Fordingbridge, England: Castle Hill Press, 1997. Limited, hand-numbered, signed, and specially-bound issue of the Second Edition of the Oxford Text. Hardcover. This remarkable piece of 20th century fine press scholarship and production is the very first set issued of the finest publisher’s binding of the very first commercial publication of the fullest surviving text of Lawrence’s masterpiece, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Incredibly, this 1922 text had to wait three quarters of a century to see publication here by Castle Hill Press, the premier publishers of material by and about T. E. Lawrence, founded by Lawrence’s official biographer, Jeremy Wilson (1944-2017). This particular set justifies the exceptionally long wait and suits the extraordinary content.
This set, Number "1" of just 20 issued thus, is unequivocally the most comprehensive ever publication of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, showcasing both meticulous erudition and superb craftsmanship. The set comprises six volumes and a clamshell illustrations folio, all housed in two massive Solander cases.
For the two volumes containing the 1922 text (the fullest extant text), the publisher commissioned award-winning book designer Glenn Bartley to work with The Fine Bindery. The result was striking bindings in full tan and blue goatskin with dark pink marbled calf onlay, all edges gilt, hand-sewn head and tail bands, leather joints, and suede doublures.
Two volumes containing parallel presentation of the 1922 and 1926 texts allow readers to see at a glance exactly what was omitted and what was revised, illuminating the two texts’ significant style and content differences. These parallel text volumes are bound in quarter brown goatskin over brown cloth with hand-marbled endpapers and gilt top edges. A single volume containing the eight chapters of the Introductory Book of Seven Pillars in parallel 1924/1936 text is likewise bound in quarter brown goatskin. A companion volume of illustrations is bound in full black, blind-ruled goatskin with all edges gilt and illustrated endpapers. A black clamshell case nested within one of the massive cloth Solanders contains an unbound proof set of the Seven Pillars portraits.
Of the 752 Sets of this 1997 first issue of the full 1922 Oxford text, 650 (sets 101-750) were bound in cloth, issued as a two-volume set with an accompanying illustrations volume, and 80 (sets 21-100) were bound in dark blue goatskin, also issued with an accompanying illustrations volume. Hence these 20 special sets are singular not only aesthetically, but in terms of content (the Introduction and two 1922/26 Parallel Text volumes and illustrations (folio proof portraits).
This, set #1, is hand-numbered thus and signed by the Editor in Volume II of the main text volumes. The parallel text volumes are also numbered “1 / 37” and signed by Wilson. Each of the Seven Pillars portraits is printed “I / 250” on the verso. A typed, signed and annotated elucidation about conception and execution of the 20 special sets is laid in. Condition of the set is pristine, each volume appearing untouched, the massive Solander cases showing only a few, tiny corner bumps.
Despite the superlative bindings and presentation, Jeremy Wilson himself stated “the most important thing was the text.” Seven Pillars is the story of Thomas Edward Lawrence's (1888-1935) remarkable odyssey as instigator, organizer, hero, and tragic figure of the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, which he began as an eccentric junior intelligence officer and ended as "Lawrence of Arabia." This time defined Lawrence with indelible experience and celebrity, which he spent the rest of his short life struggling to variously reconcile and reject, to recount and repress.
Lawrence famously resisted broad publication of Seven Pillars during his lifetime. Following Lawrence’s fatal 1935 motorcycle crash, his masterwork was rushed into print in the only version readily available - the 1926 “Subscribers” abridgement. That 250,000-word text released to the world as "Complete and Unabridged" was neither. But it sold very well, so the publishers long resisted publishing the full, 334,500-word 1922 “Oxford Text”, which “could only be a direct commercial threat to the highly profitable investment they had already made.” Hence the 1922 "Oxford Text" – a third longer – was not published until this 1997 edition.
Castle Hill Press took this text from the manuscript in the Bodleian Library and T. E. Lawrence's annotated copy of the 1922 Oxford Times printing. Beyond subjective literary considerations, in terms of both autobiography and history, “the 1922 text is, without question, superior to that of 1926. In the process of ‘literary’ abridgement, Lawrence cut out numerous personal reflections, some of which were important.” For example, the 1926 text excised Lawrence’s “confession that the flogging at Deraa left him with a masochistic longing… and his recollection of this event a few weeks later when he was present at Allenby’s official entry into Jerusalem. The historical record, likewise often fell victim to abridgement… because of the cuts, [the narrative] does not always account for Lawrence’s time or seem to square with independent records. Worse still, the frustrations and abandoned plans of 1917-18 were largely suppressed in the 1926 text…”
Reference: O’Brien A034a. Item #004406