Letter from Harry Massey to Barbara Massey

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Letter written by Harry Massey, from an infantry base depot in Egypt to Barbara Massey.

This is a scanned version of the original image in Special Collections and Archives at Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vt.



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Letter. no. 11

Lieut J. H. Massey Infantry Base Depot Egypt Sunday. Dec 29

My darling sweetheart - I seem to be deteriorating as a correspondent, and I'm sorry. When I looked at my list just now, I realised that it is ten days since my last letter to you went off - which is breaking my promise to send one every week. But it is so difficult & uninspiring, when I do not hear anything from you or about you. Why, my darling, did you not tell me more in the only cable from you which has got through to me so far. I can only think that you must have been overcome by that dreadful & unecessary address, that you cut the message down to a minimum. And you must have been thinking I had already receivd your letters. I did my very best to write to you on Christmas day, but it was of no use. I set over this pad for at least five hours on Christmas day. You see. I had intended to write to you on that day, & I had thought a great deal about all the things I wanted to say to you: even though you probably would not receive the letter for several weeks, I wanted you to know what I was thinking about on this day. But all I produced in all this time - was three pages of rather incoherent misery, without even reaching what I wanted to say. And so I tore it all up. Christmas day acts as a landmark of how happy we were this time last year, & still happier on that day, the year before. But neither of us require landmarks, & we both think & remember every day, quite irrespective of what day it is. And I do not feel equal to saying very much now. Except that I am always revealling what a sweet & lovely child Lisa was - & how lonely you must be without her. What a fine & wonderful & lovely person you are. And how much & how deeply I

Last edit about 1 year ago by logiebear
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2. love you. And how miserable I am away from you. I must have written those thoughts in every letter I have sent you - but I hardly ever stop thinking in those & similar directions.

And now I must get on with some news for you. In my last letter, or last but one, I was telling you about my leave in Cairo - & had progressed as far as going to bed on the Saturday night. The Sunday was the day arranged for our journey to Memphis etc. We were up early & met Abdul, our dragoman, & the taxi, just before 9am. Our first destination was Memphis - & this is a little over one hours drive from Cairo, & all the way along the banks of the Nile. The Nile, or as much of it as I saw, is very much the same as any other big river - it is immensely wide at this point, & very slow & sluggish, & of course rather dirty - & it has some fine bridges over it. Sailing up & down & tied up on either side, are innumerable large sailing barges, very low in the water, & having enormously high sails - about 50 -60 feet high; when they go under bridges, the mast comes down flat along the boat. These barges being up all the cotton & other produce, & many of them go along the very narrow irrigation canals & emerge into the Suez canal, where their cargo is reloaded onto ocean going ships. But, of course the most interesting thing in these parts, is the irrigation from the Nile. Egypt is really just one large tract of desert & if it were not for the river, would I suppose be more or less uninhabited desert. Rainfall is practically nil - & I have not seen a drop as yet. But the Nile runs slap down the middle, & so for centuries there has been a country

Last edit about 1 year ago by logiebear
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3. & a community. And since the comparatively modern irrigation scheme - began & largely carried out by Kitchener - the development must have been very rapid. The scheme consists of numerous narrow canals, which run outwards on both sides - & then from the canals run, in all directions, inumerable little channels or ditches. And the entire system depends on the annual flooding of the Nile. If this did not happen, the land would be barren & just desert & there would be no cultivation. And if it were not for the canals, the flooding would just devastate the land. As it is, the canals contain the entire flow, when it happens - & that is the water supply for the land, for the year. Machinery, practically speaking, does not exist - the flooding is natural, & then the water is transferred from the channels to the land, by means of primitive pumps, worked by hand. And the ploughing is done by oxen. And at the point where the irrigation ceases, the soils cuts off in a sharp defind line, & immediately becomes desert & as far as the eye can see & for hundreds of miles beyond. It seems amazing that the very existence of an entire country & population should depend on one river, & the fact that from several thousands of miles away, this river is caused to flood along its entire length, reliably, [inelligible] & at the same time each year - & never more than once in the year. But, I think an annual rainfall is a much better arrangement. The next thing was that we arrived at Memphis. I suppose darling, I must attempt to describe what I saw here & at Sahara. I suppose you will have read about Egyptian sculpture & carving & even about those few parts of it which I saw - but I have no idea whether you approve of it or are interested in it. You must be interested, I imagine - I most certainly

Last edit about 1 year ago by logiebear
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4. was, but I was not able to decide whether it was good, or whether it was art, or merely good craftsmanship or what. It is, of course, entirely different to anything I have ever seen before. And this is natural, never having been in Egypt before - & this work represents an age, & is the product of a seperate civilization. It is all connected with monuments to kings & queens, dead or living at that time, or to symbolic decorations & ornamentations in the tombs. Memphis is near to the Nile, & what there is to see is within a small copse of barren looking trees. There are two enormous stone carvings of the great Ramises - the 2nd. I think - & number of smallish carvings of sacred monkeys & things. I cannot remember which dynasty they are, or how many thousand years B.C. - but I do not think this matters very much, as I am not aiming to be an Egyptologist - mainly because I don't want to stay here as long as that. The dragoman had it all off pat. The first one we saw was the carving in what seemed to me to be sandstone, & I think certainly must have been. It was found by some English woman about - 80 years ago. It is fifty odd feet in length, & of course, carved in proportion. It is now in a lying position, & rather peculiarly, propped up, & closed up & steadied by all kinds of odd bits of wood & planks. This one is out in the open air. A house has been built for the other one, which is a gallery all the way round, so as you can walk round & look down upon the figure, which is also in a horizontal or "recumbent" position. This one is carved out of a solid block of alabaster. Would that be the reason for it being put in a house? That alabaster does not stand weather. I asked the dragoman

Last edit about 1 year ago by logiebear
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5. & he said he did not know. And when I suggested the reason he quite agreed - so I decided I still did not know. Both these carvings are very much the same, except for the stone. They are enormous, to a staggering degree - they are clothed in stone, I mean part of the carving - just to me to be amazing accurate & lifelike for so enormous a figure - & then there are various signs of kingship & so on on the wrists. The amount of damage is very small. The faces were smooth & highly polished, particularly the alabaster of course, & the rest of the body was by no means rough or rugged. Am I telling you anything you did not know, darling? & even if I'm not, is this at all interesting to you? Anyway - I must go on. It was so disappointing & sad that you were not with me. IT would have been so much more interesting & everything else for me, if I could have heard what you had to say, & you would have been able to tell me many things I Wanted to know - & I should have been able to hear what you had to say about what I had to say. I asked the dragoman all sorts of questions, but I think most of his clients - as he calls them must have been satisfied with the dynasty & how many thousand years Bc, & how big & how heavy & how many horses to drag it from there to here & so on - because he could not answer any of them. I wonder so much about how many people were responsible for such a huge carving - was it several more, or was it one man together with a lot of men to do the rough work. And are they really works of art. I think they must be. But was the work spontaneous or was it a commission, & if so, was the commission caused by artistic sense & enthusiasm, or just self agrandisement,

Last edit about 1 year ago by logiebear
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