Upper Denby: The Fleece Press, 2018. First and limited edition. Hardcover. This strikingly handsome first and limited edition examines the history of the rarefied American publication of Seven Pillars of Wisdom that, in 1926, preceded publication of the famous Subscriber’s issue. This book relates “the intriguing history and details surrounding the publication of Seven Pillars of Wisdom in 1926 by George H. Doran Company in New York in order to secure U.S. copyright protection.” This book is simply magnificent in all respects, finely written, well-researched, and aesthetically compelling.
This copy is one of 255 copies bound thus in half-imitation vellum with blue paper-covered sides and leather spine label. The binding is a deliberate “homage to the Doran binding of Seven Pillars of Wisdom” and “The page size is exactly the same as the American Seven Pillars.” The contents are quite beautifully enhanced with 42 illustrations, of books, typography, manuscripts, and the people involved, across the 156 pages, many of the illustrations folding and tipped in. The text is printed in red and black, bound with blue endpapers matching the paper-covered boards, and head and tail bands. Condition of this copy is as-new, acquired by from the publisher and shelved, unread.
T. E. 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 transformed him from an eccentric junior intelligence officer into "Lawrence of Arabia." He spent the rest of his famously short life struggling to variously reconcile, reject, share, and repress this indelible experience, ultimately recounted in Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
Lawrence famously resisted publication for the general public during his lifetime. By 1926 he had already undergone a tortuous saga of writing and re-writing. An edited fourth and final form of his text was finally published in 1926 as the famous “Subscribers” or “Cranwell” edition. Copies of this privately printed, finely bound, and lavishly illustrated edition were offered only to wealthy subscribers and Lawrence’s friends from the war. “However, Lawrence was worried that his work might be pirated or printed without permission in the United States… Therefore, he would not release Seven Pillars in England until he was certain he had copyright protection in the United States.”
Excepting only the five bound copies of the 1922 Oxford Times printing of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, this U.S. copyright edition is the rarest Lawrence edition. Only ten copies were offered for sale, these at a price of $20,000 each – “a high enough price so that no one would be able to buy one” thus “satisfying the copyright requirement while keeping the book out of the hands of the general public, as was Lawrence’s intention.” Arguably no other edition and publication story so eloquently testifies to Lawrence’s perpetual – and perpetually unresolved – conflict about what would, almost despite its author, become one of the best known and best regarded literary works of the twentieth century. Item #004926