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Lawrence – Warrior and Scholar
More than one hundred books have been written about T.E. Lawrence, exploring the man and his deeds. Just about every aspect and the many incarnations of his life, his campaigns, the geo-politics of the Arab world, and the influence of the West in it, as Lawrence experienced them, have been examined.
However, to date, nobody has gone in search of the mind of the man himself – of his formation and his deep beliefs. Nobody has asked the question, What, really, is the source of the extraordinary power of this little man? – not only in terms of his incontestable qualities of leadership, but also in regard to the sheer range of his activities and accomplishments.
Archaeologist, writer, guerilla warfare theorist and practitioner, diplomat, soldier and airman, Lawrence also possessed an unusual ability to cross boundaries of class, race, culture, and religion. On top of this, he demonstrated the ability to walk away from power and wealth and the accumulation of things – to change his name more than once; to begin again at the bottom of the heap in the RAF, and stay there, with only a few friends and books and a motorcycle.
Lawrence – Warrior and Scholar is a quest. It examines how a slight Oxford academic combined two of the most challenging paths a man can choose. What drove and motivated this man? How was it that he could apparently out-shoot, out-ride, and out-starve the Bedouin? How is it that the US military, and others, are still studying his famous account of the Arab Revolt and his ‘27 Articles’?
Drawing upon what Lawrence and those who knew him wrote, and did, and said, Bruce Leigh delves into Lawrence’s personal philosophy and practices, examining and analysing his library, and his close relationship to the world of classical scholarship and chivalry, emphasising that Lawrence’s views were not abstractions only, but intimately tied to his actions and deeds.
Ultimately, the book argues that there is a message in Lawrence’s writings and activities – one that is against the grain of the world of self-definition by consumption. As one of his friends wrote: ‘The Man was great, the message is greater.’
Bruce Leigh has spent many years studying the literature and historiography of T.E. Lawrence, and reflecting upon the ‘enigma’ of the man and his extraordinary life and activities. He lives in Brighton with his wife, and spends his time reading philosophy, studying Classical Greek and Buddhism, and teaching the violin. This is his first book.
A Five-minute Interview with Bruce Leigh, author of Lawrence: Warrior and Scholar
Bruce Leigh has spent many years reading the works of T.E.Lawrence and reading about him. He lives on the south coast of England from where he teaches violin, and spends his spare time reading and writing. To ‘tackle’ Lawrence – let alone produce a book that offers a unique perspective on such a profusely ‘covered’ subject – is not an easy task. But it seems that the more that is written about Lawrence, the more enigmatic and fascinating he becomes. We spoke to Bruce about his book and what made him write it.
The Tattered Flag: Bruce – thanks. I appreciate your time for the interview. Perhaps we can start by asking you how you first came to be interested in Lawrence.
Bruce Leigh: Well, I was given a book, The Essential T.E.Lawrence, edited by David Garnett, when I was 14. What caught my attention, as a keen teenage cyclist, was the story of Lawrence riding his bike up hills, and pushing it down! Then there was the stuff about him emerging from the river at night, in winter, startling the police. If you open the Essential Lawrence, the first thing you read is Sheikh Hamoudi exclaiming his grief when told of Lawrence’s death and saying, ‘Tell them in England what I say. Of manhood the man, in freedom free, a mind without equal; I can see no flaw in him.’ Sheikh Hamoudi knew Lawrence from his early days at the archaeological dig in Carchemish. You can check all this in Michael Korda’s recent biography of Lawrence, amongst other places.
TF: A big question: Why Lawrence? What made you decide to write the book?
BL: I was driving past Stonehenge about twenty years ago, and I thought Lawrence must have hammered along this road on his Brough motorbike. And for the first time I wondered what was Lawrence’s own philosophy of life – what was the source of his powers? I knew that he would probably have been speeding and would not have eaten properly – no crash helmet either! So I began thinking about his beliefs, and the way he lived. Not just the desert and camels, and the First World War, but all the things he did afterwards. So the book is the record of my search for Lawrence’s powers.
TF: Did the book follow the course you had planned? Did you discover more about Lawrence as you wrote? Has the process of writing the book made you re-evaluate Lawrence in any way?
BL: No, the thing did not follow a planned course, other than to stick to what those who knew him said, rather than the later commentators… as much as possible. By the way, the best source for that is T.E.Lawrence by His Friends. Unfortunately, it’s out of print, but well worth a read. An amazing range of people from Wing Commanders to Tank Corps thugs, and even one or two women! Yes, I discovered lots. For example, his humour and extraordinary generosity to people. That has only emerged subsequently; he gave money away – quietly. Also, how hard he worked – at writing, marine engines, Classical Greek. He was also a brilliant letter writer. The process of writing inevitably makes you re-evaluate. I learnt a lot from the many books I read to try to understand him. I would never have studied medieval chivalry otherwise! Luckily, I knew a little ancient Greek, and that helped. Lawrence was a devotee of classical Greek – after all he did a translation of the Odyssey while he was working at Mountbatten on boats. I remember starting the book in long-hand, on a cheap notepad, on the kitchen table in Kilburn, and saying to myself. ‘What am I trying to say?’ Then I re-wrote it as I put it on the computer.
TF: If you met Lawrence today, what would you ask him?
BL: Do you see a way out of the blood-letting in the Middle East?
TF: What can we learn from Lawrence in the 21st century? Does he still have a relevance?
BL: Something quite radical and strange. How to break free from our slavery to things, and our habits, and our routines. How to search for what is really worth doing. How to do something very old-fashioned: how to be free. I think Lawrence, when it came to the choice, ‘freedom or comfort,’ always passed on the comfort. He did not stay in the comfort zone. He is awkward and unsettling for these reasons. I think it’s quite helpful to have heroes… and I don’t mean celebrities. Of course, like all ‘heroes’ he was human and had his flaws. It seems that one of the prices he paid for all this was a feeling of loneliness. Perhaps all strong individuals feel that? I suppose the relevance is his rarity – outside the usual loop of work/consume/reproduce.
TF: Very many thanks, Bruce.
BL: A pleasure.