Request a high resolution copy

Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

There is currently no summary available for this item.
Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Naji, Haji
Hashimi, Yasin al-
Sa'id, Nuri al-
Askari, Ja'far al-
Suwaydi, Naji al-
Cox, Percy
Cornwallis, Ken
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Philby, Harry St John
Eskell, Sassoon
Churchill, Winston
Saud, Abdulaziz ibn
Hardinge, Charles
Joyce, P.C.
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper

33.315241, 44.3660671

June 22. Darlingest Father. It's provoking, isn't it, that the mail goes out the day before the new mail comes in, so that I'm always answering letters 10 days at least after I received them. Your last (May 30) got here about the 10th - most interesting, with your accounts of talks with Lord H. in Paris, Herbert Samuel etc (I made good use of it as you'll see) and also Mother's describing your arrival home to tropic climes - I daresay they're arctic again by this time. I'm so glad she thought you looking well.
My story last week was mainly concerned, I think, with the visit of "H.E. the young Lord." See further enclosure. The disgust of the extremist papers over his utterances at the Kadhimain [(Al Kazimiyah)] tea party was exceedingly comic. "If" said one "we had known what his views really were we would not have wearied our hands with clapping or our voices with crying "Long live the Morning Post"! (That the MP should have been taken as one of the apostles of liberal principles was not the least comic aspect - altogether there's a great deal of quiet fun to be got out of the vernacular press.) The deuce of it was that having starred Lord Apsley in such tall letters they were in duty bound to give a full account of his remarks and these reports were siezed on by the moderates as an excellent exposition of the reasonable point of view. Most {provoking} vexing for your ardent patriot, wasn't it? I had one or two quiet laughs during the next few days.

On the Sunday after I last wrote (June 11) Mr Cornwallis, Capt Clayton, , Capt Aston (a dear and sensible little assistant Advisor) and I went to swim in the Diyala [(Sirwan)]. It wasn't a very well chosen day. There was a tempestuous south wind and we, motoring in the teeth of it, felt as if we were motoring through Hell. Nor was Belloved Capt Clayton's staff work very good, we hit the Diyala in the wrong place, found it full of people bathing and had to go hunting about for a better. However at last we got to comparative privacy - I don't remember to have yet performed my toilette so completely in the open and it was merely the mercy of Providence that cows and women were the only spectators - had our swim in the dusk - the Diyala was running very strong still - and then sat on the high bank very peacefully and eat our cold dinner - oh, above all drank our cold drinks! The wind dropped, night hushed the chattering in some Arab tents close by, the river hurried Bellow us and a late moon lifted its distorted shape out of the east and spread a soft light over the interminable miles of desert thorn. We lay there till past 9 talking of the 'Iraq and the Arabs and the things we're doing.

Next day the King gave an immense dinner party - Coxes, Sir T. Fraser, RAF etc etc. I sat opposite H.M. between Sir T. Fraser and the Minister of Justice, both of whom I like very much. The table is narrow and a good deal of talk goes on across it, but his dinners are too long and in this weather it's too tiring to sit through so many courses. When the men came out, the King took me onto the balcony and told me that he had given a sharp rebuke to Ja'far Abu Timman, the extremist Shi'ah minister, for attending the Kadhimain tea party which as a high official of the Govt H.M. thought he had no right to do - quite rightly. I spent the rest of the evening talking to some of the Ministers and Mr Cornwallis - very pleasant.

On Tuesday I entertained the Minister of P.W. to tea - or rather to be more accurate, he entertained me. He's a very amusing soul, namens Sabih Beg - very modern, talks passable French and some German, carries the photographs of his wife and daughters in his pocket and whips them out à tout propos to show all and sundry. After I had laughed a good deal over his anecdotes of turbaned nonentities and others, I observed that to the student of history the position here was extremely interesting. He could watch the struggle between the modern world and the middle ages - the former was bound to win, it had nothing against it but a pack of jibbering ghosts who should be caught and sealed into bottles as Soloman sealed the jinn - I didn't know {that} why the superscription "Faisal ibn Husain" should not be as effective as "Sulaiman ibn Daud." Sabih Beg was much pleased with this; it's a useful little parable which I'm busy circulating!

Sur ce came in a young extremist Arab official from Diwaniyah [Diwaniyah, Ad], Ibrahim Kamal, who is busy boxing the ears of all the pro-British shaikhs in his district. After Sabih left we had a most amicable conversation at the end of which I asked him when he returned to Diwaniyah to give my special salutations to Haji Mukhif, the leader of the British party. He looked rather sheepish at this and murmured "He's so easily alarmed." "You may be quite sure he has reason to be" said I and with that we parted on most cordial terms!

Extremists are very disarming when they behave like this, aren't they?

I had a dinner party that night - Sir Theodore, the Gillans (I don't think you know them, a darling little Advisor couple) Ja'far Pasha and the French consul and his wife, Maigret by name, just come. Butter won't melt anywhere in the vicinity of M. Maigret. She also is pleasant and decorative, not at all like the lilies of the field, at least not before, as you might say, they had been submitted to treatment. Anyhow it is the greatest comfort to have one's French representatives so outgoing and so ready and eager to make acquaintance with the Arabs. Sir Theodore was an old dear.

As a matter of fact this dinner was on the previous Sat. I now remember and the Tuesday party was a Bridge party - the Joyces, Mr Cornwallis, Yasin Pasha, Major Eadie. Naji Beg Suwaidi dropped in after dinner. I have a charming arrangement for these parties. After dinner we go down to the garden room where is the Bridge table and outside there's a drawing room in the garden, all lighted with old Baghdad lanterns for where such as aren't playing can sit. After the Joyces and Mr C. had gone away, Naji, Yasin, Major Eadie and I played a rubber. The two Arabs didn't play very well - their declarations lacked boldness, but it was rather fun.

Next day I went to tea with the King and had one of the most interesting talks I've ever had with him. We began about Yasin whom I said I was drawn to {but} though I didn't feel I understood him. H.M. said that was exactly his feeling - he had never understood Yasin and then de fil en aiguille we went back over the whole tale of the Paris Conference. Faisal's gradual conviction that we were going to hand him over to the tender mercies of the French (NB to my certain knowledge he was never definitely told this till July 1919) then the renewed hopes roused by the American delegation - Crane and his colleague - dashed once more by the complete suppression of their report. Finally his determination to get on with the French as long as he possibly could so as at any rate to found and establish an Arab Govt which even if he were turned out would be difficult to obliterate; then his hand forced by the hot heads on his own side and French rigidity. And all the time his own family bitterly jealous of him, never giving him a hand's turn of help - and he clinging to our vanishing skirts. I sat listening with breathless interest - it was a contribution to history and I've put it all down at length - but what I can't reproduce is the psychology of it. If you could have watched him for five minutes you would have understood it - his face narrow and eager between the folds of his white kerchief, reflecting every turn of his thought with its wonderful mobility of feature; the shining eyes of the idealist, deepened by sorrow and disappointment and yet no reproach in them. I felt as he told that tragic tale - for it is nothing short of tragic, though we are not yet, thank Heaven, at the last act of it - that no amount of patience and forbearance that we might be called upon to excercise [sic] towards him now was more than what he had deserved at our hands.

When, if ever, we come up to eternal judgement, you may be very sure that we shall ultimately be graded according to the very highest point we have been able to reach. Like poets - you can't write down Wordsworth a rhymster because he fell to "A Mr Wilkinson, a clergyman." Faisal on that day will come out very high. He surges up a long long way across the heavenly strand; the tide goes down again, but he has been there and left his little line of sea gold on the shore.

Loving and respecting him more than I can say, I then brought the talk back to the situation here. We were all on edge because the final answer about the treaty had not yet come from home. Whatever the answer were, I begged him to remember that the only chance in the immediate future - possibly in our time - for the Arab cause was to accept our help in setting up stable political conditions here, even if it must be accepted on our own terms. But as for that, we English were naturally inclined to see the point of view of other people - and then I read to him the part in your letter (which I had brought with me) about the mandate and gave it as an illustration of the way Englishmen thought. He would see the same thing in our papers. Why need he fear that we were laying an intolerable burden on him in the mandate? the very terms of the treaty provided for our making every effort to get the 'Iraq included in the League of Nations. Once there the mandate became an absurdity. We had an immediate barricade in front of us to be surmounted; the majority of his subjects were perfectly ready to overcome it, he had only to refrain from discouraging them and from encouraging the small band of tub thumpers. If he loyally would do that, the goal was assured. He said he hadn't forgotten and never would forget what I had said to him before about the image made of snow (that was a good parable, thank Heaven for the inspiration) and that if {only} H.M.G. gave him a treaty which he could honourably set his name to, he would go ahead on the lines I had suggested, but he complained that his Ministers gave him no help. I told him that several of them were laying their heads together with Naji Suwaidi to form a strong, moderate combine and that Naji was constantly coming to me to tell me about it. - Since then he has seen a good deal of Naji and I hope he feels that he has considerable and weighty support.

On Thursday I took Mrs Wilkinson to tea with some Arab ladies - I'm always taking some of our nice Englishwomen out to tea like that; it's such a help. And then I dined with Sasun, a family party. On Friday I went to an immense lunch given by Sabih Beg (Minister of P.W) to bid farewell to a very nice Egyptian Irrigation officer, Mr Gordon Harris, who has been here on a 2 months' inspection. As a farewell luncheon it wasn't a success owing to the fact that Mr G.H.'s steamer - he was going by river - had incontinently set off at 9 am and he perforce with it! Otherwise it was very agreeable and amusing - Ministers, Advisors, all the PWD officials, H.M.'s secretary and me.

I had to tea the wife and daughters of Safwat Pasha, a pleasant old Syrian who was the King's tutor in C'ple [Istanbul (Constantinople)] and has now been put in charge of the finances of his household. A good appointment - if only he were an 'Iraqi! people here complain a good deal of the court appointments all being given to Syrians. The women folk were very nice and cheerful, and after tea I drove back with them to the Palace where Rustam Haidar (the Secretary) had asked me to come and watch the tennis. H.M. plays twice a week with Capt. Clayton, and Nuri Pasha, loves it and really plays quite well. Sabih Beg, Rustam, Safwat and I sat by and applauded - it was a success, the King likes an audience and people to chat with between sets.

All that day the answer from H.M.G. was being decyphered [sic] - you may imagine the tenterhooks we were on! Well, it's all right, reasonable and generous and accompanied by a very sympathetic private telegram to H.M. from Mr Churchill. Now we can go ahead I hope.

In the evening I had an evening party in my garden 9-11.30. Coffee and ices and talk under my lanterns. I asked about 10 Arabs and 5 Englismen. It was quite brought off and I shall do it again and again.

Well then a very sad thing happened. I went into office on Sat. morning feeling rather uncomfortable in my inside, got worse and worse and came away after an hour and a half, sending for a doctor. He said he didn't think it was anything and I kept quiet all day, had Mahmud Chalabi Shahbandar to tea and went early to bed. I woke at dawn feeling nearly all right, got onto a horse at 5 and rode down the empty town, meeting Nuri Pasha half way, for the King had told us to come out riding with him. We picked up H.M. and took him for a little amble through the palm gardens, ending up with inspecting progress at his great new College at Mu'adhdham [Azamiyah, Al] of which he laid the foundations two months ago. It was a delicious morning and he was beaming and overjoyed about the answer from home, and feeling confident and happy. He is nothing of a horseman and we all feel he ought to be gently encouraged to take to it. He promised to come out again and invited me to spend the morning on Tuesday in the Naqib's garden Bellow Baghdad where he and his staff were going to breakfast and lunch. But no! by the time I got back I was very bad in my inside. Dr Braham then said I had a little inflammation of the kidneys and it would clear off in a day or two. Accordingly I spent the next 3 days in acute discomfort and was sick at once whenever I so much as drank a glass of water. Yesterday I began to get better and Sir Percy and lots of ministers and people came to see me. Today I'm practically all right, my doctor says I may go into office tomorrow but that I'm to live on chicken and fish and eggs and milk for a bit. Well I don't mind that.

Having this morning with nothing to do I've spent part of it agreeably in writing to you. This afternoon there is a very important meeting of Council - the treaty will be laid before the Ministers. And, to this moment I'm not sure they won't do something silly - put in a rider about their non acceptance of the mandate, which will let the King down and make the whole thing exceedingly difficult again. Sir Percy has done his level best to persuade the Naqib not to wander off into that line of country, a quite needless excursion since all they need do is to say they accept the treaty as the sole instrument between the 'Iraq Govt and H.M.G. Three of the newspapers have been perfectly outrageous, publishing petitions against the mandate from Tom, Dick and Harry but not a word about the definite demands for the mandate that are coming in from all the big people. Also unBellievable attacks on Major Yetts for encouraging a movement against the Arab Govt. That is going to be met by an official declaration of confidence in him and one of the papers has been suppressed by the Ministry of Interior - I expect they are all in the pay of that wicked old hobgoblin, Shaikh Mahdi al Khalisi, one of the turbanned [sic] lot whom I want to seal into a bottle. He's not even an Arab, he's a Persian.

I've been getting at ministers this morning in the intervals of writing to you and I suppose nothing more can be done. If it doesn't come out quite straight, it will be up to Sir Percy, that great weaver of destinies, to pull it right again.

Meantime Ibn Sa'ud has refused to accept the terms of the 'Iraq-Najd [(Nejd)] treaty. Paff! we had a moment of discouragement. Only I think H.M. was rather pleased because I.S. is putting himself in the wrong! However in another telegram I.S. begs Sir Percy to meet him somewhere and advise him as to the line he should pursue about the Hijaz, 'Iraq and Trans Jordania, and once they meet the thing is done, I feel convinced. I've a suspicion that Ibn Sa'ud's rather truculent attitude may be not unconnected with the escapades of Mr Philby. That young gentleman having got to Jof [Jawf, Al (Al Jauf)], whither he was on the way when we were in 'Amman the second time, telegraphed for permission to come on to 'Iraq so as to examine a possible second route for the railway and, without waiting for an answer, set off. As he journeyed unconsciously across the desert the air above him was rumbling with orders from High Commissioners and Secretaries of State that he was to return at once to 'Amman! Sur ces entrefaits he appears at Karbala. He wasn't allowed to come up here - the S. of S. having directly forbidden it - but was packed off by air to 'Amman where I expect he will receive the wigging he well deserves. For you see I.S. is very touchy about the overlordship of Jof which, Mr Philby is trying to secure for 'Abdullah (quite vainly, as we are all convinced) and the last thing we want is that the 'Iraq should be connected with that dispute which doesn't the least concern us. Moreover if ever the railway comes to be built, a big if, it's practically certain that it will never make the long detour to Jof.

By the way I send you an exceedingly confidential report, done only for Sir Percy. You will see that I've dealt faithfully with persons and Govts, as far as my light went. Domnul, Herbert and Elsa may see it (Mother of course) - no one else. If it got into official hands at home, I should not be popular.

We've had another disaster in Sulaimani [Sulaymaniyah, As] - lost two most gallant officers owing to the treachery of a Kurdish agha who had attempted to murder a Kurdish official, and turned, snapping like a dog, on the two Englishmen who came to adjust terms with him. One of them, the Levy officer, Capt. Makant, I knew very well and loved. He was a most enchanting creature, straight and brave and absorbed in his job. I rode his black horse all along the Persian frontier last year. What fine lives we have wasted there - well, I won't say wasted yet, but it's a heavy price we're paying for the redemption of that lawless land.

Dearest I'm so glad the Cowdray negotiations are promising. I won't mention them to anyone. If they succeed you might give him a statue by a modern Greek artist, a pendant to the one he bought in Athens you remember, as a memento.

I see Sir H.G. has gone back. I wonder what he has succeeded in extracting from H.M.G.

What a fine, interesting letter, isn't it, once you've waded through it all! My dear love to Mother and I'm your very devoted daughter Gertrude.

Elsa will be gratified to hear that the parasol has come and exites the deepest admiration at Court!

Perhaps some day you might send me a Bridge box - I haven't one. Also possibly some patience cards?

Stop press news. 8 p.m. [Original after 18 May 1922 in album] Saiyid Husain Afnan, Sec. of the Council, has just been in to tell me of the debate. It has resulted in nothing. The treaty was read, 'Abdul Muhsin (Justice) warmly urged its acceptance, Taufiq Beg (Interior) said he agreed the question was urgent but 95% of the country would be against the treaty cum mandate (NB the mandate isn't alluded to in the treaty.) The Naqib asked Ja'far Pasha whether his army would put down disturbances. He replied no Arab would fight against an Arab (NB our Arab Levies fought boldly against the insurgents in 1920!) Then Ja'far Abu Timman (Commerce) who is the vilain [sic] of the piece spoke. He had sat silent like one who was taking evidence to report to his superiors the Shi'ah divines and everyone watching him out of the corners of their eyes with terror, except 'Abdul Muhsin and Sasun. He said this was a matter the Council could not settle - it {was} must go to the Congress. The holy Saiyids and pillars of Islam were against it - he practically said that they were against any treaty at all. Sasun objected that the elections would take months and suggested that the Council must have something to put before Congress. Let them sign the Treaty subject to its ratification by Congress. On this, the debate having lasted 2 hours, they decided - to adjourn it till Saturday!

Husain Afnan says he thinks the Naqib is absolutely incapable of taking a decision. He is suffering from mental paralysis.

Now Naji Suwaidi and his lot have got to get going. I'm as certain as one can be of anything in politics ({especially} even religio-politics!) that they'll win, but I feel like the recording angel watching the struggles of a soul towards salvation.

And here's the record for you.

At tea time today there turned up Mr Ledew our American friend of Beyrut [Beyrouth (Beirut)]. He and his party had got to Tehran [(Teheran)] but the Bolshies had categorically refused to allow them to go through the Caucasus [Bol'shoy Kavkaz] on the ground that the USA had not recognized the Soviet. And nothing they could do was any use. So they've come back to go tomorrow via Mosul [Mawsil, Al] to Aleppo [Halab] by car.

Father you can't wonder I want to be here, can you - in spite of my great desire to be with you.

IIIF Manifest