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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 19 February 1929

page 1

My dear Mummy,

Put down anything more than ordin-
wrong with my writing to the cold — I have just written
to the envelope, & it hardly seems to look right somewhere. My
gas is only working at half-power, my feet are lumps of ice,
outside the window is Original Cold, & as Kensington Gardens are
closed at 6 I cannot even go out & get warm by sliding on the ice,
which was the way I managed this afternoon. It is blooming
painful writing too — I seem to have taken about ½ hour to get
this far.

I therefore cast my mind back with difficulty to Oxford,
& the incredibly comfortable week I had there, with a hot bath
every night & a tepid bath every morning, central heating & a
hearty hot breakfast. There’s no doubt about it that if you live
in this country you need to be able to afford trifling luxuries
like this. £1000 p.a. or ever £750 might do. Don’t
quote Dr Johnson at me — times have changed. Why, the only
way aone bloke could get the plumbers to his house the other
day was to lend them his car & chauffeur for the rest of
the day after they had fixed him up, so that they could get to
their other jobs in time; & then he was so pleased that he
gave them a fist-ful of cigars each as well. The ordinary
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common householder just sits down & cries. Well, anyhow, to
get back to Oxford:— of course now I forget what I told you;
I know I finished the letter on Tuesday morning a fortnight
ago, but what came before or after then I’m dashed if I know.
I have sent Daddy a couple of dozen postcards which wl will
give you a vague idea of what I saw. I started gaily off
to buy about 50 or 100 for him & had picked out a very
charming & comprehensive selection of those photograph ones of
which I include two or three, when I discovered that they
were 3d each, so I had to content myself with a 6d set
& a few odds & ends, which was most disappointing. I got as
many of the halls as I could, for apart from the exteriors,
they seen to be the most notable parts of the colleges [gap — reason: unclear] with
the exception of the chapels; & for my part, & generally speaking,
I had rather gaze on places where food is served rather
than religion. They contain some magnificent panelling,
let alone oak ceilin roofs. Luckily a good many of them
had a huge fire burning — most of the heat going up the
chimney, of course, & warming nothing but a few square
yards dead in front of the flames; however by standing in
this restricted space & revolving slowly it was possible to
get quite pleasantly warm before braving the winter of the
quadrangles again. I am pleased to record that inter
alia the halls of Christ’s, Magdalen, Wadham, Trinity &
New Colleges were thus distinguished; & I wish I had one of
those said fires at this moment in this small room, which
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is steadily getting colder & colder, with the gas seaming likely to
give up the ghost at any moment. Some of the colleges we did
not see at all, except the towers there of from afar off, e.g. Menton
& Brasenose, since when everybody has been saying to me Good
Lord! didn’t you see Menton. But remember that there are 24
of these infernal men’s colleges alone in Oxford, & that propor-
I missed a far greater number of bookshops, & spent
far less time than I wanted to in the Ashmolean, Bodleian
& all the other ‘eans. The Bodleian, at least the show part,
Duke Humphrey’s library, is my idea of a library. Of course
you’re only allowed to take 7 steps into it & not allowed into
the library proper at all (& for that they charge you 3d), & it
closes at an idiotically early hour every afternoon because
artificial light, except apparently electric torches, isn’t allowed —
& you ought to hear extra-Oxfordian students on said restriction!
Still it is a dinkum library, & in a different part of the
building they have an interesting exhibition of early printing,
mss ancient & modern, a higgledy-piggledy collection of
pictures, including Erasmus two or three times, a chair
made out of timber from the Golden Hind, a cork model
of a Roman incus & all sorts of other interesting & varie-
exhibits. Also some fine modern painting — Kelmscott
Chauser [sic: Chaucer] of course, & Doves & Ashendene books. Among the
mss, Galsworthy’s Strife, Hardy’s Poems Past & Present, some
of Graham Wallas’ Great Society &c. I meant to go back to
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the infernal place, but never got the time. I send one or
two postcards from here. I had a look in at the Ash Shel-
Theatre too, but there is not much to say about that
except that it is shaped like a horse shoe, was an early work
of Sir Christopher Wren, & costs 2d to go into. The old lady
in charge was a bit of a joke though, a curious mixture of
perkiness & reverence. Blackwell’s is just over the road from
the Sheldonian; I send the cover of one of their catalogues, which
gives a faithful enough rendering of the place. Broad Street
down this end is certainly a fine street, though at the other
a nice big modern DRUG STORE is now going up, despite the
Oxford Preservation Trust & other idiots with a sentimental non-
profit-paying regard for beauty & harmony. Blackwell’s is
certainly a fine shop, about the best I’ve been in, except that the
asses do not have on view a full set, or more than about [unclear: 1/6] of
their own publications, which I particularly wanted to see.
There are other good bookshops in Oxford though, Chaundy's
& Parkers &c. &c. &c. I really only had a look at these
three & the Oxford Univ Press showroom, a very comfortable
place. I went up thinking I might spend a lot on
books & come back laden with as many spoils as Alexander;
& I particularly wanted to get some fo something exuding a
suitable aroma for Daddy. Result — nil. When you go
looking for anything decent you never get it. In the end
the only thing really exciting I got was the 1852 Pickering
Bacon’s Essays, for 5/- which is the full market value.
page 5
However it is a very nice little book to have. In 1857 it belonged
to one Henry Ward, with a vile hand. I also got Sir Henry
Taylor’s Autobiography & letters 3 vols for 10/6, a 2nd hand copy of
Laski’s Grammar of Politics, which I have not been able to afford
1st hand, a couple of World’s Classics, & 2 or 3 other odds & ends.
And even after that very slight orgy I have not bought a single
book of any description since I came back — stop let me make
sure! — no, not one. Shameful, I call it, & certain proof
that the race is losing its vigour.

[This reminds me that someone wrote to the Evening
Standard wanting suggestions how to budget for a family on
an income of £15 a week — they printed the budget which seemed
to them best. I didn’t see it, but a critic to-night says — ah! well,
I’ll cut it out & send it to you]

Oh, I should remark that I did get for Daddy, practically
on day of publication, the latest by Dean Inge on Plotinus, at the
O.U.P., but just as I was about to do it up to post this morning
a visitor called, & now it is too late to post it; so I will
probably send it pervia Australia on Thursday. — Well, what
else is there to say about Oxford? We walked t along the
Cherwell? Thames? (Thames I think) to Iffley one day, for to
see the church, a nice little Norman place, & picked a snow-
or two in the churchyard. There is a bleak charm about
all the country around Oxford in the winter, except where they
are building — as indeed everywhere in English country, but I
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imagine that it is really a summer county. Anyhow in the
summer I shall go back for a day or two if I am still here.
Also when I got back to London I discovered that we had been
in Bagley Wood without a permit, & you have to have a permit,
so there is another regulation splintered. Oh, & we saw the
exterior of the new Rhodes House, just being finished — where
the library is to be, you know — designed by Sir Herbert Baker.
I don’t like all of it; but my oath! what a place for a job,
either for Daddy or me! Ah well, I suppose our position
must be that of Jude; only let’s hope we’ll be able to keep off
the booze. I must go up again in the summer for the
gardens, though I don’t suppose I’d be allowed to see them in
the moonlight, like the late Mat. Arnold, & thus go dippy
on the last enchantment of the middle age, lost causes, &
such-like. No, the old bloke shouldn’t have let the place
go to his head like that — though hold! should I, who have
just written a thesis, forbid anything committed in the name of a
purple patch? I think not. Not being sufficiently acquainted
with the moonlight in London, & fog hardly being a suf-
substitute, I had to lean hard on Burke, appeal to
the future, & let it go at that. Well, well, perhaps I shall
be in the anthologies some day — anyhow perhaps my quotation
from Burke may. — Did I say anything about the cost
of living at Oxford? It is high. Plainly the town for
(a) rich young men (b) tourists. However by dint of searching
we found a place where it was possible to have beans on
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toast for 6d surrounded by people working their way into
Our Special Lunch at 2/3, & another where afternoon tea, in-
4 cakes each (not supposed to eat them all, no doubt,
but no extra charge if you did) was only 1/-; & another joint
where a large plate of something rough but filling, e.g. sausages
& chips, could be obtained for circa 1/3; but I generally went
to bed either stuffed out with fish & chips bought out & con-
surreptitiously in the hotel — they kept hot on the radia-
— or hungry. So it’s just as well I didn’t go there for
my education. Cambridge is just about the same. Still
it would be very nice to be a fellow of All Souls (they are
all fellows there, you know, no undergraduates) or even librarian
of Rhodes House. Ah well, my destiny is either Salamanca
Road or Zenith City, I suppose, so good-bye, sweet dreams!

Since coming back to London I have been mainly
frozen. It has not seemed really worth while to get up in
the morning with no thesis to do, snow on the ground,
& most of the water-pipes blocked, so it has generally been
about 10 before I have crawled out. Unfortunately our bath
tap has been all right, except once, & that has added another
terror to life. However I have gone through with the cold
bath, except once, when I must admit the cold air thorough-
cowed me as soon as I got out of bed (I think that
was the morning when I got up & found that the gas was
off); & twice, this morning, when the water was fortunately
page 8
turned off by the plumbers when I got up & wasn’t turned
on again until just after I got dressed. However if this
weather keeps up I think I shall back down till a thaw
comes — why should I martyrise myself when Ern has a
hot-water service? I hope to God our gas doesn’t freeze to-night.
there have of course been compensations. We have been
sliding on the pond at Hampstead where Shelley used to sail
his paper boats — we needed cheering after seeing St John
Ervine’s The Ship at the Everyman Theatre at Hampstead, jolly
well done, one matinée — this afternoon on the Round
Pond in Kensington Gardens. My glasses went flying once
at Hampstead, as I went flying in the opposite direction,
but by the owing to the direct intervention of the Almighty
they were restored to me intact. It makes a bloke a bit
stiff — not so much the sliding as the incidental falling
down while you’re getting into practice — I still live
in fear of becoming one of those funny concussion
cases who die in the street a week after falling on
the back of their necks in some ge gentle sport; but if
you haven’t had a cable before this you will know I am
all right. Anyhow I haven’t had so much fun in the
winter for a long while. In fact I’m beginning to think
it’s quite a pity I didn’t take up skating when I was a boy.
— I just sketched then — my oath! I am stiff!

As for more sedentary entertainments: reckon
in The Ship, as above. Quality Street, last night, a good
page 9
show, though I still hold in suitable reverence my first introduc-
to Barrie therein at Sydney in August 1926. Elizabethan
(mainly) choral singing by the Tudor Singers at St Martin’s on
Saturday afternoon. Scriabin, Beethoven &c at a B.B.C.
orchestral concert last Friday. International String Quartet
last Tuesday — Schubert, Mozart, Vaughan Williams & Goossens,
a good programme. Dutch exhibition yesterday afternoon,
there to admire Vermeer & Van Gogh again; followed by tea,
for a treat, at Swan & Edgar’s. Their tea-room is certainly
a charming place, in [may have been gold] silver, soft yellow & green, enamelled
green furniture, patent shaded lights & all, — a welcome con-
to Lyon’s disgusting over-grown marble bathrooms, but
the food dashed expensive (worse than Oxford) & the
tea no better than anywhere else. Mannequins strolling
up & down, all very graceful, though why a mannequin
should be trained to protrude the stomach I do not know.
Nor did they wear anything to stir the young man’s blood.
However I had never been into Swan & Edgar’s before, &
to mark the occasion I have pleasure in sending you
enclosed herewith, a souvenir serviette, preserved for the
purpose by me. Ah! I’ll be able to say some day, enter-
an Aunt in Kirkcaldie’s — Ah! but you ought to see
Swan & Edgar’s!

Academic news: I have heard nothing of my thesis
since I put it in, nor of my viva. But no doubt by the
page 10
time you get this all will be over & done with. I wish
they would get a move on, because I want to see if the
examiners have any advice to give before I bring it into the
Oxford University Press where Laski has already put in a word with H.
Milford for me. I wish I could keep it for a year &
revise it properly; I hate rushing a thing, though it would
be an even greater pleasure to get the proofs of this off my
hands than of Capt. Hobson. Of course the O.U.P. may not ac-
, or may want it cut down: in which case I can only
go into a monastery & beat my head on the walls of my cell.
As far as jobs are concerned, there doesn’t seem anything
doing, except a chair at £1000 a year at Westfield College.
I leave it to the old men & women to scramble for this. It
may be a case of my stealing unobtrusively back to N.Z. on
my free passage yet, & begging for a job from the Hon. &
Learned Atmore — if still in office. I don’t know about the
States — there may be difficulty about the quota there too — I
must find out. Why to God doesn’t V.U.C. have the grace to
offer me a job? (Even if I should feel compelled to turn
it down!) Apparently all the offers come when you don’t
want them; when you do, nothing doing. I could knock
round & see a lot in the next three months if I knew
there was a job coming at the end of them; but now
that I’ve got the time, I don’t seem to have much
else beyond a certain amount of hope. Still I may
be offered a chair next week, or Newton may bring back
page 11
all India with him in April.

Your record joint letter turned up yesterday
       ???{3 PAGES FROM YOU     }
             {8     "            "        DADDY}!!!
& was duly wondered at & admired. It looks as if you
will be turning out a joint autobiography soon at this
rate. I hope Daddy didn’t do anything so rash as to
pay for the book on patience he brought home for you; I don’t
know that I would ever have been very hopeful in picking
that one out. I don’t think cards are in the family blood.
It always causes me an infinite boredom just to see
other people playing them; & I don’t know that I ever noticed
any real joy in the family circle when Auntie Liz came
along with her 500 team. No: why play cards when
you can go to sleep! that’s my motto. Your shawl & your
health both sound pretty dazzling, & news of both is very
cheering to overseas friends & relations. What I was
getting at about the J.C.B. on my Xmas card wasn’t the
position of the name but its constituents “John C. Beaglehole”
which I thought you mightn’t like as having a too Ameri-
look; & I remembered you were very keen on
having John Cawte B in full on an organ recital
programme once. I think McG's picture was just a
symbolic affair, representative of the general flux of life
as expressed so felicitously by me. With Daddy’s criticism
page 12
of the last verse I fully agree; but the last verse was
a crool hard one to write, & I’m not at all satisfied
with it. Too many commas & short phrases. What he is
he so apologetic for, anyhow? The right way to criticise,
is as follows: “What the hell do you mean by this?”
or “My boy, this is b— bad!” (You will know what
the dash is for, but Auntie[s] will not) Of the Sitwell an-
I don’t know anything. Edward Fitzgerald duly noted.
For Lady Fred. Cavendish quotations many thanks. Re
“paddock”: I suppose I used the word because I am a N.Zer.
I offer in substitution meadow, field, [unclear: champs], prairie, from
which please select as suits the relevant prose passage best.
You never meet with it over here certainly. — I am interested
to see you have been reading Katherine Mansfield’s letters.
I got through the 1st vol & then felt so depressed that I switched
over to the comedies of Wm Shakespeare. Love’s Labour’s Lost
is an extremely poor affair, by the way. But As You Like
It seems to me really supreme comedy. I started with
the Winter’s Tale because K.M. was reading that. What a
damnable tragedy it was! To read the Journal & the
letters so soon after her death makes one know her so
intimately that it is really painful to finish them — I mean
to read them through. And to come out of Karori too!
as Daddy says. Ah, this world gives me the pip some-
. It seems to me that the war done her in as much
as anything. I’m going to hear a lecture by Murry next
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month at King’s College, not so much to hear him as to see
examine K.M’s husband, he might be glad to learn. I am
all for truth & frankness, but now & again I felt a bit un-
in the middle of the letters. And then they
seem to contain both too much & too little. She must have
written equally good letters to other friends, which could have
gone in to fill out whatever gap was left by a more precise
pruning. I think a good 2 vol thing could have been
made by careful editing out of the Journal & letters com-
. Still, the final conclusion is to me that it’s damnable
that she’s dead, & that it seems all too damnably personal.
— On the attraction which this side of the world has for one,
Daddy’s about right, though I can’t say the “something to
express” is as urgent with me as with K.M. But I find I
have the identical feeling for N.Z. she had over here. How
I’d get on if I came back I don’t know. — settle down all right
after a while, I suppose. Anyhow as I don’t earn a living
short story writing or get an allowance from the manager
of the Bank of N.Z. I’ll have to interpret in my own person
the economic conception of history, & go where I can get a job.
— I don’t want testimonials returned. Give them to P.J. Smith
to read out to the Hist. Assn. annual meeting. — How
long will it be before Mrs Hannah gets over here, I wonder?
I’d like to see her. — As for Joe’s bright idea & paying
for same: well, there are only about six things of mine in
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that line I give a damn for now, & perhaps fewer than that;
& until I can write some more I don’t think I’ll make
any move. Many thanks indeed for Daddy’s offer of
finance, but if they’re not worth a publisher’s while to
fin pay for, they can rest in obscurity, unless I become
convinced that they really should be given to the world
for the good of English literature. Till then, nothing doing.
Anyhow colonial history doesn’t make you very poetic.
On the 50 quid I have already delivered my sentiments; I
therefore merely dips me lid & thank you again. Perhaps
until I know definitely where I am coming back or not
it may be well to keep the Nat. Prov. Fund going, blast it &
all other swallowers of money — even if they do regurgitate
forty years on. — Artists’ Annual not yet arrived — at
least Alan’s copy hasn’t, though I have both seen it & had another
copy sent me. Please thank Alan for same. I think he
had his best work to date in it. For his cartoons also I thank
you — but why! oh why! for the love of Mike does he
drown them in letterpress so? The letterpress generally
seems to carry 2/3 of the joke. Not that he felt too spry when
he was turning out those particular ones, I suppose.

Well, I think that’s about all. I enclose for Mummy my
latest portraits, as a makeweight to Daddy’s Oxford postcards.
Thank Joe for his letter-card S.V.P. To all aunts greetings.
And to both of you much love as usual