A Life of J. C. Beaglehole: New Zealand Scholar
4 — London, 1926–27
On Friday, 6 August 1926 at noon John sailed from Wellington for Sydney on the Maheno. Family and friends were there to see him off, but he dashed back home to pick up his toothbrush and shaving gear and just made it back in time.
I rushed on to the wharf, to find … Ernest & my uncle anxiously regarding the distance & my Father I suspected in a very much worse temper than he looked, loaded with insurance policies & letters of introduction from Bobby Stout; & then my Mother gave me further parcels, biscuits, lemons, & Lord knows what; & Mrs Hooper a map of London & another letter of introduction; & other people other things – heavens alive! I could hardly stagger up the gangway! … & then came the shower of streamers … & the boat began to move & I had a somewhat hard job to keep a cheerful grin on my face.1
Elsie had counted on the ship leaving late. She finished her morning's teaching and was driving into Wellington in her father's car (lent for the occasion) when, from the Hutt Road, she saw the ship draw out and head down the harbour. John walked the deck until he could no longer see 'the Tararuas & the road to Gollans Valley & Fitzroy Bay & the Karori Beach … & then went down to the Saloon & had a good meal, on the principle of getting in hard & solid while the going was good'.2 Three days of seasickness followed. Two breakfasts were mastered but no dinners before the ship arrived in Sydney on 10 August, six hours late because of the weather experienced in the Tasman.
There John began a series of letters to his parents and to Elsie. Each generally contained from twelve to fourteen pages, though the last written from the Osterley to his parents ran to twenty-two pages and one to Elsie from London, thirty pages. The letters provide a remarkable record of the voyage – six weeks in which enduring friendships could be forged – and of his London years, page 80of his introduction to things he had previously only read about.* Those to his parents (posted every two weeks) were widely shared within the family and outside, with the Hoopers and others. Yet they always began 'Dear Mummy', a sign of his closeness to her but also of his concern for her health. She had not been really well for a number of years before he left. Once a regular exchange of letters had been established, John would comment on his father's account of what the family had been up to, and make witticisms at the expense of his brothers, especially Keith, and observations which he hoped might shock his aunts. After that he would recount what had been happening. He must have been encouraged in writing by knowing how greatly his parents shared his interests – how they, given the opportunity, would have done many of the things he did. His parents replied faithfully, though there were times when his mother was not well enough to write. Ironically, her letters have more life than his father's; his father had never shaken off the solemnity of his youthful style, and they were both conscious of how confined their lives were compared with John's. Their letters reflect a deep love and great pride in what he was achieving, and at times a little anxiety about his views and actions – as well, on his mother's part, about how he was managing his clothes and what he was eating and drinking. To Elsie he wrote profusely of how much he loved her, often recalling times they had been together in Wellington and away tramping, before giving her too an account of his doings since his previous letter.
* The New Zealand Electronic Text Centre at Victoria University of Wellington has put these letters from John to his parents on the web. They can be accessed at nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/name-207379.html
I never heard anything so funny. There were crowds there, all split up into groups, some big, some little; & they were being addressed – my word they were! Politics, economics, religion, debates, personal insults, mere meanderings, diagrams on blackboards, patriots, parsons, an I.W.W. man – I never saw anything like it. And there was one cheerful old unshaven ruffian lurching round, saying at intervals in a lugubrious voice (eye twinkling all the time) 'Hung by the neck! … Hung by the neck!' & selling ballads on recent deaths & murders & executions. I bought three (1d each).5
On 18 August, three days before the Osterley was due to sail, he was able to move aboard, 'such a swish single-berth cabin … on the top cabin deck, with a port hole opening on the sea; nice & white & spacious'. He wished that Elsie was with him. He added to his wardrobe, as befitted a first-class passenger, acquiring:
two prs of white trousers @ 16/6 pr; 1 pr of evening shoes @ 16/6 pr; two back studs & one front stud (in case anything goes overboard with the roll of the ship in the Great Australian Bight) @ 6d ea; 2 wing-collars @ 1/- ea; & one dress tie @ 3/6. As I had a dress tie already & also a made-up one in case of hopeless failure, you may think this extravagance … But the manner of the purchase of the tie was this; I said to the bird in the shop 'Can you tell me how to tie an evening tie?' And such was his willingness to demonstrate that I found myself in the generosity of my soul offering to purchase same if he could teach me to tie it satisfactorily. For he said 'Certainly; single-end or double-end?' To which I rejoined 'Search me'. And he then began to explain. It seems that a single-end is much easier to do up, is much more elegant to the view, sits on the collar with an air the older fashion never knew, does not hinder the breathing, is provocative of much less bad language & has a further large variety of virtues. Also it is as worn.6
In his next letter he reported 'that blasted tie is a washout. I put it round my neck & began to tie it in the most airy manner, but I'm blest if anything happened'. So he fell back on the made-up one, which seemed perfectly satisfactory, '& I shall probably continue to wear it & damn the consequences'.7
On board the Osterley were ten travelling scholars in all, four others who, like John, were travelling first class, having been page 82awarded free passages. Three were lively young Australians from Sydney. Ian Henning, a French and German scholar, was going to the Sorbonne; 'a man of most extraordinary theories'.8 Raymond McGrath, a postgraduate student in architecture, had already done architectural work in Sydney but his interests ranged much more widely. He had edited the student paper Hermes. He had shown considerable artistic gifts with a particular talent for woodcuts, having compiled a bound manuscript collection of his own poems and prose ('good prose & less good verse', in John's view) with illustrations by himself and his sister Eileen, as well as a printed book of twenty-four woodcuts - 'some of them are stunner, particularly some designs to illustrate W. de la Mare's poems … I don't know what sort of an architect he is, but I shouldn't mind getting him to design a house for me on the strength of his woodcuts'. Poems were exchanged and read; McGrath, it was agreed, would illustrate John's book of poems when it came out. McGrath, John judged, 'has very sound ideas'.9
W.G.K. Duncan (known by John always as Dunc or Dunkie – it was still the age of surnames) had graduated in philosophy at Sydney University with a thesis on progress and was heading for the London School of Economics. There is an unsympathetic portrait of Duncan at that time as Jonathan Crow in the Australian writer Christina Stead's novel For Love Alone (in her undergraduate days in Sydney she had had a passion for him). A little later, when she had followed him to London, she described him in a letter to her sister: 'He has a thorough-going indignation for (what he conceives to be) all forms of oppression, depression, impression, repression, suppression, compression and (irrational self-) expression, in short for all forms of everything which does not represent (what he conceives to be) Liberty and Justice.'10 John took an altogether more positive view: 'We do a good deal of arguing; so much so that the place has rather the atmosphere of a miniature VUC. The Sydney lads are right controversialists.'11 Duncan proved to know 'a whole lot about social problems, also has a sense of humour … He is mad on Bertrand Russell at present. Henning says one day "Who is this Bertrand Russell, anyhow?" Duncan looks at him wonderingly for a moment & then bursts out "Good God? have you ever heard of Jesus Christ?" He is going to London too which is cheerful'.12
The fifth scholar travelling first class was Olive Rowe (referred to by John almost invariably as Miss Rowe), a Canterbury classics graduate on her way to Oxford. Her fiancé, Ted Low, a Rhodes Scholar, was also on board, but not having a free passage was page 83travelling third class. Although she had edited the Canterbury College Review for two years she was, regrettably, rather less of a controversialist; 'the lass lies low & says nuffin', John reported.13Finally, completing their table was Whinfield, the third officer, who proved well able to hold his end up against the students.
Henning, in a letter home, gave a first impression of John:
Poor old Beaglehole has a terrible time with his name. A little English lady (you know, the How long have ye been out? type) came up to him the other day and asked him: Are you Mr Begleyhole? The best of it is that Beaglehole stutters every time he tries to say b's, so it takes everyone quite a time to find out what his name really is. They generally end up by asking you after he has gone what they understood you to say your friend's name was. He is a very decent chap and plays the piano very nicely.14
The first-class food called forth extended and enthusiastic comment. 'It's not much use trying to be a food reformer', John told his mother, and hesitated to describe dinner lest 'her hygienic soul should shudder and wilt'.15 The young Australians shared his enthusiasm. A week after they sailed John learned to his horror that he had missed afternoon tea every day, not having heard that it was on. Deck sports, in which he developed a taste for quoit tennis that became a lasting addiction, gave one an appetite: 'my word! you do eat on board', he wrote in a later letter, all scruples abandoned:
It gives a man a unique opportunity to get experience with food; the meaning of culinary French, & so on; & the combinations you can work out are astonishing; Potage à la Russe, Saumon, sauce Mantua, Roast Turkey, ice-cream, & coffee – there's one sample. We are experimenting a bit with liqueurs, too; each bloke shouts a round, @ 6d a head now & again. Crème de menthe & Benedictine we have tried so far, the first sickly pepperminty stuff, but the Benedictine was good. Don't tell Bobby Stout.16
Before leaving Wellington John had promised Sir Robert that he would keep off 'the drink'.
The Osterley called at Melbourne, Adelaide and Fremantle. In Melbourne John met again with Maie Ross, his old friend from Whitcombe's, now selling crockery in Myers Emporium. In Adelaide he called on Ernest Hale (the former Unitarian minister in Wellington) and his family. The chief difficulty Hale faced, wrote John, was 'contending with the excessive wealth of his parishioners'.17 There is no mention of Beagleholes; any links between the New Zealand and Australian branches of the family seem to have long since page 84disappeared. John checked the bookshops, reporting at length to his father (but not to Elsie, who already had her doubts about John's addiction to buying books) on prices, bargains and finely produced editions. The art galleries won enthusiastic reports, especially the Melbourne gallery:
… they have some wonderful stuff there; a magnificent Raeburn which puts all the other portraits, by Reynolds or Romney or anybody completely into the shade; about four Corots, Sargents (Landscapes), Watts (portrait of Tennyson), Burne-Jones, D.Y. Cameron, Van Eyck (a wonderful brilliant little thing they paid £21,000 odd for), Pissarro, Monet, C.J. Holmes, Madox [sic] Brown, Maris brothers, Orpen, John, Turner (great water-colour Okehampton Castle) P. de Wint, Morland, Reynolds, Romney, etchings by Rembrandt, Whistler, Mèryon, Pennell, Haden, Brangwn [sic], Durer, a lot of Australians …18
As in Sydney, he cast an envious eye over the universities.
All this for him was the 'merest fore-taste of what's to come'.19His mind was firmly fixed on what lay ahead: 'all these colonial towns, as towns are the same, after all; & apart from one or two pictures, none of them are worth more than a damn'.20 As they neared Ceylon he wrote, 'it is a pleasant sensation to be crossing part of the earth that has really some history behind it & not just a few tuppenny-ha'penny scraps & tenth-rate politics', and he was thinking of changing his thesis subject to 'something in political theory; however we'll see, – the NZ Coy may still be the handiest subject to work on'.21 New Zealand was clearly being left behind in more than one sense.
Colombo was the first place by which he felt really excited since leaving home.22 They had twenty-four hours there and for John it was a revelation.
I never saw a place with such beautiful surroundings, such wonderful streets and avenues – trees, millions of them, lawns, parks. We passed down a great avenue with wonderful bungalows on each side – all belonging to the English civil service. But gosh, no wonder the Conquering Race doesn't want to leave. I shouldn't if I had a bungalow & grounds like that. But some belonging to the rich natives are beautiful buildings too; there was practically nothing really ugly or merely pretentious that we saw … We passed through a big native quarter … Havelock town, when all the population was coming home from work. Talk of colour! And the Buddhist priests in yellow stuck out … the shops [were] all open & most of the houses; every possible thing for sale, rope & lollies & coconuts & vegetables; even one or two butchers.
He visited a silk merchant with McGrath and had great difficulty in restraining himself from plunging helplessly on stuff for Elsie and his mother, 'silks & shawls & kimonos & ladies' pyjamas; finally the bloke evidently judging McG was a man of experience started bringing out garments of even more intimate intention; but we managed to stifle a blush & intimated politely but firmly that we weren't buying lingerie on that occasion'. Before their eyes a conjuror grew a mango tree from seed to flower and fruit – John sent home to Elsie the leaf given him as proof. Late in the evening the party returned briefly to the ship by rowing boat, but engaged it to call back for them at five in the morning for a final look
around the town on foot or per rickshaw to the native markets … continually being rushed by diamond-merchants or bead-merchants or beggars or small boys singing Tipperary in a way peculiarly their own or merchants – with shops just round the corner with the most wonderful bargains in elephants or gold rings. All of which we managed to shake off at not much cost to ourselves.
His account of Colombo, written from the Red Sea (to be posted at Suez), ended with more excitement. 'My first sight of Africa at Cape Guardafui had me well worked up.' A little later, with the mountains around Sinai on the right and on the left the ranges of Egypt, John, as reported by McGrath, pointed towards Africa exclaiming, 'Do you realise that Cleopatra ruled over that land; that these waters are liquid history!'23 Clearly pleased with the phrase 'liquid history', he used it again in his letter to his parents.
Passing through the Suez Canal they saw labourers working by hand to widen it. On their arrival at Port Said John was shocked when they were
immediately assaulted by thousands more niggers to do the coaling. Well, I never saw anything more like hell. Talk of exploiting cheap colonial labour; in about five minutes on both sides of the ship there was an entirely black zone – the air so black that from up on the top deck you could just see long lines of indistinct figures walked [sic] up planks to tips in the side of the ship with no interval between them whatsoever. The lighters were so crowded that how they managed to do any work at all I don't know. They worked barefoot & practically naked; & how their feet escaped the spades with which they were digging the coal into buckets is a miracle. One poor devil got an eyeful of the stuff; & there he stood, agonising & crying like a child, as we went past on our way to the shore. Very pretty … However there were diversions for members of the exploiting West like us; a conjuror was on board about as soon as the ship anchored, & my word he did some clever things.24
After a long wait they got into small boats and were rowed ashore: 'Egypt, the land of the Pharaohs, the amorous adventures of Cleopatra, the Sphinx & Pyramids …' Resisting invitations to 'exhibitions of the can-can' – 'we all thought hard of our Aunties & turned these very attractive invitations down' – they examined everything else that was going on:
Antique horse-trams, sheiks, guttersnipes, what looked like illegitimate left-overs from the war, street cleaners, Arabs, Greeks & Dagos of all sorts & conditions, Egyptians, donkeys, cafés … We examined a Russian orthodox church, well-built, but full of shrines & a department for selling tin-pot little charms; & it was delightful to see Duncan, the hardened rationalist, who was the only lad with small change on him, tipping the man who showed us over with a couple of bob for the Church funds.
They were caught up in a great procession, with drums and incense and hundreds of red, green and white banners covered with crescents, which they discovered was part of a celebration of the Prophet's birthday. They got back to the ship just before it sailed, John having bought 'a couple of hundred best Turkish cigarettes for 5/- 100', and having had to 'repulse a bootblack with some warmth when he arbitrarily took control of my foot; for which however I was afterwards rather sorry, as I don't like behaving like the Conquering Race'.
The voyage through the Mediterranean, calling at Naples, Toulon and Gibraltar, brought more historical associations; John's admiration for Garibaldi, 'that eminent swashbuckler', grew a good deal when he saw the sort of country he fought over. At Naples 'the lads' again repelled the efforts of their guide to get them into 'the can-can'; here the promise was to be shown 'in living form the delightful poses characteristic of the wall-paintings of Pompeii'.
John continued to sing the praises of his Australian companions, especially Duncan and McGrath. 'Duncan & I indulge in the most enormous arguments; or I support him against Henning or McG.; or McG & I uphold art against the others, or I gives harangues to all & sundry'.25 McGrath he judged to be in many ways 'the pearl of the bunch', whereas Henning was 'inclined to take life a bit too seriously'. Of Miss Rowe he rather despaired; she preferred 'not to argue at meals', and when finally roused 'called them all materialists but would not say what she meant'. She was, John believed, a 'bit mixed as to our characters though, especially mine; as she has to reconcile the vehemence of my controversial methods with the page 87sweetly chaste character of my verse, some of which McGrath showed her'.26
The voyage drew to an end, and the last round of deck sports was held. John was defeated by Duncan in the final of the bucket quoits but 'won the egg & spoon race hands down, for which I got an order for 4/- on the barber's shop, & took it out in a tobacco pouch'. With McGrath's artistic talent and Whinfield's cooperation (he provided chains which they dragged, making a great clatter, as they made their entrance down the stairs and into the saloon) the four young men starred at the fancy dress ball as four ghosts. John spent one of the last days writing a
Great Epic … the Osterliad, in six cantos, rhymed heroic couplets, six f.cap pages of type, about 200 lines. A truly wonderful achievement … It is in honour of Whinfield chiefly, & ourselves secondarily. Canto I is a general description of W. Canto II is an impressive apostrophe to the hero. Canto III is the longest & a description of one of our meal-time free discussions, with W. in the chair; Canto IV is the description of a thrilling game of quoit-tennis, Whinfield & Beaglehole v Duncan & Henning; Canto V is a historical disquisition on great navigators of the past, W's superiority to them, his eminent services in the war etc, etc. Canto VI is the grand finale, summing up & driving home the lessons of the previous five, & hailing W. as the consummation of the divine purpose of the Creator.27
The Osterliad was an achievement, carried off in the style of a neo-Byronic Don Juan. To Elsie he wrote that it showed 'the disgraceful way in which I behaved on the voyage';28 certainly it conveyed his high spirits as well as his fluent pen:
Canto III Whinfield's singular judicial detachment from common argument and error. With what an equable and balanced mind Oh Whinfield, hast thou held the scales inclined Neither to this side nor to that, when strife Tremendous, cataclysmic, life for life Has burst upon our table! See the words Abrupt, explosive, fly like angry birds From seat to seat, the personal abuse Which custom does not stale nor over-use. Henning lays down the law. First Henning lays an axiom down, which seems To him self evident, to Duncan, dreams. To which Duncan retorts that he is a damn fool. Duncan assaults the youth, he bares his teeth He feels his native controversial heath, And "Bertrand Russell, Bertrand Russell!" shouts – Our Duncan with his philosophic doubts – page 88His hatchet face enlivens, rings his voice! But who is this who cavils at his choice Of argumentative material, who? McGrath has still faith in the universe 'Tis the respectable McGrath, and through The mazes of his childlike faith he goes With halting step, and frequent short repose To show the reasons for his great decision; For our McGrath has Ideals, Art and Vision. To which Beaglehole is able to give only a qualified approval. Lo! rises Beaglehole and savage, hot Throws knife, spoon, fork, self in the melting pot. His raucous voice attacks the startled ceiling He outrages a lady's every feeling. He snatches words from Duncan, from Miss Rowe, He damns all priests and parsons, heralds woe To superstitious Mac and luckless Henning In frightful language quite unfit for penning. Miss Rowe seeks peace and quietude. Miss Rowe assumes a headache, blanches, bites A trifle languidly, and thinks of knights Of ancient chivalry* who never rended The sanctities of life, nor e'en offended A delicate damsel's feelings of what must Forever constitute the right, the just. Duncan's heresy and Beaglehole's opinion of McGrath. Duncan proceeds to nationalise all women Beaglehole thinks the light of truth burns dim in The hypocrite McGrath,† who'd sit and eat Obliviously at Socrates' great feet. Henning reduces the Eternal to a diagram. Henning elaborates a paradox The most appalling even of his vast flocks. He draws a diagram‡ with spoon and fork And steadily proceeds to talk, and talk. Henning has no great opinion of human nature; and the combat waxes general. 'Does human nature change?' with seraph smile He asks, and all his face expresses guile. Duncan and Beaglehole proceed to shout, Henning retires in psychologic rout; Miss Rowe demands why they are not put out. The combat waxes hotter, birth control
* On the typed copy which John sent to his parents he wrote a marginal note: 'Miss R was very keen on chivalry, though she also believed strongly in the equality of the sexes.'
† Marginal note: 'We called McG & H hypocrites because through saying nothing at moments of tension they got a reputation for politeness & perfect gentlemanliness with Miss R; but behind her back agreed that she was etc etc etc.'page 89Marriage and nigger labour, how to coal A ship, should strikers be allowed to live? Are women worthy of their high prerogative In being allowed to vote, if so what then? What would you rather be, women or men? Beagle blasphemes against the ancient Greeks
‡ Marginal note: 'Henning was great on diagrams – he drew one of immortality.'
Miss Rowe is stirred to unaccustomed activity. Shocked to the soul, Miss Rowe emerges; seeks To slay the offender, wrath darts from her eyes She seems a dozen times her usual size. Duncan again attacks Henning. Duncan with dastard economic jeer Sneers at whatever Henning holds most dear And now McGrath stung to the very heart Proclaims the evangel of his conquering Art, Whinfield's sublime detachment. And thou, great Whinfield, what through all this time Hast thou been doing, Officer sublime? He gives his judgment, which temporarily depresses the combatants. With steady hand, full mouth, judicious brow Thou hearest all the evidence, and now Stoop'st from Olympian heights, and as we long For commendation, say'st we all are wrong. We droop, and dully think of wasted lives But all is well. But lo! thy magic smile our soul revives!
Duncan typed it out and they presented it to Whinfield at their last lunch with a 'magnificent box of cigars we bought at Gibraltar'. As they hoped, he gave them each one of the cigars. After a brief call at Plymouth and spending several hours fog-bound in the Thames estuary, the Osterley finally docked at Tilbury on the afternoon of 1 October. John caught the boat train up to London.
2/10/26 Saturday: 1st morning in London – S. Kensington: so far so good.29
To John Everything looked extraordinarily familiar; 'St Paul's, the Royal Exchange, Admiralty Arch, Trafalgar Square'. On closer inspection he had some reservations about the interior of St Paul's, and the Albert Memorial he judged 'a hideous abortion'. 'I'd heard that this was pretty bad, but nothing, no picture, no description, can come up to the horror of the original.'30 Two years later Kenneth Clark put it more succinctly in The Gothic Revival: 'the expression of pure philistinism'.31 There were notes of welcome from Lorrie Richardson and Jack Yeates, old trampers from Victoria, the latter page 90'largely condemnatory of the country'. They met the next day. Richardson had just submitted his PhD thesis at Imperial College and had been awarded a fellowship that turned into a permanent job at an agricultural experimental station at Harpenden, north of London. He seemed to like England on the whole, but he and John were silenced by Yeates's flow of invective and vituperation. Yeates was full of doubts about ever getting his Cambridge thesis finished, forthright on what a failure he was (in fact he was to finish it successfully in the minimum time), and generally down on the country and the climate. He could not wait to get back to New Zealand.32 John, however, after inspecting the Institute of Historical Research – 'much to my liking' – and going to his first concert, informed the family in Wellington that 'this country will do me for a while, climate or no climate'.33
After a few days in the Hotel Madrid in South Kensington (recommended by Whinfield; 7s 6d for bed and breakfast), John and Duncan were soon settled in a large room on the top floor of a house at 21 Brunswick Square in Bloomsbury, their landlady 'a retired Indian army nurse & superficially quite decent, but with an immense contempt for the subject races'.34 In the square: 'The houses aren't very handsome … though from some aspects they have a certain dignity – it's the square that makes them – the lawn & the trees in the middle'.35 John continued:
We have two beds, one of which, a big affair occupied by me, swings back up to the wall by day. The other is a stretcher affair that doesn't occupy much room. Also a sofa, covered during the day by my rug, which at night covers me. Also two fairly satisfactory armchairs & three small chairs. Likewise a table with two extensions that drop down at the side when not required. Likewise a chest of drawers. Likewise a marble-topped sort of table for washing up on, the repose of shaving materials etc. A bookcase, divided ½ & ½ between us. A gas fire with a burner at the side for our kettle. Two cupboards for clothes just outside the door. In one of them the gas meter – one of those bob in the slot things invented expressly for the purpose of diddling coves like us, I suppose. Bathroom just across the landing.
The rent was 17s 6d a week each. Living expenses, other than lunches, proved to be five to seven shillings each with a diet mainly of wholemeal bread, raisins and marmalade, plus whatever fruit could be picked up cheap, mainly apples (4d a pound for cooking apples) and dried figs. Lunch was bought for 1s 3d or 1s 6d or even, at the vegetarian Food Reform Restaurant, for 11d. They got the Times and a bottle of milk every morning, the Sunday Times on page 91Sunday and the Times Literary Supplement on Thursday and their bill on Monday. 'So everything goes like clockwork.'36 With £3 a week, John reckoned on '£2 for living in all its details & £1 for pleasures – or rather education in a broad sense, books, music, plays etc. What a man needs is about £1000 yr for 5 yrs.'37 Money was to go on being a preoccupation, with the university fees of twenty-one guineas a year, plus twenty guineas for the degree on completion, being a standing cause for complaint.
London was almost overwhelming, the first months a veritable feast of music, of bookshops, of sheer intellectual excitement. Part of John's first letter home from Brunswick Square was written just after he had got back from his first promenade concert:
Well, I've been in the 7th Heaven – the London pavements were like air beneath me as I walked home, & they glistened like silver; the trees in the square as I turned the corner were the abode of magic; the street-lights sang to the policeman underneath them & I positively looked for a pavement artist to give my last penny to (I found one too, though it was after ten) … Bach, Handel, Mozart – you can't beat 'em; I wouldn't give two damns for anyone else … You never heard anything like the Bach fiddle concerto! & played by Jelly d'Aranji like a flaming angel.38
'Let's have some cocoa to celebrate', he said to Duncan, and they did.
In the first weeks there were concerts by the London Symphony Orchestra under Sir Thomas Beecham ('& an extraordinary spectacle he is'39) and Albert Coates, the New Queen's Hall Orchestra with Sir Henry Wood, the Philharmonic Society with Wood again, and with Bruno Walter. There was Gilbert and Sullivan (Ruddigore, 'the music is great, but a lot of the conversation terrible bunk'40), the Royal Choral Society singing the Verdi Requiem and the Philharmonic Choir in Bach's B Minor Mass (he heard this a second time a few weeks later). There were Saturday afternoon concerts at St Martin-in-the-Fields with no charge for admission. There he heard Myra Hess play Bach and, he assured his parents, he had put something in the collection box. McGrath booked seats for the Russian Ballet:
I have been to the Russian Ballet twice, & am going again if I can run to it … Some of it is great stuff … L'Aprés Midi d'un Faun was jolly good, & Prince Igor stunner, likewise Petroushka [sic], & some of the dancing in The Swan Lake; do you remember how we used to see pictures of all these in the Sphere in the old days before the war. I want to see the Fire Bird, so that probably means another 2/4 going plush.41
The problem was that there was too much to go to.page 92
… tomorrow there are about four concerts I want to go to, & also a lecture by Bertrand Russell … the chief concert is Kreisler playing Elgar & Brahms concertos with the London Sym. Orchestra & Landon Ronald. After a prolonged & horrible conflict of loyalties I came to the conclusion that I would certainly be able to hear B.R. again, but possibly not Kreisler or the Elgar concerto; so I went & got the last 5/9 ticket, not without a good deal of calculation & perturbation of spirit … I am darn sorry to miss Russell tomorrow but it can't be helped. To make up Duncan hears a lot of him – he follows him round like a dog.42
The lecturers heard were a mixed lot: 'an astonishing number of them have been duds – Arnold Toynbee for instance one night put across the most elementary tripe about the Pacific as a political centre in the most pitiful puerile style'. Toynbee subsequently redeemed himself somewhat with a lecture in a Fabian Society series (Mr Hooper had sent over the details from Wellington) in which John also heard Sidney Webb, 'a little insignificant cove' who 'spoke in a conversational way … with some jokes, unfortunately not loud enough to hear',43 and George Bernard Shaw. 'Place crowded, with a good number of adorers who rippled as soon as he opened his mouth. Good stuff, but not extraordinarily out of the common for him.'44 Shaw the dramatist won greater praise, Man and Superman, being 'the finest thing all round for play & acting combined I've seen in my life'.45 This was the shortened version; John was so carried away that a few days later he and Duncan went to the full-length production. 'We got to the queue at 4, too late to get a seat, got inside about 4.30 & stood till 11.15. All for 1/6 & by cripes! it was worth it! … I wouldn't have missed it for £25 …Gwen Frangçon Davies did Anne, a wonderful performance, & a cove called S. Esmé Percy [played] Tanner … a great & glorious performance.'
The bookshops were endlessly seductive, with John & Edward Bumpus's in Oxford Street being perhaps the greatest lure. There is hardly a letter among all those John wrote home that does not mention books – books read, books admired, books bought, books coveted but too expensive. Soon after arriving he bought books to send back to members of the family for Christmas, choosing a facsimile edition of Blake's Songs of Innocence (Ernest Benn, 1926, 12s 6d) for his father, but then deciding to keep it for himself. For his mother, something she could get her teeth into, the memoirs of the portrait painter Benjamin Haydon,46 'also I think it will turn out to be one of those books you will be able to quote at meal-times & put markers in for me to read selected passages if I can just spare a minute or two now & again'.47 Then he could not resist page 93a 'couple of little supernumerary presents', a volume of Victorian letters for his father and E.M. Forster's Pharos and Pharillon for his mother. 'Fair dinkum, that E.M. Forster has a style to marvel at.' For himself he enthused over the Nonesuch Milton, 'one of the best books I have ever seen', but at £4 10s he had to say 'Nuthin doin'.48A little later he made up for that by buying the Selected Essays of Edward Thomas, 'with twenty four wood engravings by R. Ashwin Maynard & Horace W. Bray, one of three hundred copies (Nos 51–350) printed on Van Gelden paper & bound in blue buckram', published by the Gregynog Press. 'I've been considering it since the beginning of December. It is a very beautiful book.'49
'It strikes me I am pretty heroic to get any work done under the circumstances',50 John wrote, 'all I want to do is to sit down & read, history or otherwise, & get up & travel'.51 No one he had seen in the university seemed very interested in overseas or research students, but John finally met with Professor A.F. Pollard, 'who is a great man … with the result that I shall probably be working under him on political theory of some sort, I think the idea of sovereignty [in Tudor England] … Pollard reckons that would be far more broadening to the mind than working on NZ history.'52Pollard was a great figure among the historians of his generation; he contributed 'more than any other single man or single institution to the professionalization of history in the early twentieth century'53and virtually created the school of history in the University of London. His historical interests were in the Tudor period and were above all political and constitutional. With a mind that was 'very good at untangling legislative and constitutional knots', he none the less lacked imagination, was neither 'sensitive nor subtle',54 and was inclined to sniff at anything that did not fit in with his own researches. To both colleagues and students he could be thoroughly intimidating.55
John's meetings with him were not easy. John had heard from a fellow student that a lecturer had just finished a book on sixteenth-century political thought (J.W. Allen, Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century). Why would Professor Pollard not have mentioned this? John asked. Professor Pollard and Mr Allen never speak to each other, he was told. John considered switching to the seventeenth century. Then, realistically recognising that Allen could hardly have 'cleaned up the whole of the century', he went back to the Tudor idea and took along an outline of a proposal to Pollard. This Pollard 'proceeded to tear to pieces in a manner rude, if not insulting. However it is something novel for me to have a prof take page 94enough interest in me even to tread on me; so although I was a bit dashed at first I haven't been unduly depressed on the whole.'56
Worse was to follow. He revised the proposal. Pollard was highly critical:
suicidal to have any sort of plan – only a rehash of other men's ideas, of no value at all; political theory all bunk; political thought of no effect at all. Suggested one or two constitutional history subjects which would be fruitful to work on. I said I had always been interested rather in the philosophical aspects of history. 'Yes' he said 'sheer drivel, in fact'. Finally I happened to mention the letters PhD & he was so horrified he nearly fell off his seat. Couldn't possibly do it – he was under the impression I was after an M.A.… 57I told him I was one already & had been accepted as a PhD student by the Univ. Homily on wonderful character of London MA. Almost superhuman character of London PhD. Well, says I, would I be wiser to get back to NZ history which I know pretty well. Finally he thought yes, I might get a PhD on that. So I have to see Newton the colonial man.58
In his letters to his parents John put a brave face on all this; he had worries enough with the news that his mother was ill again and confined to her bed. To Elsie he wrote, 'The main trouble about the mix-up is that it makes me horribly nervous whenever I talk to a prof; & you know the effect nervousness has on me'59 – a reference to his stutter. Over fifty years later, Duncan still remembered how Pollard had shattered John's morale.60 Pollard, the 'great man', thereafter became 'that swine Pollard'. A.P. Newton, the Rhodes Professor of Imperial History, 'turned out very decent'.61 In his view the subject of research was relatively unimportant; what was needed was the most intensive grounding in historical method and research. 'But as I was a colonial student, & wd probably be occupying a colonial chair (which I thought unduly optimistic) the best thing to do would be to take a colonial subject & work under him'. They settled on the subject of instructions to colonial governors between 1783 and 1840, the years between the loss of the American colonies and the emergence of the idea of responsible government – 'I'm afraid it won't turn out to be especially readable when finished'. John then changed his registration from University College to King's, which was Newton's college. 'It is a bit of a crash to be attached to the one representative of the Church of England among the London colleges! Though as I do spend most of the time I do spend in a college, which is very little, in the L.S.E. that doesn't make much difference, except to my self-respect.'62
While the young colonial was being put firmly in his place by page 95Pollard, he found an ally – more than an ally, a friend, a hero almost – in H.J. (Harold) Laski, newly appointed to the chair in politics at the London School of Economics (LSE). John had gone to a lecture by Laski and been so stirred that he wrote to him and asked his advice about the thesis. Laski invited John to visit him and helped him draft the second proposal for Pollard. After its poor reception, Laski initially suggested that John should switch to the LSE and work under him on a history of the Whig party, but he came to agree with Newton that work on a colonial subject would provide good training and a degree that would ensure John a career. He added that John should come and see him at least every month and tell him how he was getting on, and there was a standing invitation to tea at the Laskis' 'at home' any Sunday afternoon. More than his advice, Laski's human warmth transformed John's outlook. Returning to Brunswick Square to tell Duncan about it, he was 'walking on air'.63A little later he wrote to Dick Campbell:
This … Laski is a weedy undersized shrimp of a fellow, & now holding down Graham Wallas' job. He is about 34. God! what a mind! I heard his inaugural lecture, the finest formal thing I ever heard in my life … He wrote all the editorials in the Workers Weekly during the General Strike, of unhappy memory, & stands by every word of them. He is a perfect lecturer, & friendly & companionable enough to be a colonial. God bless him!64
Laski's biographer, Kingsley Martin, in a phrase later quoted by John, saw 'the clue to Harold's strength and weakness … in his desire to love and be loved. His argument', Martin wrote, 'might be derived from Marx, but at the final test he was a follower of William Morris rather than of Lenin.'65 At the Laskis' on Sunday afternoons one might meet almost anyone: fellow student, cabinet minister, trade union leader, Indian nationalist, American jurist or playwright. And the talk! If the company was remarkable, the talk was even more remarkable: 'I never heard such conversation before', John wrote, though he did on one occasion report, 'I went to Laski's on Sunday afternoon & heard some pretty good yarns – one or two of them touched up since I heard them last'.66 Ultimately, perhaps, Laski was too good a talker to write the great work on political thought that some believed he had in him. That work, however, provided the pretext for Laski's indefatigable scouring of the second-hand bookshops. It was another bond between him and the bookish young New Zealander. The book collecting can be followed, the flavour of the talk captured, from two remarkable volumes of correspondence between Laski and the American Supreme Court page 96judge Oliver Wendell Holmes. In reviewing those volumes, twentyfive years after he first met Laski, John sought to sum up the man. At the same time he revealed more than a little about himself:
They [Holmes and Laski] were both, intellectually and emotionally, humanists. They inherited, they passed on, the great tradition of eighteenth century rationalism, they were men of tough and acute mind, of esprit; but each in his own way too was a romantic; the mind of each was touched by an enchanted music that led him beyond the efforts and entanglements of the ordinary day.67
Laski too was an outsider: a radical, a Jew, 'friendly & companionable enough to be a colonial'. This was to become something of a yardstick.
It was two months before his thesis subject was sorted out and John started work at the Public Record Office, 'thankful to have got something to bite on at last'.68 He had not wasted the intervening time. As well as attending lectures, concerts and plays, writing letters and exploring London, he had spent an early weekend at Trimley, near Felixstowe, with his uncle George Butler, an artist, and his wife Jeanne, who had left New Zealand in 1905, and their two adult children, Berrie (also an artist) and Brian. He warmed to these relations and admired some of George's landscape sketches – 'a lot better than his big stuff'69 – and portraits. He helped cut firewood and walked, 'the first time I have exerted myself since leaving home'. On leaving he was 'blowed if Auntie Jeanne didn't hang around my neck & kiss me. Which I judge, on so short an acquaintance, was taking a decided liberty.' She redeemed herself somewhat by sending him off with a pot of chutney and some cake to take back to London. A little later she followed up with a box of pickled eggs.
In the same letter to Dick Campbell in which he sang Laski's praises, John urged his friend, who had been awarded a postgraduate travelling scholarship, to come to London and to the LSE to study for his PhD:
… believe me, the man who gets a Travelling Schol. & does not come to the London School of Economics & Political Science has treated his lady Fortune in a shady & miserable fashion … My dear Mr. Campbell, come here; it is the centre of the universe. Harold J. Laski remarked to me tonight that he would rather be a crossing sweeper in London than a millionaire anywhere else, & by cripes, he's about right.70
It was all very well to echo Laski's rhetorical flourishes but there were things about England that John found difficult to accept. The treatment of the miners as the 1926 general strike ended struck him page 97as 'pretty rotten … The way the owners are putting in the boot is sickening; & the way the Govt stands by & keeps the ring for them is disgraceful.'71 London brought him face to face with misery and poverty, and in a letter at the end of November as winter drew in, he wrote:
We have been having pretty brummy weather lately, with a real dinkum fog on Thursday – an interesting thing for the first five minutes, but ghastly after that; the darn thing nearly chokes you & you spend half the time in blowing smuts out of your nose. Then in the middle of it a bloke sticks me up & wants me to buy a box of soap – nothing to eat since yesterday, ready to drop, etc etc. The same old yarn. So I buy his soap. The night before another washed out specimen I could have knocked out with my little finger pushed matches at me as I was going into the Institute; I said Well they'll always come in handy, I suppose; & gave him 2d for a box. He looked at me doubtfully – 'Well, it's more than they're worth you know' he said. 'But I've been in the infirmary for 15 months, & I don't know what I'll do if I have to walk round all night'. I thought a bit & then chased after him & asked him how many more boxes he had & gave him 6d for the last one, & he just stood & gazed at me as if I had been the Lord God Almighty. Fair dinkum, when a bloke gets that low it's time they had a change in the country. Another white-faced cove sits in the street down Kingsway all day with his chest covered with medals & knits kids caps & socks for a living, & a wife & Lord knows how many children. And up in Birmingham a crowd of working women got together & signed a petition for a birth-control clinic or free access to knowledge of same or something … & the Bishop of Birmingham rose in his blasted episcopal righteousness & damned the life out of them.72
He wrote of the knitting ex-serviceman in a poem, 'The veteran', published in the New Zealand Times:73
Pale face, breast medalled, ancient threadbare coat
In the wet street perpetually he sits,
While half the unheeding world roars round and past,
Moving with rapid fingers, still he knits.
Ill written sign – 'to keep a wife and child' –
This is the old unending end of man;
With sharpened anxious features strained and set
The instrument works out the given plan.
Bright-coloured wools, a red, a blue, a green,
Childs' caps and socks, the ordinary things,
With hands that may have killed he knits and knits –
A street where no one smiles and no bird sings.
Characteristic of much of the verse which he was writing prolifically – it was a more literary age than today – it lacks the life and immediacy of his letters. It provided an opportunity, however, to earn a guinea or two from the New Zealand Times, as had his article 'Going Home', which they had published a little earlier.74That opportunity disappeared with the demise of the paper shortly afterwards.
After the Unitarian Church and the Free Discussions Club, John reacted strongly to the Established Church: 'so far as I can see the only religion that will be any use in the long run will be a secular religion, if you can have such a thing', he wrote, after reading C.E.M. Joad on the subject in Thrasymachus, or, The Future of Morals. 'Dress it up if you like & get emotion behind it, but make it a force for & in this world & keep it in this world … Meanwhile about the only reason I can see for the existence of parsons is that it is a polite way of giving mental deficients the dole',75 a comment clearly intended to shock Auntie Win. In the early months of 1927 and again the following year, the subject 'of most hectic and lengthy controversy'76 was the revision of the Prayer Book. John followed it closely with a kind of fascinated horror – 'the most extraordinary argument! the most extraordinary people!'77 – and cut out the reports from the Times to send home to his father.
For his first Christmas in England, having called off a trip to Paris with Lorrie Richardson for financial reasons, John accepted an invitation to stay with the Johnson family in Manchester – 'a filthy hole, dirtier than London'.78 His brother Keith had come to know the Johnsons while he was working and training as an engineer in the Vickers Metropolitan factory there and had fallen for their elder daughter Fronnie (Frances), who was planning to follow him out to New Zealand at the end of February. John had already met Fronnie when she was down staying with an uncle and aunt in Rugby, and visiting them he had had his first taste of the English countryside, 'so neat & clean & trim & well arranged'. 'Father Johnson' was a Unitarian minister who described himself as a 'Christian imperialist' ('I asked him if the two things were entirely compatible, but he didn't have any doubts on the point'79) and had a passion for the poetry of Walt Whitman. While he did not seem 'at all backward about his own knowledge & accomplishments', the rest of the family, in John's eyes, seemed 'pretty comprehensively ignorant for such a father'.80 John, remarkably, was almost overwhelmed with the eating and drinking: 'Christmas Eve was bad enough, but Christmas Day was disgusting', and it went on and on. Some of John's views rather page 99scandalised members of the extended Johnson family:
I went to church last night after an argument with Fronnie of considerable duration as to whether anybody's feelings would be hurt if I stayed away (unfortunately went to sleep during the sermon, but I was upstairs in a corner by myself so it didn't matter). Well, the organist like a silly ass, for a closing voluntary played the Hallelujah Chorus & the whole crowd stood up stock still in their pews; but I who had had to stand while he did the same thing the morning before hopped out & walked home. And letting this slip casually out, you never heard such a horrified outcry! Mrs J. quite paled. F's breath taken away. Father J's sister struck all of a heap. But this was nothing to the sensation caused when[,] the conversation having drifted via standing up generally & God Save the King & London customs in connection therewith, I had the face to suggest to Father J's sister's husband, who was going off in a paroxysm of more or less inarticulate admiration of the Br Empire that perhaps the said empire would come to an end some day from the instability of its social system, & added not with entire truth that I was a Socialist. They all paled distinctly & leapt from their chairs as if I had stuck a pin in all of them simultaneously … they all praise the Lord thankfully when Father Johnson says I'll grow out of it – he was worse than that once.81
John was in great demand to play the piano 'as a soloist & for songs (Watchman what of the night etc)' and learned, under protest, to play whist. He was taken to see Heaton Hall, formerly a stately home, now an art gallery with 'glorious watercolours of the Norwich school… Cox, Cotman, de Wint etc; & a fine house'. He had a day's tramp in the Peak District with Fronnie and some neighbours, and had a look at Manchester University and the John Rylands Library. 'Studying the bourgeoisie' took up so much time that he was able to read very little apart from Dean Inge's England; 'acute in some places but in others extraordinarily prejudiced or extraordinarily ignorant, & now & again both. Very rocky on imperial problems & the dominions.'82 After a fortnight he returned to London with some relief and mixed feelings about his future sister-in-law.
If the account he wrote to his parents was characteristically lively and full of cracks at almost everyone's expense, especially that of his brother Keith, his letters to Elsie make it clear that his first Christmas so far from home had left him very homesick. On Boxing Day he wrote her a 'special little letter', fifteen pages devoted to telling her how much he loved her. Their letters, in the time since John had sailed, had left them both unsettled and anxious. Elsie, less demonstrative of her feelings, must at times have felt overwhelmed by John's flow of words in letters and verse. He urged her to read page 100Emerson's 'Give All to Love'; 'if you haven't it at home you can get it in the Oxford Book of English Verse, which is in the V.U.C. Library',83 but he wrote out one verse anyway. She was also to read '"To Meet, or Otherwise" in Hardy's Collected Poems p 292 … It is a Stunner, & as soon as I read it I thought, Well, I agree with that, & not a minute I spent with E. has been wasted.' He wrote of the times they had had together, especially tramping; for her birthday on 15 January he had bought a small manuscript book at Bumpus's into which he copied all the poems he had written to her and a number of others which he believed she liked, and he had posted this early in December. He enthused about the views on love and marriage of Dora Russell (at that time married to Bertrand Russell) and urged Elsie to read her, quoting from her book Hypatia:
To live with vigour, body & mind & imagination, without fear or shame or dread of death; to drive these baser passions from the hold they have upon our morality & our politics – this is what we ask of modern men & modern women. They can come to it only in reckless love of one another, a passion that gives again & again without fear of hurt or exhaustion.
John found this 'very noble'. 'I should like to think we loved each other like that, & I think we could – don't you?'84 What could Elsie have said in reply? He recommended Marie Stopes's Married Love and Wise Wedlock and sang the praises of Holland, where 'they have proper govt. teaching on birth-control; & consequently they have a much better educated & sensible & truly moral people there than anywhere else'. He was full of ideas on how much a married couple needed to live on; he was anxious that Elsie should visit and get to know his mother. He was clearly missing her dreadfully and wanted above all for some certainty about when she would follow him to England. Elsie did not find it easy to respond. She remained uncertain, conscious of the differences in their backgrounds: were they too great? could she match John's intellectual interests? was he not making new friends with whom he would have much more in common? There was perhaps nothing remarkable in this emotional turmoil for two people in love and twelve thousand miles apart. A return of letters took well over two months. What was remarkable about John and Elsie was the amount they wrote and the importance of the letters in their lives. This, as much as what was said, tells us how much they meant to each other at that time.
It is difficult now to recapture that sense of distance between New Zealand and Britain, and the dependence on letters to bridge the gap. Time and again in his letters both to Elsie and to his parents page 101John waxes eloquent on the shortcoming of the postal system. After four months in London, he wrote to his parents:
The ultimate mystery to me is the way the NZ mail behaves. Now if you want a fit subject on which to exercise your noble pen in the columns of the Evening Post, here is a chance for you. I don't believe I've got it on the same day in the week more than three or four times since I got here. In the first month or so I gathered that Thursday was the normal day for it to arrive, since when it has come on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday & Saturday – once it came on the preceding Tuesday, but on the other occasions from two to five days later. What happens this week? I hadn't had a mail since my last Saturday in [Manchester]; so naturally I looks in the Times on Wednesday expecting to see 'Incoming Mails: Tomorrow: NZ' Nothing. I looks in on Thursday – Nothing. I looks in on Friday. 'Saturday Jan 22. N.Z.' Saturday morning I leap out of bed & tear downstairs to the hall table. Nothing. I get into a tube & blow down to the Bank of N.Z. (a) to draw a cheque (b) to look for mail. Notice up 'NZ mail due on Monday Jan 24'. On these occasions if Duncan happens to be with me he draws his hat down close over his ears & walks hurriedly in the other direction.85
In London again after Manchester, he got back to work in the Record Office and the British Museum. Newton was improving in John's estimation; 'an extraordinary range of knowledge, & he puts it across well',86 though he lacked a sense of humour, 'a bit portentous with all his virtues, & he generally misses the point if you say anything flippant at one of his seminars'.87 Newton had visited New Zealand and admired Dr Hight, who taught history at Canterbury, but on hearing that John had been taught by F.P. Wilson he gazed at him 'in a quizzical sort of way "I should say that you've had rather a rough row to hoe in your history" he said'.88
At the imperial history seminar which Newton ran for research students at the Institute of Historical Research, John was meeting a number of interesting fellow students, most of them 'colonials or yanks'; 'the English high-brow girls I have met give me the pip, & the men on the whole aren't much of an improvement; give me a Boer or an Aussie any day.'89 The 'Boer' was Cornelis Willem de Kiewiet (de K or Dickie). Born in Holland, he spent his youth in South Africa and graduated from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in 1923. He then taught for two years in Southern Rhodesia and, when he and John met, he was already well into his thesis on British relations with the South African republics in the 1850s and 1860s. They found they had much in common. 'He has enlightened views on diet, so I gather', John reported to his page 102parents, '& politics & quite a number of things'. 'We seem to talk the heavenly bodies in & out of the sky more nights than not.'90 The 'yanks' were a 'charming Canadian girl of sense & intelligence', Adelaide MacDonald, who in her passion for Jane Austen rivalled John's mother and, what was more, 'she approves of buying books',91 and an American, Helen Allen. An English member of the seminar and assistant librarian at the institute, Harry Ross, also made the grade. With Duncan and McGrath (who after a critical survey of schools of architecture had decided to study practical bricklaying and plumbing at the Brixton school of building, and in any time left over to go to a wood engraving class at the Westminster school of art), they formed a congenial and lively circle.
John and Duncan 'decided to have a party', he reported to his parents in March:
so we bought 1¾d worth of milk extra (½ pint) for cocoa & a bob's worth of biscuits & 21 crumpets; & 4 pennorth of chocolates which we ate before the party started. The personnel was my cobbers mostly from the Institute & it was a noble stroke in the cause of amity between nations; they were de Kiewiet (S.Africa) Ross (England) Miss MacDonald (Canada) Miss Allen (U.S.A.) added to which we had Duncan (Australia) & me (N.Z.) We had an uproarious time swapping national jokes; & when the time came for supper you would have been speechless in admiration at the organisation I evolved. The two girls toasted the crumpets & batted in the butter; Ross, being an Englishman & comparatively helpless watched the milk to see it didn't boil over & tried to warm a plate for the crumpets simultaneously, with the result that the milk very nearly did boil over; Duncan & I made my patent brand of cocoa, & de K, being a canny lad & a true colonial got out of the way & down on the biscuits.92
The socialising continued. Helen Allen, who lived in the same house as Adelaide, had a piano in her rooms. As always, John was called on to play. Helen, another great writer of verse, shared John's passion for Bach and many of his intellectual interests. The group as a whole became very close, giving one another moral support, reading one another's draft chapters, and later on proofreading theses and sharing the anxiety of all research students: would there be a job at the end of it all?
During the Easter break John and Duncan went to Bristol to a National Union of Students Congress which had the ostensible theme of the Art of Life. They were not impressed:
From the point of view of intellectual stir-up, it was a sheer wash-out … D & I, in our poor benighted colonial ignorance, & thinking we'd page 103be up against mighty men if it came to a row, put in all the time we could mugging up Havelock Ellis & the Bertrand Russells … But jingo! a milder mannered, more conventional, stick in the mud thoroughly respectable English gathering you never saw. 350 of them there were, of whom perhaps ten had any guts. I must say these ten or so were pretty good in a way; spoke very well, & had cheerful grins, & had travelled a good bit, & could clap at the right time in a speech in French or German, but I didn't hear a single new idea there … Certainly I got the impression that the average English student is no more bright nor brainy nor throbbing with modernity & unplumbed depths of agonising thought than the average NZ student; though that is not to be taken as a compliment to the N.Z. student.93
The guest speakers were a mixed lot. Bertrand Russell was pretty good but said nothing new, Margaret Bondfield very good, Lady Astor 'a great disappointment … a perfectly hopelessly muddled mind'. She 'came down like a ton of bricks' on Duncan when he said his favourite form of leisure was lying in the sun – 'just pandering to the body', in Lady Astor's view. John's greatest obloquy was kept for Sir John Reith: 'if you ever want to get the real dinkum repulsively sanctimonious brand of business-success talk you couldn't apply to a better man than Sir J. Reith.'
There were social events, dances (to which John did not go), folk-dancing, 'fiercely denounced by the modernists' (to which he also did not go), a concert in which he supplied 'the brass, woodwind & percussion on the piano in Beethoven's Prometheus overture' and 'managed to start & finish triumphantly with the rest of the scratch orchestra'. Conference excursions took them to the Cheddar Gorge ('hailing too hard to see anything much'), the caves and Cheddar itself, which he thought 'hopelessly vulgarised, like every other village in this hopeless country by yellow signs & advertisements on all the houses for Pratt's motor spirit & other curses of civilization', and to Wells, Glastonbury and Bath, which made a more favourable impression.
Back in London, John, Duncan and McGrath all bought bicycles, talked of for some time, at Selfridge's: £5 7s 'for a mangle painted green weighing ½ ton, complete with bell, carrier, oil-can, pump, lamp, insurance policy & guarantee for 50 years'.94 After several trial runs he set off at Easter for the Peak District of Derbyshire with Lorrie Richardson. They were away for eleven days, covering about 375 miles on their bikes and getting in four days' good hard tramping. 'By jingo! It was a good trip, & a great relief to get into the open & look rough again.' They slept out, pitching their tent under hedges or stone walls, selecting, on principle, spots where page 104trespassers were firmly forbidden. John was warming to the English countryside and its villages and to Norman and Early English churches but, he sadly concluded, 'Grouse appear to be the most important thing in England, the peak & apex up to which the whole of western civilisation works'.95 Returning south they called at Cambridge ('I never saw anything more beautiful than some parts of Cambridge') and met with Jack Yeates, who was leaving to return to New Zealand in June. 'We did our best to convince him that he was committing intellectual suicide, but in vain.' They camped at Grantchester and looked around Rupert Brooke's Old Vicarage. Then back to London, to opera, plays, concerts and work.
John's musical experience was broadening. In January he had been to a production of Wagner's The Mastersingers by the British National Opera Company. 'They don't go in for highly-paid stars' but 'it was good enough for me, in my first modest introduction to Wagner'. Then after Easter he went to Tristan and Isolde at Covent Garden, 'straight from the P.R.O. [Public Record Office] at ½ past 4 & by queuing up then got quite a good seat for 3/- in the gods. The show started at 7'.96 He judged it first-rate, some of the greatest stuff he had ever heard. Sigrid Onegin sang Brangane – 'so there is one ambition of my life fulfilled, to hear her in the flesh' – and the other singers were mostly up to her standard. His only regret was that it was the last performance and he cursed himself afterwards for not going two or three times. 'I must get a piano score, I think, & work at it properly.' To mark the centenary of Beethoven's death, the Léner Quartet were playing all his quartets and John got to four of the recitals, 'but the music is so highbrow that it is pretty hard going when you haven't heard any of it before, especially after a series of late nights & a few hundred West Indian dispatches'.97 After a London Symphony Orchestra concert, at which he had a seat behind the orchestra, he reported on Sir Thomas Beecham's conducting:
He is a big cove with a singular assortment of mannerisms; conducts without a single score & in the slow movements without a baton; smiles in a peculiarly pleased way when anything particularly pleases him & purses up his lips & hisses horrifiedly when anything is too loud. He stops conducting altogether sometimes & just lets the orchestra go on … Cripes, though! he delivers the goods.98
The bikes continued to be put to good use as summer advanced. One Sunday John, Duncan and McGrath rode down into Kent via Greenwich, where McGrath pointed out the fine points of Wren's Greenwich Hospital which later became the Royal Naval College. After tea at Shoreham in a garden 'full of gorgeous tulips page 105& flowering fruit trees'99 – but no mention of Samuel Palmer, whom John discovered only some time later – they had a three-hour ride back into London. Two weeks later it was Surrey, and then at Whitsun weekend, at the beginning of June, John and Lorrie Richardson went down to Kent again, taking Harold Holt, who had turned up in London ten days earlier after spending over a year working and travelling in North America. 'Harold hadn't been near a bike for about 10 years, & as we did about 150 miles or more in the two days we nearly killed him.'100 They visited Canterbury and had a good look over the cathedral. John was struck by the glorious stained glass and magnificent organ, but other comments of his rather shocked his mother with their irreverence. That evening they 'hopped over a fence & camped in some bird's park' a few miles on from Canterbury. The next day they visited Dover ('a rotten place, with a notice on one side of a pier Bathing Males only & one on the other side Bathing Females only; so we spat on it & left') and Folkestone on the way back to London. 'A great trip … to celebrate which I had 2d of geyser & a hot bath.' John was discovering Edward Thomas's England of villages and countryside, of a man-made and age-old landscape. 'The country outside London is very beautiful … when you get to it; I must say I like the English civilised type of beauty very much, as contrast to the ruggedness of NZ, but the trouble is that London keeps spreading like a cancer'.101
The term finished at the end of May. 'Just remember', John wrote to his parents, 'that even now I am the greatest living authority on colonial governors' instructions in the last ¼ of the 18th & the first ½ of the 19th century, even if to be such is of no conceivable use whatever.'102 On 2 June he left for Holland with Helen Allen and Adelaide MacDonald. They landed in Rotterdam, had a day in The Hague and then, met up with de Kiewiet in Amsterdam. Amsterdam struck John as the most beautiful city he had yet seen, 'full of a quiet dignity, very green & well-mannered & charming'.103 From there they went to Antwerp and then Brussels. Everywhere the art galleries made a great impression. Early in the year he had enthused about an exhibition of Flemish art at the Royal Academy in London; accompanying it had been a small exhibition at the British Museum of Flemish illuminated manuscripts and miniatures: 'Glorious things', John reported, 'it would be worth a cove's while to take a trip to England purely to see these.'104 He bought Roger Fry's Flemish Painting on its publication. Now in the Mauritshuis in The Hague he found 'some very good Vermeers … I have contracted a love for Vermeer, & Rembrandt's Anatomy lesson which is a great page 106thing.'105 The Rijks Museum in Amsterdam had Rembrandt's Night Watch, 'certainly one of the most magnificent things I have ever seen, & four Vermeers, some of the most exquisite, & many other Rembrandts & Lord knows what else beside – a perfect orgy'. In Bruges he was struck by Van Eyck and Memling. 'There's something very satisfying about these primitive birds, in spite of their sameness of subject; but my word, brilliance of painting!' The painters John admired were largely those he already knew from books at home; what excited him was the brilliance of the originals compared with the reproductions he had grown up with. He had yet to discover painters who were new to him, and especially those working at that time.
The group was proving very congenial. 'My travelling companions are very bright,' John reported to Elsie, 'though Dicky bores me occasionally with accounts of his soul & his views on women.'106 He thoroughly approved of Helen's 'low-bred sense of humour highly shocking in an otherwise cultivated American lady'.
At Antwerp they had a programme of pictures and museums mapped out but, getting to the Plantin-Moretus Museum ('a wonderful place') first of all, they ended up by staying all day. It was the establishment of the sixteenth-century printer Plantin, which had continued as a family business until the end of the nineteenth century, when it was sold to the government for a museum and then restored and kept as it had been in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
It is a big square, with a courtyard in the middle, two stories & three at one end; living-rooms, offices, warehouse, proof-readers' 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-corrected, accounts etc, just as if the place had been cleaned up for Sunday & the family were out for the day. Marvellous place … very hard … to drag oneself away from.107
John's fascination with and enthusiasm for printing were a foretaste of things to come.
After Brussels (wonderful patisseries noted, and the Palais de Justice, 'the most atrocious erection on earth next to the Albert Memorial') they stayed one night in Cologne and spent all the time they had there in and around the cathedral. 'It's something to have page 107lived to have seen this Cathedral.'108 For once John was at a loss for words: 'it's simply no use trying to describe it. It's the sort of thing you dream about … I'll merely remark that to visit Cologne Cathedral is an emotional experience of the first magnitude & leave it at that.' He was to see the cathedral next in 1955, bombed and largely destroyed, a wrenching reminder of its breathtaking past. They left Cologne for Coblenz with many regrets, spent a day on a paddle steamer travelling up the Rhine to Mainz, and then caught a train to Heidelberg. There, in a bookshop, John and de Kiewiet discovered a great series of facsimile reproductions of etchings and woodcuts. 'Rembrandt & Durer & all the rest of them; absolutely stunner reproductions, & dirt cheap … We got a good many between us, but when we get to Munich we are going to have a regular orgy.'
After a perfect day in Heidelberg, they found their way to Neustadt, a small town in the Black Forest, 'one of the luckiest chances of the whole trip'. The pubs were full but with the help of 'numerous bright children who tore all over the place with great excitement & zeal'109 they were able to get two rooms in two private houses 'among the most charming people imaginable'. John was totally won by the place. 'I have never seen a more pleasant, good-natured, smiling country, & the people fit it.'110 They spent three nights there and left most reluctantly. 'Our two old ladies coyly presented us with button holes of carnations & many smiles; & we shook hands most feelingly & said Aufwiedersehen with the utmost emotion. They were dear people & gave us bed & breakfast for about 2/6 a time. We were slaughtering their sons & grandsons a little while ago.' John's father was moved by the last comment to observe: 'were they not, or their people, slaughtering our sons and grandsons also a little while ago?'111
Then Zurich, and on to Innsbruck, which was
surrounded by the most magnificent hills on all sides; & the streets are full of shorts & hob-nailed boots & the shops of boots & shoes & swags & rope & ice-axes & other desirable things … Other things that are cheap here are beer & liqueurs – Chartreuse 10d a bottle. But as you are not the experts in these things that I am I shall draw a judicious & tactful veil. I wish I could do a bit of climbing round here, but alas! & alas! We are leaving tomorrow night for Vienna, which I am told is the finest city in the world.112
Vienna disappointed – 'since the war the life has gone out of the place'113 – with the exception of the bookshops and the coffee topped with whipped cream – 'perfectly marvellous, nay peerless stuff'.114 page 108They visited Schönbrunn, the summer palace of the Habsburgs, 'interesting historically & for its park … but for sheer brutal vulgarity you never saw anything like its interior decorations'.115 John bought a new pair of spectacles, the best Zeiss glass, for 9/-. They had horn rims in contrast to the steel rims he had worn until then. The rest of the party thought them 'very classy'. They moved on to Munich, where they spent a week and wished it was a month. Accommodation was cheap but it was made an expensive week by the price of food (3s or 3s 6d for a meal) and the opera. Beer, on the other hand, was cheap: 'you could get enough beer to drown in for a few pfennigs – gone are the days when under the influence of my Primitive Methodist aunts & other relatives I engaged with ardour in prohibition campaigns' – this was John writing to Elsie.116 A festival of Wagner and Mozart was on. Adelaide shouted the party to Parsifal (magnificently done) to celebrate having got a job at Toronto University. They shouted themselves to Tristan, and two each went to the Marriage of Figaro and to the Magic Flute; John found the Magic Flute disappointing, saved in his view only by 'the overture and about three good songs'. He bought the scores of Tristan and Parsifal and The Mastersingers. There were more museums, more galleries. 'You can see', John wrote, 'that I am absorbing art like a sponge.' But a critical note entered:
What gets me down about the picture galleries in Europe is the vast wall-spaces 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 … It's about time some public-spirited curator rolled up his sleeves & had a bonfire. Munich would be an admirable place to start.117
He left Germany enormously impressed with the country and the people. '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.'118
The party broke up in Paris. John stayed for a fortnight with Harry Espiner, his old Victoria College friend, who had been there for five years and was a year off finishing his French doctorate. Boyd-Wilson had offered him a job back at Victoria, but his own view, shared by John, was that he would be a fool to go back. 'The only reason any NZer I have met over here, bar Yeates & Holt, wants to go back', John wrote, 'is to see his people, & even Holt is succumbing to the attractions of civilization.'119 They went to Rouen for three days, which they found very picturesque and full of memories of Joan of Arc, who was imprisoned and burned there. page 109'The oldest houses go back to about the 15th century. Not very sanitary of course, but that doesn't matter a curse to the French, sanitation being a subject to which they do not seem to have turned the national attention with any great ardour as yet.'120 There was a fine cathedral, and some magnificent glass – '& let me tell you I have got the stained-glass bug pretty badly'.
Back in Paris, he visited the Louvre for the fourth time and discovered that he had still seen only about an eighth of it. Whistler's portrait of his mother, in John's view, 'bears comparison with anything in the whole place', Holbein's portrait of Erasmus was 'first-rate', he found more of his favourite Flemish primitives and a good Vermeer, but what thrilled him most was the Winged Victory. He bought some more books – though at 125 francs or just over a pound he decided Ulysses was too expensive – and had to borrow a suitcase from Espiner to get them back to London, together with a quarter-litre of Curaçao for Adelaide's farewell party and a little bust of Voltaire, for five francs, 'to which I pray every night'. The fares for the trip had cost just over £13.
In London, he returned to Canadian constitutional history and Earl Grey's defence of the colonial policy of Lord John Russell's administration; to the Proms, 'going steadily along with great success & biting criticism from Ernest Newman';121 to more theatre and to enjoying life with his friends. One Saturday John visited the Wallace Collection with Helen Allen, after which she, Harold Holt, Lorrie and de Kiewiet met at Brunswick Square for tea. After a lengthy meal they adjourned to Helen's flat, where John 'performed on the piano with great vim' and they 'swapped travel yarns & sociological & political discussion & jokes & other lies'. Thrown out of there ('no noise after 10'), they returned to Brunswick Square for a 'discussion on typewriters with practical demonstrations by de K', who was in the process of typing his thesis. The next day John and Lorrie got out their bikes and 'blew down into Surrey for the day'. Two weeks before this, John and Duncan had ridden to St Albans to see the abbey. Harold left to return to New Zealand, 'cursing his fate & his lack of money'. His views had changed remarkably in the three or four months he had had in Britain.
Others were arriving, among them Bill Joliffe, on his way to Edinburgh University, and Dick Campbell, who enrolled at the LSE and found himself a room next to the House of Lords 'so as to be on the spot in moments of crisis'. He reported that the New Zealand Labour Party's great grievance was that Coates (for whom he had worked as private secretary) was 'taking away all their grievances, page 110somewhat to the alarm of Coates' own party'.122 Campbell was quickly absorbed into John's circle of friends, and they began their 'Winter Salon season' with a party which sparked more than any party John had ever known.
Present Miss Allen, Messrs Campbell, de Kiewiet, Duncan, Espiner [over from Paris], Ross, me. Refreshments, one large & thrilling cake provided by Mrs D.E. & Miss Beaglehole & sent over per R.M.C., wiv tuppences in it (including one Australian, therefore no good for English circulation & only good for charity); my celebrated cocoa, cider, Curaçao. Discussion: the late war, the peace, Lloyd George, dairy control, America, Dick Seddon, Bobby Stout, the weather, Pres. Wilson, presidential prospects in the U.S., foreign policy of Ramsay MacDonald, Raglan election, ducal tours, Billy Hughes, family endowment, S. African flag, Ph.Ds, the School, the Institute, distinguished profs, relative merits of lecturers, & other subjects. They are a bright lot. But these clear headed economists like Duncan & Campbell put the wind up me when they get going properly; they know everything, & they always argue straight to the point, & they have memories like magnets & they talk brilliantly. However I as host only had to sit back & cut the cake & make the cocoa & say What's yours? in an ingratiating tone.123
Campbell was making his mark with the New Zealand High Commissioner. 'As Jimmy Parr said to Campbell, on his return from Geneva as official NZ delegate in the cause of peace & international understanding "You know, I don't trust any of these foreigners".'124
The news of the composition of the party for the European tour had been received by John's parents with a certain disquiet. With his mother, at least, he had been fairly open about his feelings for Elsie, and Elsie had visited her a number of times since John's departure. Where, they wished to know, did things now stand? The reply, in John's third letter after getting back to London, was characteristic, if hardly straightforward:
Daddy wants a respectful answer to some very delicate queries as to my degree of intimacy with various ladies. Well now this subject is indeed such an intimate one that I don't know whether I am justified in answering it at all, in however respectful a manner, let alone in a letter that I suppose will be food for general consumption. I make no remark on the highly indelicate nature of the inquiry. That a father should endeavour so to tyrannise over the Soul of his son is indeed a dreadful warning of the fact that the 19th century is still with us. Turn but a stone, & start a swing. I might refer him to the Way of all Flesh & ask pertinently, does he wish to see me (a) in prison (b) running a 2nd hand clothing shop, with a wife secretly on the drink? I might ask, why should I, a man of London, Viennese, & Parisian experience, let page 111alone Wellingtonian, be subject to the ordinary shackles of life, let alone leading questions from his parents. I might say, Is this right, is it just, is it generous? I might demand, how would you like it if your son turned round & said, What did that lady call you when you trod on her toes the umpteenth time at the Savage Club Ladies Night After Entertainment Dance? I might demur, Well, this is the sort of intimate attack on my morals I am accustomed to get from Fronnie but to think that a Father should ever treat me thus! I might plead the hot blood of youth & let it go at that, proudly & contemptuously. I might say in the sacred words of J.E. Flecker 'I am Don Juan curst from age to age, By priestly tract & sentimental stage' etc. I might lose my temper & exclaim Well upon my heart & soul this is too much! But I do none of these things. I answer as respectfully as possible, with dignity, with a certain cold reserve possibly, but as one who knows his place & how to address a Father. Let me say therefore that Yes, I am on fairly familiar terms with all my friends, including the lady ones; that the girls I have left behind me are neither forgotten nor discarded, but temporarily in abeyance; that it is off with no old loves, or alternatively, however off with old loves it may be it is on with no new ones, though possibly a more elastic definition of 'loves' might bring a different answer. To the remark on the disregarding of the usual conventions I answer What conventions? And further ask for a definition of the words 'disregard' & 'usual'. And for all further information on my philosophy of social-relationships I refer you to the broadminded tolerance & wide understanding of Auntie.125
Not letting it go at that, John added that he had invited Helen Allen to go with him on a visit to his Uncle George and family: 'she pointed out that on the whole it might be unwise to cause a scandal either in Trimley St. Mary or NZ, to the force of which reasoning I was of course bound to agree. But you will see that I am quite unscrupulous in intention, even if practical considerations do hold me back.' The letter concluded, 'With love from your very respectful son'. The enquiry was not repeated.
De Kiewiet finished his thesis in October. John rallied round in the last stages. 'I went up to his place one afternoon at 5 p.m. & left at ¼ to 4 next morning – we both worked straight through, he typing & I proof-reading & correcting, with 5 minutes off now & again for teas & 1.30 toast, & an occasional doubtful story.'126 His own work was progressing well and he expected to finish at the Record Office in December and to start writing in the Christmas vacation. All his 'bright particular historical cobbers' would have left by the end of the following summer and he was thinking of trying to get his own thesis written by June; 'even if I don't put it in then, I shall have it off my mind, except for revising, & have the page 112summer free'. Besides, he wanted to finish reading Jane Austen.127 He had 'at last' made a start with Pride and Prejudice when staying with the Butlers at Trimley in September, 'after which I may say that I feel for Jane Austen almost the reverence I feel for Conrad'.128 He told Elsie what a pleasant surprise the news would be for his mother: 'you must know that to Mrs D.E. Beaglehole Miss Austen is practically Bible, guide-book & tram ticket in one. If she was lost on a desert island she'd say give me Jane Austen & a bag of wholemeal flour & I'll be content.'
He decided that Newton was becoming quite polite to him, and
… it almost looks as if when de K goes I shall take his place as the white-headed boy. I won't mind if I can dig another schol out of it. There is stacks of work to do if only you can get the chance of doing it. I could put in about 20 years very nicely doing a history of British colonial policy since 1783; & it's easy work compared to poetry.129
What's more, he wrote, 'though this may be unpardonable conceit, I think I can write a darn sight better than any colonial historian I have come across over here.'130 He had read J.S. Marais's The Colonisation of New Zealand, just published by the Oxford University Press, as well as A.J. Harrop's England and New Zealand (Methuen, 1926), and was clearly irritated. Marais had written the book that he had meant to write and, he clearly believed, 'if Messrs Harrop & Marais had got out of the way, the job would have been done a lot better'.131
Dick Campbell lent John a copy of the New Zealand Parliamentary Debates with the report of the debate on the second reading of the War Disabilities Removal Bill, which would bring to an end the civil penalties still placed on conscientious objectors after the war. John was horrified at the narrow-minded intolerance of many of the speakers opposing the Bill, especially that of the Hon. G.J. Garland, an Auckland member of the Legislative Council since 1918, who had argued that Germany remained hostile to the rest of Europe and only her circumstances prevented further aggression. With memories of his time in Germany still fresh, John wrote a 2000-word letter to the editor of the Evening Post. It showed his growing skills as a writer. He began with the politicians: 'On the question of the immediate or remote causes of the war it would ill become a mere historian to argue with a Legislative Councillor. And on the psychology of present-day Germany a Dominion politician is doubtless the repository of ultimate wisdom.' He continued with an almost lyrical description of the visit to Neustadt, the village seemingly growing out of the land with its surrounding hills and its cheerfully companionable people, page 113the two charming old ladies who provided his party with rooms and were so desolated to see them leave.
Come back, they said, and we will teach you the Schwarzwald accent! There is nothing, we said that we want to do in this world so much as to come back to Neustadt! Auf wiedersehen! said our charming old ladies. Auf wiedersehen! said we, wringing their hands, and set off down the hill to the station. Neither they nor the thousands of other hardworking, modest, friendly people we met in Germany, in trains, on the streets, in parks, in galleries, in third and fourth class railway carriages, seemed to nourish any insatiate desire to fly at our quite defenceless throats.
John wrote of the German students he had met in London, 'clearheaded, unaffected, passionately interested in a more adequately organised world', before ending, rather bitterly, with a comment on the lack of understanding and imagination, of generosity, on the part of his fellow-countrymen revealed in the debate, 'which to any travelled New Zealander who has observed with candour, who has thought sincerely and dispassionately, makes any country rather than New Zealand his spiritual home'.
McGrath thought it was the best thing John had written, de Kiewiet typed it out for him and, somewhat to his surprise, the Post published it.132 It was reprinted in the New Zealand Worker133 and later in Spike.134 John's parents reported favourable comments. Hunter thought it a 'very fine effort'; Peter Fraser, member of parliament for Wellington Central, wrote to express his appreciation;135 and years later Eric McCormick remembered how he had read it in Spike and first became aware of John as a writer.136
John's view of New Zealand was not improved when he visited the New Zealand High Commission:
The place is full of what I will not, for politeness sake, call lying circulars, but may perhaps describe as publications projecting a rose-tinted view of life in the Britain of the South for the emigrant & retired army-officer. 'Yes', says one of the lady staff in my hearing to an anxious enquirer, 'You'll find that every town has a first-class girls' school absolutely first-class.' At which I said to myself, My oath! & left.137
With November, winter was closing in. 'The weather varies from bad to worse with occasional incursions into worst … the water in the morning pretty well gives you rigor mortis in your bath.' John and Duncan learned that they were known in the house as 'those cranky boys who have cold baths in the morning & whistle like parrots all day'.138 The concert season began again. There were more free recitals at St Martin's. The Léner Quartet gave a series of page 114six historical chamber music concerts for which John paid nineteen shillings for a season ticket; he once again went to Bach's B Minor Mass, this time performed by the St Michael's Singers. He heard Gustav Holst conducting the Royal Choral Society in his Hymn of Jesus, which John thought great stuff, and Pablo Casals play a Haydn concerto – 'he is the goods'. The London String Quartet played two of Beethoven's last quartets, which John confessed he hadn't 'got hold of yet'. The London String Quartet was a complete contrast to the Léner and pleasing for a change, 'masculine where the Léner is feminine, vigorous where the Léner is languishing'.139 He went out to Golders Green with Helen Allen to hear La Bohème, and The Mastersingers once again, put on by the British National Opera Company. Just before Christmas he took Duncan and McGrath along to the Messiah 'to pump some culture into them … Beecham, London Symphony Orchestra, two choirs combined … Beecham really transforms the thing'.140 At the theatre he saw an Old Vic production of The Taming of the Shrew with Sybil Thorndike and Lewis Casson, 'not a pleasant play but very well done', and also Strindberg's The Father which he found terrific, 'exceedingly gloomy but exceedingly good. Like other fathers.'141 Edith Evans in The Way of the World proved a great actress, the play a first-rate thing.142
The prospect of Christmas led to a laborious morning in Bumpus's choosing books for the family. Aunts were sent Christmas cards done by Berrie Butler. John also had the idea of having his own card printed, using one of his poems and a woodcut by McGrath. The printing was done by the Cambridge University Press, McGrath now being at Clare College and 'having them well under his influence'.143 He and John combed London to get paper they approved of, finally settling on 'a sort of Austrian semi hand made' they found at Selfridges. This cost '15/- for 100 sheets & envelopes to match. The printing only cost 8/-, so … I got 100 perfectly good Xmas cards for 2¾d each.'144 John chose a poem written at Innsbruck a few months earlier, the two last stanzas being:
The hills, the hills again! I come
From peaks that cut a southern sky –
How shall I see these wind-stripped rocks
And feel no stir, nor make one cry?
They stand, they lift the heart, they stand;
There is no tide of change that kills
The passionate companionship
Of the aloof, unheeding hills!
John had worked with printers in the days of editing Spike, but the collaboration with McGrath marked a further step in the development of his interest in what was to become a lifelong fascination with printing and typography. His parents were delighted: 'the finest thing of the kind I have seen', his father wrote.145
Newton pushed his students into having a seminar dinner. Arranged largely by Helen Allen and John it was a flash affair, costing four shillings each, held in a little place off Soho Square where they went right through from hors d'oeuvres via roast chicken to coffee. John played the piano. It left him with mixed feelings. Four shillings 'would cover 4 days' lunches at the Food Reform joint. I generally get a meal there for 11d these days & spend what I save at Bertorellis on the evening meal. The soup there is the best I've tasted since I left home.'146 Another four shillings went on Christmas dinner. He had decided to stay in London and get on with his writing, turning down an invitation to the Butlers. He and a group of young men went out to a pub McGrath was very keen on, for its architecture and situation, the Bedford Arms at Chorley Wood. Henning, whom John had not seen since they arrived in London, came over from Paris for the occasion and, as well as McGrath and Duncan, there were a friend of Henning's from Paris and three 'architectural cobbers' of McGrath's. The conviviality was such that John thought it wise largely to draw a veil over it in his letter home, 'or at least give a genteel version', while the success of the occasion led the group to gather again (at 21 Brunswick Square) to celebrate New Year's Day, to hire a harmonium for the week (a shock to John when it was delivered up the stairs), and to produce a typed programme, 'a somewhat esoteric document', which he sent home. On Christmas Day he also fitted in a 'flash Christmas supper' with Helen Allen, de Kiewiet and a Canadian student, and that completed his 'tale of debauchery – not half so long continued, solid, or wearing' as the previous year.147 Rather, he was able to do a fair amount of work.
Helped by Christmas money from home, he bought a new overcoat (his lady friends were making pointed comments about the one he had brought with him from Wellington) and also A.V. Dicey's The Law of the Constitution and Law and Opinion in England that he had long been wanting. He went to The Way of the World again, with McGrath and Henning: 'I could sit & listen to Edith Evans in the second act all night'. What was more, he was able to report to his mother that he had finished Emma and started on Sense and Sensibility.