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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
Sa'id, Nuri al-
Cox, Percy
Cornwallis, Ken
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Saud, Abdulaziz ibn
Haldane, Aylmer
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper

33.315241, 44.3660671

Aug 6 Baghdad Darling Father. We have had a quiet week. The plebiscite is nearly finished throughout the country. Many districts, Ramadi [Ramadi, Ar], Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)], the Euphrates, Amarah ['Amarah, Al], have added a ryder [sic] to the papers swearing allegiance to Faisal "on condition that he accepts British guidance." This has more than counteracted the folly of Baghdad. In not a single case has any anti-British provision been added and the Baghdad extremists are a butt for the ridicule of all. I sent you two more of Faisal's admirable speeches. On Monday there was a reception for him given by the Armenians and Protestants. It was one of the prettiest of all the Baghdad functions. It was given in the courtyard in front of the Armenian church which was hung with carpets and covered with awnings. There are a few palm trees in the court bearing now their heavy branches of dates. The great fronds with their hanging crown of fruit looked like huge Corinthian capitals carrying the awning roof. Faisal, who catches at beauty, was delighted. He called me up onto his dais, to sit on one side of him, with the Armenian bishop on the other. I felt it was a little public, but it seemed best not to make a fuss but just to do as I was told. There were the usual two hours' of speeches, poems, sherbets and ices. His own speech was unimportant - mere friendly encouragement of the Armenian community.
I had a terrific day on Tuesday. I got up at 4.45, motored at 5.45 with Mr Cornwallis to Ctesiphon - we took Faisal there - office 10.30 to 3.30 with an interval for lunch, home to wash and change, visit to the Naqib 4.30 to 6, library committee 6 to 7, visit to Sasun's sister in law 7 to 7.30, Hamid Khan to dinner 8 to 10. It was too much: I felt tired all next day - however it was worth it.

The Ctesiphon expedition was an immense success. I invited Faisal, 2 of his ADCs, the Garbetts, Fakhri Jamil and Mr Cornwallis, and I took Zaya with an excellent breakfast of eggs, tongues, sardines and melons. It was wonderfully interesting showing that splendid place to Faisal. He is an inspiring tourist. After we had reconstructed the palace and seen Chosroes sitting in it, I took him into the high mounds to the south, whence we could see the Tigris, and told him the story of the Arab conquest as Tabari records it, the fording of the river and the rest of that magnificent tale. It was the tale of his own people - you can imagine what it was like reciting it to him. I don't know which of us was the more thrilled. I had a good audience too in one of his ADCs, a Syrian called Rustam Haidar whom I like very much indeed - he's an intelligent well educated man and talks English admirably (though, if you'll forgive me for saying so, not as well as I talk Arabic - at which I'm a real dab now; so we always talk Arabic.) Fakhri Jamil has a large estate on this bank of the river opposite Ctesiphon and he brought over some of his villagers, with 4 lambs which they sacrificed to Faisal just before breakfast - horrid. By this time, though the visit was incognito, the whole village of Salman Pak had become aware of Faisal's presence and assembled outside the ruins, but we kept them outside and ourselves sat down under the shadow of the curtain wall to the excellent breakfast which Zaya had spread for us. It was very merry, Faisal in great spirits. They had hunted out all the school children and all the Sharifian flags they could muster into the single street of Salman Pak as we drove back through it.

Then the usual rushing morning, at the end of which I feel more dead than alive even when I haven't got up before 5. I couldn't rest in the afternoon because of my appointment with the Naqib. I never loved the old man more than that day, though it took him an hour and a half to say his say. He also was in the highest spirits and tremendously pleased with the part he has played. "Khatun" he said "you are my daughter, I will tell you all that passed through my mind. I have never since the coming of Sir Percy Cox  acted contrary to his advice or to the wish of the British Government. When I saw that Faisal was fit to be king and knew that the great Govt favoured him, I determined that I must avoid all talk and gossip by rising myself in the Council and pronouncing him King. I thought: Shall I consult Sir Percy Cox ? and my own thoughts answered me. I had made up my mind - if he disagreed with me I could not change it. I am an old man, responsible only to God. Therefore I consulted no one." That was what he said - and he repeated it very often - but isn't it fine? It's a privilege to deal with gentlefolk and there's no greater gentleman than the Naqib.

So at the end of the day I came to Hamid Khan, Mutasarrif of Karbala, cousin of the Agha Khan, and a really staunch adherent. He was immensely interesting about the politics of Karbala and Najaf [Najaf, An] but by that time I was so sleepy, that his voice seemed to retire fainter and fainter into a dim distance - and then I woke with a jump to supply the right answer about 'Abdul Wahid, or whoever it might be!

There was a curious episode in the middle of the week about one of the newspapers. The editor in his issue of Wednesday had quoted an article from an Egyptian paper and one from the Echo de Paris about French policy in Syria. He promised a leader on the subject next day, but when next day came there wasn't a leader and I, thinking that the editor had recalled my warnings, dismissed the matter from my mind. Not so the French consul - a snake in the grass. He came in to complain to Sir Percy of the leader that hadn't been written. Thereat Sir Percy told me to make sure that it wouldn't be written, and I sent a message to the editor. Next day he came into the office at 7.30 and said my message had come too late, the leader had already been written and printed, but the paper wasn't yet out and might he read it to me? It was an article entitled Two policies, pointing out and tracing historically the history of French and British relations with Turkey and with the Arabs, and it was quite excellent; it hit the nail on the head every time, but the more justly it hit the more infuriated the French consul would be. The editor said if I didn't want it to be published he would suppress the whole issue. I said I was really reluctant to do that but I would like to consult the High Commissioner. Sir Percy was at breakfast. I gave him a brief outline of the article and he decided that it had better be suppressed, so I bought up the whole issue of the paper and burnt it! And we have now purchased the best of all weapons to use against the French consul if he complains again. But I'm going to have his blood. The Syrian papers, subsidized by the French, are full of the most violent abuse of us and of Faisal and I've given my editors full permission to quote and comment on these passages.

I gave Faisal an account of the whole transaction, together with the suppressed article, and next day, like the trump he is, he played into our hands. There happened to be a reception at the Persian school to which I went as usual. It was all the more necessary to go because Muhammad Sadr was the organizer of the function and I feared that unsuitable things might be said, which my presence would have a tendency to restrain. Muhammad Sadr came in just before the Amir. Everybody rose at his entrance - and I sat tight and gave him the salute I should give to anybody after he had sat down. He was put on the left of the Amir's throne, while I was on the right. I got up with alacrity for Faisal when he entered. (Next day one of the Shi'ahs came to the office and expostulated with me. I replied "Why should I rise for Muhammad Sadr? he is not even an 'alim." "By God, that's true" he answered, and left a wiser man than he had come.) - Such an immense beetle has just flown into my room. I've invited it to leave - Well - all the speeches and poems were perfectly in order till the very last, when a young idiot whom I've known for years - he's scarcely sane - got up and recited an ode about the throne of Beyrut [Beyrouth (Beirut)] and the mountains of Lebanon and the desire of all Arabs. Faisal whispered to me "Do you understand?" I said "Of course." He went on "I think I must say a few words on that." I cheered him on. And just as he was going away he said "This is a private meeting and nothing that is spoken here has political importance, but I was sorry to hear the ode of - Rashid, is his name? (Rashid sank into the earth) and if I had known he intended to recite it I would have stopped him. I beg you to turn all your thoughts to the work of creating an Arab state in Mesopotamia, and to think of nothing else."

His words were electric, the whole town is talking of them - isn't he a good colleague?

I dined last night with Sir Aylmer to meet him. It was a small male dinner - I was the only woman. I sat by Faisal who was full of talk. He is tremendously excited about Ibn Sa'ud's claim to sovereignty over all our nomad tribes - chiefly Fahad Beg of the 'Anizah. "I take witness in God" he said "if we don't stop Ibn Sa'ud, in three months' time there will be another battle at Ctesiphon like that which you described to me." But we shall stop him; his claims are absolutely inadmissible.

This evening Nuri Pasha, Ja'far's brother in law and C.G.S., came to see me and we spent an hour praising all the gods we knew for what has been done here in the last 6 weeks. Faisal has promised me a regiment of the Arab army - the Khatun's Own. I shall presently ask you to have their colours embroidered. Nuri proposes that I should have an army corps!

Oh Father, isn't it wonderful. I sometimes think I must be in a dream.

Sorry to say that it's desperately hot again. As regards climate this is being the Devil's own summer.

I must tell you another item of Nuri's conversation - mind, you are not to repeat any of these things, I don't wish to emulate Mrs Rosita Forbes. Nuri said "People like to see you at the meetings for Faisal. Wherever you are they know it will be all right. They think you keep Sir Percy straight." I said "That's entirely untrue - it was Sir Percy's policy from the first." "Yes" he said "I know. But it was yours even before Sir Percy came. People know that you always advocated an Arab state and it gives them confidence to see you."

It's an advantage isn't it, and one which doesn't always accrue to us here below, to have been consistently of the same mind from the very beginning!

I've got Ernest's letter and I'm writing to Herbert. I entirely agree with Ernest, it's just what I've always expected, and our success here is going to make things worse for them there. Again, if I'm not being very egregious, I lay claim to consistency from the first. I'm convinced you can't be pan-Arab in Mesopotamia and pan-Jew in Palestine.

Darling I've got your letter of July 6 with the account of Mother's accident. She really is a remarkable lady - I do hope she is better. Soon I ought to hear of the success of the play.

Goodbye - I hope you are not bored with my histories. It's such a comfort to have someone to tell them to! Your very loving daughter Gertrude

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