Salisbury, England: Castle Hill Press, 1997. Finely bound, limited, hand-numbered edition. Full leather. This is the finely bound issue of the first and limited edition of the full 1922 "Oxford" text. Only 80 of the 752 sets were issued thus, in full navy morocco with a supplemental Illustrations and Introduction volume as well as an additional Illustrations portfolio, all 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, hand-marbled endpapers by Ann Muir framed by gilt dentelles, blue and white head and foot bands, and gilt page edges. An Illustrations volume bound in quarter morocco and white cloth includes Jeremy Wilson’s Preface and extensive Introduction. Accompanying the three bound volumes is a cloth-bound portfolio housing proofs of the Seven Pillars portraits interleaved with Japanese paper, as well as two maps.
This set is hand-numbered “66” on the Editor’s Acknowledgments page, again preceding the Editor’s Preface, and finally on the verso of each portfolio illustration. Condition of the main text volumes, Illustrations & Introduction volume, and Illustrations 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. Lawrence followed this punishing burst of writing with 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. 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 - was 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. Item #005903