Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (digital text)   Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 02 February 1927

page 1
21 Brunswick Square
London WC 1

My dear Mummy,

Glad to get yours, (as Father Johnson
invariably starts his letters) which came on Saturday, late
as usual. Or perhaps I should look on the bright side of things
& say no later than usual. Likewise I received a rude,
not to say vulgar, note from Keithles, which I am thinking
of sending on to Frannie, to open the girl's eyes if possible ere
it is too late. I don't like the way he refers to my letters, but no
doubt he doesn't know any better & such masterpieces of the literary
art one can hardly be anything else but wasted on so stunted a
sensibility. So I will say no more on the point, but let it go
at that. But I may perhaps add that even if you don't like your
Christmas present, it's hardly considered good form to [gap — reason: unclear] remark on
the same to the donor; for confirmation on this point he might
apply to the Johnson family, experts on what is & is not done.
Nor can I consider it in the best of taste to continue to make pointed
remarks on one's wedding & consequent wedding presents. Of course
some coves will stoop to anything; but I think I remember dis-
of the matter in question to the satisfaction of all concerned
in my last letter. Nuff sed. To come back to your more
important & amiable communications, I'm glad you & your
husband liked your books so much. Thank you very much
for your proposed 10/- postage note — that is the literal way in page 2
which I like my [unclear: goals] to be taken. I notice that Keithles said
nothing about refunding postage, but no (or Ern) but no
doubt every little helps to feather the little grey home in the nest, so
to speak. With reference to what Daddy says of Pollard & my work,
I gather from bits I have picked up here & there in the course
of conversation that it is Pollard's profession to be a swine to
everybody not excepting his wife; but he doesn't worry me now.
I got one or two encouraging words from my boss this afternoon
& work is looking up a bit & spring ought to be here in about
three months so altogether the world is not entirely unpleasant.
Daddy says “I shd like you to get on to something which will
enable you to make the best use of yr opportunity as well as to do
justice to the gifts you undoubtedly possess”. As far as I can
see my job is to go through an intensive training in
dry as dust, which will result in a book, if printed, (Newton
talks gaily about what we'll [unclear: print]) which specialists will
approach, & specialists alone — excepting perhaps the students I
may some day have, [gap — reason: unclear] who will find it prescribed as an
indispensable element in their historical training, like
Barney Murphy & his Economics. Not much scope for
my voluptuous style in an historical source book with
critical prolegomena & voluminous notes. However it will
go hard but I manage to squeeze some blood & amusement
out of the stone. Anyhow I am getting into the work
now, which is a great improvement on just messing about.
Thanks very much for Inspector Superintendant McIlveney's page 3
noble effort; I thought he was a shrewd sort of hard-headed cove; but
all these cops high up seem to run to excessive eloquence. Wasn't it
that old fool Cullen who made the wonderful peroration about
"Your dead comrade lying there with his sightless eyes staring at the
sky" when the young cop got pipped in the dark a few years ago?
Looking up to after the community seems to go the brain. Alan's
pictures on same weren't bad, but too crowded with script to my
thinking, & not as good as some of his others I have seen in Jimmy
's lately. Mrs. Bryant seems a very entertaining woman, & a
soul full of harmony, which is a good thing in this discordant
& materialistic civilisation. Of course if you combine Hymns
Ancient & Modern & Hawaian love-songs you can't go wrong; for
any tendency to libertinage in the one, even so far as they might
affect a deaf female, would be infallibly corrected by the soulful charm of
the other. However I gather from Keithles' letter that I am verging
on a discussion which might shock his pure soul, so you had
better keep this letter from the boy. Before I change the subject
however I might recount a joke which a kind correspondent sent
to the yesterday's Sunday Times. A small boy who had to
do a composition on King David for his scripture exam,
finished up a laudatory description of his personality by saying
"If he had any fault, it was a slight tendency towards adultery."
Thank you also for old Thornhill's calendar, which I ripped
up & threw in our W.P.B. after reading same; cripes, he ought to
be in an asylum that cove. Taling about parsons reminds
me of something old P. Phillips told me which I have forgotten
page 4 to pass on up to now; he told me that Wellington's name was
mud with the B & F; that the B & F was as slow as a wet week in
making up its mind; that just before the W'gton conked
out the American association offered to provide a parson &
subsidise his screw pretty generously; P.P. wrote to the B & F putting in
the boot and urging them to get a move on; and they said [gap — reason: unclear] they'd
think it over; & by the time they'd started to begin to think [gap — reason: unclear]
that it was time that they might possibly give a thought to the
matter the game was up. I wandered into the Essex Hall
book room one day and the young females & parsons I saw
drifting round there didn't inspire me with any rush of admir-
. Reminded me greatly of the N.Z. Bible & Book Society &
Willis St. I have been in Essex Hall too; quite a small place
& very bare except for a painting of Martineau & a lot more
pious looking coves. I haven't heard or seen anything of
Unitarian activities in London outside this to date; although
to be sure I haven't looked.

Tuesday Feb 8th McGrath & de Kievriel (q.v. later on) turned up
last night so the preceding was all, with considerable difficulty,
I was able to write. So I am denying myself the pleasure
of seeing H.M. Geo V in procession on his way to open Parliament
not to mention his Queen & H.R.H. & Yeomen of the Guard
& Life Guards in full dress & Lord knows what else; & here I sit
with [unclear: uncombed] fingers thinking how nice & warm it would be
down at the Record Office. McG. had found a flat out at Maida
Vale which he was eager for us to take, but which after pro-
page 5 longed
discussion we finally turned down. £ 3 a week - McG's
ideas are rather flasher than ours, & I can't afford to spend any
more than I do now. Also Maida Vale is a good way out, & de K
said he had tried living out so far & it was no good. We have
been talking about taking a flat together for some time, but I don't know
whether anything will come of it; and I'm personally not keen on
leaving this place, as its very handy to everything, even if our land-
lady could hardly be described as generous. I don't know whether
I've even said anything about her — she is a retired Indian
army nurse & superficially quite decent, but with an immense
contempt for the subject races, & a brute to Mrs Mackenzie, the
old cleaner up & woman of all work. Mrs Mac however had an
accident & her successor a strong hefty self-confident young
damsel sticks up for herself with spirit & independence (in-
she pinches our gas regularly to maker her afternoon tea
& scrubbing water hot. I shouldn't be surprised if she takes an
occasional bath out of it too, to judge by the amount of gas
that we miss. The other member's of the landlady's family
(Miss Hawkins by name) are two pampered cats & a pampered
dog, which she calls her children. The cats sits on the stairs &
and won't move out of your way, & the dog has a disgusting yap & she
cleans its teeth for it & asks me to take it out for a [unclear: hem] when
I go out late to post a letter; so some night when a handy
taxi passes there will be a sudden treacherous kick & the
statistics of canine mortality will go up one. Miss H. doesn't
give us any trouble however & she thinks we're both very good boys,
page 6 so taking things all in all, with the exception of the impossibility
of a decent hot bath, we're not badly off. I thought I should
be sure to get a good hot bath at the Johnsons, but did
they offer me one? Not on your life. And yet when I
remarked to Father Johnson, not apropos of that, but of
climatic & other conditions generally, that I thought the Eng-
must have considerable difficulty in keeping clean,
he was quite indignant. The people in this joint certain-
don't go in for cold baths in the morning — Australia
& NZ have the only representatives who, spite of snow
piled up in the bathroom & water that freezes as soon
as it comes out of the tap, plunge boldly in.

De Kievrel, whom I mentioned sometime back, is
a S. African over here with a scholarship, a pretty good sort
of a cove, with whom I have lately struck up a friendship.
He is one of Newton's students at the I.H.R.; born in Holland
but has spent most of his life in S.A. — Univ of Johannesberg.
So we have a good deal of information to swap, & what
with one cobber or another, we seem to talk the heavenly
bodies in & out of the sky more than nights than not. I have
buzzed up to his place once or twice, & he drops in here,
last night e.g. with lamentable results to filial corresp-
. He has enlightened views on diet, so I gather, &
politics & quite a number of things. Apparently S.A.
is a good place for teachers — you only have to land in
the country to get a job, & they are paid far more than
page 7 in NZ — about £400 to start on apparently, with rapid rises
Of course the cost of living is a bit more than in NZ. Capetown
University wouldn't be a bad place for a job either; they have
a good library & a good staff there; & a good orchestra in the
town, & according to de K have a good deal of intellectual
[gap — reason: unclear] & a pretty vigorous native culture; while the lucky
blighters are only 17 days from England, with fares
correspondingly cheap, so that some of their profs come over
here every year! Still when they get broadcasting so
developed as to be able to hear the Queen's Hall orchestra in
W'gton & television is so good that that you can see Pygmalion or
Macbeth in the front room at home NZ will be quite worth
living in.

We went to Pygmalion on Saturday, & it was
jolly good, though the characterisation was not so good in
my opinion as in The Doctor's Dilemma; Esmé Percy
the leading man being perfect as Dubedat but a trifle
Dubedatish as Higgins; nor do I think that Gwen Frangçon
Davies got the full-blooded Cockney accent, but I may be
wrong there. She is a great actress, however. All the other
parts were pretty good. This crowd, the Macdona Players,
are doing Man & Superman next, so we aren't doing badly
so far as Shaw is concerned. That's the only play I've
been to lately, but we're going Juno & the Paycock on
Thursday; & Rose Marie on Saturday to see something of
the girls. The chorus in this is supposed to be something
page 8 out of the ordinary for drill & massed effects; but we shall
see. I have half a mind to buzz along to a girl & leg
show at the Adelphi, too, next door to Jimmy Parr's, round
the pictures outside which male London buzzes with
fervour perpetually. One pair of legs proclaimed as the
finest in the States — it is a Yank show called Broad-
, & really they are quite good. Did I tell you the
Farmer's Wife had just stopped running after more
than three years? They are [unclear: putting] on another play by author
of same, whose name is for the moment hidden in some corner
of my brain and refuses to come forward; I must write a
play like this some day myself. I think I mentioned
that the Lenen Quartet were giving a series of recitals
& doing all Beethoven's quartets to celebrate the centen-
of the [unclear: hero's] death, in honour of which also Ernest
Newman of W.J. Turner and all the other critics are getting
busy, so that every week a new, or at least a dif-
book is another on the man & works. Like-
wise all the concerts are beginning to specialise in
Beethoven. I have been to the first two Lenen quartets concerts
& am going again tonight — hence my having to take the
morning off; 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 [unclear: hundred] West Indian dispatches. However the
brain must be trained in the way that it should go,
page 9 & at 2/4 a time it isn't so bad. Berlioz is another
cove who is being paid a lot of attention nowadays — I
told you about his Requiem, I think; I heard one of his
symphonies last week, & tomorrow night some choir is doing
his Damnation of Faust, thus emulating the achievements of
the distinguished Mr H. Temple White & the Royal Wellington Choral
Union. In fact there doesn't seem to be anything done in the colonies
which they don't imitate here. I heard Bach's B minor Mass
a couple of Saturday's ago in the Albert Hall; a big choir
& orchestra & organ going at top — it is the stuff alright. This
was by the Royal Choral Society; they are doing the Dream
of Gerontius next, so my luck's in all right. Also
there is a big Elgar orchestral concert coming off soon,
conducted by the great man himself. But no doubt you
get a bit fed up reading all these fortnightly details.
I heard the Eroica symphony, however, which you know, the
other night with de K at a B.B.C. Concert; at which they
also played a jolly [gap — reason: unclear] Liszt piano concerto [unclear: (Poussinoff)]
& [unclear: Verklarte Nachte], a thing by that modern cove Schoenberg:
it sounded all right to me, I must say. At the concert where
I heard the Berlioz Symphony, they also played a symphonic
poem of old Cesar Franck's Psyche, which Bernard Pope
used to deliver on the organ occasionally, & which (being heard
here for the first time) the critics tore up with remarkable
unanimity; & a new "Hymn to Apollo" by the enfant terrible
Arthur Bliss, who however G.N. reckons is settling down
page 10 to bourgeois respectability now. On this last thing an an-
Victorian looking gentleman behind me, with flowing
whiskers, loud and prolonged applause in my ear for
anything he liked, & extensive comments for everything,
made the following remarks which I took down for
your benefit: (with pity) "And he really thinks he's
done something!" (A.B. comes out & bows. With [gap — reason: unclear]
amusement not [gap — reason: unclear] with alarm). "I'm afraid he'll
do it again now!" (with indignation) "They shouldn't
encourage that sort of thing!". At this concert also a
first-rate singer, Elizabeth Schumann, sang that Mozart
Hallelujah, which Ingrid [unclear: Onegin] sings on our gramophone —
it is part of a much bigger thing. She also sang some
stunner Strauss songs. By the way, Ingrid is coming
over for the Covent Garden opera season later on.

That about finishes the concert news, I think. The
only other place I have been to is out to Newton's last
Friday to an evening affair, where all the lads & lasses
were invited in their glad rags, so that my [unclear: boiled]
shirt came in handy once again. There was a first-
rate pianist there by the name of Mrs Thompson who
plays professionally as Jessie Hall, & we got
some decent stuff from her. Nothing much else notable,
though the coffee was good, & a Yank girl told us
a good joke which I will now proceed to recount.
Of course you have to imagine the accent. Three
page 11 American presidents came to the pearly gates, & St. Peter
came out to interview them in turn. The first was
George Washington. “Who are you?” “I'm the
Father of my Country” “That's all right. Come right in”
Next was Abraham Lincoln. “Who are you?” “I'm
the Saviour of my Country” “That's all right. Come right
in.” The next was Roosevelt. “Who are you?”
“That's none of your business! Where's God?” Old
Newton is a pretty amiable cove, if you strike him in a
good humour. I may be going down to Bristol at the
end of the term, where the National Union of Students
are holding a conference on something or other at the
University for a week, to be addressed by Bertrand Rus-
& Margaret Bondfield among others. I shall have
to figure out whether I can afford this as well as a week in the
Lake District with old P.P. No doubt it would be pretty
stimulating & perhaps provide an article for the Spike.
By the way I got the Old Clay Patch alright, thanks.
I think the only other place I have been to one other place —
McG took us out to see a cobber of his, [unclear: name by] name
Gilbert, an architectural sculptor, who has done some
pretty good stuff to judge by photos of same & has a son
& a daughter sculping & painting students & an amiable
wife amiable enough to mend Mac's socks. A comfortable
visit, with a good supper & smokes thrown in; but it in-
missing Ramsey MacDonald at a protest meeting at
page 12 the Albert Hall re the matter of China. No doubt I shall
hear him & others before I leave. Lloyd George keeps on
making pointed & humorous remarks about everybody &
Grey has smashed the remnant of the liberals because he
won't have anything to do with the man of sin & one by one
the Liberals pair off to the Conservatives & to Labour &
L.G. exhorts his followers not to be down-hearted. Grey &
his followers preserve a frosty silence; except when they hurl
another thunderbolt at L.G. Winston pokes borax at the lot of them.
The greatest sensation lately of course has been the Wright &
Gladstone case, which has filled up pages of the Times
& issues of the other papers, and has been mildly funny in
places — they [unclear: T.P.] in the box, who could not resist
describing himself as the Father of the House of Commons &
telling the world all about it in the Sunday Times. He
does an article every week in same; generally some
old friend has died on whom he can descant amiably
till further notice. Then of course there are the revolution-
, not to say Bolshevistic changes in the prayer-book
(but of course, permissive only) which take up two full
pages of the leading [gap — reason: unclear] article in the Times this morning,
& [gap — reason: unclear] which are causing the Bishop of Norwich to wring his
hands desolately in the bitterness of his spirit — [gap — reason: unclear]
it's a great country! I enclose a few varied clippings
to suit all tastes & subscribe myself with love to
all, not forgetting Auntie & Mrs Kilfoy.