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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 20 July 1927

page 1

My dear Mummy,

This town goes forward with considerable
éclat. But I think I’d better abandon the calculations
necessary to catch the Frisco mail & let you have a
short letter now, to go when & how the prevailing mails
may take it. I think I wrote last from Brussels,
but how far I’d gone then I’m dashed if I know, ex-
that I’d arrived at Brussels. Anyhow Brussels
is a fine town, with trees up the boulevards & a Hôtel
de Ville of some fame & parks with fountains playing in
them & statues & an enormous & enormously horrible
Palais de Justice & a massive old city gate & some
punk pictures & very cheap taxis, argumentative drivers
of which however can be cut short with a reference to
the legal fare & fo courteous but firm “c’est tout” & a
church which is not bad, being dedicated to the brack-
saints Gudule & Michael. But I forgot to buy any
postcards in Brussels & never seemed to have my camera
at the psychological moment, so I am afraid I can
not give you any pictorial impressions of this fam-
city. We did not go to [gap — reason: unclear] see the field of Water-
, nor was it visible from the top of the Hôtel de
Ville, the requisite clear day being absent. Did I
mention in my last the wonderful cake shops of
Brussels? Now these patisseries are really what I take
page 2 off my hat too; these are really what one should
visit Brussels for. I had a large cherry tart & a
small chocolate tart at one of these & nearly went under,
but by dint of working off the last ¼ of the chocolate
tart on one of my young companions, drinking lots
of black coffee & going for a good hard walk after-
in the park I came through triumphant.
Wonderful what an early training in dietetics will
    However I think our best day at in Belgium was
spent at Bruges. New Bruges is really a wonderful
place & I should like to put in a week or so there.
It is unspoiled, even by tourists like us & charabanc
tours to the battlefields. (I trust I haven’t mentioned
all this before. But the square is the real thing
in squares, even though we did not see a flower-market
there, as we did in the square at Brussels, & most of
the buildings round it are the good old 16th & 17th century
ones. The belfry is wonderful & chimes away vigor-
& melodiously all day telling the time. Of course
we arrived in the one month of all the year when
the carillon is not playing. Then there is the Hôtel
de Ville, not far away, where we struck an interesting
exhibition of illuminated mss & old stamped bindings,
& a ghastly chapel & a very lugubrious crypt. (These
Micks will vulgarise anything, from Jesus Christ down-
). The churches are not uninteresting, but no
page 3 great shakes on the whole. One of the best places is the
old Hospital of St John, which has been going for
centuries, & where they have turned the chapel into a
little museum of Memling’s paintings, & glorious things
they are. There’s something very satisfying about these
Primitive birds, in spite of their sameness of subject; but
my word, brilliance of painting! The old red brick &
the courtyards & gardens of this Hospital would delight
your soul too. Then there is another little art-
gallery, the municipal one, packed full of gorgeous things
two stunner Van Eycks & a Memling best of all. These
a [sic: are] the things a bloke thanks his stars for being able to
see. I spent 30 francs on a photograph of the Mem-
. St. Christopher & the usual accompaniments of
saints & donors etc. So you’ll see some of it some
day. And then there are the beautiful little old
streets & the bits of canals & the bridges & doorways & win-
& carvings, & vistas here & perspectives there & trees
a & flowerpots els elsewhere, which make up the
real essential joy of the place. Give a man a year
there, & the he might absorb some of it. I went
sniffing about the lace shops here, thinking I might get
a lace hanky or so for you; but the only ones that
really appealed to me as being up to your standards were
from about 10/- a upwards, so I regretfully came
out again, having being complimented on my taste
in lace by one of my lady friends, but getting
page 4 no further. So you will have to take the will for
the deed. The cheap stuff you could get in N.Z.
just as easily, so what I reasoned with my usual
infallible logic, was the use of paying customs on
an inferior article?
   Anyhow, in course of time we left Brus-
& went to Cologne, where we picked up de K.
again, who had had to be buzzing round Holland
on family affairs while we were in Belgium.
We were only in Cologne for the fag end of an
afternoon & a night and an early breakfast, & prac-
all that time we put in in & around the
Cathedral. Well, it’s something to have lived to see
This Cathedral. But it’s simply no use trying to
describe it. It’s the sort of thing you dream about,
& if most of the glass had not been put in in the
19th century it would be about as glorious as [sic: a] thing I
suppose as men have ever made. There’s no doubt
about it, those medieval birds could build, & they
could make stained glass; & once you look at their
glass you want to stare yourself blind, & once you
walk into their naves you wonder why you have
never seen a building before in your life. Well,
I’ll merely remark that to visit Cologne Cathedral is
an emotional experience of the first magnitude &
leave it at that. We went to a joint to order our
dinner & then [unclear: tre] back to look at the outside of the
page 5 Cathead Cathedral again. But our dinner was also
marvellous, consisting of a Chartreuse steak for form
(which they say is so called because it is horse)
& an extraordinary multiplicity of vegetables, which
would have delighted your soul; following which, &
to celebrate our re-union with de K we felt impelled
to indulge in a C liqueur, & then pranced off through
the streets & parks of Cologne to the banks of the Rhine, where
we sat & watched the lights & the trains thundering
over the bridge. Thence to a good bed. I’m begin-
to believe in travellers complaints about NZ pubs;
& after the ridiculously cheap & first rate places we
had in Holland & Germany a bloke would feel in-
to growl at anything short of clean wallpaper,
running water & patent taps. The other places we
have been at w have not been so good, not having run-
water, except at Rotterdam; but the room I
am writing in now is as bigger [gap — reason: unclear] than your room at
home , or bigger th with three lots of windows, two beds, a settee
& all other suitable furniture, & all for 8 f shillings
a night for de K & I — the Austrian shilling being about equal to
7 ½d. However God forbid that I should reproach in
any way my native country, the mother of all my
virtues, & the kindly nurse nurse of so many great
men & such transcendent ideals. We left Cologne
with many regrets the morning after our advent & pro-
[gap — reason: unclear] by train to Coblez. We traversed Coblez by
page 6 train, on the way to the ferry wharf, so I cannot give you
any very trustworthy details of this city, except that the
post-boxes are blue & are hung on the sides of buildings
like birdcages & are not set on the ground; & after pa-
waiting in the sun for ½ an hour or so, the
paddle steamer came up the Rhine & we hopped on
board, yours truly being nearly killed in the rush, being
knocked off the luggage he was endeavouring to cope
with & nearly trampled to death by fat Germans. Let
me say however that I bear these same Germans no
malice, that some of them were probably American
tourists from some university in California, with
accents as broad as their plus fours; & that all the
Germans that I have met, though not distinguished
for beauty, have been very amiable. There was
a mob of school kids on the boat going for an
educational trip up the Rhine, & you never saw a
brigthe brighter hand of small ugly mugs in your life.
Most of the boys wore those long stockings & trousers
below the knee which I imagine Daddy wore in
his boyhood, & the girls with dresses corresponding
in date; but they yapped & tore away at their
bread & wurst & got messed up with all parts of
the ship in the most delightful way. Also it was
very good fun, inducing shrieks of laughter, to pull
the little girls’ pigtails unbeknownst like & then look
innocent; while the girls had the whole mob at their
page 7 feet by making jumping rabbits out of handkerchiefs
& teaching them what wonderful games you can play
with the human hands. One little girl on being
told we were English shrank away as if from the
devil, but the game was too much for her, & she
was soon back. Nice kids. And they finished
up with some first-rate singing of old songs. And
when I hear a mob of NZ kids sing as many, & as
musically & as readily & as charmingly, I’ll be
ready to believe a bit more in the saving grace of Messrs
[unclear: Parn] & Wright & Co, & the transcendent virtues of for the young of citizen-
[gap — reason: unclear] of of a country 98% British. As for the Rhine
itself, up which our steamer paddled most of this
day, it is beautiful, as long as you put more faith
in Romance & legend than in your own eyes; but as
we remarked to one another, coves that have seen the
St Lawrence & the Rockies & the Orongorongo & the
Southern Alps are apt to be a bit sceptical of the
wild magnificence of these European natural wonders.
However God forbid that I should say anything against
the Rhine, which is a very pretty river, with many
romantic castles, in repair or in ruin, & nice little
villages scattered along it’s banks, & I am quite pre-
to admit that if I had been on those banks
I should have raved over it. I may instance that
notorious rock the Loreley, so fatal to mariners, & said
(I believe) to reach the terrific height of 300 ft — a des-
page 8 perate
peak in all conscience; but then we have many
such round Island Bay way. Still, I’ve nothing against
the Rhine in any way — the Rhine’s all right. At the end
of the day we came to Mainz, where we disembarked & had
a meal, looked at the array of occupation sauntering around,
had a ride in a tram, & a walk in the park, watched a
practice game of soccer, & caught the train for Heidelberg, which
we reached at midnight. However de K’s tongue working
very freely at German, he went out & by great stroke of
luck got rooms for us in 5 minutes (the town
being full of students come for a re-union & summer
course pretty well every place was full of them, but
we got two rooms reserved for people who did not
turn up.) Heidelberg is another joy. de K & I left the
girls in bed in the morning to recuperate & wandered
out to see what we could see. Now there are in
Heidelberg some excellent bookshops (most of the stock
unfortunately being in German) where they also sell
a great series of facsimile reproductions of etchings &
woodcuts & so forth — [unclear: Reichsdencke] the series is called,
& there are nearly 1000 of them, Rembrandt & Durer &
all the rest of them; absolutely stunner reproductions,
& dirt cheap, from about 1 — 5 marks each. We got
a good many between us, but when we get to Mun-
we are going to have a regular orgy. I got
some good Durer prints, St. George & Melanchthon
etc, & Rembrandts’ Faust the chief of them; but wait
page 9 till I get to Munich, aha! They are the best things
I have ever seen in this line. Some of the German
book production is very good too — their gothic type
type makes a fine black page, & when their books are
good they are very good. Where they fall down is
on the covers, which which are quite often very crude,
nothing like as good as the ordinary English cloth cover —
too much ornament, & bad ornament at that. Still some
of them are jolly good both within & without — nothing
to lose in comparison with e.g. Jonathan Cape, & far[gap — reason: unclear]
better than most English books. I saw a lot of the
Tauchnitz books — I must see if I can’t smuggle a few
of these into England; they are only 1/6 & some of
them are good stuff. Besides these amenities Heidel-
has a University & many students in caps of all
colours, & pleasant side-sheets & a river & a famous
bridge & hills & a celebrated Schloss, which means
castle. We had a perfect day wandering over the
place — the castle is set in immense grounds, with
the proper romantic views all round, & I suppose
the proper romantic associations, if one only knew
them, & a little shop for selling postcards & bad etch-
. I brought some of the postcards, which I hope to
send out to you in due course. Also a large & up-to-
date beer-garden, complete with blue box for posting afore-
paid briefecarten [sic: briefkarten]. I mentioned the bridge, I think; we
stood on it in the twilight, & de K & H. evolved a scheme
page 10 for getting up at 4 o’clock next morning to see the
sunrise; which however de K being de K did not come
off. I was nearly forgetting to mention the black trag-
which overcame me at the Schloss in process of
being photographed by de K who is very painful, with
& painfully conscientious with a large & complicated ¼
plate camera; scratching my head violently, precip-
my goggles on to the gravel & fractured one
of the panes. The only consolation was that the great
Goethe may possibly have walked on this self-same
gravel 100 years ago; a large notice states that he was
accustomed to stroll around hereabouts & meditate
on life circa that time. It was a very sad affair,
but the great & noble de K by the use of his excellent
German was able to get them fixed for me next
morning at Freiburg. For from Heidelberg we
went to Freiburg & from Freiburg (seeing nothing of
it save the station) we went to Titisee, leaving de K
to do odd jobs & visit (a/ friends (b/ bookshops. (Friends
got left out, as it happened) Titisee is a bright little
place in the Black Forest, with a lake & bathing sheds &
other celebrated resorts & a good many pubs which
looked a good deal too flash for us. Anyhow we
had lunch there (at 4 pm) & got caught in a
thunderstorm; & then the invaluable de K turned
up & we learned that as it was the week-end there
page 11 wasn’t a single room left in the place; so we caught
another train to the [gap — reason: unclear] next station, Neustadt; which
was one of the luckiest chances of the whole trip. It
is absolutely ridiculous my trying to give you an
account of this journey — I could give you a whole
letter on Neustadt alone. But you won’t get it out of
me. All the pubs here were full too; but we man-
to get two rooms in two different private
houses among the most charming people imagin-
. de K & I who had two old ladies who
seemed as charmed with us as we were with them;
& the girls has a hausfrau equally delightful. Neu-
itself is a large village or a small town, with
a picture show (Ben Hur now running), a church,
several pubs, one of which, where we had a
couple of meals, a jolly place where the German
youths danced sedately to an accordion & the
landlady beamed comprehensively & guessed our
ages indifferently well, but with great good humour;
& all around green fields, or brown fields, where
they were gathering in the hay, & hills & hill-roads &
I the dark pines of the forest. They make a science
of foresty here. Really I have never seen a
more pleasant, good-natured, smiling country, &
the people fit it. Rather slow, but oh! how cheerful
& agreeable & cheerful & clean. Locomotion varies
from motor-lorry to bullock-cart — in one cart I
page 12 saw a horse & a bullock yoked together. We drifted
around the village, & listened to the organ in the
church (quite good) & walked over the hill to
Titisee for a bathe & walked back again & took
our tea up the [gap — reason: unclear] another hill to the edge of the forest
& rolled home in the dark & altogether had a most
satisfactory time. We spent from Saturday night till
Tuesday morning here & left most reluctantly. Our
two old ladies coyly presented us with buttonholes of
carnations & many smiles; & we shook hands most
mostly most feelingly & said Auf wiedersehen with
the utmost emotion. They were very dear people
& gave us bed & breakfast for about 2/6 a time.
We were slaughtering their sons & grandsons a little
while ago. You can see how pleasant, & cheap,
travel on the Continent is, if you go about it the right
way. Of course we are the lads & lasses to do the
biz & no mistake.
    From Neustadt we came to Zurich, which
we reached yesterday afternoon. Zurich is another
pleasant place, but big towns are much the same
as one another after all. We rowed on the lake
after dinner; the hills & the lights all round
reminded me much of Wgton, though the hills were
too gentle & the lights too many. There were more
trees in the streets, & some of the new buildings
were very interesting; but I daresay McGrath
page 13 will be more interested in the details of these
than you will. We came on to Innsbruck today,
which is Wednesday the 20th, having a most ex-
series of adventures with the rolling stock;
the way carriages were taken off & put on & we
were pushed out of one into the other being enough
to break the spirits of any but a party so high-
spirited as hours [sic: ours]. If we shifted our luggage once,
we shifted it ten times. However it was really
most hilarious; & as we have reduced lunch in
a train to a fine art we get on magnificently.
You see everybody worth seeing travelling 3rd class;
& coming down from Neustadt to Freiburg we
travelled 4th. You can tell anybody who raises
horrified hands at the idea of this on the continent
that they are clean [unclear: barking]. Which is praising
them. However I don’t suppose they will in NZ, not
being as snobbish or wedded to slothful comfort
as the English on Thos Cook & Son, Mayfair. The train
today was full of trampers & climbers, who pretty
well broke my heart — the Tramping Club could
do great work here for a while, you might tell
any of them you happen to see (& I understand
that Ern brings some of them along to tea occasion-
) We passed through some great country, too,
though we did not see any really big stuff. Inns-
is surrounded by the most magnificent
page 14 hills on all sides; & the streets are full of shorts &
[gap — reason: unclear] hob-nailed boots, & the shops of boots & shoes &
swags & rope & ice-axes & other desirable things.
Ice-axes cost £2.10 in Wgton — you can get them
for 10/- – 15/- here. I am thinking seriously of getting
one to bring out with me. It would come in
very handy at times & it seems a sin to leave
them all here at that price. A pair of leather
shorts would be the latest thing on the Tararuas
too I daresay, especially if decorated in the
flash way some of them are here; but I dare
say the pair I pinched form the govt. will
do me as well for NZ conditions, as well as
being a more tamer truer expression of the
national genius. Other things that are cheap
here are beer & liqueurs - Chartreuse 10d a bottle.
But as you are not the experts in these things
that I am I shall draw a judicious & tactful
veil. I wish I could do a bit of climbing
round here, but alas! & alas! We are leaving
tomorrow night for Vienna, which I am told
is the finest city in the world. Well, it is now
½ past midnight & de K is sleeping sweetly behind
me. I hope you got your last letter all right — this
will probably go via Suez. I hope to get something
from you at Vienna.

Give my love to all,
reserving what is necessary, a lot I hope, I for