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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 21 February, 1927

page 1
Tuesday 22nd: Mail now expected
“& will probably be delivered”
tomorrow. The Times has a
special N.Z. supplement today including an
article on the up to date NZ postal service.

My dear Mummy & Dere Frends [sic: Dear Friends],

Well, I might be at Man &
Superman tonight, but with my customary filial solicitude
I take the dutiful pen in my hand. For your comfort I may say
that I can go to M & S on Wednesday, so you needn't admire
me too much. No mail at all last week, or today; supposed
to be due tomorrow, which is five days late; so Lord knows
when it will really get in. Some time next month probably.
I am sick of talking about the mail; but it seems pretty
funny that while a mail from Australia has been delivered
every Monday morning since we got here, with one exception I
think when it was delivered on the preceding Saturday night, the
N.Z. mail is all to blazes all over the place. 1d postage, I suppose,
cheap & nasty, or the fruits of the Rt Hon J.G. Coates late vigor-
reformatory spell as Postmaster General. I thought it was
Australia that was supposed to have the dud postal system. But
the rest of the world, even NZ, has nothing on the States.
There have been very choice happenings reported lately.
A very expensive & finely-printed copy of Boccaccio, one of St.
John Hornby's books, I think was sent across to a Yank collec-
by one one of the flash 2nd hand book-sellers here — the
Yank postal officials calmly ripped every page out & burnt
them & delivered the covers to the consignee, who was not
page 2 unnaturally somewhat peeved. Another cove a year ago sent
a book over to a friend (quite a harmless book this time) which
was not delivered at all. He put in a year, having plenty of time
& money on his hands corresponding with the Yank P.O. about it
& the other day wrote to the Times to report the result, the exact
nature of which I forget, but I think the Yanks were claim-
compensation for him. Then Duncan wrote to his brother
at Pittsburg, a very clearly addressed envelope, & he couldn't
understand why his brother didn't reply to it. Finally a reply
did come, enclosing his envelope, covered with Yank writing
& stamps — the thing had gone to California to Los Angeles, &
then been sent back to Pittsburg, & D's brother charged for
[gap — reason: unclear] postage from L.A. to P. Fair Dinkum, you'd have to go to a
good long way to beat that. Anyhow, as your letter hasn't come,
it gives me nothing immediate on which to exercise my wit &
fill up space. I am getting a bit sick of being humorous
at the expense of Keithles; it seems cruel to keep on making a
butt of a cove so obviously simple, as he must be to go & chuck
away his freedom at the age of 23. Not having been to Man &
Superman I can't even bring in anything snappy about the life-
, though I did make a few passing remarks on same
at M/c which made Frannie highly indignant. I suppose
the Johnson family & friends will be having a pretty damp
time this weekend, as the young heroine departs for the
wild & woolly back-blocks from Waterloo at 9 pm am on
Friday morning; I agreed to buzz down there & see her
page 3 off as the state of the finances does not permit a visit to
Southampton at this juncture, but I doubt whether I shall
be able to make the superhuman effort demanded by such
a plan. Still if the weather keeps as warm as it has been
today — you've actually been able to go about without gloves, —
& it gets any lighter in the morning — which reminds me,
I actually saw the sun at lunch-time today & nearly fell
down the steps of the Record Office in my surprise — in
fact, I say if the atmosphere of England gets any clearer
& the weather any more spring-like there's no knowing
what feats of early rising the family may not be capable
of by the end of the week. I don't know whether I have
remarked on it before, but Frannie told me the ve young couple
were to be hitched by Uncle Harold in St., Paul's or St. Peter's
or whatever the name of the dashed church is. This seems
to be falling pretty low for a Beaglehole. Music by one of
Mr Robert Parker's female pupils at £3..3 a time, I presume;
or will Ern send the gladsome strains of the Dead March in
Saul ringing to the historic old rafters as Keithles totters
down the aisle on the arm of his old Dad, to the accompani-
of tremulous sobs from Auntie, & hiccups from Auntie
Win. It seems a pity I shan't be there with my long &
vast experience & knowledge of human nature to comfort
him ere he is turned off; let alone the need you will feel
of my fine tact & felicity in making after-orgy speeches,
& keeping everybody merry & bright. No doubt Daddy will do
page 4 his best & Ern will bog into the food with his customary speed
& perseverance; but I always felt somehow that the humour of
the one was a bit too gross & the efforts at entertaining of the
other a bit too self-concentrated altogether to make up for the
lack of the subtle esprit & sparkling joie de vivre so character-
of me. Before I leave the subject I might warn Auntie
not to burst into tears when she is making the fruit-salad,
as salt does not make a good flavouring for same; nor should
Auntie Win be allowed to carry round the coffee if she gets hyster-
. Lay gently in the bath, undo corsets (if any) & turn on
the shower. I don't know that there's anything else that I can
say that would be of practical use in the crisis; I know that
it is superfluous giving advice to you, Mummy, that you will
keep a stiff upper lip, & indeed use the occasion as a heaven-
sent opportunity to get a new hat, if not a complete new
costume; & probably at the end of it all say thank God, I have
got him off my hands at last. I suppose Uncle Harold
will take full cognisance before he gets his head down to the
fell work of the far-reaching & revolutionary changes in
the prayer-book that are at present agitating the Church of
England & the columns of the Times, which we are full
of die-hard curates & bleating deans laying bare their
souls & white-faced bishops saying it is a far far better
thing that I do than I have ever done et. etc. Why, do you
know that they are even talking of giving official sanction
to the omission of the word "obey" from the marriage-ser-
page 5 ice
? Fact! And people get up in church & say "Swelp me
God, but this is trafficking with Rome!" & walk out. And so
on & so forth — a most hectic time we live in. I seem to
be getting away from the subject of marrying & giving in
marriage, but it just goes to show what a compelling interest
the great affairs of the world have for me, & at what a desper-
rate I am absorbing education. Anyhow I think I have
about exhausted the subject, though I haven't yet given any
fatherly counsel to Christie & Arh Ah how does she
spell her blinking name? Arohd Ahrod Arodha? Arthrita Tubby, what
ever she calls herself, on the most suitable points in the
marriage service for bridesmaids to giggle — however I dare-
say they'll make plenty of suitable opportunities for them-
. By the way you might give a quid to the happy
pair on my account & put it in a prominent place when
you come to display the wedding-presents, with my name
attached in large block capitals — you can take it out of
the books I send out to Daddy. I suppose they'll only
waste it, & I need it a great deal more myself, but
génie oblige, as I see by yesterday's Sunday Times old
Liszt used to say. By the way, on the back of Gorse's
article which I enclose you will find one or two piq-
, passages from Ernest Newman's review of the latest
book on Liszt, which I might feel inclined to buy if it
wasn't 10/6.

I cut St Martin's on Saturday afternoon & went to the
page 6 Flemish Art Exhibition at Burlington House instead. I suppose
you have seen something about this somewhere — if not, it is
a collection of Belgian & Flemish pictures & tapestries & a few
scl sculpings [sic: sculptures] got together from all over England & Europe & I
think the States for a three months' show. The thing is
perfectly gorgeous on the whole, though I have my dislikes
as well as my likes, e.g. you can keep all your bloom-
Vandykes, for which I wouldn't give you two pins.
The thing I liked best was a small, perfectly lovely
portrait by Roger van der Weyden, 1400–1464 I think, of
which I send you out a postcard — you never saw
anything so beautiful as the texture of the skin, or the
delicacy of the colouring & the perfect repose of the whole
thing. You lose everything in the p.c. but the design of course;
but in the painting those two white flaps of the painting look
almost transparent. The picture belongs to a private owner,
dash it, so there's no chance of seeing it again. I dare
say I may feel moved to pay 1/6 again before the thing
closes though. Some of the Van Eycks I liked very
much — they simply glow; & one or two of the Virgins &
Childs. These are unending; & the ungrateful brats are
generally turning away from proffered nourishment — one
gathers that the infant Christ fed practically exclusively
on the things of the spirit, except by gum! one little
lad in a picture who lay in a sort of drunken sleep
after his orgy with a distended tummy most faithfully
page 7 drawn. I liked some of the [unclear: Membigs] immensely too, & a
good many more, but not being an art-critic, I forget most
of the blighters' names. I discovered that Saturday afternoon
was a bad time to go; when I got inside I could hardly move,
much less see anything, connoisseurs & old ladies being
lined up in solid phalanxes before every inch of can-
but by dint of craning my neck & stretching my body
at various angles I got a lot of Swedish exercise & managed e
to make out that the exhibition was of pictures, & by the time
that I had been round once in this fashion, the crowd had
thinned itself out considerably or was lying banked up
on the seats the Royal Academy provides for its dead-beats;
so I went round again & saw all I wanted to see for one
afternoon. Then in the evening we went out to Delisle
Burns again, all the previous occasion's people being there,
& Tawney & his wife also, & conversation flowing a good
deal easier. Burns evidently admies Tawney a good
deal & was trying to get him to open out, but he didn't
say a great deal, or anything that was very new; though he
did tell Duncan & Goodwin that Lord Eustace Percy, the Minister
of Education here, is a vile little reptile. So he is evidently
something after the pattern of Parr. By the way there is a
certain section in England that remind me irresistibly
of NZ; they sent a deputation — I think they call themselves
the Society of St George or something like that — to Percy de-
the teaching of patriotism in schools, saluting Union
page 8 Jack, singing God Save the K etc, & choirs of patriotism in the
Universities. Well, Percy was prepared to go quite so far as
that, but he received the lunatics very sympathetically etc &
said he'd see what he could do. Same old arguments —
Communism was attacking trade in its vitals — give the kids'
hands an automatic impetus to their forelocks whenever they
see the Brave old British Flag, & all may yet be well.
So you see the Empire has its vigilant guardians even in
this backwater of political progress. It would have
done Daddy's heart good to be at the Labour meeting in
Trafalgar Square last Saturday afternoon to protest against
the sending of troops to China, & to have seen the crowd
remove their headgear at the courteous word of request &
burst into the strains of the Red Flag. I was there, emer-
with my young friends from listening to Bach
Cantatas in St Martin's just in time for to help
pass the resolutions & join in the final inspiriting
stages. A cove in a second hand bookshop afterwards
was not too enthusiastic about it though — indeed quite
melancholy. A merry band of Labour bag pipers were
striding up the Charing X Rd, bursting with the Internation-
k something. "Who are they, Daddy?" says pipes up
a little child "Oh, they're the Labour people" says Daddy
with no great enthusiasm. "What are they doing that
for, Daddy?" "Oh, I dunno; don't think they know
themselves." Sic dicit the great man.
page 9

I went to a rather good lecture to-night at the School by Wolf,
the prof of logic, on Spinoza, today being the 250th anni-
of the death of the late philosopher, The Dutch Ambas-
was in the chair, a fat little feller with a white
beard & immense enthusiasm for the lecturers whom he
chairs & their subjects — I heard him at [unclear: Geyl's] lecture on
Grotius at Univ College just after I got here; he always starts
off his speeches with great deliberation & complacency &
then gets excited as he warms up & Francis Thompson isn't
in it for rhetoric. A great little lad. He generally falls
over himself, too, when he gets to that stage. Another cove
I heard who was very good was Emile Cammerts at the
School last week, on the Belgian Spirit in Letters &
Art. He is a big cove with a beard & a twinkling eye—
& very easy to listen to; puts across good stuff, & puts it
across well; a Wm. Morrisy looking poet That's Those are
all the lectures I've been to, bar one or two by Laski in the
ordinary course of events. I went down to Kensington to
see the cow on Sunday afternoon as he keeps open house
then during term-time but found he had evidently shifted
& hadn't told the telephone directory, so I damned him
& strolled back to the Marble Arch & a bus via Kensing-
Gardens & the Serpentine, which looked not un-Whistlerish in
the mist, & taking a look at [unclear: Ruia] on the way. I rather
liked her this time; to say that she scares the birds is a lie; I
saw some parading around quite regardless.
page 10

I have been to the usual batch of plays & concerts. I always
thought Henry Ainley was supposed to be a good actor, but
he was rotten in Macbeth — he mouthed & gibbered his words
& poured them out in a stream like the Orongo orongo in b
flood, with not the slightest pause or inflection, a poorer more
shamefully bad exhibition of slovenly negligence I never
heard. His acting itself was good once or twice, e.g. in the
banquet scene, but otherwise Allan Wilkie was lots better.
Sybil Thorndike though was very good, likewise some of the
others; the staging & dressing was gorgeous, but did not
add materially to the effectiveness of the play. Trumpet
music by Granville Bantock good, but bagpipes did not
to my mind seem to fit in with Shakespeare. Some of the
effects were very good & poignant; the galloping of horses
in the scene where Banquo is murdered while the murderers
are discussing ways & means; & the barking of dogs outside
Macduff's house the night all his pretty chickens & their
dam are dispatched — this was a first rate scene, harrowing
in the extreme. A play that was acted in the best possible
way all through by everybody concerned was Juno & the
Paycock by the Irish Players — I've never seen anything
done so well, except P perhaps Pygmalion & the White-Headed
Boy. The darn thing starts out in the purest comedy &
about 2/3 through turns to black tragedy. The Paycock
is a character Daddy would revel in; but the finish
would reduce you to tears. But it's never likely to strike
page 11 N.Z. so I don't suppose you'll have the chance of breaking
up over it. It's buyable though, I believe — by Sean O

I went to the Damnation of Faust the week before last;
pretty good, but another disappointment in Frank Mullings,
supposed to be a great tenor; a red-faced cove who sang
in a strangled ineffective stupid fashion; still, you never know,
he may have been drunk. The bass Harold Williams, made
up though; the best male singer I have heard here so far.
Chorus not bad. There was a good concert of Elgar's or-
music last Monday, conducted by the great man
himself — he looks like a retired field-marshal. He is
conducting the Dream of Gerontius next Saturday at the
Albert Hall; & there are several performances of Bach's
St Matthew passion coming off later in the way of
choral music. I have been to a couple more Léven
concerts too; another tomorrow night. Finally I went to
a debate between a touring team from Sydney Univ v. London
which was very weak on both sides — I've heard better
stuff at V.U.C. many a time. Having busted most of my
underpants I bought another experimental pair at a sale
for 1/6, but I couldn't get the dashed things short, & these
things hanging round a man's ankles feel very funny.
I picked up Tchekov's Letters to Olga Knipper at the Times
Bk Club on Saturday for 6/- & will send same out by a
later mail some time, also some Cuala Press books, page 12 cheap at 5/- each at Sotheran's; but whether I'll stick to
these myself or send them out to add to Daddy's collection
of limited editions I haven't quite decided yet. It will
probably end in the cove getting them who can most afford
them; or possibly we might split the booty. I noticed some
pretty bright drawings of Alan's in the Dominion the other
day when I was sniffing round the H.C. on the off-chance
of mail; but I think I may have mentioned this in my
last letter. They were in the late Dec. nos; & a lanky
angular peculiarly-built tramper in some of them was probably
meant for Ern, I gathered. I G read a good book in the
Traveller's Library last week, Wide Seas & Many Lands
by Arthur Mason, first rate in its line; but if you
read it, don't read M. Baring's preface till afterwards,
or you will spoil the best surprise in the book; I may
be going down to Bristol for a week at the end of
March, for a National Union of Students conference at
the University there. Bertrand Russell is to chat, & there
are to be motor tours to Glastonbury & so forth — total
cost £3..10. Well, it is 25 to 12 & my fingers are
about paralysed, so I shall knock off hoping to find
a letter from you with the milk in the morning, but
not too confident about it.

God bless all & sundry.
[unclear: Hymen! Hymenaea!] Give Auntie Win a kiss for
me & be assured of my continuing filial love.

Yrs in the Lord