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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 19 October 1928

page 1
2nd P.S. Ern seems to be getting on all right though he has not
fixed on a subject yet. He has got plenty of time yet.

My dear Mummy,

It was very cheering to see your fist again,
even though it took me ½ a day to decipher some of the more
esoteric words — but then that generally happens. It seems
to me that the only goodtwo coves with a really good hand-
in the family are me & Daddy, & even his script is
a bit too big for perfect beauty, let alone a large smudge this
letter in line 8. What with Ern not crossing his t’s or
dotting his i’s, & Keith not doing anything at all, & Geoffrey
doing something else, I forgot what, I think I may say
that I am the — oh well, I won’t say it again. But I repeat
that I was very glad to have a letter from you again. How-
don’t let this make you write some time when you shouldn’t,
owing to physical imperfections. I got a letter from Auntie
this mail too, in which she speaks highly of various nieces, &
tells the singularly unconvincing yarn that Keith has taken to
vegetable-gardening — now that calls for a Xian attitude of
willing belief if you like.

— The wealthy aunt in Paris belonged to Helen Allen;
she has been in London while H.A. is in the States, & I was
invited to trot along & see her sometime; but curiously enough
it has happened that I have been a bit too overburdened with work
lately to go & visit aunts, even though belonging to somebody else
page 2 & wealthy. Perhaps I should say though wealthy, because belonging
to somebody else. A pity we can’t muster a wealthy aunt some-
in our family; but our aunts seem to be so bad at accu-
that they can’t even muster a parrot among them, or
even a cat. No, you don’t catch me writing humorous sketches
for Punch; I may turn out a weekly article for the Evening
Post when I get back though, with the object of promoting in-
discord. Re-reading you lead letter this minute
I nearly following my apple-core [sic] on the bit about my
disappointment forming my character — give me the cash
& blow my character. Now if I only had a wealthy aunt
I could practice courtesy or politeness & kindness to the aged
& so form a very affecting & beautiful personality; but at
present I have nothing to gain from being polite to any
of my aunts. Nor can I say that it sent me back to
my thesis with renewed energy — but anyhow I have
just finished 23 pp of the West Indies, including one or
two goals, & in another couple of weeks that will be
off my hands & I can see about getting the typing started
while I do a finish to balance my introduction. At
least, I shall be able to say, I enjoyed writing my
first & last chapters; but I don’t think there will be
time enough to submit to Daddy’s valuable criticism.
I might try & get it published somewhere, though, like the
introduction, if it doesn’t seem too much bound up with the
other 300 or so pages. — As for bloody, I really believe
page 3 you quoted the Henley just for an excuse to write it; I
think you ought to say it out loud to yourself once a
week just to get over your instinctive distaste — why, you
might get quite fond of it in time, & rip out a good sound
oath at Auntie — Come on there, hurry up with my bloody
tea! To which Auntie would doubtless retaliate, To
hell with you! (Don’t read this letter aloud in the presence
of Betty, or I shall be getting told off again by Frannie. I
think I told you the translation of Voici l’anglais avec
son sangfroid habituel, didn’t I? — Don’t talk to me,
Daddy, about Schiedeman’s or [unclear: Vance] Vivian’s — why, these are
suits, not lengths of shoddy caught in at the waist. You never
saw such a flash cove as me gliding stately along the Lon-
streets in full shining panoply; & if I ever bust on
Lambton Quay is [sic: in] either of these suits you may expect every
tailor in town to shut up shop. Lovely material. Beautiful
cut. Well-styled & suitable for most fashionable style of gent. In
fact, they stimulated Duncan to go out & invest in a complete
new wardrobe. As for the shoes, of course I expect them to
last indefinitely — why else should I pay 32/6 for them, when
you can get a pair of shoes for a quid. Now that’s what I’ve
always said: If you’re going to get a thing, get it good &
no ½ measures. The Best is Cheapest. — Well, well, pretty
stiff their having no supper after Ngata’s lecture at the Hist. Soc.
I though that was just where old P.J. Smith scored over rival
secretaries, & if anything, if it would have brought me back to
page 4 V.U.C. — but of course if they are knocking off the suppers that
makes a lot of difference. Still as the lectures are free,
I suppose that’s always one recommendation in their
favour for Joe — He seems to be running the Varsity these
days. — It was a terrible cutting you sent me about the
Tongario National Park — I can see it won’t be worth my
going near the place again — have to go down & exploit the
West Coast I suppose. It seems a terrible fatality with
which N.Z. catches all the horrors of western civilization
& so very few of the comforts. — On looking at Auntie’s
letter again, I must say it makes me laugh to think of
Keith scratching up the back-yard; my word, he appears
to have taken marriage to heart with a vengeance. Well,
Joan seems to be on a good wicket all right, with car, town
house & all. I hear that Auntie Laura gives her young widower
a pretty rough time, though, pore devil. He’ll have a pretty
solid job, marrying Joan; but perhaps he doesn’t mind obstin-

Well, lets see what I have been doing lately. I got
wet in the rain lately, so you can see that the rainy
season has started again. And this evening went to hear
Sir Josiah Stamp lecture on the [unclear: Danes] plan, of which he, I
understand was the principal architect. He is a good lecturer,
though with a somewhat jerky lecturerspeaker, with the air of a
business man delivering the annual address to shareholders.
He had a couple of good yarns too. Did you ever hear of the
page 5 cove who in the pursuit of economy, bought a tombstone at a
bazaar because it was only 2/6? — I have had a great
tragedy lately too; I bought 6 bananas for 6d down on [unclear: Holborn]
yesterday after lunch, & took them up to the Institute with me to
read the Times; well, unfortunately I put them down on a chair
in the gents’ cloak-room & quite forgot to bring them home
with me, & looking round for a banana at breakfast this
morning I was grievously disappointed. Well, I enquired for
those bananas very anxiously this afternoon, but no trace
of them could I see or hear of. I shouldn’t be surprised
if old Sir Bernard Pares got down on them — he looks as if he
might pick up an unconsidered trifle like a banana some-
, not realising that other coves might consider bananas
very much. Well, it is a great blow the loss of those bananas;
not that I mind losing the 6d so much, though that is bad
enough Heaven only knows, but I always feel very strongly
about bananas I have taken under my wing, & this sort of thing
is a great blow to one’s affections. Now I come to think of it, it
may have been Prince [unclear: Mirski], who came into the Common
Room & pinched the Times from me while I was reading
the Literary Supplement; anyhow there seems to have been some
dirty work going on somewhere. You can’t trust these foreign-
ers, let along [sic: alone] native knights.

Last night I went with others to hear Bertrand Russell
in the first Fabian Lecture of the winter. I enclose the
list of lectures, in the hope that Mr Hooper has not already
page 6 handed it to you with a request to send it to me in case I haven’t
heard of them. B.R. is a good lecturer too — he speaks
very much as he writes, anyhow in his essays, somewhat
dryly (in sound) & drily (in humour) However I think I
described him once before; & no doubt Ern will give you a
fresh impression. I don’t know that I don’t envy Ern his
first year in London — I should like to keep on having first
years for about five years, discovering fresh things every time —
after awhile, though you keep on discovering fresh things, they
haven’t the same shock of familiar strangeness; you just take
them for granted, unless they bowl you over completely, like
the Turkish pottery in the B. & A. Let alone the Chinese.
If I come back next year I’m going to bring a crate
of glass & china, enough to crow over everybody else in N.Z.
for the next 50 years. By jingo, I can see myself going
on a great book buying campaign in my last month or two
too. I hear that Laski told Ern I only had to wait
long enough to get a job, & it was just a question of getting
the right job for me; but I think that if nothing turns up
in a reasonable time I shall have to come back to N.Z. &
try to prise F.P. out of his warm little possy. Must get
my book published first if possible though. I shall try
it on the O.U.P. as soon as I have got it typed, without
waiting for the exam, which may not be till the second
term next January. If they turn it down I think I’ll give
the Yale Univ Press a go — I think I told you about them? —
page 7 although it may be that there is some benevolent English publisher
with money to lose on the look out for ways in which to lose

Don’t seem to have been to any concerts or plays this
week; but had an unexpected pleasure on Tuesday when
Hemming tapped genteelly on the door & walked in, having come
across to Paris (as he said) to buy a hat for himself & a
tooth-brush for his cobber. I think however he is going back
tomorrow without either. He also told me that de K was
complaining that he had asked me to look through his
proof [gap — reason: unclear] & make a few suggestions, & that they had come back
riddled with corrections, which he couldn’t possibly make
because of the expense; so apparently it is no good advising
these authors — they always think they know a dashed sight
better than any editor. This reminds me of Daddy’s despair-
enquiry about Capt Hobson — however doubtless you
both know it off by heart now & can quote the purple
patches off to visitors ad infinitum. I hope Auntie
has spent many a happy hour with it after her Saturday
night bath before drifting into dreamland. Well, anyhow,
to come back to our beginning, it was very pleasant to
see Hemming again — in the meantime he (I mean
between Tuesday & today) he had gone up to Cambridge
& developed a new theory of consciousness, but I hope
he will catch his boat all right tomorrow morning.
He is going to one play tonight in London & another to-
page 8 morrow
night in Paris — that’s the life.

Last Saturday we said goodbye to Kathleen — a
sad loss to London, I must say, & soon to be a sad
loss to N.Z. You will be seeing her I suppose, within a
few days from getting this letter, & she will no doubt be
able to give you a full report of all my goings on, with
all those subtle nuances so easily lost in the written page.
She is the bearer of a small gift to each of you, which you
may regard as either a belated birthday present or an early
Xmas present, or a [sic: as] just a present, or as nothing at all,
except just a reminder of me. (1) For you a bag from
Liberty’s not of a very stylish shape, I understand from
expert opinion, but I thought it was rather flash & would
do for secreting your hanky in, or a ball of woll [sic: wool], or
your glasses, or anything else which you are determined
to lose, or even-your powder-puff & lipstick & any other
small fal-lal like that. I thought that though it was specific-
an evening bag (so I understood from the girl at Liberty’s,
but they are a brainless lot) it would do equally well for
walking round the garden with or placing under the pillow &
so on. (2) For Daddy a cast I had made of a medallion
of Erasmus in the B.M. — rather classy, I think, even in plaster,
though the original wasis a mixture of lead & something else.
It is by Quentin Metsys & according to the guide-book,
which I meant to copy out but forgot to, one of the finest &
most sensitive portraits that the Renaissance has handed on to
page 9 us. Iv never saw it before, & it is a very comforting
thing to have, I think, besides the ordinary portraits. I got
one for myself at the same time, just so as Daddy would
not be one up on me. Well, you ought both be able
to swank it a bit now over the lesser art-collectors of your
country. Both things go with my love. I hope you will
both be in to see Kathleen when she comes — she is a very nice
girl. She might like to have a squiz at the books some
time too, if Daddy could bear to escort her round the library
with or without a chaperone. She has written some good verse.
Elsie Holmes has decided to stay here a bit longer while her
money holds out, probably at least till Christmas, & pick
up whatever there is going in free lectures, as well as concerts
& plays as many as possible.

We all went to hear the B.B.C. Symphony Orchestra
last Friday night, Sir Tho.Beecham in command. He
& Sir Henry Wd are contrasts in style if you like. Sir Tho all
live wire & jumping about like a cat on hot bricks; Sir Henry
generally quite self-contained, but rising to magnificent
heights of self forgetfulness sometimes & drawing himself up to Sketch drawing of Sir Henry Wood conducting.
his full height flinging arms aloft like a semaphore for
a final crashing chord, brass fff. But Sir Tho crouches
like a panther & flicks his fingers like a conjuror. Handel,
Mozart, Delius, Lord Berners, Schumann, he gave us. It’s
a pilpity the W.E.A. birds can’t hear this after listening to old
Bobby Parker putting across the same old dope about Men-
page 10 delssohn
& co. This cove Handel did a lot of good stuff besides the
Messiah. — A couple of nights before we went to see Drinkwater’s
play, comedy, or cheerful farce, as you like, Bird in Hand, a
very bright thing on the whole, now up to its 200th performance.
No doubt you have read all about it in Punch, so I say no
more than that it was well done & vastly amusing, & I wore
one of my new suits, the dark one. But the play has rather
a mechanical deus ex machina in the last act, & owed a
good deal to the acting in my opinion; which really was superb Diagram explaining that the acting, not the opinion, was superb.

Went to Kew on Sunday to see the autumn leaves, &
hoping to see some squirrels, but never a squirrel did I see;
however the leaves & trees were all that could be desired. Kew
really leaves any of these foreign parks standing miles behind.
Saturday afternoon before to Hampstead, to see the Keats house,
a very interesting place with mulberry tree under which he wrote
the Nightingale, sitting room as shown in [unclear: Severis] picture &c &c —
& afterwards to the house at Ken Wood [sic: Kenwood], lately given to a
grateful nation (if mobs of visitors are any criterion) by the
late eminent brewer Lord Seagh. He had a good taste in
pictures, anyhow, & the house is superb — [unclear: Adorn.], brought
up to date with bathrooms & new oak flooring. You can’t
get away from it — civilised domestic architecture is a
supreme joy. Only the library there was spoilt by over-
— & these show libraries never seem to have enough
books in them. — Well, so long for another fortnight

with much love to both of you


P.S. I hope your eyes are absolutely fixed by now Mummy.
Morley & Rossetti cuttings enclosed. You did read Lolly Willowes, didn’t you? I just
just done so good.