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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 23rd December, 1927

page 1
Found my pen again at P.R.O.
Didn't go to [unclear: Circus] after all.
Thanks very much for Xmas number. Best I have seen, & photos first-rate.
No mail came, or possible now till
Tuesday – Blast!!!

My dear Mummy,

   Here's a go! Outgoing mail put forward
to tomorrow instead of next Tuesday ; incoming mail not here
yet, so officially not due till tomorrow. So heaven knows
when it will get here —if it doesn't come tomorrow I shall be
left lamenting for any Christmas mail till after Christmas.
However in the firm conviction that all things work together
for good I have not yet given up hope. Even while Duncan
is daily weighed down with letters & Christmas cards from
Australia & his classes in Kent & I am met with a blank hall-
every day. No, by jingo, I got a letter from Harold
Holt of Sydney the other day, written at the Y.M.C.A though I
solemnly warned him against the place : you will have seen
him long [unclear: the] now, & heard such news as he has chosen to
disclose. Sydney seemed a bit raw to him after the real world, & he
didn't seem to be looking forward with much jubilation to settling
down in Napier for the rest of his life. Also I had a post-card
from Bill Jolliffe greatly enthusiastic about my Christmas
card, & this morning there arrived the very substantial gift of
a cake from Yorkshire from a girl of my acquaintance by
the name of Smith. In fact we are getting pretty-well snowed
under with cakes. A lady from one of Duncan's classes turned
up the other morning with a cake, all packed round with page 2 mince-pies & nuts, & complete with Robin Red-Breast on top;
& he has at least two on the way from Australia. All
the donors of aforesaid pointing out that they are to be
shared with me, or him, as the case may be. So we
are preparing for another large & magnificent party. You
see there are points in staying in London for Christ-
I am afraid however that none of these cakes have
seen the light — they are heathen cakes — they have not
attained salvation. As cakes they may be well-intentioned,
strictly moral, good-hearted, even edible; but they are not in
a state of grace. They have not been spiritually transformed.
They may have all sorts of dope in them, have been well-
beaten up by pious cooks & long & [unclear: evenly] baked in excellent
ovens. They may have been exclusively manufactured out
of Empire ingredients & well-lathered with the milk of human
kindness. And so forth & so on. But I very gravely doubt [unclear: one]
if they are the real dinkum whole-meal variety, as
produced at 49 Hopper Street. Their ultimate fate must
be most indubitable damnation. Many are called but few
are chosen. How true this is, of cakes as well as men. I
will lay into them all right & dig my teeth into their
good thick almond icing, & back in my cart for more;
but will there not be in the back of my mind the
trembling thought Oh that this cake were a product of the
skill of my good mother or aunt, primus inter pares,
peerless among makers of cakes, skilled dieticians as
well as superb mixers! But no, upper mandible will
page 3 meet lower mandible, & the sound of the chomp of jaws will
arise to heaven, & all will go the way of cake, but unregener-
& unsaved. This solemn thought reminds me that as I had
a very late breakfast I haven't had any lunch, & Duncan being
absent, it will be a very suitable opportunity to test out Miss
Smith's cake, which I shall therefore proceed to do forthwith.
Later : it is a very good cake, though there is not quite enough fruit
in it, & it has pink & red rose-buds all around the top altern-
; the red ones have in addition little round silver
balls on them & it has silver [gap — reason: unclear]holly-leaves round the side;
indeed in appearance as well as in taste a most superior
cake. You can see indeed from all the foregoing what an
impression we have made upon our contemporaries; on all sides
there is a rush forward to render testimony to our virtues &
high deserts. Mrs Rosado, her what does out the house & is
married to a Spaniard, brought out us a bottle of wine.
(We gave her a large bottle box of chocolates & a wonderful box
of crackers with toys inside them for her young nipper). Crumpie,
the fat girl, I have reason to know, is sending me a Xmas card.
Mrs Goodhew the fatter lady who dispenses the afternoon tea at
the Institute (6d not [unclear: undesher]) gave me a chocolate last night.
All radiate the Xmas spirit & loving kindness. Duncan gave me
a large blue pad on which to write poetry in the coming year;
& produced a cigar about 2 feet long to be smoked at our affair
on Xmas day. I am going to Woolworth's tomorrow to get him a
pair of braces & a pair of garters & a tie & a card of [unclear: tie-pin], studs
page 4 & sleeve-links — all these things can you get there for 6d each.
In fact I have lately burst all the bounds of prudence &
brought two ties there for myself lately. So I hope too many
of them don't come over from N.Z. You see that having
both been well-brought up youths at hope home, labouriously
trained by our mothers in habits of gentility & politeness, we
make a corresponding impression abroad & everybody likes us.
Did I tell you that I was invited to the Crumps for Christ-
dinner, together with Helen A. & deK? Yet such is the
fact. In fact I don't know that there are two young fellers
more sought after in the whole of London by reason of their
social qualities, solid virtues & general boh bonhomie. You
wouldn't believe it. A bloke has to get away to be thoroughly ap-
. This Miss Smith would make you laugh. She has
a core of solid worth & is pretty good as an historian, so Helen
& deK & I are educating here. She thinks deK & I are pretty
mad, & confides to one her candid opinion of the others. But
she thinks that in some ways, & in contradistinction to me,
deK has many qual characteristics of the gentleman. For instance
he always takes a lady's arm of over the road while I look
to see that all's clear, yell over my shoulder Come on! &
barge ahead. We went together to the Way of the World one night
& on parting she told me I was the most delightfully casual
person she had met in her life. To which of course I
responded that it was nice to be delightful anyhow, in what-
way. She thinks I ought to go to Oxford for a couple of
years when I have finished here. I said What for? to be
page 5 made a gentleman? “Good God, no; impossible!” We [unclear: hobled]
her along to [unclear: Bertorelli's] to feed & so on. In fact we took even
Crumpie there, who is a much more hopeless case. She'll
never be anything but a thoroughly admirable Englishwoman,
but we have great hopes of Smithie. She can get her own
back in a subtle way by saying nasty things that need
chewing over, but Crumpie the fat girl is as literal as a
piece of string. Crumpie is an ardent Liberal, one of the
party's last hopes, & greatly pained because England is no
longer a free-trade principle. But there is no fun argu-
with her, because she insists on thinking over every-
you say with dreadful seriousness, & asking you what
makes you say that. She is also an ardent churchwoman,
who knows all about the prayer-book, & the present state of
the Church of England, & I shouldn't be surprised if she
also knows a few bishops. I must ask her about
this. So altogether you can see she is a pretty
sad case. She plays the piano as literally as she
does everything else, & sings Dago operatic arias by [unclear: Piego-
& such-like in the Dago tongue & a squeaky voice
which nearly reduced me to suffocation the first time
I heard her. From this you can see that she has all
the virtues, domestic, artistic, scholastic, & political.
I shouldn't be surprised if she becomes a great political
hostess one of these days, in the Liberal interest. Smithie
suggested I should marry her (C not S) so as to
page 6 give myself some much-needed weight & some of the graver
virtues ; but I thought on the whole it would be a bit
too overbalancing & declined to give the subject consideration.
But as I said before, if Crumpie is hopeless, we have
great hopes of Smithie, & by the time we have finished
with her she ought to be an absolute human being.
She also plays the piano, but very well, & knows what's
what generally in the way of books & men. You see
what a great civilizing agency in the great> old world is
this invasion of Colonials & Americans. Indeed I shouldn't
be surprised in a year or two if England isn't worth
saving after all.

This reminds me that I came a nasty crash over
that letter I wrote to the Post, though I forgot to mention
it in my two last letters. Of course the confounded
Bill was passed after all, though mutilated so badly
as not to be worth more than a couple of [unclear: demos]. So
I hope if it was published they had the gumption to alter
it accordingly, or it will have been a great chance for
patriotic birds to hop on one & ignore the main issue.
I didn't trouble to read the report of the third reading,
having the idea that it was toned down from a couple
of lines that was cabled to the Times months ago. Then
I read the bit in the Spike, very jubilant over Victoria
College's justification, & found out the exact position.
I forgot to thank you for the Spike also, which turned
up this time punctual & in good condition, though the
page 7 one envelope isn't quite enough packing for it. There was
some very good stuff in it, I thought, much better than
the June one. Was the E.B. who combated [gap — reason: unclear] C.Q.P. Ern?
Chas Quentin will be writing prose one of these days if he
keeps on in that way & doesn't let matrimony clog his style.
too much. You might ring him up & tell him so for me.
It's a pity he can't get out of N.Z. for a while ; it would
be the making of him. There were a good many other things
I forgot in my last letter too, writing as I was about
against time, but I have even forgotten what they were.

I must now try & muster up some positive news for you.
The Johnsons haven't invited me up to Manchester this Christmas, so
I suppose they had enough of me last time. Also I turned
down Auntie Jeanine's invitation in terms of great politeness
& sent her a Christmas card, just to show there was no ill
feeling. We are all going out to a pub McGrath is very keen
on, from its architecture & situation, called the Bedford
Arms, at Chorley Wood, for our Xmas dinner. 6/- apiece.
Hemming, whom I haven't seen since October 1926, has come
over from Paris for the occasion, & to look around England
generally ; in addition to whom there will be McG & Duncan
& a violinist cobber of Hemming's & me & two architectural
friends of McG's & a cobber of one of them. So we are anticipat-
a pretty cheerful time, not without considerable strife.
I suppose we'll all roll home dead drunk. Otherwise I am
spending the vacation working, so far as that is possible ; & am
page 8 going up to Cambridge for the first week of the term to have a
look through the [unclear: branch] Record Office there & to be taken around
to see the sights properly by McGrath. I haven't been to Oxford
yet, but I shall be bugging up there some day, I expect. I
want to meet the Prof of Col. History there, anyhow, a bird
called Coupland, who wrote a good book on Wilberforce
which I am now reading ; though I hear he is a dud as a
director of research students. If I could turn out a
thing on Stephen as his Wilberforce I should feel more or
less pleased for a while. I picked up old Stephen's Essays
in Ecclesiastical Biography the other day, by the way, cheap;
& read the stuff in them on Wilberforce & the Clapham Sect ;
he was a good old Evangelical, all right, & a nice counter
blast it makes to the Way of All Flesh. It made me
laugh about every second page ; but S. is a shrewd old cove,
with a sense of humour himself. Very strong on saintliness
& Divine Providence, though, as all these birds were, none
more so than old Wilberforce. He was always trying
to convert Pitt, but he never could make much headway,
Pitt generally having too much to do to be converted. I
finished Keat's letters too; my word, they are great stuff. And
then thinking I might legitimately take on some light
reading in the Christmas season I took down the adorable
Jane & started on Emma. Now look here ; I don't think
you know half as much about her, or read her half as
much as you make out. Another instance of the double-
for which you are so well-known over two hemispheres.
page 9 Or how is it that you did not know — for if you had known
I can't think of anything in heaven or earth that could have
kept you from pointing it out— that Brunswick Square is
mentioned & more than once, in this book. So near the
beginning, in my edition, as page 9. Mrs John Knight-
lived there. In fact I shouldn't be surprised if it
was in this very house & that this room in which I
am now writing was the nursery. It seems to me that you
have shown a grave error of taste in not pointing this out to
me, even if nothing worse. A nice sort of Mother you
are, let alone Professor of Austen, not to know it, or if
knowing it, not to have insisted on the fact. I suppose if I
had asked you off-hand like & not let you see the book, in
what square Mrs John Knightley lived, you would have boggled &
blushed & said oh — er — [unclear: Mecklanburgh] Square, or Bloomsbury
Square, or Bedford Square, or Russell Square, or Queen's Square,
or Regent's Square, or some other square wholly inaccurate &
misleading, obviously guessing all the while. Perhaps even
Hanover Square or Soho Square, not anywhere near the
right district. In fact I'm thoroughly ashamed of & grieved
for you, & until you can produce a satisfactory explanation,
I [gap — reason: unclear] certainly shan't be able to believe that you know
much about Jane Austen. By the way I have decided to
bring her into my thesis, just to give Newton a shock & make
it go down with high-brow cultured but non-expert-historical
public. Apparently as I have remarked before anything
page 10 that mentions the incomparable Jane, or the peerless Jane, or the
astonishing Jane, or the celestial Jane, is greeted with cheers.
Though I don't suppose they know a great deal about it than
you, in your cool, calm, collected, superior way, seem to.
(Now I hope when I open your letter tomorrow you won't
say in the first four lines “By the way, do you know that
Brunswick Square is mentioned in Emma? You ought to
read Emma. Mrs John Knightley ”etc). Well, that's about all
I've been reading lately ; it has been a refreshing change to
get away from despatches, orders in council, & miscellaneous
& dirty papers at the P.R.O. to a book or two. I shall be
going to the B.M. for the rest of the holidays, I think, &
writing a bit. I want to get my introduction re-written
again & my first chapter drafted by the beginning of February,
or before that. A terrible factory you would think this
place with yap, yap, yap, going on perpetually & did you
know this about Shelburne? & My word, I got some good
Stuff in the Chatham papers this morning! & Why the blazes
haven't they got so & so in this library? & Come around to
my place to-night & see how you think my second
chapter seems now. Wonderful business, turning out theses.

We have had some funny weather lately. It is
relatively warm now ; but all last week & up to Wednesday
of this week it got colder & colder ; we had two or three light
falls of snow & skating started on all the ponds & reservoirs
around. The water in the bath in the morning couldn't
have been much colder without making it necessary to employ
page 11 a breakdown gang on it. (D & I are now known in the house,
so we are informed by Mrs R. who tells us all the chat,
as [gap — reason: unclear] cranky boys who have cold baths in the morning &
whistle like parrots all day) Then suddenly there was a thaw,
& everybody slipped and slid & crashed all over the pavements,
or clung along gingerly by the railings, or tobogganed down their
front-steps, like deK, right out into the road, & at the
end of the day the hospitals couldn't cope with the casualties.
Luckily for my life & limb I didn't go out that day till
the afternoon, but I seem to have missed many noble &
inspiriting sights, all the same, as London's best & brightest
ski-ed along Oxford Street or tobogganed down Holborn.
It is just about a comfortable temperature now, so that you
can even sit down in the morning & read without a fire,
& your vitals are not frozen as soon as you get out of bed.
Cold measure means a terrible bill for gas too — it cost us
7/- last week, our record to date. I must break off here,
do the daily shopping & buzz off to the [unclear: Institute] to see what's
doing, if anything. It is a quite pleasant place in the vacation,
with hardly anybody there. I am going to Peter Pan tonight.
Did I tell you that I was getting up a party for it? Crumpie
the f.g. was one of the invited ones, & knocked me off my
pins one night by turning on me, not knowing I was the
organising spirit, & giving me a solemn lecture on the
necessity (if I was allowed to care) of preserving a child-like
spirit, abandoning all usual cynicism, & going in humble
page 12 & devout acceptance of the reality of fairies, etc, etc, etc. I was
all broken up & nearly choked on my spaghetti. She is a
regular steam-roller when she descends to reproof, especially
when so suddenly as this. Well, well, the gas is going out again;
so I shall follow its example.

24/12/27 Went down to Peter Pan & discovered it did not run in
the evenings till after Christmas, so adjourned to the last night of Getting
Married — very good. This is the only play I have been to for a
good while ; they are doing You Never Can Tell & Man & Superman
next. I got home late & was tipped out of bed at 2a.m. or some-
earlier by an incursion of Duncan, McGrath, Hemming [gap — reason: unclear],
with whom I am going to the Circus this afternoon if I
can get through this mail. Last Sunday we went to the
Messiah — I thought after not hearing it for a couple of years I
could bear it again ; so I took along Duncan & McGrath also to
pump some culture into them. Albert Hall a bit too big for the
thing, so that you lost the very finest points. Beecham, London
Symphony Orchestra, two choirs combined. I don't suppose you'd
know the names of the soloists, which I therefore do not give — anyhow
I have forgotten some of them. Beecham really transforms the
thing. It would give the Fathers of the Choral Union the horrors to
hear the way he does it. Puts a terrific pace on in some of the
numbers, both solos & choruses, e.g. Why do the nations? Then
he uses contrast a great deal —softens down Unto us a child is
given to the merest pianissimo; & when the govt is on his shoulders
& his name is Wonderful! etc comes out with a tremendous
crescendo & terrific crashing chords. He did some of the less
page 13 often given choruses, too ; cut out the Amen chorus & finished
up with everything going full blast on the Hallelujah chorus.
And my word! you ought to have heard the trumpet obligato
in the Trumpet shall sound. I'm extremely sorry I couldn't
park you & Auntie & Auntie Nancy down in a good row of
seats with a bag of chocolates to chew & say to Sir Thos-B.
“Now Sir, let 'em go!” Besides it might show you that the
Reverend Robt. Parker, the Celebrated Wedding Music Profiteer, isn't the
last word in choral conducting after all. I always suspected
that the old bird wasn't all he was cracked up to be ; & now
I'm certain he's only the 2nd greatest musician in the
world at the most. Sorry I can't put him any higher.
Last Saturday, I think it was, me & a lady went to La
Boheme, very well put over — this is a Dago opera, you must
understand, Auntie, much murdered by Caruso before the
unhappy day when he choked on his sob on a high note
& had to be carried off the stage in articulo mortis; well,
anyhow I went to it, with my charming Fain, & it was All
Right. I went to the Mastersingers again too, just to get a
firmer hold on it. — It looks as if Beecham may get the
subscription he wants to his Imperial League of Opera ; I am
just on the point of hopping in, partly in the single-souled
endeavour to help on the cause, partly in the confidence that if
I do get chucked out of England at the end of the year & the
first season of Opera I can transfer my subscription & privileges,
at a sufficient premium, to some other cove who failed to get in
page 14
in time through cowardice, sloth, avarice, & cold feet, & will by
then be extremely envious. I suppose a certain amount has
been cabled out about these> this scheme of opera of Beecham's, so
I do not particularise further than to say that he wants a
subsidy from 150,000 people of 2d a week, to put on opera
here as good as anywhere in the world. This he reckons
can only be done at a loss of about £60,000 a year.
Well, I think this is about all there is to report, beyond the
rejection of the prayer book by Jix & all the other morons —
pending the arrival of your letter, which up to noon of
Christmas Eve, has not yet turned up. I can see myself
hanging on till the last possible minute & then tearing down
to the G.P.O. with this at 2½ secs to closing time.

I brought the Brook [unclear: Kewith] the other day, extremely revised
& re-orchestrated, says G.M., who has been writing to the papers
ever since to express approval or disapproval of the criticism
meted out on that account. He appears to be thoroughly aware
of his own value to English prose. I hesitated a long time
between that & Emma for my next reading, but finally
picked on Emma. By the way, did you know that
Brunswick Square is mentioned in Emma? In fact, I assure
you upon my soul. — I hope to God you are a lot better by now
than the last reports of you implied.

To conclude the foregoing I send you & the your relatives
but particularly you my love. With dutiful respects.

Your son


P.S. Looking at the length of this, it strikes me that you know a bit
more nowadays about my movements & thoughts than you did when
I was home — much more courteously announced too.