Salisbury, England: Castle Hill Press, 1997. Finely bound, limited, hand-numbered edition. Full leather. This intriguing orphan is ONLY THE FIRST VOLUME (of two) of the publisher’s 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. 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. They are large, lovely, substantial volumes, each weighing more than four pounds and measuring 11.25 x 8.5 inches.
Volume I contains the editor’s Preface, the author’s Introduction, and Books I (The Discovery of Feisal), II (Opening the Arab Offensive), III (A Railway Diversion), IV (Extending to Akaba), and V (Marking Time). Condition of this solo volume is better than good. The magnificent binding remains square, tight, clean, and unfaded, but has light overall scuffing, including a superficial scratch spanning the vertical length of the rear cover and small dents to the rear top edge and fore edge. The contents are clean and bright with no spotting and no previous ownership marks. The gilt page edges are bright and only lightly scuffed. The limitation number of this set is unknown, as these numbers were hand-written on the Volume II colophons of the sets.
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 to 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.
Reference: O'Brien A034a. Item #006637