Commonplace Book: T.E. Lawrence on Arab zeal

Compelling passages, notable quotables, bon mots, disjecta, ephemera, and miscellany.

Some of the evil of my tale may have been inherent in our circumstances. For years we lived anyhow with another in the naked desert, under the indifferent heaven. By day the hot sun fermented us; and we were dizzied by the beating wind. At night we were stained by dew, and shamed into pettiness by the innumerable silences of stars. We were a self-centred army without parade or gesture, devoted to freedom, the second of man’s creeds, a purpose so ravenous that it devoured all our strength, a hope so transcendent that our earlier ambitions faded in its glare.

As time went by our need to fight for the ideal increased to an unquestionable possession, riding with spur and rein over our doubts. Willy-nilly it became our faith. We had sold ourselves into its slavery, manacled ourselves together in its chain gang, bowed ourselves to serve its holiness with all our good and ill content. The mentality of ordinary human slaves is terrible – they have lost the world – and we had surrendered, not body alone, but soul to the overmastering greed of victory. By our own act we were drained of morality, of volition, of responsibility, like dead leaves in the wind.

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, by T.E. Lawrence (1935)

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