By Julie Hankey
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Extra resources for A Passion for Egypt: Arthur Weigall, Tutankhamun and the 'Curse of the Pharaohs'
One of the more unlikely of these was an erstwhile violinist in the band at the old Manchester missionary meetings, Ernest Crewdson of Messrs Jones, Crewdson and Yonatt, Chartered Accountants. This person now came forward with an offer to take Weigall into the London office of his firm, and it was settled that he should be coached for the Preliminary examination. In the January of 1898, when he was just turned seventeen, he managed, to his surprise, ‘to pass this rather stiff examination with credit’: I am sure I don’t know how I did it, for my brain was full of other things … Beside a mass of Egyptological literature, I worked through a great many histories; I taught myself the rudiments of Coptic, Arabic, Persian and Hebrew; I read a lot of Huxley, Herbert Spencer and other great thinkers; and I devoured a mass of books on Biblical criticism.
There, at hundreds of marble-topped tables, groups of men were playing dominoes, eating sandwiches, and drinking coffee … I can still see faintly, as through a mist of smoke, the dark-clad figures leaning over the tables, top-hats on the backs of their heads, and slips of paper over their shirt-cuffs, to keep them clean. Inwardly, however, a mental and emotional revolt was taking place. The last year had been one of extraordinary mental stimulation, and it was impossible to shut down the furnaces now.
27 One way and another Weigall made himself useful to Petrie during these Saqqara seasons. A black granite statue of a seated man was stolen from the excavations at Abydos, and Petrie asked him to keep an eye out in the dealers’ shops in Cairo. Another time, could he draw some money at Cook’s and Son and bring it over when he visits, so as to save one of the students a journey? In early 1904 when Petrie was being unaccountably blocked by Maspero over a concession to dig at Saqqara, Weigall suggested a line of attack which seemed promising: ‘I am greatly obliged by your news and impressions,’ writes Petrie, ‘… I must see Maspero, ask his assent to the excellent shape of application which you suggest …’28 In the event, Petrie never got his concession that year, but the letter is interesting in that it suggests that Weigall was learning the political ropes of the department.