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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 8 August 1927

page 1
14 rue Quatrefages
Paris De

My dear Mummy,

Calculation illustrating the number the number of words written by J.C Beaglehole to his family to date.

A year two days ago since I left
the bosom of my family, which means 26 – 30 letters written,
at about 12 pp each = 360 pp; at conservative estimate of
250 words per page = 90,000 words, or about 90 columns
of the Post. Henceforth I think I shall cut all letters
down to a maximum of 6pp., thus saving much ink
& paper. I have a dim sort of memory of writing
last from Vienna, which seems a long time ago. Not
much to see in Vienna — we got there the week after the
Opera stopped, & since the war the life has gone out of the
place. It has first-rate bookshops though, which stock
books in at least three languages. I brought a swag of
Tauchnitz editions there & arranged to have them sent
to England by post, hoping they would get past the cus-
that way. Even if they don't, you don't miss lose
much, as they are only about 1/6 each. Why the stupid
English won't publish & buy books in paper covers I'm
dashed if I know — you can get dozens of 1st rate
English novels & plays in Tauchnitz, while they cost
[unclear: 7/6] – 10/6 in England. In France about the highest
you need to pay for a big fat historical book is 8 Fr or
6/- — most ordinary books you can get for about
1/- – 2/-; very good editions for 3/6. Of course the
page 2 the franc is pretty low, about 124 to £ but even at that the
difference is tremendous. The more I see of a good many
foreign customs, the less I am attracted to the corresponding
English ones. However the traffic cops here might take a
few lessons from their brothers in London. You nearly
get slaughtered here a dozen times a day. However, to get
back to Vienna — what I shall chiefly remember it by
is its bookshops & its coffee mit schlag, which is
absolutely peerless. — You get ½ cup of whipped cream
resting on top of your coffee. Try it. Certainly the
English may be able to build battleships, but they can't
turn out stuff like this. Even their beer is not to be
mentioned in the same breath as the German beer. A
dreadful place, England. We went for a charabanc
[gap — reason: unclear] ride at Vienna, & I swore I'd never do so again
a more vulgarly depressing experience I've never had
in my life. A bloke stands up in front with a
megaphone & bawls alternate German & English at you
The German being a good deal easier to understand than
the English. We went out to Schonbrüm, among
other places, which is interesting historically & for its
park, now a public [gap — reason: unclear]; hub for sheer brutal oilpainting.
You never saw anything like its interior decor-
. You read a lot of sneers at the taste of the
nouveaux riches — no aristocracy which could produce
such a thing as Schonbrüm has the right to cast a
stone — A good deal of it was done in the hey day of
page 3 European civilization, too, in the 18th century. A dis-
& depressing spectacle, but very interesting as
an index to the glories of arist regal & aristocratic
culture, which brutal revolutionaries are said to smash
up in their blind lust for destruction. The real
trouble is, they don't smash up enough. However, as I said
the gardens are very fine, & the day we had there was
perfect. I signalised our stay in Vienna also by getting
a pair of horn-rims, which I now wear, keeping my
other goggles in reserve in case of accidents. I got the
whole new outfit for 9/-, & they were finished the
day after I ordered them. Contrast this for price & speed
with our up to date N.Z. oculists. They are best Zeiss
glass too. N.Z. has a lot to learn. I must get another
picture of myself taken for you to judge the effect. [gap — reason: unclear]
Every body over here thinks it very classy. The only
thing us that the Yanks take me for a Yank, & treat
me with undue familiarity. This old bird in the
Bibliothique Nationale said to me "I see you're an Amer-
too". I said "No, I'm a N-Zer". He said "I'm
from Cleveland Ohio myself. You've got a bit of an
English accent, but I could tell you were an American
all right. What do you think of Paris?" At which
I gave up discussing the question of nationality, &
told him I admired the Germans very much,
which rather shocked him.

We decided not to go to Buda-Pesth, as it would
page 4 mean two days travelling & only one day there, & to go straight
on to Minichen (i.e. Munich) which we did, & did
not regret. We had a week there, & wished for a
month. We liked what we saw of the people immensely.
Generally speaking the women are pretty shapeless & most
of the girls can't dress for nuts, but a more amiable
crowd you never met. They are a good deal like the
best of the Londoners. The cops are very good too & a
lot more efficient at traffic-management than these French
birds. If you get run down in Germany it's your own
fault; if you don't get run down in Paris it's pure luck.
How anyone manages to survive here beats me. This is
probably the explanation of the stationary population;
the kids get slaughtered before they can run fast enough.

We [gap — reason: unclear] had a pretty cheap joint in Munchen to stay
at, but what made it a lean week was the price
of food & the opera. About the cheapest place I have
struck for food is Paris — You can get well padded out,
even to the point of discomfort here for a bob, but
we used to get stung for 3/- or 3/6 in Germany. What
you got was generally first rate, I must admit, but
the price remained. However the beer was cheap
enough, & we drank gallons of it. In France you
get the same quantity of wine; but of course there is
no need at all to give you all this dope, with your
wide literary travelling. The opera was also first-
rate. But we had been assured that it cost nothing
page 5 at all to see in Germany, that there was no need
to book seats ahead, & so on & so forth. Then lo' & behold!
we got to Munich & found that a festival of Wagner &
Mozart was on, that the cheapest seats for Wagner were
10/- & for Mozart 6/-, & that they had been booking them
since March 1st last. No wonder they can make
opera pay in Germany under these conditions. Even
allowing for the presence of Yanks, it shows a certain
devotion to music. Adelaide shouted the party to
Parsifal, to signify her having got a £400 [unclear: year] job
at Toronto Univ.; we shouted ourselves to Tristan,
& two each did went to the Marriage of Figaro & the
Magic Flute. Parsifal was magnificently done, but
it gets pretty farcical at times, with a climax as
the Holy Ghost descends at the end in the form of a stuffed
[unclear: dove] coming down on wires — you never saw a more
side-splitting sight in your life; & of course it is no
wonder the Micks go mad at the way Wagner infringed
their patent of exploiting Jesus Christ. The whole thing
wants speeding up. Tristan was fine too, except for the
soprano & tenor; who were not as good as those I heard
at Convent Garden; but the orchestra was about the best
I have ever heard in an opera. The Magic Flute, to
which I went, is a very disappointing thing, surviving
only because written by Mozart, I should say, because
of the overture & about three good songs. The rest is just
pantomime, [gap — reason: unclear] revue, & machine-made recitative. I was
page 6 sorry I didn't go to the Marriage of Figaro, but I had seen that in
London & wanted to enlarge my acquaintance with
opera as much as possible. Don Juan was on the
day after we left, much to our sorrow.

Besides music, Munich has some good (I
am getting sick of superlatives) pictures, a few good
bits of classical sculpture & some jolly good museums,
but we didn't have time for most of these. What gets
me down about the picture galleries in Europe is the
vast wall space they devote to Rubens. Wherever you
go you find acres & acres of canvas & miles on
miles of rooms devoted to his perfectly maddening
facility. The man didn't paint, he spawned monsters.
If there's one thing you get sick to death of, it's his
fat females, [unclear: Sahuis] & victories, & nymphs & tearful
saints & Magdalens & so forth ad I infinitum & naus-
. It's about time some public-spirited curator rolled
up his sleeves & had a bonfire. Munich would
be an admirable place to start. Then you wouldn't
have to waste so much time looking for the rooms
which contained the good things. You can see
I am absorbing art like a sponge. I will be a
pretty fair highbrow by the time I have finished. After
the Course I reckon I will have about reached sat-
point for a few weeks. I got some good
prints in München, of Rembrandts etchings & Durer wooodcuts — etc, & some good albums of colour
page 7 reproductions a [unclear: A] made in Germany, for which they
charge 50% more in London. Also I brought the
scores of Tristan & Parsifal & the Mastersingers (we
couldn't get into this) which weigh down my bag
a good deal. Also a few little German books, to give me
a financial interest in learning the language. The
bookshops here are very good indeed; Munich being
one of the chief bookselling and publishing centres of
Germany. The Germans are turning out good stuff, &
turning it out cheap. E.g. Ludwig's books cost 21/- in England.
You get them in Germany just as well printed & bound,
for 14 or 15 marks. 1 mark = 1 shilling about. It seems to
me that there's a lot of either dirty work or incompetence
going on in English publishing or it may be high
wages. But as Sir Ernest Beum says, he pays very
high wages, & high wages are an economy, & his books
are the most expensive & give the least value of any now
published, there seems something funny somewhere. However
Sir E.B. is an Individualist, that may account for it.
Another place we went to in Munchen was an exhibi
of each trade or firm running a work-
of its own; so that you could see pottery & organs
& woodcarving & violins & stained-glass & printing & book-
binding & mosiac & tapestry & so on & so forth all in process
of manufacture; which was all very interesting &
impressive. It strikes me the Germans are working
tremendously hard & tremendously keenly & know their
page 8 business & that Made in Germany isn't such a bad
sign after all. Certainly in comparison with Austria
they're an eye-opener. Of course we didn't meet
any Prussians, but everybody I know who has been
to Germany has the same tale to tell & the same
admiration for them. Of course the poor cows are
crushed by taxation, & have to fork out about 60 % of
their income for war debts — it makes you sick to
hear the wails of the French over their taxation after
the way Germany & England are getting down to it.
Another thing I like about the Germans is the life
they live — there seemed to be dozens of sports shops,
i.e. shops which sold swags & ice axes & rope &
tramping boots & shoes & leather shorts & wind-jackets.
I would have brought a lot of this stuff if I had had
the cash. Half the population of Munchen seemed
to wear shorts & shirt & a little coat for its summer
costume. And you were always running into
coves & girls on their way to or from the station. Of
course Munchen is only 20 or 30 miles from the Barv-
Alps; but you wouldn't see the same thing
in an English town or a French one of the same
size. As for other impressions of München I
have said the beer is very good & plentiful, the
town has plenty of trees & parks; the windows of our pension
had geraniums growing outside in window-boxes;
we had a most magnificent thunderstorm there; page 9 & it was during our stay there that I read the New Machia-
. We left it last Monday by a train at 8.30 am.
& got to Paris at 11.30 the same night, after a very dirty,
rackety, hot, & usual comfortless journey, the last part
in company with very ugly & impolite fat Frenchwomen
who kicked de K's shins because he happened to be
reading a life of Bismarck in Germany, & turned the
light out on me because their brat wanted to go to
sleep, or rather was already asleep; so that I had to go
out into the passage to read till I could pinch
de K's seat. Perhaps it was as well that we left
Germany though, reluctant as we were to do so;
as I seem to remember breaking the law there
pretty consistently. My passport was not in order
to begin with, owing to our cutting out B. Pesth &
thus altering our dates; & we lay on the grass in
one of the parks, & I inadvertently failed to pay for
some salad at the opera (where you go out &
feed & stroll in the garden in between the acts), &
crossed the street in the wrong place & did something
else pretty awkward in its consequences which I
have forgotten. However, we all escaped jail.

Now I don't suppose I need to say anything
about Paris. I have been here a week & think I'll
stay another. I just arrived too late to meet the
lads who had been having a most hilarious fortnight,
so I heard from Arnold Holt, whom I met in
page 10 the Louvre. I am staying with Espiner, who
seems pretty well, & is to be married at the end
of the year to a Scotch girl doing research work
here on the origins of the English sonnet. He is taking
me down to Rouen to see her later on in the
week. He sends his kind regards to all. It was
pretty good to see him again — 5 years since
he left N.Z.. He hopes to get his French doctorate
at the end of the next year. B-W has offered him a
job at V.U.C., but he will be a fool if he goes back,
as he says himself. The only reason any NZer
I have met over here, bar Yeates & Holt, wants to
go back is to see his people; & even Holt is suc-
to the attractions of civilisation. We
are hoping Espiner will be able to get a job at
Toronto & so be able to come over here to research
in the vacations. I hear Miss Duggan is doing
pretty well at my old job; so I suppose that cuts
me out in the future, & anyhow, what's the good
of a dead-end assistantship in N.Z. with no
earthly prospects of a rise. I think I'll have a
go at the States or Canada myself, or try to get
a Guggenheim grant to stay in London another year.
If I must say something about Paris, it is very
interesting, but no so much so as London. Napoleon
III rebuilt it & ruined it. The 19th century really
was a terrible period, in spite of all that the highbrows
page 11 say against it. Notre Dame is wonderful outside,
less so inside, though two of the rose-windows are very
beautiful. You can get all sorts of junk down on
the leftbank of the Seine besides books (I enclose
a couple [unclear: of pics] of bookstalls for Daddy) from
horse pistols & German helmets & medals & probably
forged pewter; maps, pictures & brass candlesticks in-
. Of course the place lays itself out at this
season to take it out of the Yank invasion, with
a good deal of success. No concerts on, just vaude-
at the Folies & the Casino & such-like, which I
may go to if cheap enough; supposed to be pretty
good as a spectacle, though turned on for the benefit of
tourists. I have brought a little bust of Voltaire for
5 francs, to which I play every night. And so

I have two letters of yours to reply to. It
wasn't me who called on A. Wilkie, but Daddy; but
I [unclear: l] was the cove who got a letter out of the ravishing
[unclear: Frediswayde] Hunter Watts. You'd better tell A. W. that
Shakepeare's hand in Henry VIII was very small anyhow,
so that it is rather tactless to head his bill with that.
I have not been to any services at the Aeolian Hall,
life is too real & earnest & full of purpose to waste any
of it on curch, let alone a Unitarian church. I
hear by the way that Father Johnson has had a pretty
stiff time in the jaws of death, but has now been
page 12 safely hauled back. I am glad to see you are
getting on to books by Eileen Power, — she is 1st rate.
Rather disillusioning though, to think that you were
not satisfied with Mendhal; of course what you
really wallow in with delight is P.G. Wodehouse
or [unclear: tec] yarns borrowed from [unclear: Alan]. The last thing
I read was St Joan. I am buying a few French
books. A. France & history, Voltaire etc.

V.U.C. seems to be going to pot; what's [unclear: going]
wrong with the blithering council, anyhow? I hear that
[unclear: a fool Fain] had a big hand in the stupid business, the
silly goat. I wouldn't mind being back home for
2 or 3 weeks to put the boot into some of these solemn
fatuous cows. They give me the pip. I thought Daddy
being a practical business man, was keeping account
of the books I have sent him, I'm dashed if I know
what they come to, but I will fake up a bill some
day. So Frannie thinks Jack is rather cynical
about marriage! — well, well, this is a blow, & her a
married lady too. I showed your Jane Austin letter
to Adelaide, who is about as dippy on Jane as you
are, & and she thought it very fine. She asked if you
had come across a thing called The Janeites in Kipling's
last book; I said [unclear: stoutly] of course you had, so I hope
you have, as I shouldn't like to commit perjury, even
on behalf of a mother.

Thanks for all & sundry
[unclear: writtings]. I shall be back in dirty old London next time
I write. Cheers.

Love to all,

esp. yourself