Thursday, 5 February 2009

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom
The title comes from the Book of Proverbs, 9:1: "Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars" (KJV). Prior to the First World War, Lawrence had begun work on a scholarly book about seven great cities of the Middle East,[1] to be titled Seven Pillars of Wisdom. When war broke out it was still incomplete and Lawrence stated that he ultimately destroyed the manuscript.
Later, during the Arab Revolt of 1917–18, Lawrence based his operations in Wadi Rum (now a part of Jordan), and one of the more impressive rock formations in the area was named by Lawrence "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom". In the end, Lawrence decided to use this evocative title for the memoirs he penned in the aftermath of the war.
While the title might seem better suited to the former book than the latter, a line from the dedicatory poem at the start of the book helps explain Lawrence's interpretation of the Biblical "seven pillars" and their relevance to the Arab Revolt:
I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my hands
and wrote my will across the sky in stars
To gain you Freedom, the seven-pillared worthy house,
that your eyes might be shining for me
When I came.
A variant last line of that stanza – reading "When we came" – appears in some editions; however, the 1922 Oxford text (considered the definitive version; see below) has "When I came". The poem originated as prose, submitted by letter to Robert Graves, who edited the work heavily into its current form, rewriting an entire stanza and correcting the others.

Manuscripts and editions
Some Englishmen, of whom Kitchener was chief, believed that a rebellion of Arabs against Turks would enable England, while fighting Germany, simultaneously to defeat Turkey.
Their knowledge of the nature and power and country of the Arabic-speaking peoples made them think that the issue of such a rebellion would be happy: and indicated its character and method.
So they allowed it to begin...
– Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Introduction
Lawrence kept extensive notes throughout the course of his involvement in the Revolt. He began work on a clean narrative in the first half of 1919 while in Paris for the peace conference and, later that summer, while back in Egypt. By December 1919 he had a fair draft of most of the ten books that make up the Seven Pillars of Wisdom but, in an act of monumental absent-mindedness and misfortune, lost it (except for the introduction and final two books) when he misplaced his briefcase while changing trains at Reading railway station.[2] National newspapers alerted the public to the loss of the "hero's manuscript", but to no avail: the draft remained lost. Lawrence refers to this version as "Text I" and says that had it been published, it would have been some 250,000 words in length.

Maybe we just found it !!

In early 1920, Lawrence set about the daunting task of rewriting as much as he could remember of the first version. Working from memory alone (he had destroyed his wartime notes upon completion of the corresponding parts of Text I), he was able to complete this "Text II", 400,000 words long, in three months. Lawrence described this version as "hopelessly bad" in literary terms, but historically it was "substantially complete and accurate".
With Text II in front of him, Lawrence began working on a polished version ("Text III") in London, Jeddah, and Amman during 1921. Upon completion of its 335,000 words in February 1922, Lawrence burned Text II. He then proceeded to have eight copies typeset and printed on the presses of the Oxford Times, and this private edition became known as the "1922 Edition" or the "Oxford Text" of Seven Pillars. He made painstaking hand-written corrections to six of these copies and had them bound. (In 2001, the last time one of these rough printings came on to the market, it fetched almost USD $1 million at auction.) This time, instead of burning the manuscript, Lawrence presented it to the Bodleian Library.
By mid-1922, Lawrence was in a state of severe mental turmoil: the psychological after-effects of war were taking their toll, as were his exhaustion from the literary endeavours of the past three years, his disillusionment with the settlement given to his Arab comrades-in-arms, and the burdens of being in the public eye as a perceived "national hero". It was at this time that he re-enlisted in the armed forces under an assumed name (first the Royal Air Force, then the Royal Tank Corps), in an attempt to "lie fallow" and develop a new identity. Concerned over his mental state and eager for his story to be read by a wider public, his friends persuaded him to produce an abridged version of Seven Pillars, to serve as both intellectual stimulation and a source of much-needed income. In his off-duty evenings, "Aircraftman Ross" – or, later, "Private Shaw" – set to trimming the 1922 text down to 250,000 words for what would be a very limited, exceedingly lavish subscribers' edition.
The Subscribers' Edition – in a print run of fewer than 200 copies, of which only 100 were for public sale, each with a unique, sumptuous, hand-crafted binding – was published in late 1926. Copies occasionally become available in the antiquarian trade and can easily command prices of up to USD $100,000. Unfortunately, each copy cost Lawrence three times the thirty guineas the subscribers had paid.[3] Intellectual stimulation it may have provided, but the cure for his financial woes it was not.
The Subscribers' Edition was 25% shorter than the Oxford Text, but Lawrence did not abridge uniformly. The deletions from the early books are much less drastic than those of the later ones: for example, Book I lost 17% of its words and Book IV lost 21%, compared to 50% and 32% for Books VIII and IX. Critics differed in their opinions of the two editions: Robert Graves and George Bernard Shaw preferred the 1922 text (although, from a legal standpoint, they appreciated the removal of certain passages that could have been considered libellous, or at least indiscreet), while E. M. Forster preferred the 1926 version.
Literary merits aside, however, producing the Subscribers' Edition had left Lawrence facing bankruptcy. He was forced to undertake an even more stringent pruning to produce a version for sale to the general public: this was the 1927 Revolt in the Desert, a work of some 130,000 words: "an abridgement of an abridgement," remarked George Bernard Shaw, not without disdain.
The public would have had to remain satisfied with Revolt in the Desert, however, were it not for Lawrence's death in a May 1935 motorcycle accident at the age of 46. "No further issue of the Seven Pillars will be made in my lifetime," Lawrence had said upon release of the Subscribers' Edition in 1926. Within weeks of his death, the 1926 abridgement was published for general circulation.
The unabridged Oxford Text of 1922 was not made publicly available until its UK copyright expired in 1997.

. Wilson, Jeremy (hardcover). Lawrence of Arabia: The Authorised Biography of T.E. Lawrence. London: William Heinemann. pp. 1188. ISBN 978-0434872350.
. Graves, Robert (hardcover). Lawrence and the Arabs. London: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 978-0786107810.
. "T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: Publishing History". T. E. Lawrence Studies. Jeremy Wilson (undated). Retrieved on 2008-07-17.
. "Seven Pillars of Wisdom – Triumph and Tragedy". T. E. Lawrence Studies. Jeremy Wilson (2004, 2006). Retrieved on 2008-07-17.
. ^ The seven cities were Cairo, Smyrna, Constantinople, Beyrout, Aleppo, Damascus and Medina. Robert Graves, Lawrence and the Arabs, op.cit.
. ^ Robert Graves (op. cit) refers to this incident not as a misplacement but as a theft: "[Lawrence] has never imagined a political motive for the theft, but his friends have. They even whisper darkly that one day the lost text may reappear in certain official archives." Jeremy Wilson, author of Lawrence's authorised biography, also describes it as having been stolen.[1]
. ^ "He was so keen to do things well that he actually spent £13,000 on the edition – the reproduction of the pictures alone cost him more than the subscriptions – leaving him £10,000 out of pocket." Graves, op. cit.

Editions in print
. ISBN 0-9546418-0-9 Seven Pillars of Wisdom, 1922 unabridged Oxford text.
. ISBN 0-385-41895-7 Seven Pillars of Wisdom, 1926 Subscribers' Edition text.
ISBN 1-56619-275-7 Revolt in the Desert, 1927 abridgement.

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