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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 27 December 1926

page 1

My dear Mummy,

I am writing this from 19 Woodlands Rd
etc, where I am spending a week or so, gorging, & picking
up a good deal of piquant information about Keithles.
A very persistent lad, I gather, not without a good many
subterfuges which may have imposed on himself, but on
nobody else very much, unless perhaps Frannie. However
it would be a shame to shout these things around where
Auntie might hear them; I might get it back on myself
one of these days. I must say the yarn about the motor-
bike is not bad though — of course you know that Keithles
bought a motor-bike, on which he came merrily spinning
up the road regularly enough to 19 Wdlands Rd, home &
beauty, whence apparently Father Johnson chucked him out
about 11pm every night. The trouble was however that he
could never get the bike to start at that time; & after trund-
same up & down the road with loud roars & snorts
& puffing from bike & swearing from Keithles, he had to
go inside & announce that he couldn't get it to go. So
naturally being a good Christian family they had to let
him stay the night. Well, it wouldn't have mattered
once or twice; but it appears the neighbours began to com-
to Father Johnson, so he said, Well darn it all, the
lad had better stay there anyhow & cut out the
motor-bike stunt, as it didn't deceive anybody. anyhow So page 2
Keithles stayed & got the girl, who has always given her father
a good deal of cheek anyhow. The funny thing was that the
bike always went as good as gold in the morning. I've heard
a lot of yarns like that; but as I have said, I had better not
spread them around too widely for the honour of the family.
Still you would have thought that a cove who had parents &
brothers (or at least a brother) of the mental calibre of Keithles'
relations would have been able to vary the scheme a bit now
& then. But apparently it worked so well the first time that he
thought, Well here goes! This is easy! & didn't take any more
trouble. This proves that that he isn't an artist or he would
have tried something fresh occasionally just for the sheer joy
of creation. However as he was too busy to study (as Father
Johnson told me in his most significant way) no doubt he
didn't have much time for gratuitous exercise of his brain; &
having perceived his goal, went straight for it with an entire
absence of anything like a carefully thought out & coherent
plan. This of course may represent the characteristic genius
for muddling through, as Frannie succumbed to the onslaught.
He appears to have made himself fairly well-known in the district
while he was about, but I haven't heard of anyone else falling
in love with him. One thing I must object to, & that is
the striking likeness everybody professes to find between us, &
I may be under the necessity of telling off someone severely
before I leave; but up to now I have done my best to
radiate the Christmas spirit & turn the other cheek when
insulted. However there is a limit to that sort of thing, even
page 3 with a gentle unassuming sort of cove like me. Of course I
suppose you can expect the poor ignorant circumscribed stunted
souls in a place like Manchester to know much better. It is
a filthy hole, dirtier than London, which is just about putting
the lid on. Seven collars have I had to wear in seven
days & such is their hue after a couple of hours that they
would make a nigger's neck look pale.

I came up here on Thursday afternoon, leaving Duncan
behind with a large Christmas cake his cobbers in Sydney sent him
with instructions to share it with me, but I haven't any great hopes
that I'll get a look in by the time I get back. You see that
my fame has spread to Sydney & all his friends are enquiring
for a fuller account of my virtues & appearance, what colour eyes,
taste in socks etc. As long as they send him Christmas cakes it
doesn't matter. By the way, I hope Auntie Win's mysterious
parcel turns up all right by the time I get back, & that D.
hasn't scoffed it. Not that I should complain of having to go on
to a simple diet again — I have been longing for our simple but
satisfying meal of wholem. bread & figs & raisins ever since
I got here & began to be stuffed. If this crew is a representative
English family, no wonder they're the English are a [unclear: CS] nation.
Christmas Eve was bad enough, but Christmas Day was disgust-
. There were 15 or 16 people present altogether, & these pro-
to demolish about ½ ton of provender, including a
70 lb turkey, a ham & ?lbs of sausages, let alone the rest
of the stuff which I needn't particularise. By the time
Frannie & Betty & His Nibs had disposed of the washing up, a tri page 4
triumph of large scale organisation & expeditious handling, for
which I need not say how far I was responsible, it was time
to buzz next door to have tea, under which the massive
table groaned. The next door mob then came back, the exer-
of walking out of one door & into the other being necessary
to prepare for supper. Fair dinkum, what with the labour
of eating (we didn't get through the 1st course of dinner till ¼
to 3) opening umpteen cider bottles with a screwdriver, clearing
tables & washing up, starting motor-cars ( for it was me that
cranked up a car triumphantly that had been freezing outside for
8 hours or so with run down batteries), pounding the piano as a
soloist & for songs (Watchman what of the night etc), & giving all
manner of useful hints & tips, by the time I crawled up the stairs
to bed I was a tired man. And now that most pe of the crowd
are nearly back to normal we are all going in next door again
to night for a whist drive or something equally nonsensical &
damnable. Father Johnson kicked up a bit over this & reckoned
that he & Jack ought to be allowed to stay at home for a bit of in-
tellectual converse; but Mrs J. got going in the normal pained
motherly-wifely style that I know so well; so it looks as if
ou we are doomed. I hope to God I never have a wife who
goes all twittery at the idea of hurting the feelings of the neigh-
. Or the relatives. If I had known I should have thought
twice before coming up, but it can't be helped now. Perhaps
we shall be allowed to play ping-pong or something nice
like that. However I seem to have got off the subject of
feeding, which is perhaps just as well. I am not a bigot on page 5
this subject, as you know, & have not had much of a chance to
be a vegetarian since I left home, but swelp [sic: so help] me, if I had
to stand this sort of thing as a regular custom, I'd conk out
in no time. No wonder the kids are so unhealthy, either; they
are bogging in from morn to eve, with vigour, smacking of lips, &
loud cries. I'd soon settle their hash if I had charge of them.
They are not bad kids though apart from that. The other girl is
not a bad sort either. Sings & plays a bit, & the lad has quite a
good voice & uses it pretty well. Everybody (talking of th singing)
thinks Keithles had very good taste in the way of songs; which
speaks well for me, I think, as I picked most of th his for him.
But of course I didn't say so, being a modest sort of cove.
They think I've got very good taste too in music, so I just
let them think it's in the family generally, & let it go at
that. I needn't say anything about Father & Mother Johnson;
she runs around like a little sparrow, but doesn't seem to
have much control over anybody; while F.J. is the help-
less Eng. paterfamilias all right — doesn't so a hand's turn.
I had quite a chat with him on things generally the night I got
here; he thinks the Unitarian movement in this country is
dead, & he doesn't worry about him himself; so he isn't surprised
it has faded out in N.Z. He is barmy on Walt Whitman, &
informed me he knew him as few other men did; but very
few people know how to read WW. He then took down Leaves
of Grass
& proceeded to read me a few chunks, after which
I decided it was just as well. He then sug pushed a volume
of prose works, prefaces etc on me, & suggested I should page 6
read the same while I was here; so I said I should give it
a go. He doesn't seem at all backward about his own knowledge
& accomplishments, but he appears to have had a pretty interesting
life, knew Kropotkin & Baron von Hügel & all sorts of
coves. One of founders of Oxford Univ. Fabian Society etc etc.
His family seem pretty comprehensively ignorant for such a father;
but that may be characteristically English for all I know.
We have had a good bit of fun scandalising them together the
last couple of days. I went to church last night after an
argument with Frannie of considerable duration as to whether
anybody's feelings would be hurt if I stayed away (unfortun-
went to sleep during the sermon, but I was upstairs in
in a corner by myself so E it didn't matter). Hell, the
organist like a silly ass, for p 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 conversa-
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 for the Br Empire that per-
the said empire would come to an end some page 7
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. (Father
wasn't there then) And then we had a snorter ding-
dong argument. You ought to have heard Mrs J. & the
Father J's sister on socialists & the dole & Ramsay McacD &
A.J. Cook & the Bolsheviks & when they would be put in gaol;
while the husband leant forward earnestly & positively
interrupted me. However it wasn't much good, as none
of them had the vaguest idea what they were talking about;
but it evidently quite stirred them up as they all started
off again this morning at breakfast without a word from
me or a contribution from me & went merrily on in the
most satisfying way. The sister has a delightful sim-
somewhat reminiscent of R. Denton. What is
wrong with the social system? Nothing. Why are people
down & out, having to sell matches or themselves in London
streets? Drink. Why do they drink? Weak will. Q.E.D.
Dear, dear, it's an irrational world. The sister's husband
is a great old lad, retired something or other, benevolent
face if somewhat dull, bald head, deaf in one ear; he has a
great admiration for the Daily Mail because of its fine
principles, & regales me on English history from its pages.
His great hero is Oliver Cromwell, but he shouldn't have cut
off King Charles' head — he evidently feels about this strongly
as he repeated it several times during the day. Oh, they're page 8
a hummer crowd — a man needs a dictaphone going all
day to take it all down. This old lad thinks it is a great mis-
to give votes to all girls of 21; will mean the ruin
of the country; he rea thinks really men shouldn't get the vote
till they're 25, & then the country would be governed on sound,
lines. A man of 40, now, was able to give a really sound,
reliable, well-thought out, reasoned vote; I expressed some
doubt about this, & suggested cutting out the vote altogether, but
no, that would simply not do. Most illuminating views on the
Chinese problem too, & why Australia was colonised; all of which
he lays down with an air of quite infallible triumph — Well
well, I suppose all this hotch-potch is characteristic of the great
English middle-class, male & female; which accounts for a
great deal of our abnormal mess up of a history. No wonder a
cove like Shaw left them gasping like sick fish. And
yet, my oath! They've produced Shakespeare & Dr Johnson &
Keats! What a mix-up. The old lad doesn't bear me
any malice & pats me on the back paternally & they all
praise the lord thankfuly when Father Johnson says I'll
grow out of it — he was worse than that once.

We had some good fus fun before I came up here,
going to a few of the plays previously omitted; or rather to
some which had come on in their place. About the best
play I have seen was the Doctor's Dilemma done by the
MacDona Players; by gosh! it was a snorter — everybody
first rate without a single exception, the doctors most
extraordinarily well done, Dubedat excellent, Jennifer done page 9
by Gwen Ffrangçon Davies — by jingo! she is good. The old
doctor, & B.B. with the fruitiest voice imaginable, were the best
of the quacks — you never heard anything so magnificent as
"Stimulate the phagocytes!"! I think this crowd is doing
a whole season of Shaw in the New Year; they have some
farce or other on now, the Private Secretary, I think. Then
we went to The Would Be Gentleman run by Nigel Play-
at Hammersmith; the thing is made into a roaring
farce, & N.P's Jourdain is not much like Molière's; but
here again everybody was good; & the scenery & stage furni-
etc by Norman Wilkinson also extraordinarily
fine. He did a lot of the G & S stuff as well. The after-
noon after this we went to the Church House Westminster
to see the Coventry Nativity Play set to music by Rutland
, the Great Communist Composer — this was
another very good thing, done in modern dress & the three
wise men in academic gowns, Herod in flash evening dress
& top hat, his servants a Br. policeman & two soldiers; the
entrances & exits were all over the hall & the chorus crowd pranced
around all over the place. They put it across jolly well on
the whole. They had quite a small stage with Joseph's house,
& the manger & Herod's palace all stuck together like this
Sketch diagram of stage for production of Coventry Nativity Play
The angels had to be more or less idealised beings as far as
costume went, of course. Music unequal but on the whole
very good with one or two carols interwoven; He is pretty page 10
good at that sort of traditional stuff is R.B. all right.

28/12/26 I resume though I think I have really given you
most of the news to date. As far as plays go, we have two or
three up our sleeve yet — Peter Pan is on, — Treasure Island; while
I want to see also The White-Headed Boy & I have a mind to go
to the Country Wife to see what it's like; for while most of the
lads who write the critiques said it was indecent bosh, James
said, frankly it amused him very much. Likewise
we are going along to see a family of actresses McG knows as
soon as I get back, one of whom has one of the leading parts
in it, so I may be said to have a distantly personal interest
in the thing. The trouble is that the cheapest Criterion & Everyman
seats where these things are, are 3/- & 3/6, while we had
hummer seats for Shaw & Molère for 1/6 & 1/2; & when there
are so many pressing ways to dispose of cash it means a
considerable balancing of goods when you have got to keep within
£3 week. I reckon out £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.
These tiddly winking scholarships are no good.

I was dragged out to this party last night to the Tooley's next
door, but it proved not to be a whist affair — that is to be on the
5th Jan, when I shall have departed hence. Ping-pong & conversation
one or two songs & usual performance by me, rotten piano, out of
tune, notes so stiff that they wear you out in five minutes; but
as everybody talks all the while in the good old English way
it doesn't make any difference to the music. I had it explained page 11
to me that it was the English custom to talk during piano performances,
but songs were different; but I'm sure Jack doesn't mind! You
needn't worry — I didn't bring up the subject or complain in the
least. The English mind is in an intensely fascinating one to
study. I had another brawl at & after breakfast this morning
with Father J & Brother-in-Law; most illuminating. B in L told
me all about why the war started. The funny thing about the
lad is that he starts off always in the most completely self-depre-
way "If just an ordinary common man in the street might
say something" etc; & then proceeds to make the most amazing-
dogmatic statements about which there can be no possible argu-
whatever. There is a really delightful simplicity about the
old lad. He makes daring little sallies of long-ruminated humour
suddenly now & then leaps back & hugs himself with im-
appreciation. "John dear" says his wife "John dear, you
must let Jack say something now" So Jack says something
which sends the whole crew off again. But Father J. is the
bird for argument — you can't get a word in edgeways; & what-
word does manage to creep through the barrage is im-
fastened on & made the subject of a fresh torrential
outburst. He knows. He has knocked about; he has had
a pretty wide experience; he has known them all intimately.
And the world won't get anywhere without Religion. Well, of
course all I ever get a chance to say is that I doubt it. He
says something good occasionally. The trouble is that he doesn't
believe in discussing anything with his family, who are all more or
less morons in his estimation; so that when Frannie hops in with a spirited word page 12
he turns around & squashes her, or anybody else. But I gather
from postscripts or postverba in the kitchen that the rest of the
family is fundamentally unreligious beneath the onslaught. In
the ordinary affairs of household life he gets a lot of backchat, nobody being
in the least adv averse from telling him he is a born fool, which
is not a great distance from the truth, possibly. A complacent enough
cove, I should say; of course he is a parson. It is really all very
interesting. — He took me out to see a place called Heaton
, with Heaton Hall one of the stately homes etc, now used as
an art gallery & for receptions & so on — they have some glorious
water colours of the Norwich school there, Cox, Cotman, de Wint etc;
& a fine house. The old English aristocracy perhaps justified a
part of their existence by their building. I always think these
places are a bit improved by their photographs in Country Life,
though. Still the way the windows were arranged to catch the
view, & the way a fountain was placed to improve the view
are really triumphant. They use the place for golf & football & bowls
children's sandpits & so forth now; which possibly would have
horrified the Earls of Wilton in their glory.

Thankyou very much for your Christmas letter. I
got a reasonably sized mail for once — about 12 letters in all,
contained about £3, which will be put to excellent & care-
thought out use. Your 30/- was very welcome; I have
half a mind to spend 25/- of it on the new cheap Oxford edition
of Jane Austen in 5 vols; since nobody can now make a
speech or write an article or deliver a lecture without some-
how dragging in the divine Jane by the scruff of her neck page 13
I suppose it's up to a rough raw colonial to seek the light.
Please thank Auntie very much for her letter & monetary
enclosure thereof — I shall write to her when less pressed by
hospitality & vagaries of mails. Also Keithles & Ern & all others
who did the handsome. By the way I see that Zimmerman
thing of the Turnbull Liby is the end in the a series of mono-
— what's the first? You might send me anything
that comes out of that description & charge up to my a/c.
Of course the darn series starts too late to get me any public-
, curse it; I've got a nice little thing entirely suitable for
publication in same. I might get something out of Johannes
even yet. I may write to him some time. — I was
very glad to read in your letter & most of the others
that I got that you were getting the appearance & constitution
of a fighting-cock, Mummy; so keep up the good work. Like-
wise to hear of Daddy's holiday; I suppose the break is
coming to an end about now; I hope you both got plenty of
reading done. I don't read much, though I am hoping to
get through Inge's "England" whie I am here, which I saw on
FJ's shelves — he has got one of the roughest looking collections
of books I ever saw; & of course I may get some Walt Whit-
forced in yet. He is fanatical about T.E. Brown also;
so it seems that Keithles must have got quite a good poetical
education while he was here. He is reading my poetical
works at present; no doubt that will be a further enthusiasm.

Points in your letters: My friends seem to be a good deal
more attentive to you than they ever were to me, Mummy. This page 14
seems generally the way with anybody we do a kindness to & bring
into the house — you immediately turn them round & vamp them, & we
hear nothing ever after but what a charming mother the Beagleholes
have, what a fine woman Mrs Beaglehole is, isn't Mrs Beaglehole a
stunner & this, that that & the other thing. It is very discouraging. — McG's
caricature wasn't much like me, but he did it in about 5 min-
for foolery & I wouldn't keep my head still, so he didn't get much of a
chance. He has given me some good woodcuts swapped for
a some of my stuff. I think I am going down to Auntie Jeanne's
again for two or three days after this burst — she asked me down
for Xmas, but the J's got in first. I suppose you will have heard
by now whether I am a dear boy or not. — I ran into the
Dentons at Jimmy Parr's the other day & said I might buzz out to see
them before they pushed off. I am not too keen on hearing
RD solve the social problem though. — I get the impression that
Auntie has taken to the Open Road for keeps from the way she
is wandering about the N. Island; why doesn't she carry a sleeping
bag & sleep out? — It'd do her the world of good. I am glad to
hear Ern is taking to the military life with the usual Beaglehole
enthusiasm & esprit de corps. Of course anything that will help
to make a man of him is all to the good, whatever effect it
has on the international situation. Daddy had better lay
in a supply of those 1/6 fountain pens. I think that Florence
Preu Milton is the best book C & W have published; I don't
go much on their other F.P. poets — two square & squat in the page.
Thanks for Ern's poem; it reminds me more of R. F. Fortune's
style than of mine. Quite good for the T.C. magazine I think.

Well, here's happy days, as I say as I raise my glass of Johnsonian burgundy

with t usual love from