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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 16th May 1927

page 1
21 Brunswick Square
London WC1

  My Dear Mummy,

I don't know how much of this letter
I shall get written, as the confounded light has fused, owing
to the silly-ass methods of Miss Hawkins in cleaning the bulb,
& as it is getting late the even-tide is fast falling. And though
we have a candlestick, we have no candles, so it looks as
though I shall be driven to a bicycle lamp. Curse the light.

Your letters came this morning, two weeks & 5 days after
the last one. I regret to say I was not greatly stirred by the
contents — 4 out of 5 papers appearing to deal exclusively with the
wedding, details of bridesmaids' frocks, church, parson's behaviour,
Ern's behaviour, Frannie's behaviour, Auntie's behaviour, & so
forth. However I had better simulate what fictitious interest I
can, I suppose, & make one or two comments, The cake hasn't
turned up yet — the bigger the piece the better of course; I am
hoping a lorry will draw up at the door & disgorge in the
near future. You say Auntie shone even more than usual
in her efforts to overload the groaning board, but you don't
give me any details — indeed, it seems that the really
important things you have left out altogether. (I have taken to
the bicycle lamp, & it is cruel l — probably be blind in ½ an hour),
in fact I believe the blasted thing is going out. In fact, it has
gone out & now I am sitting on the landing cursing like a trooper.
Nothing to the way Duncan will curse when he gets back — he
page 2 doesn't take these little things so philosophically as I do. And now
I have entirely lost my train of thought; & I don't like writing
with a pad on my knees; so you will probably get about 4 ½
pages by this mail. Oh, about this wedding. You didn't seem
to lose much time about pushing Keithles off at the deep end
as soon as Frannie turned up; & no doubt the poor cow was
glad enough to dive in for a start; but it is a well-known
fact that men get can't stand immersion for anything like
the length of time women can, so I suppose he will be
getting fed up pretty soon. If he doesn't get up & make
a wild break for freedom, I suppose we shall have the elevat-
spectacle of Keithles trotting out to work of a morning with
goloshes & an umbrella, kissing his pretty wife a fond goodbye
& tapping the barometer the Captain of the Tainui gave them as
a regular matter of routine. If & when my time comes I
give notice right now that barometers will not be gra ac-
. You say Ernest was very capable & energetic, that means
he made a darn nuisance of himself I suppose & got in everybody's
way & forgot his speech at the crucial moment, being no doubt
drunk on the claret cup. I felt a bit alarmed on reading of
claret cup when thought of Auntie; not a pleasant thought
for a cove to imagine his aunt sinking under the table in a
drunken stupor & having to be soused in the bath to bring
her to; but I reflected that she had had a good appren-
on stout, & was therefore probably hardier inside than
anybody would really give her credit for.

I don't see how Daddy can reconcile himself to
page 3 having the bridesmaids dressed in red; that sort of thing wouldn't
be allowed in England, where a Jix & a Birkenhead guard the founts
of piety & patriotism. It's a thing I wouldn't stand for myself;
if they had to break with an old & noble tradition & wear other
than white, why didn't they make a couple of simple one-
piece frocks out of an old Union Jack? But red, geranium or
not fargh! it sticks in my vitals. A remark of Daddy's
I don't quite get, by the way; he says you felt very proud of
your two daughters in law — would I be adding to the number
& volume on my return. Why volume! Does he think they
aren't helfty hefty enough, & I might pick out a fat girl?
Anyhow give a man a chance — I haven't been to Paris yet.
As a matter of fact I think I shall stay over here, take a
nice little flat in Chelsea overlooking the Embankment & get
Auntie to come over & keep house for me. Give me plenty of
music & books & plays & h you can have all the wives in the
world. The only remark in the letter that I could
really sympathise with & appreciate was that you missed
me greatly. It only goes to prove what I always maintained,
that without my genial presence, radiating good cheer & good
fellowship, no function of a social nature, from a lt chris-
to a funeral, could ever be complete. It must have
been a sad thought indeed, especially to Frannie, that the roof &
crown of things was so far away, unable to quaff the flowing
bowl or dispense the witty quip. A tragic ingredient of the
festivities, to be sure — just as well, indeed that I didn't feel
it so deeply; it would never have done to have two hemispheres
page 4 plunged in gloom simultaneously. By the way, I suppose they took
a chaperon up to Paekak with them? I note your remark
about Mrs Kilfey — you might tell her next time you see her to
hold out till I go through with it, & I will give her a
chance to get really drunk on anything she likes; she had
better be prepared for a long wait though. Still, she can have
dinkum champagne if it is longer than 10 years. Well, I
think that's all I have to say on the interesting crisis which
has lately been surmounted in the family history.

I haven't done a great deal in the last fortnight; hardly
been out at all. I have read a couple of books though —
a new book by Stephen Graham called the Gentle Art of Tramp-
which has some good stuff in it in spite of the fatuous
title; & the Way of all Flesh. I have had to knock off 2/3 of
the way through Erewhon to get on to my mail. I have a
recollection of your telling me once, Mummy, that the Way of
All Flesh wasn't a book I wanted to read; though as far as
I remember I quite wanted to read it. But with my usual
filial piety I considered that there would be plenty of time
as soon as I got away from you, & that it wasn't worth
making a fuss over. I must say I consider it an admirable
book; as a matter of fact I would put a copy in every school
& Sunday school library. Personally I shall read it to
my own children as early as possible to teach them a
wholesome disrespect for their parents. A pity I didn't
get hold of it 20 years ago, I think — I would have had a
much less repressed & beaten-down character. By jingo!
page 5 it is a great book all right, & contains the hardest hit I've ever
come across, I think — “She has been the comfort & mainstay of
my life for more that thirty years! said Theobold... & he
buried his face in his handkerchief to hide conceal his want of emotion”
Good stuff. Good stuff in Erewhon too. Nuisance this cor-
. As for plays etc. I have been out four times (1)
to Hamlet (2) to Tristan & Isolde (3) to the Royal Academy (4) to
Laski's (he is as good as a play). Hamlet was at the Old Vic;
Lorrie was in London, we met at a hash-house, & spent a
convivial evening together with the Dane. It was a pretty
good performance on the whole; main defect was that Hamlet
suffered from a cold, & craved the indulgence of the spectators
of his agony for consequent loss of voice. Polonius good.
Grave-diggers not half as good as the pair Allan Wilkie had
when he did Hamlet, though — an emasculated pair. I'm
sorry I missed the rest of the Old Vic season; but there is
all next winter, when I must take an evening or so off
from concerts. Tristan was magnificent — real dinkum
grand opera; I dashed along to Covent Garden straight from
the P.R.O. at ½ past 4 & by queuing up then got quite a
good seat for 3/- in the gods. The show started at 7, so
it wasn't as long a wait as it might have been. The
ringers were first-rate — mostly Germans; but as you won't
have heard of them I won't mention names, except that
Sigrid Onegin sang Brangane — so there is one ambition
of my life fulfilled, to hear her in the flesh. The records
we have of her are pretty good, so far as I remember them;
page 6 they give you a good idea of the lyric side to her voice. The
other people were mostly up to her standard — gorgeous soprano,
one Frida Lieder. Bass magnificent. I thought the orchestra
was first-rate myself, & so did the Times; but I see that E.
Newman says it certainly did better than any continental scratch
orchestra could do, but after all, it is only a scratch orchestra,
& etc, etc: This was the last performance of Tristan, & I
have been cursing myself ever since for not going two or
three times — I must get a piano score, I think, & work at it,
properly; it is some of the greatest stuff I've ever heard. Pity
Star isn't here now, with her identical experience of Ber-
Page's rampaging at same on the organ. It came
in very handy, having heard the preludes & main themes
from him. They are running a good deal of Wagner —
Parsifal, & the Ring cycle; but all the seats for those seem
to be reserved, or they start at some ungodly hour in
the afternoon. Like 5; so I don't see much chance of my
getting in. I'll hop in early next year & book seats.
Fidelio I shall be going to though, I think, & probably Der
Rosenkavalier. I don't know what they are doing in the
future. I'll send you a programme out some time.
The scenery at Covent Garden is pretty crude & out of date; &
the acting is the same at times (Wagner's fault partly, I
should say, as there isn't much chance for variety of dramatic
gesture) but as far as the music goes — well, I'll tell the

I went to the R.A. principally to say I had been, &
page 7 to be able to sneer in a cultivated way; but there was a good
deal of quite good stuff there, & some really hummer things.
I listened in to some superior high-brow remarks “Oh ye-e-s,
there are good things about it — the lighting's quite good = dead-
mutton painting, though — just the st sort of thing the Daily
Mail would buy” This of the picture of the year, called
Morning, I think, by Mrs Dod Proctor; a first-rate thing
(I have it on the authority of Frank Rutter of in the Sunday Times)
which the D.M. has bought to present to the nation. Chance
for the Evening Post or the Dominion here. But the British
peoples' range of art-criticism seems to settle really in the
somewhat limited vocabulary of “Rather nice” & “Perfectly
lovely”. However you probably know all this, so I needn't
elaborate it. I went down to Laski's yesterday after-
noon, as the weather wasn't too flash for cycling — he
didn't tell so many funny stories this time, but put over
some good stuff. You're always sure to run into an inter-
mixture there — this time there was a German girl, a
S. African ditto, an American & his wife, an Englishman &
me. Laski's wife is very decent & he is a shrimp him-
self physically, but he married a physical culture inspec-
of schools with all sorts of Scandinavian diplomas; so between
them they've managed to turn out a very bright little girl.
A great man is Laski. It's a pity Newton hasn't got
some of his sense of humour — he is a bit portentous,
with all his virtues, & he generally misses the point if
you say anything flippant at one of his seminars. But
page 8 Laski is the lad. I can see it is going to be the central sorrow
of my academic life that I wa could not work all through with
him; but still, I am getting more out of him than from
anybody else. I walked back from his place, which is
away down near Olympia to Marble Arch through Kensing-
Gardens & Hyde Park — my word! you would like
Kensington Gardens now, with all the trees in their green
prime, & the chestnuts covered with & crowded with white
candles. There is a red flowering tree too that looks like a
chestnut the way its flowers grow; but there are all sorts of
sizes & colours in trees & everything without exception, once
you get out of the road is bright & beautiful. Bar the
courting couples on the grass. They seem to get into the
line of sight whereever you go. I went & had another
look at old Epstein-Hudson-Rima — I think it looks
joly good taken in the mass & there's a tremendous lot
of movement about it. Here I think I shall knock off
for the night, as it is 11pm & I am sick of the landing,
& I want to write a short note of greeting to Harold Holt,
who I think I was told, is coming over from the States
tomorrow; & though I am not certain, I may as well
be on the safe side.

17/5/27 Light all right again, thank God. Harold
not turned up yet, but he will be here about the
end of the week. What I have written I'm dashed
if I know, so I suppose I shall have to read all
through the foregoing tripe to see what I have read written.
page 9 Hum! It seems pretty complete. Oh, we blew out on
our bikes the Sunday before last, down into Kent,
via Whitechapel & the Sunday markets & the Tower
of London & Tower Bridge, & the celebrated Shooter's
Hill up which with unabated zeal & vigour I rode,
& Greenwich Hospital, the fine points of which
Mac pointed out to us, Greenwich Park, which
like Kensington Gardens, looked good with all the
chestnuts out in flower. We took in refreshments
there of peanuts & ice-cream & weak lemonade; &
about 3 o'clock succeeded into getting away from
houses into the country. Real country, too; Kent has
it all over any other part of England I've seen for
trees, great avenues of them. We came down a lane
to a little joint called Darenth, where we got off &
loafed around & prospected for a Roman villa marked
on the map, & managed to find what might have been
the remains of the back yard with the aid of a
small boy who was knocking round, a native of the
village & an archaeological expert. Also photographs
were taken here, of which I send you one. The luxuriant
growth at our feet is good hefty stinging nettle, so if
I had fallen off my seat I would have [sic: been] stung pretty
comprehensively for about 20 miles. As a matter of fact
the chain did fall off my goggles, with lamentable effect [gap — reason: unclear]
for Mac who altruistically joined in the search, but
though I found the chain I am not wearing it now,
page 10 & find the goggles stick on all right. If they bust I shall
go the limit & get a flash pair of horn-rimmed ones.
We had tea in a very bright & picturesque old village
called Shoreham, rather the worse in places for modernity;
but still pretty good; a very good tea we had in a
garden full of gorgeous tulips & flowering fruit trees.
Why don't they grow tulips more in N.Z? I have
seen masses of them here. And now in the Inns
of Court big borders & masses of that blue sort of lily we
have at home are coming out — I don't know what you
call it, but they were in front under the front room
window, I think. Not the white ones. Then we had
a good run back to town mostly downhill with the
wind behind us, 3 hours of it; a terrific traffic on
the road from push bikes & Rolls Royces; & dashing
across Trafalgar Square into Charing X Rd I got a blast
from a cop, two cops in fact, for cutting it across,
although I explained in the tones of injured innocence,
I did it quite inadvertently. But I don't think the cop
knew th what inadvertently meant, anyhow he didn't
stop blasting me, & made me walk all the way round
again. However [gap — reason: unclear] I didn't bear him any malice,
& on this pious note I will stop, though I have fallen
short of 12 pages. Excuse writing — due to speed , but I
still think it's better than Keith's or Ern's. Curse Ern &
his blooming propaganda; tell him I will see what I can

Give my love to all aunts, sisters in law & such
like. I trust Auntie continues in the pink. Love from.


page 11 P.S. I see I have to page over after all.    (1/ Please address all letters after receipt of this
c/o High Com 415 Strand W.C.2   as I may be moving round a good bit in July
& onwards.    (2/ I had a letter from Prof which included
a request for a contribution to poor old Sammy Palmer;s
memorial. Please give him 10/- on my [unclear: a/c] & take
it out of books as before. If the fund is not doing too
well make it £1, but 10/- is really about my limit
under normal circumstances. Ern will tell you how
things stand, or you can get Prof on the phone. He is
a good bloke. Haven't heard from F.P. yet! Though
Prof said he was enquiring for my address. I've
written to the silly ass twice, too.
   Books posted through Bumpus
    (a) Walton's Lives 4/6
    (b) Yeats 5/-
    (c) Pious conversations for Mummy 2/-
but she can have them [unclear: buckshee] if she likes. I got
them at Bristol for her thinking that she would find a
good many quotations therein to hurl at the family.
As I am out of the way I can afford to do this.

     Love again


P.P.S. tell Frannie I hope she is finding married
life all she anticipated; I hope she is sticking
up sternly for her rights.