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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 7th February, 1928

P.S. I send the “Affirmatives” in your
birthday parcel for Daddy. 3 bob's worth
21 Brunswick Square
London W.C.1

My dear Mummy,

Since I got my mail on Saturday I have
been walking round on air — I can't say how glad I was to
get two whole pages from you, written furthermore in ink, &
to hear how much better you were. Times are indeed looking
up; & I hope your spell of sunshine both natural & physical is
keeping up, & that it won't pass with the summer. Apart from
all this good news things have been going pretty well with me
for the last few days; however I had better make my usual
valuable & illuminating comments on your letter before I proceed
any further. I suppose you are walking around now like a
giantess refreshed & dazzling all Wellington with your glorying. And
talking of walking, I suppose you got that Cuala Press picture of
the tramp all right? — you didn't mention it, but as Erasmus
turned up I suppose the picture of my future did likewise. I
am very glad you both liked the Christmas & the books &c — though
I don't know why you should be so indignant at getting more than
one present. Some people will growl at anything. I never
growl because people give me too many things, do I? Then
why can't you thank God humbly for whatever he decides to send
you, per me, his humble servant, & let it go at that? On second
thoughts, it seems to me that perhaps I have got your meaning
wrongly, & that when you say, why two? you really think
page 2 there ought to have been three. This is more understandable, but
it would be a very rude thing to say, so I have got you either
way (a) on grounds of theology, which is very serious, as you can
see by studying the prayer-book controversy (b) on grounds of social
etiquette, which is still more serious, as you will realise if you
study up the usages of the beau monde a bit. I think the best
thing you can do is to read your books & look at your pictures & think
what a fine day it is. I shall pass on your favourable opinion of
the woodcut to Mcf. We have been laughing at the contrast be-
Sydney letters & Wgton ones. In the former I am the
also ran — “the verses too are” &c; now Mac gets honourable
mention after the dinkum wreath has been awarded. I haven't
seen him for a bit but he is coming down to London some time
this week. Also I am glad the Post letter was such a
success — only two misprints too! Father Isaacs must have
been pretty stirred to make all that song about it. I am all
excitement to hear what Father Hooper thought. I got a letter from
Peter Fraser last night too, the bloke I put in Parliament
to represent me on two occasions, & a literary critic of no
mean order. He must have sat right down to his typewriter
& driven it off in the heat of the moment “Dear Mr
Beaglehole” he says — mark that! “Dear Mr B. Please
accept my congratulations & thanks for your splendid letter in
the ‘Post’ last night” &c &c “It is really a fine letter … It
will do a lot of good in dispelling prejudice. With Kindest Regards”
& so forth. His spelling on the typewriter seems to be as wonky
as mine. Now I ask you could a bloke wish for a finer
page 3 tribute than such words, written on House of Representatives paper?
I notice by the way he gets his stationery in the fashion of all
great men, & pinches it from his place of business. It's a pity
I have such a thirst for uniformity in the size of my the writing
paper I send to you, or you would certainly get Institute letters
every time. These public institutions generally have so much better
taste in that respect than private individuals. Well, you might
get Daddy to ring up Peter (who is also his representative) & say I have
received & appreciate his tribute, that I have passed on his kind
regards as requested to Mr Campbell, & that in due course a
letter will arrive for him with instructions on how to win the
next election, & what to do when he becomes Minister of Education,
Foreign Affairs, & Imperial Administration. There is a great demand
for that confounded letter over here, & after scouring London yesterday
I was only able to raise three copies, so I should be obliged if
you could get hold of two or three more. But don't let anybody
break his neck over it, except possibly Ern.

I think I exhausted my stores of advice & comment on
the matter of Joan's love-affairs in my last letter. As they
have turned out so well I gather she anticipated my advice &
went to Frannie, or that Brian Benjamin got busy in a quite
epoch-making manner. He must indeed to have put it across
Auntie Laura so successfully. I don't remember the aphorism
of Frannie's you quote as reported by me, but I am willing
to admit it. After all it was I suppose love of a sort that
brought her & Keith together, at least after the compelling power
page 4 of Father Johnson's pulpit oratory had done its work, & that was a
strange trick if you like. I'm sure Auntie must be all
tied up in knots of emotion. You say a letter of congratula-
from me to Joan would be quite in order, but I always
thought it was in bad taste to congratulate the woman in
the case? I know that logically it is the correct thing to
do, & of course I shall do so, as any woman deserves to be
patted on the back at the end of a long stern chase that
she has successfully won. I herewith recommend Man &
Superman, & Mencken's In Defence of Women, both for
Joan & Auntie Laura; in fact I may send them out in a
nice suede binding for a wedding present — My God! I
was forgetting that fly in the ointment of other people's love
affairs. Still, no doubt, as I shan't be asked to the wed-
there is no obligation on me to rush forward
with unasked-for favours; & I always think that in these
things a spirit of true modesty is the one most to be admired.
He certainly has a name, this cove, Brian Benjamin Randle.
You don't say anything about him, age, colour of eyes, size of
neckband, height, weight before falling in love, weight after
falling in love, profession, financial standing &c. I should
like to point out to all concerned that these two last things are
most important in considering matrimony as a practicable prop-
; & that if all young fellers had as much sense as I
have they would do their best to escape their fate by having
neither. Look at me — 27 in June — & sailing along with
neither wife nor child, house nor home, care or sorrow, & my page 5 only impediments a pair of horn-rimsed & [gap — reason: unclear] collections of
books scattered all over the world & left till called for. I
suppose Brian Benjamin Randle committed the fatal error
of going in for the law or the hardware business or financing
elections for the Reform Party, so that now he is stuck in the
mud & can't get out. Terrible business. Well, well, looking at it
in a sporting spirit & not with the sentimentalism of a supporter
of lost causes, I suppose I must shake hands with the winner,
& I shall endeavour to do so by this mail. I might even
manage to turn out an epithalamium — Randle, handle, candle
scandal, dandle. It all seems to follow on logically.

Thanks for Dr Bennett's cobber's letter. If the stuff is so
important as she seems to think it is, which it probably isn't, the
job might be worth doing some day, though I don't see myself
wading through papers for 3 years, like Mrs Bright. She makes
me laugh too “Now I could not let a stranger go through these
diaries” — how the devil does she think a man is going to make
a book out of them then? Some people are pretty batty. I should
think the best thing to do would be to give them to some cove work-
on the history of the Pacific, if there is any such, or ask
the advice of the [unclear: Halburgh] Society about printing a seel selection.
But unless she keeps me for a year I don't see how I can do
much of them — if I get a couple more years here I have too
many other books to write. However we shall see if & when the
old girl writes to me. I see she talks of having me down to
stay, so she is evidently a bit of a plate, & I gather her old man page 6 made something out of the niggers. — In re books by other & less
important people — yes, I shall send out Garnett's book, the 3/6
edition, I suppose Daddy wants. I also picked up Gosse's
Life of Swinburne for him for 5/- the other day. These things
will probably catch a slow mail some time. I'm dashed
if I know how much he owes me for books, but I believe
I discussed the matter at length & with lucidity in my last
letter. I think the prices are marked in all the books I
have sent out — when not so, they may be taken as birthday
presents. And as far as Captain H. goes I am much gratified
at the keen business instinct he shows. I never thought it
possible that the rest of the family would fork out for copies,
but here I have a letter from Keith from which I gather, in
spite of his coy way of putting it, that he is ready to take ½ doz
copies to fill up his own spare shelf room & a few more for free
distribution among the electrical branch of the railways. Well,
I always did think that the N.Z. railwaymen ought to know
more about the history of their own country, & if they can
only be induced to take a passionate interest in Captain Hobson
it may help to avoid the next strike & then I should be rewarded.
It might help to solace the long night-watches for the firemen on
the limited's run from W'gton to Auckland. A wonderful
purifying & uplifting power is the influence of a good book. It
reminds me of a remark of Henry Adams, whose “Education”
I am now reading — now, confound it, I can't find it; but
it was something about weak minds & history.

Well so much for all that. Let me think, what's been
page 7 happening in London. The weather hasn't been so bad on the
whole, cold but not excessively wet for London, & the crocuses
are beginning to get above ground again. We haven't had
any more floods or snow falls. [unclear: Hay] is dead & buried, & I see
that Coates worked off a lot of French on the occasion, beau
[unclear: sabeur] & bonhomie & such-like — he must have been taking lessons.
I got a cheque from Cook's the other day for £1-12-5, about
¼ of what we reckoned was due to us for the tickets to Bude-
we didn't use last summer. However it was a great stroke to
do that, apparently — the bloke in the Bank said to me this
morning “What! have you been getting money out of Cook's? It's
like squeezing blood out a stone!” So I may turn out to
be a financial genius after all. However 2 dollars each after
all this time is quite a pleasant windfall. I have finished my
second chapter, bar the notes, & put in a few days cleaning up things
in the P.R.O. And here I a come to an incident which I
cannot tell you about, even on paper, without a modest blush.
I lent my [gap — reason: unclear] to Laski, as he said he'd read the thing
through, & when I stuck my head in the door to get it back
yesterday afternoon he said “Beaglehole, that's a corking piece
of work!” And much more to the same effect, with a good
deal of enthusiastic swearing. Finishing up with the remark that
any publisher would take the book on the strength of his reader's
report on that chapter alone. He then pointed out a few
things that could be improved on, & I was yapping to him
generally when he suddenly said By the way, have you seen page 8 the new Keith? (nothing to do with Keithles' being born again
but A.B.K's Resp. Govt in the Dominions. I said yes & he told
me he reckoned some of it was quite libellous in character;
also he asked me if I had it, which I hadn't; then how about
taking his old edition off his hands? I nearly fell over
backwards: Because the new edition is 73/6 & the old not
much cheaper. So I thanked him with due emphasis & asked
him to write his name in the book (it is a hefty 3 vol. thing)
On which he put the following “J.C.B. Amies Amicus H.J.C.
6/2/28”. My oath! I nearly burst, I swelled up so much.
I daresay one of the more learned of the family or its connec-
will translate the Latin for you, I being much too retir-
. As it's only two words, Ern might make a fist of it. If
not, you can apply to me by return mail. — I don't know
whether I told you that little Harold is interesting himself on
my behalf in the Rockefeller business, too — Newton seems on
the whole to be getting a trifle thrown in the shade. Which
reminds me of a remark he C. made in a lecture on
Voltaire, talking about equality & the varying regard in which
men are held by their fellows “For instance, if Mr John
D. Rockefeller came into this room I think I personally could
stand here with my withers completely unwrung; but if I took
him down to the Stock Exchange & there was a sudden lull in
in [sic: delete] the business & I announced that “This is Mr John D.
Rockefeller” quite a number of men would feel as if
they had just partaken of Holy Communion.” I went
down to the [unclear: Lasleis'] a couple of Sundays ago & heard
page 9 a lot more talk & yarns about the Sacco-Vanzetti
business, & Cal Coolidge & President Lowell & other dis-
morons & criminals. Met a Yank playwright
there, too, Beherman, the author of The Second Man,
for which vide Punch. He had a much lower opinion
of the two actresses in the play than Punch had. But
apparently it is impossible to sack them, because they married
into the aristocracy, & are Hon Mrs. in civil life. He
was an interesting bird. You can pick up a lot of firm
information in that house. A lot of good books he has got
too. Little Harold recited that poem of Sassoon's I told you
about, about Birkenhead, Beaverbrook & Co — it was certainly
a classic example; [gap — reason: unclear] with a last tine something like this —
“We say your name & then expectorate” It was Simon who
gave the legal opinion that there were seven distinct libels in
it, each worth £10,000.

I haven't been to many shows or concerts lately. I
have read one or two books, though — The Mayor of Casterbridge, &
a book by William Cather “Death comes for the Archbishop” which is
worth your attention. I am reading the Education of Henry
Adams now — it is pretty good, in fact if it is all up to the level of
the first four chapters & I shall send a copy out. Haven't read
any more Jane Austen yet; but I have bought Chatto & Windus'
complete Rabelais for 6/- as a makeweight against any undue refin-
influence she may have on me. — The usual gang have
had the usual meets — Smithie's education proceeds apace,
page 10 but Crumpie the fat girl is quite a hopeless case. Smithie & Ross
had birthdays last week so they took Helen & de K & me out to
tea in Oxford Street on Saturday afternoon & done us proud —
we are giving them a regular party to-night, with all appurtenan-
& one or two extra people. It looks as if Ross will
get that S. African job, by the way — I hope he does; it will suit
him down to the ground for a couple of years, after which
he is thinking of moving on to N.Z. & Australia for a bit, to
complete his education. He's a bright cove.

Well, well, it's time I drew to a close, as it seems my ink
is doing. I haven't got my proofs from Mr Fay yet, so I
can't give you any up to date information on that subject.
I could do with a couple of weeks roaming round in N.Z.
now — Daddy is right enough about the hills & the sea — I
haven't seen anything to touch it since I left home. It's a
terrible choice to have to make, to stay here or in N.Z.
I appreciate very much indeed what you both say about my
staying away longer than I thought at first it would be, even
though I am quite uncertain how even the near future
will turn out. It would indeed be very hard to reply to
those bits of your letters, so I shall not try; I understand
what both of you feel, I think; & I think that you know in
many ways it would be very hard for me not to come go back as soon
as possible. I only wish I could do something to justify the
things you say. Some time, if need be, I shall try to write you
a letter on about this subject. In the meantime, pending further develop-
, I send you both very much love

Your son