Upper Denby: Fleece Press, 2005. First and limited edition, only printing. Hardcover. This is the strikingly handsome limited edition authored by Richard Knowles, an accomplished collector and purveyor of Lawrence material and author of several excellent books about Lawrence. Two Superiors details Lawrence’s passion for motorcycles, specifically the title’s eponymous “Superior” manufactured by George Brough.
The beautifully proportioned binding, wider than it is tall, well suits the illustrations and text. This is one of three hundred copies bound in pale green cloth with Lawrence’s initials debossed on the front cover, white spine label in a debossed panel, and accompanying dark green slipcase. Condition is pristine, the book as new with no wear, flaws, or previous ownership marks, the slipcase showing only a trivial hint of shelf wear.
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 into "Lawrence of Arabia." But if it was his role as a soldier adventurer that roused enduring public passion for Lawrence, it was the motorcycles of George Brough that literally and figuratively propelled the passion of Lawrence himself.
Lawrence owned seven Brough Motorcycles, and an eighth was on order and ready to collect by the time of his death in 1935. He even named his motorcycles, mostly according to variations of their maker, George Brough. Names included George, George II, George III. One of them was exotically called Boanerges, a word used by the Arabs to describe thoroughbred horses. He wrote sprawling letters detailing his visceral relationship with riding: “I have the honour of one of England’s straightest and fastest roads. The burble of my exhaust unwound like a long cord behind me. Soon my speed snapped it, and I heard only the cry of the wind which my battering head split and fended aside…”
Riding was not just a passion, but a vital distraction and release. While completing the text of the Subscriber’s edition of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence wrote that “…the book will not be ready until the new year”. The cause: “For I love the road: and my bike.” (Knowles & Kuritz, A Fresh Station) Unlike the passion of his literary aspirations, Lawrence’s love of motorcycles was unequivocal. Regrettably, even more than his literary aspirations, Lawrence’s passion for motorcycles would exact a heavy price.
Even as a young boy Lawrence had an affinity for two-wheels. At fifteen years old, he bicycled around Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire with a school mate, Cyril Beeson. They visited parish churches, taking note of their antiquities, and rummaged construction sites to salvage any antiques, and turned their findings over to the museum. That was the first of a number of bicycle sojourns he would take, and one cannot help but conflate Lawrence’s death with his first childhood adventure with Beeson. On 13 May 1935, just two months after Lawrence retired from military service with the RAF, he was riding his Brough Superior SS100 near his home in Dorset, when he suddenly swerved to avoid two young boys who were riding their bicycles together, causing him to high-side over his handlebars and incur a fatal head injury that ended his famously short life on 19 May.
Two Superiors is an excellent book, testifying to the “full measure of the versatility of genius” that Winston Churchill attributed to Lawrence, very much both “a mechanic and a philosopher.”
Reference: O'Brien sE550. Item #006627