London: Corvinus Press, 1937. First, finely bound, limited, and hand-numbered edition. Hardcover. This is a particularly well-preserved copy of the scarce and extraordinarily beautiful 1937 Corvinus Press limited first edition of The Diary of T. E. Lawrence, which has been called “the most ambitious and handsome volume published by the Corvinus Press.”
Of the entire edition of 203 copies, 130 were printed thus on sumptuous, mould-made “parchment substitute paper” with gilt top edge and untrimmed fore and bottom edges, bound with 13 tissue-guarded collotype plates of photographs “taken by the author during the time the diary was being written.” These are bound in quarter brown leather with the gilt-stamped title bracketed by a gilt-stamped Corvinus Press crow at each end of the spine. The covers feature beautifully textured chirigami kozo boards with parchment corners. It was issued by the publisher in a seldom-seen brown card slipcase.
This copy is hand-numbered “92” on the limitation page. Condition is exceptional, better than near fine in the publisher’s original card slipcase. The binding is square and tight with sharp corners, bright spine gilt, and no discernible sunning or soiling. Searching for flaws, we note only a trivial bit of superficial scuffing to the spine. The contents are likewise exceptionally clean with no previous ownership marks and no spotting. The top edge gilt remains bright. The slipcase has obviously done its job protecting the magnificent volume within. The slipcase is clean, unfaded, and fully intact, with modest scuffing, primarily to edges and corners, but no loss or splits to the seams.
The T. E. Lawrence (1888-1935) achieved fame from his 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.” However, Lawrence’s literary and intellectual reach far exceeded the world and words of Seven Pillars of Wisdom. To the point, Lawrence’s friend and admirer Winston Churchill said: “Lawrence had a full measure of the versatility of genius… He was a savant as well as a soldier. He was an archaeologist as well as a man of action. He was an accomplished scholar as well as an Arab partisan. He was a mechanic as well as a philosopher. His background of somber experience and reflection only seemed to set forth more brightly the charm and gaiety of his companionship, and the generous majesty of his nature.” (Great Contemporaries, p. 166)
Lawrence’s 1911 Diary is an early window on his observational astuteness and sensitivity, as well as the sheer physical endurance (he was “extremely ill the greater part of the time”) that informed his intellect. After graduating from Oxford with a First in history, Lawrence was employed at an archaeological dig in Carchemish in Northern Syria. In 1911, while the dig was on a seasonal hiatus, Lawrence took a solitary walking journey through Syria, during which he kept a diary. This 1937 Corvinus Press limited edition not only published the diary for the first time, but also a poem written in 1914 to Lawrence by his brother, W.G. Lawrence (who was killed in 1915 while flying during active service in France), as well as three letters written by Lawrence to his mother during his Syrian journey.
The Corvinus Press was founded in 1936 by Viscount Carlow, an active book collector and amateur linguist and typographer. The press published works by T. E. Lawrence, James Joyce, and other noteworthy literary figures. Carlow was killed in a 1944 airplane crash and the press was bought out the following year.
Reference: O’Brien A194. Item #006158