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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 11 December, 1928

page 1

My Dear Mummy,

Well, this has indeed been an eventful
week (1) a letter from you again, not quite in your ordinary
writing, but still readable (2) I have finished my thesis
(3) I have sold Songs of Childhood (4) Lord Birkenhead’s
Son has arrived at the age of 21 (5) it looks as if H.M. is on
his last legs (6) new Piccadilly tube station has been opened (7) &c &c.
Taking these things in order (1) I hope when your next
letter turns up your writing will be back to normal again.
One or two words looked as if they had been done by Auntie,
& one or two by Auntie Win, but none of it was worse
than Ern’s & it is definitely better than Keith’s. The only thing
I couldn’t make out was this word “[unclear: uuuuuuuut]” &
something about yours & December 27th. So I walked
round & round the Square & then had a cold bath &
tried old Dr Claude Jenkins the palaeographer from Lambeth
library & he said he reckoned after consulting a very
learned German dictionary of mediaeval abbreviations
it was the Latin miniscule for Pax vobiscum, so I pushed
him into the river & came home. Then I tried to think
of all the birthdays that might happen on Dec 27th, or
if any of my nephews or nieces were born then or if I
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was supposed to say masses for anybody’s soul, but still
no illumination came, so I gave it up, & said to myself
Well anyhow Dec 27th. However while I was in
Hodgson’s just after my book was sold in comes Ern
a bit too late to send up the bidding in his generous way,
& he took up the letter in his masterful way & said
Joe’s weadi weeding on Dec 27th. So we all said, well
that’s very nice & good exercise for the kidneys. And
then he had another look, & said Joan’s weeding Dec
27th. Which seemed absurd — So he had another look &
said “I hope you will remember Joan’s wedding in some
little way Dec 27” & I said My oath! Now how I
can remember it I don’t know, because I shall probably
be very busy just about Dec 27th running round
trying to keep warm; anyhow how can I send her
anything in time & how am I to know what she would
like & what’s her address & what sort of a cove is her
cobber & what sort of thing would he like & if he has
a car what about a new sparking plug & if so what
size. And cables are too darned expensive & anyhow
where to send one to? So the best thing I can think
of for Joan is for me to buy her a nice Japanese
print next time I’m in Paris if I am ever there
again, cost 20 francs, worth £20 in N.Z. & bring it
out with me when I come, if I come. Otherwise I
might see if Ern is doing anything & if so offer to pay ?
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cost of it. It’s a puly pity you couldn’t put down all
you wanted to say, because one of the things might have
been a Solemn Warning, & here I am without it, liable
to go to the devil at any minute, altogether a very melan-
affair. So I hope the next letter will bring full
information, & all will be well. No, I never thought of going
to one of the schools of journalism, as you urge: if you saw
the average writing in the journals over here you would
think twice before advising any of your sons to go & do like-
. [It looks to me as if my writing has gone wonky
likewise; I don’t like the pad I am using (Daddy’s
disease) & I am not writing on my usual table &
it makes my arm ache from fingers to elbow, so
altogether you may only be getting as good as you give.]
I conclude this section by thanking you very much for
your letter written under difficulties & hoping some will
might speedily be surmounted.

(2) Thesis: I finished this on Saturday last at 12
midnight — at least, I finished it all except a quotation
I wanted from Burke as whipped cream to top off
the fruit salad with, which I couldn’t find & haven’t
been able to find till I started the process of reading
all Burke through systematically. Whereon I found it
this afternoon after furbishing up some of my culture
accordingly. And of course I still have to revise it
page 4
(the last chapter) thoroughly & tinker round with it here &
there & change the ending, which does please me, &
add a few bits & cut out a few more & so on. Then
Laski promised to read it through for me, so I don’t
suppose it will really be done till Xmas. However to
all intents & purposes the thing is finished, bar the
bibliography, & most of it is either typed or being typed.
I have a hoardhorde of secretaries busy at it also — 6
typists altogether & Elsie Holmes is proof-reading it, &
Helen Allen doing all the indexing she can before she
sets off to Florence for a month with her rich & luxurious
aunt. De Kievriel is typing a chapter — at least I
sent him over a chapter to type, & I haven’t heard of
him since, so I can only suppose he is dead or
hard at work. I am going to send a copy to the O.U.P.
as soon as I can get it together, in case I have to
leave the country at an early date, because it
will be hopeless conducting negotiations over the business
from N.Z. The blooming thing isn’t up to much, now
that I have finished it, but still it is better than
most PhD theses I have read. Meanwhile out
comes a volume of selections from the O.U.P. of
papers & dispatches over part of my period with
some good stuff of Stephen’s in it — just too late
for me to use it. The editors give Stephen a boost too,
so I greatly fear that somebody else with a cushy job
page 5
at Oxford will be writing his life. I would like to
see a lot of these coves going on digging out stuff about
him though & then come over & use it all up. But
I’m afraid the blokes here, or perhaps someone in
the States being on the spot, will get all the juicy stuff
& do the business while I am securely wedged down
in Auckland. However I suppose a man can
always concentrate on writing poetry & leave history
to the pedants & the Ph D students, with whom the
country is lousy. Little Harold Laski said he would
be sorry to see me go. I am to be introduced on
Thursday to the cove who got the Rhodes House job, in
case there is any underling’s job going under him —
he is about to set forth on a [unclear: term] over the States &
Canada picking up dope about libraries &c. He has got
a good job if anyone has. — Oxford is all right if
you’re an Oxford man. Ah well we shall see what
we shall see. I suppose by the time you get this
I shall be within a fortnight or so of being examined —
I am going to stick my thesis in as soon as the
2nd term opens Jan 10th & ask them to examine me
as soon as they can, in case I have to leave
for Auckland. It will be a ghastly rush if I do;
& I shall probably arrive late anyhow. Won’t
be able to use my free passage either. Still
I suppose it would be better than sneaking back
somewhere about next July or August & sponging on
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my family till I can get a relieving job at W’gton
College or the Presbyterian joint out at Miramar!
Anyhow, if I do leave here, I hope to get all my
swearing done before I leave or on the brig out —
& then content myself with writing letters to the
paper, as I hear that Harold Miller does, now become
a Man with a Mission. Tommy Hunter sent me
a cutting from the Worker with his review of
Capt Hobson in — that’s 4 copies I’ve had of the
Worker on the subject — but what about the Evg Post
& the Dominion, the swine? Let alone the rest of the
papers in N.Z. that [unclear: got buckshee] copies. I sup-
the wrapper which Daddy sent from the
Chch Star was to signify that they had sent me
a copy of their leading article. Which if so is very
comforting to my vanity. I know one thing, that
if any of these birds get hold of [unclear: Gov’s Trust] they
will be pretty gravelled for something suitable to
say. I see that Harrop is running an argument
with Miller in the Worker about the character of
E.P.W. is he Worthy of a Memorial. H. seems to
have adopted him as his special property. But some
goats will argue about anything. He seems to be
be a pretty pious bird, this Miller; or perhaps he can’t
find enough to do in Horace Ward’s job.

(3) Songs of Childhood went at Hodgson’s on
Thursday last for £40.10 — of which I get
page 7
about £35, the rest going to Hodgson’s for the minutes’s
work of selling it, & overhead costs as no doubt Daddy
will point out to you when you say What a Scandal
they should do your Son out of all that Money! Still
I think it’s pretty stiff after I go to all that labour
in buying the book & bringing it over here & taking
in down to Chancery Cove for sale. I’ll be more
careful how I spend my ninepences in future. I
celebrated the ca occasion by buying 11 books in
2 days after that, but I may say for your comfort
that several of them were remainders from [unclear: Glasher’s] &
only 1/3 & 2/- each. Well, I was down at Laski’s
on Sunday & we shook hands over it & he said he
bought a lot of pamphlets at Blackwell’s when he was
at Oxford at a bob apiece & now that they are all
up to about £5..5. So you see that buying
books is really a very profitable trade, as I have
pointed out to you before. I duly note what Daddy
says about a good many books of his being worth
a lot more than he paid for them — in fact in a
catalogue I got this afternoon that 1st ed of Rogan
Papers he picked up at a street sale during the war
is priced at £1..5 — not a huge amount, but still
not bad. What did he pay for it? Pretty clever
pair of blokes, we are. If he was over here with
me we could have a good bit of fun knocking
round together. However I suppose we would
page 8
be rowing all the while over who saw the books
first that we both wanted. In fact I think we
might found a big library between us & present to
the l nation or the university some day, with a
special bookplate not designed by Sammy Palmer’s
father. I might get McGrath on the job right
away. I might say what I almost forgot to mention,
that I was not unmindful of other people in my
hour of triumph — I took Elsie & Ern to a [unclear: Lyon’s]
as soon as I had sold my book & shouted them
a 2d cup of coffee each — no, Ern got a 3d cup,
but Elsie’s capacity was less. So you see what a
nice thoughtful generous son you have. If you
had been here I would have done the same by you.
Or Auntie Win — Or anybody up to a total cost
of 2/6.

(4) If you are still getting the Observer you will
see a great blurb in the notes of the week about the
Birkenhead affair. Tripe. The truth of the matter
is that B. went to the Grey’s Inn & said look
here, I want the hall for my nipper’s 21st birthday.
And they said, go to blazes, what do you take
yourself for? And he told them that they were
a down & out mob of wasters, with not a good
man among them till he came along & joined
their blooming inn & now look at them — he
had got all the good men to come there & they
page 9
were about the best inn in the place all owing
to them & if they didn’t let him have the hall he
would make it nasty for them. So at last they
let him have the place. The speech he made
was about the last thing on earth too — I’m a
great man — look at what I’ve done! — all off
my own bat — & now my son can go & do
likewise if he can same as his father did — but
of course he will be pretty clever if he does. I don’t
think there can be another man in England with
the nasty reputation he has made for himself. However
let’s get on to a pleasant subject.

(5) not very pleasant after all. It looks as if old
[unclear: Geo] is shuffling off this mortal cont coil, & if he
can stand 5 doctors he ought to be able to stand any-
. However as you will know all about that
long ere you read this I need enlarge on the
subject no more further

(6) No doubt all the papers are full of the
Piccadilly Tube also, so I ignore that

(7) &c &c.

(8) This I add, & cannot understand how I left
it ought out before. I have bought
though God knows how little I could afford them. 4/11
each they cost me — 9/10 in all, & a n most
page 10
serious hole in my bank balance to boot. This makes
£13 odd I have now spent on new clothes for
summer & winter & £7 more would pay for a PhD.
£8 to be pedantically exact. Thank heaven I have
plenty of good stout winter socks, or perhaps I should
say Thank You. These clothes are a curse. However
I hope to buy no more for at least 5 years.

I now embark on answering Daddy’s letter.
I note you are reading Gertrude Bell’s letters — one
thing you do even though so far from Piccadilly Cir-
is to read most of the important new books, of
which I read exactly none. However now I have
finished the thesis I hope to borrow Lytton Strachey’s
new book. I am very busy reading the 2nd vol.
of Johnson now. Like [unclear: Haylit] (or so he said,
but it was probably a lie) whenever a new book
comes out I read an old one. It’s a good thing
there are plenty of 3/6 libraries these days.
Terrible thing the cost of books. I advise all
the young men I meet never to buy any. So I
hope to save plenty of Ern’s money for him to buy
clothes with. — W. Nash’s opinion of Laski
duly noted, ditto of me. What does he mean by
having the fight to see things through? You might
ask him. A bit stiff his getting beaten again by
page 11
that rough Wilford, who I see is tonight is Minister of
Justice & Defence in Joe Ward’s cabinet. I wonder how
long it will last. A happy time Harry Holland
& Peter F. will have making their presence felt. Well,
I don’t know — I might come back & run the Labour
Party & the country for a bit. Campbell & I could
do a lot between us. — As to Sharland’s I agree —
I hope to God it is Daddy’s last balance. They want
too blooming much for their money they do. — As for
J.M. Robertson I haven’t called on him yet, & I
don’t know whether I shall. I thought Bobby Stout
would have forgotten all about it by this. When we
got here we all tried our letters of introduction
out. Duncan & McG & I; it just meant some cove
asked you to come & have tea once, asked you
how many Maoris there were in N.Z. or people in
Sydney, shook hands kindly & said Well I hope
you get on all right in London Goodbye. So
we thought why waste the time that could be
spent so much better elsewhere. However if old
Bobby is going to inquire about it I may see what
I can do. Everybody says the same thing about
letters of introduction though. They’re a nuisance
to everybody concerned (You’d better no let
this get to Father Hooper’s ears, he gave me one
to Pease, ex sec of the Fabian Society who I found
page 12
now lives down in the country. Perhaps I had
better look him up too if I come back home)

Well, well, fancy Frannie & the Beebe’s getting so
stuck on each other. Reminds me I owe Beebe
4/-. Pity Keith couldn’t get away even for a fot fort-
— must be terrible for a young feller to have a
wife. — Many thanks for cuttings re Mrs Young
Peter F’s opponent &c.

Went to a L.S. Orchestra concert last night —
Casals conducting Brahms, Beethoven, Schubert.
Good stuff. And a few nights ago with Elsie & Ern
to Hammersmith to see “A Hundred Years Old” by
the bros. Quinters, a very sticky Spanish thing.
Otherwise I haven’t been out a great deal; now I
have finished the thesis I hope to see life a bit

But the Sunday before last I went with Camp-
to see John Burns. Now this was a really
important occasion & I could not do justice to it
now after the spiritual exhaustion of writing 12
pages on this paper. So I will keep it for my
next & with regrets that I cannot tell you
about it now, with the hope that you will have
the joys of anticipation. Went down to Laski’s
this last Sunday; think I may go to Uncle George’s
next week end. With further apologies for
writing, & much love to you both
On Thursday Kipling’s Schoolboy Lyrics went for £655. Stevenson’s
Father Damien started at £10 & went up to £50. A miserable
price I got for my book really.