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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 22 September 1927

page 1
I enclose a few English rose-petals, for sentiment, though I
don't know as they were grown in Hampshire.

My dear Mummy,

Well, there seems to get less & less
news of movement to recount. This time last year we were
just getting into the Mediterranean, & I was wondering
whether to post a letter at Naples or not; I think I finally
decided not, for sufficient reasons; but that seems to be a
decision you can hardly come to in London. So I will start
off by answering your letter. (1) Daddy wants a respectful
answer to some very delicate queries as to my degree of
intimacy with various ladies. Well now this subject is indeed
such an delicate intimate one that I don’t know whether I am justi-
in answering it at all, let in however a respectful
a manner, let alone in a letter that I suppose will be food
for general consumption. I make as remark on the highly
indelicate nature of the inquiry. That a father shall endeavour
so to tyrannise over the soul of his son is indeed a dreadful
warning of the fact that the 19th century is still with us. Turn
but a stone, & start a wing
. I might refer him to the Way of
all Flesh & ask pertinently, does he wish to see me (a) in
prison (b) running a 2nd hand clothing shop, with a wife secretly
on the drink? I might ask, why should I, a man of
London, Viennese, & Parisian experience, let alone Wellingtonian,
be subject to the ordinary shackles of life, let alone leading
page 2 questions from his parents. I might say, Is this right, is
it just, is it generous? I might demand, How would you
like it if your son turned round & said, What did that
lady y call you when you trod on her toes the umpteenth time
at the Savage Club Ladies Night After Entertainment Dance?
I might demur, Well, this is the sort of intimate attack on
my morals I am accustomed to get from Frannie — but
to think that a Father should even treat me thus! I
might plead the hot blood of youth and let it go at that,
proudly & contemptuously. I might say in the sacred words
of J.E. Flecker “I am Don Juan, curst from age to
age, By priestly [unclear: tract] & sentimental stage” etc. I might
lose my temper & exclaim Well upon my heart & soul this
is too much! But I do none of these things. I answer
as respectfully as possible, with dignity, with a certain cold
reserve possibly, but as one who knows his place & how to
address a Father. Let me say therefore that Yes, I am on
fairly familiar terms with all my friends, including the
lady ones; that the girls I have left behind me are neither
forgotten nor discarded, but temporarily in abeyance; that it is
off with no old loves, or alternatively, however off with the old loves
it may be it is on with no new ones, though possibly a
more elastic definition of “loves” might bring a different answer ;.
To the remark on the disregarding of the usual conventions
I answer What conventions? And further ask for a definition
of the words “disregard” & “usual”. And for all further in-
on my philosophy of social relationships I refer
page 3 you to the broad-minded tolerance & wide understanding of

In re thesis; thanks very much for proffered help;
if Fay takes it Smith College bears all the cost & gives me
about 50 copies buckshee. If he doesn’t I may try somebody
else, but it’s not worthing paying for. M The thing I am
doing now will probably go into Newton’s Imperial Studies
series if automatically if it is any good — more’s the pity,
because I don’t think much of the series. — In answer
to Daddy’s remarks on Baldwin & England the fact or other-
of England being down & out I may reply that the more
I see of the place the more I despise the English & the more
I like England. The paradox I leave you to unravel. Stupidity,
stupidity everywhere, & the people intensely, passionately proud
of it — about the only thing they are passionate about. They
are the same in N.Z. of course, but there is a different shade
of emphasis there.

Thank you for the mention of a possible job with
the Captain’s papers — 1929 would see me equal to it, possi-
— I want a good profitable job to keep me here an
extra year. Do you think Dr Bennett’s cobber would save
it for me & give me £300? I’d be willing to con-
it at that rate. Otherwise there are plenty of hacks who
do that sort of tripe that she could employ immediately.
Why doesn’t she go to a publisher like J. Cape who would
probably fix it all for her & do her down handsomely into
page 4 the bargain & produce a handsome book as well. Still
I suppose it’s not much use asking you that. — News
of cake & socks hailed with enthusiasm. Particularly as a
good many of my socks are now giving up the ghost, i.e.
the heel in rapid succession. I might send them back
to be refooted, that being a job to which amid the toils &
complicatons of this life I am not equal. Thank
you also for fixing up the cardigan — I will
have enough woollen things now to outfit the whole
household in case of need. I had a letter from
Campbell this morning saying he would be here about
the 26th; when I shall be down at Auntie Jeanne’s
for a week; but I suppose he can hang on for a few
days & make himself at home with Duncan without
making himself equally at home with the cake. I hope
it is a large cake, because we have an unconscionably
large circle of acquaintances, all hungry. There seems
to be a N.Z. invasion setting in & I am anticipating a
somewhat hectic week or two meeting them all & making
them at home in the great city. — Bill Jolliffe wrote saying
he had got a job on a boat & asked me to meet him,
without the faintest indication when or where or in
what state he would be arriving. He did have the sense
to give the name of the boat, so I suppose by dint of
studying the shipping lists I shall be able to work it
out. Then there is Lorrie Richardson’s brother & a
girl called Copping whom I don’t know coming over
page 5 together, & I have told L. to make them free of our
hospitality. Hoping Duncan won’t mind; not that we
ever consider each others wishes, anyhow. I just remarked
to him the other day what a pleasant week I had
spent alone for the first time in my life just
after I got back from Paris & while he was at Oxford.
Well, curiously enough said he, I had the same feeling
while you were away before I left with the lads. I
only hope that our future visitors will have a bit more
conversation that Harold exhibited at times. I saw him
off the other day, & very melancholy he was at leaving.
This was the cove who after a fortnight of London was
thoroughly fed-up — going back home like a transported
criminal. So I did my best to cheer him up with
a vivid description of the good old 7 months winter, now
imminently on us. I don’t think he believed me quite,
however. Yet I erred rather on the side of understate-
than otherwise. That cove hasn’t had a winter for
about 3 years now — he’s been going from summer to summer.
Of course he experienced an English summer; but for the
purposes of rhetoric you can say he hasn’t known a winter.

I note your vegetarian restaurant joints — I told you
about Eustace Miles’ place where I once went — the stuff
was wet & cold. I might give the other places a go sometime
when I am in their vicinity; de K & I patronise Ber-
in Soho not far from the Institute, pretty regular- page 6 ly nowadays. — I quite agree with Daddy that you ought
to resign from the Home for Aged Needy business, or you’ll
never have a chance of being Aged yourself, however Needy
you may be. Likewise I agree with Dr Bowerbank who-
he may be that what you want is absolute rest, but
any damn fool could have told you that. The great problem
is to make you take it; & the bloke who works out a
successful method for that ought to get at least a peerage.
I can see that you really can’t run the place, either N.Z.
or your own house & health without my presence. So you had better
start [unclear: raking] up a large inducement to get me back.
Very many thanks to Daddy for cuttings & quotations; also
we have duly noted Auntie's injunctions about ½ sovs &
will have a notice put on the subject before anybody
commits suicide. A man doesn’t want to ruin the gold
standard in these days of commercial stress & strain. I
hope the socks you are sending come all right; the
Spike you sent has not arrived yet — I had to borrow
Lorries — & it is not the only thing that has failed to
turn up. (not from you) Please pack stoutly. By the way, as I put
in the boot to the Spike so heftily in my last letter, you,
or the sorrowing sub-editor may be interested to hear that
according to H. there is nothing in the States at any of
the colleges to touch it. Having another look through it
I came to the conclusion that there were two or three things
not entirely unworthy of its heroic past, even if it did
regurgitate Fain with uncommon persistence & distaste.
page 7 That man is a perfect goat anyway.

You will have gathered that autumn is now with
us & the leaves are turning brown & the streets are getting
even muddier than they have been all through the summer.
The autumn mist however is also with us & does a great
deal to soften London & make it beautiful — you may
remember it was the first thing that struck me on my
arrival. Also the Proms are coming to an end this is
the last week, & a very full week too. We had two
programmes almost entirely Bach yesterday & the Wednesday
before & the place packed. When we got there last night
there was a notice up saying that all seats for Wednesday
Thursday & Friday had been sold already. You can get stand-
room of course. My word, I have heard some good
stuff. César Franck’s symphony last Saturday, & two
more of his things tonight, one of them le Chasseur
Maudit, & Vaughan Williams’ London Symphony, which
is why I am writing this in the morning. Every
second week is an orgy of mail with me & a
desperate attempt to make time spread. And as I have
been to the dentists twice this week I haven’t done much
toil, or what, in the strict sense, we call toil. I am
going to take a swag of books with me down to Auntie Jeannes;
& I hope to God the weather is good at the right time, because
I want to ride down & back on my bike, & it is 85 miles.

The dentists is a good catch. De K has a cobber
page 8 a S. African, just finishing off at the Royal Dental Hos-
, & the star student there. So we get our teeth done
buckshee; I put in a whole day altogether & got about
10 quids worth treatment, as things go in this place, all for
nothing. So naturally I felt quite justified in spending
a small portion of the cash I would otherwise have
wasted on teeth on a book or two as I came up the
Charing X Rd & looked in at Dobell’s. We have been
thinking of moving from this joint, but every time
we look at the books we think No. Yet what with
Duncan’s recklessness we’ll hardly be able to get into the
room soon, let alone entertain visitors. It’s a hard life.
A lot of interesting stuff coming out this autumn too.
But of course as I always said, buying books is a stupid
game, & only a damn fool would go in for it.

I had quite a good day last Sunday — went
for a walk in Epping Forest with Ross & a cobber of
his. I gather the Forest was looking at it’s best, & quite a
nice tidy little bit of woodland it is. But who are these
people who own the Wake Arms? It is a famous
pub, & situated in a the best possible position at the
junction of several cross-roads; which suggests the
reflection that they probably built the pub first &
made the roads afterwards. Well, I had a sort of
memory that it was run by two aunts of Uncle
Bill’s, although the name up outside is of one J. Oliver,
or something like that. However I thought I would
page 9 take a chance; & strolled up & leaned impressively on
the bar & enquired if there was anybody connected
with the place who had a nephew in N.Z.
leaving two other thirsty men seated hopefully on a
tree-trunk on the other side of the road. But the
bar-maid just gazed at me stonily & said "I don’t
know what you mean". It sounded quite lucid
to me, but I elaborated & explained myself with
great care. But no, she just gazed at me in a fish-
like way, & said there was no one there of that
description. I don’t know what she took me for —
I suppose she thought I was merely out to get a free
drink. Suspicious crowd, these English. So I dips my
lid courteously & never even asked for a glass of water.
You might send over the name of these people though &
let me know if this is the right pub, because we may
be passing that way again someday & it is a pity
to leave any stone unturned. We did get some good
cider as a matter of fact, after, & coffee, & a square
meal, & supper, at Ross’ cobbers place, where we
went to finish up; & where I performed Gilbert & Sullivan
on the piano for a large & not very vocal family to

I am going to Trimley on Saturday or
Sunday, all being well. Auntie Jeanne invited
Duncan as well, but he is too busy; having got a
page 10 job as W.E.A. lecturer for a while, & throwing up his
research for 6 months more to do it. I thought I might
take down one of my lady friends instead; but putting
it to the only one now left she pointed out that on
the whole it might be unwise to cause a scandal either
in Trimley St. Mary or N.Z., to the force of which reason-
I was of course bound to agree. But you will
see that I am quite unscrupulous in intention,
even if practical considerations do hold me back. You
might give Frannie the last sentence to chew over while
she waits for Keithles to stagger wearily back from
the day’s toil to home & fireside & wifely consolations.
Berrie has done some more Christmas cards, I hear,
so you can all look forward to getting cheap
but artistic [gap — reason: unclear] yuletide presents.

I suppose you heard about the death of
Briony Lysaght — a t rotten business.

   Well, having about exhausted my present repertoire
of stories, true or untrue, I shall draw to a close & tear
out & buy the household supplies before the shops close.
They shut for the afternoon here on Thursday, which is
a great nuisance & has frequently left us foodless,
with only our great thoughts to feed on. Give my
love to everybody & the cat; I may write to Auntie
after the cake has come; in the meantime I so long

With love from your very respectful son.