A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, August 29, 2014

An "Informal" Area in Cairo's Upscale Doqqi: A Surrouded Village

To leave you for the weekend, and especially for the Cairo hands, here's an interesting piece on an "informal" area (usually meaning a slum or illegal squatter settlement, but in this case one that long precedes the urbanization of the area): one of a number of "surrounded villages" on the West Bank of the Nile. It's  useful to see these examples (there are others) of onetime villages swallowed up by urbanization but still essentially separate.

David Sims and other students of Cairene urbaniztion have studied these places, but this is a rather thorough post on one I hadn't known about..

The Underreported Role of Turkey's PKK and the Syrian PYD in the Kurdish Fight Against ISIS

Promoting Kurdish Unity: Kurdish Leaders from Several Countries
KRG Flag
Because most Western reporting on the Kurdish fight against the Islamic State (which I still prefer to call "ISIS" rather than "IS") are reporting from Erbil or occasionally Suleimaniyya, it is easy to come away with the impression that when reports say that Kurdish Peshmerga have taken a town, it refers to the formal armed forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which in turn combine the militias of KRG President Mas‘oud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). (In the poster above, Barzani is third from left, Talabani second from right.) They are surely the best armed and best trained (and Iran is now supplying arms and perhaps advisers), but there has been much less emphasis on the role of Peshmerga forces from Turkey's Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and its Syrian Kurdish allies, the Democratic Union Party (PYD). The fact that the US still lists the PKK as a terrorist organization may be one reason its role has not been emphasized (though it has engaged in an on-and-off peace process dialogue with Turkey in recent years, though its leader, Abdullah Öcalan is still in a Turkish prison. (He is at far left in poster above, though in a very old picture),

The PKK Flag
In fact much of the front-line fighting against ISIS around Jabal Sinjar and inside Syria has apparently been led by the PKK, which seems to be gaining prestige in Kurdish parts of Iraq and Syria. Its Syrian allies in the PYD, whose leader Salih Muslim is the man with mustache, white shirt, and tie, fifth from left above, have also reportedly been active.

Syria's PYD Emblem
If my impression that the PKK in particular has been particularly aggressive against ISIS is correct, the PKK will have some claim to a say in Iraqi Kurdistan, especially if it declares independence, It may also enhance its strength in Turkey's Kurdish region.

There is an irony here: ISIS claims to be abolishing colonial boundaries and proclaiming "the end of Sykes-Picot," but one boundary it may have succeeded in erasing may prove to be that dividing Kurdish groups in various countries.

After Seizure of UNDOF Fijian Troops Yesterday, Now a Filipino Detachment is Surrounded by Nusra Fighters

UNDOF Disengagement Zone
UPDATE; Apparently the rebels are now claiming the peacekeepers were detained "for their own protection."

A day after capturing 43 United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) troops from Fiji, Syrian rebels now reportedly have surrounded another 81 Filipino UNDOF peacekeepers. Earlier, Syrian rebels, including Jabhat al-Nusra fighters, had occupied the Quneitra crossing near the town of Quneitra.

The 43 Fijian troops were in the vicinity of Quneitra crossing, the one authorized crossing point across the Golan disengagement zone. It is normally used to allow local Druze villagers to cross for family reasons and to export apples grown by Druze in the Israeli-occupied sector.

Current UNDOF Deployments (UN)
The Filipinos who are surrounded are deployed in the al-Ruwayhina and Burayqa areas. See the second map for current UNDOF deployments. They lie just to the south of Quneitra.

The 1,223 UNDOF peacekeepers are armed only with light weapons, which they are authorized to use in self defense, but only "in extreme circumstances."

The current UNDOF deployment includes detachments from Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands, and the Philippines, though the last has announced its intention to withdraw its troops.  

Though the Fijian Army consists of only six infantry battalions, two are normally stationed abroad as peacekeepers; the first battalion is now with UNDOF, though it has served with UNIFIL in Lebanon as well, and the second battalion is with the Multinational Force and Observers in Sinai. 

I have two comments to make. First, it is a reminder that the Blue Helmets really do run risks, specially in situations like South Lebanon and now, the Golan. (Austria, Croatia, and Japan have pulled their troops out of UNDOF, and as mentioned, the Philippines is about to do the same.)

Second, I wonder: Jabhat al-Nusra does realize that UNDOF is the only thing standing between them and the Israeli Army, doesn't it? Of course this may be a deliberate attempt to provoke Israel and allow Nusra to claim that they, not the Asad regime, are fighting for the Golan. But that could prove to be risky business.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

There are Still Yazidis Stranded on Jabal Sinjar

Despite claims that a combination of  Iraqi and Kurdish forces and US bombing had "broken the siege" of Mount Sinjar earlier this month, there are sill Yazidis stranded on the mountain. Two weeks ago, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby acknowledged this:
On the estimate of refugees on Mount Sinjar, it's difficult to provide an exact figure, but we think it's somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000. I'd also add that a number of them, perhaps up to 2,000 or so -- and, again, this is an estimate -- reside there and may not want to leave. It's home to many of them. So not all of them will necessarily be looking to leave the mountain. That's our best estimate right now, based on the assessment team's visit there.
More recent reports and published satellite photos confirm that there are still significant numbers on the mountain, This report from The Guardian notes:
Satellite images taken on 21 August by the firm ImageSat International and interviews with members of the Yazidi religious minority still on the mountain indicate a humanitarian emergency continuing to unfold. While thousands have fled down the mountain’s north face, making a dangerous trek into Iraqi Kurdistan through Syria, those on the southern side remain in crisis.
There has not been a US airdrop of food, water or medicine since 13 August, after a reconnaissance team of US special operations forces that had briefly been on the mountain reported that conditions were not as dire as Washington initially thought.
Survivors of the Islamic State (Isis) siege describe leaving behind their elderly and infirm relatives. The younger Yazidis who have stayed behind talk of fighting Isis until they either liberate Sinjar city below or they die.
I would add a reminder that those Yazidis who were "rescued" from the mountain are in refugee camps in the Kurdish regions of Iraq or Syria, or in Turkey; they may not be starving, but they are refugees in a region where massive displacement of minorities has taken place, and a burden on their hosts. And that does not address the numbers already killed by the Islamic State, or the reports of women being captured and sold.

More on Libya

A piece by Mary Fitzgerald at Foreign Policy offers some insights into the domestic political implications of the alleged Egypt/UAE strikes: "Libya's New Power Brokers."

Nostslgia: Once, Long Ago, The World and I Were Young. Though Cairo was Old

Midan al-Tahrir, Cairo, sometime in the 1960s: the then new Nile Hilton (today no longer a Hilton) and Arab Socialist Union HQ (later National Democratic Party HQ, burned in the 2011 Revolution), with a working fountain in the Midan.

Photo source

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Arabic Still Dying After All These Years? A New Lament

Longtime readers may recall that a couple of times a year at least, some Arab intellectual or literary figure laments the death (or moribund status) of Arabic, usually either because young people are speaking colloquial instead of fusha or because they're mixing it with foreign languages. You can find some of these earlier posts here. One of the better responses to this frequent theme was Elias Muhanna's 2010 "The Death of Arabic is Greatly Exaggerated."  He pointed to this quote from the lexicographer Ibn Manzur:
Ibn Manzur was driven by a belief that Arabic’s position as the ultimate language of social prestige, literary eloquence, and religious knowledge was under threat. “In our time, speaking Arabic is regarded as a vice,” he wrote in his preface. “I have composed the present work in an age in which men take pride in [using] a language other than Arabic, and I have built it like Noah built the ark, enduring the sarcasm of his own people.”
"The present work" refers to his massive 20-volume Lisan al-‘Arab, most extensive of the great medieval Arabic dictionaries. Ibn Manzur died in 1312 AD, so Arabic's death throes have been around for a while.

I presume the languages threatening Arabic then were Persian and Turkish.

But fear not! Arabic is still going downhill fast, as Lebanese novelist Iman Humaydan tells Beirut's Daily Star, in "Lost in Translation: Connecting Youths with Arabic":
“The Arabic tongue is deteriorating, not only because of globalization and the mainstream English language, but because the educational system in the Arab World is connecting the language to social values that are no longer convenient for the youth,” said Lebanese novelist and writing instructor Iman Humaydan.
Humaydan has presided over students from at least nine different Arabic countries -- with different cultural, linguistic and religious backgrounds -- in an attempt to reintroduce the Arabic language to the classroom.
Many of her students were initially resistant to the Arabic tongue, with students refusing to participate at first because they believed that they were entering an purely English writing program.“What really was a serious issue was to make these students believe that their mother tongue is capable of reflecting their inner selves,” said Humaydan.
The novelist and writer expressed her view that orthodox educational methods have associated the Arabic language with religious values, and other conventional norms derived from old Arabic literature.
According to Humaydan, by eliminating contemporary Arab writers from the school curriculum and simply exposing youths to the same conventional references and teaching methods have, in turn, contributed to the death of the Arabic tongue.
I have no doubt that her comments reflect her own teaching experience, but this chorus has been echoed so many times that it seems repetitive, and many countries have sought to counter the trend. But I suspect the lack of emphasis on contemporary Arabic authors is as much a political as a pedagogical concern. And the colloquial forms are alive and well on social media, but the literary disdain for the spoken lahajat (lahja‘ammiyya, darija, etc.)  is also often present in these discussions.

Marcia Lynx Qualey at Arabic Literature (in English) offers some further context at "The Fragility of a Deteriorating Arabic?":
Humaydan, an award-winning novelist whose beautiful novel Other Lives was recently published in translation by Michelle Hartman, recently taught a seminar in Arabic at the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program for teens, Between the Lines. . .
The “Between the Lines” workshops, which took place between June 21 and July 5, were for students from across the region. They were divided in to two sessions each day. The morning session was in English, and the afternoon creative-writing seminar was in the student’s “native” language. (Although in the case of Arabic, of course, the seminars likely had a focus on Modern Standard Arabic.)
If you’ll be between the ages of 16 and 19 next summer — or know a talented writer who will be — you can check the Between the Lines website in January 2015 to apply for the next session.
A video from last year’s Between the Lines seminar:
Of course, the video is entirely in English. Still, I think reports of the demise of Arabic are greatly exaggerated. And personally,  I would also re-link to this post at the Arabizi blog which I've cited before: “'We must make space for non-standard Arabic if we really care about FuSHa': Interviews with Spoken Arabic language teachers." 

And to drive the point home, "Arabizi" is a transliteration which, while not invented for it, has spread widely as a means of transliterating for social media in the Roman alphabet.

Egyptian Human Rights Lawyer Ahmad Seif Dies at 63; Two of His Children Are in Prison for Protests

Seif with Defendants
Veteran Egyptian human rights lawyer and activist Ahmad Seif El-Islam has died at the age of 63.  He had suffered a heart attack two weeks ago.

Seif (1951-2014), an attorney, has actively defended protesters and activists for decades; though from the political left himself, he defended clients from across the political spectrum. He resigned from the Human Rights Council to protest the 2013 coup.

Seif, in fact, headed an entire family of activists. His wife Laila Soueif is a professor at Cairo University and an activist; his son, Alaa Abdel Fattah, is perhaps the best known non-Muslim Brotherhood political prisoner in Egypt, once a pioneering blogger prominent in the 2011 Revolution and now serving 15 years for violating the anti-protest law; after being allowed to visit his unconscious father in the hospital, Alaa last week announced he was beginning a hunger strike. At that time the family issued this statement.

Mada Masr just published an open letter from Alaa in prison.

Alaa's youngest sister Sanaa is also in prison awaiting trial for violating the protest law and was allowed to visit her father. The third sibling, Nora, is also an activist opposing military tribunals..
Activist Family: right to left, Ahmad, wife Laila, Ala, Nora, Sanaa

The funeral is tomorrow, and a Facebook page is urging people to attend.

See also The Guardian here and Zeinobia here.
Carlos Latuff cartoon (source)

A Roundup of Recent Studies and Commentary on ISIS

During the two weeks I was on vacation and posting historical posts, much of the academic and think-tank world was wrestling with the question of the Islamic State (though it's sill easier to call it ISIS in English or Da‘ish  in Arabic since the acronyms are pronounceable). I thought a roundup of some of these pieces and reports might be timely.

Let's start close to home, with recent opinion pieces by colleagues here at MEI:
Some longer form reports from other think ranks:
  • Michael Knights for the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point's CTC Sentinel: "ISIL's Political-Military Power in Iraq." (Summary here and full PDF here.)
  • Multiple authors at the Woodrow Wilson Center: "Barbarians: ISIS's Mortal Threat to Women." (Summary here and full PDF here.)
And some other thoughtful voices:

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Arab World's Sandhurst Alumni

The current rulers of Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman all attended The Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, and many send their sons there. The BBC offers a nice piece on the British connection: "Sandhurst's sheikhs: Why do so many Gulf royals receive military training in the UK?" [Link corrected.]

Former French colonies (plus Iran) have seemed to favor Saint-Cyr over Sandhurst.

Two Reflections on the Tripoli Airstrikes

Here are a couple of useful reflections by others on those reports that Egypt and the UAE bombed Libya. A post at Foreign Policy argues that "Of Course the US Knew About Airstrikes on Libya."

And Juan Cole, who actually can remember the events of 2011, discusses "5 Ironies of US Reaction to Egypt/UAE Bombing of Libya."

Both pieces make good points.

"Caliph Ibrahim" is not the First Caliph to Make His Capital at Raqqa

As a onetime specialist on the ‘Abbasid Caliphate, I thought it might be worth noting that the Islamic State's self-proclaimed "Caliph Ibrahim" is not the first Caliph to make his seat at the town of Raqqa in eastern Syria. That precedent was set by one of the most famous ‘Abbasids of all: Harun al-Rashid.

Although thanks to the 1,001 Nights tales, Harun is inexorably associated with the glories of Baghdad, the city founded by his grandfather al-Mansur, and he did indeed preside over the flourishing of the great city on the Tigris, he decided in AD 796, a decade into his reign, to move his Caliphal seat from Baghdad to Raqqa. The reasons are not entirely clear and may have been strategic, but he actually governed the Empire from Raqqa for the next 12 years, until his death in 809. It remained an administrative center for the western part of the Empire after the capital returned to Baghdad.

I doubt if "Caliph Ibrahim" will be the subject of songs and stories centuries from now. But then again, I rather suspect Caliph Ibrahim doesn't approve of the 1,001 Nights.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Who Bombed Tripoli Last Monday and Yesterday? Egypt and UAE, or Algeria?

The New York Times has quoted "four senior American officials" as saying that Egypt and the UAE, despite strong public and official denials, were responsible for the bombing of targets in Tripoli last Monday and again yesterday. If verified, this may resolve one of the stranger mysteries of the past week, rather overshadowed by events in Iraq and Gaza.

Last Monday morning before dawn, at least two combat aircraft attacked targets in Tripoli in Libya, striking at areas controlled by Islamist militias. Libya's Air Force denied responsibility, and experts said the Libyan Air Force lacks night fighting capability and could not have launched the strikes. Libyan government officials blamed a "foreign" air force, and the US, Britain, France, Italy, and Egypt all disclaimed responsibility. One problem was that the aircraft, striking before dawn, were not identifiable.

This was further muddled when spokesmen for rebel General Khalifa Haftar claimed responsibility, saying "The Libyan eagles of the air, on board Sukhoi-24 long-range weapon launchers that were brought back into service again, carried out precise and intensified airstrikes early yesterday morning on targets of the so-called 'Libya Dawn' militias," This raised questions since Libya has only six Su-24s and all were believed shot down or destroyed on the ground in 2011.

Later, however, Jane's reported that Brig. Gen. Saqr Jarushi, a dismissed head of the Libyan Air Force who backs Haftar and commands the base at Binina, clarified "that Su-24s that were under his control, but provided by a foreign air force, had carried out airstrikes that he implied were in addition to the earlier ones." 

Su-24 in Algerian livery
These reports of Su-24s seemed to point the finger at Algeria. Other than Libya, her only other air forces nearby with Su-24s are Sudan's and Algeria's Sudan's are recent and it is not concerned with Libya, while Algeria's are recently upgraded. (Syria has the but is preoccupied elsewhere.) Algeria denied it.

If Egypt and the UAE were responsible, they do not have Su-24s. But yesterday, the Libyan Dawn militia claimed that Egyptian and UAE aircraft were responsible for an attack on Friday, though other reports speak of a second attack only on Sunday, including the NYT report. There may have been three attacks in all.

If he Times story is to be believed, the UAE provided the aircraft, pilots, and refueling tankers, and flew from Egyptian air bases, so the Egyptian denial that its aircraft were involved could be literally true. But then, was the Su-24 story simply a red herring planted by Haftar's people to point the finger at Algeria? Haftar's people probably are cooperating with the Egyptians in the border region and may have provided a cover story.

Meanwhile, militia fighting over control of Tripoli International Airport, which has been closed due to the fighting, has reportedly resulted in a fire which destroyed the main terminal building.

Another Tribute to George Scanlon, from ARCE

I'm back from vacation, and while I hope that my vacation posts on historical subjects have kept you busy, a lot has been happening in the region and I'll be catching up as time permits.

Scanlon with Nasser, 1969
When archaeologist/art historian George T. Scanlon, the excavator of Fustat, died last month, I linked to several tributes. Let me now link to yet another, a lengthy tribute by Iman R. Abdelfattah at the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) website.Scanlon served twice as Director of ARCE, among his many other accomplishments.

Scanlon at l., with the 90-year old Creswell
The tribute also contains several photos, two of which I can't resist reproducing: the one of Scanlon meeting Nasser, above, on the occasion of the 1,000th anniversary of Cairo in 1969, and the one at right from Al-Musawwar magazine in 1970, showing Scanlon at far left next to another giant of Egyptian art and architecture, Sir. K.A.C. Creswell, who was discussed here.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Lady Hester Stanhope, Part III: The Descent Into Delusion and Isolation

I've been on vacation. As I have done each year, I have prepared a number of posts on historical and cultural subjects unlikely to be overtaken by events, with at least one appearing daily. Parts I and II of this post on Hester Stanhope appeared Wednesday and Thursday; this part, originally planned for Friday, was delayed by vacation events and appears today.
The woman before me had exactly the person of a prophetess — not, indeed, of the divine sibyl imagined by Domenichino, so sweetly distracted betwixt love and mystery, but of a good business-like, practical prophetess.
Alexander Kinglake, Eothen (1844)
After her grand triumphal visit to Palmyra, Lady Hester's luck began to change, and her transformation from "the Queen of the Desert" (as she envisioned herself) to the "Mad Nun of Lebanon" (as others dubbed her) proceeded apace. Her much younger lover, Michael Bruce, had to return to England. She toured Lebanon and took up residence at Tripoli. Then she took ill, and as plague was prevalent she feared she might have it, but instead recovered.

Meanwhile she had acquired a document, said to have been written by an Italian monk in a Franciscan monastery near Tripoli, which purportedly described a fantastic treasure said to be buried in the ruins of ancient Ascalon (today's Ashkelon), among other buried treasure. (Other treasures were said to be buried at Sidon and on the Awja (today's Yarkon) river near Jaffa (probably referring to the ruins at Tell Qasile). Strapped for cash, she resolved to find it, and using her connections pulled some strings to secure a firman from Constantinople, permitting her to dig there. In 185 she set out for Ascalon.

The Ascalon Statue (Meryon, Vol. III)
For two weeks, beginning on the first of April, 1815, she and her party excavated in the ruins of Ascalon. This has often been called the first Western archaeological dig in the Middle East, though it was treasure rather than knowledge that the diggers were seeking. They found a few columns and one broken but impressive statue, which Biblical archaeologist Neil Asher Silberman has called "the first archaeological artifact ever discovered by excavation in Palestine."

They kept digging but found no treasures. Determined to prove that she was no seeking to export antiquities (Lord Elgin's Marbles were already controversial), she ordered her workmen to destroy the statue. So the "first archaeological artifact ever discovered by archaeological excavation in Palestine" was destroyed by its discoverer. Though Dr Meryon thought it might represent a Ptolemy or perhaps Herod, Silberman calls it a Roman Emperor.

While returning via Jaffa, she had Meryon scout out the alleged treasure site on the Awja/Yarkon, apparently the ruins of Tell Qasile, but he reported it unlikely to yield a treasure. At Sidon they did dig for a few days at the alleged third treasure site, finding nothing.

And that was the end of the first Western archaeological dig in Palestine, and of Lady Hester's archaeological career.

With one maid/companion, Miss Williams, her physician, Dr. Meryon, and a variety of servants, Lady Hester increasingly isolated herself. She first lived in he abandoned Mar Elias Monastery near Abra, then at Deir al-Mashmousheh near Jezzine. Finally she would settle in another abandoned monastery, this one at Joun in South Lebanon. It would come to be called "Dahr al-Sitt," the "Summit of the Lady," by the locals.
Joun (Life and Letters of Lady Hester Stanhope, by Her Niece, the Duchess of Cleveland)

Miss Williams died in 1828, and Meryon finally returned to England in 1831. After years of service (and some say, unrequited love), his six volumes are our fullest account of her life.

With her last European companions gone, Stanhope's diminishing grasp of reality (never completely present) intensified. She lived with her servants in the vast old monastery, impoverished (her debts having finally forced a stop to her pension), increasingly tyrannical, reportedly beating servants and ordering them to serve sherbert to her favorite Arabian mare), but also, for a few years, continuing to offer hospitality to foreign visitors and sanctuary to local Druze, which alienated her onetime ally, the Emir Bashir Chehab.

She dabbled in alchemy, grew obsessed with astrology, insisted her servants treat her as a queen (she increasingly believed her "crowning" at Palmyra had been real). She is said to have convinced herself  that the appearance of the Muslim Mahdi was imminent, and that he would make her his wife.

Some have suggested hat sh was tolerated by the community in part due to the traditional Middle Eastern notion that a "crazy" person (majnun) is, as the word literally means, possessed by jinn. Her reputation as as prophetess also helped, as did the support of Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt during his campaign in Lebanon.

The most famous account of her in the years after Meryon left is that of Alexander Kinglake. a young socially prominent Englishman who, in 1835, made a grand tour of the Middle East which he immortalized in his once widely read account, Eothen (Greek for "from the East" or "from the dawn"). The book (online editions here) did not appear until 1844, after Lady Hester's death, but it contains a remarkable description of her in 1835. Chapter VIII is entitled simply, "Lady Hester Stanhope." It deserves a fairly extensive excerpt here as it pictures Lady Hester, almost 60,  speaking of the occult and other matters. He explains how he came to call on her:
I received hospitable welcome at Beyrout from the Europeans as well as from the Syrian Christians, and I soon discovered that their standing topic of interest was the Lady Hester Stanhope, who lived in an old convent on the Lebanon range, at the distance of about a day’s journey from the town. The lady’s habit of refusing to see Europeans added the charm of mystery to a character which, even without that aid, was sufficiently distinguished to command attention.
And Kinglake had a family link of sorts:
Many years of Lady Hester’s early womanhood had been passed with Lady Chatham at Burton Pynsent, and during that inglorious period of the heroine’s life her commanding character, and (as they would have called it in the language of those days) her “condescending kindness” towards my mother’s family, had increased in them those strong feelings of respect and attachment, which her rank and station alone would have easily won from people of the middle class. You may suppose how deeply the quiet women in Somersetshire must have been interested, when they slowly learned by vague and uncertain tidings that the intrepid girl who had been used to break their vicious horses for them was reigning in sovereignty over the wandering tribes of Western Asia! I know that her name was made almost as familiar to me in my childhood as the name of Robinson Crusoe — both were associated with the spirit of adventure; but whilst the imagined life of the cast-away mariner never failed to seem glaringly real, the true story of the Englishwoman ruling over Arabs always sounded to me like fable. I never had heard, nor indeed, I believe, had the rest of the world ever heard, anything like a certain account of the heroine’s adventures; all I knew was, that in one of the drawers which were the delight of my childhood, along with attar of roses and fragrant wonders from Hindustan, there were letters carefully treasured, and trifling presents which I was taught to think valuable because they had come from the queen of the desert, who dwelt in tents, and reigned over wandering Arabs.
This subject, however, died away, and from the ending of my childhood up to the period of my arrival in the Levant, I had seldom even heard a mentioning of the Lady Hester Stanhope, but now, wherever I went, I was met by the name so familiar in sound, and yet so full of mystery from the vague, fairy-tale sort of idea which it brought to my mind; I heard it, too, connected with fresh wonders, for it was said that the woman was now acknowledged as an inspired being by the people of the mountains, and it was even hinted with horror that she claimed to be MORE THAN A PROPHET.
I felt at once that my mother would be sadly sorry to hear that I had been within a day’s ride of her early friend without offering to see her, and I therefore despatched a letter to the recluse, mentioning the maiden name of my mother (whose marriage was subsequent to Lady Hester’s departure), and saying that if there existed on the part of her ladyship any wish to hear of her old Somersetshire acquaintance, I should make a point of visiting her. My letter was sent by a foot-messenger, who was to take an unlimited time for his journey, so that it was not, I think, until either the third or the fourth day that the answer arrived. A couple of horsemen covered with mud suddenly dashed into the little court of the “locanda” in which I was staying, bearing themselves as ostentatiously as though they were carrying a cartel from the Devil to the Angel Michael: one of these (the other being his attendant) was an Italian by birth (though now completely orientalised), who lived in my lady’s establishment as doctor nominally, but practically as an upper servant; he presented me a very kind and appropriate letter of invitation.
It happened that I was rather unwell at this time, so that I named a more distant day for my visit than I should otherwise have done, and after all, I did not start at the time fixed. Whilst still remaining at Beyrout I received this letter, which certainly betrays no symptom of the pretensions to divine power which were popularly attributed to the writer:-
“SIR, — I hope I shall be disappointed in seeing you on Wednesday, for the late rains have rendered the river Damoor if not dangerous, at least very unpleasant to pass for a person who has been lately indisposed, for if the animal swims, you would be immerged in the waters. The weather will probably change after the 21st of the moon, and after a couple of days the roads and the river will be passable, therefore I shall expect you either Saturday or Monday.
“It will be a great satisfaction to me to have an opportunity of inquiring after your mother, who was a sweet, lovely girl when I knew her. “Believe me, sir, “Yours sincerely, “HESTER LUCY STANHOPE.”
After a description of his preparations and journey, and arrives at Joun:
I left Saide (the Sidon of ancient times) on my right, and about an hour, I think, before sunset began to ascend one of the many low hills of Lebanon. On the summit before me was a broad, grey mass of irregular building, which from its position, as well as from the gloomy blankness of its walls, gave the idea of a neglected fortress. It had, in fact, been a convent of great size, and like most of the religious houses in this part of the world, had been made strong enough for opposing an inert resistance to any mere casual band of assailants who might be unprovided with regular means of attack: this was the dwelling-place of the Chatham’s fiery granddaughter.
The aspect of the first court which I entered was such as to keep one in the idea of having to do with a fortress rather than a mere peaceable dwelling-place. A number of fierce-looking and ill-clad Albanian soldiers were hanging about the place, and striving to bear the curse of tranquillity as well as they could: two or three of them, I think, were smoking their tchibouques, but the rest of them were lying torpidly upon the flat stones, like the bodies of departed brigands. I rode on to an inner part of the building, and at last, quitting my horses, was conducted through a doorway that led me at once from an open court into an apartment on the ground floor. As I entered, an Oriental figure in male costume approached me from the farther end of the room with many and profound bows, but the growing shades of evening prevented me from distinguishing the features of the personage who was receiving me with this solemn welcome. I had always, however, understood that Lady Hester Stanhope wore the male attire, and I began to utter in English the common civilities that seemed to be proper on the commencement of a visit by an uninspired mortal to a renowned prophetess; but the figure which I addressed only bowed so much the more, prostrating itself almost to the ground, but speaking to me never a word. I feebly strived not to be outdone in gestures of respect; but presently my bowing opponent saw the error under which I was acting, and suddenly convinced me that, at all events, I was not YET in the presence of a superhuman being, by declaring that he was not “miladi,” but was, in fact, nothing more or less god-like than the poor doctor, who had brought his mistress’s letter to Beyrout.
Her ladyship, in the right spirit of hospitality, now sent and commanded me to repose for a while after the fatigues of my journey, and to dine.
The cuisine was of the Oriental kind, which is highly artificial, and I thought it very good. I rejoiced too in the wine of the Lebanon.
In her later years, Lady Hester refused to receive guests before dark, which may account for the delay in receiving Kinglake:
Soon after the ending of the dinner the doctor arrived with miladi’s compliments, and an intimation that she would he happy to receive me if I were so disposed. It had now grown dark, and the rain was falling heavily, so that I got rather wet in following my guide through the open courts that I had to pass in order to reach the presence chamber. At last I was ushered into a small apartment, which was protected from the draughts of air passing through the doorway by a folding screen; passing this, I came alongside of a common European sofa, where sat the lady prophetess. She rose from her seat very formally, spoke to me a few words of welcome, pointed to a chair which was placed exactly opposite to her sofa at a couple of yards’ distance, and remained standing up to the full of her majestic height, perfectly still and motionless, until I had taken my appointed place; she then resumed her seat, not packing herself up according to the mode of the Orientals, but allowing her feet to rest on the floor or the footstool; at the moment of seating herself she covered her lap with a mass of loose white drapery which she held in her hand. It occurred to me at the time that she did this in order to avoid the awkwardness of sitting in manifest trousers under the eye of an European, but I can hardly fancy now that with her wilful nature she would have brooked such a compromise as this.
The woman before me had exactly the person of a prophetess — not, indeed, of the divine sibyl imagined by Domenichino, so sweetly distracted betwixt love and mystery, but of a good business-like, practical prophetess, long used to the exercise of her sacred calling. I have been told by those who knew Lady Hester Stanhope in her youth, that any notion of a resemblance betwixt her and the great Chatham must have been fanciful; but at the time of my seeing her, the large commanding features of the gaunt woman, then sixty years old or more, certainly reminded me of the statesman that lay dying in the House of Lords, according to Copley’s picture. Her face was of the most astonishing whiteness; she wore a very large turban, which seemed to be of pale cashmere shawls, so disposed as to conceal the hair; her dress, from the chin down to the point at which it was concealed by the drapery which she held over her lap, was a mass of white linen loosely folding — an ecclesiastical sort of affair, more like a surplice than any of those blessed creations which our souls love under the names of “dress” and “frock” and “boddice” and “collar” and “habit-shirt” and sweet “chemisette.”
Such was the outward seeming of the personage that sat before me, and indeed she was almost bound by the fame of her actual achievements, as well as by her sublime pretensions, to look a little differently from the rest of womankind. There had been something of grandeur in her career. After the death of Lady Chatham, which happened in 1803, she lived under the roof of her uncle, the second Pitt, and when he resumed the Government in 1804, she became the dispenser of much patronage, and sole secretary of state for the department of Treasury banquets. Not having seen the lady until late in her life, when she was fired with spiritual ambition, I can hardly fancy that she could have performed her political duties in the saloons of the Minister with much of feminine sweetness and patience. I am told, however, that she managed matters very well indeed: perhaps it was better for the lofty-minded leader of the House to have his reception-rooms guarded by this stately creature, than by a merely clever and managing woman; it was fitting that the wholesome awe with which he filled the minds of the country gentlemen should be aggravated by the presence of his majestic niece. But the end was approaching. The sun of Austerlitz showed the Czar madly sliding his splendid army like a weaver’s shuttle from his right hand to his left, under the very eyes — the deep, grey, watchful eyes of Napoleon; before night came, the coalition was a vain thing — meet for history, and the heart of its great author was crushed with grief when the terrible tidings came to his ears. In the bitterness of his despair he cried out to his niece, and bid her, “ROLL UP THE MAP OF EUROPE”; there was a little more of suffering, and at last, with his swollen tongue (so they say) still muttering something for England, he died by the noblest of all sorrows.
This refers to the story that the Younger Pitt,  Lady Hester's uncle, on hearing of the Battle of Austerlitz, said "Roll up that map; it will not be wanted these ten years." That as 1805; Waterloo was indeed ten years away, but Pitt died early in 1806. Kinglake continues:
Lady Hester, meeting the calamity in her own fierce way, seems to have scorned the poor island that had not enough of God’s grace to keep the “heaven-sent” Minister alive. I can hardly tell why it should be, but there is a longing for the East very commonly felt by proud-hearted people when goaded by sorrow. Lady Hester Stanhope obeyed this impulse. For some time, I believe, she was at Constantinople, where her magnificence and near alliance to the late Minister gained her great influence. Afterwards she passed into Syria. The people of that country, excited by the achievements of Sir Sidney Smith, had begun to imagine the possibility of their land being occupied by the English, and many of them looked upon Lady Hester as a princess who came to prepare the way for the expected conquest. I don’t know it from her own lips, or indeed from any certain authority, but I have been told that she began her connection with the Bedouins by making a large present of money (500 pounds it was said — immense in piastres) to the Sheik whose authority was recognised in that part of the desert which lies between Damascus and Palmyra. The prestige created by the rumours of her high and undefined rank, as well as of her wealth and corresponding magnificence, was well sustained by her imperious character and her dauntless bravery. Her influence increased. I never heard anything satisfactory as to the real extent or duration of her sway, but it seemed that for a time at least she certainly exercised something like sovereignty amongst the wandering tribes. And now that her earthly kingdom had passed away she strove for spiritual power, and impiously dared, as it was said, to boast some mystic union with the very God of very God!
That soaring is followed immediately by this:
A couple of black slave girls came at a signal, and supplied their mistress as well as myself with lighted tchibouques and coffee.
The custom of the East sanctions, and almost commands, some moments of silence whilst you are inhaling the first few breaths of the fragrant pipe. The pause was broken, I think, by my lady, who addressed to me some inquiries respecting my mother, and particularly as to her marriage; but before I had communicated any great amount of family facts, the spirit of the prophetess kindled within her, and presently (though with all the skill of a woman of the world) she shuffled away the subject of poor, dear Somersetshire, and bounded onward into loftier spheres of thought.
My old acquaintance with some of “the twelve” enabled me to bear my part (of course a very humble one) in a conversation relative to occult science. Milnes once spread a report, that every gang of gipsies was found upon inquiry to have come last from a place to the westward, and to be about to make the next move in an eastern direction; either therefore they where to be all gathered together towards the rising of the sun by the mysterious finger of Providence, or else they were to revolve round the globe for ever and ever: both of these suppositions were highly gratifying, because they were both marvellous; and though the story on which they were founded plainly sprang from the inventive brain of a poet, no one had ever been so odiously statistical as to attempt a contradiction of it. I now mentioned the story as a report to Lady Hester Stanhope, and asked her if it were true. I could not have touched upon any imaginable subject more deeply interesting to my hearer, more closely akin to her habitual train of thinking. She immediately threw off all the restraint belonging to an interview with a stranger; and when she had received a few more similar proofs of my aptness for the marvellous, she went so far as to say that she would adopt me as her eleve in occult science.
Kinglake's youthful romanticism seems to have meshed well with Lady Hester's increasing occult interests.
For hours and hours this wondrous white woman poured forth her speech, for the most part concerning sacred and profane mysteries; but every now and then she would stay her lofty flight and swoop down upon the world again. Whenever this happened I was interested in her conversation.
She adverted more than once to the period of her lost sway amongst the Arabs, and mentioned some of the circumstances that aided her in obtaining influence with the wandering tribes. The Bedouin, so often engaged in irregular warfare, strains his eyes to the horizon in search of a coming enemy just as habitually as the sailor keeps his “bright lookout” for a strange sail. In the absence of telescopes a far-reaching sight is highly valued, and Lady Hester possessed this quality to an extraordinary degree. She told me that on one occasion, when there was good reason to expect a hostile attack, great excitement was felt in the camp by the report of a far-seeing Arab, who declared that he could just distinguish some moving objects upon the very farthest point within the reach of his eyes. Lady Hester was consulted, and she instantly assured her comrades in arms that there were indeed a number of horses within sight, but that they were without riders. The assertion proved to be correct, and from that time forth her superiority over all others in respect of far sight remained undisputed.
Kinglake also seems to have accepted her tales of her earlier influence at face value:
Lady Hester related to me this other anecdote of her Arab life. It was when the heroic qualities of the Englishwoman were just beginning to be felt amongst the people of the desert, that she was marching one day, along with the forces of the tribe to which she had allied herself. She perceived that preparations for an engagement were going on, and upon her making inquiry as to the cause, the Sheik at first affected mystery and concealment, but at last confessed that war had been declared against his tribe on account of its alliance with the English princess, and that they were now unfortunately about to be attacked by a very superior force. He made it appear that Lady Hester was the sole cause of hostility betwixt his tribe and the impending enemy, and that his sacred duty of protecting the Englishwoman whom he had admitted as his guest was the only obstacle which prevented an amicable arrangement of the dispute. The Sheik hinted that his tribe was likely to sustain an almost overwhelming blow, but at the same time declared, that no fear of the consequences, however terrible to him and his whole people, should induce him to dream of abandoning his illustrious guest. The heroine instantly took her part: it was not for her to be a source of danger to her friends, but rather to her enemies, so she resolved to turn away from the people, and trust for help to none save only her haughty self. The Sheiks affected to dissuade her from so rash a course, and fairly told her that although they (having been freed from her presence) would be able to make good terms for themselves, yet that there were no means of allaying the hostility felt towards her, and that the whole face of the desert would be swept by the horsemen of her enemies so carefully, as to make her escape into other districts almost impossible. The brave woman was not to be moved by terrors of this kind, and bidding farewell to the tribe which had honoured and protected her, she turned her horse’s head and rode straight away from them, without friend or follower. Hours had elapsed, and for some time she had been alone in the centre of the round horizon, when her quick eye perceived some horsemen in the distance. The party came nearer and nearer; soon it was plain that they were making towards her, and presently some hundreds of Bedouins, fully armed, galloped up to her, ferociously shouting, and apparently intending to take her life at the instant with their pointed spears. Her face at the time was covered with the yashmak, according to Eastern usage, but at the moment when the foremost of the horsemen had all but reached her with their spears, she stood up in her stirrups, withdrew the yashmak that veiled the terrors of her countenance, waved her arm slowly and disdainfully, and cried out with a loud voice “Avaunt!”  The horsemen recoiled from her glance, but not in terror. The threatening yells of the assailants were suddenly changed for loud shouts of joy and admiration at the bravery of the stately Englishwoman, and festive gunshots were fired on all sides around her honoured head. The truth was, that the party belonged to the tribe with which she had allied herself, and that the threatened attack as well as the pretended apprehension of an engagement had been contrived for the mere purpose of testing her courage. The day ended in a great feast prepared to do honour to the heroine, and from that time her power over the minds of the people grew rapidly. Lady Hester related this story with great spirit, and I recollect that she put up her yashmak for a moment in order to give me a better idea of the effect which she produced by suddenly revealing the awfulness of her countenance.
With respect to her then present mode of life, Lady Hester informed me, that for her sin she had subjected herself during many years to severe penance, and that her self-denial had not been without its reward. “Vain and false,” said she, “is all the pretended knowledge of the Europeans — their doctors will tell you that the drinking of milk gives yellowness to the complexion; milk is my only food, and you see if my face be not white.” Her abstinence from food intellectual was carried as far as her physical fasting. She never, she said, looked upon a book or a newspaper, but trusted alone to the stars for her sublime knowledge; she usually passed the nights in communing with these heavenly teachers, and lay at rest during the daytime. She spoke with great contempt of the frivolity and benighted ignorance of the modern Europeans, and mentioned in proof of this, that they were not only untaught in astrology, but were unacquainted with the common and every-day phenomena produced by magic art. She spoke as if she would make me understand that all sorcerous spells were completely at her command, but that the exercise of such powers would be derogatory to her high rank in the heavenly kingdom. She said that the spell by which the face of an absent person is thrown upon a mirror was within the reach of the humblest and most contemptible magicians, but that the practice of such-like arts was unholy as well as vulgar.
She still believed in buried treasure to be found:
We spoke of the bending twig by which, it is said, precious metals may be discovered. In relation to this, the prophetess told me a story rather against herself, and inconsistent with the notion of her being perfect in her science; but I think that she mentioned the facts as having happened before the time at which she attained to the great spiritual authority which she now arrogated. She told me that vast treasures were known to exist in a situation which she mentioned, if I rightly remember, as being near Suez; that Napoleon, profanely brave, thrust his arm into the cave containing the coveted gold, and that instantly his flesh became palsied, but the youthful hero (for she said he was great in his generation) was not to be thus daunted; he fell back characteristically upon his brazen resources, and ordered up his artillery; but man could not strive with demons, and Napoleon was foiled. In after years came Ibrahim Pasha, with heavy guns, and wicked spells to boot, but the infernal guardians of the treasure were too strong for him. It was after this that Lady Hester passed by the spot, and she described with animated gesture the force and energy with which the divining twig had suddenly leaped in her hands. She ordered excavations, and no demons opposed her enterprise; the vast chest in which the treasure had been deposited was at length discovered, but lo and behold, it was full of pebbles! She said, however, that the times were approaching in which the hidden treasures of the earth would become available to those who had true knowledge.
Speaking of Ibrahim Pasha [of Egypt, then occupying south Lebanon], Lady Hester said that he was a bold, bad man, and was possessed of some of those common and wicked magical arts upon which she looked down with so much contempt. She said, for instance, that Ibrahim’s life was charmed against balls and steel, and that after a battle he loosened the folds of his shawl and shook out the bullets like dust.
It seems that the St. Simonians once made overtures to Lady Hester. She told me that the Pere Enfantin (the chief of the sect) had sent her a service of plate, but that she had declined to receive it. She delivered a prediction as to the probability of the St. Simonians finding the “mystic mother,” and this she did in a way which would amuse you. Unfortunately I am not at liberty to mention this part of the woman’s prophecies; why, I cannot tell, but so it is, that she bound me to eternal secrecy.
Lady Hester told me that since her residence at Djoun she had been attacked by a terrible illness, which rendered her for a long time perfectly helpless; all her attendants fled, and left her to perish. Whilst she lay thus alone, and quite unable to rise, robbers came and carried away her property.  She told me that they actually unroofed a great part of the building, and employed engines with pulleys, for the purpose of hoisting out such of her valuables as were too bulky to pass through doors. It would seem that before this catastrophe Lady Hester had been rich in the possession of Eastern luxuries; for she told me, that when the chiefs of the Ottoman force took refuge with her after the fall of Acre, they brought their wives also in great numbers. To all of these Lady Hester, as she said, presented magnificent dresses; but her generosity occasioned strife only instead of gratitude, for every woman who fancied her present less splendid than that of another with equal or less pretension, became absolutely furious: all these audacious guests had now been got rid of, but the Albanian soldiers, who had taken refuge with Lady Hester at the same time, still remained under her protection.
Ibrahim Pasha (Muhammad ‘Ali's son and general) seems to have respected her:
In truth, this half-ruined convent, guarded by the proud heart of an English gentlewoman, was the only spot throughout all Syria and Palestine in which the will of Mehemet Ali and his fierce lieutenant was not the law. More than once had the Pasha of Egypt commanded that Ibrahim should have the Albanians delivered up to him, but this white woman of the mountain (grown classical not by books, but by very pride) answered only with a disdainful invitation to “come and take them.” Whether it was that Ibrahim was acted upon by any superstitious dread of interfering with the prophetess (a notion not at all incompatible with his character as an able Oriental commander), or that he feared the ridicule of putting himself in collision with a gentlewoman, he certainly never ventured to attack the sanctuary, and so long as the Chatham’s granddaughter breathed a breath of life there was always this one hillock, and that too in the midst of a most populous district, which stood out, and kept its freedom. Mehemet Ali used to say, I am told, that the Englishwoman had given him more trouble than all the insurgent people of Syria and Palestine.
Then she turns to prophecy:
The prophetess announced to me that we were upon the eve of a stupendous convulsion, which would destroy the then recognised value of all property upon earth; and declaring that those only who should be in the East at the time of the great change could hope for greatness in the new life that was now close at hand, she advised me, whilst there was yet time, to dispose of my property in poor frail England, and gain a station in Asia. She told me that, after leaving her, I should go into Egypt, but that in a little while I should return into Syria. I secretly smiled at this last prophecy as a “bad shot,” for I had fully determined after visiting the Pyramids to take ship from Alexandria for Greece. But men struggle vainly in the meshes of their destiny. The unbelieved Cassandra was right after all; the plague came, and the necessity of avoiding the quarantine, to which I should have been subjected if I had sailed from Alexandria, forced me to alter my route. I went down into Egypt, and stayed there for a time, and then crossed the desert once more, and came back to the mountains of the Lebanon, exactly as the prophetess had foretold.
And religion:
Lady Hester talked to me long and earnestly on the subject of religion, announcing that the Messiah was yet to come. She strived to impress me with the vanity and the falseness of all European creeds, as well as with a sense of her own spiritual greatness: throughout her conversation upon these high topics she carefully insinuated, without actually asserting, her heavenly rank.
Amongst other much more marvellous powers, the lady claimed to have one which most women, I fancy, possess namely, that of reading men’s characters in their faces. She examined the line of my features very attentively, and told me the result, which, however, I mean to keep hidden.
And race:
One favoured subject of discourse was that of “race,” upon which she was very diffuse, and yet rather mysterious. She set great value upon the ancient French (not Norman blood, for that she vilified), but did not at all appreciate that which we call in this country “an old family.” She had a vast idea of the Cornish miners on account of their race, and said, if she chose, she could give me the means of rousing them to the most tremendous enthusiasm.
Whatever we make of all this today, Kinglake came away impressed, and she skewered a few literary targets:
Such are the topics on which the lady mainly conversed, but very often she would descend to more worldly chat, and then she was no longer the prophetess, but the sort of woman that you sometimes see, I am told, in London drawing-rooms — cool, decisive in manner, unsparing of enemies, full of audacious fun, and saying the downright things that the sheepish society around her is afraid to utter. I am told that Lady Hester was in her youth a capital mimic, and she showed me that not all the queenly dulness to which she had condemned herself, not all her fasting and solitude, had destroyed this terrible power. The first whom she crucified in my presence was poor Lord Byron. She had seen him, it appeared, I know not where, soon after his arrival in the East, and was vastly amused at his little affectations. He had picked up a few sentences of the Romantic, with which he affected to give orders to his Greek servant. I can’t tell whether Lady Hester’s mimicry of the bard was at all close, but it was amusing; she attributed to him a curiously coxcombical lisp.
Another person whose style of speaking the lady took off very amusingly was one who would scarcely object to suffer by the side of Lord Byron — I mean Lamartine, who had visited her in the course of his travels. The peculiarity which attracted her ridicule was an over-refinement of manner: according to my lady’s imitation of Lamartine (I have never seen him myself), he had none of the violent grimace of his countrymen, and not even their usual way of talking, but rather bore himself mincingly, like the humbler sort of English dandy. 
Lady Hester seems to have heartily despised everything approaching to exquisiteness. She told me, by-the-bye (and her opinion upon that subject is worth having), that a downright manner, amounting even to brusqueness, is more effective than any other with the Oriental; and that amongst the English of all ranks and all classes there is no man so attractive to the Orientals, no man who can negotiate with them half so effectively, as a good, honest, open-hearted, and positive naval officer of the old school.
I have told you, I think, that Lady Hester could deal fiercely with those she hated. One man above all others (he is now uprooted from society, and cast away for ever) she blasted with her wrath. You would have thought that in the scornfulness of her nature she must have sprung upon her foe with more of fierceness than of skill; but this was not so, for with all the force and vehemence of her invective she displayed a sober, patient, and minute attention to the details of vituperation, which contributed to its success a thousand times more than mere violence.
During the hours that this sort of conversation, or rather discourse, was going on our tchibouques were from time to time replenished, and the lady as well as I continued to smoke with little or no intermission till the interview ended. I think that the fragrant fumes of the latakiah must have helped to keep me on my good behaviour as a patient disciple of the prophetess.
It was not till after midnight that my visit for the evening came to an end. When I quitted my seat the lady rose and stood up in the same formal attitude (almost that of a soldier in a state of “attention”) which she had assumed at my entrance; at the same time she let go the drapery which she had held over her lap whilst sitting and allowed it to fall to the ground.
Her companions, now Italians, offered Kinglake some differing views:
The next morning after breakfast I was visited by my lady’s secretary — the only European, except the doctor, whom she retained in her household. This secretary, like the doctor, was Italian, but he preserved more signs of European dress and European pretensions than his medical fellow-slave. He spoke little or no English, though he wrote it pretty well, having been formerly employed in a mercantile house connected with England. The poor fellow was in an unhappy state of mind. In order to make you understand the extent of his spiritual anxieties, I ought to have told you that the doctor (who had sunk into the complete Asiatic, and had condescended accordingly to the performance of even menial services) had adopted the common faith of all the neighbouring people, and had become a firm and happy believer in the divine power of his mistress. Not so the secretary. When I had strolled with him to a distance from the building, which rendered him safe from being overheard by human ears, he told me in a hollow voice, trembling with emotion, that there were times at which he doubted the divinity of “miledi.” I said nothing to encourage the poor fellow in that frightful state of scepticism which, if indulged, might end in positive infidelity. I found that her ladyship had rather arbitrarily abridged the amusements of her secretary, forbidding him from shooting small birds on the mountain-side. This oppression had arouses in him a spirit of inquiry that might end fatally, perhaps for himself, perhaps for the “religion of the place.”
The secretary told me that his mistress was greatly disliked by the surrounding people, whom she oppressed by her exactions, and the truth of this statement was borne out by the way in which my lady spoke to me of her neighbours. But in Eastern countries hate and veneration are very commonly felt for the same object, and the general belief in the superhuman power of this wonderful white lady, her resolute and imperious character, and above all, perhaps, her fierce Albanians (not backward to obey an order for the sacking of a village), inspired sincere respect amongst the surrounding inhabitants. Now the being “respected” amongst Orientals is not an empty or merely honorary distinction, but carries with it a clear right to take your neighbour’s corn, his cattle, his eggs, and his honey, and almost anything that is his, except his wives. This law was acted upon by the princess of Djoun, and her establishment was supplied by contributions apportioned amongst the nearest of the villages.
I understood that the Albanians (restrained, I suppose, by the dread of being delivered up to Ibrahim) had not given any very troublesome proofs of their unruly natures. The secretary told me that their rations, including a small allowance of coffee and tobacco, were served out to them with tolerable regularity.
I asked the secretary how Lady Hester was off for horses, and said that I would take a look at the stable. The man did not raise any opposition to my proposal, and affected no mystery about the matter, but said that e only two steeds which then belonged to her ladyship were of a very humble sort. This answer, and a storm of rain then beginning to descend, prevented me at the time from undertaking my journey to the stable, which was at some distance from the part of the building in which I was quartered, and I don’t know that I ever thought of the matter afterwards until my return to England, when I saw Lamartine’s eye-witnessing account of the horse saddled by the hands of his Maker!
To Kinglake's surprise, he was granted a daylight audience:
When I returned to my apartment (which, as my hostess told me, was the only one in the whole building that kept out the rain) her ladyship sent to say that she would be glad to receive me again. I was rather surprised at this, for I had understood that she reposed during the day, and it was now little later than noon. “Really,” said she, when I had taken my seat and my pipe, “we were together for hours last night, and still I have heard nothing at all of my old friends; now DO tell me something of your dear mother and her sister; I never knew your father — it was after I left Burton Pynsent that your mother married.” I began to make slow answer, but my questioner soon went off again to topics more sublime, so that this second interview, which lasted two or three hours, was occupied by the same sort of varied discourse as that which I have been describing.
In the course of the afternoon the captain of an English man-of-war arrived at Djoun, and her ladyship determined to receive him for the same reason as that which had induced her to allow my visit, namely, an early intimacy with his family. I and the new visitor, who was a pleasant, amusing person, dined together, and we were afterwards invited to the presence of my lady, with whom we sat smoking and talking till midnight. The conversation turned chiefly, I think, upon magical science. I had determined to be off at an early hour the next morning, and so at the end of this interview I bade my lady farewell. With her parting words she once more advised me to abandon Europe and seek my reward in the East, and she urged me too to give the like counsels to my father, and tell him that “SHE HAD SAID IT.”
Lady Hester’s unholy claim to supremacy in the spiritual kingdom was, no doubt, the suggestion of fierce and inordinate pride most perilously akin to madness, but I am quite sure that the mind of the woman was too strong to be thoroughly overcome by even this potent feeling. I plainly saw that she was not an unhesitating follower of her own system, and I even fancied that I could distinguish the brief moments during which she contrived to believe in herself, from those long and less happy intervals in which her own reason was too strong for her.
As for the lady’s faith in astrology and magic science, you are not for a moment to suppose that this implied any aberration of intellect. She believed these things in common with those around her, for she seldom spoke to anybody except crazy old dervishes, who received her alms, and fostered her extravagancies, and even when (as on the occasion of my visit) she was brought into contact with a person entertaining different notions, she still remained uncontradicted. This entourage and the habit of fasting from books and newspapers were quite enough to make her a facile recipient of any marvellous story.
Kinglake's Eothen became a bestseller of the early Victorian period, but was published after her death, as were the six volumes by Dr. Meryon and the collection of letters published by Hester's niece.

They would make her a familiar figure in the years to come, but by then she was gone. Increasingly isolated, she died June 13, 1839 at the age of 63. She was buried at Joun, but was not given the Arab burial she had asked for, but buried by the British Consul and an Anglican priest, and wrapped in the Union Jack.

The story gets stranger, as noted by her biographer Kirsten Ellis in "The Curious Case of Lady Hester's Remains." In 1988, after Druze vs. Shi‘ite battles around Joun, Druze militiamen found a desecrated grave with old human remains and Lady Hester's walking stick. After some effort the bones were re-interred in the British Ambassador to Lebanon's garden in 1989, and in 2004 her ashes were reportedly scattered at her hilltop near Joun, but as Ellis reports, the ashes were reportedly collected by a nearby Melkite monastery, where they were given a place of honor. A strange end to a very strange story, 165 years after her death.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Lady Hester Stanhope, Part II: The Travels

I'm on vacation. As I have done each year, I have prepared a number of posts on historical and cultural subjects unlikely to be overtaken by events, with at least one appearing daily. Part I, which originally appeared in July, was repeated yesterday.

After the death of her uncle, the Younger Pitt,  in 1806, and of both her brother Charles and her admirer Sir John Moore at Corunna in 1809, Lady Hester retreated to Wales for a time and then in 1810 decided to travel to the Mediterranean. Though she would live another 29 years, she would never see England again. This granddaughter of one Prime Minister and niece and hostess of another would spend the rest of her life in the Middle East.

She left Britain accompanied by her brother James, her maid, valet, and other companions, and her personal physician, Charles Meryon, who would write six volumes about Lady Hester, three of Memoirs and three of Travels; links to these may be found in Part One. In Gibraltar she added another companion: 20-year-old Michael Bruce. Lady Hester, who was 33, promptly took Bruce as a lover and openly acknowledged that fact.

Lady Hester seems to have hoped in some way to reach France and contact Napoleon, but after a stop in Malta it became obvious that most of Europe was closed to the English, so she determined to head for Greece (still under Ottoman rule) and Constantinople. At each stop she was greeted by local beys, diplomats, and dignitaries, and quickly became accustomed to being treated as a distinguished visitor. She literally hitched a ride on a British frigate; Lord Sligo, who was cruising in the area, added himself to her party, and in Corinth she was introduced to the harem of the local Bey. From Corinth she sailed to Piraeus, visited Athens, and then embarked for Constantinople. She saw the city, was entertained by senior officials, and remained there until October of 1811.

Shipwreck off Rhodes (Meryon, Travels, I)
Intending to visit Egypt next, Lady Hester took a ship to Alexandria. After a stop at Rhodes, the ship encountered storms and rough seas and sprung  a leak on November 27. It was decided to abandon the sinking ship  and board its longboat, so most of the luggage was left behind. After several days of danger, the party was rescued, but without their luggage and most of their money.

Eventually, they made their way to Alexandria in December 1811, but after the loss of the luggage, the party generally adopted eastern dress. Disdaining the veil, Lady Hester opted to dress herself in the male dress of the Ottoman east instead. (According to Meryon, Lady Hester's clothes were those of the lesser gentry, not the aristocracy, but she was unaware of this.)

In February of 1812 the party finally reached Alexandria. After proceeding upriver to Cairo, Lady Hester was received in style by Muhammad ‘Ali Pasha himself; for the occasion she dressed in North African fashion.

After returning to the Delta for a period in Damietta, the party, which had dded various servants of multiple nationalities, decided to seek a better climate in Syria. Meanwhile, more than two years after leaving England, the party was beginning to learn both Turkish an Arabic.

The party arrived by sea in Jaffa, slowly made its way on a grand tour of Jerusalem, Nazareth, Acre, and other parts of Palestine, and made its way northward into Lebanon.

Some accounts say she already believed, due to a meeting with a crazy British "prophet" before leaving England, that she was destined to be some sort of "Queen of the East"; in any event these delusions would strengthen, and her natural aristocratic assumptions of superiority and privilege blended with he polite hospitality of the locals towards guests to strengthen her sense of entitlement.

When the Emir Bashir Chehab, Maronite autocrat of Mount Lebanon, invited her to his palace at Deir al-Qamar, she eagerly accepted, despite tensions between Maronites and Druze; she would spend much of her life in those mountains. She resolved to visit Damascus, despite  warnings that he town was anti-foreigner and anti-Christian; she was received cordially, further strengthening her conviction that she had some sort of destiny.

Lady Hester at Palmyra (Meryon, Travels, Vol. II)
She had for some time been hoping to visit Palmyra.  She was warned that this would entail passing through empty desert controlled by Bedouin tribes hostile to strangers and fighting with each other; once again, she was undeterred. he went some weeks in Hama while Meryon and others explored the route to Palmyra. She secured the protection of Mahanna, chief of the ‘Anaiza, who provided her with an escort. She arrived in Palmyra in an extensive caravan late in March 1813, and was received with much ceremony, which as her delusions gradually took hold of her later she would interpret as having been "crowned Queen of the Desert" among the ruins of Palmyra.

The alleged "crowning" would be the pinnacle of her grand progress. Soon after her younger lover Michael Bruce departed for England, where his father was ailing; she would face illness, and sfter one more adventure (an early archaeological exploration in Ascalon) would gradually retreat into isolation on Mount Lebanon, conviction that she was some sort of prophetess, and her reputation as "the Mad Nun of Lebanon."

Tomorrow: Part III: Descent Into Delusion

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"The Mad Nun of Lebanon": the Strange Case of Lady Hester Stanhope, Part I

I'm on vacation. As I have done each year, I have prepared a number of posts on historical and cultural subjects unlikely to be overtaken by events, with at least one appearing daily. More than a month ago, I started a series of post on Lady Hester Stanhope, but then the pace of events in the region kept me from returning to it. Today I am offering a re-run of Part I, which originally appeared on July 17. Parts II and III will appear in coming days.

Lady Hester Stanhope
 "I think you are another of these desert-loving English: Doughty, Stanhope, Gordon of Khartoum. No Arab loves the desert. We love water and green trees, there is nothing in the desert. No man needs nothing."
— Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness) to T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia
These words are probably a scriptwriter's creation, but delivered by Alec Guinness in what would later be recognized as the authoritative voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi, they seem full of meaning. Probably most viewers of the movie, however, if they recognized any of those names, would know Gordon of Khartoum.  They certainly reflect a reality: the English adventurer who "goes native" and adopts not just the Middle East, but the most exotic or traditional aspects of it, and plunge themselves into the most Bedouin or tribal aspects thereof. Lawrence was, of course, just such a "desert-loving English," at least in one stage of his self-creation. Sir Richard Francis Burton also comes to mind, and in later generations, Wilfred Thesiger and St.John Philby.

The other names above may be less familiar. Gordon, of course, is well remembered as the Governor of Sudan, killed by the Mahdi's forces before the relief expedition reached him. Charles M. Doughty was the author of Travels in Arabia Deserta, one of the great travel books of all time, but written in an antique, pseudo-Spencerian or Elizabethan style that puts off readers (though T.E. Lawrence wrote an introduction to later editions and claimed to try to emulate the style in Seven Pillars of Wisdom). There is a wonderful field for research here: all these "desert-loving English" were a bit eccentric. Doughty's eccentricities were mainly linguistic (plus the fact that he wrote a six-volume epic poem on The Birth of Britain which he hoped would be remembered when Arabia Deserta was forgotten: he was wrong).

Of the others, all can be described, at the very least, as eccentric. Few were well-adjusted in modern eyes. Gordon of Khartoum has been the subject of psychological speculation since Lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians  in 1918, and T.E. Lawrence has fascinated biographers since even before his death, fueled and perhaps challenged by his own frequent self-reinventions. Burton is also a much-studied character, another man who invented an image of himself which may or may not be the real one, but which was aimed at shocking the Victorian age.

The name least likely to be recognized in the quote above is "Stanhope." Lady Hester Stanhope, the only woman in the group (though we should probably add Gertrude Bell as well) and the earliest of them in time (1776-1839) is also most likely the most eccentric of all, if not something rather more, earning her the soubriquet: "the mad nun of Lebanon." (Mad, perhaps. Of Lebanon, certainly. But "Nun" probably refers to the fact that Lady Hester never married and had extreme religious beliefs, and sequesered herself from the world in later years.  In fact, however, she was apparently an enthusiastically liberated woman both sexually and in social roles. She has become something of a proto-feminist heroine, a role marred slightly by the "Mad" part, such as her belief that she was destined to be the bride of the Islamic Mahdi. But more about that later.)

In an earlier era she was well-known. A blogger notes:
She inspired Picasso; Lytton Strachey was rude about her, W H Auden paid tribute to her courage, James Joyce saluted her in Ulysses, where she has a walk-on part as Molly Bloom's girlfriend.
A Romanticized Lady Hester
I haven't tracked those references down; I'm just reporting them, though both Picasso and Joyce apparently viewed her as  forerunner of sexual liberation. And remember, she was more a child of the Enlightenment than a Victorian; she was in her 40s when Victoria was born, and died only two years into her reign.  But she also dominates Chapter VIII of Alexander Kinglake's Eothen, once a famous travel work of a visit to the East. And Lord Byron is said to have called her, "that dangerous thing, a female wit."

Lady Hester came of a most distinguished background. Her father was Charles, 3rd Earl of Stanhope, while her mother was Hester Pitt, daughter of William Pitt the Elder, First Earl of Chatham, and sister of William Pitt the Younger. So in addition to being the daughter of an Earl, Hester Stanhope was granddaughter and niece of the two greatest Prime Ministers of the age. In 1803 she became the hostess of her uncle, the Younger Pitt, then Prime Minister and unmarried and in need of an official hostess. When Pitt died in 1806 he left her a moderately comfortable (for her class) annual income of £1200.

I's pretty clear that (see Byron above) she made an impression, positive or negative, on society, and on men.  Her portraits do not show her as unattractive, by any means, but despite her rank she was widely considered not a great beauty but an intelligent, independent, and freethinking woman when none of those attributes were praised at her level of society. But her succession of lovers apparently were attracted to precisely those qualities.

But that wouldn't get her remembered, or onto this blog.  Like he others mentioned, she was attracted to the East, though the "Queen of the Desert" title is ridiculous: we're talking about Palestine and Lebanon. Like Gordon of Khartoum, she had curious religious notions, usually including messianic fantasies. And like Burton, she appears to have had a certain enthusiasm about sex. But she was also a pioneering Biblical archaeologist.

Though she never married, she was apparently no aristocratic maiden but an early liberated woman, though as usual for the era it is hard to document those who merely fell in love with her and those who may have been physical lovers. When General Sir John Moore died at Corunna in the Peninsular War against Napoleon in Spain, his last words to  her brother Charles). were reportedly, "Remember me to your sister, Stanhope." She his said to have kept his bloodstained glove for the rest of her life. And he had not been her first romance.

In 1810 she decided to visit the exotic East to explore Biblical sites and whatever else might lie before her. And there began her nearly 30 years in the Middle East. Stay tuned.

Sources used in the above post and in future parts (some only partially consulted):

Wikipedia, Lady Hester Stanhope.

 [Charles Louis Meryon], Memoirs of the Lady Hester Stanhope as Related in Conversations with her Physician, online versions, Vol. I, Vol. II, Vol. III.

 [Charles Louis Meryon], Travels of the Lady Hester Stanhope, Forming the Completion of Her Memoirs, Vol. I, Vol. II, Vol. III.

The Life and Letters of Lady Hester Stanhope, by her Niece,the Duchess of Cleveland (online)

Frank Hamel, Lady Hester Lucy Stanhope: A New Light on Her Life and Love Affairs (PDF from microform)

Saudi Aramco World, September/October 2970, "'Queen of the Desert': Lady Hester Stanhope"

Mail Online, 22 August 2008, "Wild Life of a White Warrior Goddess." (Okay, the title alone would have told you it was The Daily Mail, but it's really a review of Kirsten Ellis' Star of the Morning: The Extraordinary Life of Lady Hester Stanhope, which I haven't used.)