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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 5 October 1928

21 Brunswick Square — London W.C.1 — 5.10.28

page 1

My dear Mummy,

I hope that by the time you get this your eye
will have been fixed for a long time. If you don’t look out
you will have to be employing a young lady companion,
high speed reader preferred, to get through your banked up piles
of books. I do hope you have given it a good long rest, though —
no use starting off too soon & having it bunged up again. Take a
lesson from your general status & don’t take any risks. I am
glad to learn that the quacks give so favourable a report of you gener-
, & I wish I could have any faith that you would continue to
earn their commendation. But I suppose one of these fine after-
you’ll be taking it into your head to go out & play golf, &
off you’ll go with Auntie for a caddie & Auntie Win to look for
the los lost balls. Still you might try & remember in the in-
that your real job is to look after yourself. — You seem
to be having a regular housefull [sic] most of the time, & it is per-
just as well that Ern & I got out — what with Auntie &
Auntie Win & Frannie & 1 female child it must be a merry
party. I pity Daddy; though I suppose you were more or
less in the same position when you were alone among five
males. Still we were all relatively well-behaved; now I
don’t see how in the least you could call a household as
above-listed well-behaved. And I suppose half the time
page 2 the place is full of other aunts, together with attendant ghosts,
table-rappers, jokes, daughters, tales & yarns of every description.
It seems a great pity to me, as a matter of fact, that the
pair of you can’t get right away from everybody in a smaller
house, with a good hefty housekeeper to look after you, room
for Daddy’s books, & a garden for you to sit in. I think you’ve
always had far too much of a crowd around you & all depend-
on you. I trust no relative who may chance to read
this will take offence — if you think they will & can’t bear to
hurt anybody’s feelings you know what to do. I used to
think that once we four got out & got either jobs or scholarships
of our own it would lessen the burden on Daddy a bit; so but
so far as I can see, & learn from Ern, that hasn’t happened yet.
I hope at least that Auntie Laura doesn’t still write short notes
of 10 fscap pages to you, & that you won’t break your neck over
Joan’s wedding, or any other silly tripe like that. I wish
to God I was getting £1000 a year & could pension you both
off — you could easily get enough for the house & section
to get another place out at the Hutt or somewhere. What you
need is quiet; & you can’t get quiet with trams tearing down
past your window & a ceaseless stream of sisters & daughters-
inside. What a damned nuisance this money is! —
Here’s Daddy too goes & eats pie at the Savage Club & what could
he expect but a rebellious stomach — the truth is he ought to
have had a swig of beer as well, & the two evil influences
would probably have counteracted each other. Personally
page 3 I think he would get more fun out of his book & (if he
must smoke) a fag in front of the fire than out of the festive
side of the Rotary Club. I have already suggested his t that
he should entertain Walter Nash or Peter Fraser by the fire-side.
I don’t think much of these Orphans & Savages myself — but I
may be judging on over-slight acquaintance. I see Daddy says that
the fatal evening was a very good one except for the pie; & God
forbid that I should lecture my elders on how to spend
their nights. They never did me on how to spend mine. Of
course I was always a model boy & home bright & early with
full information on where I had been & what I had been
doing, not like Keith & others I could name.

I agree with Daddy that the Holland Nelson combination
is a funny one. Ern doesn’t seem to be a whole hearted backer
of Richardson, though, in spite of the Mandates Commission. Nice
little subject for an M.A. thesis some day. — well, well, so
poor old Horace Ward has slipped his cables! — none too soon for
the old man, I suppose; he couldn’t have been leading a very
cheerful life. I always meant to drop him a note when he
retired, but it’s too late now. He had his peculiarities, &
very strong they were, but he was a nice old feller underneath
his scales. — Father Marchant too — well, it’s no use regretting
him. — Many thanks to Daddy for care & attention to my
books. Don’t let him break his back over them, though. I hear
Auntie Win has my room, & has it crammed full of furniture
page 4 of no particular use; I hope she remembers that she is surrounded
by so much per precious life-blood of so many master-spirits
& baths in the bath-room. I shudder at the idea of flying
soap & water. You might give her a hint that the sleeping-porch
would be a much healthier & airier place for her to doss in,
as well as affording a lot more space for her belongings. But
perhaps that is exclusively reserved for Frannie & child while
Keith is off gallivanting with tunnels & stewardesses. What a
thing it is to be an abandoned wife! There’s an experience
I can’t remember that you ever had. I hear from Ern that
Frannie is dead nuts on making Keith push the pram all
the way up Northland — good exercise, but if I were Keithles I
would push her into a bus & take two [gap — reason: unclear] for self & family.
Nothing like democracy for the young. — News about Mrs.
Mansfield very interesting, I must say; I should like to know
what brought her to that. Of course you didn’t know her as
well as I did. I wonder if she is still living at the same
place: I might write to her some time. This finishes comment
on Daddy’s letter.

Well, I got those Clarendon folios. It seemed too much
of a sin to leave them for somebody else, huge as they are, &
expensive as their transport may hereafter prove. Little 3/6 edi-
are all right in their way, but after all, give me a book,
even if you have to borrow a brass eagle from a church to
read it on. I have been much tempted to buy a fine
Bacon (Henry VII) £11 & an equally fine Raleigh’s History of
page 5 the World £9; both very good folios, but I haven’t. In fact
the only thing I have bought besides the Clarendon has been Alice
in Wonderland, which I saw today in a new cheap edition for
2/-, & accordingly fell. Still a cove has to buy a book
sometimes, or he would get out of practice, & the autumn publishing
season being now in full blast, it is perfect torture to me to go
into a bookshop. It is a real relief to have a birthday present to
buy. I thought I might wait a long time to get the Erasmus I
foreshadowed in my last for Daddy, so I relieved my feelings
to-day on Greville’s Life of Sir Philip Sidney for him, which I
hope will arrive in good order & fairly soon. There was an
article on Greville in the Litt. Supp. a week or so ago, which I
suppose you read; & this may therefore come topically, besides
being a nice little book. I am sending in the same parcel
this month’s Life & Letters, which has some good articles in
it, & a swag of Low’s cartoons. Alan might like to see
these; they may possibly give him a point or two. He
doesn’t seem to have broken out into political cartoons yet.
Does N.Z. take any interest in Low? He has an enormous
reputation over here. Campbell swears by him — need I
say more?

There hasn’t been a great deal happening over here in
the last fortnight — Ern’s end you will have heard of
from him, so I needn’t enlarge on that. We have been
lucky in having Elsie & Kathleen to do the housekeeping,
such as it is; but Kathleen being due to leave for N.Z.
page 6 next Friday, that happy state of things will be coming to
an end, & Elsie will be following Ern into a
cheaper lodging. These landladies are wolves, — £2..2
those girls have been paying for one room since they came
back from Cornwall; & this is not what is reckoned an
extravagant price round here. They & Ern have gone up
to Cambridge today for a couple of days; I, being
able to afford neither the time nor the fare, remain
behind to write my letter & thesis. I have been mucking
around at the B.M. lately, but not finding much for
my pains. I did read Henry Taylor’s Autobiography
all through instead of just the Colonial Office parts —
you know he was a clerk there for about 50 years, &
only pursued the Life Poetic in his spare time. Of which he
seemed on the whole to have a good deal, in spite of all
he says. If you haven’t read it, it is very interesting —
all I skipped werewas the large chunks [sic] from his own
poems & a few descriptions of his obscure cobbers. It
has a lot of good yarns too. E.g. Lord Melbourne said on
Gabbe’s death “I am so glad when one of these fellows dies,
because then one has his works complete on one’s shelf & there’s
an end of him!” Southey spoke French “without shame
or remorse.” A certain Bishop Philpotts on Lord
Normandy (see Captain Hobson &c) “My lords, I despise
no man, & therefore not the noble marquis.” Gent to
fat lady in crowded concert: “I am afraid, madam, you
page 7 have nothing to sit upon.” F.L. “No, it is not that, but
I have nowhere to put it.” I suppose you know Sir
George Cornwall Lewis’ remark, that life would be toler-
enough except but for its amusements. Taylor describes
himself in society in words that I take for my own “Saved
by that gracious gift, inaptitude to please.” Sir [unclear: Jan] Stephen
thought Gladstone lacked Pugnacity. &c. &c. I must rush
down to the Post Office now & send off Daddy’s parcel.

Which being done I resume. These yarns are the worms
you turn up in digging over the stony ground of a thesis. Of the
thesis itself I am heartily sick, — or rather I per preserve quite a
lively interest in that part of it that I’ve done, I don’t mind revising
it, but the part I haven’t done gives me the pip. That is, I wish
the West Indies were at the bottom of the sea from which they
should never have been allowed to emerge. I’ve got a pile of
notes for them big enough to write a small thesis from by them-
, even without the stuff I can’t find, & all that the sight
of them inspires in me is an intense distaste. However, your
needn’t start to think of remedies for this state of mind, because
by the time you read this, either the chapter will be finished
or I shall have succumbed, & in either case condolences will
be wasted. Also by the time I get an answer to this the whole
thing will be done, barring fires & earthquakes, thank God. I
am easy about getting it published too — I told you that the
Oxford U.P. was a good chance in my last, I think; now
Newton comes forward & says he’s just had a letter from
page 8 the Yale University Press who are looking out for stuff to publish.
So if the O.U.P. fails me, America will have to come to the
rescue again. I sincerely trust, for Daddy’s sake, that the O.U.P.
will oblige; but if not, the Yale people are about as good as
any in the world, & bring out their stuff well. Of course, it
would suit me better to be published in England; but again
the O.U.P. handles all the Yale stuff here. So whatever hap-
the outlook in that direction is fairly bright, & it shouldnn’t
n’t even cost me the $25 I am on the point of sending over
to Sidney B. Fay. Grasping hounds these banks are too —
for a postal order for that much the American Express [unclear: Co]
here charged me £5..4..1. Nothing for nothing you get
out of them, & damn little for 6d.

A thought strikes me — has Daddy ever thought of
setting up for himself as an auditor? Wouldn’t that be easier
work? Lighter work, perhaps I should say.

The University session is starting again next week — my
3rd year here! — for Oct 1 was the 2nd anniversary of our
landing. We shall be without the guiding hand of Newton
till Xmas or after: — he is going out to India to advise the
Punjab something or other on something or other — I asked
him whether he wanted a private sec, but he said he was
taking his wife with him. Not a very good cove to
send out there to advise, I should think, for tactlessness
is his strong point. Still some deity may watch over him, &
I hope for the credit of the white race it will. In the
page 9 meantime his absence suits us, or anyhow me, all right.
We shall have Williamson, a decent bird, to preside at the
seminars, & possibly may have some fun. Meanwhile the
proms are coming to an end; tonight’s is the second the last,
& after this week therefore I may get a bit more work done.
There areis a tremendous number of other concerts coming off
though; it looks as if it will be as bad as the first winter I was
here. You would be surprised at the way Bach is rushed;
I went along last week at my usual time & couldn’t get near
the place. This was partly because Myra Hess was playing
the piano concertos, & she is very popular; but they turned
away as many as got in. Every other Wednesday when Bach
has been done the hall has been packed. Brahms is a good
draw too; & Wagner & Beethoven always fill up the place. So
you might say that the only nights when the hall isn’t pretty
well crammed are those when the more “popular” stuff is done.

The weather is getting very autumnal. Mists in the
morning & at night; an evening chill, & the bath-water in
the morning a ph prophecy of the worst things experienced
already. But the rain has held off so far, & long may it
do so. We went out to Virginia Water last Sunday & walked
to Windsor, about 5-6 miles; watched goats stand on their
hindlegs & eat acorns off an oak-tree; brought a bag of
acorns back for the squirrel in Russell Square (whom
accordingly we have not yet seen since we did so); picked
a lot of blackberries & were ordered politely but firmly back
page 10 to the road by a ranger of sorts (or he may have been [unclear: Geo] V
out for a walk incog). It seems you can’t even pick black-
in a park in this country without infringing the
proprieties. I see that Qn Victoria put up an enormous
Statue of Albert there too, presented to her by some body
of dotty women or other. The old lady’s motto must have been
Every open space to have its Albert, & if possible, two. She
pretty nearly succeeded in England too. The Albert Hall of
has one on each side. — The Sunday before that we went
down to the V. & A. again, but I forget what we looked at this
time — it wasn’t carpets, or furniture, or books — oh, I know
what it was — it was all of those in moderate quantities,
Morris’s stuff & some of his tapestries; but mainly watercolours,
of which they have some very good specimens. Also took Ern
to see Rima & Peter Pan & the orators in Hyde Park & so on &
brought him back in the Tube; so he saw a good deal in his
first two days — Thanks for sending over the books by him;
will you also thank kind donors of cake, shortbread, cocoa-
ice &c for same, pending individual treatment. As a matter
of fact I have not yet succeeded in disentangling who all these
people were, & whether the cake &c were Ern’s or mine. Except
for the cocoanut ice, which must infallibly have come from
Auntie Sis, & for which I render her all my gratitude. That
about finishes off this instalment.

Take care of both of yourselves, & be assured of my
continued very much love