No.1 Among Us

A post primarily to recommend a read I’ve not yet completed: Orientations, the autobiography of Sir Ronald Storrs, described by T E Lawrence as “The first of us …. always first, and the great man among us.” Conversely, Storrs a man with as good a handle on the flawed genius – “my little genius” – that was Lawrence as any could.

I’m reading it after Lawrence In Arabia by Scott Anderson, another highly recommended read for anyone with any interest in the 20th century history of the middle-east. Frankly, is there anyone in the 21st century not interested?

Storrs interacted – corresponded, met and worked – with everyone – the list of royalty, aristocracy, premiers, politicians, generals, diplomats, adventurers, artists and thinkers is a name-droppers who’s who of 20th century history, worth the read for that alone – but Storrs is no name dropper. Tremendous wit and insight. By way merely of example, a wonderful exposition of his equally wonderful relationship with the much-maligned Kitchener. In our context here you need to know he was in 1917 the first British Governor of Jerusalem (and the putative Palestine, after Balfour, but before the British Mandate) immediately after Allenby had ended 80 years of Turkish rule there. The holy city of the holy land shared with the three Abrahamic religions. Fancy the job? But Storrs had similar periods of responsibility, not to mention power, in London, Cairo, Baghdad and Cyprus too.

Fascinating career, of a fascinating person, in a fascinating period of history – in his own words.

Local petitions were no less ingenuous. I had been appointed not three days before I received from an Orthodox [Christian] Arab an appeal clearly intended to combine a recognition of British conventions with a delicate personal flattery. “I do beseech Your Excellency to grant my request, for the sake of J. Christ, Esq. : a gentleman whom Your Honour so closely resembles.”

So many good anecdotes in the historical narrative. Go read.


I recall where and when I first saw a copy of Orientations, and dipped into it.

I was working in Alexandria and the hotel, like many do, had a small library in the guest lounge. And, also like most such libraries, it was in general not very inspiring, a pretty random collection of donated travel guides and fictions, new and old, English, French and Arabic, but hey, this was Alexandria the home of libraries, where the new Alexandria library was nearing completion.

As a sometime amateur Lawrence scholar, I noticed the name Storrs on the spine of one blue-bound volume, though to be honest at that time I didn’t really appreciate the depth and significance of the connection. The aristocratic and clergy Cust / Storrs family heritage in the early chapters didn’t initially inspire or trigger much further connection to my interest, despite checking that the index did indeed include many Lawrence references later, one amongst the enormous list of names (see above).

I had noticed the book just a couple of days before the end of the assignment, and snatched only a couple of brief introductory reads, but with the promise of the later references, and being the kind of random hotel library it was, I thought – I may as well take it, might be interesting, they probably wouldn’t miss it. However, the staff had been so good to us, I felt just taking it wasn’t the thing to do. So I asked at reception if they’d mind if I took it, or if they wanted I could pay for it, add it to my bill as it were. “No sir, he replied. We have so few worthwhile books in our library so far, we really wouldn’t want to let it go.” Oh well, I thought no more about it.

Until I came across all the Storrs / Lawrence references in the Anderson book.

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