peter O’Toole’s entrance to the Late Show on a beer-swigging camel, followed by his stories of the filming of Lawrence of Arabia with Omar Sharif:

Cloud Hill is managed by the National Trust.

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom was published by Jonathan Cape, London, 1935.