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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

Letter spanning several days in which Bell provides an overview of her recent social activities, noting a visit from Dr. George Byron Gordon, the principal of Pennsylvania University, whilst also discussing ongoing difficulties relating to the Baghdad Library and the Ministry of Pious Bequests.
Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Cornwallis, Ken
Askari, Ja'far al-
Dobbs, Henry
Wilson, J.M.
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Bourdillon, Bernard Henry
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper
Iraq ยป Baghdad

33.315241, 44.3660671

Sep 25 Dearest Father. I'm again going to write by the overland mail. There has been a great social activity. On Wednesday, the date of my last letter, Sir Henry gave a dinner for me at the Residency. The guests were Bernard Bourdillon, Ken Cornwallis, the Lloyds, the Prime Minister, Sabih Beg and Ja'far. Ja'far, I must tell you, is in the highest spirits and wrapped up in a mist of glory on account of all his experiences in England, including his visit to us! It wasn't a very well arranged dinner, though cordial in spirit. I was landed afterwards with the P.M. whom I love, but when we came to the end of what we had to say I didn't like to get up lest he should think it a sign for him to go, so he went on being landed. And finally the party broke up early. On Thursday I went to tea at the Palace - the King had a tennis party - and on Friday I went again by myself to discuss with him the arrangement of his new house. The Waring and Gillow furniture has come - it's rather lighter in build than I expected and some of our 'Iraqis are weighty people; Paul's things are on the way; I hope they'll be nice. Poor J.M. Wilson has had the devil's own time - orders from the King countermanded by the Chamberlain till he never knew where he was; and the Chamberlain's wife, Mme Safwat Pasha (she is generally reputed to be also the King's mistress) putting up abominable curtains and things at her pleasure. However she is now busy having a daughter and I've got a free hand for J.M., in the matter of the big reception room and all the curtains. I hope so, but one can never be certain. I came back to receive the wife and sister in law of the P.M., Turks both of them, but the sister in law talks a little Arabic. Pleasant, fat ladies; they don't like Baghdad where they find themselves much restricted after C'ple [Istanbul (Constantinople)]. And I dined with Fakhri Jamil - an immense dinner party in honour of Ja'far. I was the only European except a police officer, for Capt Clayton, the rogue, had shuffled out of it. We played Bridge after and Sabih Beg brought me home. Fakhri, though stupid, is an agreeable host. Then on Saturday there was a huge dinner party at the Palace in honour of Sir Henry's accession to the High Commissionership. I sat by Zaid who next morning sent me two guinea pigs as a present - I felt as if I had retired into my remotest childhood as I installed them in a cage in my garden. It was a terrifically long dinner and H.M. didn't end the party till 11.30. Feeling rather breathless after all these excitements, on Sunday Ken Cornwallis and I dined with ourselves and had a good talk - I really hadn't energy to invite anyone else. And last night, Monday, we spent a delicious evening. Saiyid Hashim, the Naqib's son, invited Mr Thomson, Ken and me to dine in the Turjmaniyah garden - you remember away towards the Diyala [(Sirwan)]. It was a full moon and we loved motoring down and arriving in the peaceful coolness of the garden. We dined on the roof with the famous eucalyptus trees towering over us, and the sweet silence broken only by the gentle ripple of the Saiyid's talk. His life is clouded, poor man, by a conviction that he can only just keep himself from dying of consumption, a disease he hasn't got so there's no cure for it, if you understand me. He is very kind and harmless, beautiful manners and very rich - I should think he does less than most people to try and steer the world. However, we didn't wan't steering; we just wanted to sit under the moon in the mild air with bunches of roses at our elbows.
Oh I must tell you that wasn't all - on Sunday Mr Thomson and I lunched at Kadhimain [(Al Kazimiyah)] with the Kiliddar (keeper of the treasure key) a rather objectionable gentleman called Shaikh 'Ali. He had got all our friends to meet us, Saiyid Ja'far and the Minister for Education (he's the Shi'ah minister) and Shaikh Hasan Suhail whose tents you saw at Aqar Quf and nice Haji Mahmud Astarabadi, a Shi'ah merchant, and there was another green-turbanned [sic] Saiyid whose face I dimly remembered though I couldn't put a name to it. He sat at the far end of the table and presently joined most agreeably in the talk and all went merrily. And as we came away, walking down the street with our host and Saiyid Ja'far, Shaikh 'Ali said rather sheepishily "I hope you didn't mind my having Saiyid Baqir - he insisted on coming when he heard you were to be there." And the nameless one turned out to be a certain Saiyid Baqir, son of the One Eyed (so nicknamed) who is a jackal of the King's and very much condemned by us! But it was just as well; it's no use nursing grudges. I've no doubt in my mind that the whole luncheon party was designed so that he might meet me on sociable terms. But Saiyid Ja'far's old eyes twinkled. He appreciated the joke; he thinks nothing of Saiyid Baqir. Mr Thomson also was much entertained. Oh dear, I'm so sad at the departure of Mr Thomson. He is such a darling. He's very sorry to go too.

We're having great dealings with the Ministry of Pious Bequests in the matter of our library. It's finances are in a bad way and I can't go on struggling to get money for it, so we've conceived the idea of offering ourselves bodily to Auqaf and are now in negotiation with the Minister who favours the suggestion. We discussed it at length at a committee meeting yesterday, after which I went round to call on Mina 'Abdud, a wealthy Christian lady (surely I took you to tea with her?) And there dropped in 'Abdul Jabbar Pasha Khaiyat, an old Christian of high repute who is a member of the central electoral committee which revises all the electoral returns. With him came the Director of Health, Dr Hanna Khaiyat, and then Ja'far Pasha, and we sat gossipping till it was time for me to go away and dine with the Saiyid.

You know I do enjoy myself here. I like being in the middle of this Arab world and on the terms I'm on with it, but I confess even now I have moments of amazement at finding how much we're in the middle of it - for instance when I looked round Shaikh 'Ali's luncheon table at all those turban-murbans on either side of me!

Sep. 27. [27 September 1923] My chronicle continues with a dinner party to the H.C. on Tuesday. I had to meet him the American Consul and the Advisor to Works with his wife (Wheatley by name) and Mr Gordon, principal of Pennsylvania University who is here for a few days. He lunched with me in London one Sunday you and Mother were at R'ton [Rounton] - a very nice man. Pennsylvania is associated with the Brit. Mus. in the diggings at Ur. It was a very pleasant dinner; Sir Henry is so agreeable and light in hand. I'm taking Mr Gordon to see the King today.
I think that's the end except that I had a large party of ladies to tea on Tuesday and they want to start a female club! Alas! I'm inclined to say for I shall have to be president. And yesterday the Gillans, Mr Thomson and I dined with Mr Cornwallis - rather dull, I was tired and couldn't keep the conversation from wandering into barren sands such as tennis tournaments.

Haji Muhsin Shalash of Najaf [Najaf, An] is settling in my room waiting to see Sir Henry. He sends you his respects. Ever your very affectionate daughter Gertrude

Yes, it didn't occur to me till you mentioned it how terribly my Aunt Kate must have suffered from the earthquakes. Has she survived, poor old dear?

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