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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 10 July 1927

page 1

My dear Mummy,

I offer a few scattered observations on
the civilisation & manners of the Dutch & others of my fellow-
creatures. You will first be delighted to hear that before I left
London I invested in a new sports coat, very classy, a pleas-
brown shade, the price of which I have forgotten, but it
was either 22/6 or 27/6. Also, one pair of trousers, flannel, the
new sand colour, very best quality, 21/-, guaranteed to give
much pleasure both to the wearer & the beholder. Also one
tasteful tie, 2/2. The tie & the coat I got at a sale; early
training will tell. The whole I flatter myself forms a
not unworthy nor unpleasant combination, certainly so far
as I could see, one new to Holland. I then bade a
fond farewell to Win the Waitress, who feeds me daily at
the Tea Cup Inn, packed up, gathered [gap — reason: unclear] & a case of oranges
from the Institute & proceeded to catch the boat-train.
Treating things in strict chronological order, I should per-
discuss the farewell function to Meikle first. This
took place on Friday the 1st & we left on Saturday the 2nd.
Meikle is the Sec & Librarian of the Institute, & a genial
cove, a Scotch gentleman — I think I have mentioned him
before. He is leaving to run some big library at Edinburgh,
so we decided to push him off with all the honours; at
least others did, & dragged me into it. I think I instanced
as an example of my social success the fact that I was
page 2 put on the committee to arrange this business — so I attended a
couple of meetings & was bored stiff & gave it as my opinion
that claret [gap — reason: unclear] cider-cup would be very nice & that a piper
might perhaps be endured & that tomato-sandwiches were
perhaps the most acceptable taking them all round & that
good strawberries would be better than bad strawberries
etc, & so the affair came off. And so the affair came
off & a Scotchman told some Scotch jokes one or two of
which were new & the first British woman to get a
Paris Dr és Lettres danced a Highland fling or a Scotch
reel or something equivalent & the lads & lasses gathered
round the piano & rendered What shall we do with
a drunken sailor & Riding down from Bangor & A Stalwart
Young [unclear: Lancer] lay dying with great vim & a Times atlas
was given to the hero of the occasion together with a charm-
speech, not by me & he shook me warmly by the
hand & pressed me to bowl along to a reunion whenever
I [unclear: struck] Edinburgh. Then the groundlings having
departed we had a little private session in the Common
Room & discussed what to do with the left over food &
finished off the cider-cup & sample the whiskey & soda provided
for the piper, who made a vile noise but did not
drink. Well, there [gap — reason: unclear]was a terrific pile of sandwiches,
good ones, left over, & these godforsaken English stood
round helplessly & asked one another what shall we
so with them? Send them to a hospital? But for some
reason or other that couldn’t be done. I said, well, split
page 3 them up & take them home, of course! Oh, Mr B, will
you take some of them home? that would be so good of
you! I said, too right, I’ll take the whole darn
lot if you like, but why don’t you all take some?
Great as is the hunger for tomato sandwiches & thirst for economy of Duncan &
me, we yet feel there is a limit to our consumption
of same. But no, although there were about 6 of these
people, most of them [unclear: backing], they wouldn’t lay their
hands to a single sandwich. So behold me about
12 midnight rolling home to Brunswick Square bearing
two large trayfulls of tomato sandwiches & a brown-
paper parcel of same on top. And do you think I could
find a simple down & outer on the way to give any
to? Not on your life. When a man hasn’t a bean
in his pocket they line the road. So we had tomato
sandwiches for breakfast & I picked out a large parcel
of the best for supper on the boat, & gave a swag to
Harold Holt for his lunch at Hendon where he was
going for the R.A.F. display & told D for god’s sake to
bring Mac back to tea & left him to cope with the rest
as best he could. I dare say he is about through
with them by now. They were good sandwiches. But
the spectacle of a band of apparently normal people
standing around boggling at them just about got me down.

Well, that was that, & I got my thesis fixed
pretty well & left instructions to D (in his absence) to
page 4 get it typed & send it over for me, & proceeded as aforesaid
to Victoria Station. The case of oranges de K’s people
sent him, I had to bring over as he left before us to
go to some buckshee show the [gap — reason: unclear] Dutch were giving to
S. African students. He was to meet us at Rotterdam
but of course got on the blind & did not turn up at the
required time & place; so behold me last Sunday
morning tearing all over Rotterdam in a taxi
trying to reclaim the [gap — reason: unclear] one. However he was
non est, so we managed to get tickets to the Hague
on our own, left our bags at the station, & proceeded
to look around. The Dutch trams simplify life
by having a uniform fare of 10 cents which is more
than this god forsaken country does. We went to Scheven-
, which is the flash watering place of Holland,
thinking we might get a bathe & lay in the sand & the
wind [gap — reason: unclear] asleep for a while, but the sea looked too dark &
stormy; we then had a feed & came back & visited the
Mauritshuis. I don’t know whether it is much good
giving you information on these points, as you
know so much more about them than I do, but
it may possibly give you some pleasure to correct
my mistakes for the benefit of others more ignor-
. This Mauritshuis is an old 17th century house,
very fine with panelling & carving & tiles & so on, now
used as a picture gallery. It has some jolly good
stuff, some very good Vermeers ([gap — reason: unclear] G.V.C. - I have
page 5 contracted a love for Vermeer) & Rembrandt’s Anatomy
lesson, which is a great thing. He knew a thing or
two, did R. Also some Vandykes, much better in
my opinion than the [unclear: sating] things in the Nat. Gallery,
but this may be only a display of ignorance on my
part — you will know. Then we had some dope at
a café, an orange drink said to be made out of carrots,
but wet & refreshing to the jaded tourist & hopped into the
train for Amsterdam. From that into a taxi & from
that into a pension, from that into a meal, & from
that into [gap — reason: unclear] bed.

Well, Holland is a flat place, & very clean, &
appears very prosperous, & the towns have lots of trees,
parks, & avenues. Amsterdam also has dozens of canals,
with trees up each side of them. Our pension was
on one of these avenues, a few yards from the
Reichs Museum [sic: Rijksmuseum], which is the great place for art-
collectors, & pretty handy for everything else. de K
turned up next morning, looking not much the worse
for wear, & we were set. We buzzed round all over
the place, paying particular attention [gap — reason: unclear] to the cafés,
collecting liqueurs & so forth. The Dutch have also a
potent cocoa-drink, called Fosco, which is about the
finest thing in its line I have ever tasted, especially
with ice-cream on top. We had first-rate weather
there to, the first they have had for weeks. Went
rowing on the main canal one night, with a suitable
page 6 sunset & music from a road-side café & nearly drowned
de K with the spray. Another day we got introductions
from our consuls & bowled round to the biggest diamond
factory in the place, [gap — reason: unclear] & were shown round
by a young & cheerful member of the firm. The Jews
run all this business. Very interesting of course, with
wealth lying around all over the place & none of it
obtainable even in samples. A man feels a bit like
the Ancient Mariner. Diamonds, diamonds all around,
& not a carat to pinch. [gap — reason: unclear] ‘and. However we picked
up some noble strawberry tarts on the way back & strolled
along the canal consuming same. I never saw
anything more attractive in the light comestible line
till today in Brussels, where the cake shops would
make any British baker who had a sense of decency
cut his throat in despair. I don’t hear of the British
baking population going down however, so the poor
cows evidently are lost to all sense of what is due to their
craft. We had a brilliant blow-out this afternoon at
infinitesimal cost, but I doubt whether it is good
for you to read too much of these things. The Reichs-
Museum [sic: Rijksmuseum]
was very fine also, but you need a week to
look at it properly. We concentrated on the pictures.
The Night Watch is here, certainly one of the most
magnificent things I have ever seen, & from Vermeer,
some of the most exquisite, & many other Rembrandts
& Lord knows what else beside — a perfect orgy.
page 7 I must go back there sometime. The china & pottery
collection is supposed to be first-rate. We had a
look at another gallery of modern stuff, some good,
some bad, some rotten. I suppose G.N.C. mentions
Israels; some of his things are good, likewise the Maris

One of the best days we had was a trip to Marken
& Volendam & other specially kept old-world places to exploit
the tourist. You sail over the Zuider Zee & up canals
through pleasant green fields speckled over with windmills,
& come to model villages where you put 5 cents in a hat
to inspect the dairy, & look at the church, & tear up back
streets to get out of the way of your vulgar companions.
At Volendam & Marken, the fishing villages, all the
kids are posed in picturesque attitudes against the
wharf along the village street with palms extended as
soon as you press the button, & everything is very bright &
picturesque & old fashioned & commercial. I settled
the problem of Auntie’s birthday present, which had been
worrying me for about two months, hereabouts, & send
the solution by this mail, hoping she will approve of
same. The lasses certainly look very nice in ‘em.
I saw some plates & brasspewter you would like, too, but
its no use filling up with souvenirs at this stage.
Anyhow it was all highly romantic & satisfactory,
as long as you knew that it was all for your benefit
as [gap — reason: unclear] the legitimate prey of the inhabitants & we
page 8 enjoyed it immensely — especially lying in the sun
on the boat, in between inspections of the aboriginals,
& working up a tan. Before leaving Amsterdam, let
me say it is the most beautiful city I have yet seen,
full of a quiet dignity, very green & quiet well-man-
& charming, & it would do you very well to
retire to. The Dutch take life (or appear to) at a
slow speed, but they don’t seem to suffer thereby. Our
pension was a great place, very charming maids, all
German, good beds, running water in all rooms,
first-rate food & stacks of it, & all for 4 gulden a
day — about 6/8. Which I will say is cheap.

One day, I think Thursday, we went to Haarlem,
to inspect Frans Hals, whom we missed through de K’s
ineptitude; but we saw the Groote Kerk which is
very fine, & clean like everything else. The organ a
[gap — reason: unclear] very famous one, & very good, though over decorated.
A bloke was trying over Bach, but his registration was
rotten, curse him; also he kept stopping. We then
went to see some people de K. knew, an old Dutch-
man & his wife, who turned on a fine home-grown
tea, strawberries & cherries & red-currants, plus cigars,
Vermouth & Barsac (more varieties of dope) Very pleasan
house, with some fine old carved furniture,
& a garden from which came the aforesaid fruit.
The old man, much attracted by the girls, then phoned
for a taxi & took us all over the country, down miles
page 9 of glorious avenues, past examples of modern Dutch
domestic architecture (very attractive) to the beach at
Zandvoort, which is another watering place but not
so ghastly Scheveningen. Then back in the
twilight to the station, parting with mutual expressions
of regret, [gap — reason: unclear] extra cigars, & promises to write, Next day
we left Amsterdam & went back to the Hague, visiting
Scheveningen again for a bathe, which was good,
though you are charged a bob for same & are not
allowed to sun bathe unless you pay extra. However
there was no sun. Thank God there are none of these
places in N.Z. The colonies have their points. Bob
for a cup of tea & a cake too. Something [unclear: crook]. We
also saw a celebrated old prison at the Hague, much
used throughout Dutch history for purposes of incar-
& torture, the instruments of which, still re-
, are dwelt on with loving emphasis by the
guide. Interesting, but a trifle sickening. The [gap — reason: unclear]Peace
Palace was of course closed just when we wanted to
get in, but if the inside was is no improvement on
the outside, we didn’t miss much. The Hague is
another very pleasant city, with the same trees as Am-
, beautiful avenues, & pleasant inhabitants. We
left the same night for Rotterdam, so as to get an early
start out of Holland for next morning. We saw a good
deal of the country from the train & on our Marken
trip, within our limits, but there again you know all
page 10 about it from your universal reading, & can tell anybody
who is so shamefully ignorant as not to know. Everything
was just as it should be, windmills plentiful & in the
right place, canals, trees, farms & gardens, no flaw in
the scenery at all. I could do with a long time
in Holland.

We left by an early train yesterday morning for
Antwerp where we spent the day. The Cathedral is
not bad, & has two of the best of Rubens’ pictures, an
Elevation & Descent from the Cross, with less than his usual
need of voluptuous fat women. Carving of the choir-
stalls wonderful work, carved pulpit horrible. We
arrived in the middle of a very flash wedding, so we
had a bit of extra excitement thrown in, as the organ
& a choir was functioning. There is a fine square
with the old guild-houses round it, more Dutch in
style than anything else & a great relief after the
beastly French-pseudo-classical atrocities of the
newer part of the city. We had a programme of
pictures & museums mapped out, but getting into the
Plantin Moretus Museum first of all stayed there the
rest of the day. This is a wonderful place. Plantin
was a 16th century printer & his family carried
on the business up till the latter end of the 19th
century, when in the same place, when they sold
the whole concern to the govt for a museum. So
You can see the whole of a big printer’s establish-
page 11 ment
as it existed in the 16th & 17th centuries. It is in
a big square, with a courtyard in the middle,
two stories & three at one end; living-rooms, offices,
warehouse, proof-reader’s rooms, type-setting & printing
rooms, the place where he cast all his own type,
kitchen, library, & so on. I was never in a more
fascinating place in my life. One big room is
kept as a small museum of printing, with the
Gutenberg bible as the star item, & lots of other first-
rate things. I’m beginning to believe that the first
printers did the best printing. All the type-faces are on
show, blocks, copper-plates, bundles of proofs, half-cor-
, accounts, etc, just as if the place had been cleared
up for Sunday & the family were out for the day.
Marvellous place. And the panelling! & carved mantel-
, & huge oak chests & tables; old Spanish leather &
stamped Flemish leather on the walls; painted spinet,
huge bed, a collection of bindings, household china,
bits of printing stuck up on the wall of the setting-up
room just as in a modern printing-office, & so on &
so forth. Of course the place was a good while build-
up to this stage, but it seems to have reached its
present size & state practically by the middle of the 17th century.
They have a sonnet by Plantin set up in his 16th cent.
type & printed on one of his presses, 3 francs a copy, which
I bought, also a less flash English translation, a
copy of which I enclose for Daddy, hoping the its
page 12 philosophy of as well as its associations will appeal to
him. A very hard place to drag oneself away from.
I think I vaguely remember an article on it in an
old Studio or Connoisseur or some such paper we
had home, so you may be able to look it up. A
glorious place to wander round in.

We left Antwerp last night & came on to Brussels
where we have struck another very agreeable pension, very
cheap again — 45 francs a day, about 5/-. This is the
place to live on a small income. We trotted down
town this morning & inspected the Hôtel de Ville, a
famous place, & the flower pigeon bird-market in the
square; & the church of St. Michel & Gudule this afternoon,
& the aforesaid cake-shops, & various other remarkable
& entertaining spectacles. The bookshops seem very good,
& will be raided tomorrow — they are said to be cheaper
than in Paris. The exchange is still knocked all to
pot; the franc being worth only 1½d. Hence we are ex-
wealthy on very little English money. The coinage
here is [gap — reason: unclear] rotten, & you never know what a tram-ride
will cost you in Belgian money though it will probably
be less than a penny. More avenues & parks, statues
galore. The Palais de Justice is the most atrocious
erection on earth next to the Albert Memorial, & there
is a lot more of it. This brings me about up to date,
& ½ past 11 of a Sunday night. Apologies for the
scrawl, but life is très court (very short).

With much love


P.S. Couple of snaps of travelling companions enclosed.]
P.P.S. These have been censored by people concerned.