Letters

8 July 1921

From/To: Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

Friday July 8. [8 July 1921] Last night the Naqib gave a dinner to Faisal in his house opposite his own mosque. The English guests were Sir Percy and his staff (i.e. Mr Garbett and me) and the GOC in C and 2 of his staff. All the rest were the ministers and notables of Baghdad. Sir Percy took me. The streets were crowded with people as we drove up; the Naqib's family received us at the door and we climbed up two flights of stairs onto a roof overlooking the mosque, a sort of wide balcony. It was carpeted and lighted; the mosque door opposite was hung with lamps and the minarets ringed with them. The Naqib was sitting with the ministers; he got up and tottered forward to meet Sir Percy, a touching and dignified figure. The rest of the guests, some 100 I should think, sat Bellow us on the open gallery which runs round two sides of the courtyard on the first storey of the house. A burning wind blew on us while we drank coffee and talked till the clapping of hands in the street announced the arrival of Faisal. The Naqib got up and helped by his personal physician, walked across the whole of the carpeted space and reached the head of the stairs just as Faisal's white robed figure appeared. They embraced formally on both cheeks and walked back hand in hand to the end of the balcony where we were all standing up. Faisal sat down between the Naqib and Sir Percy and after a few minutes dinner was announced. Faisal Sir Percy the C in C and I went down; then the Naqib with a servant on each side of him to help him. The long dinner table stood on the open gallery. Faisal sat in the place of honour opposite the Naqib with the C. in C. on one side of him and I on the other. Sir Percy was on the Naqib's right, opposite me and I had on the other side Izzat Pasha, a Turk of Kirkuk whose attitude towards Arab government is very doubtful. We put him onto the Council and he has perpetually told me in private that he thinks nothing of it, nor of any Arab institutions which aren't carried on our shoulders. I was very glad to be sitting by Faisal and to have the opportunity for a good talk but after two or three courses (there were 15 or 17 altogether) I handed him over to Sir Aylmer (Faisal talks a very little French, no English) and made conversation to Izzat who is rather a friend of mine. In the middle he turned his cynical old eyes on me and said: "Why did you bring that man?" It was a moment for straight speaking. I said "Do you want an answer? it's because he is the best Arab of his day. Is that enough?" "Yes" said Izzat "that's enough." After that we all talked across the table with the Naqib and Sir Percy, which was easier. But I hear Izzat had a long private conversation with Faisal this morning and Faisal thinks he has got him. If he has, he has got Kirkuk.

Towards the end of dinner one of our best orators made a short and excellent speech followed by a shorter and better poem the gist of which was that the conjunction of the Naqib and the Amir assured the future of the Iraq. Each couplet ended with a very charming phrase about standing in the house of the Naqib and before the face of the Amir. The Naqib sat doubled up, looking centuries old and murmured from time to time "Good words." I Bellieve he intended to say something himself but Faisal is very impatient of sitting after dinner and after masses of fruit had been handed round, he got up and what the Naqib might have said has unfortunately been lost forever - a great pity. But it was a wonderful sight that dinner party. The robes and the uniforms and the crowds of servants; all brought up in the Naqib's household - the ordered dignity of it and the real solid magnificence and the tension of spirit which one felt all round one as one felt the burning heat of the night. For after all to the best of our ability we were making history.

But you may rely upon one thing - I'll never engage in creating kings again; it's too great a strain.

Well then we went back to our high balcony and arranged ourselves on the seats, Faisal by the Naqib, and I brought up another old thing of almost equal sanctity to sit on the other side of him and sat down by the second old thing myself so as to help the conversation to flow. But we didn't have very long of it. Faisal went away amidst clappings of the crowd and we all took our leave. Sir Percy and I as we drove home, felt we had jumped another hedge, but we agreed that we were in a very stiff country.

Again today the same sort of morning in the office - it's a morning which lasts from 7 till 1.30! Faisal was there interviewing Sir Percy even before I got there. Then came the heads of the Mosul [Mawsil, Al] deputation to ask me to arrange their journey back, and incidentally confided to me that they didn't think we ought to wait for elections to proclaim Faisal king, which was good hearing. Then shaikhs to interview Sir Percy and me and ask if they ought to go and pay their respects on Faisal. And more people and more, and finally my best editor to whom I dropped a hint that he might freely write articles in favour of a referendum. After lunch Sir Percy, Mr Garbett and I drafted the crucial letter to the Council, and soon after 3 I came home to wash and change (it isn't the coolest part of the day) and got to Faisal's house at 4 o'clock, with all the tribal maps to give him a lesson in tribal geography. Mr Cornwallis turned up too. There at least it was cool for we sat in a big vaulted room, half underground and for an hour we studied tribes and drank iced lemonade, after which we spent another hour discussing the formation of Faisal's first Cabinet and his very excellent idea of creating a sort of Privy Council of shaikhs and notables. On the way home I called on Sasun Eff. and told him about the letter to the Council and how it was intended to provoke a request for a referendum. And now if I don't go to bed I really shan't be able to begin again tomorrow morning.



Previous page