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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 28 June 1928

page 1
Probably going to Belgium & France
for holiday with E & K & ?? but
at present indefinite.

My dear Mummy,

This I think will be the last letter
I write from Brunswick Square, as after next week I shall
probably be on my travels again. And after this summer
heaven knows where I shall finish up. Well, well, a very
convenient room it has been, & some strange sights it has
seen in the last two years, & I’m very sorry to leave it
& the trees in the square below, but tout casse, tout passe,
as your cobbers the Frenchies say (whom I am soon
to visit), & it is not for me to repine in the face of
destiny. The trouble is that I have collected so much
junk together I hardly know what to do with it all —
yesterday I bought two pewter mugs, very cheap, not very
old but good shapes, so you see the collecting instinct
is now breaking out in a fresh form. The great trouble
about this life is that anything a man wants, a great
many other people want also, so that you never get a fair
chance to do much yourself. And of course just when I
start to want brass, pewter, & so forth, as a good son of yours,
the darned stuff becomes fashionable & expensive. I think
I shall buzz off to Sweden; because there, although they
make very beautiful glass & pottery, there’s no wealthy
upper class there, so the stuff is made at fairly moderate
page 2 prices. You can get some of the Swedish glass in London, as
a matter of fact; it is first-rate & very cheap; generally tinted
brown or blue or green; most pleasing. I think in fact
that if I stayed in England long enough I could furnish a
very swish flat. If I come back to N.Z. I shall probably
be bringing a few cartloads of stuff with me. What beats
me (“I am astonished at my own moderation” as some
cove once said in the House of Commons in the palmy days
of the 18th century) is the extreme fewness of the books I
have bought, amid every temptation to lash out, — not more
that [sic: than] a couple of hundred or so, only about 10 small shelves
full. I think you ought to write a special letter
congratulating me on this stupendous fact, as it will no
doubt appear a matter for congratulation to you. In my
sane moments, when I return to my normal self, I
can do nothing but reflect on my wasted opportunities —
I ought to have collected 2000 at least. A very poor
showing. Well, it can’t be helped now, & you may have
the reflection in addition that this vicious system of self-
stands in grave danger of becoming a habit with me.
Terrible, I call it.

I must now discuss your last letter. I think
the [unclear: cavin] over Sammy Palmer is extremely ugly, as is the
bookplate designed for the library — a shocking thing in-
. That’s the worst of having things done by the family,
instead of having them done well. I entirely fail to see
page 3 the significance of most of the design, except to fill up
space. Now that’s a thing McGrath could have done
for them supremely well. — As for the Common-
fellowships, I thought of putting in for one,
but there were various conditions attached which I did
not like — I’d far rather have the Rock. here at half
the salary. God knows how Malfroy got one, except
by shear self-advertisement & push, the same which brought
him from N.Z. to England. These things have their
value even in Cambridge. I do not like the breed. — I
see Barnes still takes you out when you feel plutocratic.
As far as I remember the snap you mention of you &
Daddy & me was taken by Geoffrey, who was the only other
cove on the picnic. Well do I remember that day; we
walked up over the pine plantation on Mt Victoria & roamed
round to the other side of Evans Bay. Of course we
were all more energetic in those days than we are now,
being in our first youth, as it were. — Why do you
think it would have been better for K. Mansfield to go back
to N.Z.? I hear that she couldn’t get on with her family,
& that old Beauchamp was scandalized to the marrow by
the mere fact of her existence as one of his products — &
certainly she was a queer person to be the daughter of
a bank-manager. If her best work was about N.Z. it was
all in retrospect. I’ll bet she couldn’t have done any
work there worth much. And where would she have pub-
page 4 lished
it — in the Free Lance? I had a letter from
Mrs Hannah saying she found it quite impossible to do
any work; so one way or another it seems to me that
K.M. was bound to get it in the neck. Middleton Murry
impresses me as being a clever bird, but a sublime [unclear: prig]. —
No, I am not going to write & congratulate Frannie on her
new honour, whatever that may be. Do you refer to her
daughter? It seems to me that such things are com-
than O.B.E’s, certainly not to be mentioned in the
same breath as a Ph.D. Why get excited at the automatic
extension of the matriomonial state? — if excited, why
run round in circles hooraying? Rather I would con-
with the girl on the new & dreadful responsibility
she has taken on; but if I did that she would merely be
rude to me; so the obvious remaining rhetorical question
is why write at all? And echo answers why? —
The Giles business is certainly pretty cruel; she’s had a
rough spin, that girl, & is glad she has the kid now, I
expect. A rotten time for it to happen too. — You do
seem to have done pretty well out of your writers set — no
expense to you at all — fair dinkum, as far as I can
see you are just lying down at your ease exploiting
the world. It seems a terrible thing to broadcast church
services like that; I suppose they can’t return the
sound of your voice to the church when you join in
the hymns to cheer them all up. I should think
page 5 arrangements would be made to extend the collections by post.
I suppose that in the end you will give up reading like
the British people, & just hang on to your earphones all
day except when you go to the pictures & take in equal
crudity through the eye. I thought you hadn’t mentioned
Dickens, Thackeray, Dr Johnson, T. Carlyle, or the other
giants of a few months ago lately (not to mention Jane
Austen) & this accounts for it. A sad business. When
the mothers of the country go downhill like this, what can
you expect but a decadent race? — Wotcher mean [gap — reason: unclear] my
picture looks like a fat Harold Lloyd? Everybody here
has been saying for the last few months how thin I
am getting. As a matter of fact I am about ½ stone
below normal; perhaps the fat leaves the rest of me &
runs to my face. The picture was pretty crudely retouched,
so that may account for the overfed effect. However I am
healthy enough, you will be glad to learn, even if I have
just got through a calamitous cold, brought on by going
out in my glad rags to Newton’s. This seems to me to be
an a unanswerable argument against the use of such things;
so Ern may as well note if he is thinking of investing in a

Well, well, to think the Heggies are also on the
move! I may wander into them some day when I get
back from Paris. I always imagined that Jim was
having rather a hard do of it, what with inspectors & new
page 6 dairies and so forth; but apparently there’s money in farming
yet. Look at Sandy too; I might be well-advised to
come back & go on a farm for a bit myself. — Yes, the
Trevelyan turned up all right, certainly it was a bad
break for a systematic cove like Daddy to make, but we
all have our absent-minded moments. The book can
at least say that it has travelled about 50,000 miles now.
Thanks for same where thanks is due. The quotation from
T. E. Brown about Housman was interesting; he must
have been a quite penetrating cove himself this T. E. B.
Father Johnson is very keen on him, I remember. — So Keith
& Frannie are cultivating P. J. S. & his family, or anyhow
P. J. S.’s car; it is quite interesting to hear that the car is
still in existence, for in its first week, if I remember
rightly, it met with some pretty hectic accidents. No
doubt Frannie can hang over the fence on washing
days, or other days, & carry on long conversations
with her opposite number. “Are you there, Mrs
Smith!” “Are you there, Mrs Beaglehole!” And
park the child when necessary to dash down into
the great city for dissipation with Father, & so forth.
Very handy these neighbours can become. — Daddy’s
description of his collars doesn’t appeal to me — give me
the soft variety every time. When a man wants to rest
his chin, after all he always has his hand. Anyhow
I bet he wouldn’t wear one more than [unclear: them] once in an
page 7 English winter. Pretty stiff having to pay all for himself
at Adamson’s — I reckon you might have started him
off with a quid or two anyhow. As Daddy makes
some remark on the opinions held about me by great
men I may say that he is not unknown myself
himself. I had to get a certificate of good character for this
Cambridge thing; & Joynt kindly filled the [unclear: bill]. Inter
alia he said “Mr B comes of an honourable stock,
his father being a prominent & highly respected citizen of
W’gton N.Z.” So there you are. You’re an honour-
stock. In a covering note he said he didn’t know
Daddy himself, but had heard all about him from Bobby
Stout. So none of us is without fame in his generation.

I posted off my applications to Manitoba the other day.
I can’t say that I feel as if I want the job much, £600
or no £600. On the other hand, this Cambridge thing has
its drawbacks, its principal one being that Cambridge isn’t
London. It would be better if it weren’t for the stupid
survivals of keeping terms, & exeats, or God knows what, [unclear: &] wear-
gowns after dark, & so forth. A quaint plunge into
mediaevalism it would be at the age of 27 after NZ &
London! However it would undoubtedly be worth some-
financially later on, as Laski says; & would
give me time to finish & revise my blooming thesis
at my leisure. I don’t care when I hand it in —
in fact, if I can get it published — Laski suggested that
page 8 the Oxford Univ Press might take it — I doubt whether I
shall ever hand it in for a degree at all. And then I
could work at old Stephen &c. Blast the Rockefeller
people — two years more in London was what I wanted.
I think I could work it, too, if I just took the offers
of loans held out to me! Why indeed apply for scholar-
under these conditions? However I think I shall
be able to pay my own way all right; so you needn’t
hasten to add once again your offer to the others, It
really makes a bloke start to wonder what he is, that so
many people should apparently not only admire him
to a certain extent, but come forward with offers of £100
at the end of the year & so forth. Sometimes I gaze in
the glass as I [unclear: slave] of a morning & try & account for
it but I’m dashed if I’ve been able to so far. Anyhow
it looks as if we were all going to be provided for some way
or other — de K. has just got a Univ of London scholarship,
which has pulled him out of low waters, & so there is
rejoicing all round the family circle. So he is off to Paris
& other parts of Europe again now, to work for a year. He
was applying for this Manitoba job, but pulled out when
he got the schol. I think I shall too, if I get the
Cambridge thing. A great pity for Daddy’s sake, it is
not an Oxford studentship; but you take what you can
get; or rather you think you may take what you may
not get. I’d like to see Cambridge in the autumn
page 9 however.

I have been knocking round a good deal since I
last wrote. Did I say then I had heard Verdi’s “Othello” at
the opera? I tried to get into Aïda, but got badly left in the
queue. Chaliapin has been singing in Faust & Boris Goudonov,
but not having all the afternoon to stand around in I have
given him the go-by. I really can’t recollect what I have
been to now, save that I have a vague general memory of
going out. I am going tomorrow with Elsie & Kathleen
to Hampton Court & then feeding with Helen & McG & de K
& going to a revue “Many Happy Returns” (which you
have probably read all about in Punch. Last week
the whole push went out to Welwyn Garden City to Lorrie’s,
for a tramp around the woods & a magnificent dinner &
to see his pictures of Norway & Sweden, where he spent his
last holiday. Now if they only planned a few townships
in N.Z. like W. G. C. instead of yapping about town planning,
it would be an excellent thing. It looks pretty good now,
but will be first-rate in a few years. A very dinky little
flat Lorrie has too, bed-room, living-room, bath-room, &
kitchen, all done up very flash & clean. I wouldn’t mind
living out there myself, were it not so far from London.
All the latest improvements too — movies, breakfast food
factory, railway station & community spirit — what more
do you want? We had a very hilarious time, & it
was a pity the last train left as early as 10.35. He

W. Raleigh’s letters now out in cheap ed. 2 vols 18/-. Any good to Daddy? [gap — reason: unclear] I also came
across a brand new 1st ed 15/- Cheap ed. has one or two new letters. Hewlett’s letters have
been remaindered at about 8/- or 9/-, I think. Any good?

page 10 has his bed-room decorated with skis, tramping-boots, a
photograph of V. U. C. & a Japanese print — some blokes
really live ideally. — This reminds me I saw a good
exhibition of English water-colours the other day, small but
choice, at a joint in Soho. A very beautiful Cotman
of a well the best I thought; I asked the price; [gap — reason: unclear] 70, says
the lady. Guineas? says I. Oh no, says she, pounds.
Oh well, says I, [gap — reason: unclear] in that case will you send it? So
that was that. I also had a look round the Medici
Society’s place the other day. Some very good reproduc-
they turn out; but I was mainly surprised at
the price of the frames, about twice to four times the
size of the prints. I’d like a couple of those prints
for my flat, when I get it. Also had another look
in at the National Gallery. Also went to a very interesting
exhibition of furniture at Waring & Gillows, & felt greatly
tempted to buy up a couple of old panelled rooms, com-
with furniture & carpets. If I had the money,
though, I think I’d have a lot of stuff made by good
modern handicraftsmen. Just as good as the old, & the
bloke who makes the stuff gets the money, not some
cow with a flash office & a title. — We also knocked
round & viewed a few London churches one day, St. Bartholomew
the Great & so forth. But beyond all this my memory is
a bit vague. I think I shall now close.

With much love to you both


P.S. Will Ern bring over my Alice Meynell’s Poems, Mansfield’s Collected Poems, &
R. Brooke’s Selected Poems; also a swap of Augustan books, Blake &c he will find
somewhere on my shelves.