Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (digital text)   Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 23 January 1927

page 1

  My dear Mummy,

The ultimate mystery to me is the
way the NZ mail behaves. Now if you want a fit subject
on which to exercise your noble pen in the columns of the
Evening Post, here is a chance for you. I don't believe I've got
it on the same day in the week more than three or four
times since I got here. In the first month or so I gathered
that Thursday was the normal day for it to arrive, since
when it has come on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday &
Saturday — once it came on the preceding Tuesday, but
on the other occasions about from two to five days late.
What happens this week? I hadn't had a mail since my
last Saturday in M/C so naturally I looks in the Times
on Wednesday expecting to see "Incoming Mails : Tomorrow.
NZ" Nothing. I looks in on [unclear: Friday] Thursday — Nothing. I looks
in on Friday. "Saturday Jan 22. N.Z." [gap — reason: unclear]. Saturday morning
I leap out of bed & tear downstairs to the hall table. Nothing.
I get into a tube & blow down to the Bank of N.Z. (a) to draw a
cheque (b) to look for mail. Notice up "NZ mail due
on S Monday Jan 24th". On these occasions if Duncan
happens to be with me he draws his hat down over his
ears & walks hurriedly in the other direction. Luckily for
the boy's morals he rarely is. Then last night as we were
all (personnel to be explained later) tailing out of the door page 2 to the Opera what should there be but one letter on the
hall-stand addressed to me — from NZ! I'm blowed if
I can understand it, bad weather in the North Atlantic
withstanding. I see that the NZ postmaster general has
made arrangements to send mails via Australia when it
offers a better dispatch, & it certainly seems about time.
Still if you have an overmastering desire to enter into
public controversy I daresay you could get a tick or two
out of the Post. The net result yesterday was that I went
along to Bumpus' very peeved & to console myself bought a
very flash edition of Selected Essays of Edward Thomas, with
twenty four wood engravings by R. Ashwin Maynard & Horace
W. Berry, one of three hundred copies( Nos 51 — 350) printed on Van
Elsder paper & bound in blue buckram. Orders may be sent through
a Bookseller or direct to R. Ashwin Maynard, at the Gregynog
Press, Newtown, Montgomeryshire. I asked the cove in
B's if he would sell it to me half-price, but he courteously
declined, so I had to fork out. I've been considering it since
the beginning of December. It is a very beautiful book. It
appears that two rich Welsh sisters having cash to play
around with, want to publish fine editions of Welsh authors,
so they have got this press going. Most of it is in English.
They have published a hummer George Herbert & an equally
good Vaughan, which I hadn't seen till yesterday, & which
I may get some day. The trouble is that books are so
darn expensive, the ones you want. There is a great book
out on climbing, On High Hills by Geoffrey Winthrop Young
page 3 18/-, which I must get some day. I must wait [gap — reason: unclear] for the next
Times Book Club sale; but cripes, the state of 9/10 of the books
you see there makes you think that the bourgeoisie who can
afford the T. Bk Club have just as dirty fingers as the low
proletariat, & use their [unclear: library] books to prop up the window
or the table or to throw at the cat just as frequently. Or pour
water or their beer & spread jam over the cover with quite
as much impartiality. You see it is not much use
having dilettante tastes, wherever you live. You ask
Daddy & see if he doesn't bear me out. Which reminds
me; quite a long time ago Frannie told me with
every appearance of extreme joy that her parents in law
to be had given the young bride & bridegroom £50.
Now I recollect that you gave Geoffrey the same amount
so if this is going to be a habit of yours why not send
me the cheque right away? It would come in very
handy during the next year or so; while if you wait
till some unscrupulous girl trips me up & smothers
me what would be the use of it? This is an aspect
of the question very well worth thinking over, I think.
Auntie might like to do the same thing with her cheque, not
to mention Auntie Win, Keithles & other lesser benefactors.
I reckon I have saved over Keith's wedding — I told Frannie
I would give the young couple a quid to do what they
liked with; she said (she appeared to be a bit peeved
with me) that she would never lower herself so far as to take
a penny let alone a quid from my hands for herself, but
page 4 but seeing that Beagle was my brother she supposed she would
have to allow him to take it. Well, I don't see feel any call
to me to set up Keithles in M matrimony, him so young too,
when I am struggling for dear life in a foreign land; so
I reckon that's a £1 saved. You can't say I didn't offer
them a wedding-present & a generous one too; so you needn't
start slinging off any moral back chat at me when
you answer this as to what's done & what's not done.
Bourgeois morality. Me & Father Johnson, we've freed
ourself from all that stuff.

The weather has been a bit more wintry lately, & we
have even had snow, which has looked very nice lying
in the squares, but less nice after ten minutes traffic
along the road, or when you bg begin to skid over the steps
of the house. We went out to Golder's Green & Carmen the
other night; the theatre is next door to the Tube Station, but
there is a bit of inclined pavement between the two; about 11.30
we started to traverse this, when the night was nice &
freezing; when whoosh! my feet shot from under me
& my centre of gravity after remaining quite poised in the air
for a sickening second thudded to the ground — Duncan turned
round to say Well, what the —! when his feet also
suddenly fled from under him. However with immense
effort of coordination of brain & muscle he managed to
regain them, so the incident was robbed of its logical
climax. But the British were ever an illogical race, as
Dean Inge remarks with great acuteness & originality. page 5 It is a noble thing to give free entertainment to the general
public, & the mark of a noble mind to do so ungrudgingly.
Well, that's me. What you say of my early upbringing
(in connection with our house-motto) I regard as profoundly
true. Give to the uttermost & expect nothing back. You don't
get anything anyhow. We have had fogs too & mists without
number & rain & sleet & smoke & [unclear: grime] unending. The
fogs are funny some times. I came back to the house one
lunch time last week to get a paper I forgot; [gap — reason: unclear] it had
been very clear all the morning along the Museum way
but coming along Guilford St, a few yards away from
here I could see a solid bank of fog over all this district
cut off quite sharply from the clear air like this; Sketch diagram of fog it had
been foggy like that here all the morning, the women who
cleans the place told me. Then a very light wind started
to blow, & five minutes afterwards I walked back to
the museum practically in black night. When I got
to the M,there was fog all round, but standing in
the courtyard I looked up & clear sky. So what do you
make of that? Fair dinkum, it's a queer country; the
people are queer & their customs are queer & their
weather's queer. It's all very strange.

I have had a pretty busy fortnight, which accounts
for my writing desperately in the last two or three days
before the mail closes — the confounded thing always
closes with clockwork regularity — at 2am on Wed-
. Apart from work, which occupies a relatively
page 6 unimportant part in my scheme of higher education, after
all, I have had a full measure of concerts etc. I hardly
ever seem to have time to do any reading; about a book
a fortnight is my average — I have been reading C.E.
Montague's The Right Place & jolly good too, & have been
week getting half-way through it; I bet even Daddy couldn't
beat that. Oh I had better say with regard to work, that Newton
improves a lot on acquaintance; he is a great teacher, I think,
with an extraordinary range of knowledge, & he puts it across
well. He can be darned nasty if he likes, but he always ex-
that it's for your own good, if that's any consolation.
He is a lot more use to a cove than Pollard, anyhow. The
only N.Z. teacher he has any use for is Hight, whom he
admires; I'd feel sorry for old F.P. is he got into Newton's
seminar for ½ hour. Most of us are colonials or yanks
too; the English high-brow girls I have met give me the pip,
& the men on the whole aren't much of an improvement;
give me a Boer or an Aussie any day.

To get back to the important things of life: The British
National Opera Company (herinafter referred to as the B.N.
O.C.) has been having a fortnight's run out at Golder's
Green, with practically a different opera every night.
Such were the exigencies of circumstance that I couldn't go
at all the first night week, but last Monday I went to
the Mastersingers, which was very good. They don't go
in for highly-paid stars, but the general ensemble &
presentation is as good as anything you're likely to get
page 7 I gather, & it was good enough for me, in my first
modest introduction to Wagner. It started at ¼ past 7 &
finished & [sic: at] ½ past 11, & all for 2/- in the gods. You see
here both the high regard I have for quality & the passionate
lust for quantity which animates me. On Tuesday I
was somewhere else; on Wednesday I wanted to go to the
Marriage of Figaro, but stayed home instead to do some
German, a fiendish language which leads me to a very
simple & satisfying explanation of why the Germans lost
the war — the poor cows couldn't communicate with one
another. Then on Thursday the B.B.C. had a big
concert on at the Albert Hall; Sir Hamilton Harty brought
the Halle Choir down to do Berlioz's Requiem, in addition
to which he had an orchestra of 150 & four brass bands.
I think you have read Berlioz's Autobiography, so I
needn't say anything about the thing. Cripes! when the
brass bands all got together in the Tuba Mirum it was
worth hearing! These brass players were all picked from
crack north country bands, too. The choir was first-rate,
with a first-rate soloist for the solitary solo, Tudor Davies.
The rest of the programme was also Berlioz of whom Hamilton
Harty has made a speciality, finishing up with the good
old Rakoczy March; with brass once more to the fore. In
the orchestra for this 2nd half he had 13 trumpets, 9
trombones, 14 doublebasses, & twelve drums, while I couldn't
be bothered counting such things as cellos & fiddles. And all
playing as one man too. This is the real stuff.
page 8 On Friday we went to Carmen; couldn't get into the Gods &
finished up by paying 3/- to stand at the back of the pit. How-
it was worth it to see the thing for the first time, although
Carmen herself was more of a big fat lump, to quote the
White Headed Boy than she should have been. The great
Eugene Goosens sen. conductor. The evening was also
notable for the aforementioned exercise in skating. Last
night was supposed to be Tannhauser. We met the Beebes [gap — reason: unclear] at
a dago chophouse in Soho, one Poggioli's, & invited them round
to tea on toasted crumpets provided by us, & custard tart kindly
contributed by [unclear: Mr] McGrath who also came. It was the
Beebes who told me about Poggioli's; you can occasionally get
a jolly good feed there for 1/-; but whatever you get you get
plenty of it & well-cooked. The B's occasionally order one helping
& two plates. Beebe has improved a bit, & there is nothing
wrong with Beatrice B. Well, we had a terrific burst on
crumpets (14 for Gd), though it made great inroads on our
butter, & then all trailed up to Euston to tube it out to Golder's
Green. And then when we got there they had changed the bill to
Faust & there wasn't a seat to be had in the place. Nevertheless a
queue had formed up outside the gods door — these pathetic
English queues! As soon as an Englishman sees a door in
a large building he automatically stands outside it and waits, &
other people come & stand behind him in the most patient,
well-organised, well-bred way, without seemingly knowing or
caring in the least what they are waiting for. And the
fools who ran the show hadn't the sense to put out a house full
page 9 notice anywhere. So we stood and watched a heaving crowd
jammed in the porch & struggling to get into the expensive seats; &
then stood round in the snow & argued about what we'd do next;
which ended in our piling into the tube for Tottenham Court
Rd, emerging from whence we drew lots to see who should have
the deciding voice in what to do. McGrath won & was going
to take us to some picture he'd seen & was raving about,
when I said with one of my usual brain-waves, I'll tell
you what, the Criterion doesn't start till 8.40; Let's all
go to the White Bearded Boy; so we all piled into a bus & [gap — reason: unclear]
dashed down the Charing Cross Rd & Shaftesbury Avenue
to Piccadilly & by dint of walking round & round the block
in which the Criterion Theatre & the Criterion Restaur-
& the Criterion Palais de Danse & the Criterion Whatnot
are situated found our way into the pit & all for 3/-.
And by jingo! it was a good play. Of course you have
it at home, but I don't think I've ever seen better
acting — it was pretty well all perfectly done. I must
say I'm darn sorry you & Daddy can't see some of
these plays. Pygmalion started a season last week,
& Nigel Playfair [gap — reason: unclear] is running a brilliant (according to all
the papers) revival of Farquahar's [sic: Farquhar's] Beaux Stratagem at
Hammersmith; while such is the multiplicity of our engage-
that we haven't had time to see Macbeth yet. However
we hope to get all these three done in the next fortnight
plus a considerable number of concerts & lectures. It was
the Irish Players wot [sic: what] done the White Headed Boy; I [gap — reason: unclear] will
page 10 send you out the programme some time.

St-Martin-in-the-Fields has been putting over some
good stuff lately, too. Yesterday their choral society gave
Mozarts' [sic: Mozart's] Requiem Mass & a setting of one of the psalms by
Gustav Holst, which was good rousing stuff & brought in
the organ & made me wildly excited — I haven't been to
any organ-recitals yet, but must work in some soon.
The Saturday before they had one of the crack pianists, Myra
Hess, giving a recital & great stuff it was too — a French
suite by Bach, then César Franck's Prelude, chorale, &
Fugue, which you know quite well, & then the Sunken
Cathedral & some modern Spanish stuff & another bit of Bach,
a transcription by herself of one of the chorales. She is
good. So much I think for past concerts, though I have
got about four more ticked off for next week, including
the [unclear: Leuen] Quartet, who are giving a series in which they
are going to play all Beethoven's quartets in honour of
his centenary. There is a great exhibition of Flemish
& Belgian art at the Royal Academy to which I must go
soon; & they are running a small supplementary exhibition
at the Museum of Flemish illuminated mss & miniatures —
glorious things; it would be worth a cove's while to take a
trip to England purely to see these. They have a big
room full of such things & next door to it one full of
autograph letters of celebrated kings & authors & other crim-
, Scott's last journals & mss of Lord knows how many
famous books & early printed books & so on & so forth ad- page 11 infinitum. I have had to walk through these rooms on
my way to & from the newspaper room in the B.M. where
I have been working for two or three days, so you see
that the earnest researcher's road is not entirely free from
pitfalls. In connection with all this art I may say
that I am now sitting to McGrath for my portrait — the
one I sent out he did in about 5 mins, so you had
better not judge of his abilities from that. He is an
erratic cove in the extreme when it comes to doing any
work, but after considering most of the schools of architec-
in England & Europe & turning them down as inade-
, he has settled down as permanently as possible for
him to practical bricklaying & plumbing at the Brixton
school of building. Duncan continues to strike the dinkum
oil at the L.S.E. & I buzz along there sometimes. There
is another Fabian series of lectures in progress now at
Essex Hall to most of which I am going. Debate on
Thursday between G.K.C & Lady Rhondda, with Shaw in
the chair; I have been dragged into what calls itself a
study-circle on the Pan Europa scheme organised by the
Universities League of Nations Union which is interesting,
at Toynbee Hall, though I stayed away this afternoon to
get this letter off my chest on view of the many calls
on my time during the next week. Meanwhile the
air is filling with fog once more, & although the days
are getting perceptibly longer, all I can see as I look
out of the window now is dark dirtiness, with one street- page 12 lamp glimmering inadequately over on the other side of the
square. Also my feet have gone very cold, so I think I
shall stop. I shall be able to finish when I get your
letter tomorrow. If it comes.

24/1/27 Your letter turned up all right this morning,
plus the Old Clay Patch, for which many thanks — I was very
glad to see it. You seem to be having a pretty fine time
together, [unclear: bar] the mosquitoes; still, I don't suppose Daddy minds
them. No doubt you are well through Shakespeare by now &
probably well into Gibbon; so that's will be one more chance for
your intellectual pride to manifest itself. I suppose you
put a hairpin in at every second page to mark something
for me to read out of sheer force of habit. Well, I'm thinking
of going out and buying a 5 bob Shakespeare myself & swallowing
the whole lot, just to score off you this time. No, I haven't
been along to see Old J.M. Robertson yet, but I dare say I shall
make time before long. You don't know what a busy man
I am. Every day & every night booked up this week & here I am
writing for dear life at my mail all tonight. I have just
heard that the Kingsway Hall was booked up to the last seat a
week ago for the G.K.C. debate; so that sets me free on Thursday
for an exciting concert at the Queen's Hall. You see the
fearful choices I have to make. Nothing much else to comment
on in your letters, though all very interesting. Glad Daddy liked
my Coming Home. I see by this [gap — reason: unclear] morning's Times that the
NZ Times has caved in to the Dominion. I hope Morris remembers
he owes me CASH. I should like to know the secret history of the

Well, so long.

With love from


page 13 P.S. 25/1/27. I quite forgot to say anything about
your birthday, Mummy. Many happy returns of same.
I hope the parcel Messrs. Bumpus are sending out on
my a/c will not reach you not too far behind the date.
The Rogers is for you as well — I got it for 6d outside
Dobell's shop. The Peacock I thought Daddy might like, &
he can have them for cost price i.e. 3/-; only the covers
want cleaning up a bit. I am sending you also some
B.M. postcards which ought to please you, & a picture of
Pepys from the National Gallery. Hoping this finds
you as it leaves me etc.