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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 21 September, 1928

page 1

My Dear Mummy,

If you ask for the explanation of
my writing to you at this peculiar hour, which has rightly
stupefied you, & almost stupefies me as I write (for the light
is just beginning to come into the sky again, & by the look of that
untroubled clear expanse, a somewhat unreal phantasmal blue,
Ern may get a fine day for his day in England — my oath! I
almost feel as if I were just arriving myself, & stood on the
upper deck of the Osterly with Duncan & McGrath & Hemming
looking at the stars & the midnight lights on shore) — if you
recover your breath & ask me this, I say, I will tell you.
For the Mongolia gets in at the ungodly hour of 7 in the morning,
(failing fog or striking a rock coming up the Thames) & the
special train leaves Tilbury at 9.15, which is just about the time
I am generally doing my exercises & inspecting the peculiar lines
of my abdominal muscles in the glass; & the only train that
leaves London at such an a reasonable hour as to be at once
possible & to give Ern the impression that I have come to meet
him leaves Fenchurch Street at 7.30; & Fenchurch St is a long
way away. So I said to myself at about 11 o’clock (last night)
Well, how am I to do it? And the only answer I could think
of was Stay up all night. Which I accordingly did; & further-
, by writing solidly from about 8pm to 5 50 a.m.
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finished the chapter I was working on. Counting up, I see I have
done 13 f.cap pages since I started this-yesterday-morning — a
record, by gum! my usual outside daily total being 5. Reck-
400 words to the page, 13
quite a moderate allowance, which
gives scope for crossings-out, corrections & lines thrown up in dis-
& completely changed, we have thus the amazing total of
five thousand two hundred words. I have done the sum over
& over, so it must be right. Or should it be fifty-two thousand?
I don’t know — get Daddy to do it for you. And here I am,
still writing merrily on, in grave danger of missing the train
because I can’t stop. This is easier work though, I don’t have to
stop every line or two & put a ? which refers you to the
opposite page where you see ? ? Stephen & Stanley 17 July 1845
C. O. 452/18 pp36-7
what you see. Now it’s got much
lighter & the sky is almost white, & there’s a genteel blue mist in
the square; & as that mist has been there every morning for the
last week (when I’ve been awake to see it before ducking under
again) & as the leaves are beginning to fall almost as thick
as Vallombrosa, I’m afraid autumn is with us again.
Also my feet are cold, & about ½ past 4 I had to put on my
dressing-gown, so we shall soon be all for it again. I’d
go & have a hot bath now, only it would wake the unfortunate
birds a foot away from the bath-room, & who am I to penalise
them? Well, I really am glad to finish that chapter; that
was my last one of analysis & description, & now I’ve only
got to go back & do the West Indies, a fair cow which I pur-
left to the end; & write up my conclusions in a nice
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flippant way to balance the introduction, & revise, & add a
bit here & a bit there, & perhaps take out a bit somewhere else, &
get the thing typed, & make an index, & fake a bibliography, &
we’re done! And glad we shall be to have it off our hands, &
also a bit sorry not to have it to tinker round with in spare moments
when not at the proms, or discussing the respective merits of
folios & octavos, as I was doing with a cove or in a bookshop
this afternoon, or just ambling round looking genially at things.
The question now is, whether to have a shave before going for that
train; but there won’t be enough light in the bath-room, & there
isn’t enough room in my room to shave now that it’s chopped
in half — I’m not like Auntie Win, I don’t like throwing soapy
water over the books — still, I shall look pretty rough by the
time the special train gets back to London, because it’s sure
to be late. A godforsaken trip it is too — about an hour up
there & an 1½ hours back through the worst part of southern
England bar none — east London ½ the way, & worse imitations,
if possible, for the rest. If If I hadn’t been such a [unclear: may] I would
have gone to bed, got up at my usual time, had a good breakfast,
& walked five minutes to St. Pancras to meet him. Let no man
say henceforth that I don’t love my brothers — what a blasted
nuisance they are though. And here its 25 to 7, & almost light
enough for a shave, or even to eat an apple. No use changing
my collar though, why waste a clean collar on the Tilbury train.
Ern will be stowing away a good 1st class breakfast too — grape-
& fish & an omlette & grilled kidneys & tomato & toast &
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marmalade & coffee & saying Well, so long steward! & trying
to look casual as he gives him a quid. Or may be it’s ten
bob, I forget which & probably a quid with Ern. Well, I had
better dash off & do something. Damn Fenchurch St! There goes the milk-cart.

7 minutes to 4 p.m. Well, of course, the infernal ship
was held up by fog & I had to walk all the way from Tilbury
Docks to Tilbury Pier & stand around there for a couple of hours while
the customs officers went on board & they played round with a
[unclear: tender] & so forth. Somethink fierce, the price of these little
railway-jaunts to & fro. 1/8 one way & 2/5 the other way it cost me,
& it was a blooming cold morning by the river. However he looks
healthy enough, though wearing a very low cap that appals even
me. But I dare say he’ll tell you all about himself, so
why should I worry. I may be my brother’s keeper, but I am
not his reporter. I have got him packed here, in 21, for a day
or two, while he looks round for a room & generally gets his
bearings, & have taken him down to the Food Reform Restaurant,
so you may rest in peace. The girls got back today too from
visiting various aunts in various countries, so it is quite the
happy re-union. Now I find that my young pupil [unclear: Spindle]
is turning up at St. Pancras at 6pm — so there is another
expedition for me — briefer this time though. Thank the
Lord I finished my chapter! that’s what I say. I can take the
weekend off with a clear conscience now.

For your letter & enclosures I thank you. I am glad
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to learn of [unclear: Fain] saying something sensible for once in his
life & as for the other abysmal idiots, well, I’m afraid it’s
no use saying even God help them, because I’m sure he wouldn’t.
From Hughie Mac down. They give me the pip. Anything’ll
do for us, as long as it’s home-grown. — I may say that the for-
of W’ton College Old Boy’s Assocn leaflets is no longer
appreciated — give them to one of my nieces for curl-papers.
This reminds me that Ern told me this morning that accord-
to Frannie there is to be no Board School for Betty; nothing
less than Marsden. Now I say give the kid a fair chance
for a start anyhow & send her to Mt Cook Babies for a week
or so. That was the stern school I passed through, let alone
the child’s father; & well do I remember playing firemen in
the old playground, & being told by a teacher that you mus’n’t
swallow cotton because once a lady died & she had swallowed
cotton & they found that it was all wound round & round her
heart. Well too do I remember the hypnotic swing of
twice one is two, twice two is four, rising to a stentorian roar
of twice eleven is twenty-two, twice TWELVE is TWENTY-FOUR!
All sit back with glow of self-conscious satisfaction, a hard
job well done. Well, that’s what Betty wants. And then probably
she will spit at a little boy & he will smack her face for her,
& Frannie will have to write to the headmistress about it — no
longer alas! Miss Watson. Well, I see, to have got somewhat
off the track, so I will start again.

Thank you for your letter; sorry about the [unclear: Manapouri], but
page 6
I never done it. You will by now know what I have done
with the two pewter mugs, very cheap, & all the rest of the junk.
The mugs I am gradually polishing up a bit — I like a dull
gleam better than solid dirt. As for you, or Auntie Em’s,
beer-mugs, they’re evidently not much good to you, & certainly
not to Auntie Em, so I think she might just add a codicil
to her will, bequeathing them to me. In fact, I am prepared
to take charge practically immediately. — Thanks for sending
over the books — they’ll be something else to cart around
with me. — Yes J.R.M. Butler in the H.W.C. is my cove — the
book was well-reviewed, I see. I thought he might give me
one, but he did’t. — I hope your minds are now at rest
about the degree; I hope to have the blooming thesis finished
off now in a couple of months & handed in either in December
or at the beginning of the 2nd term, & there is some good stuff
in it here & there. — I’m sorry Mummy’s eye has been playing
up; trust it is quite restored by now, & twinkling merrily as
ever. I chuckled over the doctor. Sorry also that Keith
has fallen in love with a stewardess; still I read a long time
ago that men were naturally polygamous, so it doesn’t surprise
me. Probably do Frannie good, make her pull herself together,
underline her eyebrows, have the wave made a bit more permanent —
wonderful what a bit of jealousy will do to a girls’ looks.
And yet if it came to an open rupture, so sad for the child!
In the absence of agreement between the parents, I suppose custody
would be made over by judicial order to Auntie. — Stiff
page 7
about Stephen — why don’t they put his Danill St scheme into
operation. — The opera [unclear: coy] doesn’t attract me — the prospectus
you sent me would alone make me run ten miles to get away
from it, & I’m a tolerant bloke as you know.

There’s not much to report beyond work & a few Proms.
Haven’t sold my Songs of Childhood yet; I am going to put
it up to auction. I had a yap to Laski about it, & he asked
one shop if they had a copy, if so what they wanted for it — £56.
Then adjourned to a different shop, rang up the first & said
he had a copy to sell, what would they give him? — A good
copy? Yes— £27.10. —Thank you. I think I’ll put
a reserve of £40 on it & hope the boom will still be booming.
I had a long yap with Laski the other day, as a matter of fact;
he repeated that he thought Capt H. was good stuff. He also
gave me back a wad of my thesis & said Beaglehole, that’s
damn good & I consider you’ve got real brains. This from the
greatest man in the world! He also spoke to Chapman, of
the O.U.P. about it, who said, yes, they’d publish it all
right; but I heard from another cove that the bloke who
really manages the business is [unclear: Sisan], the assistant &c
A N.Z.er by the way; so in any case there’s hope. I want
to stay over here long enough to see it through the press, anyhow.
Little Harold told me some interesting stories too, & we both
agreed that the Ph.D business & the academic profession was
one of the worst & most contemptible close corporations in
England. If I ever come back to N.Z. it will be he I model
page 8
myself upon, not F.P. (They all register astonishment.)
Nothing doing in the way of jobs yet, though there may be
some movement in Manchester. But who wants to go to Man-
? I think I told you that the Southhampton job
had been settled long ago? — I got a note from [unclear: Richey]
B. Fay the other day — $25 Capt H. cost me — $15 for
extra copies & $10 for dedication & author’s corrections to galley
proof. They get you most ways, these printers. Well, I only
hope the return in notoriety will make it worth while. Fay
said he sent review copies to a lot of papers in NZ I suggested
& also copies to booksellers; so you might rouse up Whit-
, Daddy, & get a special exhibition photo of me as centre-
. Nothing like publicity. They only cost me ½ dollar
each, so you can let Geoffrey Keith & Joe off at 2/6; God
forbid that I should snatch the crust from the jaws of their wives
& children. I sent Peter Fraser one, you know — use it as
a lever to get an afternoon tea.

Yes, by jingo! another reason why I had to work all
last night was that I spent the whole blooming afternoon
looking for a birthday present for Daddy. I meant to mention
this in my last, but I forgot. As a matter of fact, I have
been looking for it for about 3 months now; but believe
me or believe me not, it seems impossible to find in
London a book that is at once reasonably cheap & will
do for him. Finally after ransacking the Cambridge U. Press,
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Oxford U. Press, & several other joints, I gave it up for the day
& sent R. Bridges’ latest essay just by way of something to go on
with. I am now looking for a decent copy of Erasmus’ Colloquies
for you, Daddy, so keep on hoping. I’ve got two myself, but
they’re not up to much. The probability is of course that if I
get a really good one I shall keep it & send you one of the duds.
Anyhow while crawling around one joint I saw a very good folio
Clarendon 3 vols History £1.1.0. [unclear: lool] life 15/-. Folios seem to go for a
lot less in proportion to their size than anything else; I am
getting quite a taste for them — you seem to get a lot for your money.
The cove said he would let me have the 4 vols for 30/-, & I
am seriously considering it. Enormous tomes they are though,
& weigh about ½ a ton each. Still if I go back to N.Z. & don’t
take them I shall be sorry some day. Very handy for pressing
trousers, pres straightening out bumps in children’s heads &c. 30
bob, I think I’ll do it. When I settle down I shall
want a row of folios al on the bottom shelf all round the room.
I’ll have to pinch a brass eagle from a church to read
on though. Yes, I think it would be a sin to let
them go at that price. I could have a lot of fun polishing
up the covers with Meltonian Cream too — it would do for
a change from cleaning the pewter.

I saw Havelock Ellis in the B.M. the other day.
At least I was sure 10 to 1 it was him. I nearly fell at his
feet & cried Master! Master!

I suppose a folio Matthew Prior wouldn’t be any good
page 10
to you, Daddy? I prefer my poets smaller myself. —Did
I have Bertrand Russell’s “Sceptical Essays” last time I
wrote? Some good stuff in them. That cove has a con-
sense of humour, though you mightn’t think it to
look at him. —I was almost forgetting to say that I am
having my Introd. published in Economica, the ¼ly journal
of the C.S.E. in November. I’ll send you a copy. I must
revise it a bit first, though. I wish I had a year to sit back in
& revise my whole infernal thesis & make a book of it.
I am also having a bit of verse published in some new
Cambridge rag that is coming out next month, with a woodcut
by McJ. who dragged me in to it. I must start thinking
about my next Xmas card, if any, pretty soon. — Some-
else must have happened in the last fortnight; but I
can’t think of it — time seems rather blurred these days
with only two chapters to go. No. Strange! not another
blooming thing can I think of, & only 10 pages at that. I hear
Auntie Sis has sent me over some cocoa-nut ice, though
I have not seen it — please give her my hearty preliminary
thanks. There are also vague rumours of cakes & biscuits,
but until something more definite emerges I cannot at-
to apportion praise or blame. So I had better
finish off, wishing sending both of you much love & as
much for other people as is good for them.


P.S. Special mention for Auntie & Auntie Win. I hope they
still refrain from rowing — i.e. quarrelling.