Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Hounded to death: the last years of T. E. Shaw. 6. The introverted and intuitive Peter Pan

T. E. Lawrence at about seven
“He resented his body’s permanent immaturity. He did not, I think, realize that his personality also would not quite grow up. His hatred for his body was a boy’s hatred; his fear of women was a boy’s fear; his terror of being noticed was a boy’s terror. He liked pranks and stories as a boy does.
"His perception and reactions were those of a boy. His powers of intuition had, I suppose, been exercised and increased by by much listening to conversations in languages he understood only imperfectly. His awareness amounted at times to clairvoyance. ...
"I asked how he happened to do what he did in Arabia. He said 'I meant to do it from the beginning'. 'How could you? you were neither soldier nor man of action.' He said, 'True. But I felt it as something already done and therefore unavoidable. I felt on sure ground'. ...
"His reactions were essentially those of a sensitive child immediate, intuitive, emotional; that is why he was comfortable only with people of simplicity, and that is why it was such a bitter shock to him to discover the world's wickedness and selfishness when the tides drew him forth."
Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Heyward Isham, C.B.E. 1890-1955. T. E. Lawrence by his Friends, Ed. A. W. Lawrence, Jonathan Cape, London, 1937, pp. 296-7. 
Isham's account of  Lawrence's personality is certainly one of the most perceptive in "Friends".  and it reveals him, clearly, as an INFJ at that time. When Isham first met Lawrence in 1919 he thought that Lawrence was much younger and was shocked when he noticed the insignia of Lieutenant Colonel on his uniform. He took an immediate shine to Lawrence, partly due to a shared interest in books, and offered him much help and support many years later. It was during a conversation between Isham and Bruce Rogers about a new translation of The Odyssey, when, according to  a letter sent by Isham to T. E. Shaw in India in December of 1927. "we decided that we could think of no one by whom we would rather have the translation done than your good self ."

Shaw's responses reveal the gratitude he felt for his many kindnesses, even though Shaw was never a willing recipient of such. Always willing to help others, Shaw found it difficult to accept any help, himself. The following snippets from his letters to Isham reveal both:
"Dear Isham, Your letter is, I think, about the kindest thing I've ever had. I cannot imagine how you get through life, if it's your principle to lend a hand to every breakdown you see on the road. Meanwhile, please believe that there's one very grateful one, here. ... I cannot take your offer of a job, of course. It would not do to work for any friendly person, in the first place. ... Again I'd like to repeat my thanks. Yours ever T E Shaw" (22/11/27)
"Forgive the office typewriter, and my botching of its keys. It's in case I need a copy of what I say to answer your letter about Homer's Odyssey . It has knocked me out temporarily. Why should you be so much better to me be than I am to myself? The money suggested is wonderful, but that only shows how well they expect it to be done: and I have no trust whatever in my writing. ... My strongest advice to you is to get someone better, to do you a more certain performance: I am nothing like good enough for so great a work of art as the Odyssey . Nor, incidentally, to be printed by B.R. Your kindness remains overwhelming. Do realise that I have no confidence in myself, and what I'd like is some little job, unquestioningly within my strength and my leisure hours in the R.A.F. Yours ever T E Shaw" (2/1/28)
Of course, he eventually agreed to do the translation, even though making several stipulations which he hoped would dissuade them, still. Highly significant to the importance to him of his new identity these included:
 "I will ask you to promise each other not to associate, in public or private, any of my names (Shaw is real, Ross and Lawrence were assumed ones) with the translation, during my lifetime, without my permission." (To Sir Emery Walker and Wilfred Merton, copied to Bruce Rogers and Isham, 10/10/28
You can see, from the photograph above, that Lawrence looked much younger than his years even as a boy. It was this realization that drove him toward the role of hero even as young child: He was an Iacchus who needed to become a Hercules. Tomorrow, I will start to give my own theory about Shaw's psychology and discuss some that have already been offered. This might well take several posts. It will cover the period from his childhood to his new identity which was best realized in India.

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