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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

Letter in which Bell discusses her recent social engagements whilst also providing a brief update on her work. She notes that she has recently written drafted a despatch for Sir Henry Dobbs on the Iraqi case for inclusion of Mosul within its borders and adds that she has spent time at the Ministry of Works, formulating plans for the Iraq Museum. Bell comments on the political and financial situations within the Persian and Turkish governments, and reports that her Round Table article on Iraq has been sent to Sir Percy Cox. Bell encloses a letter in Arabic from Abd al-Rahman al-Gaylani, Naqib al-Ashraf of Baghdad, with her own English translation. The letter is in response to her gift of a picture, and she ends by requesting two copies "of the Sargent photograph".
Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Cornwallis, Ken
Naji, Haji
Suwaydi, Naji al-
Dobbs, Henry
Cox, Percy
Wilson, J.M.
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Eskell, Sassoon
Askari, Ja'far al-
Sa'id, Nuri al-
Cox, Louisa Belle
Loraine, Percy
Drower, Edwin
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad Oct 13 Darling Father. I felt quite aggrieved last week at there being no overland mail so that I couldn't write. Why it was, I don't know; there's one this week but that's no good as I can write by air. It was my annoyance at this episode which kept me from beginning my letter sooner - let me think now what I've been doing since I last wrote. I went to the King's tennis party on the afternoon of the third to say goodbye to him for he went to Mosul [Mawsil, Al] on the 7th, and I had Sidi Zaid to dinner - I think I told you that and what a success it was. Ken Cornwallis dined with me on Saturday and we went through my article for the Round Table which has also been approved by Sir Henry so it goes to Sir Percy by this mail. It's rather lifeless, I think, but at any rate it puts our case and it's a very encouraging story. I had the Lord Mayor of Baghdad (Sabih Beg) to lunch on Sunday. His family, on whom we called in C'ple [Istanbul (Constantinople)], are now on their way out - great excitement - oh yes, and on Friday I had a perfectly charming dinner with the Prime Minister en famille. Naji Suwaidi (Minister of Justice) and his wife were also there. All the women are Turks of C'ple and are rather dépaysées here. They scarcely talk Arabic - Muhsin's wife talks none but his sister in law and her pretty daughter have learnt some. Naji's wife was very prettily dressed in a blue crepe de chine gown which I should have been quite pleased to wear myself. It was very agreeable and friendly. After dinner Muhsin Beg, whom I love, Naji and I had a long talk about Mosul. Naji has gone with the King as Minister in waiting. Muhsin Beg is as straight and honourable a man as I know anywhere. He is a member of the great Arab house of the Sa'dun, was a deputy in the Turkish chamber and the ADC to 'Abdul Hamid. His high birth and wealth give him great personal status and enable him to walk boldly because he doesn't mind whether he holds office or not. Naji is just as well born but he is poor and deplorably corrupt. He is charming and most reasonable to talk to but he is shifty and unreliable when it comes to a choice between what he knows to be the right course and what he thinks is advantageous to himself. It's a pity, for he has excellent wits.
On Monday I had a Bridge party - Major and Mrs Pulley and Dr Sinderson. Major Pulley  is now in the Ministry of Interior here - they're nice people. Dr Sinderson is the husband of the little lady we met with the Coxes at the Piraeus [Piraievs], a sterling good soul. Talking of doctors, I went one afternoon to the Civil Hospital to inquire after an eye doctor who had broken some bones, and as I was waiting to hear if I could see him, there tottered out onto the verandah a tall haggard shaikh in very swell Arab dress. I asked one of the French sisters who he was and she replied vaguely that he had been sent in by the King so I went up and asked him himself. He raised great hollow eyes at me and replied: "I am 'Audah Abu Tai." Perhaps the most celebrated leader of his day, he comes from near the Hajj railway and I stayed in his tents in 1913 on my way to Ha'il [Hail], but he was away raiding. He played a notably gallant part in the Arab revolt. So I told him who I was and we fell to talk - I was thrilled to meet him. He looks very ill; he said he couldn't get any relief "So I came to Faisal." I'm afraid he has cancer.

On Thursday I had Nuri and his wife, Ja'far (she couldn't come) and the two Claytons to dinner. It was rather a dull party for me for I set the other four to play Bridge while I made conversation with Mme Nuri. I had worked 8 solid hours that day on a despatch Sir Henry had asked me to draft for him, no less than a comprehensive statement of the whole 'Iraq case for the frontier negotiations. I was very glad H.E. asked me to do it and it interested me immensely. Moreover he is pleased with it. It will now have to be shown to the King and the P.M. Sir Henry was away part of last week; he went to Khanaqin to meet Percy Loraine and inspect oil fields. Percy flew on from there to Muhammarah but he may come back by Baghdad. I should like to see him. He told H.E. an interesting bit of news: the Persian Govt has failed to get a loan in the U.S.A. though they knocked at the door of every bank. It will teach them a very salutory lesson. Already they are going about saying that the only Power which helps oriental govts is Great Britain. The Turks are beginning to sing the same tune - I predict a very remarkable swing round to us in the next few years if only we're sensible and run our Asiatic relations in general in the way we're running them here. It's immensely interesting to watch and to take part in. The Turks have a very bad time before them and Angora [Ankara (Ancyra)] is making haste to worsen it.

I've been much taken up with engagements among my Arab friends. Saiyid Husain Afnan is going to marry an interesting girl niece of a Syrian who is Director of Education here, Sata' Beg. She and her sister in law, who is a Turk, are extremely advanced, both educated at C'ple where they lived till recently. I'm very glad about the engagement for there isn't another girl here whom Saiyid Husain could have married with any satisfaction. So we went to tea with the Sata' Begs and found everyone beaming. The next thing that happened was that Haji Naji dropped in to breakfast to announce the engagement of the Mudir of Karradah, an estimable young Egyptian and a great friend of the Haji, to a daughter of one Amin Pasha, an ex-general in the Turkish army and a Kurd by origin - his wife is a Turk. "If" added Haji Naji, "the arrangement has your Excellency's approval." I had to telephone to Hammad Hamdi that it had and next day we drove out to tea with the Amin Pashas, Hamdi, who is quite maudlin with happiness, telling me the whole tale of his suit as we went. The culminating moment was after the engagement was settled when he was asked to dine with the family. And after dinner they went upstairs, to sit on the balcony which was scarcely lighted: "Very encouraging!" sighed Hamdi. "It must have been" I replied gravely. The girl is quite a nice little thing. She talks French very well - C'ple again - and Turkish, scarcely any Arabic, while Hamdi talks Arabic and English; {but} the absence of a common tongue makes it diffiuclt, Hamdi complained, to express to her all his feelings. However I daresay on the balcony he could do it by other means. The really delightful member of the family is the mother, a charming old Turkish gentlewoman. Hamdi and Husain are friends and so are the two girls; they will make a little modernist nucleus which will indulge in such extravagances as dining with me.

We shall have to give S. Husain a handsome present Bernard, Ken and I, Col. Slater and Capt Clayton are all going to club together - perhaps others; and when I know the sum we shall have to spend I shall ask you to buy me some silver. Nigel will come in, Mr Drower perhaps - it ought to be about £35. We could run to a tea pot, cream jug and sugar bowl, couldn't we?

I've been spending most of the morning at the Ministry of Works where we are starting - what do you think? the 'Iraq Museum! It will be a modest beginning, but it is a beginning. The Lloyds, who are going to be stationed at Mosul (I'm sorry, for I like them) are coming to lunch, and the J.M. Wilsons and Mr Drower to dine and play Bridge. I must really now begin a series of Arab dinners.

Sasun Eff. returned yesterday - it is nice to have him back and he will be an immense help to the P.M. who relies very greatly on him.

Oct. 17. [17 October 1923] The airmail was late this week and I only got your and Mother's letters of Oct 3 and 4 today. I hope your foreign travels have refreshed you though they don't sound very resting, though pleasant. I laugh at your taking part in the hocus pocus with the German gentleman. Col. Barry, bless him, is as we have said, not a reasoning animal. I should be very grateful if Mother would pay Phyllis the £2.1.3 for Bertie's wedding present. The other bills she sent me I will pay.
I've been leading a very uneventful existence for the last few days,  dined with me on Monday to say goodbye and talk about his future married life. He and the Claytons left by motor for Aleppo [Halab] today, but Capt Clayton will be back in 3 weeks I'm glad to say. I understand that there's now to be a regular weekly motor service from Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)], so you may expect weekly letters from me and I hope you will soon be able to write weekly too. I shall keep to the airmail alternate weeks. Yes, I've sent my article for the Round Table to Sir Percy this mail and asked him to get it though the Colonial Office and hand it on to Mr Dove. I've written to Mr Dove too. He's a man, do you know, who was on my staff in the Red X office at Boulogne!

Darling I must now write to Milly who broke her leg abroad and is in a nursing home in Baker St.

Oh, I must tell you about 'Audah Abu Tai - I had an indignant petition from a number of Baghdad merchants saying that he had robbed them to the tune of tens of thousands of rupees some time ago - I remember the episode - and that they understood that he was now loafering about (sic) in Baghdad and hoped we would get the money from him. Loafering about is not exactly what he is doing for he has just had a very severe operation. I gather he is going to recover - if it's not a benefit to humanity in general, at least it preserves a highly picturesque figure. But I doubt however much he may recover, whether my petitioners will get anything out of him. Ever dearest your very affectionate daughter Gertrude.

I think you might please order me two copies of the Sargent photograph and have them sent to me. Capt Clayton wanted one and I daresay I shall find a client for the other. If Lord Robert would like one, I should like to give him one. Will you ask him sometime. He's not to have it if he doesn't like it. Here's the Naqib's letter of thanks which I forgot to send you.

[Enclosure in Arabic with GB's translation. Can be found in album after letter of 7 November 1923] I present to you my salams and the expression of my esteem which exceed all limits and my thanks for the present of a picture which is without equal in its excellent workmanship, which represents the true person in an astonishing way. It will remain forever a remembrance renewing relations of friendship. I have hung it in the room in which I live and so that every day I can regard it. With salams and my esteem Naqib al Ashraf of Baghdad 'Abdul Rahman

It's in such highfalutin Arabic that I could scarcely read it!

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