SS Benares, Suez Canal
February 18, 1920
I wrote you a line this morning, begun last night and I have been endeavoring all day since we came on board to shake loose from enforced correspondence and send a more satisfactory message home before the long voyage on the Indian Ocean. I have gotten off a long letter to President Judson, another to Mrs. Anderson, another to Theodore W. Robinson, and several others which have been waiting. I might tell you the why of these first three. Of course I must report to the President the situation with regard to the new credit of $25,000 which he sent me. After it had been spent the remarkable Tano group became available for us, and this, with other things and the new export tax of 2 1/2% on antiquities (amounting to 350 pounds or more for us) has put me in debt probably nearly $25,000 over the new credit. What the president will say I do not know. I have done the best I could to take advantage of an opportunity which may not recur again, and I shall always think it was my duty to do so for the sake of the University.
As to Mrs. Anderson, she cabled me that she wanted the fine papyrus for New York and she would send me more money for Chicago, which indeed arrived the very afternoon I left Cairo. I have of course demurred and have written a diplomatic letter which I hope may save the document for Chicago. I really do not see that she has the right to divert it in this way. This added anxiety and disappointment regarding this fine acquisition did not help to make the last month in Egypt pleasanter.
Mr. Robinson is Vice President of the Illinois Steel Co. I secured some money from him for a small purchase of Babylonian antiquities several years ago. Luckenbill in cooperation with me, tackled him again before he left and received $500. Another attack at this juncture will probably bring some more.
The arrangements for packing our purchases scattered in four different places in Luxor, and in six different places in Cairo, with different kinds of packing required by varying conditions and sorts of objects; full invoices necessarily submitted to the Cairo Museum for clearance of purchases; lists for the packers, lists for the consular invoices, lists for the shipper, accession lists for Haskell, constant inspection of the budget, bills paid, partially paid, or still wholly payable and involving many thousands of dollars, - calls on the men who could help us in Asia, correspondence with the French Minister, etc., etc., etc., - all this, known only to me and necessarily done by me, has made the last weeks in Cairo and Luxor pretty much a nightmare. I still have a huge mass of Haskell accession lists to clear away on this voyage, and I fear we shall reach Bombay before I have finished. I shall take an hour or two for rest each day anyway, and that is more than I could from 6:30 A.M. to 11:00 P.M. in Cairo.
The visit in Luxor had some very pleasant features. The Colliers, Miss Huxley and Sir Valentine Chirol were very pleasant people to meet. Old Yussuf Hassan, who is an old aristocrat had asked me to come to his house for dinner and to bring a group of friends. I asked the friends just mentioned, Old Sir Valentine said he had been doing a lot of that kind of thing and begged off; but the others came and we had a picturesque time, eating endless courses, and listening to old Yussuf telling of the great folk with whom he had consorted, especially the Duke of Connaught, of whose friendship he was very proud. He was a conceited old chap, - Yussuf I mean, and proudly took us to look about through his gardens and houses, for he is well-to-do.
I secured a beautiful painted coffin of cartonnage in Luxor, among many other things. It would be delightful just to sit here and tell them off, but I must get some rest, and see a lot of the canal which I have never traversed before. It would have amused you to see your husband going about in Luxor. News that I was buying had preceded me, and I was waited on by rows of finely dressed natives, all of whom were aware that I had been made pacha, and addressed me always by that title. As I went through the streets one dealer after another accosted the pacha, or “basha” as they always call it, and urged him to step in and buy up the unspeakable treasures which awaited his command. Among those who made themselves known was that redoubtable Abdul who was our suffragi on the upper Nubian trip through the cataracts. He seemed very quiet and respectful and asked for work, and sent numerous greetings to you and Charles. He is married and has two children and since my return to Cairo has sent down a letter begging for work. I learn moreover that he went to all the dealers here where I bought things and exacted tribute on the plea that he had brought me to them! Yes he had indeed, for Luxor has changed much and I several times took him with me to show me where a dealer I had known had moved. My naïve Mohammed whom I left in Cairo yesterday asked me for additional backsheesh because he had not done as did Abdul and taken gifts from the dealers, - and thus I learned of Abdul’s exploit!
Things went very fast after I returned to Cairo. I lunched three times and dined once at the Semiramis with various members of the Milner Commission of which I have written you, - the last time the dinner with Lord Milner. They are a very fine group of Britons, but they are confronted with an insoluble problem and an impossible task. I think they know it, too. Lord Milner was very kind, but seemed more interested in talking my shop than his, at which of course he is grinding all day long and every day. One of the tasks I have left unfulfilled was to write a letter for the use of the Commission on the state of the Antiquities Department and what ought to be done. Is it not a shame, when I get a chance like that to see my ideas put where they will do some good, I am physically unable to write the letter! If I had had a secretary, I could have done it on a large scale. I have drafted a letter, and if I am not dead fagged, I will try to write it tonight. If not I will write the gentlemen that I will do it on the Indian Ocean and send it to them in London.. that will make one more thing to be done before I reach Bombay, but I want very much to do it, for the condition of the Antiquities Administration is lamentable and the loss to science and the world is incalculable. You know Lacau is now in Maspero’s old post as head of the Department, and it is the case of a good scholar put into an administrative post which he is unable to fill.
Lord and Lady Allenby arrived from their equatorial journey 24 hours before I left Cairo. Greg, head of the Foreign Office, called to say goodbye, and told me they would like to see me before I left. So I went over to the Residency day before yesterday at 5:30. The A.D.C. took me in to see Lady Allenby who was not receiving but had three friends with her, including Lady Congreve, wife of the military commander in Egypt under Allenby. The High Commissioner came in presently and gave a very interesting account of their journey of 5900 miles in 40 days. Lady Congreve tried to get him to redeem an old promise to go with Lady Allenby, herself and me to see Petra, but Allenby was very cautious and in spite of all feminine wiles would not be committed. Old Sir Alexander Baird, who has been in Egypt for 60 years, came in as we rose to go, Allenby excusing himself for engagements.
I said, “I suppose I may see your A.D.C. about the letter to Faisal.” In his quick abrupt military way he turned and asked, “What letter?” I explained that understood he was going to give me a letter to Prince Faisal. He said, “I have not heard anything about it, but come with me and we will fix it up at once.” So I went with him to his sumptuous office. He clawed around among the desk drawers, after showing me a seat, dropping half-whispered expletives as he failed to find his writing paper. Then he drew out some typewritten sheets clipped together, and after scarcely perceptible hesitation, he tossed them over to me, saying, “That is confidential, and I must ask you to say nothing about it, but it is important and you ought to know it.” My eye fell on a big rubber stamp marked “SECRET,” then on the heading: “Armée francaise en Syrie,” and I found myself presently deep in a report from French headquarters which I expect Maude R. (who is sitting over in the opposite corner of this little saloon!) would have been very glad to have for the Saturday Evening Post. I suppose I ought not to write this, but the censorship is off, and it can do no harm. But you should say nothing about it to any one but President Judson, to whom I have written the same story. It is evident that the whole middle section of the Fertile Crescent from Baghdad to Aleppo and Damascus is on fire, and a concerted effort is being made by the Turks and the Arabs to throw the French into the sea. We shall not get far from Baghdad, I fear. Be quite free from all anxiety. We shall run no risks and shall turn back and come quietly home by the route we came over, whenever it seems hazardous to go any further.
Allenby meantime had been writing me a kind note to Prince Faisal, the only man in Asia who could protect us among the Arabs, if we were foolish enough to go among them. I read the French report as he wrote, and when he had finished his letter, he said to me, “Your know, I told old Clemenceau this was coming, and when he asked why, I said, because you are so unpopular, and when he asked why again, I said because you keep your religion exclusively for export, and when you take a territory you at once turn it over to your Catholics. That’s the first reason, and the second is that a Moslem woman is never safe whenever your army is around. Well, Clemenceau and I are old friends, you know, but he didn’t like that very much.” “Well,” said I, “you have just missed seeing him out here, to tell him ‘I told you so!’” “No,” he said, “I just caught him in Luxor as he came up and we went down, and we lunched together. But I did not tell him that, nevertheless, for he is now an old man and out of politics.” So my letter was at last ready, and Allenby gave me a very kindly goodbye and bon voyage.
There I have given you a few of my last experiences in Cairo, and you have heard the main things, though there are scores of times every day that I have said, “How I would love to write that home,” but have found it impossible. The final bit which I have not given you is about M. R. W., who sits a little way across this little saloon. When the last transport for India came by, just a week ago, Lord Allenby was still absent in the Equator, and in some way we missed out on our passage. We at once looked up the situation and found that the new American and Indian Line from New York to India had a sailing in just one week. Anybody can book on this boat and M. R. W. who is sailing under the YMCA banner had no difficulty in securing a passage, - for she has letters from the best of people, and the YMCA in Asia helped her. We carry with us a letter from Lord Allenby ensuring us passage from Bombay to Baghdad. What M. R. W. will do there I do not know. She is on her way to Persia. The Countess introduced her to the Persian Minister and she thus secured connection which will I presume enable her to get into Persia. Of course, as soon as our caravan journey begins we control the passenger list, and there won’t be any ladies in it I can assure you. By the way she has letters to some of the leading Persians from Pres. Judson, and the best policy for us is to treat the matter quite as a matter of course. You are keen enough, I am sure, to need no suggestion from me that it would look queer for you to say very much in criticism to others. You should be very careful.
You cannot imagine the desolation on each side of this dreary canal through the desert lying between Asia and Africa. But it thrills me when I think how the greatest forces of civilization have ebbed and flowed across this intercontinental bridge, creating at last a great fountain head of civilization, - Egypto-Babylonian civilization - from which the forces of culture have diverged to carry civilization to Europe and eventually to the whole world. What finer mission for a body of university men from the New World than to recover some of the imposing wreckage from these ancestral shores and to carry it far across the seas, to the remotest homes of men, where the civilization born in this inter-continental region has found its latest and its newest home! To me it is like bringing back the Grail.
Just as I was leaving Cairo, you cannot easily imagine how welcome were letters Nos. 11, 12, 13. I was greatly concerned to hear of Jamie’s accident, and much relieved to hear of his shoveling snow. Too bad you had so much trouble with Josie’s foot too! It never rains but it pours. But I know you are taking care of it all with the faithfulness which you always show, and which is an hourly and daily comfort to me to think about. I am greatly distressed to hear of the death of Mrs. Tufts. Of course I will write to him. That is another duty of this voyage. Goodbye, my dear ones. When you receive this there will be added thousands of miles between us, and the one thought that rules every moment is the longing for the hour when I can turn back to you, and the joy of imagining the day when I shall be with you again. But now I must go for a little fresh air and exercise, for after dinner I must try and write some kind of letter to the Milner Commission. Before you receive this, you will have received a cable from Bombay announcing our arrival there (10 days from now) and perhaps also one from Bosra. I hope you have your map and can follow us, - I mean the one I ordered for you. Goodbye again, my loved ones!
Many thanks for Earl lecture and Science Monthlies! The unregistered Eversharp and Kadesh copies never reached me. I am very grateful you had them duplicated. Please send me another pair of President suspenders, light weight. If sent before or by the middle of March I think they would reach me in Baghdad, care American Consul, but perhaps my cable may indicate a better address by the time you have this.