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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 13 December 1927

page 1
P.S. Party tomorrow to celebrate [unclear: Nell's] PhD.
21 Brunswick Square
London W.C. 1

My dear Mummy,

I was as charmed as usual to get your letter,
& on a Wednesday instead of a Friday. I was going to say
Daddy's letter, but it would not be fair not to give your pencil
note & literary extracts honourable mention. I was not
too merry to learn that you were having such a rough
spin; but I suppose you will be all the better for a period
under the skilled hands of Joan, who must be quite the
little nurse by now, [unclear: banking] on the sick, the maimed, &
the [unclear: halt] as they all do, & keeping you as ill as long as possible
in order to make money out of you. I shouldn't be surprised
myself if she has your appendix out before you get this,
or you may even have lost a limb or two — but I was
forgetting, that is Stan's speciality; Joan can only poison
& tip you out of bed. Just as well there aren't any darling
young male doctors buzzing [unclear: round], house-surgeons, boy-
, & the like, or there would be the devil to pay. Well,
well. I hope you will come all right through even the
experience of having a trained nurse in the house. Why
didn't you get somewhaone of mature experience like Mrs
Kilfoy? But perhaps she is too much of a specialist,
& doesn't take on ordinary cases. We're all specialists
nowadays, even historians; every cock crows triumphantly page 2 on the dunghill he has heaped himself. That's about
all most historians heap up too. I say nothing about
medical specialists.

Of course your [unclear: literary] extracts were as appropriately
chosen & as powerful as usual. Oh yes, the Edgar
Wallace might be a description of me, except that my
present goggles are not black, but a charming imitation
tortoiseshell, & that when I walk along the Strand I don't
do so aimlessly, but with grim & steadfast determination.
And I don't stray out of King's, when I [gap — reason: unclear]come out,
which is as exactly as infrequently as I go in, I do so
with speed, regretting that I have wasted so much time.
Still otherwise it is all right, anyhow as far as the
books are concerned; & as there seem to be the shadowy
adumbrations in the air of a campaign by my
confounded female friends, perish their souls, to make
me buy a new hat & coat, I suppose the rest is all
applies too. I've learnt one thing; when a girl
starts to come the maternal over you & enquires how
the buttons are hanging on your coat, it's time to run
for shelter. I think I had better have my old Spikes
over, with relevant articles on clothes etc, & other such
topics. The [unclear: Jasserand] is also very nice.

Blast! Out goes our gas again! If we run it
at all during the day, it costs us about 5/- a week
to keep warm; while people with coal fires get enough
coal for a fortnight for 1/6. Do you wonder that
page 3 Londoner's prefer their fogs? Gas seems to be a lot more expensive
than it was this time last year, too; or the boys are not so hardy
as they were. Anyhow, thanks God it's not so as wet as it is
cold, or I should do all my work in bed. And it hasn't
snowed yet either, so apart from expense, we're not so badly
off. There are too many expenses in this life — I came
home tonight to find I had lost my fountain-pen somewhere
somehow during the day, a fine state of affairs. Bang goes
a quid, I suppose. Good excuse for not buying a hat,
though. It is a fair cow, whichever way you look at it.
Not much use looking for a fountain-pen in London. It
may just possibly have fallen out of my pocket at the P.R.O. in
which case all will be well; if not, it is a case of farewell
a long farewell. (Shakespeare) This borrowed one is a fair
devil for eccentric behaviour; but still perhaps it is not in
too good taste to criticise it.

Now to come to Daddy's contribution. I have no
sarcastic remarks to offer on this occasion, so he can aban-
that pleased adventurous thrill. By the way, though
Montagne (if he means the same one as I do) is not a
young man, but an old one, at least in the body if not the
spirit. He had to dye his hair even to get into the army;
& is now chairman of the board of directors of the Manchester
Guardian, I believe. You see I always pick someone
much older & more experienced than myself as a guide through
life — I don't trust these young men. Thanks very much
page 4 for the woollen scarf announced through Daddy; it has not
yet turned up; I have two others as a matter of fact both
from the same skilled hands, but why I should give them
away I don't know. Still I shall see; no doubt there
is some resident of this rich & fortunate city who would
appreciate same, as well as all old & despised coats.

For information re [unclear: Wake Arms] I also thank all con-
; but it looks as if the [unclear: Scaring] concern has hopped it.
I don't know that I shall have the courage to enquire
again, anyhow; me spirit's broken when it comes to
pubs in Epping Forest. They don't give away beer in this
country evidently. Shame on them, & for selling what they
do sell, though I haven't bought any. — It looks to me as
if Daddy's scheme is to get on the right side of this new
general manager of [unclear: Sharland's] & get him to wangle a pension
for an old & tired servant of the firm. Perhaps with
a new bloke the dibs will come in a bit faster. What
is Daddy so modest about his letters for? They are the goods
so far as I am concerned. That I think concludes my
remarks on your last, except to say that the Chloral [sic: Choral]
Society is about as mad as a meat-axe to do stuff
like Aida. God Almighty! And I believe I have al-
expressed my feelings on that score. I see a
cove is going out from England to conduct them, I hope
he'll put in the boot. If he does he will get the sack,
I suppose. What is old White going to do now? Rub
along on teaching competition-winners, I suppose.
page 5 Thanks also for extracts in last letter. I look forward
with eagerness to the day when my photograph too will appear
in the Dominion as a Distinguished Young N.Z. Scholar.
As for the Bible in Schools tripe, well, it's nice to see the
press compelled to lick the dust occasionally

By the way I had a letter from Auntie Nancy
last mail, unexpected but none the less pleasurable. Please
thank her very much for same & all the information therein
contained. Her remarks on the wireless made me chuckle
somewhat. I certainly shouldn't get a set if I were you till
you can hear ZLO, Sir Henry conducting. I send you out
a list of the concerts.

Now about things as they touch me. I told Fay to fire
away with his dirty work on Capt. Hobson, blast him, but
asked him for a look at the proofs, which will hold the
thing up a bit more & give me more work to do reading them
through, but I should like to know just what monkeying he
is doing before it is done past recall. Of course you
can't argue with a cove on the other side of the Atlantic.
I sent off my last notes & instructions to him, a mixture
of stern injunction & sweet solicitude, the other day, so I
hope all will go well now. The sooner the thing is out
the better, so far as I am concerned, when it comes to
applying for jobs & so forth. My latest ambition is
to have published three books, counting that as one, by the
time I am 30. I am coming to the conclusion I am
page 6 cut out for a writer more than anything else, & I
should like to get enough time here to do one or two more
things before I settle down to the grind of teaching. I
hobbled down & had a yap with Laski the other day, & told
him I didn't know whether to keep on with colonial
history where I found a good many things opening out,
when I had finished my present thesis or hop back to
political theory. He said why not combine the two?
& told me he wanted me to write a book on the Idea
of Empire since 1783. I told him I was quite agreeable,
but wanted to do one on Sir James Stephen first. He
was very enthusiastic about this. Sir Jas you must
know was Leslie Stephen's father & a great man in
his way, the colonial office bloke, & I should like
to try my hand at biographing him. It might be a
bit more interesting for you to read too than a
dissertation on Governors' instructions. You had better
tell me which book you would rather have dedicated
to you. Laski forthwith offered to lend me a
privately printed book on Stephen by his daughter; & I
could get a terrific lot of help from him — he has
a bug on the history of the civil service, and Sir Jas was
first & foremost a civil servant. A very interesting
period too; all sorts of missionaries & Clapham Sects &
queer birds buzzing around. And I haven't heard of
anybody working on the old man yet. If someone
else does get in first I shall feel like going off my
page 7 bloke. Not having been done, he would be a far more
interesting cove to work over than old Wakefield. As a
matter of fact, though this may be unpardonable conceit, I
think I can write a damn sight better than any colonial
historian I have come across over here. They can all search
records, but can't write for sour apples. I speak with all
the typical Beaglehole modesty, you understand. Of course,
when you come to ways & means, there is the catch. Laski
advised me to put in for a Rockefeller grant, which I shall
certainly do, more especially as I now hear that these
Guggenheim things are only for American citizens. He also
advised me to put in for a librarian's job now going — the
Rhodes trustees are building a Rhodes House at Oxford, which is
to have a library attached, under the Bodleian. Librarian
wanted, to start at £500–£700, according to qualifications, no
previous experience necessary; [gap — reason: unclear] rising to £800 by £25 a
year. I don't think I should stand an earthly chance
myself; some dud Rhodes scholar will probably get it,
certainly an Oxford man. But I might put in for it just
to waste time. Have to send in a photo & all. Curse it.
Still I could afford to put you up indefinitely if you
came to England, & Daddy could go round visiting
poets' graves to his heart's content. The catch is of
course that you have to pay 4/6 in the £ income
tax in this country, to pay for the recent war. In
fact I believe they are due to pay it for the next 150
page 8 years, & about £2000,000,000,000 interest into the bargain.
I may be a few noughts out, more or less; it doesn't
matter much. It would be a good job for writing,
& nice & close to London. Another of my numerous
advisers thinks I ought to go to Cambridge for a couple
of years to read & write. Noone apparently thinks I
should leave England. Altogether things are in a nice
state of indecisiveness & suspended decision. You had
better contribute your advice to the general mix-up.
Apart from this business I am getting on all right.
Everybody wanted me to get an introduction from
Laski for Capt. Hobson, but both L & I agreed that we
hated introductions, so that was all right, & I satisfied
everybody except the real introduction hounds by asking
him for one & telling him simultaneously I didn't want
it. I have practically finished collecting my P.R.O.
material, except for one lot of very important stuff I
would give £50 of my scholarship for, but which
seems so elusive that I shall be spared that bargain.
Newton wants me to start writing immediately; but he
can go blazes; I am going to do the thing in my
own time & my own way. I want to get the thing
it pretty well done, except for polishing, by next June,
though, even if I can't hand it in then. It will
mean all the more time for looking around or
working on Stephen & so forth. Besides, I want to finish
reading Jane Austen.

page 9

As for concerts, I have been to several lately; I
heard Casals play a Hayden concert last night — he is the
goods; London [unclear: Region] Orchestra also played Hayden's London
Symphony & Elgar's 2nd Symphony, a huge thing, which needs
a good deal of hearing, I should say — this was my first
time. On Friday Thursday I heard Casals also, in a Dvorak
Cello concerto, also very good; there was also Sibelius' latest
symphony, & some Brahms, Sir [gap — reason: unclear] conducting. Beecham
was to conduct last night, but came a crash outside
[unclear: Park] House & hurt his back, so a young cove called
[unclear: Barbiroth] deputised for him & got well torn up by a nasty
critic in the Times this morning for his efforts. On
Saturday afternoon I went out to Golders Green to hearsee
La Bohème, very well done by the [unclear: B.N.D.C.] The
Monday before that I went also to G.G. & heard
The Mastersingers — I think I shall go to that again
on Friday. On Wednesday I saw Edith Evans
in The Way of the World, a quite first-rate thing;
& she is a great actress. I am going to this again
also. Shaw is on but I haven't been yet. On
Friday I heard the Tudor Singers in that 16th
century stuff you read such a lot about; & great
stuff it is too. I enclose paper on same. The
Vaughan Williams setting of [unclear: Housmann] was disappointing
though; but the bit from his Mass was good. These
Tudor Singers are only about 14 in number ; ½ men
page 10 ½ women; they do deliver the goods. Now if you
got that sort of thing in church, it would be
worth going to. The week before I heard
the London String Quartet in two of Beethoven's
last quartets, which I haven't got hold of yet.
This quartet is a complete contrast to the [unclear: Léven],
& very pleasing for a change too; masculine
where the [unclear: Léven] is feminine, vigorous where the
[unclear: Léven] is languishing. They are a lot different
in looks too, the 1st violin & the cello are big
burly 6 footers, good Rugby forwards by the look
of them, good clean Englishmen, & all grins ;
the 2nd violin is also a fairly hefty specimen
with a healthy grin; but the viola is a little
cove who only comes up to the other shoulders, &
barely that, & looks as sad as any oyster, while
not one spark of a smile crossed his face the
whole time. He bowed as if in pain. A funny
sort of a cove, I calls him. Of course he might
have been suffering agonies from tooth-ache or
something. They could play though.

Well, it seems it's time to knock off as midnight
fast approaches, when the post is cleared. I hope you
will be pretty chirrupy when you get this & have got
rid of your nurse & basked often in the sun. In the
the meanwhile bask in your son for a bit.

With very much love from same, i.e.


P.S. And to all others concerned.