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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 30 May 1928

page 1

My dear Mummy,

Once more I take up the pen, & once
more I confess an absolute dearth of news; but after saying
so, I doubt if I shall go on as long as I did last time.
I have not been anywhere or done anything but write
& get sick of writing, read (text-books & monographs) & get
sick of reading, write & get sick of writing again. But I
think I ought to be able to take the summer off & g still
get the blooming thesis ready to hand in f at for the November
exams. Neither have I heard anything of anything from
America; hope deferred maketh the heart sick. I should
have said that I have also read Mr Wells’ latest book, The
Open Conspiracy, which is pretty good . I have taken the
liberty of sending a copy out to Daddy, as he will probably
want it, & he may as well have it bright & early. I would
have sent one or two others out for distribution too, but I
can’t afford to mortgage my ready cash indefinitely.
Shaw’s Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Capitalism & Socialism
is coming out on Friday — I wonder whether I should send
one to you? You might make fruitful ground to sprinkle
the seed on, in view of your recent historical reading.
It’s a pity I haven’t got a lot of money — I’d do what Forbes,
McG’s cobber, does at Cambridge. — Whenever a book pleases
page 2 him immensely he buys an enormous number & hands them
round to everybody he know & everybody they know. This
schoolmaster bird I met at Forbes’, Faithfull, is batty on
Bi-Sexuality, & wrote a book about it; Forbes bought 300
& has been handing them out ever since — Duncan got two.
There are a lot of books I’d give away like that. It would
be one way of keeping people from borrowing your books
& returning them as if they had been through Mudies or the
Times Book Club too. You never saw such filthy wrecks
as they sell off 2nd (!) hand. I don’t seem to have been
buying many books lately even for myself, except at a bob
apiece. You will be very gratified to learn that I bought at
this price a volume of lyrics from the Old Testament, Authorised
Version — very juicy some of them too. That’s the best of the
classics — you can have your fun & still not have to blush
& close the book hastily when anybody you know comes
by. Improves the style too. In fact I am thinking of
rewriting the whole of my thesis in the style of the
Song of Solomon. — There is one thing I must not
fail to remark on with all the emphasis at my command,
& that is the weather. I do not doubt that it will seem
perfectly incredible to you, but the fact remains that since
Saturday we have had hot sunshine during most of every
day. At least, it seems hot to us; but if the respective
exiles went back to N.Z., Australia, America, S. Africa,
&c they would probably get sunstroke in the first ½ hour.
page 3 That’s the worst of this place — it gets all your standards wrong.
Well, anyhow, as this is Wednesday night that means five
days steady sunshine, which is something you may well
chalk up. And a great difference from last Whitsun, which
I spent with Lorrie & Harold down Canterbury way. I spent this
one working, except on Sunday afternoon, when the spirit
gave way, & I went & lay out in the square & read
Wells. The square gardens are a godsend these days — you
can entertain your visitors there; we had lunch there
one day; & if it weren’t for the lorries tearing past you
could lie & look up into the trees & imagine yourself at —
well, I dunno, Earlham perhaps — or the backgarden of
49 Hopper Street. I think I must trot down one of these
Sunday mornings in my pyjamas & see what happens.
A bird was pinched about this time last year for sunbathing
in a pair of shorts, & the beak made some very insulting &
half-witted remarks; but the square is a private garden, as
it were, & a man can surely do what he likes with his
own property. In fact why leave home for the holidays?
I [gap — reason: unclear] take a tent down & camp out for a while. It is a
crime to have to sit inside pen-driving these days, that’s all;
but it can’t be helped just now. In a couple of months we
may be taking the sun anywhere, from the Shetland Islands
to Constantinople. It might be wise to get up a tramping
party & climb a few cathedrals; Elise Homes & Kathleen
McKay are due to arrive here on Friday, so they might pro-
page 4 vide
a nucleus. It will be pleasant to see them again, & I
may take off a few nights & make up for lost time on
shows next week & the weeks following. Nothing like
educational work in showing newcomers round London;
& I haven’t been to Madame Tussard’s myself yet.

I now turn my attention to your letters. I see you
mention Italy as a place to keep out of; but if I am here I
shall be hopping down there next year the first chance I
get. McG. went there in the Easter holidays & has been
raving about Florence ever since. So it’s me for Florence,
Mussolini or no Mussolini. It’s a bit too hot in the middle
of the summer I believe; still even the autumn of this
year might do; but I am due to work again then; a
very distressing problem. Yes, I had a look at Mr Mul-
“Home”, but I thought the woodcuts were the best part of the
book, & he didn’t do those. It’s wonderful what a lot of com-
you can get sometimes from reading the books other blokes
have written. Here’s this thing of Harrop’s out on Wakefield —
a terrible piece of work. I’ve a good mind to return my
copy to him & get my 6/- back, as he said subscribers could
do in his paper in N.Z. News. (I subscribed for a copy because
you got it 1/6 cheaper & I thought it might come in useful for
something. That’s the worst of these dud books — the quota-
are generally worth something — though so far even
those have not proved very entertaining) I shall do an
essay on Wakefield one of these days in the Macaulay
page 5 manner I think, & start off by annihilating everybody
else who has written on him. A review of the thing in the
Times this morning had some stupid remarks on Col Wakefield
& some of my old cobbers which made me groan aloud & gurgle
my tea — but who wants to write letters to the Times? — [gap — reason: unclear]
De Kiewiet’s people went out to S. Africa when he was very little —
he was born in Holland; but I gather they are somewhat the
Boer type. — I agree with you about Hardy; & will read
your Kathleen Norris book if I ever come across it. Some of
the Yanks are certainly turning out good stuff — My word,
so Sandy is now a spliced man, & its Arvarda Arvada
Ular Quini Paterson now! [gap — reason: unclear] I’d like to know where
she got her names from — I tried spelling them backwards
to see if that threw any clue on the mystery, thinking that
old man Tait may have had a misplaced sense of humour
when he trotted down to register her; but all I got was
Adavra Ralu Iniuq, which doesn’t seem very satisfac-
, though it may be equally rational & euphonious.
Still I suppose if Sandy is satisfied it’s all right. They’re
rather young ‘uns to be hopping in, aren’t they. And here you
say Alan is tottering. The only thing I remember about
[unclear: Alice] Rowlands is the name, & I don’t believe I ever saw her,
so he can go ahead without any objection from me, except
on general principles. Thank God girls don’t take a fancy
to me, that’s all.

I was much entertained by your description of the
page 6 Army service — they nearly drove me barmy on Sunday by
performing round this way. I must say I haven’t seen or
heard much of them over here though, which is one advan-
of a big city. — Talking about Joynt (you started it
this time) he asked me to tell Ern that he had his letter &
would forward application immediately, but couldn’t write
to Ern this mail owing to press of work. I note that
Ern was too slow to get in on a Suez passage & a lot of my
good advice on travelling has accordingly gone to waste; however
no doubt the residue will do mutatis mutandis for the Panama
trip. The main thing is not to fall overboard & not to give
too much lip to the captain. I suppose there was priority
of choice all right when I got my free passage; but then I was
the cove who was prior. This bears out the old adage, The
Early Bird Catches the Worm, which I accordingly recommend
for Ern’s prolonged meditation, taking my habitual example
thoroughly to heart.

Well, I think it’s pretty stiff when you turn round &
s slag your husband as he says you have been doing;
if it comes to conservatism, what about you? Haven’t you
hung on to the same man for about 32 years & don’t show
any sign of shifting? That doesn’t show a very enterprising spirit,
surely! A bloke who throws away his shaving brush only after
ten or twelve years is a dangerous radical compared to you.
I think it’s shameful the way you go on — no divorce, no scan-
, no week-ending with other gents, not even a co-[unclear: man]. You
page 7 don’t seem to have any regard for your children’s feelings at all.
I’m glad to hear Keith has shifted to a place where he can dig
the garden of a Saturday afternoon; & when he has finished his
own I dare say old P.G. wouldn’t mind if he turned over a few
sods in the Smith backyard. P.G. knows a lot about home-brew
of various sorts, by the way, & has made booze out of anything
from turnip-tops to grass, so I don’t know that Frannie is exposing
her child to any very good influences. Still I suppose she
can always tether it to the wireless mast while she buzzes off
to chat to the neighbours, & what could be more convenient for the
young wife? I sent her out an Evening Standard last mail
with pictures of the Baby Princess just starting to walk, to
encourage her, so I hope my niece will not disgrace the family.
What does Keith what [sic: want] to get home for lunch for, anyhow? the less
he sees of his wife the more he ought to appreciate her; & the
same holds vice versa for Frannie. If I were a young wife
I’m blowed if I’d want to see too much of a bloke like Keith.

Information for Daddy: Smiths College is situated
at Northampton, Mass., but I’ve never looked it up on the
map. Not too far from New York, I believe, but well in
the country — I wouldn’t mind a job there, with a car; but a
cove would get very sick of teaching nothing but girls, I should
think. Daddy says “As this is April I expect to be seeing
shortly your book” [gap — reason: unclear]. Well, this is one day of [sic: off] June & I haven’t
seen it yet. — Thank you for cuttings. I still think Alan
has too much letter press in his cartoons. Why doesn’t he
page 8 try a few political ones? But I suppose the only birds he
could conscientiously Libel would be Peter Fraser & Co; & any-
if he went for Coates he would get the boot. It’s a pity
I have to miss the election; & I won’t get a vote here either;
if I apply for a vote they’ll get me for income-tax. ? no vote.

I have turned in my prospective job examining those Empire
question answers — too much else to do, though the cash would
have come in handy. I’ll get enough examining in my life,
I suppose, & probably a darn sight too much. This reminds
me that I wouldn’t mind doing a couple of years teaching now,
just for a change, & I wouldn’t mind coming back to N.Z.
for it, if they would pay my fare over here again; otherwise I
will be wise to stick here as long as I can, & do all the writing
I can, I suppose; because I don’t suppose I’ll do any more
once I leave London. — My oath! I’ll be 27 in exactly
a fortnight! I think it’s about time somebody started to pay
me a bit more highly: else, as the immaculate Tennyson
said, so it must be right, wherefore born? Well, well, it is
a great thing to be able to grow old gracefully; & here I am, doing
it with as much charm as a Russian ballet-dancer. And as
it is now nearly one on the morning of the 31st May, I
think I’ll be moving bedwards.

I enclose a cutting, obituary of C.E. Montague. I
think I’ve said a few letters ago that God didn’t play fair; I must
add that he shows a sad lack of discrimination. With all the
coves we could spare too! This is a nasty sock in the eye.
31.5.28. Duke of Newcastle dead; an ardent Ro Anglo-Catholic & wasted
heaven knows how many thousands on a chapel on his estate; but apparently
otherwise innocuous.

No further news except that the weather has changed. [unclear: 1 a.m.] again. Sick of land instructions.
Sorry this is such a very short letter. With very much love    


page 9Second P.S The weather has changed back to sunshine
again about 6 in the afternoon, & it looks as if Elsie
Holmes & Kathleen McKay may have a pleasant last leg to their
voyage after all. They were to get in today, but I hear
the ship is held up now till tomorrow. — I got Shaw’s
new book this afternoon; my cobber at Bumpus’s urged me to
send one out to my Father, but I said I’d better read it first,
in case it seemed likely to shake his faith; I did ask
them to send out though, & try to catch tonight’s post (though
I’m afraid it is a letter mail only) J.B.S. Haldane’s
Conway Memorial Lecture on Science & Ethics, which is rather
good (that phrase seems sadly tainted with an English
aroma) & the first number of Desmond MacCarthy’s
new monthly Life & Letters. 2 bob, this lot. They have
been paying postage for me lately, so that will cost Daddy
nothing. I got in early on the 10/- subscription stint
myself — other coves like Ern who get in late 14/-. I
will send out any later numbers that appear good enough
for a bob. — And now I want you to give me
your best attention & read the following very carefully.
I have bought a shirt. This shirt is a brown shirt
with two collars complete for 7/6; I have been giving
the matter my earnest attention since before Christmas,
but I have heretofore seen no shirt that particularly
appealed to me. I am fed up with white shirts too;
& every man should strive to contribute some colour
page 10 to the universe in which he is on the whole, such
an unattractive exhibit. I make of course no personal
reference; for if any I consider myself somewhat
superior to the ordinary run of coves. Well, anyhow,
this shirt is all right, & Ada the ‘elp has approved
of it. The only catch is, that one of the collars is stiff;
that being a condition of sale, & you can’t get spare
collars — a silly stupid game in my opinion, & certainly
rotten bad salesmanship. However I’ll soon take the
starch out of this collar. Well, that’s all I’ve
bought, a shirt & Shaw; & it seems a very bad sign that
you have to pay half as much for a shirt [gap — reason: unclear] as for
I must now do a bit of work, though I am
getting fed up to the teeth with Australian land instructions;
& N.Z. is still to come. So that’s all for this time.

With very much love to you both


P.S. Hope & trust Auntie is chirpy again.
P.P.S. Most flattering regards to Auntie Win & other favourite
Aunts. [you can disentangle them]