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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

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Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Suwaydi, Naji al-
Cox, Percy
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Philby, Harry St John
Joyce, P.C.
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad Ap 25 Darling Father. It was a delightful surprise to get your letter from Jerusalem [(El Quds esh Sherif, Yerushalayim)]. I read to Sir Percy at lunch your most entertaining account of your journey. But oh I wish I had been with you! I should have liked to be showman in that wonderful place. I hope I shall get a further account of your life and times there. The same post brought me Mother's letter of March 24 - but I thought the Montagu's original name was Samuel not Moses? It's a nice tale however. I don't think I should take to a type writer who in private life figures as Galatea. But there! You're in the middle of the coal strike and how are you faring I wonder? Today's Reuters tell us that the transport workers have refused to go out. Jack Pease seems to have blossomed into quite a person - I hope a wise one. How thankful I shall be when it's over, but it's never really over - passed into another phase let us say, and hope that it will be a less acute one. My mind is dreadfully taken up with it and you.
I wrote to you last under the impact of Sir Percy's great coup. Not a voice has been raised against it, on the contrary the whole country is immensely relieved at S. Talib's disappearance. It was strange the succès de crime which he attained - everyone was afraid of him. The chief sentiment is admiration at Sir Percy's courage - that's how it is regarded. They say except for Midhat and Nazim Pashas the land has never seen his like. Hercules destroying monsters never got more kudos. It's absurd that Talib should have loomed so black and heavy. He wasn't nearly so formidable as they thought. His silly vanity made him always so vulnerable. All the same he was a live man, in spite of enfeebling vices, drink and drugs and what not. Since his fall we've traced the network of interminable intrigue and blackmailing, a restless activity in roping in immediate financial support and ultimate political support - he pocketed and spent the cash, so there was some gain there (though why people gave it is truly remarkable); the promises for the future weren't worth the air they were breathed with and those who gave them hasten to deny them without any cock crowing. Poor Talib! perhaps even he after these months of feverish scheming may find some relief in the enforced quiet of Ceylon [Sri Lanka]. I went to see his wife two days after his departure. Her demeanour was perfect. She didn't utter a word of complaint, and only asked to be allowed to join him. She told Aurelia that she hadn't had an hour free from anxiety since she came up here. She was dreadfully anxious lest some attempt should be made on his life and I suppose she knew how nerve ridden he had become. Messen[?] Bani Adam! poor children of Adam! plotting and contriving with setebos ready to lift his paw - pace[?]Sir Percy!

Nevertheless I think I never came across anyone whose world centred so completely in himself. Not a suspicion of an ideal in him, not a thought but of his own advancement. He was his own unique preoccupation. I can scarcely understand how Mr Philby, who was his Advisor, could have had any illusions about him, but he was certainly - and indeed is - much distressed at what has happened. He boudéd me for a week until I forced a heart to heart talk upon him and made him admit that at any rate I had done nothing but what was obviously incumbent upon me - it's my business to keep Sir Percy informed of all that passes. He won't quarrel with Sir Percy and I won't let him quarrrel with me. I think I've prevented that - though whether he will stay here, if they chose Faisal as Amir I don't know. On the whole I think that's what they'll do though there isn't much promise of enthusiasm in the choice. Most of them at this moment would gladly settle down under our rule, if only to avoid further worry. But it's a sentiment that wouldn't last and I continue to think it's best for them to have a man of high character and fine ideal, like Faisal, and let him make what he can out of it.

Major Ditchburn came up from Nasiriyah [Nasiriyah, An] last week with a whole posse of shaikhs. He has been having a difficult time and he looks as if he needed a rest which we can't give him yet. The Suq [Suq ash Shuyukh] shaikhs are behaving very badly, mostly intertribal disturbance, an aftermath of the relaxation of authority which was inevitable during the disturbances. As they didn't actually go into reBellion at that time they were not punished or disarmed and they are not reverting to general lawlessness. The shaikhs who came up declared that they could not make their tribes obey them and asked for our help and forcible suasion. I made Major Ditchburn dine with me one night and had a little party, the Tods, Col. Joyce and , just to distract him. These young men out in the wilds, trying to support authority with little but their own personal authority to help them have a heavy job.

On Saturday I went down to Hillah [Hillah, Al] to spend a night with Major and Mrs Dickson - he is Advisor to the new big Division which stretches from Hillah to Samawah [Samawah, As]. It's just about a year since you and I were at Hillah together. Capt Thomas, the boy who went with us to Ctesiphon, is there now with Major Dickson. So I heard all their tales and perplexities. The Arab Govt is a difficulty. The new Revenue Dept (Interior) issues paper orders which don't fall in with actual facts and clings to the old Turkish systems which we know are make believe. I suppose we shall get them persuaded in time, when people settle down to administration instead of spending all their energies in political vapouring. You can't govern wild tribes like ours on a cut and dried academic scheme. We spent Sunday morning at Babylon - very delicious it was - and I came back by the afternoon train which was an hour and a half late and got me home at 10.30.

Today I've been busy getting out the lists for the general amnesty, seeing people, hearing talk, going for half an hour to the wedding party of my cook's brother - I seldom saw so many hot fat people crowded together - and finally a quiet talk with Naji Suwaidi in my house before dinner. How glad I shall be - with the rest of Mesopotamia! - when we've reached some settlement and can cease to think of Amirs and parties!

Darling now I must go to bed - bless you all my Belloved family. Your very affectionate daughter Gertrude

Capt Thomas who is a musician, carried up a piano with him to Shatrah [Shatrah, Ash] and invited his shaikhs to come listen to the Pathetique sonata. At the end he asked what they thought of it. "Wallahi" said one "Khosh daqqah!" By God a good thumping.

IIIF Manifest