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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 4 February 1929

page 1

My dear Mummy,

The address means a lot — that I have
got in my thesis, attained an intention of long-standing,
carried out at last a duty to my Father, cast off the shackles
of work for a while, & decided to spend a lot of money (for
University towns believe in fleecing the hapless homeless visitor)
However, I had better answer your letter first. I got it on
Friday, just as I was tearing off in a sweat & hot haste to S.
Kensington with said thesis, with about ½ hour to go to closing
time & uncertain of the whereabouts of the university. Shortly
after came letters from Auntie & Auntie Win, for which
many thanks to said kindly ladies. Everybody seems to be
agreed that you are getting on very well, a fact which accord-
cheers me up very much indeed. I can’t but think it
wrong of the Dr to encourage you as you say she did,
though, for it will probably lead you to get above yourself; &
instead of taking proper care you will be starting to climb
trees & digging the garden or chasing trams or joining the City
Council as Labour member or something, & then you’ll
come a sad crash again. So do for the love of Mike
be as careful & humble-spirited as you can. Beware of
false pride — leave the weeds to Daddy & the trees to Auntie
page 2
& the trams to Auntie Win — to each according to his/her
capacities & likes.

Well, you seem to have had a good Xmas, the
lot of you, what with roast fowl (same as me) & fruit-
salad & books & [unclear: gaiters], daughters-in-law & grand-daughters,
though I can well believe that in my absence the unre-
flow of Geoffreyan & Keithian wit must have
become a bit monotonous. However I gather that when any-
goes wrong with anybody, it is only necessary to gaze
at little Mary playing around, the dead spit of her father
according to Auntie, or little Betty crawling about in
the mud, & no doubt the dead spit of her father, or per-
Father Johnson, to be instantly reassured, comforted,
& cheered. Which is no doubt all as it should be. — I
think it is a pretty good idea of Daddy’s to keep a milk &
bread shop; you might add cigarettes & chocolates, &
then specialise on what seems to go down best with the public
in the vicinity. Auntie Win having been in the commercial
line before would be a great help, & certainly as Daddy
says it would add greatly to Auntie’s familiarity with
the world, extensive as that has been. Or what about
applying in a tactful way to Thawley for a partner-
? I hadn’t thought of your keeping a shop before,
but it seems there are all sorts of latent possibilities in
the idea. — Whether to discuss the Yanks in answer
to Daddy’s outburst, no doubt thoroughly justified, against
page 3
Whether to discuss the Yanks in answer to Daddy’s outburst, no doubt thoroughly
justified against

that unhappy notion, I don’t know. It’s most unfortunate
my having met a few decent & charming Yanks, for they
give me the impression that there are more at home like
them — almost normal people, in fact; & of course that
gets my perspective on the country all wrong. You might
note that the Yanks have now ratified the Kellogg Pact
without any of the reservations insisted upon by the British
French Italian & other govts, even though such reservations
may be understood — doubtless their subtle hypocrisy. As
for [gap — reason: unclear] to them, I don’t think there’s a great deal
of that in the world; but when a people is the biggest,
richest, strongest, & in some ways most advanced & most
ruthless in the world you’ve got to study it & under-
it & take note of its point of view. Or points of
view. Anyhow why damn them utterly? Is the tone
of the New Republic any lower than that of the New States-
? Is the standard of its writing any worse? And
I should think that proportionately it represents just as
big a mass of American opinion as the N.S. or the Nation
do of British.? As far as Allyn Young goes, he’s
one of the best economists in the world today & I
suppose intimately acquainted with the history of his
own country, so his comparison with the Fugitive
Slave Law has some [gap — reason: unclear] use in it. I understand
that Smith was is an honest, extremely capable , man,
page 4
with a real genius for govt, with one of the best
records in American history as governor of New York,
but (a) a Catholic (b) anti-prohibitionist. Almost appar-
with a personal magnetism for those around
him, attendants, journalists, even hostile journalists,
something like Abraham Lincoln’s. Also his very
standing for Pres. seemed to put Ne new life
into American politics. (c) came from the gutter
in N. York (d) snobs were horrified at the idea of Al.
Smith’s wife in the White House. He wasn’t the
creature of an organised party; nor of big business;
nor had he any affiliations with graft. Ignorant
of some things — but Laski, who [gap — reason: unclear] met them both,
& believes in knowledge & organisation, says he would
rather trust Smith’s inst ignorant j instinct than
Hoover’s organised knowledge. Hoover was put up
by the Republican party — the biggest organisation
of graft, big & dirty business, intolerance, sinister power,
& filthy politics in the world. The Republican cry
was Hoover & prosperity (e.g. status quo). e.g. American
capitalism in apotheosis), protestantism, & down with
the booze. They promised to enforce Prohibition
which they & everybody else know they can’t do. Smith
said he would do what he could to put the law into
operation. I don’t think much of the Micks — but
would you rather have a country governed by a
page 5
Mick of genius & fair honesty, or by a mob of Baptist
oil-kings & fundamentalist farmers. It may be that
Hoover, who is admittedly a 1st rate organiser, will be
able to transcend & revolutionise his party, & we’ll see.
But God knows he will have a lot to fight against, &
he certainly hasn’t seemed to show much disapproval
of the Rep. party yet. He may be a 1st rate president
of a certain type, but he has travelled a pretty slimy
road to get there; & if he did so with his eyes shut, is
that an encouraging sign. Besides, I don’t like the
look of him. I saw him the other day in the pictures’
exuding prosperity, huge, fat in the American corpora-
president way, but with very thin lips. You have a
look at his picture — not one taken 15 years ago in
Belgium or 20 years ago in China or Australia when
he was a young man. And remember he’s pledged
to continue & intensify the present regime in America
(of which Daddy is so pungent a critic) & then then the
that he is apparently a man of his word — & then the
Fugitive Slave Law comparison won’t seem so far-
after all. I found the foregoing observations
on [sic: in] the Observer the Times, the New Republic, conversa-
with Americans who in character, knowledge
& general culture have impressed me about as favourably
as anybody else of any nationality whom I have met,
page 6
& knowledge otherwise picked up from books &
lectures. I might further point out to Daddy
that he believes (he has always led me to believe)
in capitalism; & that American society represents
the most advanced stage in the world of that desirable

I don’t admire the Yanks any more that I
do the British, certainly (as it seems I am accused
of doing) Whey shouldn’t I gird at British politi-
& British habits? They may not be worse
than anybody or anything else in the world, but
they are damn bad. I don’t care if they are better
than anything that exists elsewhere — they are still
damn bad. I haven’t compared them with anybody
else to their general disadvantage, but I do say
that there are things in England (which is all I
have seen first-hand) & Scotland & Wales, about
which I have read in utterly conservative & reliable
papers like the Times which strike me as simply
damnable. As for the present govt, it seems to consist
of one brilliant man, Churchill, one very likeable
personality (in private life), Baldwin, & a collection
of blat
one very efficient & inhuman administrator, Neville Chamber-
, & about the biggest collection of blatant or obscure
fools a country was ever cursed with. What do you
think of a govt which regards it as its duty to interfere
page 7
with the publication of the Well of Loneliness, which
a dirty-minded editor of a dirty Sunday paper pro-
claimed would poison the minds of young girls who
would never get hold of it; & which regards it as its
duty not to interfere with the utterly rotten & despicable
management of the coal-mines, which is poisoning the
life of the whole country? 10 years after the war; 1½
millions unemployed; & the Lord Mayor starts a fund
to disguise charity in Durham & Wales. The Prince of Wales
starts (or is sent) on a tour of the coal-mines (I don’t
say, as some people do, because there is an election com-
)& old peoplemen with dead sons who have been starving for four
years , with dead sons weep because they think they have
missed seeing him. The tour is proclaimed as a private
one, & the papers are full of columns of slush &
acres of pictures daily. Because the coal-mines are
in a bad way? No; because the p Prince of Wales
shook hands with an brl blind old woman who said
she would die happy now. And by all indica-
, this represents the mass mentality of the country.
I don’t say that the British are any worse on the whole
than any other people; but when they can show some
of the civic consciousness & willingness to organise of
the States, some of the housing & recreation schemes of Germany,
some of the modern architecture of the Sweden, some of the
page 8
social hygiene of Holland, some of the freedom from
[gap — reason: unclear] in some very important things of almost any European
race.[especially the Russians!]. some of the sense of beauty of their own few down-
trodden idealists — then there will be a good deal more
to be said for themselves by themselves. But while
there are 200 tons of soot over London in the winter,
while the L London & Glasgow slums flourish, while
the coal-mine mess exists, while men the offer of men
on the dole to work do some public works for their
money is refused “because of some technical difficulty”,
while the “Sunday Express” & “Lloyds’ Weekly News”
& “John Blunt” & Horatio Bottomley & Birkenhead make
fat livings, & while a congenital idiot like Jix [gap — reason: unclear]remains
Home Secretary, & while people sleep on the Embank-
in the shadow of the Cecil Hotel, then I consider
I have a legitimate right to criticise. I don’t doubt or
ignore the positive virtues of the people — they get enough
praise. And let the French or the Dutch or the
Chinese or the Indians or the Germans or the Yanks
praise them. Or let the Daily Mail praise them.
I’m on the side of the dissatisfied. And the same
thing applies mutatis mutandis to N.Z. I believe
in faith & tolerance & love & geniality. And I believe
in scepticism & intolerance & hate & bitterness. And
don’t accuse me of a lack of proportion.
END of PAGE 8.
page 9 Re Cambridge Shorter Bible: Squire tore this up in
the Observer for omission of celebrated passages, masterly
prose &c, as well as genealogies & indecent stories. I
wish myself they had left out a good many of the
repetitions of the sentence “And the Lord spake to Moses”
One gets a trifle sick of the self-satisfied [gap — reason: unclear]
of these two garrulous old men. — Paper on Colonial
Office — I may enlarge & polish this & try to get it polished [sic: published]
somewhere — I could do it in the form of a review of
several recent books or of my own, or just as an
erudite bit of trifling. We’ll see. A pity to waste the
jokes in it. — Mummy says she was looking forward
to making lots of acquaintances in the Colvin book — I
should think it would be more like looking up old
cobbers again. I wanted to read that book before I sent
it out, but had no time. Henry Adams was a funnyfunny
bird wasn’t he? The fine flower of 19th century American
culture if you like — he seemed to go quite dippy on
Chartres Cathedral in the end. Did you make anything
of his theory of history at the end of the book? I haven’t
yet. It struck me as curious that he should leave
out the 20 years of his married life in any account
of his education — or do you agree that marriage has
no educational value? I was reading some reminis-
of him by a niece in the B.M. She seems
page 10
to have been very happily married. No children. All
that dope about the Virgin & sex &c surely had some
emotional as well as intellectual foundation in his
own life. But my oath — talk of culture — talk of
an opulent austerity! — talk of a gilt-edged ascetiscism [sic: asceticism]!
A funny family, the Adamses — as he points out him-
. And Boston, from all I hear, is still a very
funny place. — I note with joy that Mummy’s hand-
is getting back to its old fluent & decisive

And so at last to Oxford. This is one of the things
I have been promising myself for about 2½ years
now, but I didn’t want to come till I co had finished
my thesis & could spend a week here if found necessary,
even in the absence of friends in residence. Well, I
got the thesis finally off my hands on Friday, final
(for the time being) corrections made, & so on & so
forth, & came up here with a cobber on Saturday.
Elsie Holmes had just left the flat she was living in
during Helen A’s absence, H. being returned, & pending
finding a ro another room in London, I said why
not come up to Oxford with me for a few days? So
she did. But first this infernal thesis — I had
to carry it home from the binders on [unclear: over] my
shoulder — 4 copies — & it nearly killed me, for
never taking a bus on that route it didn’t strike
page 11
me as a reasonable course of action till I was nea
½ way home. And I had to carry it out to the
University — by tube — in a suitcase. And that
again made me exceedingly & beyond measure
tired. Added to which I had the woe of parting with
£21 entrance fee. I haven’t worked out what
typing cost me yet. I diddid a lot of odds & ends
myself — preface, table of contents, bibliography &
index; de Kiewiet did a chapter, Helen A. helped
me with the index, Elsie H. with proof-reading
& sorting. Do you want a few statistics? — no. of
pages: 726 + preface & contents pages - 7 (I mustn’t for-
the very classy typed title-page I designed); no. of
chapters:-9; no. of notes; - about 1250; weight: about 12 [unclear: cwt],
quantity of blood & tears & sweat involved: 8 8 (that I
believe is the mathematical symbol for infinity 8 or is this
it λ? It doesn’t much matter anyhow; amount of disgust,
ditto. However I managed to mention Jane Austen &
quote [unclear: Barke] & Carlyle & Dr Johnson so wh & Blake,
so what more do you want in a thesis on colonial history?
I have a fifth copy of my own unbound for mucking
around with for publication & if that ever eventuates. I
have got valuable advice from Laski as to diplomatic
methods of approaching Humphrey Milford. While I am
on books & publishing — did I tell you before that I
page 12
might be having another book in immediate prospect?
Williamson & Harlow, the cove who got the Rhodes Library
job job, are editing a new series of books on pioneering,
& Wmson wants me to do one on Pacific exploration —
not that I know anything about either the Pacific or
exploration. But it won’t be needed for 2 or 3
years, as about six by nobs have to come out first
(& those not for 2 years) to give the series a good start.
Pay 10% of proceeds, which if the nobs accept is
good enough for me, I suppose. All experience & adver-
I sup though I suppose. Better not publish this
too widely till it is actually settled. Laski wants me to
start on a history of colonial policy! I want a month
or so’s general reading, & then a job.

Well, what to say about Oxford I don’t know.
It is magnificent, even in the winter, & I must come
up again for a day in the spring or summer to
realise what I can only faintly imagine. Need
I describe? The High is a noble & beautiful street;
so is Broad Street; Magdalen is a noble & beauti-
ful college; the organ in the cathedral is 1st
rate, & we luckily heard someone playing Bach on
it this afternoon. We sat through a portion of a service
last night, being Sunday, but it only impressed me more &
more with distaste, for the cultured traditional nonsense
of Anglicanism. “He hath put down the mighty from
page 13
their seat, & exalted the humble & the meek; He hath
filled the hungry with good things; & the rich hath he
sent empty away” sang a choir of cherubic children
& Oxford M.A.’s to a congregation of comfortable Oxford
citizens in their best clothes, old ladies & a girls’ school;
& I thought a good many things about England which I
have already briefly detailed. A beautiful cathedral,
entered from the not poverty stricken Christ’s College,
amid meadows, gardens & trees — ah well! there isn’t much
that is new to say about the Church of England, its choirs,
vergers, choir-boys, M.A.’s surplices, red gowns, hoods &
ghastly interminable chanting, standing up & sitting down.
It’s a mummery that gets on my nerves. The cathedral
has some fine vaulting, this stunner organ, some good
Burne Jones windows, & a perfectly atrocious — unbelievably
so — large immense expanse of red white & blue stained
glass put in under the auspices of Sir Gilbert Scott who
restored the place in 1870. Nothing more hideous have
I seen in Oxford, or England, or the world. But the
Grinling Gibbons carving in Queen’s Chapel; & the linen-fold
panelling in Magdalen Hall & New College Hall, & the river
walks by Magdalen; & the interior of St Mary the Virgin;
& the quadrangles everywhere, & the ancient little streets
everywhere; & the towers & turrets & spires & so bookshops
make considerable amends. Only four colleges have
page 14
we looked at so far — there are 18 other men’s places alone;
I haven’t seen the Bodleian or the Ashmolean or the
Sheldonian or yet even found Blackwell’s shop, though I
have put an hour in the O.U.P shop & walked out only
with a new Dean Inge lecture on Plotinus for Daddy!
Yesterday afternoon we went out to Boar’s Hell &
roamed around in the woods & on the hills (such
as they are); Oxford was [unclear: hid in haze], so the beautiful
view the Oxford Preservation Trust has preserved by buying
up a hill-side out there was not for exhibition. Neither
apparently were Robert Bridges or John Masefield. The
place generally is horribly expensive, like Cambridge —
but by dint of searching we have found 1 or 2 places where
it is possible to get a passable, though not exciting feed
for the price of a London blow out. Nowhere to put up
except in hotels; but by good luck a new one was opened
last October with every modern convenience which is
fairly reasonable, though it is a pity I can never manage
an English breakfast in the morning — give it to me at 1 o’
1 o’clock or 6 pm & I would be all right — also as there
is hot water freely on tap, I get my money’s worth in a
hot bath every night. — Have been to the Dutch exhib-
— wonderful Vermeers & Van Gogh’s — but I think I’ll
finish this tomorrow morning if I can — I want
to get into the bath again.

Tuesday Feb 5. After breakfast, & I would blush to
page 15
give you a full description of what I had, but it started
with haddock & finished with marmalade. After about
3 days inadequate teas I begin to get into training
for the English breakfast — by the time I leave I suppose
I shall be lapping up porridge & bacon & eggs & liver with
the best of them. The difficulty then of course will be
to get re-adjusted to my frugal habits in London.

I suppose Ern has told you about most of the
things we did jointly in the last fortnight — architectural
lectures — a good string quartet, the [unclear: Hewitt], lecture by
Mrs Bertrand Russell, which was very interesting — Ern
standing by the door & guffawing in a superior way
at views put forward by members of the audience —
he seems to have all the amused intolerance so
characteristic of the family & of course a terrible yawn;
a couple of good pictures (moving) The Patriot &
Thou Shall Not — I thought I might win an Evening
Standard Prize of £200 for my extremely illuminating &
acute criticisms of these, but there was nothing doing — nor
did Ern, who is supposed (isn’t he?) to be an expert,
so there must have been some dirty work somewhere.
The pictures (stationary) at Burlington House I men-
on the last page — I nearly wept tears of joy
in meeting again a lot of the Vermeers I saw at
the Hague & at Amsterdam, let alone the shoals of Rembrandts
page 16
& all the other stuff. And as I implied, I have
gone quite dippy over Van Gogh — have you ever seen
any reproductions of his things — very bold brilliant
& swirling stuff sometimes, the paint laid on in single
parallel strokes of the brush. The exhibition goes up
to about the end of the 19th century, with one or two
things later. I must go again as soon as I get back
to London. — Edmund Blunder’s Undertones of
War is a good book, though even through that it is com-
seldom that the horror of the business really
breaks through to one who wasn’t there. I heard
him lecture at King’s to some Shakespeare Society or
other — a very attractive, rescous thin-faced fellow,
hesitating & most interesting, & a startling contrast
to old Sir Israel Gollancz, short, stout, rubicund,
bursting with bonhomie, & as unnecessarily fluent in
reduplicated & redundant courtesy as a waterspout. Give
me the poets — you can keep the professors.

And now let me recommend you a book
which you really ought to read — Sartor Resartus, by a
bloke by the name of Carlyle. He’s a bit of a brain-
, this bloke — you ought to get acquainted with his
work, if it has reached N.Z. yet. If not, I can sendsend
you out a copy. — Well, I must now go out & find
Blackwell’s & the Bodleian.

With very much love to
you both.................>