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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 1928

page 1

My Dear Mummy,

Great news about you this week! You
do seem to be making great strides now. I was very pleased
to get the snaps, taken with all Keithles’ usual sense of form
& virtuosity. You seem to be looking pretty hale & hearty in
them, with your summer background of flowers & corrugated
iron. Frannie presents quite a cheerful picture too, though
I am distressed to observe her knee. But perhaps she is
taking after the American model; I saw in a Yank maga-
that the other day that the present fashion is exposure
of leg from instep to knee. Some of the schoolboards there
in the backblocks are evidently getting very annoyed about
it. And so Frannie is making me an Uncle again!
Well, all I can say is [unclear: turn] up the remarks with which
I greeted Mary the Angelic & apply them mutatis mutandis,
to this little stranger, & drop a tear of commiseration on his
bald but doubtless most intelligent head for it. I suppose
Keith will be going skiting round the country now, like
all the other new–made fathers, Rich Wiren & the like, &
making an insufferable nuisance of himself. More work for
Auntie too — a desperate time will be having soon,
with all these new arrivals pouring in. Well well,
that’s about all I have to say on the matter. I’m getting
page 2 blasé on babies. I ask only one thing. Don’t say the kid
is like me. Give Father Johnson a turn or somebody else who
is equal to the load of responsibility.

The incomparable Mary seems to be making a great sen-
. Fancy! — playing the piano at one year old! I
suppose Auntie put in half the time she had her in explaining
that black notes were not to be eaten, or white notes dribbled
upon. I am willing to admire the kid at a distance if you
like, as she seems to be so truly admirable. — Yes, I know
that blooming Kaitoke hill Daddy mentions — especially in the
rain. As for Tristram Shandy, when I get my thesis off
my hands, I might cop onto that. I am much disturbed
that you have taken to reading doubtful French romances. What
beats me is that you always read them right through apparently —
surely by now you can sense instinctively after the first few
words whether a book is proper for a grandmother to read it or
not, & if l not surely you can lay it aside? But
you always seem to go straight through with it. Sense of
duty, I suppose, so that you will know what to warn your
sons off.

What are you getting at, blasting me for running down
Dickens? I think he was an admirable cove; everybody
says he is a wonderful writer, with some beautiful death-
scenes, & the other day the Chief Justice had an article
in the Times about the trial Bendell v Pickwick — ever
since which fatuous asses have been contributing letters to
page 3 the subject. The house where he used to live is in Doughty
Street, only a couple of streets away from here, on the other
side of the Foundling Hospital, & I dare say I shall have
a [gap — reason: unclear] squizy inside one of these days, for your satisfaction
as well as (or possibly more than) my own. But you
must be mistaken when you accuse me of running him
down. He never done nuthin’ to me. I’ve read a lot
of his books too — David Copperfield & Nicholas Nickleby & Oliver
Twist & Bleak House & the Child’s History of England (all
about the Protestants & Bloody Queen Mary) & so on & so forth;
& in one of my school–readers I distinctly remember the
pathetic end of little Paul Dombey, who as far as I can remember
died from malnutrition & softening of the brain. I’ve read a
lot of Pickwick here & there too, & also some of the Sketches by
Boz. You certainly must be quite weary in accusing me
of saying anything disrespectful of their immortal creator. Why
I’d just as soon think of saying a word against Aldus Hux-
or even myself. — Who wrote True Womanhood? I
might look it up in the B.M. — if it is fit for me. If not
some of my lady cobbers might like to.

What does Ern want a soft job researching for? Why
doesn’t he get a job in the bl backblocks as I did & put in
some good solid work teaching the young farmers their elementary
culture. Tommy Hunter told me Marsden’s department was
the funniest thing on earth anyhow. Then they don’t get
on too well together. I thought Keith was going to run that
page 4 thing as soon as Marsden got it going? But I daresay it
doesn’t pay enough to keep an English wife & a rising young
family on. Some blokes seem to let themselves in for every-
. I was having a word with my old cobber Joynt the
other day, & he told me Ern had managed by some miracle
to fall into a first; so I suppose he will be nourishing hopes
of coming over here & wasting his time now, & doing the good out
of the good hard cash they have paid for his education as a
teacher. Funny how these blokes never seem to develop any sense
of honour where the good is concerned; I could never under-
it myself. But off they buzz & leave anyone to pay
their bond who cares. No wonder the old Wright goes round looking
like an unhappy gorilla. Old Joynt warned me
against writing to [gap — reason: unclear] congratulate Ern, because he might commit
a crime before he got the degree & so render himself ineligible;
but as you have no doubt got the cable by now & Auntie
has sprung the necessary fruitsalad I don’t suppose any
harm can be done.

That seems all there is to say about your letter, with a
few excursions outside it; so I will now see what I can
rake up out of London. I got my proofs from my
Yank cobber Fay yesterday, & have been cursing him
ever since. I haven’t had time to look at them properly yet [gap — reason: unclear]
there will be about 100 pages in the thing — but he has made
a horrible schoolboyish mess of my first & last paragraphs,
which I worked over like a slave; & for no particular reason
[turn to back of page 1]
page 5 that I can see, as neither passage was flippant, & he has
only saved about half a page of print. I could pole-axe
the cow. A bloke doesn’t expect much from an editor,
but he does expect a bare minimum of intelligence. This is
what he calls cutting out a few flippancies & making one or
two minor alterations. Lest you should think this is only
an outraged author complaining, I may say that Duncan,
my most savage & sarcastic critic, agrees with me. Well
if he doesn’t do something about it he can go to blazes — I
shan’t take any extra copies, & I’d be ashamed to
distribute them among my friends, much less sell
them. Curse him — this means another confounded corres-
, I suppose, & Lord knows how much delay. Some
people ought to have been drowned at birth & Sidney B. Fay is one
of them. As I am writing to my Mother, I refrain from
saying what I really think of him — that requires a position
leaning against the mantlepiece & a long th breath. Followed
by expectoration. Like a fool, too, he didn’t send me the
copy, but two sets of proofs. The things I though he might
cut out he has left in. Moral: all editors are dolts,
butth but the academic dolt is worst of all. Ah well, I dare
say a few hard words will do some good. I suppose
this will intensify Daddy’s low opinion of the Yanks &
all their works.

This reminds me of a flash advertisement I saw in
Life the other day, of somebodys bathroom “that preserves
[from here go to back of page 2] [gap — reason: unclear] page 6 [thank you]
the reticences of law.” Very flash bathroom it was too, in
the picture; but as I remarked to my cobber, I always like
a bathroom I can undress in myself, & go naked & un-
with a complete lack of reticence. But the
Yanks are a reticent crowd. A couple of pages afterwards
was the famous slogan “Often a bridesmaid but never a
bride” — & why? Because of halitosis i.e. bad breath.
Cure — swallow lysol or something & attain a happy married
life. Curiously enough, the Yanks I have met over here
seem to be just normal mutts, with a few sticking out very
high above the average.

Work is going fairly well & fairly slowly; I spend a
lot of time standing in corners of the room trying to think.
This is a confoundedly difficult thing to arrange & Lord knows
how long it will be — about 1000 pages, to judge by present
indications. Have to marry a shorthand typist I think.
Pity I don’t work in the government. I have been spending
some time lately on a stupid scheme of Newton’s, too, or
rather a scheme into which he has been co-opted. A big
group of newspapers here & the Canadian National Railways
are combining on a campaign of what they call Imperial
Education — i.e. they are go to ask examination ques-
on Canada & the rest of the empire in four
papers for a month — according to Newton they are expect-
200,000 answers, but I have my doubts — & the
fifty coves, male & female, between the ages of 14 & 21, who
[now turn to page 7 where it ought to be!
after page 4]
page 7 come off best & [sic: are] going to get a blow out at the Mansion House,
shake hands with the King & Wife & get a free trip across Canada
& back. Newton has dragged in 5 of us birds at the Institute
to set the questions — it gives him a chance of blowing about the
public psychology, & Imperial education, & getting into contact
with reality, & the Higher Journalism, & other pitiful bunk, to
bully us, & generally to expand in his favourite fashion. de K
& I are supposed to be the chief birds on this Committee, &
we get about £10 each — I set the questions for the blokes
between 18 & 21. It would be an improvement if they gave
us a trip across Canada too. The trouble is that we have to
write skeleton answers to the questions for the guidance of a
corps of examiner–hacks, & I’m blowed if I can answer half
my own questions. We may get jobs as chief examiners too,
but it will have to be a pretty good screw that makes me
take on that. The trouble is that I need a new suit & a
pair of shoes, so I shall have to stoop to the dirty business
of making some money, I suppose. Or I shall be getting
into de K’s quandary & having to buzz over to Paris to save
money while he waits to hear if he has got a Rockefeller or

I have heard a few good concerts lately. I took this
afternoon off today & went to a harpsichord recital by Mrs.
Gordon Woodhouse, whom I have been anxious to hear for a
long time; it was good too, — Bach, Mozart, Haydn, & some
early English stuff. I think I must get a harpsichord pretty
page 8 soon. I heard a gang called the Vienna String Quartet last
week — they played Beethoven & the Schubert Quartet the
slow movt of which we have on the gramaphone, the one
with the variations on Death & the Maiden, & a Schonberg [sic: Schönberg]
quartet (he is one of these modern coves, you know) two of
whose movements were songs with quartet accompaniment —
it was very good in parts, too. I heard a good concert at
Southwark Cathedral a week or so ago, too; some choral
music, all very good except a batty setting of Donne, & Elgar’s
second symphony which is a magnificent thing. Programme
enclosed. Also went to Lilac Time, but left at the end
of the first act, being almost stifled at the top of the gallery,
& fed up with continual applause all through & audible
comments on the behaviour of the characters all around us;
this would have been bearable if it hadn’t been for the thick-
of the so–called air. Some of the theatres here are
ghastly arrangements; & if there was a fire at this joint, Daly’s,
there would be a first-rate massacre of gallery birds. While
I am on the subject of theatres I don’t think I have ever
told you that George Gee is here now in a show called The
Girl Friend, & a huge success. Apparently he is an Australian
in origin, & this is his first visit here. I must blow down
& see him if possible some time, when I am not feeling
highbrow. There will be less scope for the highbrows
in future — the cove who was producing Strindberg,
Robert Loraine had a cow with the Swedish Consul,
page 9 in which they both got nasty to each other; & now he
has got fed up & is going for Edgar Wallace. Another
concert I went [gap — reason: unclear] to last week was Céasar Franck’s The Beatitudes,
done by the London Choral Society; but it was a waste of
good money, a pretty feeble thing to start with, & very feebly
done. For once I agreed with everything the Times said on a
subject. Apart from these things my main amusement
has been to read the Education of Henry Adams, which I am
getting through about as gradually as Daddy would do. Otherwise
I haven’t read anything that I can think of, not even Jane
Austen. — While I am on the subject of books I may
say that I consigned Gosse’s Swinburne to Bumpus’s for
postage ingyesterday. 5/-. Bumpus are evidently paying for the
postage for so I charge nothing for that. I also bought a
copy of the 100th number of the Mercury, which I shall
send out in due course, when I have read a yarn in it by
C.E. Montague. Also there is a [gap — reason: unclear] rumour that a bit of Eng-
printing has been found in the P.R.O. dating from before
Caxton. Consequent [sic: Consequently] great excitement among the learned.

So Asquith has shuffled off. This makes [gap — reason: unclear] good
deaths recently — Hardy, Haig & Asquith. Duncan wants
to see a great philosopher go now, after these three, & says
plaintively, why not Hobhouse? But I say firmly, No,
my boy, let’s get rid of the politicians while the going’s
good. I’m voting for Balfour. — He looked up from
the Times yesterday & asked if I knew that Bal- [sic: Balfour]
page 10 was ill; but when I said No hopefully, it appeared that he
was recovering fast. George Moore has gone into a hospital
for an operation now, & he’s 76; but it will be a pity if
too many writers go. There are so many other coves we
could lose. — It was pretty stiff about those Tasman
Sea coves — Coates seems to have been right after all, in
wanting a seaplane.

Did you know that Williams & Norgate had gone bust.
This new firm Victor Gollanz has bought their premises. They
have sold the H.V.L. to Thornton Butterworth; & this must
have been the reason the Hibbert Journal went to Constable’s,
I suppose. Laski got badly left over this business —
his book on Communism in the H.V.L. sold 60,000 copies,
& W & N owed me him between £100 & £200; now if he’s
lucky he’ll get about £12. The In case of a publisher’s
bankruptcy, apparently the printers have first call, the
paper-makers second, the binders third, & then if there
is a crumb or two left, the authors come in. Little
Harold didn’t seem to be too pleased about it. The H.V.L. is a
is a pretty profitable concern & has [gap — reason: unclear] evidently kept the
firm off the rocks so far, I’d like to know what has
sent them bust.

We have been having a fair amount of fun lately, —
I mean the Institute gang. Did I tell you about the
birthday party we gave Smithie & Ross? we had it at
Helen’s place, with a cake apiece for them & a con-
page 11 siderable
rough-house at times; & I nearly broke the
piano. Last Saturday night too we tried a Chinese
restaurant instead of our usual joint in Soho — we had
a wonderful blow out for two bob apiece; all sorts of
mixtures, & ginger & preserved fruits to follow, with oceans
of tea. We rolled up here very uproarious after, singing
in the street & having a battle royal on the stairs, & afterwards
consumed a lot of Auntie Ada’s cake & a bit of booze
left over from the New Year. The cake arrived last
week; apparently it had been opened by some curious cove, &
but little of the original wrapping seemed left, but the cake
was intact. They do seem to smash up things on that
trip — the tin was bent & buckled & burst all over the
place. It was a first-rate cake.

I pinched a menu from Bertorelli’s, where we
feed a lot, the other night, thinking you might be interested.
If it doesn’t arrive by this post, it will probably arrive
shortly after. — The weather here has been fairly mild
lately, only fogs are starting again; there was one the
other morning, & here is another evil smelling thing stealing
into the room at this moment. However I am very fit,
& if there was no work in the world would be fairly happy,
as happiness goes. — Pardon this writing. By the time
I have finished my thesis, I shall probably be quite in-
. Give my love to everybody around
you; but retain sufficient for yourself.