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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 20 March 1928

page 1

My dear Mummy,

As for your wretched attempt to defend
yourself over the matter of Emma, I have nothing but
scorn for it. You haven’t a leg to stand on — not ½ a leg.
“Long & continued indisposition” indeed! God bless my heart &
soul! I thought you had given me to understand that
you had been reading Jane since you were 7 years old or
earlier; & that is the only excuse you can bring forward.
It looks to me as if you just idly turned the pages of the
book once or twice & hit on a phrase or two & let it go at
that. Yes, you did once report the remark about the love
which everybody sends but nobody carries, but as for mention-
Brunswick Square — why, it might just as well have
been sent to Liverpool or Timbuctoo or Wanganui. I can’t
see any valid defence for you at all; sheer unblushing ig-
is the only thing I can put it down to; & attempts
to brazen it out now only make things worse. Well,
you try reading Emma. I think you’d probably enjoy it. And
then you might have a go a Pride & Prejudice, which is a
book with a bit more kick in it. I have just got to the
end of vol II of Mansfield Park myself. I must say she
does pick on appalling people to write about; & the tragedy of the
business is that you can’t stop reading about them. Now if page 2 you met one of these blooming Fanny Prices or blinking parson
Edmunds you wouldn’t waste two minutes on them, except to
throw half a brick at them; but you read about them, & you’re
actually interested. Very annoying. All the lively interesting
people are on the devil’s side in JA.; & not a bad idea either,
for to parody old Gen Booth, why should God have all
the best [unclear: choons]? It would certainly be a pleasure however
once in a while to come across a heroine who was not truly
elegant, or a hero who had a sense of humour & was not
for ever improving the mind of his intended. Perhaps
this is a habit with lovesick young coves, however; I
seem to remember that Daddy read you Browning; & I gathered
from Frannie that Keith dispensed a good deal of uplift for
her benefit, which she seemed to think was quite admir-
dope. My word! if I ever start to talk to a girl á la
Edmund or Mr Blooming Knightly I hope she will take
to me with a custard pie or something. I have still vol
III of M.P. to get through, but I suppose Fanny will hitch up
with Edmund; he seems the only cove fit for such a fate;
this bloke Crawford seems to have gone in off the deep end
about her, but he’s a lot too good for her. I think I’m
pretty safe in banking on Edmund & a poor but happy life in
the parsonage on circa £5000 year. This consequential
baronet bird gets me down too; he ought to be in a wax-
show — no wonder his wife was bored stiff with
life. — I think some of the people over here are nutty on
Jane. Here was Crumpie the fat girl tonight very melancholy
page 3 because she thought she knew her Mansfield Park inside
out; & she goes & loses 6d in a bet on some trivial
point in same with another cove who knocks around
the Institoot, [unclear: Pares], a fellow of All Souls who is said to
keep a set of the novels in his room at University College.
Now wouldn’t it be terrible to get like that. Crumpie has
also read Sir Charles Grandison, so she told me to-
, but doesn’t like Shaw. She read four of the
plays & then gave him up. She thinks he is conceited,
particularly in the introduction to St Joan. Of course
her old man is a mediaevalist, & reads nothing but
pipe-rolls & detective stories; & she was a mediaevalist too
till she got a scholarship to the States & got perverted to
Vice Admiralty Courts; so I suppose there may be some
family professional jealousy in the matter. Still
all this doesn’t make any difference to the Brunswick
Square business. No, it was [sic: wasn’t] Crumpie who enquired
after my buttons — it was Smithie. Crumpie’s never
offered to do anything for me except to put me right on
the position of the Liberal Party or the Church of England.
I have been thinking I might get her to knit me a
new singlet though, as I had to throw one away yesterday.
But I don’t know — I think she is a bit more expert on baby’s
booties & such-like; she knits around the Institute on
Saturday afternoons when she can’t find any work to
do, most domestic-like. My oath, she makes me laugh. page 4 Smithie never actually sewed anything on for me, either,
but she is very willing. And now she has gone
home to Yorkshire for a bit to recuperate from London,
so it doesn’t look as if she ever will. The only girls
of my acquaintance here who have ever been useful
to me that way are Adelaide [unclear: Macd], who sewed on a
button in Amsterdam, I think; & Helen, who mended a
sock the other day; but not much better than I could
have mended it myself I flatter myself. Still it was
a matter of considerable good taste in her to do so at all,
I thought. Oh & of course there is Ada the girl who does
out the rooms, who pinched one of her husband’s pyjama
strings & threaded it through my pyjamas for me; which
I considered a very praiseworthy act indeed. I’ll have to get
her to do it again, because the laundry pinched my
pyjama string last time it washed my pyjamas; funny
how things come out in the wash. — I gather that this
kid Mary is about the most extraordinary child who
ever appeared on earth from all you & its grandfather
say about it. I don’t doubt that I would be romping
around the lawn on my hands & knees if I were there,
playing tigers in the best avuncular fashion. A fat
lot of good it is your reading child psychology now
though; a pity you weren’t able to run into Ern
before you started having children — then you might
have brought us up real good. You might even
have been able to make a tolerable figure of Ern
page 5 himself; though it would certainly have been the acid-
test, I grant you. — Beecham doesn’t increase the
subscription to his opera scheme because after a [unclear: rash]
experience & his own bankruptcy he estimates that 2d week
is the utmost you can expect the British public to pay for
first-rate music — & that’s rather a forlorn hope. — I h am
sorry to hear how Father Johnson has been laid low; I
knew he had been ill before Christmas, but I did not
know he was still [unclear: Lors] de combat. I shall write as
you suggest.

I am sorry to learn that Daddy has been falling
over the steps — I trust he is himself again now, & that
old Henry did not take it out of him too much. You
might tell H. when you see him that I send my kind
regards & still eat raisins & oranges. What’s Daddy
getting at about restraining myself when referring to the
Clapham Sect? Why should I? A more amiable set
of [unclear: morons] than most of them I never heard of. I reverence
such people. I su I suppose he thinks my ambition is
to be one of these sarcastic Strachey-Guedalla birds:
don’t you believe it; self-reverence & self-control, let
alone reverence & control of the birds I write on, are my
great characteristics. I don’t like these coves who are
always saying smart things at the expense of dead
blokes who can’t defend themselves. A terrible business
that sort of things is. — I suppose Daddy is the cove to
page 6 thank for enclosures again, both financial & other. A regular
press-agency he is. I’m glad Mr [unclear: Jellie] liked the Post
thing. I think after all this burst of congratulation, it’s
time now that someone walked round with the hat. I
see that nobody appears to have hopped in to have a whack
at me; terrible to be ignored in this way. Nearly as bad
as the English lower classes who when you kick them, get
up & say Thank you sir, very respectfully. — They seem
to have got a good bloke for the Wgton Library, if all the paper
says about him is true. Perhaps it will start to look
like a library now & Daddy will experience more in-
on his visits. I do not think I have any-
else to remark on your letters.

Uncle George said he was writing to you by
this mail; so you will have learnt that Auntie Jeanne
has passed out & got particulars. I dashed up on Sunday
night for the funeral, which was yesterday morning, & came
back yesterday — to represent both myself & the N.Z. branches
of the family. Uncle George looked very tired, & as if
he had been having a rough spin; but luckily they
all have the family characteristic of restraint among
themselves. They seemed pretty glad I had come. I am
sorry about the business, because though not very entertaining
except as a character in a Jane Austen novel, Auntie Jeanne
was a pretty good sort so far as I struck her — sorriest of
course about Uncle G & Berrie & Brian. However I gather
it was just as well that her heart flopped when it did, or she
page 7 might have hung on indefinitely & pretty painfully. A pity
husbands & wives can’t go out together, it strikes me. I
think it would do Uncle G. good to go out to N.Z. for a
bit now if possible & perhaps sell a few pictures. You
might suggest it to him. The parson who read the
service was pretty rotten. — Berrie by the way, has just
sold a dozen more Christmas cards to the birds who ran
her things the Christmas before last, & at a higher price, so
she is coming on.

Well, I haven’t been to Cambridge even yet. The
night before I was going I got a note from McGrath
to say that I had put if off too long & that there
wouldn’t be anything doing when I got there; so I am
positively going up early next term. I don’t know
when Oxford will get its turn. When I go I want to
stay for a bit & have a good look around; it’s a pity
I don’t know some knowledgeable obliging chap like McG.
there. But the only people I know there I don’t
go much on — Olive McRowe, [unclear: Lorrie] & so forth [gap — reason: unclear]so
there is nothing doing. Well, when I found Cam-
was off, Helen said All right, why not come
with me to the Cotswolds for a week? So I reckoned
things up & found it wouldn’t cost much more,
& would probably cost less, as there wouldn’t be
any bookshops in the Cotswolds; & off we went,
she with a lot of notes & her typewriter, me with every
page 8 note I possessed crammed into my suit-case, with
a pair of socks & my tooth-brush stuck in the in-
. We went per train to a place called Strand,
which is the head of the clothing industry in those parts —
& a dirty uninviting place it is too, except for one or two
old houses; then took a bus & finally landed at a
village called Painswick. Here we got rooms at opposite
ends of the village, so that we could work undisturbed
in the mornings, thinking that we would do so, & walk
in the afternoons & read Jane in the evenings. All of
which, to a certain extent we did. The first night,
though, we had to stay in the village pub, which [unclear: costed]
us badly, as we expected it would —ey— charged me
6d for a cold bath, for which I turned on the tap
myself. However when we got settled we were both
very comfortable — I had a most superior landlady,
who gave me board & lodging, including two
rooms & whacking big meals, hot-water in the
mornings & a hot-water bottle at night, all for 35/-
a week. I began to fear when my foot first struck the
hot water-bottle, that I was losing my manhood.
Fire every morning 3/6 extra; & worth it — none of your
blooming London gas-fires, but good wood & coal.
I needed it too some days.

Well, Painswick is a most charming place —
a fairly big village, all built of grey Cotswold
stone & rambling up & down hill; with some really
page 9 beautiful doors & porches & bow-windows; also gardens; also
fresh air; & hills all around. The people were pretty
decent too. We strolled arover the fields & hills as &
roads as comprehensively as we could in the time —
the roads good going without being all tarred, the
hills not too steep for broken down Londoners, the
fields all marked off & patterned by grey stone walls &
dark hedges. Some of the big houses round about were
very dignified & attractive — so many Earlhams in
a different setting. And I had half a mind to buy
a broken down mill near by, a big rambling place, &
recondition it as a house; there was a big empty
store in it that would make a first-rate library.
It snowed half the time we were there, so we had
alpine sports & snow fights & scragging galore. I’d like
to go back in the spring or the autumn to see how it
looks then; it certainly looked all right under the
snow & out of it at this tail end of winter. The
country round about just spreads out in gentle slopes,
one way towards Wales, another to Shropshire, another
to Warwickshire, & another to the Severn & the Bristol
Channel. — all nice & pretty & very English.

We went into Gloucester a couple of times to see the
Cathedral; the first time we got bogged in a second hand
shop containing in a back part the biggest mess of
books I ever saw in my life; thousands of them just
page 10 pitched on the floor anyhow & on a table & a few
shelves — everything filthy dirty & nothing together except
different odd volumes. We hadn’t been there long when
Helen picked up a first edition of In Memoriam, a
presentation copy to some bird from old Alf, & I
found vol II of the Poems [unclear: cs] 30 (?), ditto; but could
I find vol I? Not on your life, though we both
nearly brought the shop down. It was the same with
everything. Vols II & III of seven of Stern’s Sermons,
vol II of Tristam Shandy, vol III of a little vellum
bound 16th century French translation of [unclear: Groticas, Talters], Spectators,
&c, all 18th century editions, & not a single thing
complete unless we’d put in a week arranging the
place & putting things together. It pretty well broke my
heart. And the fools who owned the place would
neither sell odd volumes or clean the mess up. Finally
Helen bought the In Memoriam for 1/6 & I got old
Stephen’s letters for 2/6, & not another thing did I get.
It makes me sick to think of it now. Finally
we managed to get a wash & have 5 minutes in the
Cathedral before it closed. So we had to go in again
another day for that, & had a good look round; & a
pretty good place it is too; a [gap — reason: unclear] N big Norman nave,
with terrific big pillars & extensions in various styles
succeeding; some beautiful fan-vaulting in the
lady chapel, & in the cloisters, which are first-rate.
A terrific mixture of styles most of these cathedrals
page 11 are though; the old monks and churchmen could
never leave well alone; they were always jamming on
a bit here & a bit there, sticking a roof a bit higher
or putting in an extra arch. The place suffered terribly
from iconoclastic birds, chiefly the [unclear: Puritans], they say;
practically every statue has gone from it; however
that’s better than having them poured in as in Westminster
Abbey. The day before we came away we took off
altogether & bussed it to Tewkesbury, for to see the Abbey,
said by the infallible guide-book to be the noblest
Norman monument in England; & I can well believe
it. That suffered also from the rage of the idol-
smashers; but it is still a magnificent place, with
some fine tombs in later styles again. They keep
the Duke of Clarence there & his wife, him [unclear: wol] was
drowned in the butt of Malmsey wine — they show you
a picture of his bones in a glass case in a big vault
underneath your feet; but I think they ought to have
a glass top for the vault-then you could see everything
for yourself. I must try & send you out some post-
of these places later on if I can. Tewkesbury is
full of old ½ timbered houses too; some of them very
good; but I am coming to look on half-timber as the
clotted cream of architecture, & to prefer Norman cathe-
(N.B. This is my own idea, not McGrath’s) St
Tewkesbury also we were ambling up the street & suddenly
page 12 saw some very attractive brass candlesticks in a shop window;
went in to ask the price & found that they were absurdly
cheap as such things go now, & after getting 6d knocked off
as a matter of principle, finally bought 3 pairs for 32/-.
Uncle George got most of his for about 2/- a pair, but you
can’t do that now. I got two of the pairs, & Helen the
other. I have been wondering very hard whether to
get a very good copper pair at Painswick for £2..10.
It seems a lot, but they are a very beautiful pair, straight
with oval bases, & copper is not so common as brass.
It’s a pity brass & pewter is becoming fashionable now —
[gap — reason: unclear] 2/6 people ask for a pewter mug — for it makes it
too jolly hard for a cove to get hold of anything. I
wish I could send you out a few things like this,
but the freight & the customs would be a huge amount to
as well, I suppose. I might bring a trunkful with
me whenever I come though. I am very much in-
to plunge on these copper candlesticks, anyhow.
The place at Painswick that had them was run by a
lady who made spun, we saw some of her stuff, also
her loom, & in her absence her sister took us all over
the house, which was full of the most magnificent
furniture — a regular museum of old stuff. My word,
you would have liked it. The trouble here again is the
cost of the darned stuff. It seems that only the rich
can sit in a decent chair. They are turning out
stuff as good on the whole nowadays of course; but
page 13 you can’t afford to buy it either unless you save up for
three or four years. A terrible state of affairs. Still I
must seriously consider the candle sticks. The trouble
about them is that when I was away I kept on saying
to myself “Now my boy, you mus’n’t buy those, because
you may need the cash for books.” And now back
in London it is “You mus’n’t buy that book because
you may need the cash for those candlesticks.” So
between one thing & the other I have reached the stage of
complete paralysis of the will. — There are one or two
other things I must tell you about Painswick. Helen’s land-
was very fond of reading; was also a great reader of
character, [gap — reason: unclear] summed us up in a moment as an engaged
couple, & never tired of giving H. good advice on the man-
of men, at all of which we chuckled extremely.
Well, we read some Tennyson there also, besides Jane,
& H. told Mrs Chandler — “Oh” says she “isn’t it lovely, &
the nice thing about it is, there isn’t a line in the whole
book that you can’t read with a young man!” — Also
here is a tombstone inscription I copied out for you thinking
that the last two lines might appeal particularly to the
moral endeavour, self-culture, Do-It-Now side of you,
& that the whole thing indeed might be memorised for
recitation to Salvation Army nurses & such-like. But
I’ll have to start it over the page now ——————
page 14  In memory of Richard Townsend, of this town, who
         departed this life February 21 1794 aged 45 years.
         Farewel vain world, I’ve Å¿een enough of thee,
         In grief & pain, Å¿ickness & miÅ¿ery,
         Thy Å¿miles I value not, nor frowns do fear,
         Thanks be to GOD, I Å¿leep at quiet here:
         What fault you’ve Å¿een in me, Å¿till Å¿rive to [unclear: Å¿hun],
         And look at home, there’s Å¿omething to be done.
I hope you don’t mind the long s’s. Painswick church-
is very pretty, with about 90 yew trees all trimmed
the same way, comme ça , & a good many beautiful
old carved tombs, done before about 1820. After that a
blight seems to have settled over everything beautiful in

I must knock off now or I shall miss the
mail. Back to Methuselah now on. Good stuff
most of it.

With the usual very much love


P.S. Take care of yourselves, both of you, for the love
of Mike. It is good to hear how well you are
getting on, Mummy.