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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 23 December 1928

page 1

My dear Mummy,

Your Christmas letter received & with en-
literary & monetary with gratit gratitude. It was a bit
of a shock to hear about Auntie Ada — it is hard to realise that
I shan’t see her any more with her jolly smile or eat her Xmas
cake. It must have been brutal for both you & Daddy as well
as her own family. Well, there’s nothing anybody can say I
suppose but Vale! It does make me wish I could be with you
for a bit sometimes. I suppose the Getrude Bell passage was
the one quoted in the Post notice; I’ll look it up as soon as I
get a chance; but the Xmas rush in the bookshops is such that
it’s darn hard to get a look at anything. The Post bit is very
good & apposite anyhow; & there is something a bit trium-
in such an end too. It will have made a rather sad
Christmas for you all, I’m afraid. I wish I could trot along
to see you on Tuesday, but even the railways’ new five-day
week-end won’t do much to much to make that possible. I can only
echo Daddy’s words on Auntie Ada. It will be very hard
to forget her.

As for your Armistice Day, or rather night adventures,
you seem to have heard a great deal more of the Cenotaph
services than I did. I got as far as Trafalgar Square, or rather
page 2 St Martin in the Fields’ on the Sunday morning — Trafalgar
Square was pretty densely packed, but Whitehall from the Square to
Westminster Bridge & Lord knows how much farther was black
& solid. I’ve never seen such a crowd. There were no hymns
up our way, just dead silence, so you didn’t join with me in
singing. I take comfort that the bloke you heard conducting
the service was only the Bishop of London, [unclear: then] whom there is
no bigger fool in the Empire. However, while Daddy was making
the tea to warm you up I was leaning against Nelson’s monu-
reading the Observer & waiting for the traffic to thin out
enough for me to go back to lunch; & while you were sinking
back again to sweet sleep I was bogging into a hearty 1/6d worth of
Chinese food at the Nanking Restaurant. What I did after that
I forget, so there is no further means of synchronising our
movements. — I am glad the fine weather is browning you
up again, even if it results in Daddy’s having to do the
gardening under your eagle eye, an affecting description of
which process he gives. I gather from the last cable that
the mend in health keeps on satisfactorily, so I can only
hope there is some garden left. Thanks for that cable
Daddy; I received it with about as mixed feelings as
I did the one before. They didn’t lose much time in
deciding; but I suppose they had the thing sewed up
pretty well the whole time. It is a bit degrading to
be wiped out by an ex-Rhodes scholar, however, & an
page 3 Can’t decide whether to write on the backs of the pages or not — I’ll
try this one.

Oxford man to boot! However I hear from the omniscient
Campbell that he’s a pre-war Rhodes man, & so practically
doddering into his grave, so I suppose he needs the job, &
good luck to him. If they would only get a £500 job
going at V.U.C. it might be some use to me. F.P. is a
bigger fool than the Bishop of London though, to whom I
accordingly make my apologies. It was decent of Tommy
Hunter to ring up — he is a good bloke; I wrote to him
to see if he knew anything about the lay of the land at
Victoria; but he can’t see any prospect of anything happening
there, though he reckons that if the profs had any guts all
the assistants would be on £500. What a hopeless lot of
duds they are. I don’t know — I might write to F.P., but
I don’t suppose he would even deign to answer. As
Daddy is such good cobbers with him now, perhaps he
might like to put in a word at the next meeting of the
Hist Assn! Couldn’t P.J Smith, so prominent now in
that line, do something for me? — And there’s a chance for
Keith & Frannie. Laski doesn’t want me to go back
ev except to a job on top, & talks of going to the States
for 5 or 6 years to get a good jumping off place. You
see the Commonwealth Fellowships have conditions which
put them out of the question — otherwise I suppose there
would be a fair chance of my picking one up fairly
easily. It seems impossible to get a job in England; &
page 4 there don’t seem to be any other endowments going. Laski
reckons if I hang on long enough something’s bound to
turn up; but I don’t quite know what the “long enough”
implies. I may be finding a use for my free passage
back yet! — & living on the country for a while.

I’m glad that the Annual Blooming Balance is all
over & I hope to God it will be the last Daddy has to do. We
don’t want any more breakdowns in that direction. My
word, these companies are regular vampires, they suck the
life-blood out of a man. I think it’s a pity Daddy is so con-
; I hope he will pick up a decent job by ad-
, tell old Watson to go to hell, & walk out. By the
way, talking of jobs, you will have my testimonials by
now; so if anything else really good in my line
turns up you might fake them up in any way necessary
to fit & bung them in. I thought before that it might
be a good idea to send them out in case there was anything
to apply for. If I pick up any more I shall send
out copies also. In fact you might hire them out for
a small sum to anyone else in need. — What to do
with the £1 you sent is of course the usual puzzle —
I might join on someone else’s 5/- & buy the new
Medici Press edition of the Canterbury Tales; but then it
struck me it might cause you immense satisfaction,
Mummy, if I dedicated some of it to shirts. It is a very
page 5 difficult problem, especially so soon after my investment
in underpants, which really seem quite enough in
the way of clothes for one year — not to mention my new
suits, which are also 1928 models. You will realise
my liberality over these suits when I tell you that
Uncle George goes to Whiteley’s for his & never spends over
59/6. It is a pity he did not tell me that before I went
out & acted Croesus. There are other things I want too —
there is a very nice 3 vol Pe india paper Pepys for
2 gns, & I could buy nearly 1½ vols of that with your
money, while what I got from other quarters might do
for the rest. You might thank the following also for
their very kind contributions pending further & fuller
acknowledgement: Auntie, Auntie Win, Joe, Keith &
Geoffrey. I was surprised to receive a quite considerable
letter from Keith, written in his usual bright & witty
not to say coruscating style, always the essence of
refinement, gentility & elegance. I would not go so
far as to say funny without being vulgar. There was
a lot of advice on tobacco &c which might have
been useful (though I doubt it) if given in 1926.
Possibly it may interest Ern, or future travelling scholars
with a taste for palaeography, if I have it framed &
hang it up in Jimmy Parr’s. What with additional
witticisms about Hyde Park & so forth, there is no doubt
page 6 Keithles fancies himself as a humourist [sic: humorist], & I for one one
should be the last to disillusion him. Ern was dis-
a snapshot which purports to be a picture of
his Belly — it seems so much like the general run of
ordinary normal healthy infants as to make it a sur-
off-shoot from K. It may be that Mendelian
laws have something to do with it, & the grandparental
or the avuncular strain is uppermost. Well, I only
hope the pore kid will get along all right; it may
be adequately endowed in other respects, but I’m
afraid it has a lot to fight against in its father.
He mentions some 4 bob transaction with Beebe, I
recognise a liability to Beebe, but none to Keith; I
may however when I come out bring a general selection
of best Woolworth’s toys for the child — very good rattles &
kewpies they turn out for 6d. — I trust Auntie’s visit
to Christchurch has bucked her up all that could be
desired, ditto with Auntie Win’s gallivanting — I missed
her ginger! this year, but will try to put her P.O to some
good & worthy purpose.

Now let me see what I have been doing. This
afternoon I took my young friend Miss Holmes down
to the V.&A. for to see an exhibition of printing, but it was
closed, being a special something or other, so we looked at
silver, brass, Sheffield-plate glass & modern pottery instead;
page 7 also some choice Elizabethan needlework cushion covers
depicting in a very affecting manner the history of the
world from the creation to the flood. Whether to admire
the most the [sic] preliminary activities of the Almighty or the
crab fastened on a sinner’s ribs behind Noah as he offered
up a sacrifice on Mt. Ararat I did not know; each
was equally life-like & enthralling. Yesterday I visited
the Bank & placed therein £26 — your £1 & my last
scholarship instalment of £25, paid on completion of my
work; in the afternoon I strolled around town in the
rain, visited Bumpus’ & bought the new edition of W. de
la Mare’s anthology Come Hither, 10/6 & blooming cheap at
the price — this with part of my Xmas money, but whose
I have not been able to work out yet. While on this
subject — if anyone happens to be chatting to Mrs or Father
Hooper, please to ask her if she will thank Stan & Challis
for their Xmas letters, much appreciated, to be acknowledged
in due course. Challis by the way writes a first-rate
letter. On Friday afternoon I had a Xmas afternoon
tea at in the bookshop at the School with Duncan, Camp-
& May Casey the girl who runs the shop & a very nice
girl she is; she gave me a Xmas present but I’m not
allowed to open it till Tuesday so I don’t know what it
is. Ern wasn’t there, so he didn’t get any tea. Which
proves that if you don’t patronise the bookshops regularly
page 8 you miss many a good thing. In the evening Duncan &
Ern & McG & his Cambridge cobber Christopher Millett & I all
had dinner together & took a taxi to see Harold Lly Lloyd,
but he was off when we got there, so we adjourned to Regent
Street & saw the Gold Rush again. I must say that Ern
owes me a great debt of thanks for the very high-class
set of cobbers I have introduced him into. It’s not
every young feller coming over here who could thus step
straight into the most entertaining society in England.
I don’t suppose he appreciates it though; these young coves don’t
realise. Well, that was Friday. The night before McG & Ern
& I were round at Elsie Holmes’ entertaining & being enter-
: McG has taken to etchingengraving on glass gl now, an art
not practised in England for about 300 years, & has got some
very good results. He has gone over to Paris to see a
girl now, so our last year’s revelries will not be
repeated, the other coves being equally scattered.

Did I tell you that Espiner was married to
his Scotch lassie? He is anyhow. He’s a bloke who
deserves to be happy, he is.

I forget what I did on Wednesday, but on Tuesday
I came back from Uncle George’s where I had been
on a pre-Xmas visit since the Friday evening before.
I took down some work & Jane Austen; I didn’t do any
work, but I read Northanger Abbey & Persuasion, thus
page 9 finishing the corpus of her completed novels. I am
within a couple of hundred pages of the end of Johnson
too, & they will go west in the next few days. The year
1928 therefore may be accounted a notable one.
Finished: Boswell, J.A., & Gov’s [unclear: Insts]. What other
[gap — reason: unclear] can show such a list? I must read the Hebrides
Journal now; or perhaps I should come back home straight
away & tackle Birkbeck Hill. You have been through it,
haven’t you? So you had better advise me. I remember
though that Daddy was urging Tristram Shandy on me,
so perhaps I would be well advised to embark on that
while the going’s good — i.e. before I get a job. All
seemed well at Trinley, including the dog, with whom
I did a good deal of walking. Berrie seems to be
flourishing fairly well as a Xmas card designer, &
Uncle George is talking of going to London, Cumberland,
Florence & Siena next year, so he will have his work
cut out. I told him he ought to go out to N.Z.; & he said
he would if he thought he could clear expenses. He
ought to do it pretty well, I should think with a
bit of luck; unless everybody is so Nugent Welch mad
that they won’t look at anything else. Brian seems
to have a pretty good job too, has just got a rise, &
runs his village & estate on very up-to-date lines.
I like those people. The only thing I object to is the
page 10 lack of green vegetables in their dietary — nothing for lunch
generally but cold meat & hot spuds. Plenty of ground to
raise vegetables on too. I would almost have fallen on the
neck of a Brussels sprout after a day or two, & that is saying
something after living on Brussels sprouts for two winters.
That & cabbage are the only winter vegetables that seem to
flourish in this country. I trotted down to the Studio
one day, but saw nothing much that was new. I played
a bit out of Oscar Beringer’s piano tutor which was all the
music they had there, Brian having taken all the
rest away, & swopped yours with Uncle George, & had
a hot-water bottle in bed & generally enjoyed myself. I
drew the line at cold baths though for the first time
since I came over — the water down there is too darned
cold, & I am no Sep Serpentine ice-breaker. Ern
may be going updown there for a few days, as the Johnsons
You come up }
to London;}
go down}
from London}

have turned him down; Father Johnson not being all
that’s merry & bright just yet. — Well, it’s getting on for
1 am so I think I’ll knock off here & finish tomor-
morning. The mail closes on Monday instead of
on Wednesday morning, so the pre-Christmas days are
as usual a bit crammed.

24.12.28 Monday & Xmas Eve. It doesn’t look as if
we’re going to have any snow this Christmas, & there hasn’t
been a great amount of rain so far — a positively marvellous
page 11 winter! The atmosphere would be cold enough for Wellington,
but here it is so mild I nearly feel inclined to go out in a
singlet & a pair of shorts. I couldn’t of course: I would
be arrested within 5 yards. What we are getting is fogs —
coming home from the Museum l yesterday about ½ past 5
it was pitch dark — you couldn’t even see the new glaring
vulgarity of the sign of the new REGAL picture theatre
at Marble Arch. Fair dinkum, why the English don’t control
these things I don’t know. The Thames is ruined by the DAILY
MAIL in letters of fire. To stop it would be interference with
the rights of private citizens, I suppose. Which blooming
rights will be the end of this country. Lord, the things that
Jix interferes with & the things that aren’t interfered with! Here’s
this Well of Loneliness suppressed with positively foully libellous
remarks from the magistrates, God help them, & the coal
business goes merrily merrily on, with not an effort to do any-
fundamental to help it. So at Xmas we have a
Lord Mayor’s fund & give the miners dinner & then they
starve again. Gosh, it makes me sick! I took along
all my old clothes, & no doubt the Queen & the Prince
of Wales & Stanley Baldwin have done likewise, & that’s about
as far as we get. What a goot! What an L.C.C! The
govt sells the cables & the beam wireless to a private [gap — reason: unclear]
for ½ the valuation, let alone the cost of experimenting
&c; the L.C.C. sells the trams, just as they’re about to
page 12 pay off the debt on them & make a profit. “I believe this
govt would sell the police if it could” said Laski. Mean-
I never hear a single good thing about English business
men, bankers &c & their methods. Even Baldwin was
going off the other day about superfluous ornamental direc-
, let alone British consuls abroad. And foreigners
down in the city seem to despise them. Well, they may
get hold of themselves again; but if ever a country justified
economic pessimism, it’s England in 1928.

Well, this John Burns fellow is a great old bird.
Campbell was down at the Fabian Society one day, & an old
cove with a white beard starting [sic: started] haranguing him, & they
walked up the street together. Finally the old cove says (to
Campbell’s astonishment) “I’m John Burns; would you like
to come out & see me on Sunday? I’ve got the finest collection
of books on London in existence.” So out Campbell goes, &
J.B. says if he has got any cobbers he would like to bring,
bring them. So of course he takes me, after writing &
getting an answer “Mrs Burns says yes I say ditto to
Mrs Burns”. So out we go. He certainly has a 1st rate
library. He has a big house in Battersea, mainly it seems
for the sake of his books, which are packed double all
round the room in his study, where he keeps most
of the London books. He took us all over the place,
as proud as punch of himself — “Come here,
page 13 Campbell, Come here Professor!” he’d call out, & off
we’d go on a fresh tack — a bit too fast to take everything
in. He seems proudest of his More collection. When he
was a young cove he read the Utopia, & it changed his whole
life, & now he has collected about 2000 books on or bearing
on More — 1st edition, M&S & heaven knows what. He’s got a Ms
Life by Roper for which he paid £500. He spent all his
salary as a cabinet minister on them. I said What
did Mrs Burns say about you buying all these books?
He said “Oh well, she...” & then dismissed the subject
with a gesture. He has a fine book of hours too illumina-
, & heaven knows what else. “We’re going to have tea in
the finest kitchen in England” he says “Where are you,
Mrs Burns?” We find Mrs Burns in the kitchen, a
charming old lady, though for some reason, Lord knows
why, liberally painted up & rouged. She found
it pretty hard to get in a word edgeways against J.B.
though — he never stopped talking from the time we
got there, about 4, when he hit Campbell a welt on the
shoulder & shouted “Now then! I won’t let you in unless
you admit your [sic: you’re] beaten!” (over the first test match in
Aus) till the time we left about 6.30. She called him
to order now & again, & once or twice back to the
subject in hand as he went off on a side-track to
assault some sentimentalist or scoundrel like Lans-
page 14 bury
or Birkenhead. I stopped in the kitchen to
have a bit of a chat with Mrs Burns after tea — Come
on Professor!” he roars from up the other end of
the passage. A great old egotist the old man is — J.B.
he constantly refers to himself as. Very proud of his
friendship with C.B. & Asquith & Morely, & of his & Moreley’s
resignation over the war. A first-rate talker too — not
just wordy — I never knew a cove waste f so few
words, incisive, solid stuff. He fished out his diary of
1914 & read us bits on the cabinet at the end of July —
let’s hope he publishes something. “There’s no blood on
my doorstep!” He said quietly, but with terrific em-
. He seems a bit hurt that he was left out of the
general strike. No time for J.H. Thomas, who has betrayed
the party (he & Birkenhead, whom J.B. summed up
in a choice sentence to Asquith which I have forgotten,) are
pot-companions says J.B.) or Lansbury who is a dan-
sentimentalist or Joe Cook who is absolutely packed
jam-full of good intentions & sincerity & doesn’t know
what he wants, he is so muddle headed. A very low
opinion of Haldane who was a silly old something or
other, who took an hour & a half to say something you
or I could say in 5 minutes. I can’t really remem-
much the old man said — you’d want to be a
Boswell to b get it all down. He reckons the
page 15 greatest mistake of his life was to take off ie. instead
of remaining a private member he did it to please C.B.
He used to follow the manoeuvres of the various armies,
English & German, on foot before the war, & told the
Kaiser he wouldn’t have a chance in a big war. He
didn’t resign because he is a pacifist, but because
war in 1914 was a mug’s game — he reckoned that
there would have been a revolution in Germany itself
in a couple of years at the rate they were going there.
Seven years unemployment will see revolution in England;
“we’ve had five” he told Campbell grimly. We
had good seats & there he stood with his back to the
fire laying down the law & orating away — a won-
spate of talk. He told us to come again in a month
or so if we were passing — “you always know where to get
a cup of tea.” He seems to mix up an enormous con-
for the English with a terrific admiration for them,
particularly in the east end, where the only gentlemen
live who are left. He would cure the police corruption
&c by drafting the West end cops down to east till they
had learnt good manners & honesty again. Well, he’s cer-
a great old man. There are some good stories
about him in Sir Almeric Fitzroy’s Memoirs; but I
certainly didn’t hear him drop his h’s as the aristocratic
Sir Almeric Fitzroy makes him do. Probably as
page 16 J.B. was an engineer, F. heard him drop them whether he
did so or not. I must certainly go down there again
if I get a chance. I’d like to have another chat with
Mrs Burns too! in the most wonderful kitchen in
England. I don’t know whether its that, but its certainly
very comfortable for tea with a big table & sideboard &
bright curtains & a shining stove & candlesticks & some
filigree tea-spoons her son sent her from Colombo. Oh,
here’s another thing — J.B. showed us the straw-hat he
wore in some big strike in the 90’s — a publican
offered him £250 for it to hand up in his bar &
attract custom, but J.B. wouldn’t sell. In the same
wardrobe he has hanging up a couple of scarlet gowns
he wore when he got doctor’s degrees at various univer-
! A great old bird, & no mistake.

Well, I had better be knocking off & going out for
lunch & the Xmas presents I haven’t yet bought. — I
thought of writing a note to Uncle Alec, but three lines
seem worse than useless from as far away as this, &
they are damnable things to write anyhow. However
you might let him know.

With very much love to you both, as well as
all aunts & other inhabitants of the house