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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 23 August 1927

page 1
P.S. The cheap Nonesuch Blake is
well worth getting. I have got it.

21 Brunswick Sq.
London W.C.1

My dear Mummy,

Back in dirty Old London, & not a
bad place either. I forget how long I had been in Paris
when I wrote to you last — it seems a long while
ago, so I hope I haven't missed any mails in the
interval. I put in three of my last days in France
in Rouen; Espiner's girl was staying down there for
the her holidays, & as Rouen is only a couple of hours
from Paris, we bought us return tickets, which are cheap-
than two single ones & last for 3 days & sallied
forth. Have I mentioned this girl before?— I think
I have; she is a 1st rate girl, Scotch, with a French
degree & doing research on the origins of the English son-
for a doctorate; humorously inclined, & just the girl
for E, I should think, apart from giving the poor cow
a pretty hard time for the good of his soul, walking him
round to look at churches when he would rather be
having a good sleep. His idea of recreation is to take a
day off from work, get half-dressed & go to sleep in an
arm-chair till lunch time, sally forth to lunch (4[unclear: f]75),
come back & sleep till dinner-time. I have a great
regard for the system myself, though life moves at
too high a pressure to allow much indulgence in it.

I think Rouen shares with Bauges the honour of being
page 2 the most picturesque places visited by me. You will see
when I send out the swag of European postcards I have
in preparation for you. Whole series of old streets
have been preserved practically intact round the Cathe-
& you never saw anything more picturesque. The
oldest houses go back to about the 15th century. Not
very sanitary of course, but that doesn't matter a curse to
the French, sanitation being a subject to which they do
not seem to have turned the national attention with
any great ardour as yet. Anyhow, the tourist & the
postcard seller get the benefit. I got some big pictures
too, mainly of the Cathedral, but I don't think they'll bear
sending out. The Cathedral is a fine place, built at
all sorts of different periods, & spoilt by an iron
spire, put up about 1880 & about as bad an eyesore as
the Eiffel tower. It has some great carving & flamboy-
work, & some magnificent glass; & let me tell you
I [gap — reason: unclear] have got the stained-glass bug pretty badly. I may
be giving magic-lantern lectures with misguided enthus-
& a [unclear: pointer] if & when I get back. Chance for
Maud England & the W.E.A. to nail me down for a
Saturday night confidential chat at the Trades Hall.
Next time I'm in France I must blow down to Chartres,
& to Rheims & see what I can see there. Let alone
York minster & other such-like, more or less at the
back door. Pity a man can't get up to York & back of
a week-end on his trusty bike, but such I'm afraid
page 3 with a suitable interval for high brow study would
baffle even Dick Turpin. Which reminds me I
must go down & have a look at my bike some time
& see if the faithful steed has been pinched or borrowed
or otherwise manhandled during my absence. Rouen
is full of place memories of Joan of Arc of course; with
an ugly fountain in the square where she was burnt,
& one of the towers of the castle where she was impris-
, well covered with visitor's names, & a plate on the
wall of the house which occupies the [unclear: position] of the
town where she actually was imprisoned, & plates where
she recanted & was sentenced & so on, & a street called
rue Jeanne Darc, so that there is a nice little argument
now going as to whether Rouen is right, which
spells it that way, or Paris which spells her street rue
Jeanne d'Arc. So that in Rouen you can pick up all
the thrills you want, quite apart from going to the pictures
& seeing Tom Mix or Ben Hur. I should like to put in
a whole summer knocking about Normandy. Ross
has just gone over to Brittany, & I shouldn't mind doing
that too. Let alone the rest of the country. He got
back to Paris late on a Saturday night, after a rotten
train journey. The French trains so far as I have
seen them are pretty poor compared to others on the
continent, at least in the third class — the corridors are
packed with people standing for hours, & it never
seems to occur to the blokes in charge to put on an
page 4 extra carriage. This train was more than ½ hour late
too. And hot. And dirty. Still, I am willing to
admit I speak on a very imperfect acquaintance. But
the fact remains that we enjoyed ourselves better in Dutch
& German trains. I then paid a last Sunday (free)
visit to the Louvre & discovered that I had only seen
about a quarter 8 of it, even roughly, in 4 visits.
[unclear: Hemming] by the way goes every second Sunday
afternoon, invariably gets a headache, & after a year
has only been ½ through the place. You see what a
size it is. It has some great pictures, of course; I
liked Mona Lisa immensely, & there are some first rate
Van Dykes & Corots. The usual hundred acres of Rubens.
Stacks of tripe, of course. My personal opinion is that
Whislter's [sic: Whistler's] portrait of his mother bears comparison with
anything in the whole place — a lovely thing — Holbein's
portrait of Erasmus, the one of which there is a coloured
reproduction in one of Daddy's book's on the Renais-
, by [unclear: Bensusane], I fancy, is there; first-rate, though
much smaller than I expected. Also one or two
glorious Flemish primitives, Van Eyck etc. Did I tell
you I had gone clean barmy on those birds? Also
a good Vermeer, whom by now I practically worship.
I got a good little album of reproductions of his
things in Munich. If I had enough cash I would
have got two of all the prints & pictures I bought, &
sent one set out to you; but I suppose you'll see
page 5 them all some day, when I get F.P.'s chair.

While we were in Paris we went to the Grand
Guignol — did I mention that? — a series of one act plays,
half comic, half shockers, full of sadists & [unclear: dry] fiends ,
& cemetery robbers & eye-gougers; the only unfortunate
thing was that most of the talk went right past me. Adelaide
and I went to the Folies Bergères, a bright show in its
way, with gorgeous dressing as well as undressing, but
very poor from the point of view of das dancing in
comparison with the Casino, which had some really
good drill in it. I was going to get a souvenir prog-
& send it out to Auntie, as she is going in so
whole heartedly for terpsichore, but on mature thought
decided that it would be just as well not to, lest it
got into the hands of Daddy & Ern. Still if she
would like one, just say so & I'll be able to pick-up
the latest down Leicester Square way easily enough. The
only [unclear: trouble] about these French shows is that the theatres
are beastly hot, & that the programme lasts so long
that by the time it is finished you are thoroughly bored.
And after it all, some disillusioned bird, a classical
scholar I suppose, insists that the Venus de Milo is the
Most Beautiful Woman in Paris. I was disappointed
when I saw her first; the solid cart-horse type, I
thought to myself, but she improves on acquaintance.
She is right down at the end of a long hall lined
with statues; if you come into by way of the other
page 6 end down some steps & see her suddenly the effect is
simply miraculous. But about the best thing in the
way of [gap — reason: unclear] sculping [sic: sculpting] I think is the Winged Victory.
There is something superb about this, a really splendid
sweep & motion. You could look at it for hours.
Drapery after all (not clothes) has its uses. I
think I told you most of the other things I had
seen in Paris; if I didn't see anything I you
think I ought to have seen you'd better write &
tell me & I'll make a note for future visits.
I hung over the bookstalls all along the left bank
of the Seine for hours of course, but devil a bargain
did I find; so I bought a few Anatole Frances at
ordinary shop prices just to say I had bought things
there. I had to borrow a suit-case from Es-
to bring my books back from Paris, &
nearly broke my arms & back, let alone my
heart, carrying both the darn things — I decided
that economy must start once more with London,
& so after a lot of hesitation denied myself a
taxi from Victoria to Brunswick Square; but
after having to change twice in the tube & then walk
100 yds to the house & upstairs I decided that in
future it would be a taxi for me every time.
We had a rotten trip from Dieppe to Newhaven
too; but although the boat behaved like a demented
matchbox our young hero retained his equanimity.
page 7 Some of my stuff got wet though. Nevertheless I was
able to bring ¼ litre of Curaçon into the country,
primarily for Adelaide's farewell party, secondarily
for select gatherings in the future, & was able to
answer with a triumphant negative when the customs
bloke asked me if I had any copyright editions
with me. Then he sniffed & asked if all my
books were respectable books. I was too dead tired
to make a suitably flippant reply. I was thinking
of getting Ulysses in Paris, but the darn thing is
25 125 francs — £1--0--2, too much for me. I
thought I might have sent it out to you afterwards.
I did get a scarf for you in Paris, though, wit
with the aid of one of my lady friends, which
I am assured is quite peculiarly Parisian. I
think I shall probably send it out per Harold Holt,
as if I send it in an envelope & register it, I suppose
they will want you to pay customs on it, while if I
don't someone will pinch it. I also got a bit of a
foolish bauble in Paris f Rouen for you, which I
dare say will also go out per H.H. & arrive sometime
before Christmas. I hope Auntie's Dutch cap
turned up all right — I trusted that to the post
with considerable hesitation. She ought to
have it by now, as I sent it from Brussels.

London looks much the same as before.
It has been raining practically the whole time since
page 8 I got back, & I gather that there has not been more
than about 6 hours sunshine all through the summer,
so-called. Now the days are closing in again, &
its [sic: it's] nearly dark by 8. I thought I would start
right in on work last Tuesday, but did about
4 hours in the whole week. Such is the strenuous
process of settling down again, getting the pages of books
out, etc visiting [unclear: Bumpins'] etc. However this week
has been a bit fuller of graft so far, though it did
take a select company of us 2½ hours to have after
tea this afternoon at the Institute. Adelaide left
for Canada last Saturday, much to the grief of all,
& de K & I had to put in rest of the day cheering
up Helen, who lived in the same house with
her, not to mention ourselves. We went to "When
[unclear: Crumules] Played –" in the evening, which
you have doubtless seen reviewed somewhere —
a rattling good show. What made me
swear with considerable force the day I got back
was going along to get a season ticket for the
Proms & finding that they had sold out on Satur-
— I applied on Monday. Season tickets were
25/- for a six week's concerts; the number I
wanted to go to came to about £3. So I have
decided to ration myself, both for economy &
work; & go every second night instead of every
night. A blasted nuisance though. Chappell's
page 9 will be sorry now they [unclear: slung] the business in.
The B.B.C. have taken the concerts over, they are
crowded every night, tremendous enthusiasm,
& there are no Chappell ballads to listen to. In-
you get a good bunch of Schubert & such-
like in the second half if you stay for the songs.
I suppose everybody got scared; but last night
(Wagner) you couldn't get into the place at all shortly
after 8. I must send you ought [sic: out] the season's pro-

It's Ern's birthday in a couple of days, I
believe; I couldn't get anything for him while I was
away, & now that I am back the job has been
complicated by the wish to get something not un-
of his massive brain & at the same time cheap.
Doubtless it will arrive in time. I had a letter
from him, for which you might thank him.
Also one from Tommy Hunter, which was
not unpleasing. Also on getting back I found
a large wooden packing case which proved
to contain a very beautiful photograph of a
bit of N.Z. coast, a birthday present from Challis.
A noble girl. Also today arrived a [unclear: rag][gap — reason: unclear]
N.Z. Artist's annual from Alan; please thank
him very much for me. His best work is
pretty good now, I think; some of the bits in his
Dominion cartoons aren't bad — Thanks for them.
page 10

I have another letter of yours to answer, a very
bright one too; [gap — reason: unclear] it is gratifying to know that you at least
appreciate your son, or so I gather from one or two
remarks you let fall. I have sent over my thesis to
Fay but haven't heard from him yet — away on his
holidays I suppose. Well, well, the [unclear: Sevages] must have
a pretty hectic time at their Ladies' Night these days,
what with Alan's trail of fair ones & Frannie who of
course is a garden of flowers in herself. I notice
Keithles was only let in at 10.30. This seems to be
the fate of young husbands — I seem to remember
something of the sort in Rich Wiren's past. No
doubt Daddy flicks a very agile Charleston by now.
I can't imagine why Auntie stayed away; wanted
to give Frannie a chance with the lads, perhaps.
Glad to hear Anne Mary is coming on so famously. She
will be putting it across Frannie some day, I expect.
Daddy mentions Harold — my word, we have
[gap — reason: unclear] shown that lad a bit of life since he struck
this island; the only thing that puzzles him is
where I am going to put the books I bought in
Paris. He used to spend troubled hours of thought
over this as he followed me up the Boulevard St
Michel. By the way I got some nice little editions
of Voltaire illustrated with woodcuts & 18th century
designs; I got a swag of his letters too. He now reposes
on the mantelpiece & grins sardonically at me.
page 11 Thanks for ∧ the trouble you have taken over the [unclear: Times] cash, which will come in
very handy in these penurious days. Also for the
Provident fund thing. I have been thinking what to
do about this for some time. I have half a mind
to get the darn cash out but I suppose it won't do
any harm to pay in for another year. The only
thing is if I don't come back to N.Z. for a year or so
more it will keep on being a drain on the finances.
I'm blowed if I know where my book is either.
I think if Daddy will be so good he might pay
in six month's or a year's contribs for me, as it
suits him; the book might possibly be in the drawer
of the table in my room, or what used to be my
room, or perhaps it isn't necessary. I will think
of some way of letting him have the cash. 2/9 a
week I think it is I am paying.

Very pleasing to read of Allan Wilkies's suc-
with the high brow drama. Nothing much
doing here at present; G & S. out at Hammersmith;
Old Vic is starting soon with Sybil Thorndike.
I could do with a bit more Shaw. There is a
gloomy Strindberg play on somewhere I must
go to — called The Father, I think. Daddy's [gap — reason: unclear]
account of the Thornhill on the wireless amused
me (to keep on talking about amusements); it is
adding to the horrors of life to broadcast church
services in this way; trust Baptist Harry to keep
page 12 breaking in. The Times had a picture of the new
Wgton broadcasting station. Now if you only had
something to broadcast you would be all right.
But Thornhill on the wireless — my oath! — Very
affecting to hear that Richie of W & [unclear: T's] misses my bright
presence. I must send the lad a postcard. I was
interested to hear about Macgregor; I shall be sorry
if those swine Whitcombes's manage to put it across
him. Who manages them now? — Archie, I
suppose. I haven't seen anything about of that book
of [unclear: Margaux's] but except the [unclear: advt], but will enquire
at [unclear: Bumpins]. Oh, I did see a review in a New
Republic, which I copied out for you, Daddy.

I haven't seen anything in the papers here
about riots or strikes in N.Z. over the Sacco Van-
case, although every other country in the so-
called civilised world has been having them. I have
They were executed this morning, of course; it
makes a man feel pretty sick. I gather that if any body
was ever deliberately murdered, those two men have been.
Laski was at the trial. We saw posters & appeals up
all over Europe. Holland had painted on the pavements
and walls all over the place. " [gap — reason: unclear][gap — reason: unclear] [unclear: Redh] (free) Sacco &
Vanzetti!". Six years cat & mouse & now this — my
God! I suppose Harry Holland will make a speech.
Lovely [gap — reason: unclear] book illustration for the Marxists.

Well, to
end on a cheerfuller [sic] note, I send you my love