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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 4 April, 1927

page 1

My dear Mummy,

Well, I have been having an exciting
time since I wrote to you last — I have been to Bristol,
& nearly saw a taxi nearly run over two girls to-day, & have
lost a 10/- note, blast it, & had my hair cut; so you see
that life is not standing still by any means. Let me
first however answer you letter, which by a miracle of
speed got here last Friday — only 1 day after the mail
was expected. Thank you for all enclosures first of
all. I wish to blazes I could follow C.Q.P.'s example &
screw something out of the Times, but I don't even know to
whom to write. Curse them! I note without astonishment
the discussion on NZ Univ essays; as usual, the only cove to
say anything worth saying was Tommy Hunter. The man
would be in charge of a university over here. I note that
Thomas of Auckland (language man, I believe — English?)
can't resist poking the usual borax at history. These blokes
will start to wake up when I descend on the country
again like a whirlwind. Also I was glad to get the
hons results, which came out as I prophesied to myself,
except that one girl gets a 2nd instead of just a pass. I must
be a great man all right. Anyhow the bloke Spurdle gets
the only first in history at V.U.C. since mine. Thank you
also for W'gton College Old Boys' Ass. circular, which I have
page 2 deposited as usual. I notice they have boiled my arrears down
to 2/6 which is very considerate of them. You'd better get
Keithles to see if he can't make special terms & get have us
both made life-members for the £2-2; & then he can
pay the £2-2. Or I dare say Frannie would be quite
pleased to do a little thing like that for me. I am
staggered to learn that you are taking to French again.
Why doesn't Daddy give it a go too? And then Auntie could
join in & enlarge her acquaintance with the world's great
literature — I understand that quite a number of the great-
French classics have an attraction quite independent
of their style; & I don't like to think of Auntie getting Mdelle
de Maupin only in a diluted translation. — I think your
description of washing is worthy of you. You are getting
pretty flash with your patent reading lamps & what not; I sup-
the house will be unrecognizable when I get back.
I hope you liked my modest present. It ought to be read
under a truly genteel lamp, so I suppose you did so. As
for my reported affaire du coeur (Fr) at Manchester, you
ought to be able to rely on anything Frannie says; I under-
stand there isn't much about love that she doesn't know.
But I daresay you have got full details by now. — To
aid you in your search for Brunswick Sq on the map, — it is
bang next door to the Foundling Hospital, on the west side, comme
ça (more Fr)
Sketch of Brunswick Square, London. page 3 You seem to have got the English vacations mixed. We get the long
vacation in the summer — July, August, September, about a
month at Christmas; & 5 weeks at Easter, which we are
having now. — I must say I was delighted to hear of the
splash Clara Holden is making in the academic sea, of course
if I had been on the spot I should have been only too
pleased to give a large donation to her library fund. Is it
at V.U.C. that Mrs H. has got the job? If so, it's a good job
for her she wasn't recommended by a Beaglehole in old
Brookie's time. R.I.P. I must say Auntie is a champeen [sic: champion]
at catching things — I hope she is springing about as usual
now like a [unclear: fawn] on the Tararuas. I went to the pictures
myself the other night for the first time in London; Dun-
& de K & tried to get into Metropolis, a great German
picture, but didn't stand a hope, so we buzzed back from
the Marble Arch to a new place in Charing X Rd (see map)
& saw The Better 'Ole. I must say it was a pretty good
picture, spoilt only by the stupid American back chat
which the brave British soldiers indulge in. You would
think that if the German's can get Arnold Bennett to supply
the English sub-titles for their pictures, the Yanks could at
least get their jargon true to life. A good picture, though.
The trouble was I had a split lip & couldn't laugh enough.
We also saw the boat-race which was rowed in my
absence at mid-day; so they don't waste much time.
You are both a bit late with your recommmendation of
Inland Far. I bought it cheap at Sydney & read it on the
page 4 way over. It is a good book. Not much good talking about my
getting books out of a library — books like that, anyhow.
In the first place I can't afford to belong to one, except
to those that don't charge anything, & to the Royal Colonial In-
which is only 10/6; & in the second place, if I did
I couldn't read the books. I never did less reading in my
life. I tell you what I am reading now, though; Have-
Ellis' Dance of life. Did you ever read it? It is
first rate. I sent it to Geoffrey at Christmas if you want to get
hold of it. I got Bumpus's to send out books to Keith
& Geoffrey by this mail too, for their confounded birthdays.
I thought a book on child welfare would be best for G,
but couldn't find anything on how to run a wife for
K, so I made it a volume of Robert Lynd; I daresay he
will pick up a good deal of miscellaneous information
there that every young husband ought to know.

Well, as for Bristol, we put in a week over that
business. From the point of view of intellectual stir-up, it
was a sheer wash-out. The ostensible purpose of the thing —
the National Union of Students Congress — was to discuss the
Art of life, so D & I, in our poor benighted colonial ig-
, & thinking we'd be up against mighty men if it
came to a row, put in all the time we could mugging up
Havelock Ellis & the Bertrand Russells & I bought Science &
the Modern World as stiffening but haven't started it yet. But
jingo! a milder mannered, more conventional, stick in the
mud thoroughly respectable English gathering you never saw.
page 5 350 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 trav-
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. Of
course the only times I got fed up & stood up to tell them off
the chairman brought the meeting to the close; & the only times
Duncan was able to get a word in Lady Astor said she was
sorry for him & everybody thought he was mad because he
said his favourite form of leisure was to sunbathe. Certainly
I got the impression that the average English student is no
more bright nor brainy nor throbbing with modernity & un-
depths of agonising thought than the average NZ student;
though that is not to be taking [sic: taken] as a compliment to the
NZ student. If it was a washout in this way though, it
was well worth it from the chance of studying the people.
They were almost as interesting as the Johnson family, but
the girls were not so rude to me.

Bristol itself is an interesting enough place, & I spent
a cheerful afternoon with a perfect party of highbrows wander-
around looking at St Mary Redcliffe, old houses, etc while
the lowbrows inspected Wills' tobacco factory & collected
free samples of Gold Flakes & tins of Navy Cut. St. Mary
Redcliffe is one of the best churches I have seen; some of
the stained glass is hummer, & kindly verger or some
such like took us up to the [unclear: muniment] room where the
late Chatterton swiped ideas for his forgeries & showed
page 6 us the rib of a whale which Cabot brought back from America
(also said to be a rib of the dun cow killed by the great
Guy of Warwick); & a statue of Queen Elizabeth who visited
the church once & said something about it which the lad
seemed to take as a personal compliment to himself. The
organist was practising for a recital, & I got into a
polite conversation with him, hoping that he might give
me a turn when I informed him of my professional
qualifications; but though he remarked complacently that it
wasn't a bad organ & said how nice it was to tootle away &
listen to the noises you made, & made a few for my
benefit, he didn't open out on any extended line of
hospitality; so I went up the church tower instead, think-
how generous I should have been in a like position.
I saw a stunner oak-pannelled room on this afternoon,
too, in an old 15th century place called St Peter's Hospital;
those Tudor builders knew what they were about all
right; gorgeously carved door; fireplace; original tables
& chairs, everything complete. It used to belong to a mer-
who had his ships come up the river just outside
his front door & unload their bales; & on the other side of
the river he could look out into the open country & to the
hills. About all you can see now is a dirty yellow stream
of factories. Bristol's a clean place on the whole, though;
with air that's positively sparkling after London — you
can actually wear a collar there two days running! I
had a look through the art gallery one afternoon, but it
page 7 is pretty poor. The only really first-rate thing is a picture
of cliffs & sea by Lamorna Birch. Uncle George has two pictures
there — one of those Quaker kids, & one called Dawn, but neither
appeals to me much. I think his landscape work & his
portraits leave his other stuff miles behind. Of course I am
getting to be a hard bloke to please in these days, having the
National Gallery at my back door, so to speak. Where Bris-
is extraordinarily lucky is in her University buildings.
The main part of them has only been up for two years — the
Wills family have spent 1½ million on the University altogether
(so you see that all smoking is not waste) It is a gorgeous
sort of gothic affair with a great entrance hall 70 ft high & a tower 250
ft high, from which you can see the coast of Wales & the Channel;
& which has the best toned bell & I have ever heard; & a
most magnificent main hall with a hammer beam
roof & carved out oak panelling, with a place for an organ;
a council room which no council on earth could possibly
deserve, & the flashest arts library I have ever seen. They do
themselves well, fair dinkum. Then one of the Wills bought
a big building called the Victoria Rooms & had it altered to
suit & handed it over to the student union for club rooms. This
is where the congress had its meetings. And yet so far as
I could gather from the Bristol people I talked to (who may
have been earnest pessimists) the Bristol students are a pretty
childish lot on the whole. The men said it was owing to
the shoals of girls going in for teaching, & the girls said the
men were conspicuously lacking in grey matter; &
page break Missed this page out
by mistake
page 8 on the whole it seemed to be just the old story. They put most
of us in hostels, where we fed fairly well, although they did
put the milk on the porridge for us, & the coffee was vile. But
there was plenty of hot water, & it was on tap all the while,
& I made up for the hot baths I have missed lately. Also
I played billiards with Duncan, & recovered dome of my old

They had an imposing list of speakers down on the
programme — Bertrand Russell & Lady Astor & Margaret Bond-
& an sculptor by the name of Alec Miller & J.G. Hadfield the
psychologist & an assorted collection of foreign students from
France & Germany & Poland & Czecho-Slovakia & Switzerland.
I was getting quite pally with a Rumanian when the thing
broke up, let alone Welshmen & other strange nationalities.
Russell was pretty good, but said nothing new, really only
spouted a chapter from his Prospects of Indust-Civilization. It
was interesting to hear him speak though. Hadfield wasn't
bad, though I understand from Duncan that he pinched
all his psychology from McDougall & Tansley & that it was
pretty rocky anyhow. Margaret Bondfield was very good;
she speaks well & knows what she's talking about, though she
did have to drag in Christianity in the end. Lady Astor
was a great disappointment. She has a sort of charm and a hearty
laugh & a [gap — reason: unclear] sort of talk (she drops all her g's); but a
perfectly hopelessly muddled mind. She was supposed to
be talking about the use of leisure; but she seemed to spend
most of her time slaying the socialists (to which one would
page 9 have no objection in the world if it was the least to the
point or she knew anything about socialism) & preaching the
necessity of overcoming the body with the spirit. I heard after-
that both she & Ld Astor are ardent Christian Scientists,
which explains a lot. But as for her coming along & spilling
out all that bunk at a supposedly educated gathering! She
ought to have been ashamed of herself. She has a personality that
would go down well with her own side on an electioneering
campaign, but when people chuck election catch-words
at me, I get my rag out. She came down like a ton
of bricks on old Duncan, anyhow; she reckoned that
lying in the sun "on a sandbank" was just pandering to
the body. Also she explained God to a girl. My gawd!
The sculptor bird Miller was very good on Art & Decoration,
indeed he gave a quite admirable address, working in
both Oscar Wilde & St Paul with equal felicity. I was
nearly forgetting to mention one horror — the inaugural
address by Sir John Keith, the director of the B.B.C. Have
you ever heard of one of the most successful of British
business men describe how he get got there? Thank heaven
I shall never have the chance of treating a crowd of inno-
people like that. On & on he droned, in a parsonical
monotone — qualities of a successful man — self-analysis,
self-control, — self-knowledge (why not self-reverence?)—
convinced from his broadcasting experience that British
people a profoundly religious people — God as a busi-
asset — you young men & women — drone, drone, drone,
page 10 And then all at once he stopped & the President of the N.U.S. thanked
him for his inspiring address & all the lads & lasses & I made
a bee line for supper, & they went on to the dance & I went
back to the hotel & beat Duncan at 100 up. Well, 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.
Keith. The astonishing thing was the number of people it went
down with. Truly the British are a wonderful race. I
shall now knock off for a bit.

5/4/27 Well, here it is 10.10 pm & McGrath just gone
away after a week in Cornwall & a soul-stirring discussion
about bikes. My latest scheme is to ride up to Derbyshire
& tramp for a few days in the Peak country with Lorrie Rich-
, & I think that scheme will come off all right. I
was going down to Auntie Jeanne's for Easter, but I can
ride down there for a week-end when I get back. We are
going to take up sleeping-bags & do the thing properly. After
that I'll have to give holidays the go-by. Thank heaven, I have
nearly got through the blooming West Indies in my work now, &
a complicated darn business it is too; every little tin-pot
island had a governor & he got instructions long enough to
govern India on. However that is more or less technical business.
To get back to Bristol I think I finished with the more
intellectual part of it, if such it can be called. There were
dances, to which I didn't go; & folk-dancing, which was fiercely
denounced by the modernists, & to which also I didn't go, having
my time fully taken up otherwise; & community singing, which
page 11 was singing — rounds & sea-shanties & such-like; & there was
also a concert, in which I took part, playing accomps.
for a bird who sang some very good old English songs,
& also supplying the brass, woodwind & percussion on the
piano in Beethoven's Prometheus overture, in honour of
the late master's centenary; & cripes, it had me
sweating too, being a ms transcript, pretty badly arranged,
with one or two ticklish bits for flutes etc, & this being my
first adventure in orchestral playing. However after
coming in with resounding emphasis in the wrong place
in the rehearsal I managed to start & finish triumphantly
with the rest of the scratch orchestra on the crucial occas-
& got in with most of the middle. So that was all
right. Then there were two or three excursions I went;
one to the Cheddar Gorge, which wasn't bad though it
was blowing & hailing too much hard to see anything much, & the
Cheddar caves which were highly over-rated & Cheddar itself,
which is 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. On Sunday we went to Downside Abbey,
a new place the Micks are building, & pretty good too;
the newest part by Sir Gilbert Scott, who designed Liverpool
Cathedral. There is a famous boys school there; magnificent
grounds; a good organ; gorgeous vestments; & so forth. I
must say the Micks do themselves darn well wherever
they squat down. We stayed for vespers, which was very
page 12 interesting, though I was nearly choked with the incense, &
got cramp with the kneeling & found absolutely no point
of contact with the whole business at all. And yet
apparently some coves like it; one of the coves showing
the crowd of us round hadn't spoken to a girl for 15 years.
Yet they bellow out Alma Virgo, blessed virgin Mary,
with tremendous enthusiasm; & I must say I was intrigued
to find that the brethren had waitresses to minister to them
at meal times. I don't suppose they get many tips. Then the
whole 350 of us piled into charabancs, a repulsive debauch
of touristism & spent a whole day going to Wells & Glaston-
& Bath. The weather was pretty good on the whole,
but of course it must team with rain till about 4 in
the afternoon. Wells Cathedral is very fine, & the Bishop's
Palace, with its old walls & gardens & moat complete
with ducks & a swan on its nest; some architecture is
frozen music all right. I missed seeing the ruins
at Glastonbury close to, as I rushed up Glastonbury Tor, to
see if I could still climb a hill, but I saw the main
part of them from the road. They have got the Holy Grail
secreted somewhere here; & the thorn still blooms which
Joseph of Arimathea brought over, & an interminable
woman insisted on explaining at ungodly length all
about the sacred well etc etc etc which was why I
couldn't work in the ruins as well as the Tor, which
I alone, of all the 350 triumphantly ascended (about
250 ft). I forgot to say we had lunch here; we
page 13 each got a dinky cardboard box, pink & white, containing
a roll with a slice of beef in the middle. Naturally
when you bit on one end the beef shot out the other.
And two or three nondescript cakes. And a banana. We
only needed a mug tied to tied to our persons by a
bit of string to remind me irresistibly of happy days
of yore on Sunday school picnics. Oh, it was great
fun. At Bath we saw the Roman baths, & so forth;
most perfect & comprehensive Roman remains in
Britain, & a lot of other things; the Romans seem to have
done themselves pretty much as well as the Micks in some
respects. We were to have been shown over the town,
but being ¾ hr behind schedule — such are the worries
of the organisers of [unclear: giant's] tours of inspection — we had to
go straight along to meet the mayor, Alderman Cedric [unclear: Chivers],
a gentleman of almost incredible generosity, who enter-
us all to tea, & was entertained himself in
return by speeches & songs in three different languages.
It was a gorgeous tea, consisting entirely of traditional
Bath delicacies; but starting on the Sally Lunns Lunns with
great enthusiasm. I nearly got stuck there. Bath itself
seems to be a highly genteel place, & no doubt would
delight your Jane Austenish soul. I must go there
again some day & have a look at the Abbey; & look up
the Mayor also, if possible. I was more fortunate
than usual on these things in striking a girl next door
to me who could talk, was a historian, & has a brother
page 14 in NZ at Picton farming under the public school
boys scheme; & altogether we got on very cheerfully &
amiable [sic: amiably]. Tell Frannie. Of course with my usual
generosity on parting from her I said, Well, let me
know if there's anything we can do for your young
brother etc, & she said she would, so I hope she
[unclear: won't]. A quite charming girl. I think about the best
fun I had though was on Sunday, when Ross & Duncan &
I wandered up on the Downs & coming across a nice
hillside with a clump of rocks on top had a hectic half hour
or so digging out the rocks with our fingers (the country is ter-
denuded of rollable rocks) & sent them down the side
of the hill with much enthusiasm; until a cop came rush-
up over the brow of another hill & yelled Hey! get out of
that! & we got with commendable rapidity, following our
rocks down the hill to the riverside. Apparently the Bris-
don't like their hills moved. And certainly there aren't
much of them. Though Bristol to be sure is quite homelike
the way some of the streets run up quite noticeable hills.
They have to have steps in place. Then we tried to climb
up a cliff, but were beaten by perpendicular & overhanging
[gap — reason: unclear] ¾ up. So we came down again & went back the way
we had come, risking the cop; & so to a good dinner; or
lunch rather ;. We got lunch at the Union, & it was
quite good & plentiful; dinner at our hostels, which
varied, but was also on the whole on the good side.
Breakfast was only fair; we weren't even allowed to put
page 15 our own milk on our porridge. On the whole it was a
fairly satisfactory week. Cost me about £5-10 though. There
is a very good 2nd hand bookshop there, but I only spent
10/6, so you can see the control I have over my passions.
By the way, talking of 2nd-hand books, would Daddy
[unclear: care] for the collected edition of Wm Morris? I have seen
one for £10, though it is generally more. It is the big
one with the introductions by Mary Morris.

I don't seem to have been doing much outside
the foregoing — We went to the Old Vic to see Othello
just before we went to Bristol, & good it was too. First
rate seat in pit for 6d. Programme 2d. Also I have
been to Westminster Abbey & been horrified by the way it is
maltreated & cluttered up by the most unbelievable &
ugly heaps of stone; the Poet's Corner is pitiable; while the
vulgarity of the grave of the Unknown Warrior is perfectly
horrible. Without dignity, without beauty, without fitness. A
nation that can do that sort of thing has a lot to answer for.
It is about on a par with an advertisement of sheepdip in a
back-blocks newspaper. I have also been to the National
Gallery; & it is curious to think of these two institutions
being run by the same people.

I forgot to mention a night of one-act plays at
Bristol, by various universities; pretty feeble — the best was
How He lied to Her Husband, in which the girl was quite
good, but found it quite hopeless to pull her dress down over
her knees in a moment of agitation. I shall now close.

   With Love from