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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 2 November, 1928

page 1

My dear Mummy,

I take up the pen with considerable pleasure,
having to report that as the result of this day’s labours, I have finished
my chapter all except revision & sticking on a summary at the end.
But perhaps it would be more polite to attend to your communica-
first. It is jolly good news to hear that your eyes are so much
better; where you are now, at Seatoun or Karaka Bay, I know
not, but I hope you are picking up enormously. After all, you
haven’t had quite such a bad winter, have you? & now here is your
summer coming along, or due to come along any week now.
You be a good mother & look after yourself properly & nothing
will be so conducive to the happiness of your affectionate son. Anyhow,
the more you get away from the trains & thundering lorries of
Hopper Street the better I think it will be for you. What you &
Daddy really need now is a hut in the bush somewhere, where
Daddy could get exercise picking up wood for the fire, & you could
get right up close to the great beating heart of Nacher, as described by
Jimmie Shaw-Brown & his old cobber [unclear: Geo.] Meredith. You could
take out the one–volume edition of Jane Austen which I see is about
to be published by Messrs Heinemann for yourself, & the ten volume
edition of my thesis for Daddy, & there you would be set for at
least a fortnight. Cripes! you do seem to be a hard do-er though —
to read 1 book in 2 days with ½ an eye. — I am more than pleased
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to hear that Auntie Win is taking up literature — now I shall be able
to send her a book for a Xmas present, & that will be a load off my
mind. Of course my pleasure is mixed with horror that she
did not know Jane Austen off by heart already. I can only suppose
that as a sister you fell for a love while considerably below the
standard you set yourself as a Mother — else how after all these
years did A.W. still pursue her course in such abysmal ignorance?
What about trying them on Auntie next? She generally likes to
have a book in hand, I know. Did I not once borrow the Girl of
the Limberlost from her? Or was it Freckles? One of those anyhow,
& a very heartfelt, beating, passionate romance it was. Now there’s
were [sic: where] J.A. crashed — she never got outside the narrow circle of village
& parsonage for her yarns; what she ought to have done was to take a
leap right into the heart of the Rockies & the grizzly bears, then we
might have had something really worth reading from her pen. Well,
that seems to about finish necessary comment on your bit of the letter;
except to say that your Miss H. is duly & continually gratified to
receive the expression of your esteem. I gather that she is thinking
of writing to you some day, but does not quite know how to set about

To Daddy I express my profound regrets that he had to
pay 1d for my Paris letter; but I believe I asked M. Hemming’s ad-
about the weight once or twice; & anyhow you can’t trust these
foreigners. Unless the N.Z. govt has a special tax on letters from
France. I don’t know how they run the postage between N.Z.
& the lesser parts of the world. Just let Daddy make a note of the
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stamps I owe him & I will re-imburse him next time I arrive
in N.Z. I still think that generally speaking he overstamps his
letters to me. 2d was surely excessive on the last one to arrive.;
But still perhaps he has a special kindness for his cobber Coates,
or it may be he gets them cheap off a cove he knows in the P.O. &
can therefore afford to be a bit lavish. My holiday letters seem to have
turned up all right without any undue gaps, anyhow, which is
gratifying enough. As for Ste Thérèse, you will have the post
cards by now & no doubt Daddy has had a merry time with P.J.
Smith & his other cobbers in the faith. — I am rather shocked that
Mummy took in all the Kingsford Smith business on the wireless &
then turned the parson done down; this doesn’t say much for the way
she was brought up, of the hard work we have all put in on her —
very disappointing, I must say. A sad trafficking with Behàl.
What does it matter how many times the Tasman sea is crossed, by
air, by boat, or by swimming, if you go & lose your immortal
soul over it. Now what she wants, I can see, is a good stiff course
of Hyde Park orations on Christian evidence. I can’t say that I am
much worried about mental deficiency at present, though Ern
seems to have all the protagonists ticked off for their various degrees
of imbecility; but when I have got my thesis in I may be able
to attend to the subject. — A pleasant in-bed pastime for Mummy,
listening to the Present Status of Ethics! Well, if she gets laid out
again I dare say you may have a chance to lull her into slum-
pr with philosophical reflections on the fall of the British
Empire. (I seem to have got the pronouns a bit mixed up on
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this page — I started off with the intention of writing to you, Mummy,
not to somebody else about you) Duncan read Ern’s propaganda
thesis for him & gave him a candid criticism; & I gather that
Ern trotted round to his place after the Fabian lecture last
night till & didn’t move off till about 2.30, so they seem to be
getting on all right. As Daddy is taking on the Observer I
shall not trouble to send out any more cuttings from it. It is
streets ahead of the other Sunday papers — well, of course there
is only one other worth calling a paper, the Sunday Times, &
that’s only worth getting for the musical & dramatic criticism
& the chief book page. I see Desmond MacCarthy has taken
it over since Sir Edmund Gosse hopped this life. — I laughed
considerable over Daddy’s description of Fortune ex cathedra —
it seems a pity he can’t descend a bit more to the level of
humbler humanity. It seems a pity that he won’t take more trouble
to let out the good stuff there is in him. — Thanks for cuttings
& cartoons. I hope Lady Alice Fergusson had a good trip in
the Urewera. She seemed to have taken plenty of precautions
against getting tired; but I suppose it is a step of considerable
emancipation & adventure for a gov’s lady to do it at all — she
can’t be too young for the trip. I don’t remember Ladies
Jellicoe or Liverpool getting off the beaten track so much as to
ride to [unclear: Follaw’s] Valley anyhow.

I now return to myself. By dint of cutting out [unclear: con-]
[unclear: certs]
I have as you have already learnt, at last swiped off
Jamaica & the rest of the island creation, bar the final touches.
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I’ve only got to revise the whole thing now, write my
final chapter, bibliography & other such details, to get it fin-
. I am dallying with idea of taking it to about four
typists at once next week & rushing it in so as to get exam-
before Xmas, but I don’t know whether I will. It
would be pleasant enough to get the whole thing off my
chest & acquire the magic letters, but the end of this term or
the beginning of next doesn’t make much difference as far
as that goes, & the thing might be all the better for a proper
looking over. However I’ll be able to see when I look
through the earlier chapters I did. As for my cobbers help-
me, I have got one promise to do the index & lots of others
to do anything I like, but there isn’t really anything anybody
else can do except proof-read for typist’s mistakes & so forth.
Meanwhile I have to do a paper for the seminar on Tuesday;
I think shall do a Defence of Red Tape. It looks as if we’re
going to have some fun while Newton’s away. At any rate, I
think I shall keep up my attendance until he comes back, as
long as I am in London. The bloke who runs it now
is Williamson, the author of a book on British Expansion
which Daddy once gave me. He is a nice cove & liked Capt.
Hobson. He asked me if I dared to be frivolous in my London
thesis — I said You bet your life! W Or did I tell you this
before? He is about the best lo bloke in England at the col-
history game in my opinion. Bar me, you will
doubtless think? When I’m not writing history, I am
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reading de Kievriel’s for him, though he hasn’t got muck much
out of me for the last fortnight, I must say.

Short of my thesis, I have been doing precious little
for the since I wrote last. You will be delighted to hear, Mummy,
that I have started Boswell’s life of Johnson, O rare Ben
Johnson! & that I generally get in a few pages before going to
bed. A mighty & noble book, I must say. I am sure you
must be feeling proud of the way I am taking to the classics
these days. I read Lolly Willowes a couple of Saturday
nights ago, too; though I’m not sure whether that wasn’t
before my last letter. — Last night we went to the Fabian
lecture; [unclear: Delisle Broens] this time. The first time I have
heard him lecture, & I wasn’t much impressed. He ought
to have been born a parson; a terrible sentimentalist. Too
many stage tricks. I believe he is a star at some Ethical
Church or other. Give me B. Russell every day time as compared
to this. Last week it was J.B.S. Haldane, who makes your
throat ache listening to him, he produces his voice so badly —
a high tenor that gets quite breathless every now & again.
But he delivers the goods all right. Too much froth with
the bird Burns. I am beginning to think that the best
thing about him is his wife. [unclear: Bunker] next week, with his
little pupil Laski in the chair. — Last Sunday Elsie
Holmes & Ern & I went out to Welwyn Garden City to call on
Louie & for a tramp with him, which we accordingly
did. Charming country England in its autumn dress, copper
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& red & gold; especially in the private park & woods of some
titled nob whose only distinction so I heard is that his
mother runs the village sewing-guild. Anyhow his park
is a bit of all right, with ornamental lake & bridge & ducks &
so forth. After we had been on the bridge a bit, we got
shoo’ed off by a benevolent old retainer who said “Now
you’ve had a nice look now!” & explained the boss would
be down in a bit, so we’d better hook it. So we did. And
had an excellent tea, & afterwards paid a visit to the village
art show. It will look all right in 20 years, will Welwyn
Garden City. But I believe I have described it to you before.
It was a pleasant sensation to be tramping again, even in
England, with the old sheath-knife digging into a loaf of
bread at half-time & a good stretch of country spread
out in front. Chop the population of England down by
about half, & it would be a pretty good country. That re-
me that I heard Mrs Russell talk to the boys &
girls at the School on birth-control. I couldn’t help wishing
she could pay a visit to the Free Discussions Club at V.U.C.
It would be a case of Parent & Guardian Redivivus, I expect.
Do them good, though. She spoke to the Labour Club here. A
very attractive woman.

There seem to be dozens of 1st rate books coming out these
days. — Cobin’s life, Doughty’s life, Katherine Mansfield’s
letters & Lord knows what. Generally a nice [gap — reason: unclear] price, of
course. I must get K.M.’s letters though, especially as I haven’t
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bought a book, not what you’d call a book, for at least a
fortnight. I shall be doubtful what to send you for Xmas,
with all this wealth of possibilities. I came a sad crash
myself the other day; which only shows you the moral of the
advice when you see a book you want, get it. I saw in a 2nd
hand catalogue an old history of the West Indies, a standard
thing, very good, 3 vols 4[gap — reason: unclear], 1794-1801, 25/- & dirt cheap.
So I said to myself, Now my boy, clench your teeth & keep
off the booze; you can’t afford that. Well, I stuck it out
for a fortnight & then seeing Helen Allen back from the States
& knowing she wanted a copy of the same book, I said
There’s a copy of Bryan Edwards going cheap at McLeish’s,
never thinking she’d go & buy it. And two days afterwards
I decided I was a mug to let it go & tore down last Satur-
to get it. Jove. Well, I said to H.A. at lunch at
Bertorelli’s, your B. Edwards is gone, I went down for it
today, & some damn Yank has got in first. Yes, she said,
I went down & got it the day morning after you told me about it, &
it was ridiculously cheap & in 1st rate order. Well! well,
I said, pass the salt please! — So that just shows that
when you see a book for sale that you want hop in & grab
it & no funny business about the expense, because the
Lord will provide.

Well, you can see by the writing that my hand is
nearly paralysed after 72 pages foolscap, & so is my brain;
so with apologies for a short letter, I will knock off at the ridicu-
early hour of 10.45p.m. With much love to you both
Latest dictum J.B. Russell: “There is, at any rate, this consolation, that persecution of
opinion has an admirable effect upon literary style”