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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 3 May 1928

page 1

My dear Mummy,

You see I have gone up in the world
a step or two. Cambridge certainly puts it across London in
the way of stationery. McGrath designed this paper & did
the woodcut for the coat of arms. Woodcut of Clare College Cambridge coat of armsHe has just agreed to do
some typographical ornaments for the University Press; so
it looks as if architecture will become very much of a side-
with him! He is having a diary of his Spanish trip
printed in the big English architectural monthly maga-
, which has already reproduced some of his drawings;
& he hasn’t started his thesis yet — so what with woodcuts,
writing, editing the Clare College magazine, & doing other
odd jobs, his life seems to be pretty well filled up. There
is a rumour that a fellowship at Clare is designed for him;
if so, he will be in a nice dilemma when the time comes
to choose. Well, I wish I only had half his capacity, that’s
all. It’s impossible to do any work at Cambridge, anyhow.
I came up here on Monday, intending to ransack the
branch Record Office here & write the Newfoundland section
of my thesis — it is now Thursday & I haven’t done a
stroke of either, while I am due back in London on
Sunday night. All the same, I should like a house here
by the river, or rooms in a college, as long as nobody asked
me out to tea or breakfast. I think then it might be
possible to get something done. — It is certainly a wonder-
charming place, & from the point of view of beauty,
now that spring is at its culmination, all that it is cracked
up to be. I am convinced that it is the only way to build
a university, though ideally it should be nearer London & the
page 2 asinine restrictions on students beyond a certain age should
be removed. If I were a millionaire I should certainly
buy up all that is left of the Hutt Valley, & build a resi-
university there, in small colleges on the quad-
system. But it would be co-educational, with
men & women in the same buildings; & heads of colleges in-
male or female, & there wouldn’t be any proc-
, & very few rules; so the place would probably be
put down by the government, & the boys & girls returned
to Dick Seddon’s atrocity at Salamanca. It would be
a pity to lose the view of the harbour from there, however;
so I might pull down our present fantasia in brick & put
up something else that would be some use. I wish I
could get hold of the money somehow; but if I start a soap
or a disinfectant factory now I shan’t be able to write the
life of Sir James Stephen K.C.B. let alone the classic
work on the [unclear: Idea] of Empire. So apparently the world will
have to choose, & choose quickly, which advantage it will forgo.
You, as representing the world, had better send me a cable.
But I had forgotten a third possibility, which will make all
plain — of course all I have to do is to finish my works,
publish a collected edition, & apply the proceeds to the above
foreshadowed admirable purpose. Quite simple.

Well, I don’t know whether to say anything about
Cambridge or not; I suppose that as usual you know all
about it already. It is flat, it is at present very green, it has
numberless trees; indeed if it were not for the trees it
would be naturally a pretty poor place. But trees redeem
anything, even London. Some of the colleges are better
the others — Cains is a monstrosity of ugliness, Clare is
relatively small & beautifully proportioned & very well
built. It is next door to Kings’ College Chapel, on which
subject see some of the over-rated sonnets of that wearisome
bard Wordsworth. I regret to say I haven’t been inside
it yet, though I should have been yesterday if it had
page 3 not been for an unduly prolonged afternoon tea with some
of McGrath’s cobbers. However I believe I am booked for a com-
architectural tour this afternoon; which ought to be
very pleasant, as the sun is shining brightly for the first time since
I got here. — 4 May. I went for the tour & afterwards to the theatre (&
that reminds me that if you are really classy over here you don’t go to the
theatre, you go to the play; vide I believe the subtle gradations of caste in
the works of Henry James). After looking at Lord knows how many
colleges pretty well all that remains in my mind is a confused vis-
of quadrangles & courts, fellows’ gardens, huge lawns, grey stone, bricks,
punts, & the ceiling of Kings’ College Chapel. Clare has buildings about
the most perfect & harmonious of any place here — an old seventeenth
century place, though the college was founded itself in 1326; it has fine
gates too & a wonderful avenue & one of the best bridges in the place.
Forbes, the fellow who is McGrath’s Laskin, has a first rate set of rooms
in one of the outside corners; on one side his windows look out
on to King’s & its immense lawn, on the other Sketch diagram of views from Forbes' roomon Clare gardens,
backs & bridge. He has a fine room too, though he is an untidy
swab & seems to keep most of his books on the floor. I should
think a cove like him has as desirable a life as you could wish
for, bar matrimony, if your wishes run that way; of course if
he has the bad fortune to get married he has got to get out of his rooms.
He is thinking of doing that anyhow & of rebuilding a house over
the other side of the river to share with friends. Clare itself is
building a big extension, the size of itself, over the other side; one
side of the building is finished now & occupied; you look out
through the big arch of the main doorway on to a big sloping lawn
& through trees over the road to more grass & trees, then the river,
& so on to the old buildings, which are pretty well hidden. They
have plenty of money & lots of land. King’s is pulling down a
great big block of buildings built in the 19th century which it doesn’t
like now & putting up new ones. And so on & so forth. The
rooms in these buildings are first-rate too. It’s undoubtedly
the only way to build a college. If they are sensible at Cam-
they will buy up all the land round about that they
possibly can before anybody sticks up a factory & sends up
the price; as has been done at Oxford, which now threatens to
become an industrial centre, what with the Morris-Oxford
works & so on. It’s a pity some cove in Wellington with money
can’t hop in & buy up a lot of land in a good place for future
use. If that god-forsaken fool Seddon had had any sense he
would have reserved the whole of Kelburn round about the
page 4 college for university buildings & grounds. Or the whole of the
Mt Cook site, which would just have been about big enough & could have
been made into a fine place. Well, I suppose that about 2500 A.D.
some cove will be using words very like these [gap — reason: unclear] on the same subject.
I have however contracted with McGrath to design a university for me
as soon as I am a millionaire. I am going to have a Beaglehole
Memorial Library with a glass case containing relics, like the [unclear: Hon]
Dook’s top hat in the United Services Museum. Sock worn by
me in my last crossing of the Tararuas. MS of my Decline & Fall of
the British Empire. Felt hat worn by Daddy in mowing the lawn, &
subsequently carried by me into the best society. Singlet in which
I won the Wilson Memorial Cup, Olympic Harriers [gap — reason: unclear] mile Race;
attendance medal awarded by O.H. Cheque signed by me & dishon-
by Bank of N.Z. London. Photos of me (a) with (b) without
horn-rims. Cuttings from Post, consisting up of a complete series of my
public deliverances upon national affairs. Report of conversation between
Campbell, Duncan & me which decided fate of Baldwin govt in 1928, in-
by us all. &c. &c. If I get the thing finished in time, I
shall have the pleasure of arranging all these things in their glass case
myself, which would be highly satisfactory. However this isn’t
telling you much about Cambridge. I had a squiz inside the
Fitzwilliam Museum, but I have got to go back there; they
have some first-rate pictures & a fine collection of pottery; every-
terribly crowded of course. I had dinner in hall one
night, which sounds romantic but is not; one of the speediest
meals I ever went through — quite a good meal though. There was a
rumour that Forbes might be able to wangle things so that I should
feed there every night as the guest of the college, but apparently
that didn’t come off. I had breakfast with Forbes & some other
coves to meet a bloke called Faithfull who is running a school
on very modern lines about 30 miles from here, on somewhat
B. Russell lines; he seems a very sound cove; but is balmy
on libido & introverts & extroverts, which is all very nice, but
doesn’t seem to me to be the simple explanation of the universe
which it appears to him to be. However if I had any kids I
should feel inclined to send them along to him. He believes
in sun-bathing (the sun apparently shines over his school) &
extensive water-bathing; & has no servants & no compulsory
subjects in the school, & forgets to put the degrees of his [unclear: assis-]
page 5 after their names in his prospectuses. In the summer he takes
his kids tramping about 300 miles to the moors or the seaside.
He reckons the system has been working pretty well so far, seven
years. He has partially converted [unclear: Dean Inge], so he reckons.
A pity some cove does not get going like this in N.Z., though I
suppose old Monkey Wright would go off in a swoon at the im-
of it all, & call in the police. Might be a good
job for Ern, since he is such an imminent psychologist, & re-
the importance of propaganda, & has reforming in-
& probably a taste for martyrdom. I don’t see why
a school like this shouldn’t have trial run in N.Z.; as our
great free compulsory secular system is already so badly [unclear: holed]
with the Micks, & C of England snob-shops like Marsden. It
might turn out kids with a taste for bathing without clothes; but
it wouldn’t turn them out with impenetrable minds or social in-
. I seriously recommend this scheme to Ern. It
would be good experience for him, if for no one else. — I have
been inspecting the bookshops pretty systematically & have bought a
few books, sort of souvenirs like; including a folio Hobbes 1750,
for 30/- & a ditto works of James I for 21/-. A bloke must have
some folios for a foundation to his library. And of course these
are further essential for the future Memorial Collection. In thise
connection I had better copy out for your benefit a few words of
Richard de Bury (1344) on the subject “What we are to think of the
price in the buying of books” — “From what has been said we draw
this corollary welcome to us, but (as we believe) acceptable to few.”
(this excludes mothers, wives &c) “namely, that no dearness of price
ought to hinder a man from the buying of books if he has the money
that is demanded for them, unless it be to withstand the malice of the
seller or to await a more favourable opportunity of buying. For if
it is wisdom only that makes the price of books, which is an in-
treasure to mankind, & if the value of books is unspeakable,
as the premises show, how shall the bargain be shown to be
dear where an infinite good is being bought. Wherefore, that books
are to be gladly bought & unwillingly sold, Solomon, the sun of
men, exhorts us in the Proverbs, Buy the truth, he says, & sell not
wisdom”. Herein I might also quote the motto of my old
college (or the college to which I have the honour to belong,
as these old Oxford & Cambridge men invariably say) “Sapien-
magis auro desideranda.” Well, I think that is about
page 6 all I have to say at present on the subject of Cambridge. The
play last night was The Devil’s Disciple, pretty well done.
There is a place here called the Festival Theatre, which is run
just to make a bare profit by a cove called Terence Gray, an
Irish archaeologist who has taken up stage-craft. Some of
his ideas are very good, others pretty batty. He turns on good
plays though — a fresh one every week. I went to see
Charlie Chaplin the other night too, in Shoulder Arms.

I forget what has been happening in London, but nothing
much anyhow. I went to a good play called Young Wood-
, with the scene laid in a public school. The censor
would not allow it for a long while, God knows why.
I believe he thought it was indelicate. I suppose you have al-
read all about it in Punch, so I need not particular-
. There have been a sudden burst of concerts these weeks
while I am away; & the opera is now running at Covent
Garden. The booking system is a curse here. The only cheap
seats are 3/-, for which you have to stand in the queue for
about four hours; the next are 5/9. I thought I would blow
myself to the Ring cycle, so I trotted down to the theatre
about ten days after the box office opened to try & get seats for
the second cycle, in the 2nd half of May. (This was in April;
the season goes on till June 6). Well, there wasn’t a single
5/9 seat for the whole season. You might say that this shows
immense musical enthusiasm on the part of London — not on
your life. The booking offices, like Keith Prowse (see
Punch [unclear: adds]) & Mundies’ buy up the whole theatre, & then retail the seats
at a good fat profit. This is supposed to be for the con-
of the theatre — going public. I.e., instead of going
straight down to Covent Garden & booking, you trot all over
London looking for an agency which has seats to sell.
I refused to trot. It’s a beautiful system, a triumph of the
middleman & private enterprise. Of course if you haven’t got
a flunkey to send round the town that’s your fault — you’ve
got no right to go to the Opera. — I have read Blind Raftery
& Aldus Huxley’s Along the Road, a fairly good book of essays.
page 7 I have also written a pretty big section of my thesis, on the
North American colonies. The whole thing is going to be pretty
long, & heaven knows when it will be finished.

I now turn my attention to your letter, for which many
thanks, ditto for all enclosures, perused with the usual interest.
Thanks also to Ern for his letter, which I shall reply to
when advice on the choice of a university seems vitally called
for; I have already however put Duncan’s giant psycho-socio-
brain to work on the problem. I also had a letter
from Auntie Sis — please convey my thanks — ditto to Stan.
An unusually large mail for me, who rarely get [sic: gets] more
than a couple of N.Z. letters a fortnight. My blooming
friends seem to think that they shouldn’t write except after a good
long interval after getting a letter or a Xmas card from me;
they then send a note to remark on the length of time since
they heard from me. Duncan on the contrary gets a sheaf
of about 12 letters per weekly mail, & swears because he
hasn’t got time to answer them. — I had another good
long larf over your letter, especially over Mrs Clark’s
lecture on the appreciation of poetry. I haven’t seen George
Roley yet; but he is playing now & I may buzz along some
time. I never seem to have got excited about the prospect of
seeing him. [unclear: Parties] & so forth in Wellington duly noted; it’s a
very puzzling thing that Frannie should agree with me so much
in her estimation of personalities — it made me think
that perhaps I have been misjudging all these people.
Or perhaps Frannie is coming round to my way of thinking &
realises by now what a wise man I am; none too soon, to be sure.
Smitten with E. Holmes & N. Fowler, is she, & doesn’t like Arch?
Very funny, considering that those two are pretty rough vigorous
unladylike females, & that Arch is a complete middle-class
respectable self-centred hidebound public school English gentle-
. I thought Frannie admired that type, & that that
was the only defect she found in Keith. Well, well, you
can never tell how matrimony or a new environment
will alter people’s views. Now I was disgusted the other
day to catch myself telling somebody I was awfully sorry
about something or other (I think it was dragging Campbell’s
cobber out of the bath to let me in to see Campbell on
his return from Denmark, C. being in bed & refusing to
page 8 get up.); & another time I told somebody else I should love
to do something. Now in N.Z. I should have chucked a ½-
brick at anybody I heard talk like that. It’s terrible how the
English smear spreads. You can’t touch pitch & not be defiled.
It would be positively dangerous for me to come back home now,
without a probationary period to get back my [gap — reason: unclear] colonial
vocabulary. The Lucy Crump who translated the de Mornay book
is Crumpie the fat girl’s mother; she is nearly equally as batty
in the bean, but not so fat. You never met such a family, if
I told you all about them it would take a whole letter & you
would die of laughing; Jane Austen’s characters aren’t in it.
Oh yes, I have also read the Memoir of J.A. that I sent you) I am
glad to learn that you are reading some history — James Harvey
R. is a pretty good man. He resigned from Harvard because
they thought his books & views were a bit too revolutionary; they’re
sorry now, & would give a good many dollars to get the coves
back that they threw out (practically) — Robinson, Beard, Baskin,
&c. & Daddy’s letter also very interesting; I shall be glad to
hear what he thinks of the [unclear: May] or of Casterbridge — I was rather
disappointed on the whole. The other books he has been reading are
a bit too highbrow for me. — I am glad to hear that Jack
& Dave [unclear: Wars] have pulled off such good jobs. I hear that
Yeates is £700 p.a. so I suppose the others are the same. No
excuse now for paying the other colleges so badly. Glad to hear
also that Sammy Palmer’s fund did so well — I only hope Prof
will not grab it all for modern languages. He & T. Hunter are
the biggest grafters that way I ever met. And F.P. the most
utter fool. — Also I am glad to hear that Daddy is getting
so intimate with the politicians. That gives me a couple of ideas,
(a) that he should retire from business into politics; either
get Peter Fraser to find him a safe seat & vote the straight
party line & so avoid even all mental strain, or get Harry
Holland to put him into the Upper House after the next election.
The only thing he would have to cope with then would be
letters to the Post. And he could easily ignore them. (b) that
as Peter F & Mrs Peter seem to admire me so much they might
like to make my letter into a Xmas card for next Xmas. I’ll
tell you what I’ll do; if they get the Worker to reprint it nice &
page 9 flash, with a red capital letter to start off with, & give me
50 or 60 copies free, I’ll give them a corrected & improved version
& they can have the Neustadt poem as well. All profits from
sale to go to Labour Party’s funds; I’ll be content with the
free copies & the publicity. Name to be on title page in letters
of a suitable size. You ring up Peter & tell him this & to write to
me if he wants to prove that the Labour Party is not as other men,
& is prepared to foster indigent genius at a profit to itself. I reckon
if he works the unions right & makes the sale a party matter he
ought to raise quite a lot on it. Much more improving for
the workers’ minds than clusters of holly & heaps of snow
on the roofs of insanitary old world cottages. I might even get
McGrath to do a woodcut. But in that case I think the
Worker ought to hand him out a guinea or so. Well, well,
the more I think of this the more the idea grows on me.
[gap — reason: unclear] You’d better tell Peter I’ll have my copies on extra good
paper; & if he sends over a couple of hundred copied ex-
I’ll guarantee to sell them here.

In [unclear: re also] with Daddy I send back his memo with anno-
. I can’t think of anything else just now. He ought to
have the Swinburne by now. Is letter of Carlyle to Mill,
Sterling & somebody else, 25/- reduced to 12/6, any good to him?
I don’t think he owns it at present.

Well, you seem to be getting along so famously in health
that I dare say you will take it as an insult if I say I
am glad you are so well. Stan said you were blooming in
the most miraculous manner; & according to Daddy you are
the most complete grandmother that ever was. All you want
now is a car of your own. — It is certainly pretty scandalous
the way the family is marrying off — four cousins at once! It’s
getting far too common; almost tinged with vulgarity. No good
to me to go in with a crowd like that, anyhow; so one day (
(pretty distant) you may expect to hear that I have taken up
with a girl & am living with her temporarily. But nothing
so low as marriage. I issue my manifesto thus, well in
advance; I have no [gap — reason: unclear] with what everybody does. But of course
the other thing is growing far too common also nowadays — it
leaves a man with a desperate barrenness of choice. Still I
page 10 think it is the less unattractive way.

I have a very charming landlady here, who has just come
back from seeing her married daughter in N.Z. — she gives me
hot milk at night, & we have a great time swopping travel
experiences & N.Z. reminiscences. She wants me to come
back to Cambridge & stay with her a longer time. I wouldn’t
mind doing it either. Well, I must knock off now & trot
along & see if any mail from here will possibly catch the
night boat; I shall be in the soup if it doesn’t — have to go
up to London myself & post the letter. By the way, as
I may not be in Brunswick Square very long after
June, will you address all letters to arrive in July or
after to the Institute of Historical Research Malet St.
London W.C.1, & oblige. — I’m sorry I can’t finish this
page; but I think 9½ pages of this paper is equivalent
to a good deal more of my usual size. Consider the ex-
feeling you will get from handling it anyhow —
well worth another entire letter, or certainly waiting a
month for. — Did I say that Brunswick Square was
looking very beautiful now, with white flowedred trees
all in blossom & the lilac out? It is; but the kids
still play in the streets & crawl in the gutters 50 yards
away. It would never do to spoil the grass.

I now cease pro ten. With very much love to you
both, & a just & decent amount for other friends & relations.


I hope Auntie is now completely restored.