London: Jonathan Cape Ltd., 1935. First edition, first printing. Leather bound. This is the first printing of the British first trade edition finely bound by the renowned Bayntun-Riviere bindery of Bath, England. The three-quarter beautifully figured tan morocco binding over tan cloth boards both evokes and improves upon the publisher’s original cloth. The binding features raised and gilt-tooled spine bands with compartments alternating dagger and crescent designs, ruled transitions, head and foot bands, gilt top edge, and fine, laid paper endsheets. Condition is very good overall. The exceptionally handsome binding is square, clean, and tight, marred only by an abrasion at the upper rear hinge and barely discernible hint of color shift to the spine. The contents are well suited to the binding – unusually clean and bright. Trivial spotting appears confined to a small section of the upper blank recto of the frontispiece. Even the fore and bottom edges are notably clean. First printing is confirmed by the illustration on pages 304-5 incorrectly specified in the list of Illustrations at p.20 as being on pages 302-3, an error corrected in the second printing. The sole previous ownership marks are two inked 1971 gift inscriptions on the front free endpaper verso.
Seven Pillars of Wisdom is the story of 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, 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 would spend the rest of his famously short life struggling to reconcile and reject, to recount and repress. Lawrence famously resisted publication of his masterwork for the general public during his lifetime. The saga is remarkable. He nearly completed a massive first draft in 1919, only to famously lose it when his briefcase was mislaid at a train station. This first draft was never recovered. At a fever pitch, Lawrence wrote a new 400,000 word draft in 1920. This punishing burst of writing was followed by an equally brutal process of editing. In 1922, a 335,000 word version was carefully circulated to select friends and literary critics - the famous "Oxford Text". George Bernard Shaw called it "a masterpiece".
Nonetheless, Lawrence was unready to see it distributed to the public. Finally, in 1926, a further edited 250,000 word "Subscribers' Edition" was produced by Lawrence - but fewer than 200 copies were made, each lavishly and uniquely bound. The process cost Lawrence far more than he made in subscriptions. To recover the loss, Lawrence finally authorized an edition for the general public - but one even further abridged and entitled "Revolt in the Desert". It was only in the summer of 1935, in the weeks following Lawrence's death, that the text of the Subscribers' Edition was finally published for circulation to the general public in the form of a British first trade edition.
Winston S. Churchill was among Lawrence's original subscribers to the 1926 edition, though Lawrence refused to allow Churchill to pay for his copy, as a token for his esteem for the work he and Churchill had done together in the Colonial Office after the First World War. Of this text, the future prime minister and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature wrote: "It ranks with the greatest books ever written in the English language. If Lawrence had never done anything except write this book as a mere work of the imagination his fame would last... But it is fact, not fiction... An epic, a prodigy, a tale of torment, and in the heart of it - A Man.”
Reference: O'Brien A042. Item #005675