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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 27 November 1928

page 1

My dear Mummy,

This news isn’t too good — you with
another chill; & rather an ironical comment on your
nursing homes that you have to come home to get cured
of a chill contracted there. Well, I can but trust
it wasn’t a severe chill & that you are now cheerful
as a lark again, & perhaps even, when you get this,
down the garden basking in the sun. There’s just a chance
you may be, if your weather moves inversely to us; because
ours has turned suddenly cold, & I got a head-ache today
& still have it though going out without a hat. So that’s the
sort of blooming country England is. Will [sic: Well] let’s hope the
movement of the universe will keep you jakealoo anyhow.
Daddy’s letter only arrived this morning, just in time to be
answered before the mail goes out tonight — it’s only been as
late as this once before — Atlantic gales & what-not which have
made a sad mess of the British coast, not to mention
historic trees falling all over the place like nine-pins, generally
on top of people, sandwichmen blown into lorries, plate-
windows busted &c &c &c. Crossing Russell Square has
been almost as bad as getting up to the Wireless on a windy
day. — Of all the blithering asinine stupid fools, the
page 2 N.Z. parliament take the bun. Or it may be this great
British t capacity for compromise which has built up the
empire & so many other I was going to say vicious circles
but perhaps I had better not or Daddy will want to know
why anyhow I am referring to daylight saving ½ hours!
I suppose if some stupid farmer goes crook this winter
it will be halved again to ¼. Fair dinkum! Either
do the thing or not, but don’t play around with it. — However
I see that none of the explanations of the fall of Coate’s govt
beings in the matter so I suppose N.Z. is satisfied with that
at any rate. Well, well, Gordon has certainly bit the dust
this time! And as for Joe Ward, he must be chuckling
fit to bust. The Liberals here must be taking considerable
comfort from the fact that in one section of the empire at
least rail-sitting has its reward. Of course Joe Ward
may be out of it again by the time you get this letter, so
it won’t do to make too many facetious comments about
anybody. I suppose Harry Holland will be a bit peeved at
getting pushed out of his job as leader of the Opposition, but
it won’t do the Labour birds much harm to climb up
slowly, as long as they’re not too slow about it. I should
like to see Peter Fraser as Minister of Education for a
bit — Thank God Wright’s out of it anyhow. That will make
it a little bit easier to come back to N.Z., if necessary.
I’m sorry Nash didn’t get in; surely to God the Hutt has
page 3 had enough of Wilford by now, if even if he did does have
the distinction of having gone to sh school with Daddy. Dunbar
Sloane is a pretty optimistic bloke if he thinks he can push Peter
Fraser out. — I can only say I’m surprised at Auntie
getting late to church, daylight saving or none; you can’t expect
God to consider little details like that. Especially on the
Sunday school anniversary day. As for that having any associa-
for me — & Daddy seems to think it hasn’t — what
about the parent Primitive Methodist mob, of which for so
many years I was a prominent member? Many a time I’ve
set up in the Town Hall in my best clothes of a Sunday
afternoon & evening & hymned the Almighty in dulcet child-
tones. Why, I even remember shocking Mummy
nearly to tears (anyhow so you told me) by getting bored
with the whole caboosh one night & playing with a paper
camera I made; of course you sat in a place where you
could see me & seemed very grieved about it all. And
whate about the recitations I used to give after the [gap — reason: unclear]
fights in the church or standing up all by myself from
among the serried ranks of children & saying my piece
all so nice & pretty? The trouble was you & Daddy never
seemed able to agree with the Sunday school teacher about
what I should say; the Beaglehole taste, I seem to
remember, was a bit more austere than the Primitive
Methodist young lady’s. I think it was something about
page 4 Caravans you wanted out of that red book of poetry for
children we had; but I’ve forgotten what Webb Street
favoured — it may have been dicky birds or something
piously facetious. Ah well if I ever have any kids
I’ll keep them out of the Sunday school anyhow. Look
at me now, 27 & I have to start & read the Bible all
over again to see what it’s all about, let alone my style.
— Well, well, well! — fancy Daddy sitting up into the night
when [sic: with] his ears glued to the wireless listening in to Sydney!
That does convince me that it’s a scientific age. I don’t
know what N.Z. won’t be doing now — picking itself up
on a suitably sized aeroplane & transporting itself into the
middle of the Atlantic perhaps. I wish it would.

Daddy’s birthday duly noted. I hope by this time
my tribute to the occasion has safely arrived. Kathleen
McKay was due in Wellington to-day, too, & we are all
wondering at the amount of chat that must be going on —
telephone break-downs, serial disturbances &c. What they
ought to do is, they ought to get her to give a wireless talk on
Familiar Strolls abroad with J.C. Beaglehole, or some such.
No doubt you will be seeing her to-morrow or the next
day, & collecting the things I sent out. By the way,
McG. says the Erasmus has not been finished quite properly,
the surface should have been waxed. Exactly what difference
it makes I don’t know — he says it will get dirtier as
page 5 it is; but anyhow I shouldn’t drop it into to [sic] water to clean
it as the plaster might melt away or something. Perhaps
some bloke at Shanland’s knows something about it. Mine seems
to be clean enough so far, anyhow. I was browsing round
the Wallace Collection a couple of Saturdays ago, & I see they
have a copy there, only in bronze — the B.M. one is in
a mixture of lead & something else, I forget which. — Yes,
we used to have pretty good birthday parties in the old
days; I hope that dammed balance sheet is out of the
way now & Daddy can get some reading done in the
evenings. It beats me that Shanland’s can’t organise itself
any better. Surely he ought to be a paid director by now, l
if Ern says they were willing to make him general
manager! They make me sick. Everything or at least
a good many things make me sick now — even the
Yanks, Daddy will no doubt be pleased to hear, what with
super-prosperity, Rockefeller decisions & so forth. I saw in
the New Republic tonight that they have now absolutely definite
proof that Vanzetti wasn’t in the business he was murdered
for. Gov Fuller said he wasn’t interested in the evidence.

I’m glad you got the postcards all right — Daddy
doesn’t say what he though of the Ste. Thérèse series; let’s
hope he was suitably improved by their perusal. It looks
as if they’ll be the last lot you will get from me
this trip, unless I can manage to dash down to Florence,
page 6 which I greatly doubt now. And here’s Daddy suggesting
that I might have a look in at Edinburgh & Dublin before
I shake my feet out of it. Lord knows what I shall have
time or money to see now. — As for the bishops &
the prayer book question which Daddy posed to me, no
doubt he is fully satisfied of an answer after the recent
proceedings oveover here in Synod. There may be more happening
when Lang gets well set in his archiepiscopal chair at
Canterbury. They say he’s pretty strong on the bishops’
taking a strong line. It would be rather choice if they
got disendowed now — shades of Edmund Burke!

What’s this about Murray & references of mine to
Savage Club & not being appropriate to my Father? Shocked
again, I suppose. I don’t remember ever saying anything
derogatory to my father — God forbid that I should ever do
such a thing. Must be a mistake somewhere. Henceforth
I say that nothing said in contempt, dispraise, or de-
criticism of any sort of the Savage Club shall
apply to my Father. I believe I said I was not greatly
impressed with the Savage Club. No more I am. Of
course I’m not a social bird like Tom Wilford &
Alan & all these prominent coves in Bohemian life.
If I can’t go to a concert or a play gimme the domestic
fireside, or even the fireside without the domestic, & a
Nice Exciting Book. After all, there’s nothing like
page 7 Reading. See Sesame & Lilies; though all I really remember
about that masterpiece is J.R.’s [gap — reason: unclear] the girls of England
to learn off the Greek alphabet & so get truly cultured —
but not quite so cultured as their husbands, because the
husband should always know a bit more than the wife.
Choice stuff. — I have taken my Songs of Childhood
down to Hodgson’s to be auctioned, but nothing has happened
in the matter. I am going to put a reserve of £36 or
so on it, so as to make sure of clearing at least Bumpus’
£31..10. Perhaps Sotheby’s would have been better. Still we’ll
see. Anyhow l as I have remarked before, there’s always
the comforting feeling that I can’t possibly lose on it. — Yes,
I believe Daddy has some good things among his books; & I
thought Mummy would be advising him to hunt them out &
rush down to Bethume’s with them. But it’s only little
books at a big price I’d be willing to sell — or big books at
a whacking big price. However it’s no use talking to women
about such matters. As for that friendly, settled-in kind of
feeling which books give you, & which Daddy refers to, it’s
a positive fact all right; now I would go clean off
my chump if I had to live in a room without any books —
besides I would feel so dashed cold. Now I’ll just tell
you — it beats me, these furniture designer’s libraries. I
went along to see an exhibition of modern French &
English furnishing at Waring & Gillow’s yesterday afternoon;
page 8 well, nothing could exceed the elegance of most of the
rooms they had on view — two or three extraordinarily
beautiful bathrooms, & a really 1st rate dining room in
walnut & green. Arm chairs £12..10; armless £7..10. Well, I
liked this room so much I wondered if I stood around
till the end of the exhibition would they say “Here, take
it & get out!” — really the most beautiful chairs; & charming
green glass-ware. Also bed-rooms very elegant; most
comfortable l entrance lounge — delightful young girl’s
boudoir; very good drawing-room, & a bed-room which
would suit you more ideally than anything I have seen
since I left home. I had a good mind to order it for
you so that you could come & stay with me in fitting
surroundings. A sort of silvery-grey & mauve was the general
scheme, so far as I recollect, with dressing-table, lighting,
chairs, & so forth all to match. Sleep! my word, you’d
never want to get up, there would be so much to look
at in the place. Very good bedroom for gent too, which
would suit Daddy or me down to the ground. All
right — that’s all right! — but when you come to the
libraries what do you see? Beautiful furniture —
wonderful writing desks, exquisitely wrought fine screens;
but where are the bookshelves? Most chastely arranged,
generally built into the wall, all very nice & patent
with holes for making the shelves adjustable — & all so
page 9 nicely & harmoniously arranged & spaced out that after
you’d carried a few arm-fulls upstairs & come home
once or twice on Saturdays you’d wonder where in
blazes you were going to put your books. There was a
beautiful study there too, which I would have been
quite glad to take in toto — but only on the understand-
that there was a large room on the other side of
the door with shelves all round the room. These
classy interior architects seem to regard a book as you
regard a piece of Chinese porcelain — you put a piece
here with delicate precise fingers, & you put a piece
there, & you stand back & put your head on one side
& admire the effect. It never seems to strike them that
a cove would be under the necessity either of adding on a
fresh library to his house every year, or of going down
to the Chinaman’s & getting a few old fruitcases & nailing
up some ordinary rough protrusive useful shelves of his
own to hold his books, against the panelled wall between
the built in beauties. They don’t seem to have any sense,
these blokes. Still, I have no doubt that McG. has de-
my library on the right lines, & so he ought too, as
it is a £3000 affair. Well, anyhow, apart from that,
it was a very good exhibition — it I’m sorry you don’t
get a chance to have a squiz at such things. I’m afraid
Williams Bros [unclear: rimu] & Scoullar period work will have a
page 10 rather depressing effect on me after French & English walnut &
amboyna mahogany; let alone some of the ways they have
of playing round with oak these days. Sycamore they
seem to be using a bit now too — there was a most charm-
girl’s bedroom suite of polished sycamore just relieved
with a few inlaid gree lines of some green wood. It’s a
very white pale yellow, rather wood & can almostalso be made astonishingly ugly.
It’s hard to beat a good plain unpolished oak in some ways,

I thought Miller’s review was pretty good, though
I larfed considerable at my sympathy with the mission-
. I never read this bird Saunders, either, but as
he appears to be the dinkum oil & everybody else
were such blooming scoundrels I suppose I should
lose no time in doing so. Thanks for the Worker;
I don’t subscribe, but Campbell had kindly torn the
review out & sent it along. I hope C.Q.P. does an
article; I would gladly scratch his back some day
in return. I hope the other Wellington papers have
a review too. Talking of all this reminds me I
also got by this mail a good long letter from P.J.S.
four fscap sheets, typed single space. He has some
choice yarns to retail — apparently the Hist Assn suffers
from its connections with V.U.C.; Scholefield wants to
have a subscription of a guinea so as to attract more
page 11 of the “right” kind of people — my God! — Johannes
Andersen is prepared to fight any proposal to erect a
memorial to E.G.W. tooth & nail because he wasn’t
honest or something. But here’s the choicest stuff, which
perhaps you already know all about — & may have joined? —
Miss England & Johannes are starting a New Zealand
Association for the Advancement of Literature & Art — to meet
at one another’s houses regularly to discuss literature,
art, sculpture, architecture, biology, anthropology, psychology
&c. &c. (He says the &c’s are actually in the notice) Holy
smoke! larf! I nearly swallowed my teeth, even
though they’re not false. P.J.S. thought it might be a
joke, but I have heard of things such-like in the past
in which Johannes Andersen has been implicated. My
word — wat a lark! And here I am unwilling to
come back just yet! — Everything else duly noted
in Daddy’s letter — good idea Keith’s installing deck
tennis if it’s quod-tennis — Labour Day week-end family
part, including Keith performing on the piano — Geoffrey’s
new car — Betty’s slumbers &c. I hope this Christopher
Dawson whom Daddy’s been reading is not a Yank,
like the rest of his anthropological teachers.

Here’s a blasted nuisance. At I have just about
finished revising my thesis — a cruel job — & am just
preparing to start my last chapter; this time last
page 12 week I got hold of a nice cheap typist — 1/- a 1000 words,
what more do you want? — & here I get a note from
her to-night to say that her new landlady objects to
her playing the type-writer at home & that she can’t do
it for me. I call it pretty cruel — she’s only done one
chapter; & here’s Helen Allen who was going to do my
index for me going away in three weeks (with her
exceedingly wealthy aunt, to Italy, till the end of
January) Now I’ve got to get another typist — probably
more expensive — typing’s going to cost me about £18,
as far as I can see. I could buy a l typewriter for
£13..13, but the job’s too big for me to do in the time or
with the requisite neatness, out of practice as I am.
Anyhow it would drive me barmy to type 6 or 700
pages of my own stuff straight out — bad enough reading
it.; Theses are horrible things. I shall be putting it
in at the beginning of J the second term, about the
middle of January. I’ll have it off my hands, lock
stock & barrel by Xmas anyhow, unless I now go &
trip over the mat & concuss my brain or something.

Well, Daddy’s cable came & after a week’s
anxious thought I replied in the terms known to you.
Nothing else seems to be turning up, & unless I go to
the States I don’t know what to do. But I don’t want
to go to the States for more than about five years.
page 13 What I really want, is & would have had but for those
cursed Rockefeller people, is two more years over
here, to do Stephen & look round me properly. Of
course Auckland probably has somebody to give the job
to & will turn me down. If they give it to me I’ll
have to start start thinking whether I’ll take it, as it
means a serious & I suppose final plunge. The only con-
would be that at least it’s Auckland & not Otago.
If I come back I should like to come back to Wellington;
at least it has some hills. What Grossman is like I
haven’t the faintest idea — I hope not a complete dud.
I had a letter from Tommy Hunter this mail in which he
says some of the profs at V.U.C. have got their assistants up
to £500 & if theythey all had guts it would be £500 all round.
But he doesn’t know what F.P. thinks about anything, or any-
about his Miss Marwick. I must have a scout
around there I if I do come back — at least I could have
a go at improving things a bit where I know they are all
wrong & what needs to be done. I’d have to work fairly
hard to forget about old Sir Jac Stephen, [gap — reason: unclear] anyhow.
Of course if I come out to Auckland I suppose I shall
have to leave not later than the middle of February —
that means I shall have to pay my own fare, as the
free passage is only good between April & July. Well,
anyhow, with that possibly in prospect, or perhaps
page 14 hanging on here for a month or so longer, or going to Florence
if there’s time — or Oxford — or Edinburgh — or Dublin —
or the devil — could you, Daddy, advance me about
£30 or £40 on my National Provident Fund cash.
It must stand at about £40 or more now. What
to do about that I don’t quite know: if I come back
perhaps I’d better keep it going, though from all I can
hear, it seems about the poorest insurance scheme in N.Z.,
& I suppose I would be in the Superan scheme. I think
I [gap — reason: unclear] asked you to give notice of withdrawal — perhaps if
you will be so good & it’s convenient you will keep it paid
up till I definitely decide. And look here; if the
Dr’s bills have been pretty big, as I don’t see they can
fail to have been, or if it’s in the slightest way incon-
, don’t you go sending over any cash. I don’t
want you to go selling out any shares or anything. You’ve
done enough for me already. I said I would
apply to you if in need — I’m not in need; but it’s
just possible I may be in 3 months if I am still here.
Remember I can raise the cash here in ½ a wink
from people who would be delighted to let me have
a loan for a few months or longer, & who can quite
well afford to do it. So just remember; & no funny
business, even if you are my Father. I hope Mummy
will bear me out in this. I have still got £50 on
page 15 fixed deposit; £25 to come from Joynt, final scholar-
payment; & £30 (we’ll say on a conservative estimate)
from Songs of Childhood. Enough to keep me here
6 months in moderate comfort — in Paris a year in luxury.

Here’s a thing I have forgotten about regularly ever
since Ern came over — that’s to thank you Mummy
for the socks you sent by him. I am wearing them
now; they are as comfortable as any you have made.
I like the colour, & very much cheered to be wearing
socks made by you. On another chair a yard away are
those blue & white capacious bed-socks you gave me which
I used to take out tramping for the chilly nights — still
as good as new. I am at this moment wearing also
that brown cardigan you pinched from Ern to give
me as I came away — no shop-products for you — &
when I wear my Barker’s suit I put on that old
woollen waistcoat of Daddy’s. I don’t wear Barker’s in
this weather. So you see in Bollmsbury or Hammersmith
where’er I may roam I wear all the woollen garments
which remind me of home. — That reminds me I
went to Hammersmith a week or so ago to see the Critic &
a short thing by A.P. Herbert — very good roaring farce
the former, the latter in the best Punch manner, that
is, funny enough — quite funny — even very funny in
places. I didn’t go out at all last week as I was econom-
page 16 mising
, except on Saturday, when I heard Ethel Smyth’s
Mass in D at the Albert Hall — me & the Queen, we were both
there. The Mass is 1st rate; after reading what the times,
or was it the Observer? said, I believe her tales of cold-should-
from male [gap — reason: unclear], conductors &c. “The Mass has a
certain nobility, & moments of beauty” — smug, patronising

Lord, here it is. ¼ to 12 & page 16! I have
finished Boswell vol I. ½ way through Sidney,
Defence of Poesie; but have read nothing else.
Testimonials enclosed. Posted 1 copy of The Venture
today, with poem by me. Posted also today this
year’s Xmas card, reprinted from same. I
don’t suppose you will like the “John C. Beaglehole”
So I apologise for it; but the thing was done in a
hurry, so that I couldn’t see a proof; Mac had it
fixed in Cambridge for me; both the woodcuts are
by him. Couldn’t get such good paper as last year
either. I send a few extra in the Venture. I hope
you will like it on the whole. Expensive things, though’
postage on them to N.Z. cost me 6/-. Too many

Well, so long! Did I say testimonials
enclosed. They may require to be edited a bit — eg.
Butler’s hardly fits for a job in N.Z.! — but it might
show them what a great man I am.

With much love