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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 17 May 1928

page 1

My dear Mummy,

I continue to seem to have little to say.
(12 pages further

When last I wrote I was at Cambridge, & I think I put in
Thursday night & Friday morning writing. It seems hidden
in an undiscoverable sunken past now, but I must see if I
can’t disinter some memory of what happened. Now I think
of it I couldn’t have written to you on Thursday night, because
that [gap — reason: unclear] was the night McGrath knocked my goggles off in the
quadrangle of Clare & busted frame of same — luckily I was
able to stick it together with seccotine, which is the beauty of
horn rims — after which we went to the Festival Theatre to see
The Devil’s Disciple. There is a bird called Terence Gray who has
started a repertory theatre at Cambridge under that title — an ex-
archaeologist he is who got a bug for stagecraft, & believes in
having noisy entrances through the audience & so forth. It is a
nice little theatre though — 3/6 is the highest price you can pay, &
the young gentlemen aren’t allowed to go up in the gods & pay a bob.
At least they can do so & res but may be [unclear: progged]. The programme
has one or two commendable features — I send it out — but suffers
from an appalling high-browness. Mac is meditating a devastating
rag on it at present. He has invented a wonderful modern
theatre at [unclear: Mabuse] in Sweden (I believe) with which he & a cobber
hoaxed a society at Cambridge — with detailed architectural
page 2 drawings & all, quite the Terence Gray style, or a bit beyond, & he is
thinking on working it off on Terence Gray now. The main diffi-
is to let everybody else know it’s a rag. One of these subtle
things Univ of N.Z might well emulate. Anyhow this theatre
does a different play every week in term, & does good stuff. Some
of the acting is very good e.g. General Burgoyne in this was
perfect. Funny to think that Shaw ever wrote romantic stuff
like most of this, except with his tongue in his cheek — It was
only in the third act that he seemed to me really to get going.
I remain very sorrowful that you can’t see some of these things.
I think it must have been Friday afternoon that I did my
architectural tour of Cambridge — or no, I think that was the
glorious afternoon we walked into Cambridge via Grantchester —
or perhaps we did both. I know we finished up at an old
2nd hand shop full of curious & interesting & dirty things. I
bought a little old Chinese god for a birthday present for one
of my cobbers & nearly bought a pair of old Burmese brass
lions (?) for 80/- but managed to restrain myself — there are
a lot of things a bloke wants to buy in this world. I’m
glad I got my Hobbes & James I though — nothing like a few
old folios to give tone & dignity to a gent’s library; although if
I stay in London a couple more years I’ll certainly need
a flat. I finished up by buying a wash drawing from
McG, one of the best things he has done, which he was
getting ready for the Cambridge Art Society’s Exhibition. At
least I told him I would buy it if he couldn’t get more
for it at the exhibition. It is called [unclear: Breaking] up Old London,
& will fit my library pretty well some day. I hope to
page 3 invest in one of Uncle George’s new water colours before I leave,
too; he has turned out some good stuff.

On Saturdays they still have their market in Cambridge; so
I strolled in & had a look round after going to the Record Office,
just to salve my conscience, & hearing that they had nothing there
any good to me; & resisted again the temptation to buy — this time
a charming pair of early Victorian candlesticks with hexagonal
bases — brass. Also I did not buy once before in this market
place a Gibbon’s Rome, half 1st-edition, half 2nd. I though it would
do for you, being nice big hefty quarto volumes. Also I bought
two collars, but as the bookshops closed for lunch, had to leave
1½ of them unvisited, a great nuisance — I shall have to go
back to Cambridge in the autumn. In the afternoon Mac hiredgot out
his bike, & I hired one for 1/3 (I found when I got on it that it
didn’t have a bell, or a lamp or a rear-light & that the brakes were
wonky — but that didn’t matter, as the road was nice & flat all the
way; but incidentally I got my trousers mixed up with the chain
something horrible & have had to buy a new pair, very flash,
grey flannel, bang goes 16/6) — anyhow we got these here bikes, &
rode to Ely, for to inspect the Cathedral. A very mixed
sort of Cathedral, but a fine Norman nave; & a Lady
Chapel that would be very fine if ardent 16th century reformers
hadn’t gone round & knocked every head of in the place off
the statues & carvings — & there were about 5000 of them. So it
was with a peculiar sense of the divine justice that I recalled
that the cove who was the cause of this had his own head
chopped off, in a different connection, on Tower Hill. I send
you a little book about the place, sold at the incredible price
page 4 of 3d — it has some very nice woodcuts in it, so Mac & I
plunked down 1/- each & walked off with the whole pile — much
to the agitation of the aged sacristan (or some such-like)
who thought we were pinching them. The outside of the place
didn’t look as good as it does in the woodcut, except from one
position, where you got all those towers piled up one on top off [sic: of]
the other very impressively. Then we had tea & cycled back
in the cool of the evening. A very holy place, Ely — even
the barrel organs play hymns. One of them was the Churche’s
One Foundation Is Jesus Christ Our Lord alias O Star of Truth
down shining, which took me back a long way. They must
have been great places in their palmy days, those old country
cathedrals & abbeys, before they got it in the neck from Henry 8 &
their latterday surroundings & Sir Gilbert Scott & the modern
parson. Ely is very well kept however. I am wondering which
cathedral to add next to my collection & perhaps I may go down
to Winchester & drop a pious tear over the tomb of Jane. I am
getting more & more to like Norman building — you can’t beat it.
Tewkesbury, Peterborough, Ely — what a collection! You would
think that once a nation had built those things, they wouldn’t
start to worry about an empire. But yet here’s our Stanley
Baldwin yesterday saying that we can still beat the world.
It will be very interesting & gratifying to see us make a start.
I hope we will start before I leave England.

Sunday was another glorious day — actually hot; & I
started to uncurl for the first time since last summer. I took
a book & went & lay down in the Grantchester meadows by the
page 5 river & dreamed of the perfect university. What a place we
could have in N.Z. if we loosened the purse strings &
only tried! Cambridge wouldn’t be in it. Well, well, it may
happen about the year 3000. The meadows were all covered
with buttercups & daisies, so that in places you couldn’t see the
grass; & I lay & read & looked at the punts going by, &
was assaulted by innumerable gramophones each one
worse than the last, & everything was very idyllic. Except
for the buttercups & the punts, & the fact that I wasn’t in
pyjamas, it was almost like being at home again down
the back garden of a good hot Sunday morning. I came
up for lunch, & then I went back again for a further spell,
thinking it was well worth while to give the Fitzwilliam the
go by for the sun. Then back ag to tea with McG & a
cobber of his, after which we canoed on the river for a bit,
after which a meal, after which I said good-bye to Cam-
. I can well imagine a cove getting fond of such
a place in two or three years — though of course Jack Yeates
didn’t & I was lucky with the weather the 2nd half of
the week. Abolish the footling rules, & a man would be
all right. The greatest joy of all the rules is that by which
the library closes at 4 & you can’t borrow a book after
¼ to 4 — What a place it would be for Horace Ward! Well,
I must go back to see it in the autumn, when it is supposed
to be at its best; & there are [sic: is] the Fitzwilliam stuff &that
those 1½ bookshops. Pity I haven’t a cobber like McG at
page 6 Oxford.

Back to London in a carriage full of Cockneys,
each one a joy, & all of them discussing life with a Wellsian
seriousness & intensity except one, who merely grinned at
intervals. The others ranged from the death penalty to
pubs & incest with equal interest & moral ideals. So back
at last to Brunswick Square, having done not a stroke of
work but enjoyed myself hugely. I would have stayed
longer if it hadn’t been for the urgent necessity of attacking
the constitutional & land history of Australia & N.Z. — a
grisly business after Grantchester. And now it has started to
rain again. Here our white flowering trees & lilac have
gone, but everything is very freshly green still; nor does
it look as if the grass will be burnt up yet awhile. I
am getting back into the collar again; though after
finishing a big chapter of about 70 pages (70x350 : 24-5000Working-out of multiplication problem
words my oath!) I feel a bit written out. However I hope
to finish another by the end of next week. I am going
to turn in the examining part of this Empire tour
business; it means turning down about £18, but I would
rather have the time at present, even though the cash
would come in very handy for a variety of purposes.
You could live in Paris a couple of months on that.
Anyhow I don’t feel highly excited about marking examin-
papers. After we had made out skeleton answers
for the darned things the Cunard Steamship Coy & Co took
page 7 to changing the questions, just to avoid hurting any Canadian
sensibilities, they said. Blow them, I say. So I have still
got to muck around a’ bit over the darned business, with
precious little time to do it in. Added to which Newton
has pushed a text-book he is writing on to me for my
kindly criticism. In between times I cast a glance over
Helen A’s thesis for her, as she is working like the devil to
get it in by June 5, as a condition of her Rockefeller
award. November will do for mine; & if I could I would
put it off for another year. De Kiewiet has been turned
down for a Rockefeller, so I have just about given up hope;
though it is a nuisance to have to wait about for a letter.
It’s just about time my Captain Hobson arrived, too; so
altogether America has got me pretty much in suspense at
present. The only thing I have been to since I got
back was a[gap — reason: unclear] Bach organ recital by Dr Schweitzer, the
Bach expert — French equatorial Africa medical missionary —
Quest of the Historical Jesus cove. I want to go again tomor-
night; & if I can to the Mastersingers at the Opera on
Monday; but I see [sic: seem] to be passing everything by these
days. I’d like to know what has happened to Beecham’s
opera scheme these days — it seems to have faded right out
of the picture. It would be some consolation if I knew
that it would be running next winter — or the first half of next
winter. Lord knows where I shall be the second
half. — To-night at the School I heard a lecture by
page 8 Elie Halévy, the historian, in favour of secret diplomacy — not
bad, though rather hindered by just enough of a French accent
to make him hard to follow & the constant din of sledge
hammers banging away at the new building — they have been
going for about 9 months or more now.

18-5-28 Still raining, with a prolonged burst of thunder
just now. Well, I suppose after a week’s spring it isn’t fair
to ask for any summer, & tomorrow the fogs will start again.

Your letter to hand, several days later; but to hand, which is
the main thing. I am glad to learn that Ern is maintaining the
reputation of the family; though I can’t understand how it is, as I
never heard of him getting any prizes for Latin or mathematics when
he was at W’gton College. Dirty business somewhere, probably Hunter.
I was also pretty pleased that a bird called Spindle got a
travelling schol — one of the coves who was moulded by my hands.
I have a good mind to come back for the express purpose of
doing Hunter out of schols & giving them to my own blokes.
As you now ask for advice on how to send Ern on his travels, I
have pretty well forgotten all the handy hints I collected when
I came. Any old clothes will do to wear on board. Plenty
of white shirts for the tropics — I mean [unclear: cause] shirts & such like;
though I have never worn mine since & they truly take up space
in drawers. Same thing applies to white trousers; but I washed
both shirts & trousers myself & pressed trousers under my mattress.
No use bringing things to wear & then throw overboard unless you
throw them overboard, & I didn’t; but Ern is a flasher cove than
page 9 I am & may feel like sacrificing perfectly good garments. Bring
bathing togs to wear in swimming bath on deck, but don’t get them
pinched as I did. If he must wear evening dress, rake up
all the evening shirts he can without buying them, because they
get dirty when it is hot; but as he won’t wear them after he
gets here it is cheaper to have only about three of your own
& have them washed on board even though that is expensive. I’ve
worn my flash 12 guineas worth twice since I stepped off the
boat. I dare say Ern is an expert on ties, being a society bird,
but I have three different sorts of dress ties, & can’t tie any of them;
so unless he has had some practice he had better get a nice classy
made up one. Otherwise he may be late for his soup. If he
has anything that could be faked up into a fancy dress, such as
his harriers shorts they would be handy if there is a fancy dress
ball; but he is sure to strike some old lady who will turn him
into something. I can’t thing of anything else much, except
to warn him to keep off the drink & not to get shanghaied at Port
Said or go in for sweeps on the ship’s run, or fall overboard
in the Indian Ocean, or mix with the canaille travelling third,
or to use his fish-knife for his soup. If he has to wait at
Sydney he ought to see if he can’t live on board his English
ship, as I did. But of course he may only pull off a
Panama passage. If I am in London when he gets here, as is
probable, I may go out to Tilbury & smuggle him through
the customs & show him the B.M. & a London policeman
& Piccadilly Circus & other such things. I may get him to
page 10 bring over a book or two for me also; but I can’t think at
present what I want. He might bring Egerton’s Short History
of Br Col Policy anyhow & Br Col Policy in the 20th century; &
if I think of anything else I shall let him know. Also a
Cake & any other such-like remembrance of home. In fact it
wouldn’t be b a bad idea, if as he went round his farewell
parties collecting presentations, if he got duplicates for me.
It would be a kindly thought if he brought in a tin of Edgeworth tobacco
for me too, omitting to state to the customs that he had it. It
is expensive over here.

Thank you for other cuttings. I was particularly interested
in the Roman chariot & chorus of flower-maidens in the Free Lance,
symbolic of the Triumph of Stratford. Yeates certainly seems to
have struck a good job - £200 p.a. I hear; ditto Williams.
This last means that V.U.C loses another 1st rate man.
Some day the govt will wake up — not till Monkey Wright has
cashed in though. — I was interested to hear that Daddy had
been to a [unclear: bruising] match; having now got his circenses, he
will be yelling out for panem I suppose (classical joke).
I was interested to hear that he was disappointed over the
Mayor of Casterbridge, like me. An excellent idea, I think,
to write his reminiscences of lost causes — this certainly ought to
be done; some bird like me would give his eyes for it some
day. Has old Bobby Stout started his autobiography yet? — he ought
to be shot if he hasn’t. I may write his life when he has
shuffled off, & it would be just as well to have something first hand
to go on. He is about the only cove in the country of that
page 11 sort who has anything worth saying, & if severely boiled down it
would be very interesting. — I have only noted the suggestion as
to a historical novel. You don’t seem to realise that my
thesis is to be a best seller & keep us all in idleness & luxurious
for the rest of our lives, with that little self-contained residence
for Auntie she is so keen on. I trust she is quite restored by

I am very glad that Mrs Mountier agrees with me about
Frannie’s knees — this is support indeed. A nice chance the
kid stands with a mother like that. If it had been called
Larry or Paddy in addition it would have been ruined for
life — although Paddy isn’t so bad, & Margorie [unclear: Wiren] has a
charming sister by that name. Still as for Larry, why not
call the pore girl Sam & dress it up in shorts & have
done with it? Very peculiar ideas on the rearing of children
Frannie has; she will be getting terrible mixed about the sex
of her children when she has 5 or 6 if she isn’t careful. —
Thank you for references to Greville. What’s this True Woman-
book? I seem to remember a quotation you sent me
several months ago, with source unnamed, but I’ve forgotten
what it was about. I don’t think that a book with that title
is the sort of book a young man ought to be given to read.
You will be glad to hear that old Gosse has skipped off at the
age of 78; we raised cheers when we read the announcement.
Roubery & Balfour certainly have no right to hang on any
longer; & Campbell is getting very impatient about Lloyd
page 12 George; but this I think is because he has got his knife into him
for personal & political reasons, not in any disinterested way,
such as that in which Duncan & I select our list. Who is
this H.H. you talk about my missing the plate with in a cathe-
? I’m always most careful when I inspect a place to
put in 1d-6d for the preservation of the fabric. It’s mission-
boxes, pensions for parsons, & such like that we object to.
I think I forgot to mention a Saturday afternoon Duncan, McG,
Forbes & I spent going out to Greenwich to see the Hospital, & a
beautiful 18th century church, St. Alphege, one of the best buildings
I have seen since I left home. They had their points in the
18th century.

Well, I suppose you will be enjoying your winter when
you get this, though I don’t suppose you will be spending it en-
in bed this time. For Anyhow look after yourself.
You will be having a pretty empty house now, I suppose, & will
be able to enjoy your first glad years of married life over
again. As Ada the ‘elp says “They're all right — they've
only been married three months; wait till they've had seven
years of it like me.” You might start a hotel, or a private
hospital, or a historical & literary museum — I think it's quite
time a tablet went up on the outside wall anyhow. The house
will be a lot easier to keep clean when Ern's big feet step out
of it; & no doubt Auntie will be very pleased, not to mention
Auntie Win; though what she will do with no one to [unclear: warn]
I don't know.

— Well, I send you my love &
adjourn to the B.M


Many thanks for the Posts; all now distributed./