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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 13 November 1928

page 1

My dear Mummy,

It seems this is the last N.Z. mail
before Xmas, so here I am, plunged in ink & sudden panic,
with about two hours in which to write to you & all the
blooming dear friends who haven’t written to me for God
knows how long — all waiting from Xmas, I suppose.
I have just finished my summary of the West Indies, & want
to go & hear the Lener Quartet to-night, so I must cut the
seminar which comes in between. Of course the fact that
the mail has now switched back to closing on Tuesday
nights instead of Fridays makes a difference & throws
everything out of gear, far When worse than daylight
saving. When daylight saving stops in winter you get an
hour’s extra sleep; when the mail switches over you get
the whole week telescoped. And here I don’t feel in the
least Xmassy; only toin a considerable state of disgust
with the British Empire, historically considered, & the American
elections, & the price of books & the way everything happens at
once & so forth. — Well, I will have a squiz at your letter,
& see what I have to say about that. Your Peter Pan
sounds a very nice place, & it seems as if you were having
a very good time there, what with E.V. Lucas & Mabel
to bring your tea in the morning & yourself getting good
enough in limb to stroll around the hills & dales of
page 2 Seatoun. Well, don’t go a-harriering till you’re perfectly
fit for its — that’s all I say — you remember I sprained an
ankle out that way myself once. Still I’m glad to
hear you’re picking up so well. I think that that front
room in Hopper Street is no place for you — used as you
may be to the trams, they can hardly be music in your
ears — I thought they were going to transfer them to
Taranaki street? It’s bad enough sometimes outside my
window with taxis & horse-lorries & motor-lorries empty
& full tearing up to Euston & St Pancras & King’s Cross,
but trams would about be the finishing touch. I really
would pack up & leave then. — You seem greatly
concerned about what happened to my books & things when
I was away; therefore in case I have never told you
I may say that I packed all the books, music, pictures,
& objects d’art, except for a few things, into a cupboard
on the top-landing — no, the music I left in the room
covered with brown paper; & everything else I packed
up in my trunks & ([unclear: cabin] not bathing) & cardboard
boxes which had contained my numerous box new
clothes from Barkers; & I tipped the man of all work
who was then knocking about here to b cart them
downstairs & store them in one of the cellars for me, by
arrangement with the landlady, though it wouldn’t have
mattered if everything had been left as it was — she
had hardly anybody in the house while we were away.
And I tipped this cove that old pair of big brown
page 3 shoes I bought at Hannah’s because they were getting
too blooming familiar & I was sick of the sight of
them & they wore holes in my hills heels every day & they
were too heavy to tramp around London in & anyhow
I had this flash new pair; & an old pair of tramping
boots I brought over with me & which I wore when we
were up in the Peak & which gave me blisters & had gone over
on the heels & a drop of booze which had been left over
from last Christmas’ party. So he was satisfied & I was
satisfied enough. They got a bit damp in the cellar, that
was all, but everything dried out again all right & it
didn’t cost me anything, so who would grumble? I trust
now that your maternal curiosity is satisfied. In re
Miss Kennedy & sister & her 30/- rent: Either (1) it was before
the war (b) it was in a basement & not in a square (c)
it was in some unattractive side-street & not in a basement
(d) it wasn’t anywhere near here (e) it was un-/badly furnn-
(f) they were very small rooms (g) there wasn’t a
bath (h) there was something somewhere to make a difference
or (i) they were exceptionally lucky. You can be pretty
certain that if a room is cheap anywhere round here the
owner is a philanthropist or (I have met none such) or
there is something radically wrong with it. Ern makes me
laugh a bit — he seems to be going after the perfect wall-
; he has moved into a very small room now more
expensive than his last & the wall-paper is certainly better;
but it would have to be a lot bigger to accommodate me.
page 4 I hear from the housekeeper here that he has made an
arrangement with my landlady to get my room as
soon as I go, so I suppose he thinks even more of this
wall-paper. It strikes me as a bit cold-blooded, though,
a bit like old Henry V (?) trying on his old man’s crown.
Indelicate. Ah well, I suppose I can still stay here as long
as I like & the cash holds out, whatever contracts go on behind
my back. — Yes, Petit Suisse is something like your
cream cheese. I have not tried St. Ivel Lactic Cheese,
these fancy brands are all too expensive, packed very
flash in little tinfoil triangles, with a picture of a girl & a
cow on top, but give me cheese, not pictures. — Yes the
Mile End road is just about as far away from here as
your [unclear: 57rd] bread place from you comparatively — away
on to glory on the other side of the river on the way to
Greenwich. Anyhow you can get grapes on Holborn for
4d lb, so why go further? They are the cheapest fruit
you can get just about now. Of course if you are a
nob you can pay about 4/6 lb for them too, but who’s
a nob? — I think I told you we went to Ken Wood —
a beautiful place certainly; I must go again when there is
less of a crowd & really have a look at it. The library
is not done in the colours I like; it’s decoration really
makes it one of the most least attractive rooms in the
house. I don’t mean Adam’s decoration, but the furniture
paint &c. I had a look inside a marvellous house
in Bedford Square designed by Adam, now the home
page 5 of the First Edition Club — that’s the sort of place to lead
a civilised life in; everything as simple & elegant as
a Jane Austen novel. If I come back to N.Z. I see I shall
have to hand out about £10 000 as immediate expenditure for a small
house (civilised) I don’t know whether I ever told you
that McG. is going to design a house for me as soon as
he knows what country I shall be living in. He has
got the library planned out now; the fittings already
come to £5000 & he hasn’t started to extend himself
yet. This makes F.P.’s job essential to me in N.Z., &
probably one or two directorships as well.

That reminds me — why don’t Shanland’s put Daddy
on the board of directors? don’t they get a pretty good
honorarium? It seems to me the time has come to put his
foot down good & hard about night-work. It’s absurd. I have
a good mind to go alone & chat [to] old Watson or some-
about it myself if I come back. I never heard of
anything more absurd in my life; why should he be nearly
knocked out every year over a stupid blooming balance
for a lot of blithering asses who don’t care two pins whether
he breaks his back or his heart or not? Cripes, something
needs to be done.

I’m glad you both liked Capt H. I suppose it was
a review copy the Xchurch Sun had; I told Fay to send
copies to all the chief papers. I think I included the Worker
too; certainly the Evening Post & Dominion, & asked C.Q.P.
to scratch my back & I’d scratch his, so I hope you
page 6 have been collecting reviews for me from all corners of
N.Z. Perhaps someone (Joe might like to do it) would
have a squiz at the files in the library to see if any gem
of thought has appeared on the subject. I hope Whitcombe’s
have been selling them & have had to send a repeat order.
I don’t get anything out of it except publicity; but if we can’t
get money, for God’s sake let’s be talked about, is my motto.
I suppose really the time is about due for me to write
another letter to the Post about something. — I had a
charming note from Father Hooper about it; you might
mention to him that same has been received & appreciated
& may get an answer in God’s good time. Thanks to
Daddy for distributing other copies. Old Bobby Stout had
better give everything he’s got to the V.U.C. library, which
historically needs everything it can get & then a lot more.
I hope that old man is writing down something about the
coves he’s known & the scraps he’s been in — it will be a crying
shame if he hasn’t. — A lot of Daddy’s letter I am
somewhat at a loss to understand, because I’m blowed
if I know what I said abou three months ago about
F.D. Maurice & AJ Balfour & some charming lady of
some establishment; anyhow here he comes out with ac-
of secretiveness & what-not. I am vastly
obliged however for the hints on what to see in Paris; I
will make a note of them for my next visit; it would
be a bit of a crash to come back home & not be able
to compare notes intelligently with Daddy on the [unclear: Gurriet]
page 7 & the Marie Madeleine. Anything else he thinks I ought to see,
either there or anywhere else in Europe, will he please list
& send over?, — & I will be careful to do them next time I am
going around doing things. I am glad to know also that
he is taking up the collection of Oriental Art — I am thinking
of taking a bus down to Limehouse myself some Saturday
afternoon & picking up all the stuff I want. If I get F.P.’s
job, I think I shall be going off to China for the first
long vacation I get; it must be one of the most interesting places
in the world just now, or at any time, I think. Probably
pick up ginger-bowls ridiculously cheap there, too. — News
about Thornhill duly noted — he can take a call to Timbuctoo
for all I care though. Too blooming parsonical, he is; he
ought to have been a Baptist. Also about Keith’s influenza;
doesn’t say much for Frannie’s management if she cures him
by taking [him] out to P.J. Smith’s. I’ve half a mind to
write to Frannie, a little Xmas note on the management
of the home; in fact I might write a book, The Dominion
Housewife, & dedicate it to her; but I dare say she
would mistake the intention & be rude to me. It is
sad to be misunderstood by one’s sister-in-law. I
may mention that as penny is my portion these days,
as ever, I have sent aone book to each to lot of husband &
wife for a Xmas present, considering that nothing could
be more fitting than for Geoffrey & Theo, or Keith &
Frannie, to sit around the fire reading by turns to the
other the great masterpieces of English prose. While
page 8 on the subject of Xmas presents I may as well conclude
the discussion of same, as I say so often in my thesis.
I have sent you & Daddy 1 large book between you,
which I think you will like; & don’t read it through
too fast, but recollect that Xmas comes but once a year, & it
may be 12 months before you get another. I thought it
was a book you would both like; but of course you will
not open it before Xmas, if it arrives before, unless you
very carefully tear open the end just to have a bit of a
peek to keep you going. It seems a good book; I had
a bit of a squiz through it myself, & it has been well-
reviewed. I hope the little souvenirs of London I
send Auntie & Auntie Win will not seem too inconsid-
; but you know how difficult it is to pick out
a Xmas present suitable for an aunt in this blooming
place, full of shops & nowhere to go except Woolworth’s.
Well, every time they put ‘em on I hope they will remember
me, & I hope they will not be too haughty to let the
world see what their young nevvy has given them. I
would have sent the 1 vol Jane Austen, but I couldn’t
afford two of them, & I knew that one copy would have
only caused a fight between the two of them, each wanting
to read it first. Of course they could both have sat up
together in the same bed & read together, but then of course
they mightn’t have liked that. Anyhow I hope everybody
will be satisfied. Whether they are or are not I have
nothing further to say. All other aunts, relatives &
page 9 friends will pob probably get a Xmas card or something by next
mail, when I have a chance to look around me. I’ve got
to see a good cheap typist next thing, who can knock off about
200 pages in a month.

A terrible business, this Yank election. All the
forward-looking people are very depressed about it. Allyn
Young, the American prof of economics at the School, reckoned
it was the blackest day in American history since the
Fugitive Slave Law. This super-prosperity yap makes me
sick, having heard a bit about actual conditions in
the States. And I’d rather be ruled by Micks than
Baptists any day. As for the beastly prohibition-women’s-
scholarship-must-have-a-gentleman-in-the-White-House-& oh!
yes, -look at Mrs-Smith! vote it’s enough to turn any-
stomach. America was supposed to be stirred to
its depths — & ½ the electorate go to the poll! — As for
Daddy’s remark about the Kellogg Pact not being ratified, that’ll
be ratified all right; if I started an argument on the
Covenant of the League (which was an integral part of the
Treaty of Versailles, he may remember) it would take a lot
of time & involve a lot of mud slinging. However before he starts
starts throwing mud at the Yanks as statesmen I hope he will
turn his attention to recent Anglo-French pacts & speeches
in [unclear: extemcation] thereof by our prime B.F., his Asinine
eminence Lord Cushendum. Gosh! when you consider
that he is in charge of foreign affairs & Jix is in charge
page 10 of home-affairs, do you wonder that people take Stanley’s
good intentions & trust in the noble tradition of English literature
with a grain of salt? Gosh, what a deplorable spectacle!
And here’s Birkenhead gets out to write articles in the Daily
Mail on the Menace of the Hopper Vote, £5000 a year & the
honour of serving his country not being enough for him, as our
Dean Inge said. Well, the country doesn’t want that sort of man,
says the Dean. Yes, a nice collection of politicians we
have got hold of.

Talking of English literature you will be glad to hear
that I am almost ½ way through Boswell’s Johnson. I admit
they [sic: that] you would have finished it week’s ahead; but then, you see,
I read so much of my own production that I’ve got to put
[gap — reason: unclear] off D the Dr to the very latest part of the evening. I have
also bought a Bible, which seems a good sort of a book to
have about; the new Cambridge Shorter Bible, only 7/6.
I have had a look through it; it seems to contain some quite
good stuff. So now I have the three essential volumes
for an Englishman’s education & the Bible & Shakespeare
& the Life of Johnson, & if I am wrecked on a desert
island I shall be all right. Nay more, I have actually
read nearly ½ of one of them. So I hope when you see
me again, I shall be transformed as with an inward
light, & talking with such a rich yet natural sense of style
such as is known only to those who have been soaked from
early boyhood deep in the Great Tradition. Yes, Too right.
The only thing I have to complain about in Boswell is,
page 11 it’s almost as full of quotations as Hamlet. Now surely the
author of a classic can do better than that!

What else I have got to write about I really forget,
as usual — I went down to Trafalgar Square on Sunday
to have a look at the crowd down Whitehall, & that
was a crowd if you like; & if you tell the English to be
quiet they certainly know how to do it. I also saw
a bit of the Lord Mayor’s Show a day or so before; all
very nice, but I read that there is a certain movement
to abolish it, or put it on a Saturday afternoon, so that
it won’t interfere with the appointments of the busy business
men. They lead a terrible life, some of these business
men the whole order of the universe seems to be arranged
to interfere with their appointments or their lunch just on
this particular day of all the year & can you wonder that
old England is suffering from a trade-depression? Really,
some of these birds, they make you laugh. — The Saturday
before last we heard Brahm’s Requiem & Elgar’s For
the Fallen at Southwark Cathedral; on Tuesday the Lener
Quartet play Mozart, Mendelssohn & Dvorak — that [gap — reason: unclear]
quartet, the slow movement from which I had for the grama-
played by them. That about completes the round
of festivities, I think. I gave a paper at the Seminar
last Tuesday on a Defence of the Colonial Office, or
Whitewash for Whitehall, which seemed to knock most
of them flat. [unclear: Hight’s] assistant, Miss Candy, who is over
here for a year on exchange, seemed to take it as out-
page 12 rageous
that I should stick up for old Stephen. She said
there would be a job going at Canterbury College next year,
junior assistant, £400 p.a., a & I said with considerable
grandeur that I might consider it, but of all the god-forsaken
places to go to it takes the [unclear: burn]. If I come back, let me
be in W’gton , which may be god forsaken enough, but at
least there is a chance to do something to cut out F.P. & plenty
of chances for scrapping. — I wrote to Butler to see if
it would be any good applying again for a Rockefeller;
he replied in a very gentlemanly note, & seemed to mean it, that
he was extremely sorry, he had supported me as strongly as
he knew how before, & they turned me down because I had
already had 2 year’s assisted research on the same sort of
thing. The blithering fools! they seem to go on the rule
that if you are good enough to assist, & know what you want
to do & how to do it they will turn you down. (Of course
they are Yanks) I suppose Cambridge threw out my
application for the same reason. Well, Butler has been
a gentleman anyhow — he has mentioned my name to people
in Canada & here, he says, so something worth while may
turn up yet. It seems a bit silly to come back to N.Z. for
good without a bit more experience or a job good enough to
get away again on for a while in five years or so. A bloke
just begins to expand after two years. — Espiner is married;
but nobody else is that I know, thank God. Barker was
pretty good at the Fabian Society, though not for a Fabian lecture.

Well, God & a Merry Xmas & a Happy New Year be with you
both, & all all [sic] other relatives


I am not coming out after all in the next number of Economia because 3 of the staff of the
School insisted on going in, much to Laski’s disgust — he is just one of the editors, there are 3.