LAWRENCE (T.E.) Autograph letter signed (".L."), to Colonel S.F. Newcombe ("Dear S.-F."), apologising yet again for being a bad letter-writer, 16 February 1920: IN THE EYES OF "THOSE WHO KNOW" I FAILED' – LAWRENCE OF ARABIA ON HIS OWN LEGEND.
Lot 140
Autograph letter signed (".L."), to Colonel S.F. Newcombe ("Dear S.-F."), apologising yet again for being a bad letter-writer, 16 February 1920: IN THE EYES OF "THOSE WHO KNOW" I FAILED' – LAWRENCE OF ARABIA ON HIS OWN LEGEND
Sold for £ 13,750 (US$ 18,434) inc. premium

Lot Details

Papers and Books of Colonel S.F. Newcombe, RE, DSO, sold on behalf of his descendants

There were six pall bearers at T.E. Lawrence's funeral in 1935, each of whom represented a different aspect of his life. Colonel Stewart Francis Newcombe, RE, DSO (1878-1956) was one of these six, and was chosen to represent Lawrence's life in Arabia.

An officer in the Royal Engineers and recipient of the Sword of Honour at Sandhurst, Newcombe had seen service in the Boer War, Egypt and the Sudan before taking charge of a British government survey of Southern Palestine in 1913. This was an area seen as being of particular strategic importance in the event of war with Turkey. Although military in its inception, Newcombe's survey was undertaken under the ostensibly civilian auspices of the Palestine Exploration Fund. The survey was joined in January 1914 by two archaeologists, C.L. Woolley and T.E. Lawrence. It fell to Newcombe to give Lawrence his first taste of military life: 'It was his first experience of collaborating with a professional soldier engaged in a military mission, and, moreover, one conducted inside enemy lines. By observing Newcombe at work, planning itineraries, interpreting maps, assessing terrain, as he, Lawrence, would do in the future, he was effectively undergoing a personal training course' (Malcolm Brown, T.E. Lawrence, 2003, p. 45).

Later in 1914, after Turkey had joined the war, Newcombe and Lawrence were transferred to Cairo to join the new Military Intelligence Department, of which Newcombe remained Director until September 1915. After seeing action at Gallipoli and the Somme, Newcombe was appointed head of a small British military mission on the outbreak of the Arab Revolt and in December 1916 was sent to the Hejaz: ʻHe arrived just in time to join Lawrence for the final stages of the march on Wejh. During the next few months he became famous among the Arabs for the wild daring of his attacks on the Hejaz Railway' (Jeremy Wilson, T.E. Lawrence, National Portrait Gallery Exhibition Catalogue, 1988, no. 83). Although Newcombe was the senior officer, he was well aware of his protégé's outstanding ability, remarking in later life that ʻmy own view of Lawrence has always been that of an elder brother to a younger one who was far quicker than I'; while Lawrence himself acknowledged in Seven Pillars of Wisdom that Newcombe's deeds achieved legendary status among the Arabs – ʻ"Newcombe is like fire," they used to complain; "he burns friend and enemy" (1935 edition, p. 239).

Newcombe was to be captured that November when leading an expedition behind enemy lines during the opening stages of the third Battle of Gaza. He managed to escape with the aid of a French girl, Elsie Chaki, whom he had met before the war in Constantinople and was to marry in 1919. (It is doubtless Elsie who lies behind a fleeting reference in a letter to Hornby of 29 June 1917: "I hope you've opened any official letters for me or any from Joyce etc, but don't bother to open any written in French or addressed to my Christian name: they wouldn't interest you a bit"; see his Army Field Service Correspondence Books below).

Newcombe and Elsie had two children, a son to whom Lawrence stood godfather (see Lawrence's letter to Newcombe, below), and a daughter Diane, afterwards Baroness Elles. After the war, he worked on settling the boundaries between the British mandate of Palestine and the French mandate of Syria. During the Second World War he was to come out of retirement to carry out further intelligence work in Iraq. (For a further account and discussion of Newcombe's career, see Kerry Webber's website, In the Shadow of the Crescent).
Show more Show less

Autograph letter signed (".L."), to Colonel S.F. Newcombe ("Dear S.-F."), apologising for being a bad letter-writer ("...I owe you five letters! At first it wasn't worth while for you were reported to me in one week as at Aleppo, Azrak Bagdad & Cairo: and then it became a habit..."); nevertheless congratulating him and especially Mrs Newcombe on the birth of a son ("...the arrival of a smaller (I hope not cheaper) edition is an occasion for a book worm like myself. The editio princeps always has a special value: but in some cases (Shakespeare folios e.g.) new matter is embodied in the reprints, which give them a market reputation little, if any, less than original. At the same time collectors, and especially collectors of sentiment, always prefer the genuine article..."); he then turns to the subject of the boy's name, and whether it really is a good idea to name the child after him ("...Of course Lawrence may have been the name of your absolutely favourite cousin or aunt, (observe my adroitness in sex), and if so I will be dropping an immodest brick by blushing ––– but if it isn't, aren't you handicapping 'it'? In the history of the world (cheap edition) I'm a sublimated Aladdin, the thousand and second Knight, a Strand-Magazine strummer. In the eyes of 'those who know' I failed badly in attempting a piece of work which a little more resolution would have pushed through, or left un-touched. So in either case it is bad for the sprig, unless, as I said, there is a really decent aunt...."), although he would indeed be delighted to be his god father ("...As for god-fathering him, I asked two or three people what it meant, & their words were ribald. Perhaps it is because people near me lose that sense of mystery which distance gives. Or else it was because they didn't know it was you – or at least yours. Anyhow I can't find out what it means, and so I shall be delighted to take it on. Everybody agrees it means a silver mug – but tell me first if his complexion is red or white: I wouldn't commit a colour-discord..."); after some discussion of rugs from the Arab Bureau [see his next letter], he gives news of his own doings ("...I have abandoned Oxford, & wander about town from a bed-room in Pimlico, (temporary, for Bethnal Green is nicer to the nose) looking at the stars. It is nicer than looking at Lord Curzon..." [Chairman of the Eastern Committee of the War Cabinet before whom Lawrence was arguing the Arabs' case]), and ends by sending his very best regards to his wife, adding: "How odd it must be having married you. Tell her my letter wasn't fit for her to see"; in a first postscript he adds that [their mentor] Hogarth sends his warmest congratulations to all three of them; in a second he announces his intention to change his name: "Seriously I am changing my own name, to be more quiet, and wish I could change my face, to be more lovely, & beloved!", 4 pages, light dust-staining on first page, small tear at folds, 8vo, 16 February 1920


  • 'IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD (CHEAP EDITION) I'M A SUBLIMATED ALADDIN, THE THOUSAND AND SECOND KNIGHT, A STRAND-MAGAZINE STRUMMER. IN THE EYES OF "THOSE WHO KNOW" I FAILED' – LAWRENCE OF ARABIA ON HIS OWN LEGEND. This is one of Lawrence's most famous letters – Lawrence of Arabia as Prince Hamlet, almost, with its extraordinary blend of self-deprecation and brilliant showmanship. It was prompted by hearing that he was being asked to be the godfather to the son of the man who had shared his Arabian adventures (the nearest, it might be argued, that he was ever to get to having a son of his own).

    It is also remarkable that in the very letter by which he allows his name to be bestowed on a godchild, he makes the casual announcement that he is abandoning it for himself. This is the earliest reference noted by Brown (see below), to any proposed change of his name. He was not, in fact, to make the change in earnest until two-and-a-half years later, when on 30 August 1922 he joined the RAF and began calling himself 'Ross', which was to be succeeded by 'Shaw'; although he wrote to Ezra Pound that April that 'Here in Oxford I'm still Lawrence... but in London I've changed it, for peace and cleanliness'. He was always uncertain whether or not he had been registered at birth under the name 'Lawrence', knowing as he did that his father's original name was 'Chapman'. (In this compulsion to refashion his name, he has much in common with that other gifted letter-writer and subject of biographical fascination, Lord Nelson). His godson in the event was to be christened 'Stewart Lawrence Newcombe'. Dubbed 'Monster' by his godfather, he was to be the recipient of some of Lawrence's most delightful letters.

    Our letter is published by both David Garnett, Selected Letters of T. E. Lawrence (1938) and Malcolm Brown, The Letters of T. E. Lawrence (1988), Brown's text being taken from Garnett; see also the T.E. Lawrence Studies website where the Garnett text is also given. Garnett's text differs from the original in several minor respects, dropping one word accidentally and generally ignoring ampersands and some of the underlining.
Auction information

This auction is now finished. If you are interested in consigning in future auctions, please contact the specialist department. If you have queries about lots purchased in this auction, please contact customer services.

Buyers' Obligations


If you have any complaints or questions about the Conditions of Sale, please contact your nearest customer services team.

Buyers' Premium and Charges

For all Sales categories excluding Wine, Coins & Medals and Motor Cars and Motorcycles:

Buyer's Premium Rates
25% on the first £175,000 of the Hammer Price
20% from £175,001 to £3,000,000 the Hammer Price
12.5% from £3,000,001 of the Hammer Price

VAT at the current rate of 20% will be added to the Buyer's Premium and charges excluding Artists Resale Right.

Payment Notices

For payment information please refer to the sale catalogue.

Shipping Notices

For information and estimates on domestic and international shipping as well as export licences please contact Bonhams Shipping Department.

  1. Simon Roberts
    Specialist - Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs
    Montpelier Street
    London, United Kingdom SW7 1HH
    Work +44 20 7393 3828
    FaxFax: +44 20 7393 3879
Similar Items