Seven Pillars of Wisdom: a triumph by T E Lawrence

Accession Number MON01397
Collection number V 940.415 L423s
Collection type Published Collection
Record type Item
Item count 1
Measurement Overall: 25.8 cm x 21.5 cm x 8.3 cm
Object type Book
Maker Lawrence, T E
Lawrence, T E
Roger de Coverly & Sons
Place made United Kingdom: England, Greater London, London
Date made 1926
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918
Copying Provisions Copying not permitted

In 1935 the Australian War Memorial acquired a copy of the rare 1926 subscriber's edition of "Seven pillars of wisdom, a triumph" by T.E. Lawrence, popularly known as "Lawrence of Arabia". The book contains Lawrence's account of his involvement in the Arab revolt during the Great War.

Lawrence began writing Seven Pillars of Wisdom after the war, consciously intending to create a great literary work out of his memoirs. The title, "Seven pillars of wisdom", comes from the Bible's Book of Proverbs 9:1 "Wisdom hath builded a house: she hath hewn out her seven pillars".

He had a setback in 1919 when he lost the major part of the original manuscript on a platform at Reading Station. Encouraged by his friends, however, he began rewriting and eventually produced a limited deluxe edition in 1926 for subscribers.

Lawrence, not wanting to make a profit from the work, originally priced it at 30 guineas. This was a considerable sum but was not enough to cover the cost of producing the book. Apart from the 1926 edition, he wanted no further issue of the book in his lifetime. As a result, the copies quickly increased in value, and were worth £300 at the time of Lawrence's death on 19 May 1935.

Two days after he died, the Melbourne "Argus" reported that a copy of the rare edition was being sold by the Lord Somers Commemoration League, who had received it from an anonymous donor. The money raised from the sale was to be used to open and maintain cots in the orthopaedic section of the Children's Hospital at Frankston, Victoria.

The Memorial's policy was not one of collecting rarities for their own sake, however this edition was the only version of Lawrence's fuller account available (Lawrence had published a much abridged version called "Revolt in the Desert" to help cover the costs of producing the subscriber edition), after much consultation, the Memorial's Board of Trustees offered to purchase the book as the Board considered that it was an important addition to the Australian Light Horse records held in the collection. The purchase was financed by funds donated to the Memorial by the Australian Light Horse Association (raised through the sale of the book "Australia in Palestine") to acquire records relating to military operations in Palestine.

Seven pillars of wisdom reflects Lawrence's love of exquisitely produced books. Each copy of the subscriber's edition had its own individual binding. The Memorial's copy has gold-tooled, Oxford blue morocco leather binding with raised cords, bound by Roger De Coverly & Sons. The index page to the illustrations is hand-annotated by Lawrence "Complete Copy" and initialled "T.E.S." (He had adopted the pseudonym "T.E. Shaw" in February 1923 when he joined the Tank Corps as a private, and later legally changed his name to Shaw in 1927).

Each new chapter within the book begins with an illuminated first letter. The text was printed on high quality paper and laid out with much consideration given to balance on the page. Respected contemporary artists were commissioned, and their works, which include landscapes and portraits of the main Arab and British participants, give the book a modernist feel.

Unlike most modern publications, no author's name, printer's name, or place of publication, appears on the title page. In addition, each book has a different binding in order that there be no first edition, in the collector's sense. The appearance of the printed page was so important to Lawrence that he altered the text in order that words not be divided at the ends of lines and all paragraphs finished in the second half of the line.

It was privately printed by Manning Pike and H.J. Hodgson and bound by some of London's foremost bookbinders. Lawrence had a love of books and for fine printing, hoping to establish his own press when he retired from the military.