Monday, 13 June 2016

Hounded to death: the last years of T. E. Shaw. 4. The Mint

A 1919 pencil sketch by Augustus John that Shaw
had intended to use as the frontispiece for his first
limited edition of The Mint.


We have to ask ourselves why T. E. Shaw would have wanted to use the portrait illustrated here. The Mint started out as a series of notes about his service in the R. A. F. in England from August until December of 1922. He had enlisted as "John Hume Ross". His previous job (as T. E. Lawrence) is described by J. M. Wilson in his preface to the Penguin edition of The Mint as "...at the Colonial Office as adviser to Winston Churchill on Middle Eastern affairs." He had planned to leave that post as he wanted to put his former identity as "Lawrence of Arabia" far behind him. He could have used the pencil portrait by William Rothenstein (1920) which did not show in Arab  garb, or he could have commissioned another.


The bookplate on the left had been pasted in my first edition of T. E. Lawrence by his Friends, Ed. A. W. Lawrence, Jonathan Cape, London, 1937. It bears a T.E.L. monogram; the Latin motto of the R. A. F. and a desert scene with camels (I placed the coloured square on the graphic to prevent forgery). The only T. E. Lawrence bookplates apparently known are posthumous, made for his estate and are on books from his Clouds Hill library. In a letter to Edward Garnett of October 5th, 1933 Shaw is discussing someone else's bookplate and says "I'm not able to put any mark in my books - unless, sometimes, T.E.S. in pencil on the fly-leaf...". The incongruity in design of the bookplate puzzled me: the normal format for a monogram contrasted with the T.E.L. used by his fans to this very day but the R. A. F. motto is odd for a fan fantasy bookplate. I contacted Nicole Wilson about it and she thought it was curious and that they (her and J. W. Wilson) had never came across any statement in his letters about him thinking of having one printed.  She also said "One can only think that this plate was the work of some artistic person who wished to represent Lawrence's life in that way. We haven't seen it anywhere else".  I had about the same thoughts, thinking, too, that it was an odd design to use.  I did expect, though, that it would be a well-known "fantasy" piece, so I was surprised to hear that they had not encountered it before, even though I could find no record of it through Google. If anyone would have known about it would have been them. Now, I am thinking that the iconography of the bookplate is no more strange than the iconography in Shaw's choice of a frontispiece for The Mint.

I can add nothing substantial to the description of this book and its history to what is covered already by J. M. Wilson in the link I gave for the book and in the Wikipedia entry for it, but I can say that I think the iconography of both suggests the meaning of transition. That Lawrence had twice changed his name and had become an enlisted man in the military is more than just trying to lose the "Lawrence of Arabia" identity. He could have become anything at all and still have done that. The first part of his process was to obliterate the old and that is explained in the use of the word "mint".

We will start to look at the second part tomorrow. It becomes especially clear with the absence of unpleasant distractions which his service in India gave him.


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