We leave this bright and frosty morning in Wales to travel back in time to the Middle East during the period of WWI. The Seven Pillars of Wisdom has one of the most poetic starts for a book which is essentially about the military and diplomatic shenanigans of that time and place.
Some of the evil of my tale may have been inherent in our circumstances. For years we lived anyhow with one another in the naked desert, under the indifferent heaven. By day the hot sun fermented us; and we were dizzied by the beating wind. At night we were stained by dew, and shamed into pettiness by the innumerable silence of stars. We were a self-centred army without parade or gesture, devoted to freedom, the second of man’s creeds, a purpose so ravenous that is devoured all our strength, a hope so transcendent that our earlier ambitions faded in its glare. As time went by our need to fight for the ideal increased to an unquestioning possession, riding with spur and rein over our doubts. Willy-nilly it became a faith.
This book is still read by those who go to fight in the Middle-East. Lawrence’s knowledge as a linguist and an archaeologist of the area gave him insights into the complications of religion and ethnicity of the Middle East that almost no other Englishman had. It is an epic read and I’ve only done some chunks of it. The language though is beautiful, the settings real and all the characters come alive as you journey with Lawrence.
He famously lost the manuscript on a train in 1919 and had to write the whole thing again from memory. It was published as a limited private edition in 1926 and a trade edition in 1935.
I am eating boiled eggs in my camel eggcup with toast soldiers and hot strong coffee as they drink it in the desert.