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Durham, the residence of her grandfather, Isaac Lowthian Bell, F. Sir Lowthian, ironmaster and colliery owner in the county of Durham, was a distinguished man of science. Gertrude therefore had the possibility of inheriting from both Northumbrian and Cumbrian forbears some of the energy and intelligence of the north.
Through all her wanderings, whether far or near, she kept in the closest touch with her home, always anxious to share her experiences and impressions with her family, to chronicle for their benefit all that happened to her, important or unimportant: Those letters, varied, witty, enthralling, were a constant joy through the years to all those who read them.
It was fortunate for the recipients that the act of writing, the actual driving of the pen, seemed to be no more of an effort to Gertrude than to remember and record all that the pen set down.
She was able at the close of a day of exciting travel to toss a complete account of it on to paper for her family, often covering several closely written quarto pages.
And for many years she kept a diary as well. Then the time came when she ceased to write a diary. From onwards the confidential detailed letters of many pages, often written day by day, took its place.
These were usually addressed to her father and dispatched to her family by every mail and by every extra opportunity. But the letters to her family have provided such abundant material for the reconstruction of her story that it has not been found necessary to ask for any others. Short extracts from Introduction time and imperial south meadow few outside letters to some of her intimate friends, however, have been included.
The earlier of these letters, written when she was at home and therefore sending no letters to her family, show what her home life and outlook were at the time of her girlhood, when she was living an ordinary life--in so far as her life could ever be called ordinary.
They foreshadow the pictures given in her subsequent family letters of her gradual development on all sides through the years, garnering as she went the almost incredible variety of experiences which culminated and ended in Bagdad. Letters written when she was twenty show that after her triumphant return from Oxford with one of the most brilliant Firsts of her year she threw herself with the greatest zest into all the amusements of her age, sharing in everything, enjoying everything, dancing, skating, fencing, going to London parties; making ardent girl friendships, drawing in to her circle intimates of all kinds.
And when she was wandering far afield her wanderings began very early--she went to Roumania when she was twenty-two and to Persia when she was twenty-three she was always ready to take up her urban or country life at home on her return with the same zest as before, carrying with her, wherever she was, her ardent zest for knowledge, turning the flashlight of her eagerness on to one field of the mind after another and making it her own, reading, assimilating, discussing until the years found her ranged on equal terms beside some of the foremost scholars of her time.
To most people outside her own circle Gertrude was chiefly known by her achievements in the East, and it is probably the story of these that they will look for in this book. But the letters here published, from the time she was twenty until the end of her life, show such an amazing range of many-sided ability that they may seem to those who read them to present a picture worth recording at every stage.
Scholar, poet, historian, archaeologist, art critic, mountaineer, explorer, gardener, naturalist, distinguished servant of the State, Gertrude was all of these, and was recognised by experts as an expert in them all.
On the other hand, in some of the letters addressed to her family are references to subjects or events that may seem trivial or unimportant. Her love for her family, for her parents, for her brothers and sisters, her joy in her home life, has always seemed to those who shared that life to be so beautiful that it is worth dwelling on by the side of more exceptional experiences, and by the side of the world-famous achievements of one whose later life especially might well have separated her in mind and sympathy as well as in person from her belongings.
But her letters show how unbreakable to the last was the bond between her and her home, and above all between her and her father. Her devotion to him, her whole-hearted admiration, the close and satisfying companionship between them, their deep mutual affection--these were to both the very foundation of existence until the day she died.
It is addressed to me, at a time when she was not yet my little daughter but my "affectionate little friend. She has been scampering all over the dining-room Cilla says. I had a great Chase all over the hall and dining room to catch her and bring her to Papa. She bit and made one little red mark on my hand.
During breakfast she hissed at Kitty Scott. Auntie Ada had her on her knee and Kitty was at one side. As Auntie Ada let Mopsa go down she hissed at Kitty and hunted her round to my side of the table. Please Papa says will you ask Auntie Florence if she will order us some honey like her own.
I gave Mopsa your message and she sends her love. I forgot to say Kitty was very frightened. I send you my love and to Granmama and Auntie Florence. His unmarried sister, Ada Bell, was then living with them. Gertrude was eight when her father and I were married.
She was a child of spirit and initiative, as may be imagined. Full of daring, she used to lead her little brother, whose tender years were ill equipped for so much enterprise, into the most perilous adventures, such as commanding him, to his terror, to follow her example in jumping from the top of a garden wall nine feet high to the ground.
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