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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 7 September 1928

page 1

My dear Mummy,

Well, fair dinkum, I am disappointed in Auntie
Win! N.Z. generally I can understand, because it is a long way
behind the times; but when Daddy says that Auntie Win doesn’t know
anything about the Prayer Book & doesn’t want to, that really is
a staggering blow. Doesn’t she care what happens to her Church?
Does she realise that the Protestant foundation is in danger? Doesn’t
she mind if the Archbishop of Canterbury goes over to Rome? (He is
going over to Chelsea to live, as a matter of fact?) I do think it’s a
knock-out blow that an aunt, who I thought was the last indepen-
minded upholder of the historic faith in the family (for Auntie
Jess has to take it as a part of matrimony I suppose), should be so
casual, so callous, when our English civilisation trembles in the
balance. And over here a Christian parson has just announced
that he is going to seek ordination in the C. of E. It’s very distressing.
I’m afraid I’ll have to [unclear: cut] her off as no aunt of mine. If I’d
known that she didn’t know anything about it I would have sent
her a few leaders from the Times & the reports of Jix’s speeches
in the House. But it’s too late now. This, I suppose, is the
real reason that Randall [unclear: Cartian] has turned in his job — he
got a cable from N.Z. — Mrs Butler not interested, — & turned
up his archiepiscopal toes. I don’t blame the pore old man
either, & him 80 & just had his golden wedding. — As for jobs,
page 2 I have heard there’s an opening at the University College of Southamp-
, but I did not see the advt, which appeared some time ago! So
although I have written to them enquiring I’m afraid it will be
too late. It would be a signal occasion if the family went
back there for a bit. The cove who had the job got that Rhodes
Library at Oxford; he he [sic] is an Oxford man with two books published
by the Oxford Univ Press. I have also got my young friend
Helen A, who has gone back to the States for a month, via Toronto,
(to see my other young friend Adelaide Macdonald) to make
enquiries there, A.M. being well in with the President & some of
the history birds. — As for Scholefield & Newton — Newton has
a good many disadvantages & after a certain stage is more of
a nuisance than a help; & also has the faculty of getting on
everybody else’s nerves; but he’s the big bird in colonial history
in London & the only possible person to work under if you
are a colonial historian here; & for a colonial, the only
possible thing to work on is colonial history, unless you
give a year or so to working up something else before doing
any research. What is really wrong with the man I think is
an inferiority complex — he’s so desperately keen on impressing you
that he is important & is consulted by important people & does know
everybody & hes [sic: he’s] an iron in every fire & has a right to patronise
everybody else. If you could rid him of his pretentiousness &
give him a few manners (perhaps the same thing) he would
be quite a likeable person. However he isn’t the only one in
London. Pray God that if I become a prof I never become like
page 3 this! He knows his job fairly well, too, though he does try to make
you believe he knows it a lot better. But after recent remarks
of Scholefield’s on the science of history, I don’t think it is
for him to sling too much dirt. By the way, how is Schole-
archive dept getting on? That might provide an opening
for me just in case. Will you have a word with him some-
& see if there is likely to be anything doing in anything
in which he has a finger, Daddy? Thank you. I am not
asking you to get a job for me, so don’t go off as you did
once or twice towards the end about Keith, & don’t make a special
journey about it. These coves who inquire so kindly about me
ought to be willing to do something else. As for Peter Fraser, I’m
sorry I didn’t send his copy of Captain Hobson to you — then you
could have trotted along to Parliament House with it some day
about afternoon tea time & he would have been morally obliged to
do the handsome thing. But after all, he’s your representative —
why don’t you go along anyhow & have a chat about the
country! or ask him round to see you some night — he’s a
great reader, so I believe. You might be able to lend him a
book or two; or when he gets into power he might have some
cushy job for you. I don’t think you make half enough use of
the fact that he takes a kindly interest in the family. So does
Walter Nash, & he’s a cobber of yours. Stay home from the Savage
Club some night, & really enjoy yourself in the company of — I
won’t say your intellectual equals — but at least someone with
more intelligence than the pie-scoffing morons who frequent that
page 4 place. What is a swill of beer compared to a swill of intellect.
Here’s Nash too; an ardent churchman, interested in religion, & a pub-
agent to boot — you might get all sorts of things out of him.
Mummy could talk to Mrs Fraser too, & probably give her one or two
valuable pointers. What the Labour Party needs is an infiltration
of brains — why not the Beaglehole's? — it doesn’t tie you down to
vote for them. Auntie Win could go out, if the idea of making
coffee for Peter F. shocked her. — Why be so modest about your
doings as to say that they are of little interest? News about same
always much appreciated. You do seem to be a [unclear: buttress] of V.U.C.
these days. Ern seems to have been raking in the usual harvest;
he will be here in about another fortnight, I suppose; another
journey to the Docks for me. It’s too expensive to reserve a room
for him beforehand, but I shouldn’t think he will have too
much difficulty in picking up a fairly decent place, arriving
before October a bit. He can always sleep on my floor for a
while, anyhow.

Well, I seem to have got on to answering Daddy’s half instead
of Mummy’s, but as she always says you’re the same person
I dare say you won’t mind. You really ought to get a type-
now, & do a couple of carbon copies of Geoffrey, Ern &
me — any moral reflections deemed particularly apposite in
the case of individuals could be added later. It won’t take
you long to learn. Duncan’s mother always types her letters to
him. — Keith seems to be getting a good deal of travelling out of
his job — with all these visits from Frannie, Auntie will soon
page 5 know Betty (?) quite well. You’ll know a good deal about how
to bring up babies too, with your daughters-in-law dabbling in all
the latest ideas. What I say is, Spare the rod & spoil the
child — & Treat ‘em rough & the rougher you treat ‘em the more
they’ll like you. Look at the affection I have for my
parents. And Stand no nonsense. And Children should be
seen & not heard. And so on. None of your new-fangled
notions about science & eugenics & so forth. — Well, that seems
to be all there is to say in answer to your letter.

The weather here has been first-rate & still is; & here I am
stuck inside driving away at this blasted thesis — it gets on
my nerves. When I get finished we will just be in the
full flush of winter again. I haven’t used my bike for a
year. Have to sell it to Ernest, I think, because I won’t
have any use for it if I leave England. — I am still
in Brunswick Square, but continue to write to [sic: at] the Institute.
I didn’t go back to the house where they don’t allow
visitors after 11 pm; & then the new landlady here,
Mrs Horsford, announced that she was going to divide
the top room, Duncan’s & my historic abode — This seemed
sacrilege, but I thought I would wait & see what happened
to it, & now I have taken one of the halves, for 2 2/6. I
think. It’s none too big, but big enough for one with room
for an occasional visitor; & after living those two years
over the square, my heart misgave me at the prospect
of moving into some dirty street & then paying pretty
page 6 well as much. Also the place is clean, having just been
done up, as I think I described in my last, & I am
getting used to the blue wall-paper shot with silver. In
fact, by throwing all the furniture I didn’t want into the
other half, & pinching a chair here & something else there
& taking down the gl gilt mirror I have made quite a
desirable residence out of the place. Also I swopped one
of my bookcases for another twice as big. When I had
pretty well finished the landlady come up to consult with
the gasman in the next room, & I heard her going off a
treat. Still, what’s the use of being the oldest member of a
household if you can’t get in one the ground floor in one
or two things, even if practically considered you’re right
on the top floor? McGrath came down & brought my picture
last week-end too, so I have got that hung over the
mantelpiece instead of the mirror. Pulling Down Old
London he called it at first; but it must have looked too tidy
for that, so now it is just East End Landscape. I must dig
something out of Uncle George one of these days, even buying
it if necessary. Beneath East End Landscape I have
got my Innsbruck medal from last year, flanked by
1 pair brass candlesticks & two pewter mugs; which
I felt a sudden impulse to break off this letter a lo after
page 3 & polish, which I did, which they look very classy
now, quite a high-brow mantelpiece. Let alone an
Osterley silver match-box, off which the silver is now beginning
page 7 to wear in spots & a Breton ash-tray. On chest of drawers,
you, Daddy, & Jt Japanese teapot & mug of flowers, a kind donation
of Mrs K. McKay (my mug). E.E.L. flanked on one
side by one of Bickerton’s Japanese prints, on other by Corot’s
Ponds at Ville d’Avray which I brought over with me. Next
to window Canadian woodcut sent by A.M.; on opposing wall,
N.Z. photograph sent by Challis. This leaves the fourth
wall entirely bare. I wanted to hang up a couple of my
Paris Japanese prints, but I can’t afford to get them framed,
& all my other pictures are too small & would look fussy,
so I am leaving that wall bare for relief at present. I
believe in changing pictures or having a rest from them
anyway — pity it’s so expensive. I will now draw a plan
of my room Sketch plan of John Cawte Beaglehole's room at Brunswick Square
A very pleasing presentment I fancy. There are a lot of things
I haven’t drawn, because I don’t know how to, & it would take
too long anyhow. I just want to point out in connection
with books — you will probably be tut-tutting tut-tutting
about my having three bookcases, that I just want once bought
a first edition of Walter de la Olare’s Songs of Childhood in Mackay’s
page 8 for 9d, as the reward of grovelling on the floor for some time — in
the year 1919, I think it was. Well, all right; no doubt
you thought it was a waste of money & even Daddy asked
me what I wanted two copies for. Yesterday Bumpus offered
me £ 30 guineas for it, & I said I’d think about it. That seems
to be a fairly good price; but apparently a very good copy has
gone at £50. I will try one or two other joints first, & it might be
worth putting it up to auction. The only trouble with that is that
they charge 15% commission, so unless some mug bid at least £40
or so, it would hardly be worth doing. Still you never know your
luck & anyhow I can’t lose on it. I wish I could find a few more
things like that. However I just want to remark that that’s more
than you ever did with a singlet or a second-hand shirt, or
even a complete suit of clothes, so we’ll have no more argument
on the subject. It having been proved conclusively from (a)
reason (b) authority e.g. Richard de Bury & (c) practical
experience that books are (1) a great spiritual comfort (2)
very handsome furniture & (3) a sound financial invest-
. I’m not greatly interested in (3) finance myself,
£30 is neither here nor there with me, or even 30 gns, but
I bring it forward just to show you. Also if you’ve
got a wife who can read, they keep her quiet. If I could
only find ½ doz things like this, I could finance myself
for another year. Daddy will now po no doubt point
out that £31..9..3 is unearned increment & is therefore
morally the perquisite of the state; I reply however that
page 9 on the contrary it is the natural reward of the capitalist,
& of his foresight, wisdom, & hard-earned knowledge; representing
merely the compound interest & a slight profit on the original 9d
invested; quite apart from compensation for the great amount
of dead-stock necessarily carried, on which there is no financial return
whatsoever. I therefore have a perfectly legitimate right to
pat myself on the back & go round with a greasy smile of
self-complacent triumph. Which I accordingly do. In fact
you people who go off about buying books haven’t a leg to stand

We will now turn to a different subject & discuss the
theatre; at least we would, but I find that I have not been
to any play since She Stoops to Conquer; I therefore enclose an
article by St John Ervine & let it go at that. As for music,
I have been to several more proms to hear the same blokes as
usual. I was forgetting that on Tuesday we went to the see
This Year of Grace, the famous revue of which you have
no doubt heard. We made a night of it too, & I put on my
boiled shirt & black uniform, & in the interval we came out &
stood around Piccadilly & gazed at the lights. That’s the life.
None of your Courtenay Place Grand Opera House dud shows.
If all revues were like this, I’d spend most of my time at
them; except for about two dud [unclear: turns], & those not so dud either, com-
with the average, it was about the brightest thing I’ve
ever seen, with some real solid satire chucked in to boot.
Good dancing, & a 1st rate skit on the neo-art modern music side of
page 10 the Russian ballet. Noel Coward this was by; in fact the programme
said that the words, lyrics & music were all by him; but
I’d say that only the worst of the music could have been — some
of it was by Bach. Everything snapped along so brightly too —
never a pause; & everybody was versatile. Why the devil can’t
N.Z. get a few things like that, instead of the worst wash
on earth. We get that in London too, appalling muck, but
there are other things to go to here. Really, if only some
cove could make them sit up a bit out there & jolt them
into altered standards, there might be hope of improvement. But
it seems pretty hopeless; & nowadays American theatre man-
buy up Australasian & S. African rights in English plays
as well as U.S.A. & the English birds don’t stir a finger to stop
them. St. John E. has been hitting the roof about it lately.

On Sunday I met a very interesting Chinaman with lots of
money, who runs a bookshop in Shanghai — McG met him first
at Cambridge. There seems nothing in western literature he hasn’t
read. He knew K. Mansfield & has translated some of her stories
into Chinese — very successful they have been, too, he says. He
reckons she was the most beautiful woman he ever met in his
life — not pretty, but a clear transparent beauty. We got him
on to Chinese art, & he talked for about two hours down in some
Chinese restaurant off N.O New Oxford Street. He is trying to
start a sort of School of Economics in Shanghai, so we both
offered to go on the staff. [unclear: Tsicman]-Shu his name is; one of the
most interesting coves I have met over here. I think I shall
now knock off.

with much love


P.S. Note published- price of Captain Hobson 6/-! Charge coves to whom any sold 4/6.
Also: Big swag of postcards sent this mail./