Probably you have thought it out and found some solution as I did, but in case these difficulties are still formidable I will tell you of one way to reduce them to impotence. I take with me, on all occasions where there is to be great uncertainty of light, some coloured chalks. About six colours, picked to suit the kind of work attacked; either chalk pencils or hard pastilles will give you certain colour values in whatever light you find yourself, and even if you can hardly see what you are drawing these must, to some extent, standardize your values, so that your rough work can be washed over and brought up to any pitch of detail subsequently, without danger of the main tones of your sketch being wrong. The speed with which a sketch can be carried forward in this way, and the "quality" obtained by the rapid fusion of the chalk with the colour wash, are both pleasant surprises when experimenting in this medium.
Night after night we sallied forth and roamed about the narrow ways and tortuous turnings of old Baghdad. The bazaars are mostly covered in with arched masonry, and the effect is that of a long side aisle in a very untidy and greatly secularized cathedral. From time to time glimpses of the dark-blue, star-filled sky showed through openings overhead, and sometimes a quaintly framed view of a dome or minaret.
On one occasion we embarked in a goufa, and floated down the rapidly flowing river, keeping close to the left bank and taking advantage of every eddy and corner of slack water made by projecting buildings, lest we should be swept down too far and lose control of our curious and difficult craft. The level of the water was far above the usual height and came up to the very thresholds of these riverside houses. We floated on, sometimes under the walls of dark gardens, sometimes getting glimpses of interiors—interiors which in this glamour of night romance suggested something of the splendour of Baghdad's old glory:—
"By garden porches on the brim, The costly doors flung open wide, Gold glittering through lamplight dim."
We landed by the Maude bridge and explored further afield, finding "high-walled gardens" where we beheld
"All round about the fragrant marge, From fluted vase and brazen urn, In order, Eastern flowers large."
By day, Baghdad is not so impressive. Too much squalor is apparent. Yet there are quaint street scenes.
Ancient windows, overhanging the street in one quarter, reminded me strongly of pictures of old London. The feature that I could not help noticing, not only in Baghdad but in all Mesopotamia, was the absence of local colour. It is true that the sun gives a blazing and confused suggestion of colour to objects by contrast with bluish shadows, especially in the evening, but there is often very little colour in things themselves. The East is supposed to be full of blazing colour and the North gray and drab. Yet compare a barge in Rotterdam or Rochester with one in Baghdad. The former is picked out in green and gold and glows with rich, red sails, while the latter, for all its sunshine, is the colour of ashes—not a vestige often of paint or gilding. Some mahailas I found with traces of rich colouring, blue and yellow (see sketch facing page 34), but this was exceptional. Perhaps the scarcity of paint during years of war may have had something to do with this noticeable absence of colouring in regard to both houses and boats. In spite of this slovenliness in detail there is colour and light in all recollections of Baghdad's dusty streets.
Somehow the discomfort and squalor is soon forgotten and the romance and picturesqueness of these far-off streets remains as a very pleasant memory amidst the winter fogs and coldness of our northern lands.
IN OLD BAGHDAD
IN OLD BAGHDAD
I suppose there is no city to be found anywhere in the world that would quite reach the standard of dazzling splendour of the Baghdad that we conjure up in our imagination when we think of the City of the Arabian Nights in the romantic days, so dear to our childhood, of Haroun-al-Raschid. We expect so much when we come to the real Baghdad, and we find so little—so little, that is, of the glamour of the East. Few "costly doors flung open wide," but a great deal of dirt. Few dark eyes of ravishingly beautiful women peering coyly through lattice windows, but a great deal of sordid squalor. Few marvellous entertainments where we can behold the wonderful witchery of Persian dancing girls, but a theatre, the principal house of amusement in Baghdad—and lo, a man selling onions to the habitues of the stalls!
Of all the deadly dull shows I have ever seen I think the one I saw at Baghdad furnished about the dullest. There were two principal dancing girls—stars of the theatrical world of Mesopotamia—and a few others forming a kind of chorus. The orchestra, on the stage, consisted of a guitar, a sort of dulcimer, and a drum. The musicians made a most appalling noise and rocked to and fro, as if in the greatest enjoyment of the thrilling harmonies they were creating. The stars came on one at a time, the odd one out meanwhile augmenting the chorus, and sang a few verses of a song to a tune that can only be described as a Gregorian chant with squiggly bits thrown in. Of course I was unable to understand the words, but can bear witness to the fact that the tune did not vary the whole evening, and every gesture and attitude of the singer was exactly the same again and again as she went through the performance, and the dance which concluded each six or eight verses was also exactly the same every time. After this had been going on for about an hour the other girl came to the footlights. It was natural to expect a change; but no, she went through it all as if she had most carefully understudied the part. Neither of these girls was pretty or in the least attractive to look at. All I could assume, as the audience seemed quite satisfied, was that the words must have been extraordinarily brilliant or that the Baghdad public was very easily entertained.
The journey from Basra to Baghdad takes nearly a week in a "fast" steamer. It can be done, however, express, by taking the train from Basra to Amara, leaving Basra about five in the evening and arriving at Amara in the morning. Then the journey is continued by boat to Kut, and thence from Kut in the evening by train, arriving in Baghdad in the early morning—the whole distance within two days. The railway does not run the whole way. The journey from Amara to Kut sounds a mere link across the river, as the full name of Kut is Kut-el-Amara, and most people naturally suppose Amara is part of Kut. This is another Amara, however. The Amara from which we embark for Kut, a day's journey in a fast boat, is a large camp, and quite a town for Mesopotamia, captured from the Turks, early in the war, by sheer bluff. The Turkish commandant surrendered to a naval launch under the impression that about half the sea-power of the British Empire lay in the offing. As a matter of fact no other help of any kind arrived until the next day, and all the surrendered forces were kept on good behaviour by a Lieutenant and a marine—I think with one revolver between them.
Kut looks quite an imposing place from across the river. The sketch at the top of this article shows it when the water of the Tigris was particularly high. It is drawn from the site of the famous liquorice factory, which is now represented by a few mud heaps and one rusted piece of machinery. The long arcade with brick pillars runs along the margin of the river, suggestive of some ancient Babylonian city from this distance, and is but a sorry enough place in reality.
Very little of the Baghdad as we know it to-day is old. By tradition it was founded in 762 A.D., and became the renowned capital of the Arab empire. It is said that the city grew till it covered some 25 square miles, reaching its high-water mark of splendour and magnificence under the Sultan Haroun-al-Raschid. The fame of its schools and learning was world-wide, and Baghdad became to the East what Rome became in the West.
For some five centuries this pre-eminence continued, until the Turkish nomadic tribes from Central Asia came on to the stage. They conquered Persia, Mesopotamia, and Syria.
The Turks extended their conquests to Egypt, and Baghdad, now on the decline, kept her head above water for another century. But Chingiz Khan, the Mongol, appeared on the scene, and his son and successor, Ogotay, overran the Caucasus, Hungary, and Poland. Baghdad was sacked by Hulagu in 1258, and the irrigation works of Mesopotamia were destroyed.
In spite of her decline and fall Baghdad is still a holy place to all faithful Mohammedans. It is the Mecca of the Shiah Mussulmans. Kerbela and Nejef are the great places of burial for the faithful, and among the common sights of the plains of Mesopotamia are endless caravans of corpses from the Persian hills or from the distant north.
The British occupation of Baghdad has been responsible for one broad street through the city, possible for ordinary traffic, but most of the bazaars are long covered-in ways, arched like cloisters and very picturesque at night. There are some wonderful blues on domes and minarets, but it is not until you see the golden towers of Khadamain that you get any glimpse of the splendour of the golden prime of good Haroun-al-Raschid. Khadamain is a great place of pilgrimage, and so zealously guarded is the place that it is said no Christian would ever be allowed to come out of the great mosque alive. A golden chain hangs across the entrance. This can be seen in frontispiece sketch of this book. All good Mussulmans kiss this chain as they enter the sacred precincts.
From many delightful points of view the gleaming towers of this place, seen through the palms and reflected in the flooded lagoons at the margin of the river, do indeed give us something of the colour and romance that we had expected to see and yet so rarely find in the sun-baked lands of Mesopotamia.
The statement often made that Mesopotamia is a vast desert through which run two great rivers, bare but for the palm trees on their banks and flat as a pancake, is true as far as it goes. It is possible, however, to picture a land entirely different from Mesopotamia and still stick to this description. I have met countless men out there who have told me that they had built up in their minds a wrong conception of the country and a wrong idea of its character simply by letting their imagination get to work on insufficient data.
To begin with, the word "desert" generally suggests sand. People who have been to Egypt or seen the Sahara naturally picture a sandy waste with its accompanying oases, palms and camels. Mesopotamia, however, is a land of clay, of mud, uncompromising mud. The Thames and Medway saltings at high tide, stretching away to infinity in every direction—this is the picture that I carry in my mind of the riverside country between Basra and Amara. No blue, limpid waters by Baghdad's shrines of fretted gold, but pea-soup or cafe au lait. Even the churned foam from a paddle wheel is cafe au lait with what a blue-jacket contemptuously referred to as "a little more of the au lait!" At a distance it can be blue, gloriously blue, by reflection from the sky, but it will not bear close examination.
The railway skirts the river here, running from Ezra Tomb to Amara having started from Basra. Amara must not be confused with Kut-el-Amara. The names are a source of great confusion to newcomers. When I was told that the railway did not go any further than Amara, I lightheartedly pictured myself making my way across the river in a goufa or bellam and scorned the suggestion that I might have to wait some time for a steamer to Kut. I thought Kut was on one side of the river and Amara on the other. It is, however, a twenty-four hours' journey in a fast boat.
It is perfectly true that the country is "as flat as a pancake" in original formation, but the traces of ancient irrigation systems, to say nothing of buried cities—Babylon is quite mountainous for Mesopotamia—make it a very bumpy plain in places.
Now that the British are in occupation of the land instead of the Turk, the natural assumption of every patriotic Briton is that the desert will immediately blossom as the rose and the waste places become inhabited. But the difficulties, which are many—finance being, perhaps, the least of them—arise on all sides, when a study of the subject goes a little deeper than the generalizations popularly made about irrigation and its revival in a land which was once, before all things, dependent for its prosperity upon this science.
Of the two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, the banks of the Euphrates are the more wooded and picturesque and the Tigris is the busier. The backwaters, creeks and side channels of both are exceedingly beautiful, and here one can get a glimpse of the fertility that must have belonged to Mesopotamia when it was a network of streams and when the forests abounded within its borders. Centuries of neglect and the blight of the unspeakable Turk have dealt hardly with this country. It is indeed a Paradise Lost and it will be many a long day before it is Paradise Regained.
A beginning, however, has been made. Our army of occupation includes "irrigation officers," and gradually the work of watering the country is extending. Hardly any tree but the palm is found, yet this is only for want of planting. The soil is good, and with an abundance of water, everything, from a field of corn to a forest, is possible.
I made some study of the irrigation work in progress, and picked up a little rudimentary information concerning this problem of the watering of the land, although I lay no claim to technical knowledge on the subject. The chief difficulty does not seem to be that of making the desert blossom as the rose, but that of causing the waste places to be inhabited. What the Babylonians with slave labour could do, modern machinery and science can quite easily achieve; but the difficulty of finding sufficient people to live in this resuscitated Eden will be great. Mesopotamia is not a white man's country. India would appear to be the direction in which to look for colonists, but it is an unfortunate fact that the Arab does not like the Indian and the Indian does not like the Arab. Sooner or later there would be trouble.
In the creeks the water is much clearer than in the river, as it deposits the silt when it flows more placidly than in the turmoil of the main stream. Oranges, bananas, lemons, mulberries abound, and vines trailing from palm to palm in some of the backwaters. In one narrow arm near Basra, a sort of communication trench between two canals, I saw orange bushes overhanging the water, and, growing with them, some plant with great white bells. I have sketched the effect on page 98, and incidentally show a bellam in which an old Arab is pushing his way through the overhanging shrubs. On page 105 is a goufa, a type of round wicker boat in vogue two thousand six hundred years ago and still in use. Talk about standardization: here is a craft standardized before the days of Sennacherib! Assyrian sculptures in the British Museum show this boat in use exactly as it is to-day, and although we have no records, it probably was in use for ages previously. Noah, possibly, had one as dinghy to the Ark. The goufa is made like a basket and then coated with bitumen. This type of boat gives a touch of fantasy to the scenery of the Tigris and Euphrates, especially when filled with watermelons and paddled by a man whose appearance suggests Abraham attempting the role of Sinbad the Sailor for "the pictures."
Of all the things I saw in my travels in Mesopotamia, I think a goufa was about the most satisfactory. It is a delightful shape and a fascinating colour—a sort of milky blue-grey—somewhere between the colour of an elephant and an old lead vase. It satisfies that craving for mystery which we are led to expect when we travel to the East. When we first see a goufa we do not know quite what it is. It may be something to do with magic.
Another curiosity of the Upper Tigris is the raft of light wood and air-inflated skins which comes down from the north to Samara and Baghdad. On this section of the river there are many shallows, sometimes caused by traces of old rubble weirs. Consequently any kind of craft which drew more than a few inches would be always in trouble. These rafts, made of light saplings lashed together, are rendered buoyant by being packed underneath with goat-skins inflated with air. Thus they require only a very slight depth of water to float them, and they are sufficiently tough to stand bumping and scraping over shoals and shallows.
The men who manoeuvre these strange craft have some sort of tent or shelter to protect them from the sun, and they row with huge paddles. This rowing is sufficient to keep some sort of steering way on the raft, enough to enable it to get from one bank of the river to the other as it floats down.
Wood is scarce in the Baghdad region, and the material of these rafts is sold together with the cargo on its arrival at its destination. The crew proceed back by road to Diarbekr or some up-river town to bring down another raft.
The glamour of the East is felt mostly in the West. In an atmosphere of fog and wet streets, sun-baked plains with endless caravans and belts of date-palms by Tigris' shore seem the most delightful of prospects. Memory and imagination, those two artists of never-failing skill, leave out of the picture all dust and squalor—and insects! Yet to those who are sojourning by the Waters of Babylon or resting in sight of the golden towers of Khadamain romance and mystery would seem to dwell in a glimpse of Waterloo Bridge, with ghostly barges gliding silently by a thousand lamps, or in the grey cliffs of houses that make looming vistas down a London street.
Of all places in the world, Baghdad, the city of Haroun-al-Raschid, is the one around which cling the romantic ideas of the enchanted East. For this reason "Chu Chin Chow" will probably be still running in ten years' time. It is a play which has become almost a symbol of Eastern romance. In Mesopotamia I observed that it was a standard of comparison. "Like 'Chu Chin Chow'" or "quite the Oscar Asche touch" were expressions frequently heard among our men who were describing something picturesque they had seen.
Now I may as well confess before I go any further, that I have not seen "Chu Chin Chow." I have never been able to get in. During the war, leave in London was an opportunist affair, with no notice in advance to allow for advance booking, and so I never succeeded in my quest of the glamour of the East—on the stage. But war, which brought with it so many disadvantages brought also many opportunities. Although I was unable to get into His Majesty's Theatre, I succeeded in getting into Baghdad.
I found streets through which beggars and British officers, camels and Ford cars jostled each other, often in vain attempts to get on. You can imagine the state of things on a busy morning. By day there is so much more rubbish and dirt to take the romance away from the picturesque, but at night, especially by moonlight, the quaint streets of old Baghdad do give an element of mystery and adventure that the Arabian Nights and the stage lead us to expect.
I came upon a wonderful group of buildings by the banks of the Tigris. It appears to have been a disused mosque. The minarets are shorn of their tops, and look like huge candlesticks. A dark passage, vaulted like the aisle of a cathedral, led down to covered bazaars.
Again, at Basra, the House of Sinbad in Ashar Creek has quite the effect of a wonderfully staged production. The huge, high-prowed mahailas, the crazy wooden galleries skirting the river, the quaint, squat minaret appearing over the flat roofs, and the dim light of lamps reflected in the still water made a picture at twilight that it would be difficult to beat for mystery and romance. A man in black with a fire of brushwood in the bow of a mahaila added a touch of magic to the scene.
I don't know in the least what he was doing with this pillar of fire, but it was extraordinarily effective, and it made you feel you were getting your money's worth out of the show.
Or, again, for mystery and romance, here is another scene on the Tigris between Amara and Kut.
The evening is still. No breeze stirs the sliding surface of the river. On every side immeasurable plains stretch from horizon to horizon, "dim tracts and vast, robed in the lustrous gloom of leaden-coloured even," save where the misty blue ridge of the Persian mountains links heaven to earth, gleaming with a ghostly chain of snow beneath a rose-flushed sky. A few marsh Arabs' reed huts and a distant fire are the only signs that the world is inhabited. A faint rhythmical beating is growing more distinct, the herald of the slow progress of an up-coming steamer.
Before night is fallen she has passed—a strange object with high funnel and clattering stern paddle, an apparition it would seem from our Western world of a hundred years ago, moving slowly across the crowded stage of modern war's necessities. I observed her number was S 31, but I believe she is known by her intimate friends as "Puffing Billy."
THE DESERT OF THE FLAMING SWORD
THE DESERT OF THE FLAMING SWORD
Since I have returned to England I constantly run up against people who ask me, sometimes jokingly and sometimes almost seriously, if I have brought back any sketches of the Garden of Eden, and a conversation invariably follows as to the authenticity or otherwise of the traditional site. Is it true that Mesopotamia was the cradle of the human race, and, if so, are the descriptions in the book of Genesis concerning the world known to Adam and Noah, however figuratively they may be taken, in keeping with the natural conditions of such a land? However much Paradise may have been lost, can the traveller see in Mesopotamia any signs of beauty and richness of verdure out of which the artist and the poet could visualize a garden of the Lord?
The answer, as they say in Parliament, where no one could be expected to give a downright and straightforward "yes" or "no," is in the affirmative. The scenes of these early dramas are characteristically Mesopotamian. The well-ordered garden "planted" with the tree of life "in the midst," and a river to water it, the ark of Noah pitched "within and without with pitch" as the ancient goufa is still pitched, the Tower of Babel, built with brick instead of stone and with slime (i.e. bitumen) for mortar—all these things belong to the flat, sun-baked lands of this alluvial plain. At Kurna, Arab tradition has placed Eve's Tree. It is a sorry looking, scraggy thing. It does not seem good for food, nor is it pleasant for the eyes and a tree to be desired. Another traditional Garden of Eden is at Amara, and the Eden of the Sumerian version of the story is thought by Sir William Willcocks to have been on the Euphrates between Anah and Hit.
The "planting" of the garden and certain details brought out in the short description of its features suggest very strongly the things that would occur to the mind of a writer living in an irrigated country. Milton's gorgeous backgrounds are almost entirely northern. He has striven to give it an eastern touch here and there, but such stage management consists chiefly in bringing in a few palms from the greenhouse. His description "of a steep wilderness, whose hairy sides with thicket overgrown, grotesque and wild," and "of that steep savage hill," are entirely northern in feeling. The same northern wildness pervades the garden. Note the "flowers worthy of Paradise, which not nice Art in beds and curious knots, but Nature boon poured forth profuse on hill and dale and plain." In irrigation lands like Mesopotamia it is the combination of great heat and abundant water that makes for luxuriant growth. Milton conceives the most romantic and wild scenery on hill and dale and savage defile, suddenly brought into order for the use of man. The Bible story speaks only of features to be found in a land like Babylonia. Sir William Willcocks thinks that the word translated "mist" would probably be better rendered "inundation," and that the writer is speaking of a country where inundation rather than rainfall was the support of life to the vegetable world. Genesis ii. 5 and 6 would then read:
"For the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.
"But there went up an inundation from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground."
The description of the planting of the garden is very suggestive of a tract of bare land to which irrigation has been brought. "And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight." The garden, too, is watered, not by rainfall, but by a river which parts into different heads, as do the Tigris and Euphrates when they spread out upon the flat alluvial land below Baghdad.
Compare the "scenery" in St. John's Revelation with that of the writer of Genesis when the kings of the earth and the great men sought to hide from the wrath of God. They "hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us and hide us."
Adam and Eve could hide themselves only "amongst the trees" of the garden.
The story of Noah and the flood has a very close parallel in a record of Berosus, the Babylonian priest Xisuthros had a dream in which the deity announced to him that on a certain day all men should perish in a deluge of water, and ordered him to take all the sacred writings and bury them at Sippar, the City of the Sun, then to build a ship, provide it with ample stores of food and drink and enter it with his family and his dearest friends, also animals, both birds and quadrupeds of every kind. Xisuthros did as he had been bidden. When the flood began to abate, on the third day after the rain had ceased to fall, he sent out some birds to see whether they would find any land, but the birds, having found neither food nor place to rest upon, returned to the ship. A few days later Xisuthros once more sent the birds out; but they again came back to him, this time with muddy feet. On being sent out again a third time they did not return at all. Xisuthros then knew that the land was uncovered, made an opening in the roof of the ship, and saw that it was stranded on the top of a mountain. He came out of the ship with his wife, daughter, and pilot, built an altar, and sacrificed to the gods, after which he disappeared together with them. When his companions came out to seek him they did not see him, but a voice from Heaven informed them that he had been translated among the gods to live for ever, as a reward for his piety and righteousness. The voice went on to command the survivors to return to Babylonia, unearth the sacred writings, and make them known to men. They obeyed, and, moreover, built many cities and restored Babylon.
An eminent authority on the history of Mesopotamia told me that he considered the deluge to have been a purely local catastrophe in the flat land of Babylonia. The Arabs use the same word alternately for mountain or desert. If such a use has come down from long ago the extraordinary statements in Genesis vii. 20: "Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered," may be easily reconciled. It has always seemed to me that mountains which were covered by 24 feet of water must have looked very insignificant even in the flat land of Chaldea. If, however, the word "desert" will serve equally well for the word "mountain" we have an account of a flood that could easily destroy the "world" of Mesopotamia. The annual flood from which the nomadic inhabitants were used to escaping (as they do now by moving up to the higher ground) became a wide-spread inundation till the highest "desert" was covered and the population drowned.
The Biblical account of the Ark suggests to any dweller in Mesopotamia that it was a gigantic mahaila. The pitching inside and out is still practised in putting together some of the Euphrates boats, and the method of making a goufa, covering it on both sides with bitumen, has a strong family likeness to the method of boat-building used in those primitive times.
The Jew, however, was always a typical landlubber, and one would expect a specification for the building of a ship would lack nautical details. Not so, however, the Assyrian tablet relating to the Ark. It was, we are told, a true ship. It was decked in. It was well caulked in all its seams. It was handed over to a pilot. It was navigated in proper style. "I steered about the sea. The corpses drifted about like logs. I opened a port-hole.... I steered over countries which were now a terrible sea." The pilot made the land at Nizir and let her go aground.
Near Ezra's Tomb on the Tigris I saw a boat very much like Noah's ark of the toy shop, and made a scribbled sketch of it, which is reproduced on page 36.
Beside the fertile tract of country above Hit on the Euphrates—a land which has been identified as the Sumerian Garden of Eden—stretches a wild and desolate region, a place of bitumen and smoke of incrusted salt and sulphur, of rock and fiery heat—known to the Arabs as the Mouth of Hell. It guards the garden from approach by the nature of its inhospitable ground, and so I have called it, this burning wilderness, the Desert of the Flaming Sword, The town of Hit, evil smelling and grim, stands sentinel between the fertile river-bank and the ever-smoking plain.
We reached this region in a car from Felujeh, travelling through Dhibban, where we crossed the Euphrates by a bridge of boats and on to Rhamadie. Thence the track is a rough one through desert country, undulating in places and becoming rougher. Some ridges of barren hill cut off the view from time to time as we approach Hit, and we surmount one of these, obtaining a goodly prospect of the river, to plunge down again into a wilderness glittering with crystals. At first sight we might be entering the valley of diamonds of the Arabian Nights, but, alas, a close inspection shows the glittering objects to be merely pieces of rock, a sort of white marble. Then we come to mounds of curious pale earth and ground yellow with sulphur, and then, far descried beneath its black coils of smoke, the walls of Hit.
The car was boiling by this time, and owing to some breakage we had to stop, as we drew close to the town. We left the driver, however, to tinker about with the old Ford, and plunged into the wilds, Brown being particularly anxious to see what all the smoke was about.
The sun heat was still intense, and it was difficult to tell the real size of anything owing to the mirage. A sort of temple seemed to detach itself from the ground, and it was apparently floating about in an ever-changing lake. Little black men were stoking a furnace, and a river of some black substance, well banked up with earth, was flowing at our feet. I think I have seldom seen so weird a sight.
The ground is full of bitumen, and to make lime the Arabs stack up alternate stones and blocks of bitumen, setting fire to the pile. The effect of these kilns with their great columns of heavy, black smoke, writhing and coiling up into the still sky, was indescribable.
The shadow of coming night crept across the desert, turning the gold and purple of the ground to the colour of ashes. The high walls of the town still caught the sunset and glowed dull red against the darkening sky. A fringe of palms, beyond, showed where the river flowed, the river that watered the garden where the land was green and good. But the grim ramparts of Hit stretched like a line of fire between, forbidding and impassable. Higher and higher the shadows climbed till the tall minaret stood out alone, a sentinel and a flaming sword. A hundred sooty figures toiled and grovelled in the ground.
In the sweat of their faces shall they eat bread.
THE KINGS OF THE EAST
THE KINGS OF THE EAST
The future of Mesopotamia with its enormous productive potentialities is a subject fraught with great interest to all those who have studied her past. Will this country again become one of the granaries of the world, and will it ever be, like Egypt, an important asset of our Empire? At first, when the war had freed the country from the Turkish yoke, it was assumed that it would rise into unheard-of prosperity under the fatherly care of British protection. Schemes of irrigation, long planned and to some small extent begun, even under the Turkish regime, were to re-stock Eden and benefit the whole world. The Baghdad railway would bring the wares of the East quickly to our doors, and it had even been anticipated that Nineveh would become as much a resort for European tourists as Rome.
All this, however, was foretold in the time when a new world was expected as soon as hostilities ceased. Another tune has been called now, and we find countless advocates of the policy to get out of Mesopotamia altogether and let well alone. Capitalization, like charity, we are told must begin at home, and thirty millions, estimated by the Inspector of Irrigation in Egypt, as necessary to turn Mesopotamia into a prosperous country with an annual revenue in fifty years time of ten millions a year, should be used for house building in England and not for empire building in Chaldea. On the other hand, wise men have told us that the Mesopotamian oilfields near Mosul are to be of great importance, like the Persian wells that have their pipe-line outfall at Abadan, and that a firm and fatherly hand is necessary to keep the country in a state of trade development. Should our sphere of influence be withdrawn from Mesopotamia things will revert back to chaos. Already trouble with the various tribes is brewing.
Not the least of the problems in controlling the marauding activities of some of the nomadic tribes is the difficulty of meting out adequate punishment to peace-breakers. The fact that all the stock-in-trade of a township amounts to a few pots and pans and house material of cane matting and mud makes it impossible to impress them by destroying their houses. In a few days everything would be rebuilt as before. It could often happen that the punitive expedition arrived to find the town moved to some district not mentioned in the orders for the day.
Mesopotamia under the Turks was in some ways worse off than others of his badly governed possessions. The officials who were sent from Constantinople into various provinces regarded the job as a poor one, as far as the amenities of life were concerned, and one to be endured while making as big a pile as possible from the ground-down natives. I should imagine that one of these officials would be about as popular with the landowners as a publican was among the Jews.
An ancient prophecy foretells that the great river Euphrates shall be dried up that the way of the kings of the East shall be prepared. The time has come, if the war was indeed Armageddon. German engineers in 1914 had made a highway and effectively "dried up" the waters of the river for the passage of the armies. They themselves expected to be kings of the East although coming from the West, and some, it is interesting to note, explain the Prussians as of Oriental origin. At the same time the claims both of oil and empire kept us busy in the Persian Gulf. It looked as if we were to share this new kingdom or sphere of influence with Germany, until the war came and sorted things out.
There are some who see in vast irrigation schemes a "drying up" of the Euphrates that shall bring colonists from the Far East so that the denizens of China or Japan shall begin, like the Saxons in Kent, to get a footing in the country and become, in very substance, the Yellow Peril.
He is a rash man who would prophesy concerning the future of Mesopotamia as far as our empire is concerned. Perhaps before these pages are in print something decisive will have occurred. We read daily in our newspapers of rumours of war with restless tribes around Mosul, and of raids and skirmishes.
The land of Shinar, where Abraham dwelt, with its silent traces of the great civilizations which it fostered, Babylonian and Assyrian, Persian, Greek and Arabian, is once more, by the chances of war, an open book, and time alone will show what is to be written therein.
 "Adventures with a Sketch Book."
 Tennyson: "Recollections of the Arabian Nights."
 From Ragozin's Chaldea.
BY THE SAME AUTHOR.
ADVENTURES WITH A SKETCH BOOK
With numerous Illustrations in colour and black and white by the Author. Crown 4to. 12/6 net.
"Artistically, and from the literary point of view, it is one of the most delectable travel books that have been published for many a long day, for Mr. Maxwell has not only an eye for the picturesque, and a frank, clear style both of pen and brush, but he has the even rarer gift of finding old-world romance and adventure in places near at hand where their presence would never be suspected by the ordinary traveller.... Mr. Maxwell's book is wholly free from any suspicion of guide-book padding, and is as interesting and exciting to read as a work of romantic fiction. The chief feature which should ensure it a permanent position on the library shelf are the very vital and expressive illustrations, the very spacing of which on the printed page is delight to the eye."—Observer.
"There is certainly no lack of vitality in Mr. Maxwell's sketches, and his adroit economic draughtsmanship, his keen observation, and the feeling of personal interpretation in his work give them genuine distinction."—Sunday Times.
"Mr. Maxwell is a most original traveller.... We have said so much of Mr. Maxwell the writer and traveller, that there is a danger of forgetting Mr. Maxwell the artist. All the work has character; most of it has that delicacy of colour and outline which we have learned to associate with the author."—Athenaeum.
"On page after page Mr. Maxwell delights the eye with views and 'bits' picturesque, quaint or amusing, while his anecdotes and adventures make us laugh and long to follow in his footsteps, for he has the gift of description in words as well as in pictures. This is one of the most thoroughly satisfactory artist-tourist books we have seen, and its publisher has done justice to the good material at his disposal."—Morning Post.
"A delightful survey of scenes. Mr. Maxwell's drawings are full of the right touch and insight, all faithfully conveyed and put into a sumptuous book."—Pall Mall Gazette.
"This is an exceedingly charming book. Mr. Maxwell's book is a genuine sketch book."—Daily News.
"Contains many clever drawings.... Charmingly sketched."—Evening Standard.
BY THE SAME AUTHOR.
THE LAST CRUSADE
With 100 Sketches In Colour, Monochrome, and Line made by the author in the autumn and winter of 1918, when sent on duty to Palestine by the Admiralty for the Imperial War Museum. Crown 4to L1 5s. net.
"Exceedingly interesting.... The letterpress is full of vitality and humour; the reader is irresistibly carried on from one incident to another without a dull moment."—Saturday Review.
"A very handsome book. It makes good reading, and a still better 'picture book,' and it is a valuable addition to the vast literature of the war."—Westminster Gazette.
"Full of good matter. The pictures are finely done, and neither the Colour nor the black and white reproductions leave anything to be desired. It is indeed one of the best war books published."—Outlook.
"A very handsome souvenir of the Last Crusade."—Pall Matt Gazette.
"Mr. Maxwell has made a most delightful album of scenes in the Holy Land."—Globe.
"A very beautiful and inspiring book."—Graphic.
"Mr Maxwell's book is an exceedingly entertaining one both to read and to look at."—Field.
"Mr. Maxwell's sketches are extremely good and vivid, and the text is lively and readable."—Land and Water.
"The drawings possess great artistic merit. One of the most attractive books which the war has yet evoked."—Connoisseur.
John Lane, The Bodley Head, Vigo St., W. 1.