Rare T E Lawrence book gifted to Scots author on sale

A VERY rare signed first edition of a legendary book by Lawrence of Arabia, given by the great man to one of Scotland’s most prolific writers and poets, has surfaced at a London book fair.

Picture:  Ian Georgeson
Picture: Ian Georgeson

The copy of T E Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom belonged to the late Naomi Mitchison and has her name written on a preliminary page by the author himself, after she wrote him a letter requesting a copy of the book.

She wrote an article in 1955, explaining how she obtained the copy, and dubbed Lawrence a “terrific tease”.

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The article was entitled “Lawrence the Imp: Teasing on a large scale - and quiet intensity” and was published in the Manchester Guardian.

In reference to Lawrence, her article says: “I got to know him through the Seven Pillars.”

The pair had a mutual friend, Eric Kennington, who showed Mitchison the first chapter of the book.

After enjoying it, Kennington recommended that she should write to Lawrence for her own copy

She received a reply asking her why she wanted it and she said: “I wrote back that I thought he wrote like Xenophon.

“Of course he didn’t, he wrote far and away better.”

However, Lawrence was pleased with this and sent her the copy.

Mitchison died in 1999 at the age of 101, and by that time she had wrote over 90 books covering a range of genres herself.

Two of her best known pieces of work are ‘The Corn King and the Spring Queen’ (1931), which was regarded by some as the best historical novel of the 20th century, and ‘We Have Been Warned’ (1935) which has been dubbed her most controversial piece of work.

Only 170 complete copies of the Seven Pillars were published in the edition that Mitchison received from Lawrence, each signed and initialed TES.

The book is being sold at the London International Antiquarian Book Fair from the 28-30 of this month by Ken Spelman Booksellers.

Tony Fothergill, of Ken Spelman Booksellers said today: “A book that is so well known as this has universal appeal, and copies will be in major collections worldwide, including of course the Middle East.

“It will most probably be purchased by, or for a discerning private collector, for their private library.

“It is unusual to have a copy which has a published account of its original acquisition from Lawrence, by a close friend, which certainly brings the book ‘to life’.

“The discovery of this account by Naomi Mitchison was not known to the family, and proves a link between her and Lawrence which they had hitherto thought of as only anecdotal.

“The book although seemingly expensive is not the most expensive copy to appear.

“In 2012 E.M. Forster’s ‘incomplete’ copy, given to him by Lawrence, made POUNDS 80,000 at auction, and in 2001 Lawrence’s own ‘master copy’ realised $850,000 at Christie’s in New York.”

Lawrence became famous for his liaison role during the Arab Revolt against Ottoman-Turkish rule in the latter part of World War I.

He was portrayed by Peter O’Toole, in the 1962 film about his life, now regarded as one of the greatest films of all time.

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom is Lawrence’s own account of the Arab Revolt.

Thomas Edward Lawrence, the illegitimate son of an Anglo-Irish baronet, was educated at Oxford High School and developed a strong interest in archaeology and military history.

In 1911, aged 23, he was recruited by David Hogarth, then of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, to join an archaeological expedition at Carchemish.

On the outbreak of the First World War he was recruited by army intelligence in North Africa and worked as a junior officer in Egypt.

In October 1916 he was sent to meet important Arab leaders and after negotiations it was agreed to help Lawrence to lead an Arab revolt against the Turkish, who were on the enemy side in the First World War.

Lawrence of Arabia, as he became known, carried out raids on the Damascus-Medina Railway.

His men also captured the port of Aqaba in July 1917.

Sympathetic to Arab nationalism, he helped established local government in captured towns such as Dera.

He died in 1935, after a serious motorcycle accident near his home in Dorset.

The tragedy appalled the neurosurgeon who treated him, Hugh Cairns, who began a long study of motorcycle head injuries that led to the development of the crash helmet.