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

page 1

My dear Mummy,

Once again in good old Paris,
all looking very merry & bright with its trees & river &
bookstalls & cafès & so on & so forth. I got your letters
here, with it’s exceedingly large bunch of enclosures, in-
to be present at the Town Hall &c &c, reports of
addresses & Wellington’s development, stray remarks on Jane
Austen & Stanley Baldwin, & everything else. Wonderful
names those coves have who write to John of Condon’s Weekly
such pained & uplifting letters — "[unclear: Cesar Ainscliffe]" &
"Adrienne Simcox" — my oath! As for the German cove S.
Baldwin, I don’t doubt that B is simple & politically unsul-
& alive to the prevailing tendency of the Stock
Exchange & so on, & he may even walk hand in hand
with the Almighty; but thehis close acquaintance with
God can’t keep Birkenhead & Jix in order or stop him
from losing seats in the bye-elections. Still he’ll
probably come back in the next general Election all
right. I am duly impressed with Mr Bennett’s
list of building statistics — & only hope the city is not
getting as ugly as it sounds. I suppose I shall be lucky
if I recognise it when I get back, with Bill Massey
memorials & carillons, improved sewerage & God knows what.
page 2 It is indeed a cheerful sign when you start the letter on
your own & turn out four pages with appendices on the
back of the fourth; what you will do when Ern gets away
I don’t know — you’d better get a typewriter, like Dun-
mother. I agree with your remarks about Challis
& Star; they are certainly much more attractive than
any of their cousins. However they’re doing pretty good
work in the world. — Where are Auntie & Auntie Win
setting up? — upon my heart & soul, this seems a revol-
change in the world as I know it. I think I’d
better write to them, as one who has lived with a fellow
mortal in one room for 18 months & give them a bit
of advice on how to keep out of quarrels, the [gap — reason: unclear] necess-
of a sense of humour, when not to pass the hasty
word & so forth. Else they’ll both be out on the street
in a couple of weeks tearing each other’s hair, & that
would be no credit to the family. Oh dear, oh dear
oh dear, I see I have misread your letter, & its 49
Hopper Street they are going to run together, so that’s all
right with you to keep the ring clear & act as arbiter
in any domestic quarrels: Still the same things hold true,
& at any time I am willing to oblige. A nice
household you will be together; only this time with
the female element predominating — 1 man & 3 women
instead of 1 woman & 5 men. I should think
Daddy might be quite glad to get old Watson to come
page 3 & stay with him sometimes over the weekend. — In re
London Hospitals & co-education, it’s very hard to get
at the truth of a business like that, because everybody
male & female is probably lying hard — there were columns
& columns of letters in the Times about it. Apparently the
pure-minded British doctor & medical student think there
are[gap — reason: unclear] some things that cannot be discussed between the
sexes, as Arch told Bob Martin Smith after a discussion
once in the Urewera that Bob & I were [unclear: cunning] (“like his
bloody cheey cheek dictating” &c & as Bob said after-
wards); & when a lecturer comes to them everybody curls
up & wilts. It may even be so, for the British are
capable of anything; but on the other hand & what is there
to equal the Tennysonian Galahad-like modesty of a
B.M.A. official. On the other hand, one gathers from
the women’s organisations that women students are of a
very much coarser fibre. I don’t know — you’d better
ask Challis or Joan or Star or any one else among your
numerous medical acquaintance; even Dr Bennett or
Auntie Ern. — Auntie’s fascination with Mary duly
noted; I think she had better look out, or the child
will be coming become an idie fixe with her, & terrible
things happen to people with idies fixes. It really is
a bit hard on Frannie too, for although she started later
than Theo, she really wasted very little time. I
may have to set myself up as a Betty-booster, to see
page 4 that things are fair all round. — I have given your
love to Mrs E. Holmes. — I am glad to know
that you agree with me so thoroughly about Richard
de Bury — they had a lot of sense in them, those old
birds sometimes. It really makes me wonder why the
devil I have been buying so many suits & shirts & socks
& so forth lately — a clean waste of good money, as I
think when I gaze on the Paris bookshops & reflect that
about £13 have lately gone on clothes.

Daddy’s remark about the Clare College paper
& postal revenue comes but ill from a cove who puts
more into an envelope & spends f more for the stamps
outside than any other bloke I ever met. He rarely
seems to put on less than 3d or 4d worth, & this time
it was 6d. This for a country whose proud boast it
is to have come down to 1d postage is something of
an achievement. Heaven knows what he would spend
in France & you can’t send a letter anywhere outside
the country for less than 3d. I posted a small parcel
of books to England & it cost me 2/-. — I don’t
know whether the books I have been gathering together
since I left W’gton would be so very interesting after all —
the really interesting ones, as I have frequently explained,
are the 3 or 4 million ones I haven’t bought. Daddy
would be greatly interested in a lot of the books they
are turning out in France now — they are making
page 5 a speciality of editions illustrated in colour besides
being well printed, & very beautiful some of them are.
They have all got the numbering disease here of course.
Nothing much in the way of these books below 100 or
150 francs (i.e. tuppences). If I had any money I
should certainly collect a representative selection of these.
I have just been thinking that the Palmer Fund might
do worse for the V.U.C. library than buy a fine edition
of some classic every 3 months. A modern colonial
university can’t hope to get old books for its library,
but there’s no reason why some public spirited cove
should not start a fund for a section of fine [gap — reason: unclear]
printing. I might do it myself. In 10 years you
could get together the nucleus of a real library, with a
live wide-awake agent — like me — over here. You
can’t have a library exclusively of text-books & a stained
glass window & the N.Z. law reports & have any self respect.
I’ve got a lot of good advice to work off my chest to
Victoria College, If I ever come back. — I have rejoiced
with you over Ern’s prominence in the Post — practically
as much as even Barney Murphy ever got, is it not? the
re-opening of the Savage Club, & so on & so forth. I have
not read [unclear: Jim]; or Early civilisation. In fact I keep on
in the same old way, becoming more & more narrow-

I must now take up once again the thread of my
page 6 travels. Before doing so, however, I must remark that
on arriving at Paris I discovered that Trinity College
had turned me down & that I had been offered a
bursary for a month at the Geneva School of Inter-
Studies. This thing was so exceedingly tempt-
that it seemed absurd to turn it down — 1 month’s
free board & lodging for their August summer school,
with the League Assembly coming straight after in
the first two weeks of September; & only about 8 hours
run in the train for Paris. But there are two
series of lectures, one — all through July. one in August, the letter
offering me the thing was written in on July 18th, & I
didn’t get it till the 26th or 27th, & I have just about
finished all the regular vacation I can allow myself
now. A week more is about all I can afford. So
balancing up the attractions of Geneva with the advisa-
of getting my thesis finished as soon as possible,
now that things have turned out thus at Cambridge, I
have decided to play for safety — 1 thing I hate to do — &
to turn it down. A fair cow, these theses — I think
I may get the thing done by the end of the year if I
don’t take too much time revising; the trouble is that
the mechanical side of the business takes so long —
typing & indexing & sticking in notes & so forth. I
may be able to get my circle of acquaintances on the
job. It is beginning to look now as if it is good-
page 7 bye
to [unclear: Sir J] Stephen & the Idea of Empire & such-
dreams. Oh well, I’ve had a fairly merry
time while it’s lasted. The people who seem to
get very much more perturbed over all this than I do
are my cobbers. Heard nothing about Winnipeg yet; nor
do I want to very much.

Well, to get back to France. I have ascertained
from my travelling-companions that [gap — reason: unclear] Caen was
the last place I wrote to you from, & that the letter was
posted the morning we left; so I must have told you
pretty well all about Caen. Anyhow the morning I left
I had a good look round at a few things I seemed to
have missed out before, inspected the Abbaye aux Hommes
again briefly, I found a few more old homes; also
after cashing a traveller’s cheque in one of the leading
French banks, I understand why the French finances
are in such a mess. The average civil servant is
nothing to this. I didn’t have time to get any lunch,
so I bought a roll & a slab of still a fresh variety of cheese
& walked to the station just in time not to lose the train.
This wasn’t my fault; but because the train, though
five minutes early by the town clock, by which I approx-
went, allowing a good margin, was ten minutes
late by the station clock. In no single place in
Normandy which we we visited did any public clock cor-
with any other public clock. Generally you can
page 8 depend on the railway clock being 5-10 minutes behind
any other, & the train to be late in addition to
that. So heaven knows what happened in this case.
Then they wouldn’t let us travel 3rd, as it was an
express train or something. But I noticed that the
carriage we travelled in was marked 3rd, all the
same. So I sat in the corridor (there being no room anywhere else) & ate my bread &
cheese, & every time a Frenchman walked past, he
kicked me in the leg. Have I given you any reflec-
on French politeness yet? There isn’t any. They
are the most outrageously rude, disobliging & uncivil
people on earth, though among themselves there is an
enormous amount of hat-raising & hand shaking. In com-
the Germans seem delightfully courteous & pleasant,
& even Australians or N-Zers agreeable. I do not write
this in a burst of bad temper — Espiner & Hemming, who
have lived among them for a few years, say the same
thing. However let me not damn a whole nation even
after that. There are agreeable Frenchmen; & I have not
been chucked out of any bookshop yet. But I never
saw anything more primitive than when we came to
Lisieux, the seat of St Theresa of the Child Jesus, & a
greasy priest struggled tooth & nail to get on to the train
first. We did too, despite all female opposition. The
country is black with these swabs. Lisieux was where
we arrived from Caen, a small place, very picturesque,
page 9 with a cathedral & a deafening wireless concert every
night in the Jardin Public. The cathedral is fine & is
apparently the principal seat of the Ste. Thérèse cult
which is spreading all over France. I gather that
Thérèse was a young nun, a terrible prig who died
quite early in her career giving tongue to the most dread-
pious sentiments & informing her confessor that
she would shortly arrive again on earth to call on
mankind “pour [gap — reason: unclear] l’Amour”. Not that you
would think that they wanted any such general in-
; but I gather it wasn’t a carnal love she
was thinking of. Anyhow Theresa was beautified
a couple of years ago, & now there seems to be a serious
danger that she will take the shine out of Lourdes. She
is a real godsend to Lisieux — the place lives on
her. A large marble statue in the Cathedral, a
chapel blazing with candles, & on each side of the
statue a tree of artificial flowers attached to an
electric battery; so that you put in a franc & the
flowers light up to express Ste. Thérèse’s thanks. Going
all day too. I put in a franc & discovered that only
one side lights up for this; to get the other side
going simultaneously you must put another franc in
another hole. But ah! the effect then — c’est superbe!
I put up a candle too just for luck & on general principles
& for the benefit of Daddy’s soul; so you all ought
page 10 to be jakealoo now for some time to come. I bought
a charming swag of postcards too for the benefit of all;
& I hope you will be duly humble & reverent on
receiving them & being witnesses to so much sanctity.
Yes, a thriving town is Lisieux; in fact I should think
it hardly needs tourists at all to keep going. They
were going to have a grand pilgrimage on Sunday, &
already on Friday the peasants & others were beginning
to flock in; in more or less picturesque costumes. Own
a cafè in a place like this — that’s the style. I may take
it up someday. There is a museum there too some-
of the clothes worn by Ste. Thérèse all through life —
dress in which received 1st communion, last ditto, in
which received into the sisterhood, [unclear: chaplet] of flowers
woven for the Virgin on death bed, & so on; but we
didn’t go & see this. The poor old B.V.M. herself hard-
gets a look in at Lisieux now. Apart from all
this, Lisieux is such a charming place that we were sorry
to leave, but we left for Rouen. As I told you all
about Rouen last year I need not say anything much this
time; the stained glass seemed even more miraculous
than before, & the town even more pleasant. We climbed the spire
of the cathedral & had a look round & under my
able guidance visited its interior & that of the other
churches. It was in St. Ouen I think that we were
reprimanded by the caretaker for standing in one of the
page 11 transepts to look at the rose-window in the other with`
our backs to the altar of the B.V.M. (Bloody Virgin Mary,
it has been suggested she should be called); he & a
companions then cleared their throats & spat simul-
on the floor. I suppose it is possible however
to spit with considerable reverence. You had better
apply to old Redwood about this. We had a picnic or
so on the hills round Rouen, & one afternoon attempted
to get on the river for a row. This resulted in the
worst tram-ride I have ever had in my Life, at the
end of which we were dropped in the middle of the
most depressing suburb I have ever seen in my Life.
We found the river in the end, but we were not allowed
near it, as it served as harbour in that vicinity; we
got in the tram again & rode further. When we got to the
terminus we had one look outside & then asked the con-
to take us back. In transit we crossed 749 sep-
railway lines; we then walked back to our pub
& pickedpicnicked in one of our rooms. However on the whole
we have nothing against Rouen; there is a museum of iron
ironwork there which is very fine also, which a cove
collected & presented; it is housed in an old church,
which proves that the churches have not lost all their
uses for mankind yet. This cove collected everything
from iron gates to snuff-box boxes, all in iron, to say
nothing of flat-irons, shop-signs, candles, strong-boxes,
page 12 needle-cases & keys; & very beautiful most of them are.
It is extraordinary what indecent standardised rubbish
the modern world turns out to take their place in
the historical line. Compare a Yale key, however
polished & shining, with one of these marvellous things;
& yet why shouldn’t even Yale keys be beautiful?
Ans: because people will not pay more that 2/3 for a
Yale key. I must not forget to mention that the place
we stayed in at Rouen had a marvellous supply of
running water, hot & cold, in all the rooms; as against
this, however, everything else sanitary in the house was
out of order. It doesn’t seem to strike the French that
you can call a plumber & at least make an attempt to
repair these things. They are a great nation. God only
knows how the French & British together won the war.

Well, we decided to go down to Chartres next to
see the cathedral & compare the windows with Rouen, &
carefully worked out the trains accordingly. A train
left at 2.54, according to the time-table, so along we
blow about 2.25, to be in plenty of time. Which platform
does the Chartres train go from? we ask a cove. Ah!
says he, there was only one train, & that left at 1,
& anyhow this is the wrong station. — They just swop
things round any old way it pleases them. So we decided
to catch a train for Paris that was going just then, &
came straight on here. As I remarked, Paris is all
page 13 right, except for some of the French. We got here a week
ago, but don’t seem to have touched the fringe of the
subject yet. However, taking advantage of my com-
’ absence with a fabulously rich cousin
who owns a silver mine or something, & pays enough
for an hors d’oeuvre for them as we combined f pay
for a whole meal, with the Davis Cup to follow, I have
nearly got through the more outstanding bookshops, which
I hope practically to finish this afternoon. Mostly
history I have bought, & not very much of that, with a
few divagations into art & such-like. With a railway-
train, & fleet of motor-lorries, & an order from the
President of the Republic, I [unclear: an] all the publishers of
Paris, I might be able to walk off with a few of the
things I want. I have also bought a couple of very
beautiful Japanese prints for 20 francs each, & have
half a mind to buy some more, but we shall see.
I have had a reunion of the most affecting kind with
Hemming, who is busting away over his thesis, & with
de K. who is now the complete Frenchman, willing
to give anybody advice on anything within the country.
He has now bought a camera & an astonishing range
of adjuncts, & this really forms the staple of his life &
conversation. I have had my photograph taken a
couple of times by flashlight & later on will be able
to send you a full set of pictures of myself, together
page 14 with one or two cruder & more amateurish efforts taken
earlier in the trip. — We have been to the Louvre &
so forth & narrowly escaped death an infinite
number of times in the traffic, which does not seem
to get any better from year to year & we have
wandered around in the Bois de Boulogue & the
Luxembourg Gardens & museum & up the Champs Elysees
& along the boulevards & a variety of other places, &
it has all been very entertaining. The weather has
been still unbelievably brilliant — it has rained slightly
once since we left London — a most extraordinary
thing. What indeed has been the most extraordinary
thing about the trip. The second most extraordinary thing
has been an exhibition of modern paintings we
went to at the Bois on Sunday. You, who have
only seen reproductions, really don’t know what
modern art is capable of. I endeavour invariably
to preserve an open mind; but this left me weak.
There were however some good things, & some excellent
sculpture. A W’gton lady called Margaret
Butler had two heads in, sculped; have you ever
heard of her? not bad. Pen in now running
dry, after having been once watered, so I must stop.

Later: This, I really think, is about all. I had a
look again at some stuff in the Louvre today & bought one or
two more books; otherwise the world wags on much as before.

Here I end with much love to you both, & all other relatives.


P.S. Thank you for the Dominion, though I have not yet discovered why it was
sent, unless it be some more than ordinarily fatuous remarks of Hon R. A. Wright.
Or was it the growth of the Dominion?