Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (digital text)   Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 8th January, 1928

page 1
21 Brunswick Square
London W.C.1

My dear Mummy,

By a most remarkable phenomenon your
Christmas letters arrived on Christmas Day, which proves that all
things come to them as waits. They came just as Duncan & I were
going out of the door into the cold & the rain to a Christmas bun-
, & I thought, & also said, My word! this is all right for the
boys, but stiff on the poor blooming postmen. For as may have
been reported in the local press, the weather here was such as is
rarely seen at Christmas. I shall answer your letters first —
as another mail came last Saturday I have two lots on which to
comment— & then go on to the news, such as it is. First of all,
I am very glad that the last news I had of you was that you were
on the upgrade; you must indeed be sick of bed by this
time; but I hope the old pump is working hard & manfully &
doing all that is required of it & a lot more. I am very sorry
I can't come in to see you of a morning & evening & give you the
news of the day; I can't help thinking that what you want is a
good hearty chat with a bright cove like me, full of the milk of
human kindness, & running over with information on all necess-
subjects. Nurses are all right, I don't doubt, & far be it from
me to fling mud at Nurse (or she may by now be Sister) Beagle-
, but there's a difference. Now if I were on the scene I bet
you'd be out of bed & on your pins in no time & off down town
page 2 with your scarf & vanity bag & all other supplementary luxuries in
a brace of shakes with a hey & a ho & a hey nonnino! & afternoon
tea in whatever is the flashest place in town these days. But of
course bereft of my stimulating presence I suppose you can hardly
do that yet awhile. Still, let's hope it will come, & that right speedily,
because I shall be sorry to hear of you in bed for many more
letters. 21 Brunswick Square, top floor front, expects every mother
to do her duty, & yours is to get well as soon as possible. So keep
on with the good work. By the way, you haven't said lately whether
you want any more books to read or not, so I suppose you
have got down to Gibbon properly at last. It is a pity that I am too
much occupied otherwise at present, or I might have been able to give
you a race with it; & being as I am, [unclear: circumstanced] in the middle
of the constitutional history of Jamaica & Barbados, you have an
unfair advantage, & being a woman, I doubt not that you will
not scruple to use it.

Thank you very much for the [unclear: Stickepath] address—there's no
knowing when I may not want to use it. And thank you very
much for the cash. You will be delighted, nay, overjoyed to hear
that I spent your half of it very wisely & well, together with Auntie's
excellent contribution ; it would be hopeless to make you guess how, so
I may as well tell you right away — I put it towards the cost of
a new overcoat. Daddy's half I spent not so wisely & well, you
will be extremely sorry to hear; as I joined Keith's & Frannie's 5/-
to it & purchased the two classic works of the late Albert Venn
Dicey K.C., i.e. The Law of the Constitution & Law & Opinion in
England. I have been very long wanting these, so I trust you will
page 3 forgive me. What I did your with 5 bob from Geoffrey I'm not
quite sure, but it either went towards the coat or a new hat or a
volume of [unclear: Marley], so you can take your pick out of that lot to please
yourself. The coat happened thuswise. I think I told you that
my lady friends were so far forgetting their status as ladies as to
make pointed remarks about the coat I left home with; so much
so that I said All right! I'll wait & see if there's a sale after
Christmas where they have anything flash enough for me going expen-
enough, & then perhaps I'll trot down & give the coats a
once over. And this got a week or two's peace. Well, a couple
of days after Christmas I was bugging down to the Albert Hall to
get tickets for a Folk Dance Festival & I got carried right past as
far as Barker's in High Street Kensington. This happened not because
I was asleep, but because I was on top of the bus & evidently
the conductor did not see me go up & as it was a very cold day
did not think anybody would be such a [unclear: mug] as to travel on top —
Well, I came downstairs at the Albert Hall but the bus didn't stop & as
I stood right behind the conductor with my hand touching him & he
didn't see me I thought my word! If I don't say anything or stop
the bus I might away with this ride buckshee. So the bus
kept going on for a mile or so more & the conductor didn't turn
round & I said nothing. And when it did stop I hopped off
very quickly & crossed the road & found myself under the lee of
Barker's Sale, having travelled from Tottenham Court Road for
nothing, & it is 3d worth to the Albert Hall alone. So I patted
myself on the back & haven't done admiring myself yet. Well, I had
page 4 a look at the coats in Barker's & thought one or two of them might do
& then padded back through the snow to the Albert Hall & caught
another bus back, whereon the conductor was a bit more spry
than the other one. Now it happened that I was having a discussion
with Helen Allen on the principles of barter, & she said that in
London, just as on the Continent, you were always expected to argue
the point about the price of an article, & that you might get a
quid knocked off if you were lucky. Now that sort of thing
revolts me, I said, but I'll tell you what — you come down
with me to Barker's & buy me a coat on that principle, &
I'll pay all your expenses & shout you lunch as well. All right,
says she. So last Monday we goes. And I must say I've
rarely spent a more wearing (2 senses) morning. I put 'em
on & I put 'em off; & by the time I had finished I was so dead
beat I could hardly stand; & found I had forked out £4../4-6.
And then just as we were on the last flight of stairs & I thought
I was safe, she said, I really thought think you ought to have
a new hat. So my spirit being broken, I said My God! all
right; & had to fork out 10/9 more for a new hat. This hurt
me more than the coat really, because I swore when I bought
that hat at home that it would be the only hat I ever bought
between then & the day I got back home ; & now I stand per-
in the eyes of the Almighty. And then about 4 days
afterwards, when I had recovered myself, it dawned on me
that the confounded girl had not got anything knocked off the
price of the blooming clothes. I carried out my side of the
bargain, too, down to the last detail, lunch in a [unclear: German] restaurant
page 5 in Soho, to give the Dago joints a rest. It just goes to show that
you can't trust women. I suppose you will admire her for it, too.
Anyhow the coat looks all right, a very refined gentlemanlike
superior (to quote Jane) dark grey , while the hat is a lighter grey
& good enough to keep the rain off. In addition to these new clothes
I have of course your scarf & the tie from Ern. The tie is
wearable, & no doubt formal thanks is due to Ern for it; but as
I believe I have already pointed out that I buy my ties at
Woolworth's these days for 6d, I can I am sure leave future
donors to draw their own conclusion. But the scarf is admirable
beyond admiration, & I must thank you very much indeed for
it, combineding, as it does, an even more refined appearance than
my coat & being equally warm, & knitted as I flatter myself few
women in the universe can knit a scarf. I wore it through the
very cold spell we had, with the result that the snow fell & harmed
one not, & the rain & the sleet rushed down & only dripped off
the end of my nose & the thaw came & nearly swept me away
& I suffered no harm. Indeed though my feet were floating in
water several times my chest was as dry as a bone & warm as a
good coal-fire. I say this because ours is a gas fire, & though it
was costing us 7/- a week for a while, it didn't make us perceptibly
warmer. So I thank you for the scarf. While I am on the subject
of thanks you might broadcast same to the various aunts who wrote
to me, i.e. Auntie Nancy, Auntie Ada, Auntie Jess, principally, so I
gathered, to thank me for the calendars I sent them last Christmas.
This is real warmth. Auntie of course I shall answer separately.
page 6 You might tender thanks to Geoffrey & Theo ; & tell Geoffrey that he
used the same jokes in his note as he did last Christmas, &
with a cove of my keeness of intellect & retentivity of memory this
is not wise. Besides that jokes about sticks of lickerish are
inherently unfair; & if a father is like that, what sort of a future
can he expect for his child? Such communications merit no
reply & will get none.

Thank you, Daddy, for your sound financial work on my
behalf. I haven't collected the dough from Jimmy Parr yet, but will
do so at an early date. The point about giving notice to the N.
[unclear: Pron.] people was that if I wanted the cash urgently at the end
of the year I could get it out without having to wait another year for
it; but I suppose I could always raise a loan on it anyhow. As
for the books I'm dashed if I know how much you owe me. The
easiest way will be for you to count up the books which all
had the prices marked in them I think, & then to subtract what
I owe you — of which you have doubtless a note, being a more
methodical cove than I am. And I daresay the result will be
that I owe you about £5. It strikes me by the way that
I haven't really sent you out many books — not half as many
as I meant to. But among so many it is difficult to know
what you would really like, or think[gap — reason: unclear] worth forking out the
cash for. I have seen lots of good old sets of Johnson & birds
like that which would lend dignity to any gent's library; but as
I can't afford them myself, I don't suppose you can either.
I'll tell you what you might do, though — send me a list of
anything you would fancy & I will keep my eyes skinned for it.
page 7 It is enough to make a bloke weep, the things he has to pass by. I've
never seen anything in the way of Hibbert Journals yet. You
seem to get through a pretty miscellaneous lot of reading between you.
I haven't read any Ludwig yet, though I bought his Napoleon. The
publishers are all falling over themselves here to publish him; & when
we were in Germany a Munich bookseller told us he was all the
rage there — didn't think his Wilhelm II was at all his best, though.
Of course they are pretty hard-boiled royalists in Bavaria. Ludwig
has turned out an astonishing lot of stuff — he has done lives of Rem-
& Goethe (a big two vol thing in German) & lord knows who
besides the stuff translated. — stiff luck for Hilda Nicholls. She
certainly had a voice, though she was a bit batty in the top story.—
I though you would find some interesting charges in Harold [unclear: Holt.—]
I am interested to hear that you are thinking of putting in for
Horace Ward's job — when I first heard he was lumping it I
thought of you, but thought the night work might put you off.
Still there would be no brain fag about it — only sitting up (if
you followed Horace's example) reading Greek & putting books away.
I should certainly like to see you get the job; I suppose if it is
advertised there will be a rush for it, but any little testimonial
I can give you &c. I'm sure you would run it a darn sight
better. I know Miss Isaacs wants to introduce the Dewey system into
the classification of the books, & it's certainly time something was done.
I suppose Joe will be in for the job too, so there ought to be a
stirring contest. Will the screw be enough for you?— Horace
was only getting £400, I think. —A great man, Ern, with his
page 8 highbrow cobbers, Sutherland & so forth. I remeb remember I brought
Sutherland up once & his main concern was to tell us where the last
generation of philosophers but one got off. I don't know why Ern's
so excited about some [unclear: examiners] — what did he expect, anyhow?
I never growl. They treated me all right. But it seems that
everybody connected with Tommy [unclear: Hunter] has got to kick up a
row about something or other.

I shall now tell you how I spent Christmas—but no,
it might be more wise to draw a veil over that, or at least
give a genteel version. Anyhow, as you will have gathered, the
weather was [unclear: somethink cool] — it turned to snow in the
afternoon, & went on for a couple of days — then we had
a nice old slushy thaw — now we are having floods.
However this room is high & dry. Well, we found the Bed-
Arms a fine picturesque old pub, with leaded panes,
& the bow window in the bar-parlour or whatever it may
be called & chairs which looked as if they might fit into
the novels of the divine Jane very well. So we sat there while
dinners was coming to the final point of perfection & each
had our ½ pint & passed the time away by composing
limericks & putting pennies in a hospital box to see the
clock go round. You see there is a clock face & if you put
in a penny the hand moves one division, & if you put in
½d a half; but what we could not make out was why
when we put in ½d & then 1d the 1d made the hand
move 1½ spaces. Anyhow it only did it once & we wasted
quite a lot of money trying to make it do it again. Still
page 9 it was good business for the hospital. Then we moved on to
dinner. We each, there being 8 of us — to wit, Duncan, McGrath,
Hemming, Taylor, and a cobber of Hemming's from Paris, Manderson,
Gardiner & Woodhouse, three architectural cobbers[unclear: /reps], & me —
got a present & a highly ornamental paper cap inside a cracker &
a letter from Father Christmas. My present was a —cripes! I've
forgotten the name of it, but it was one of those things with a scale that
you bang on with two little hammers, like so Sketch of xylophone
bang! bang! bang! like that — you can go from A to C without any
semitones. We But I've lost the letter, which anyhow wouldn't
be very intelligible to you. We didn't get no Turkey, but roast
beef & ye spuds & sprouts & plumpudding & brandy sauce & mince
pies & biscuits & cheese & by the time I had finished I was pretty
full. We had some good fun, but the funniest thing was when
Gardiner got somewhat drunk. He & Manderson & Woodhouse had
just got news on Christmas Eve that they had crashed in their [unclear: A.R.B.A.]
exam, McGrath being the only one who got through — so G went
for the booze good & solid. He got very merry & made a speech
which lasted about 4½ hours interspersed with numerous anec-
about adventures with girls on busses [sic: buses] ; the upshot was
that we all got so weak from laughing that we could hardly
move. He developed a trick of shaking his forefinger in a very
knowing way at frequent intervals & crying Aha! so the next
thing that happened was a society formed specially to celebrate
New Year's Day. As I send you a programme of the occasion
I need not say much about it, except that it was wild, woolly, &
page 10 uproarious. Some of the silly goats even went to the extent of
hiring a harmonium for a week, which caused me a
pretty hefty shock when it appeared at the top of the stairs,
much to Duncan's amusement. I have put a few elucidatory
notes in the programme for you; but even at that it is a
somewhat esoteric document. Still the contributions in foreign
languages may give you something to think about when you can't
be bothered reading.

Those two days were the only two days on which I did
any hearty celebrating. Helen & de K & Ferguson, a Canadian,
& I had a flash Christmas supper together, & that completes
my tale of debauchery — not half so long continued, solid, or
wearing as last year's. But then nothing could equal that.
I had a letter from Uncle George accepting my apologies for
turning their invitation down — they were just as pleased anyhow,
as Auntie Jeanne was laid aside with her usual indisposition,
though rather more acute than usual.Uncle G was much struck with
 Mac's woodcut.
So I have been able
to do a fair amount of work, that is for holidays, & Christ-
holidays at that. I haven't written any more of my
thesis; but I hope to get started on that again in a couple of
days, as soon as I can get some stuff finished at the B.M.
But Lord! you could keep on working there & collecting stuff
for ever.

10/1/28 I send you under separate cover together with the
usual cuttings two or three post cards of the B.M. — the Reading Room
I suppose you have see before, but the others may be interesting.
Also one of old Pepys, which I doubt if you already know, & I
page 11 thought you might like to compare with the National Gallery one I sent
you before.

Now I had better tell you about the offer of a job I had — it
was the S. African one I mentioned before, & became definite. Two
years at £400 year, starting next July, a pretty good place appar-
& a good boss, & I could have been left to myself pretty
well. Newton wanted me to take it; but I thought it over for a
week & had half a mind to send you a cable to see what you
thought — but I knew you would only say to Do what you think
best, so I decided to hang on to my money— & finally turned
it down. If I can't stay here after the end of the year, as may
be the case, I don't want to leave before then. Going out to S.A. in
June would have meant finishing my thesis in a terrible rush, &
then having no time to prepare lectures, & anyhow I might want
to barge off to N.Z. before the end of the two years. If not I should
rather be here if possible. Laski said it wasn't anything to get
excited about, & would interfere with my work here anyhow, & that he
would back me for any scholarship that was going. Which was
satisfactory though as he was away I couldn't see him till yesterday,
after I had cable [sic: cabled] to S.A.

You will be much pleased to hear that I finished Emma,
staying up till nearly 2 one morning to do so, & am now
½way through Sense & Sensibility, while I have the pages of Mans-
Park out ready to start. I really can't make out why you
didn't tell me that Mrs John Knightly & family lived in Bruns-
Square. Perhaps just to give me a pleasing surprise. I
page 12 tell you what — I think there's a complete change of style between S & S &
Emma — no, that's too sweeping; you can see that Emma is undoubtedly
by the same person, but the irony is a great deal more chastened &
subtle. There's a big difference even between S & S & P & P. She
must have matured very rapidly once she started writing. Well,
well, I'll say she can write anyhow, & I don't mean maybe, as
the Yanks say. — I have seen some glo good plays lately —
Peter Pan, with Jean Forbes-Robertson as Peter — she is first-rate, &
made the part more eerie than you would fancy it at first
blush. I remember the family party to see that when it came
round to Wellington — in the stalls too — my word! Father &
Mother & the boys. You Never Can Tell also was good, & suited
the people better than Getting Married. A very good William;
of course Esmé Percy was out on his own. They are doing Man
& Superman next. I never seem to send you any programmes but
I shall make up a big bunch some day. I went to the Way of the
World again too, with McGrath & Hemming — I could sit & listen
to Edith Evans in the second act all night. Helen took Mrs
Crump to this, the mother of Crumpie the fat girl (vide my last
letter) — this relict of the Good Queen had to admit the acting was
good, but was greatly shocked at the morals of the piece. “Scoun-
! Villain!” she kept ejaculating under her breath. Such
was the tale that I was told. So you still meet the genteel
superior [unclear: para] English family, even in this cosmopolitan depraved
days. There are several more plays I want to go to, & I
daresay I will get to them in time. Barry Jacks is putting
on Macbeth in modern clothes in a month or so, so that ought
page 13 to be interesting. A good start for an actor who can't afford
to wear evening clothes himself. I am thinking of following D'Arcy's
example, talking of evening-clothes — he keeps his in pawn & takes
them out when he wants them ; thus they are well looked after for
a small sum, & he has a quid extra to spend. He never gets more
than a quid on them, as he is afraid that otherwise he might never
be able to get them out again. They are a great nation, the
Irish. He was telling us about a cobber of his who is always
thinking out schemes for making money; one of them was to keep
bees in his room, which he did — not altogether to make money
in this case, for he had a genuine affection for bees. But the
bees all died off in the London air, & anyhow, so far from their
producing any honey, he had to buy it for the bees to live on.
Apparently this cove accumulates money, however, for he spends
most of his time when he is not at work sitting down thinking out
schemes. He had a scheme going in Lond Dublin during the
Civil War, — I've forgotten what it was — but one night the Black & Tans
came down the street & thought they ought to burn something, so
they up went his bag of tricks. It may have been a pie-cart or a
newspaper office, I don't know. He has a lot of yarns, has
D'Arcy, likewise songs, in Gaelic & English. He sang us the
Londonderry Air on New Year's Night & also some of the Sinn Fein
marching songs. He put in some time in the civil war as a
Sinn Feinian himself & a considerable time in the hills living
on the country, so I gathered. Now he is in the government & at the
L.S.E. You never saw a bloke more like an Irishman or heard
page 14 a more peculiar pronunciation of some Irish words.

Duncan got another cake from Australia yesterday, & I
brought 14 bananas for 6d off a barrow in the street, so things
are looking up.

Have you seen a number of the N.Z. Alpine Journal with
one of my celebrated poems in it? Rich Wiren sent me one.
This is also an article by him, reeking with the Wiren person-
— the last paragraph “Mr J.C. Beaglehole, who was
with me” on the trip, & so forth. I got a letter from him,
too, that was a priceless example of the ineffable Rich at
his most gentlemanly. He takes a lot of beating, that cove.

I think I thanked you for the Christmas [unclear: number] in my
last letter. Since when I have received the Free Lance from
Joe; so if you will tender him thanks pro. tem. I shall write
to him later on. — Our weather is a lot better now, quite
mild, so that it is possible to save on the gas fire, & not much
rain. In fact we have had three clear nights running, & tonight
is another, with real dinkum full moons, two of them yellow
in the best tradition.

I wonder if Daddy would like to arrange for another book to
be sent to me?— Trevelyan's Recreations of an Historian. I have
two, one pretty much knocked about, & much underlined — this
is the one I want. Thanking you in anticipation. Also if anyone
has a camera & wants to practise on interior views it might be a
good wheeze to take some pictures of the library & send me home a
set. I will now close. With much love as ever.



X X XThese are fos for Mummy, in lieu of the kisses she usually gets at
Christmas & thereabouts.