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    A "Grand and Permanent Contribution" to English Literature, One of the Great Modern Rarities, and a Triumph of Book Illustration and Production: the Extremely Scarce 1926 Privately Printed Subscribers' Edition of T. E. Lawrence's Great Epic, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, One of Only 170 Complete Copies Initialed by Lawrence

    T. E. Lawrence. Seven Pillars of Wisdom. A Triumph. [London: For the Author by Manning Pike and H. J. Hodgson, 1926]. Extremely scarce privately printed edition, one of only 170 complete copies, so initialed by Lawrence at p. xix: "Complete copy i.xii.26 T. E. S." Quarto. Approximately 10 x 7.25 inches. xxii, [660] pages. Sumptuously illustrated with sixty-five splendid lithographic plates (sixty-one bound at rear), and striking frontispiece portrait of Feysal. Bound by Best (one of only two copies seen by Lawrence's bibliographer, O'Brien, so bound), in contemporary full green crushed levant morocco, covers triple-ruled in gilt, front cover lettered in gilt with gilt central Arabian motif, spine tooled, ruled, and lettered in gilt in compartments, five raised bands, gilt board edges and turn-ins, top edge gilt, others in gilt on the rough. Spine very slightly darkened, some rubbing to binding. A fine copy, beautifully bound, of one of the great modern rarities, a "grand and permanent contribution" to English literature by an unusual man, Lawrence of Arabia. With the original two quarto-page pamphlet, Some Notes on the Writing of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Shaw.

    Even though "Seven Pillars is remarkably accurate as a military history," its blending of epic heroic adventure, psychological insight, and spiritual transformation make it the literary treasure that Lawrence intended it to be, deserving Winston Churchill's praise as one of "the greatest books ever written in the English language" (Wilson 55). "We were a self-centered army," Lawrence writes, "without parade or gesture, devoted to freedom... [with] a purpose so ravenous that it devoured all our strength, a hope so transcendent that our earlier ambitions faded in its glare...Sometimes [my two] selves would converse in the void; and then madness was very near, as I believe it would be near the man who could see things through the veils at once of two customs, two educations, two environments." The writing and production of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom is itself a legendary saga, filled with lost manuscripts, numerous drafts and redrafts, publishing crises, and financial difficulty. Writing a major work of some kind was one of Lawrence's great ambitions, but he often felt ill-equipped to the task: "What is the perversity," he wrote, "which makes me, capable of many things in the world, wish only to do one thing, bookwriting: and gives me no skill at it?" It was not until the Arab Revolt and his own participation in it that he felt he had an appropriate subject. Working from notes taken during the campaign, he wrote most of the first draft of Seven Pillars in France during the spring of 1919, but in November lost almost the entire manuscript while changing trains at Reading Station (he left his valise in a taxi). The loss was a great blow, but at the urging of friends he began again to write while the old draft was still fresh in his memory. He completed this second draft in May 1920, but was greatly dissatisfied with it, and two years later abandoned it. Lawrence finally completed a third draft in 1921-22 and, concerned about losing a second complete manuscript, he arranged to print a limited number of copies for revision and to circulate them for critical commentary. This small printing, technically the first English edition and nearly unobtainable, was comprised of only eight copies. Of those eight, only six bound copies remain. As Lawrence circulated the bound copies for criticism (George Bernard Shaw and his wife were two early and influential critics, as well as Edward Garnett, an editorial adviser who worked closely with Lawrence and encouraged his work on Seven Pillars), he continued to gather illustrations for the sumptuous and finely printed subscribers' edition that he now planned. One of the great triumphs of the work is the printing of the text by the then unknown Manning Pike, an American who at the time was studying at the London School of Printing. Lawrence called the finished product "glorious work." Even greater are the book's illustrations, dominated by the vivid pastel portraits of Arabs by Eric Kennington. Lawrence found Kennington's portraits of some of the main protagonists, completed during a trip to Arabia in 1920-21, very compelling and in many ways they became the centerpiece of the new edition. To balance the Arab portraits, Lawrence commissioned portraits of twenty Europeans. Kennington also contributed numerous woodcuts, sketches and watercolors to illustrate The Seven Pillars, but it was a non-traditional illustration. The plates were designed to act as "decorational islands" between the books as appendices and not as direct illustrations to the text. Kennington read the work and often sketched what struck him, producing pieces laced, in many cases, with a humor and irony that Lawrence found refreshing: "To my mind they are as rare, surprising and refreshing as plums in cake..." Lawrence also commissioned work from well-known contemporary artists such as William Roberts, Blair Hughes-Stanton and Paul Nash, among others. Every illustration in the book, photographs, lithographs, initial letters, tailpieces, and endpapers, bears the marks of Lawrence's close supervision and taste, and reflects the individual interpretation of the artists, who worked from the author's field notes, photographs and manuscript. By 1925, the edition was close to publication. Lawrence's inventory shows a planned edition of 211 copies; in the end, there were 170 complete copies for subscribers, 32 incomplete copies "presented to men who had served with [Lawrence] in Arabia and who could not afford the complete copies," and nine "spoils." Lawrence was grateful to his subscribers, and promised that there would be no library copies, no review copies, and no republication of the complete text during Lawrence's lifetime. The author's intense involvement in the production of the subscribers' edition was also reflected in his insistence that each copy be unique. Lawrence used at least seven different binders to bind the subscribers' copies, both to speed up the process and to make sure each copy was unique. Twenty copies were bound by Bumpus, several by Sangorski and Sutcliffe, and others by Best (as this one is), de Coverly, Wood, Macleish and Harrison. (O'Brien, Lawrence's bibliographer, notes that has seen only two copies bound by Best, making the Best bound copies among the most rare). The number and arrangement of plates were also deliberate acts to make each copy unique, as well as "to hinder and perhaps intrigue the bibliophiles." This copy has all of the hallmarks of the first complete edition: page xv misnumbered viii; watercolor landscape, "False Quiet," by Kennington at base of last Index page; list of illustrations pages xix-xxii; initialed by Lawrence on p. xix, "Complete copy i.xii.26 T. E. S." and with his holograph correction in ink (using a K. to show that Kennington drew The Gadfly, rather than Roberts, as is listed). Includes four folding maps. Illustrations are present as called for, except (as usual) the two line drawings by Paul Nash, which are not present at pages 92 and 208 (in content, Nash's line drawings would have duplicated plates at pages 607 and 644). With the Prickly Pear plate, not called for in the list of illustrations (also as usual). O'Brien A040. From the James and Deborah Boyd Collection.

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    April, 2012
    11th Wednesday
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