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Letter, 25 Sept. 1931 (Lancaster, S.C.) Elliott
    White Springs to T.E. Shaw (England)

    A gift to the SCL Manuscripts Division announced in 2004

| Gifts to Manuscripts 2004 | Front Page 2004 | Friends of the Library | Endowments |

Letter, 25 September 1931, of Elliott [White] Springs (1896-1959), Lancaster, to T.E. Shaw, R.A.F. Mountbatten Plymouth, England, replies to the latter’s “tremendously flattering” letter about Springs’ diary of the Royal Flying Corps, War Birds. Shaw, who before 1923 was known as T.E. Lawrence and popularly was called Lawrence of Arabia, was a British archaeologist, adventurer, soldier, and author who cooperated with Arab forces during the First World War and later promoted the establishment of an Arab state

“Your letter...did me a great honor,” Springs wrote. “It will go a long way toward removing the sting that was left by the critics when the book was published. Practically no one over here liked it. My father denounced me bitterly, Mac’s family wanted to sue me for defaming his character, the old women cried out for my scalp, the professional writers shouted ‘fake’, and I shut up and to this day have never told anyone how much of it came from where. I gave the money from it to his two children and told his sisters to sue and be damned. A few busybodies checked up and found out that Mac was killed during his second week at the front and exposed me as the knave.”

Lawrence had written to Springs on 20 August 1931 describing War Birds as “The finest ‘actual’ book upon the war—dividing books into the photographic and the composed” and advising that Springs “annotate (not for publication, I mean, but for record purposes; for history’s sake) one copy of War Birds, to show as far as possible how it grew in your mind or under your hand.” “The book is a permanent book and a real and immortal part of our war with Germany,” Lawrence declared, “besides being the history of the beginning of military flying. It ranks with great books, by some accident of your having put yourself into every line of it. Nobody but yourself knows how it was built: and it would be famous and fascinating to put on record its parts and origin.”

“You suggest that I annot[at]e a copy of it for history’s sake to show how it grew,” Springs replied. “That is just what I don’t want to do. If it lives, I want it to live as Mac’s diary, not as my novel. The controversy will be forgotten in a few years and then perhaps the book may be revived and read by a new generation on its own merits. My hope is that it will be a monument to Mac’s memory. He has no other.”

As an expression of thanks for “the honor you have paid me by your letter,” Springs indicated, “I am sending you by Nelson Doubleday my original manuscript in pencil which will show you exactly how it developed on paper. You will note that I wrote fast. I think I did the whole thing in four days. I used parts of Mac’s diary, my own diary, my combat reports, my letters home, and some official reports.”

On a more personal note, Springs wrote of the recent changes in his life—“My father died in April and since then I have become president and managing director of some fifteen corporations which include everything from a bank to a railroad. Needless to say, I shall never have a chance to write again. I have had to give up flying as I have no understudy or sergeant-majors, and I suppose I will have to give up drinking next. It is only recently that I have been able to drink again. I had to quit after I was shot down in June of 1918 and wasn’t able to take it up seriously again until I had an artificial stomach put in about four years ago.”

“Again I thank you for your letter,” Springs added in conclusion. “If you feel that you are writing to a legendary person, I have the idea that I am writing to a mythical one. I think I should not post this letter but burn it up the chimney as I used to do with my messages to Santa Claus.”

This page updated 8 April 2004
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