[ BOTTOM ]
I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my hands
and wrote my will across the sky in stars
To earn you Freedom, the seven-pillared worthy house,
that your eyes might be shining for me
When we came.
Death seemed my servant on the road, till we were near
Lawrence's own evidences|
-- 'a particular Arab'
A I wrought for him freedom to lighten his sad eyes: but he had died waiting for me. So I threw my gift away and now not anywhere will I find rest and peace. Written between Paris and Lyons in Handley Page.The above note, written in the aeroplane on his way to Cairo in 1919, was first printed in a newspaper article written by Phillip Knightley (b.1929) and Colin Simpson (b.1931), Sunday Times journalists in 1968. [*1]. They and Jeremy Wilson, the authorised biographer regard it as the earliest surviving outline of 'S.A.'.
On November 1919, discussing his motives in the Arab affair, TE wrote to G. J. Kidston (1873-1954), a Foreign Office official that: ' (i) Personal. I liked a particular Arab very much, and I thought that freedom for the race would be an acceptable present.' Though, when they took Damascus, 'I found had died some weeks before: so my fight was wasted, and my future doings indifferent on that count.' [MB, p.169]
This account perfectly echoes the epilogue of Seven Pillars:
Throughout, my strongest motive had been a personal one, omitted from the body of the book, but not absent, I think, from my mind, waking or sleeping, for an hour in all those years. Active pains and joys flung themselves up among my days like towers: but always, refluent as ait, this persisting hidden urge reformed and became a very element of life: till near the end. It was dead before we reached the town. [1922 Oxford text; 2004 ed., p.812]It is presumed that 'a particular Arab' was Dahoum or Dahum (photo left), a waterboy or donkey boy who had been employed by the excavators in Carchemish, born in about 1896. Dahoum, meaning Darkness was so nicknamed 'because he was very pale' [DG, p.103], or 'because he was a very black baby' [Woolley, Dead Towns and Living Men, Humphrey Milford, London 1920, p.142]. Finding a kindred spirit, TE was devoted to him and taught him to read and to take photographs. Dahoum posed as model for a naked figure which TE carved [*2], which caused a scandal in Carchemish. TE invited him and Hamoudi, the head foreman to Polstead Road, Oxford in 1913. There is a Dahoum portrait drawn in Oxford (by Francis Dodd, sold at Christie's, London in 2001), and some pictures of him taken by TE. Dahoum died in 1918 [*3], as TE said that 'I found [he] had died some weeks before' they reached Damascus. In Letters of T. E. Lawrence (1938), David Garnett wrote that his real name was 'Sheikh Ahmed' [p.103], though, TE himself provided no direct confirmation of this.
The strongest motive throughout had been a personal one, not mentioned here, but present to me, I think, every hour of these two years. Active pains and joys might fling up, like towers, among my days: but, refluent as air, this hidden urge re-formed, to be the persisting element of life, till near the end. It was dead, before we reached Damascus. [1935 trade edition; Penguin ed., p.684]
TE also wrote to Lt-Col. R. V. Buxton (1883-1953), his colleague in Arabia, in September 1923, 'S.A. was a person, now dead, regard for whom lay beneath my labour for the Arabic peoples.' [DG, p.431] In a letter to R. A. M. Guy, his RAF friend, in December 1923, TE certainly described S.A. as an individual: '...People aren't friends till they have said all they can say, and are able to sit together, at work or rest, hour-long without speaking. / We never got quite to that, but were nearer it daily... and sinse S.A. died I haven't experienced any risk of that's happening.' [MB, p.253]
TE's evidence through Robert Graves (1895-1985), a friend and biographer of TE's revealed that:
One of his oldest friends [Vyvyan Richards] told me, in 1927, that he believed S.A. to have been a certain Sheikh Achmed, an Arab with whom Lawrence had a sort of blood-brotherhood before the War: and that Sheikh Achmed died of typhus in 1918. I hinted at this in the first draft of my biography: "Shortly before he captured Damascus there came news of a death by typhus, and this is one explanation, I believe, of his coming immediately away from the scene of his triumph and of much that has happened to him since." But Lawrence commented in the margin:TE once explained to Graves that 'S.A.,the subject of the dedication, is rather an idea than person.' [ibid., p.55]
You have taken me too literally, S.A. still exists: but out of my reach, because I have changed. [B:RG, pp.16-17]
On the other hand, in reply to a query by Basil Henry Liddell Hart (1895-1970), another biographer, he said 'One is a person and one is a place.' [B:LH, p.64] and on May 1933, 'The "personal" motive mentioned first in the concluding bit was the "S.A." of the opening poem. But S.A. "croaked" in 1918.' [ibid., p.68].
And being asked was there a real person or was it only symbolical, TE answered that 'partly geographical. S. and A. were two different things, "S" a village in Syria, or property in it, and "A" personal.' [ibid., p.143]
There is more evidence. Prof. A. W. Lawrence (1900-91), youngest brother of TE, prepared a note in Oriental Assembly, in 1939, which read:
It is believed that his [Dahum's] personality supplied the largest element to the figure of S.A., to whom the Seven Pillars of Wisdom is dedicated -- "An imaginary person of neutral sex," according to a Note of the Author's. [p.26, New York: E. P. Dutton, c1940 ed.]This note, written by TE in his own handwriting, was reconfirmed by Knightley & Simpson, who found it in the Lawrence collection at the University of Texas, and its facsimile published in Texas Quarterly, Austin, Autumn 1962 [Lives, McGraw-Hill ed., p.181; Panther ed., p.186; NPG, p.174]. The note, 'History of Seven Pillars' written on 1 January 1927 on his way to India, which was quoted in full in an article by Sara H. T. Johnson ('Discoveries', Part I: Seven Pillars of Wisdom; TELSJ, Spring 2003, pp.35-6): [underline by author, YAGITANI]
Interpretations by his friends and biographers|
-- Son Altesse? Salim Ahmed?
Now turn to opinions by his friends, biographers and his brother.
A. W. Lawrence wrote in the editor's postscript in T. E. Lawrence by His Friends (1937), that
'Here I may add the suggestion that the poem which serves as dedication to the Seven Pillars is somewhat of a literary exercise, in memory of his own youth, as well as a tribute tot the person who had roused him to appreciate the potentialities of the Arab race. The style seems a compromise between Semitic form and the sentiment of English poets of the 'nineties, whom he read during his years at Carchemish, and on his own statements the poem has little personal application, whether or not its reputed subject were his long-lost companion, Sheikh Ahmed, who is called in this book by his nickname, Dahoum (...).'[p.592]Vyvyan Richards (1886-1968), a friend of TE's in his college days, said that 'Some say it was Dahoum himself, whose real name was Sheikh Achmed. Yet the whole poem sounds as if the lost friend was someone of his own age, more probably. He spoke of "S.A." more than once afterward, but always kept close the veil of secrecy.' [T. E. Lawrence, Duckworth 1939, p.32]
According to Robert Graves, S.A. was a woman, someone derived from TE's beloved poetry celebrating knightly love in the Middle Ages. In T. E. Lawrence to his Biographer Robert Graves, published 1938, Graves never mentioned 'Son Altesse'. Though, he actually thought S.A. meant 'Son Altesse' [His or Her Highness], a term well known to TE by which a medieval Christian crusader would have addressed a lady of importance. 'The capture of Damascus spelt not the death of S.A. herself, but the death of the idea she had represented.' [B:RG, p.16] Graves couldn't agree with Vyvyan Richards' suggestion that S.A. was a lay figure of literary passion.
What did Richard Aldington (1892-1962) say? He predicated clearly that Dahoum was Sheik Ahmed, aka S.A.. Referring to Woolley's statement 'he was then a boy of of about fifteen, not particularly intelligent...but beautifully built and remarkably handsome' [Friends, p.89]. Aldington implied over and over that their relationship went beyond mere friendship in his Lawrence of Arabia: A Biographical Enquiry (1955).
An Arab historian, author of T. E. Lawrence: An Arab View (1966), Suleiman Mousa (1920-2008) 'wrote to point out that "Sheik" was a distinction conferred with age, wealth, position and honour and that therefore Dahoum could not possible have been known as Sheik Ahmed.' [Lives, McGraw-Hill ed., p.184; Panther ed., p.189] Everyone who is well-informed about Arab matters may have no objection to his comment.
To ward this off, Knightley & Simpson prepared more evidence. They argued that S. means not 'Sheik' but 'Salim', based on the statement of a ex-soldier, Tom Beaumont (1898-1991), who had served in Arabia with TE. Beaumont said that Dahoum worked for TE during the Revolt as a spy behind the Turkish lines, and he was called by his proper name, not Sheik Ahmed but 'Salim' Ahmed. The death of Dahoum with typhus in 1918 made TE very upset as he felt a great deal of responsibility for it [ibid., p.185; p.190]. Beaumont's allegation was taken over by other biographers including Stephen E. Tabachnick (Salim Achmed), Malcolm Brown & Julia Cave (Selim Ahmed), Lawrence James ('To S[elim]. A[hmed].') and Michael Asher (Salim Ahmad) [*4].
When Tom Beaumont died, aged 93, in 1991, his obituary in The Times on 9th September described him, as 'Lawrence of Arabia's number one Vickers gunner during the campaign against the Turks in Palestine in 1917-18'. He kept in touch with TE after the War, and attended TE's funeral and was present at the unveiling of TE's bust in St Paul's cathedral in 1936. In 1983, he planted a commemorative oak tree near the spot at which TE had died in Dorset. However, there are some biographers who questioned the credibility of Beaumont's account, such as John Mack (1929-2004), the Pulitzer Prize biographer, who believes that no substantiating evidence for the 'Salim' exists [Mack, p.96]. Jeremy Wilson commented in the TELstudies List on 11 July 1998:
As for Salim Ahmed, his creator Tom Beaumont belongs, in my view, with Richard Meinertzhagen as a tedious source of quotable (= commercial) fiction about TEL. The errors committed by Beaumont and Meinertzhagen are so crass that one can have little respect for Lawrence biographers who quote either of them. However, there are doubtless people who will keep on doing it.... A friend of mine who met Beaumont in 1985 told me that B had joked that he would say anything anyone wanted -- so long as they paid him enough!Meanwhile, in a controversial biography T. E. Lawrence: A New Biography (1977), Desmond Stewart (1924-81) trained a spotlight on Sharif Ali (1895/98-1955), Sheikh of Harith or Harthi tribe, acted impressively by Omar Sharif in the David Lean film Lawrence of Arabia (1962). While Stewart considered that the poem To S.A. was prompted by Dahoum, he found the germ of it in TE's wartime experiences with Sharif Ali.
It is conceivable that S.A. links two people -- Sharif Ali and Dahoum -- and perhaps two places -- Deruj, the Syrian village in which he had lost an important piece of property, his camera, and tasted violence -- and Azrak, where he had spent ten days with Sharif Ali. [T. E. Lawrence, Paladin ed., p.253]In making a comparison between Dahoum and Sharif Ali, Stewart states that:
Sharif Ali, the pre-blooded, beautiful Arab warrior, is the new reality, reducing Dahoum to the shadowy ghost of a past love. Lawrence's admiration for Sharif Ali's values and vices (nearly all references involve him in some violent role) explains the displacement of Syria in Lawrence's mind. [ibid.]Stewart insisted that the Deraa episode was a fiction which TE trumped up based on flagellation he received not from the Turkish Bey but from Sharif Ali in Azrak. He also repudiated the note in The Singing Caravan (mentioned above) as the germ of 'S.A.'. Instead, he linked it to the recent death of TE's father. [*5]
Now back to the 'Son Altesse' interpretation by Robert Graves.
He reckoned the person concerned 'Son Altesse' was Miss Fareedeh/Fareedah or Farida el Akl(e) (1882-1976) (photo left), who had taught TE Arabic at Jebail. I am afraid that I have not been able to confirm when Graves regarded Fareedeh as S.A., only found that he evolved his 'Son Altesse' theory on an article in 1963 [*6]. Consequently, all of what I refer to here is from information in Knightley & Simpson's book. According to them, this interpretation was substantiated by Grave's friend, a Richard Benson-Gyles, who had been in correspondence for some years with Fareedeh, and had been to see her.
Fareedeh, a modern-thinking Christian Arab, who was a representative of Syrian Protestant women at the International Women's Conference in Paris in 1926, was embarrassingly fond of TE. Her remark in By His Friends [pp.76-80] acquires additional interest from the fact that it records Dahoum's saying. We can see her recounting her memory of TE in the BBC 1962 documentary, T. E. LAWRENCE 1888-1935, which was compiled and produced by Malcolm Brown and Philip Donnellan. However, Fareedeh herself denied that she was S.A.
I am not S.A. and this is the truth. TE never fell in love with any woman. He could not...TE wished that S.A. would be a mystery that is difficult to solve. S.A. is to me Syria-Arabia. [Lives, McGraw-Hill ed., p.182; Panther ed., p.187]To sort this out, I will make out a candidates list for S.A., including the following.
-- a letter by Dahoum or 'Shaikh Ahmad'
Now, it is time to consider the theory advanced by Jeremy Wilson (b.1944), TE's authorised biographer. His first remarks about the identity of S.A. were in the introduction to TE's Minorities, published in 1971. After mentioning TE's statements, he said:
The dedicatory poem in Seven Pillars was a considerable achievement of literary synthesis. An outline drafted in 1919 reads: 'A(?).[see *1] I wrought for him freedom to lighten his sad eyes: but he had died waiting for me. So I threw my gift away and now not anywhere will I find rest and peace.' The final version is Lawrence's only serious attempt to write poetry which has survived. The first of its four stanzas reads:He let slip that Dahoum was 'a headman', anyway, since then, he has been consistent in his statement regarding S.A. 'Partly geographical. S. and A. were two different things, "S" a village in Syria, or property in it, and "A" personal.' [B:LH, p.143] -- Wilson accepts this TE's words as true, and he has been firm in stating that 'S' and 'A' were supposed to stand for two different things, one a person and one a place, specifically, 'A' means Ahmed [Dahoum] only. In Lawrence of Arabia exhibition Catalogue, 1988 [NPG, p.174], and in the authorised biography, 1989 [Wilson, pp.672-73], he quoted the above 'early note' and repeated his theory. In 1998 he wrote again that 'The original outline for the poem [To S.A.] at the Houghton Library is headed only 'A' with a question mark.' [TELstudies List, 11 July 1998]. He never thought that Dahoum had ever been called Sheik/Sheikh or Shaikh.
I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my hands
and wrote my will across the sky in stars
To earn you Freedom, the seven-pillared worthy house,
that your eyes might be shining for me
When we came.
There is ample evidence that 'A', the personal element in this dedicatory poem, could only have been Dahoum, a headman at Carchemish, whose real name was Ahmed. [Minorities, p.29]
However, curiously enough, a letter combining Dahoum with 'Sheik' was found to exist!
In July 1998, Sotheby's, London, put letters regarding TE, mainly by TE to Fareedeh el Akle, which include a letter written by Dahoum in Arabic under the hammer. Sotheby's valued the letter 'Lot 241' at the highest price about 4,000 - 5,000 GBP describing it:
Autograph note by Selim Ahmad ("Dahoum"), in Arabic, signed "Sheikh Ahmad"), to Farida el Akle, scribbled in pencil on a piece of papyros ragia paper, 2 pages, 8vo, part of blank portion of second leaf cut away and small tear, with typed translation, 1914. [from Sotheby's website]Seeing the catalogue of Sotheby's, H. St. John Armitage (1924-2004), former British diplomat and Arab expert, posted this comment about Dahoum's signature on the TELStudies list. He construed that it was not a signature but that Dahoum simply concluded 'this letter is by the hand of [i.e. written by] Shaikh Ahmad al Halabi- [the Aleppine].' [TELstudies, 10 July 1998]
Then, why did Dahoum give himself the style of 'Shaikh'? Armitage inferred that Dahoum might be boasting to Fareedeh that he had learned to write, which was worth being proud of, since the Arab people scarcely knew their letters in those days. Armitage added that:
His uneducated friends on seeing his might well have addressed him jocularly as "shaikh" in praise of his progress. As the word is sometimes used jocularly in praise so it is sometimes used when disparaging someone's effort - or lack of it. Also, as a townsman amongst countrymen - and a favoured person - he might have drawn the description from the envy, admiration or annoyance of his fellow workers. [ibid.]It is obvious that the letter is the only evidence for the 'Sheikh/Shaikh Ahmad' form of address. Nevertheless, Jeremy Wilson still maintains that 'all the theorists who try to make up names with the initials' S' and 'A' are at fault.' [ibid.]
Sunday Times reported this Sotheby's auction under the headline of "Lawrence's 'dark lady' revealed" on 5 July 1998. According to the article, a Dr Peter Beal, a literature expert at Sotheby's argues that Fareedeh was the dedicatee of Seven Pillars, and a Professor Denis Jerome, who teaches history at Damascus University, also plumps for her. There is little wonder at the revival of 'Son Altesse' on this occasion without mentioning that Fareedeh herself had once denied she was not S.A. in the past, because if Fareedeh were widely recognised as 'S.A.', the price of TE's letters to her would evidently fetch more at auction. Jeremy Wilson, a strict historian, however, repeats his own theory in the article. Incidentally, the Dahoum's letter remained unsold, while eleven letters by TE to Fareedeh were knocked down for over 25,695 GBP (US$ 42,758) in sum.
by YAGITANI Ryōko, JAPAN
FEB. 2000 / Revised MAY 2008 / ver.2.00, DEC. 2008 / ver.2.01, FEB. 2009 / ver.3.00, OCT. 2010
- * Notes *
[*1] T. E. Lawrence mentioned the note on a letter to Charlotte Shaw on 27 December 1927. 'I read Vansittart's Singing Caravan parts of the time, and liked it yet once more. How often is that? Twenty times, I fancy. My original copy, which [Vyvyan] Richards keeps, has notes (rough drafts) of some paragraphs of the Seven Pillars scribbled on its back flyleaves. They were put there as I flew between Paris and Crete in that Squadron of Handley Pages. [SHAW 1927, p.217]
The said copy of Singing Caravan is now at the Houghton Library, Harvard, USA [HOLLIS Number: 006809629]. It was 2009 when Jeremy Wilson, the authorised biographer confirmed the first word of the TE's penciled note was NOT 'A(?)' but simply 'A'. He states:
- The original simply reads 'A I wrought for him freedom . . .' -- the question mark within parentheses in the typescript has been added by whoever made the transcript, presumably because they were uncertain that the letter is an 'A'. (Under magnification, I think there is very little room for doubt that it is 'A'.)
The rest of the transcript is as written, except that the word 'rest' is unclear in the original - at any rate now, 90 years after it was written in soft pencil. [TELStudies, 28 Jan 2009]
The first word of the note has been sometimes quoted as 'A(?)', because the transcript in the Bodleian Library, Oxford typed so. Wilson who saw the original manuscript at Harvard University found that "the typed transcript in the Bodleian is misleading in an important way" [ibid]. Some of TE biographers who relied the Bodleian transcript are affected by that as a matter of course.
The first quotation of this note was at Sunday Times, 16 June 1968, p.50, col. 1 (photo right), on the second part of the serial The Secret Life of T. E. Lawrence, by Knightley & Simpson. However, when the book Secret Lives of Lawrence of Arabia published in the next year by the same authors, it was mentioned without 'A(?)' at the beginning [See Chapter Eleven; Nelson ed. p.162; McGraw-Hill ed. p.184; Panther ed. p.188]
Accordingly, the first book which printed this penciled note with 'A(?)' was most likely Minorities, edited by Jeremy Wilson in 1971 [p.29]. He indicated the above Sunday Times article as the source [ibid], not mentioning the Bodleian transcript. He quoted it with 'A(?)' again in his authorised biography in 1989 [p.672] and now noted the source was Bodleian R (transcipt) [note 30].
Another biographer who trusted the Bodleian was John Mack, a Harvard professor. He quoted that with 'A(?)' at the final paragraph of Chapter 8 of A Prince of Our Disorder in 1976, referring the source was The Singing Caravan, Bod Res MSS, d230 [note 108].
[*2] This sculpture's photo appears on The Journal of the T. E. Lawrence Society, Autumn 1997, pp.38-39.
[*3] Some biographers claim that Dahoum died in two years before, 1916. Jeremy Wilson introduced circumstantial evidence advantageous to the 1916 year in his authorised biography, p. 544. Anyway, TE found the news that Dahoum was no longer alive some weeks before the capture of Damascus.
[*4] Stephen E. Tabachnick, The T. E. Lawrence P*U*Z*Z*L*E, University of Georgia Press, Georgia 1984, p.34 ; Tabachnick & Christopher Matheson, Images of Lawrence, Jonathan Cape, London 1988, p.17, etc.
Malcolm Brown & Julia Cave, A Touch of Genius: the Life of T. E. Lawrence, Dent, London 1988, p.43.
Lawrence James, The Golden Warrior: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London 1990, p.60.
Michael Asher, Lawrence: The Uncrowned King of Arabia, Viking, London 1998, p.76.
[*5] Desmond Stewart, T. E. Lawrence: A New Biography, Hamish Hamilton, London 1977; Paladin ed. 1979, p.228; and see a letter by Desmond Stewart in TLS, 17 February 1978.
[*6] 'T. E. Lawrence and the Riddle of S.A.', Saturday Review, 15 June 1963. See T. E. Notes, January 1995, pp.1-3.
[*7] Sunday Times, 3 December 1989 by M. Schaffer and 16 August 1992 by Herbert Richer.
* Abbreviated References *
B:LH Basil Henry Liddell Hart, T. E. Lawrence to his Biographer Liddell Hart, Faber & Faber, London 1938
B:RG Robert Graves, T. E. Lawrence to his Biographer Robert Graves, Faber & Faber, London 1938
DG David Garnett ed., Letters of T. E. Lawrence, Jonathan Cape, London 1938
Friends A. W. Lawrence ed., T. E. Lawrence by His Friends, Jonathan Cape, London 1937
Lives, Panther ed. Phillip Knightley & Colin Simpson, Secret Lives of Lawrence of Arabia, McGraw-Hill, New York 1970; Panther Books, London 1971 (first published from Thomas Nelson, London 1969)
Mack John E. Mack, A Prince of our Disorder: The Life of T. E. Lawrence, Little, Brown, Boston 1976
MB Malcolm Brown ed., Letters of T. E. Lawrence, Dent, London 1988
NPG Jeremy Wilson, T. E. Lawrence: Lawrence of Arabia, National Portrait Gallery Publications, London 1988
SHAW 1927 Jeremy and Nicole Wilson eds., T. E. Lawrence Correspondence with Bernard and Charlotte Shaw 1927, Castle Hill Press, Fordingbridge 2003
TELSJ The Journal of the T. E. Lawrence Society, The T. E. Lawrence Society, Oxford 1991-
Wilson Jeremy Wilson, Lawrence of Arabia, The Authorised Biography of T. E. Lawrence, Heinemann 1989
(since 01 May 2012)