Seven Pillars of Wisdom, by T.E. Lawrence, Castle Hill Press (1997)

I have been remiss in not having highlighted Castle Hill Press until now. In a recent article on the Bruce Rogers/T.E. Lawrence 1932 OdysseyI had a chance to mention Castle Hill Press, but giving them the spotlight in a more focused article on their great work is well past due. Castle Hill Press is owned by Jeremy and Nicole Wilson. The aim of the press is to publish high-quality editions of important literary and historical texts by T.E. Lawrence. They have published sixteen titles since 1997 (seven contain longer works, articles, reports and essays; nine contain correspondence and some minor writings). There is a strenuous devotion to providing exceptional content along with high-quality production.

Exceptional content is the raison d’être of Castle Hill Press. Mr. Wilson is the world’s top authority on T. E. Lawrence. He is the author of Lawrence of Arabia: The Authorised Biography of T. E. Lawrencenamed by New York Times Review of Books as one of the best books of 1990. His T. E. Lawrence Studiesa website and online discussion list, is a phenomenal source for those interested in T.E. Lawrence, certainly the premier website on Lawrence. All of this knowledge is put to good use. The Wilsons are creating new texts not simply reprinting or doing facsimiles of old ones. There is a tremendous amount of scholarly research and editing that goes into these publications (see here as an example of all the steps that go into one of these works). This scholarship and devotion to thoroughness that feeds the content of the works by Castle Hill Press has resulted in all of their publications quickly becoming the recognized source concerning all things T.E. Lawrence.

The Wilsons firmly believe that this exceptional content deserves a high quality production. Mr. Wilson knows first-hand the quality modern private presses attain from his work with John Randle of The Whittington Press for 1988’s Whittington publication of T.E. Lawrence: Letters to E. T. Leeds. While Mr. Wilson realized that it would be cost prohibitive to use letterpress due to the extensive length of these works, the Wilsons set out to create handsome fine press editions done via high quality offset-litho (which, when done right, is fine indeed). The books would be designed, typeset, printed and bound to high standards.

We hand-typeset Castle Hill Press editions on a computer in-house, paying attention to every line, paragraph and page. The setting is then printed by quality-conscious printers on good quality papers and bound to high standards in strong traditional sewn bindings.

You will see the excellent result of this devotion to quality in the pictures below. As I have long preached on Books and Vines, design is what matters most in achieving a pleasing aesthetic, along with careful, quality-focused execution. The Wilsons have achieved that. To have created a successful fine press, focused on one of the most interesting persons of the twentieth century, that has significantly pushed scholarship miles forward while publishing superb quality editions is a significant achievement, one in which the Wilsons should be extremely proud of. And we, fine press collectors and lovers of fine literature alike, should be very thankful!

Before moving on to the specific book being reviewed in this article, a reader may ask, what was it about T.E. Lawrence that intrigued the Wilsons to embark on this endeavor? In an article in Parenthesis (No. 17, Autumn 2009), Mr. Wilson states:

For me, the appeal has always been the number of fields touched by his career. Mediaeval military architecture, archaeology, Middle East travel, guerrilla warfare, diplomatic history, writing, fine-printing, inter-war art and literature, RAF rescue launches… The list goes on and on. Lawrence brought an original mind and experience to everything he saw. He was both observant and articulate. Had he spent his career in one profession, people would find him far less interesting. As it is, his life and contacts offer a fascinating gateway to British history in the first half of the twentieth century.

I agree. Lawrence was a remarkable individual, who accomplished and experienced more in his short life than most could ever dream of. He represents a type of person that only England of the time could have produced. Studying his life pushes and pulls one into numerous realms; all interesting and in totality resulting in marveling at his width of complexity. Looking at the early twentieth century through the window of Lawrence is enlightening, and certainly stimulating.

The particular book this article is focusing on is the Castle Hill Press 1997 edition of Lawrence’s autobiographical masterpiece, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. In Seven Pillars, Lawrence describes his involvement in the Arab Revolt (1916-1918) against the Ottoman Turks (exploits made even more famous by David Lean‘s cinematic jewel Lawrence of Arabia, winner of seven academy awards, including best picture, in 1962). Lawrence completed Seven Pillars in 1922, but other than five bound copies of eight printed (referred to here as the ‘Oxford Times proof’ as the copies were typeset by the Oxford Times newspaper; doing so was cheaper than getting it typed) circulated among friends, colleagues, and critics for feedback — from which it became clear he had created a masterpiece — he did not proceed with publishing. Instead he spent the next four years working on an abridged subscription edition which shaved nearly 84,000 words off the 1922 original. It is this 1926 abridgement that was published in a trade edition after Lawrence’s death in 1935. It has gone on to sell over a million copies. None-the-less, Mr. Wilson tells us that as autobiography and as history, the 1922 text is, without question, superior to that of 1926.” This original 1922 work, despite this superiority, remained hidden for 75 years until this 1997 limited edition release by Castle Hill Press.

Getting this important edition published was not easy as Jeremy Wilson details here. Also, Mr. Wilson describes the extent he went to in order for the Castle Hill Press edition to be accurate and comprehensive:

My aim in preparing the 1922 Text for publication was to issue it in its ‘best’ form. The initial typesetting was based on Lawrence’s corrected Oxford Times proof. This was then checked against the Bodleian Library manuscript to correct the printer’s many transcription errors and ‘house style’ punctuation changes. I also restored printer’s omissions not corrected by Lawrence, two of which are of considerable interest. At the end of this process, the text published by Castle Hill Press was considerably more accurate than the text of the 1922 Oxford Times proofs. However, I found that in addition to straight corrections, Lawrence had made some hundreds of amendments on his copy of the printed text. These were clearly intended as textual improvements, and I decided to retain them. That produced a version which incorporates his final revisions to the 1922 draft, and is superior both to the manuscript and to the surviving Oxford Times proofs. Finally, the book was lightly copy-edited to remove the grammatical and punctuation errors inevitable in a manuscript, and also to eliminate Lawrence’s random variations in capitalisation and Arabic transliteration.

Clearly, the content of the 1997 Castle Hill Press edition is remarkable. The production quality also attained the objectives set by the Wilsons. The standard edition, which is what I highlight in pictures below) comes in three volumes. The first two volumes contains the text of Seven Pillars. These are printed by Cambridge University Press on 80 g.s.m. Supreme Bookwove, a high-quality acid-free off-white book paper. It was typeset by Castle Hill Press in Caslon, which we are told was Lawrence’s preferred typeface. The standard edition of 650 (as shown below in pictures) is bound by The Fine Bindery in quarter cream Rohalbleinen cloth with grey Fabriano Tiziano boards. The top edges are stained, with coloured endpapers and head and tail bands. The third volume contains the illustrations, There are 41 full page portraits of which 26 are in color (as reproduced in the 1926 edition). There are also 88 war photographs mainly from the collection Lawrence formed and presented to the Imperial War Museum.  The illustrations were originally printed in colour and duotone by T.G. Hostench SA of Barcelona but they were found to be defective and relatively few copies were issued; Replacement copies were printed in England by The Burlington Press on 115 gsm matt art paper. It was bound in cream Rohalbleinen cloth with limp boards. All the volumes are large, but manageable at 282 x 200 mm. All came with dust-wrappers and were slip-cased (in the pictures below, blame me for the mismatched red slipcase, that is my doing…long story!) . I am extremely happy with this edition, and was greatly pleased when they arrived. The print quality is top-notch and the reproduction quality of the portraits and photographs is outstanding. The Caslon text is surrounded by nicely generous margins, making it very reading friendly. The binding is handsome and conservatively done.

There were a couple additional versions of the 1997 edition, allow me to call them ‘Deluxe’ and ‘Super-Deluxe’, limited to 80 and 20 copies respectively. Both are described in more detail below in the ‘About the Edition‘ section. In 2003, a one volume ‘Library Edition’ was released in a limitation of 1,225 (again, in three variations — quarter-cloth, deluxe and super-deluxe). It contained a few content enhancements, including an award-winning index by Hazel K. Bell. It originally sold for £45! The 1997 and 2003 editions are sold out, and seem to rarely come up on the secondary market — but are well worth seeking out. In 2004 a more affordable one volume hardback trade edition was published (originally £35). It also sold out. In 2014, a two volume paperback edition, with some revisions, was published by Jeremy and Nicole Wilson for T. E. Lawrence Studies. It can be purchased directly here for £28.50 plus insured shipping. Directly is the way to go, as many on the most common secondary sites (including Amazon) incorrectly claim 1922 text and/or are essentially low quality pirated copies. Seriously people, for £28.50 to get a work of this caliber should not be passed up!

Besides this sensational Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press has published Lawrence’s other works, including Military Report on the Sinai PeninsulaTowards ‘An English Fourth’,  ‘The Mint’ and Later Writings About Service Life, and Boats for the R.A.F. 1929-1935. Castle Hill Press also has published Lawrence’s first published translation, that being The Forest Giant (Adrien Le Corbeau’s Le Gigantesque). Lastly, Castle Hill Press has published, and is continuing to publish, what is called the ‘Letters’ series. This includes Correspondence with Bernard and Charlotte ShawCorrespondence with E. M. Forster and F.L. LucasMore Correspondence with WritersCorrespondence with Henry WilliamsonTranslating the Bruce Rogers ‘Odyssey’, and the forthcoming Correspondence with the Politicial Elite 1922-1935. These are all remarkable, both in the form of execution (all in the same standards/vein of the Seven Pillars shown below) and in the research/scholarship that has gone into them.

Concerning the ‘Letters’ series, which is being soaked up by research collections around the world, Mr. Wilson tells us that “Lawrence’s letters offer insights that are for more interesting than anything written about him.”  In the Parenthesis article mentioned above, Mr. Wilson expands on this saying that “the appeal of a correspondence lies in what it tells you about two people and the relationship between them.” With over 6,000 surviving letters, including significant correspondence with people like Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, F.L. Lucas, Noël Coward, C. Day Lewis, Charles M. Doughty, Siegfried Sassoon, Henry Williamson, H.G. Wells, W. B. Yeats, Nancy Astor, Lionel Curtis and Eddie Marsh, not to mention to friends in the ranks of the Tank Corps and RAF, there is a wealth of insight into Lawrence and his times.

So how does one get these books? Castle Hill Press accepts advance subscriptions which offers subscribers at least 25% less than the post-publication price. In addition, as occasionally happens, if Castle Hill upgrades the specification after the subscription, subscribers get a better book at the original price. The 1997 Seven Pillars is a case in point. The original subscription was GBP185 plus shipping for a set in the standard quarter-cloth binding (what a deal!). Castle Hill originally planned just the photograph section of the illustrations volume, to be issued last of all as a companion booklet. However…

Then Ed Maggs called one day to say he had just bought from the printer’s personal library a mint set of the 1926 Seven Pillars plates, without the over-printed titles. The set included all the portraits but lacked some of the other pictures. He offered to have it photographed for us if we would like to reproduce the colour portraits with the illustrations. Including the colour portraits would multiply the cost of the illustrations volume dramatically. But it was an opportunity too good to miss, and they went ahead. The subscribers got a much better edition without paying more – and the post-publication price for the standard binding quickly went to GBP400… and eventually even more.

Those who choose to do advance subscription pay half the subscription when they order, and the other half plus postage when the book is ready to ship. This advance subscription offer is only available for a short time: typically three weeks, and at least 3 months before the book will be shipped. It really is a phenomenal deal and any with interest in T.E. Lawrence would do well to sign up. New subscribers to the “Letter” series often want to catch up on previous volumes, so Castle Hill Press offers a direct-sale price for the ‘set-up-till-now’ that is in real terms similar to the original subscription price, and well below the price of the volumes purchased individually. They also allow people to spread the cost over multiple payments. Some ‘non-letters volumes’ have gone to very high prices on the market. If Castle Hill happens to have copies, they offer them to series subscribers at about three-quarters of the current market price. In short, it pays to subscribe and they make it very worthwhile to do so.

We are told that Lawrence himself loved fine printing and disliked badly produced books. There is no higher compliment to the Wilsons than to say that Lawrence himself would simply love their work. Superb quality with scrupulously researched content. This is a fine press on a mission, and has succeeded in establishing itself as the go-to source for all things T.E. Lawrence.

You can contact the Wilsons here.

About the Edition

Three Volumes

  • Volumes I and II – The Text
    • Typeset by Castle Hill Press in Caslon, Lawrence’s preferred typeface
    • Printed by Cambridge University Press
    • 80g.s.m. Supreme Bookwove, a high-quality acid-free off-white book paper
    • Spine height: 28.8cm. Trimmed page size 282 x 200mm; each volume 456 pages
    • Bound by The Fine Bindery in quarter cream Rohalbleinen cloth with grey Fabriano Tiziano boards; Top edges stained, coloured endpapers, head and tail bands
    • Issued in dust jackets
  • Volume III – Illustrations
    • Part I (in colour): Forty-one Seven Pillars Portraits reproduced full-page – twenty-six are in full colour – as in Lawrence’s 1926 subscribers’ edition
    • Part II: eighty-eight war photographs, mainly from the collection Lawrence formed and presented to the Imperial War Museum
    • Originally printed in colour and duotone by T.G. Hostench SA of Barcelona; This Spanish printing was found to be defective and relatively few copies were issued; Replacement copies were printed in England by The Burlington Press
    • Paper is 115gsm matt art
    • Same size (HxW) as text volumes, 152 pages
    • Bound in cream Rohalbleinen cloth, with limp boards
    • Issued in dust jacket
  • The three volumes were issued in a cloth-covered slip-case
  • Limited to 752 sets, 650 quarter cloth as described above and seen below; In addition:
    • There was an edition of 80 bound by The Fine Bindery in full Oxford-blue Harmatan goatskin with hand-marbled endpapers by Ann Muir, using an unusual double-marbling process; Volume 3 was printed by the Burlington Press, bound in quarter blue goatskin with off-white cloth sides, bound with a parallel text of the introductory book and a portfolio of proof portraits
    • There was also an edition of 20 sets comprising six volumes including a complete parallel printing of the 1922 and 1926 texts in two volumes; on 100 gsm Supreme Book Wove, bound by The Fine Bindery in full Harmatan goatskin, to an inlay and onlay design by Glenn Bartley specially commissioned for the edition; All edges gilt; hand-sewn head and tail bands, leather joints and suede doublures; the companion volume of illustrations is bound in full black goatskin; a second box with the Parallel Texts (1922 and 1926) in two volumes, printed on 80 gsm Supreme Book Wove using Times New Roman which, being designed specifically for newspapers, is better suited than Caslon to two-column setting; hand-bound by The Fine Bindery in quarter brown Harmatan goatskin, with brown cloth sides and hand-marbled endpapers by Ann Muir. Top edges gilt; the eight chapters of the Introductory Book of Seven Pillars, in parallel 1924/1926 text, are quarter-bound in matching brown Harmatan goatskin with brown cloth sides

Pictures of the Edition

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided, under fair use, to highlight and visualize the review/criticism of the work being reviewed. A side benefit, hopefully, is providing education on the historical and cultural benefits of having a healthy fine press industry and in educating people on the richness that this ‘old school approach’ of book publishing brings to the reading process. Books and Vines has no commercial stake or financial interest in any publisher, retailer or work reviewed on this site and receives no commercial interest or compensation for Books and Vines. Please note that works photographed are copyrighted by the publisher, author and/or illustrator as indicated in the articles. Permission to use contents from these works for anything outside of fair use purposes must come directly from the copyright owner and no permission is granted or implied to use photo’s or material found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

{Ed. Note: You can click on any image for a close up view.}

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Custom Slipcase
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Custom Slipcase
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Books with Dust Jackets on, in Slipcase
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Books with Dust Jackets in Slipcase
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Books in Dust Covers
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Books in Dust Jackets
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Spines of Books and Portfolio of Prints
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Spines of Books and Portfolio of Prints
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Endpapers of Vol I and II
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Endpapers of Vol I and II
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Frontispiece and Title Page
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Title Page
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Macro of Title Page
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Macro of Title Page
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Copyright
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Copyright & Dedication
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Frontispiece and Title Page
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Text #1 (Contents)
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Text #2
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Text #2
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Text #3
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Text #3
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Text
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Macro of Sample Text #3
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Text #4
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Text #4
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Text #5
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Text #5
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Text #6
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Text #6
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Text #7
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Text #7 (Copyright and Contents of Vol. II)
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Text #8
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Text #8
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Text #9
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Text #9
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Map #1
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Map #1
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Map #2
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Map #2
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Endpaper in Suite of Prints
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Endpaper in Suite of Prints
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Frontispiece and Title Page of Portfolio
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Frontispiece and Title Page of Portfolio
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Copyright
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Copyright and Contents of Portfolio
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Text #3
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, List of Illustrations
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Illustration #1
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Illustration #1
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Illustration #2
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Illustration #2
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Illustration #5
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Illustration #3
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Illustration #1
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, List of Photographs and Sample Photograph #1
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Photograph #2
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Photographs #2
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Photographs #5
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Photographs #3
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Photographs #7
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Photographs #4
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Photograph #5
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Sample Photographs #5
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Photograph Source
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Photograph Source
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Deluxe Full Goatskin Issue
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, 1997 Deluxe Full Goatskin Issue (Navy) and 2003 Library Edition
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Deluxe Full Goatskin Issue - Anne Muir Endpapers
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Castle Hill Press, Deluxe Full Goatskin Issue – Anne Muir Endpapers

 

2 thoughts on “Seven Pillars of Wisdom, by T.E. Lawrence, Castle Hill Press (1997)

  1. Hi Chris, thanks for another sterling review and even more importantly, for making me aware of another great printing enterprise. Having seen the title in your upcoming reviews list I searched for the book and came across a copy at a great price on Amazon and only waited to hear your thoughts before pulling the trigger. Needless to say, as soon as I read how positive your review was, I grabbed the book before another one of your blog readers bought it instead! Michael

  2. Great review of the Wilson’s Castle Hill Press extraordinary work of astute research and fine book production. I am so fortunate to be a proud owner of their 1977 Seven Pillars volumes.

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