Letter from Charles Doughty-Wylie to Gertrude Bell written over multiple days from the 25th to the 30th of May, 1914.
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Yesterday I had no time – but today is Monday, the day after mail day and alone in my office your letter has been talking to me – the wonderful beautiful letter that you wrote as you went north over the desert to Damascus, worn out with travelling – yes, my dear dream woman you are unforgettable – unforgettable the things you say, the splendid thoughts you think – And now I can’t write to you though here is your ghost with me and my heart is full of you – Two Abyssinian Ministers are coming to see me, he of the Telegraphs & he of the Interior – I have an answer from Wingate and an estimate for a line I asked for & to him I can talk – he of the Interior is fat & drinks and him also I can tackle – but there are hours yet – why cannot I talk to my own soul? Is it, as you said, that those words of yours the fire & glory of them, have led me up so high that I have lost my balance and fallen in to black darkness – is it that I am ill myself, and I can scarcely move from rheamatism [sic] confound it – is it, - yes I think it is more this – that in a great light one covers one’s face – Love like that, wife of my heart, is what a man dreams of and worships – “fairer than the evening air clothed with the beauty of a thousand stars” – and one knows and cares nothing for the time at any rate that it is the evening air to be blessed and worshipped and hidden as the world rolls over – I shall never have you – but is that what it is that troubles me? Surely I have so immeasurable a thing – if you lay in my arms and heart and body all sang together, as they were made to sing but sing so rarely in the world – at that moment in that light – should I cover my face & be silent – why yes, in your hair, in your neck, in your heart – and say nothing? – god knows – Dreamwoman at such a time perhaps – only perhaps for little things block even heaven – perhaps I should feel even more the full dream the full glory – for the dear senses swing and lift us like censers before god –
But now sober ill alone and thousands of miles away I know it, the real I who lasts who cannot tire & grow old & be ill, the real I know it – Why should I want to be swung & lifted before heaven by the strong senses – cannot the greater spirit do it? Surely – or is one afraid to trust oneself to the impalpable powers? And yet the spirit alone does it not – not altogether or not yet – I don’t know which –
But what I meant was rather that it does not matter – it shall not matter – I will have the greater spirit - & here in this room it floats like the evening air and I bless it – your letter – your love – that great & terrible thing –
Shall we talk of love, as “the strengthless ghosts” of your odyssey may have talked – of rather that mastering will to live which drives man to woman & woman to man – outside of it beyond it, shut off by distance as it might be by death, shall we look at it? it is great because it if life & universal – but some take it & put it in smoky holes & dance before it with obscene rites - & some emasculate themselves in mind or body because they dare not look at it – and some hail it god, as part of god it is, and clothe it with love and poetry and beauty and the riches of all minds – But these things are separate – they shine hung up in the temple but they came from the garden outside –
What am I saying? I don’t know – I’m just talking to your ghost dreamwoman.
Why should one want all the world? like a child the moon – Why if it comes to that, want anything at all – Is not the evening air enough, and it laps us round? Your beautiful story of Gantama and his wife what is it but that – the finding of the evening air – the lifting of the greater spirit – so they had peace.
I do so miss your book & your letters – even this last one I will not keep – it shall go like the others to Con’s to wait for me – But you have taken one weight from me – you say & I bless you for it, that if I was dead you would not care who read the letters – I hadn’t quite seen that before, and I love it –
My dear it is not in everybody to love – can we gather grapes off pigs? – Do I well or ill if I disregard ties I made myself and strike people because God made them so different to you and I – Nor is it altogether that, - it is more that a perfect love such as yours, shining like flame through alabaster, is for the altar only, my heart which keeps it, - I grudge it to other people unworthy of it as I am –
Yet why – it shines – when I’m dead it will shine still – like the thousand stars for everybody –
I can’t write anymore today – they bring me papers to sign & decide - & soon comes fat Fitawrasi Tilahan [?] – and I must come back with a jolt to the world - & look at the fat old scauf as if I liked him - & perhaps in a way I don’t dislike him – I have a weakness for these fellows, jovial idiotic old sinners –
I go on again – the fat old man of the Interior has not come – he’s drunk I suppose – and I dragged myself out to the porch to look at the sun & the clouds & the finest view in the world (one of them) and back you came dear woman to sit & see with me.
Here we’d sit & see the clouds race over Managarda & the gay flowers (here comes the daffadar with names & weights for the training gallop this afternoon – I can’t go I’m too crippled – but we’d do that too) –
My dear, my dear, I like to think my letters make you happier – you say they do – its little I can do, they are not like your letters – not as if you could sit here with me & see the great hills – from whence cometh strength – But let them be come coming nearer, some breath of love & sympathy.
It grieves me rather that you’ve never seen this country - & if I go to Basra you’ll never see it, not in all probability – I like in fancy to sit here with you, for I know you’d love it - & the long hills & forests & rivers for weeks and weeks of pleasant marching! Not the hot days & foul water and the weary sun – but green and cool and lovely and as little known.
If I don’t write to you when I can, when then I can’t – so I’d better go on to ease my soul. But what shall I tell you when you lie a-bed in London probably? Just good morning – a kiss dear, but a ghost kiss – I am a little afraid of real ones – to a man like me they are the trumpet and the sound of battle – no – no – I’ll grow old – I am old – what have cripples (and I’ll soon be fat also) what have I to do with such things – “that tree of man was never quiet” – but he’s got to be – no, I’ll go into a monastery temperance soberness & chastity – which mean the ghost kingdom where I’ll live – I’ll not kiss you – or only ghostwise –
And now having not done that I shall go out of your room & wait till you’re dressed & at breakfast - & then trying not to feel a little savage, tell you of the schemes for the lake & the telegraph & a hundred things – and drink your wisdom – your help for the day’s work – Who – but I forget what I was going to say, as Sandford came in for advice about the trade report, and a certain insurance scheme for the road from Cole to Sambela which I begot –
These seem to be the only things I do beget – I won’t write anymore today – or not yet.
And Ukhaidir has come – a splendid book – do you remember long ago telling me that you had not been able to keep out of that severe & granite classic just one touch in the preface of “the sentimental appeal”? And its just that touch, that last paragraph of the preface, which sings to me – Keep it out – but why in God’s name? By the light & spur of feelings such as those you go down into the desert to unbury Ukhaidirs – without it that Doric style, that scientific exactness, the measurings, the calculations, what are they? just measurings – but the real heart of adventure is in the paragraph as (but you say it so well) in the mind of him who built that place – thought of it perhaps as he sat on his horse by the reeds & the pig would not break, or tired after the sun they brought him drink as he rested on a carpet on the sand – The book is a mine of learning & patient thorough work – “for four years my principal occupation and my chief delight” – Much of it is over my head, me ignorant, but I can feel the study the enthusiasm the skill that built it – Hail! Queen of Ukhaidir! Finder of palaces!
Like as I love to think we may be in some things, in these are far beyond me. I might find an Ukhaidir if the youth & spirit were in me, but study it and plan & know it down to the least architectural detail and compare it strictly justly temperately – no that would be always beyond me – you are better than I am, far far better, my dear and famous traveller – And I love the book.
I’m more crippled than ever – its painful, but I haven’t got it round the heart as I used to have in Konia – my heart is with you & can’t get rheumatism so keep it please –
My dear my dear and your letter came from Beyreut & Damascus – and at Beyreut I can come & rejoin you & go abroad with you & round to Constantinople – But in Damascus I am lost – I’ve never been there - & at Constantinople what happened? But I shan’t get a letter next mail – its not likely – so I may as well let the rheumatism have its fill of me & pass if it will – I’m so glad your foot was better – won’t the Embassy be you [sic] to Therapia? I wonder will you hear about Basra?
Today I ought to send your last letter to my bankers – but I won’t – I’ll keep it another week – I want it so much.
I must write & tell you how this stage is set, who is who, & what they are set down to say - & light the footlights - & time the orchestra – Perhaps this very day –
But this letter Gertrude is just for you and me a handtouch, a greeting, a whole song of one mind – Afterwards we will ring up the curtain and as we suit the box to hear the actors you shall lean a very little against my shoulder that they may talk with fire & meaning – When the king steps forward mouthing great words my shoulder shall ask you “do you like him?” – When the chorus comes with [?] your arm will murmur to me “hurry them up” –
All this in the back of the box, yours & mine.