Palace Hotel, Damascus, Syria
May 28, 1920
I had a very wearying day yesterday. The morning was filled with preparations for our departure to Damascus, and in the afternoon I had an appointment with General Gouraud, High Commissioner of France in Syria, at 3 o’clock, and an address before the students of the college at four. While I had only a brief conversation with Gouraud, I was impressed with him as a very strong man. When he asked me when I was expecting to come back for work in Syria, I said, “Probably not for a year,—not until all was quiet and safe”. This was not wholly a diplomatic answer to give, but I could not dissemble. I mentioned the discontent of the Arabs, and Gouraud replied, “The power of France will subject them. Il faut se subir”. This was a good answer for a soldier to make. His business is force. But for the French Government to set about the subjection of unwilling Syrians among whom are many educated men and who understand something of what self-government means, is no better than for Germany to undertake the subjection of the Belgians. The conditions in French Syria are terrible, but I shall be obliged to keep quiet about it. Public safety is far worse than under the Turks, while corruption and bribery are just as common also, only with the difference that it costs more than it did under the Turks to buy what you want from a civil official.
It was a great pleasure to speak at the college and I had a large gathering of native Syrian students, who gave me a warm welcome. My ancient history books have been adopted both in the preparatory school and the college: the smaller book for the school and the larger for the college. It was for me a very inspiring occasion. Besides Luckenbill and my three students from Chicago, Harold Nelson was also there, a student of mine and now head of the history department in the college.
At the same time I received good news from Cairo. Young Kyticas had been right on the job and I received a telegram from him saying that he had secured me two berths on the Esperia, sailing from Alexandria for Naples on June 15 and arriving in Naples June 18. The Esperia is a new ship of the Italian Servizi Marittimi, and one of the finest boats on the Mediterranean. Later I received a second telegram from Kyticas saying he has secured a third berth on the same ship, as desired. This will enable Edgerton to go with me to Italy. We shall be able to catch the White Star Liner Cretic, sailing from Naples for Boston on June 25th, and arriving in Boston about July 10. By the 12th or 13th I shall be at home! I can hardly believe it. But the facts I discussed with General Gouraud about the disturbed conditions here, make it quite impossible to go about, as you have gathered from what I have written you of our Syrian excursions:—stopping short at Sidon, on the news that three men had been held up and shot just beyond the outskirts of the town! There is no use in staying on in Syria under such conditions, all due to the French occupation. All that I need to do is to go back to Egypt (after stopping at Megiddo and Jerusalem) to finish up my business there. This I can do very quickly as soon as the American Consul recovers the cablegrams sent by President Judson, which the consul’s office people seem to have lost for me. If they don’t, of course I will wire the president’s office asking to have them repeated to Cairo again. There is just about time to do all this before June 15. I don’t like another trip to Upper Egypt, especially at this hot season, but if the funds are here I must go up to Luxor again to secure some very important monuments for which I did not have the money when I was there before. You will have had a cable with my date of sailing, before receiving this letter. The only thing that might interfere is failure to secure passage on the Cretic, June 25th; but I do not anticipate any trouble, for I have cabled to Naples, and it will be a little early for serious congestion westward bound on the Atlantic.
For the full story of my exciting trip you should come to the special exhibit “Pioneers to the Past: American Archaeologists in the Middle East, 1919-1920,” at the Oriental Institute!
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