Salisbury, England: Castle Hill Press, 1997. Finely bound, limited, hand-numbered edition. Full leather. This is the first Castle Hill Press limited edition of the full 1922 "Oxford" text. Only 80 sets were issued in full morocco with a supplemental illustrations and text volume (in quarter morocco with cloth sides) and housed in the publisher’s white cloth-covered slipcase. The text volumes were magnificently bound by The Fine Bindery, featuring hubbed spines and rounded corners, the contents bound with strikingly lovely hand-marbled endpapers by Ann Muir framed by elaborately gilt-tooled turn ins, blue and white head and foot bands and all gilt page edges. Rendering this particular set scarcer still is inclusion of a cloth-bound portfolio of proofs of the Seven Pillars portraits, interleaved with Japanese paper. This portfolio was available only to select subscribers with a custom wider slipcase to accommodate both the three volumes and the portfolio. This set is hand-numbered “66” on both the Editor’s Acknowledgments page and on the verso of each portfolio illustration.
Condition of the main text volumes, illustrations volume, and portfolio is magnificently fine, immaculate inside and out. The only sign of previous ownership is a one-inch square decorative device stamped gilt on navy leather affixed to the Volume I front pastedown; had we not examined other sets, it would be easy to attribute the device to the binder. Only the publisher’s white cloth slipcase betrays the passage of time; it is without appreciable wear, but inevitably soiled given the material and color.
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 spent the rest of his short life struggling to reconcile and reject, to recount and repress. Lawrence famously resisted publication of his magnum opus for the general public during his lifetime. The saga is remarkable. He nearly completed a massive first draft in 1919, only to 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 by Lawrence. 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. In 1926, a further edited 250,000 word "Subscriber's 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, titled 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. But the text released to the world as "Complete and Unabridged" in 1935 and which became so famous is, in fact, a significantly abridged version. The 1922 "Oxford Text" - a third longer - would not be published in an edition available to the public until this 1997 edition. Castle Hill Press, headed by Lawrence’s official biographer, Jeremy Wilson (1944-2017), took this text from the manuscript in the Bodleian Library and T. E. Lawrence's annotated copy of the 1922 Oxford Times printing. Castle Hill first published a three-volume limited edition of 752 sets of this Oxford Text. The 80 bound thus in full goatskin are quite scarce today, doubly so in such condition and accompanied by the portfolio of portrait proofs. Item #005903