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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 19 March 1929

page 1

My dear Mummy,

I feel to the full the force of your
remark, in yours last received, on the reluctance felt to
start on a letter. So much so, indeed, that you are very
lucky to have me start on this one at all, & I may ter-
it at any moment. There’s nothing I hate more
than writing letters — yes, there is, writing books, & it looks,
as if I am to be doomed to write at least one more book,
& heaven knows how many more letters. Thank you however
for your letters of Feb 5th - 10th, both large & small, & par-
, & very sincerely & with much love, for the small
one. — I am a good deal shocked, I must say, at the thought
of Frannie (a Beaglehole now, & a wife & mother too) careering
round Wellington without any stockings. Where does she
think she will end at this rate? Walter Harris of Chch, a
friend of the Beebe’s, told me that when she sat on the floor
down there she lightly apologised for her bohemianism, but
I ligh little dreamt that she had plumbed those depths of
infamy. Apparently girls in N.Z. are not what they were in
my day — what are they going to leave off next? are they
going higher or lower? shameless hussies I call them & how
are they going to get better if those who should be mission-
page 2 aries
of culture & good taste from the old world, like Frannie,
are going to let their mission down like this. I’m very
disappointed. Tell her. Surely P.J. Smith does not approve of
this? I’m rather surprised at his winning the Arnold
Atkinson prize, by the way — I thought it was for the encourage-
of pride in the Empire. — Beatrice Webb’s My Appren-
I know, though I have not read it. I have been for some
time wondering whether to get the new 7/6 edition or a 2nd
hand copy of the old one. They seem to me to be note mad,
those two, but I dare say they know their own business best.
For my thesis I had notes of about 16 different shapes & sizes, but
they all seemed to work in all right at the end. I believe in
the States there is a bloke who has devoted a life-time to working
out a system of note-taking & indexing to cover every possible
contingency of the student’s life — you have notes of all sorts of
different colours for different subjects, of course, & filing cabinets
& what not. In fact he’s written a book about it — it’s the only
book he’s written. — Yes, Forbes is the cove for whom
“Finella” is being built. That is the name of the house. It
is to be finished in about 6 weeks now, & all England is quaking
with interest & apprehension. Spurdle is getting on all
right, but I don’t see much of him these days, being hardly
ever at the Institute, & he has his own cobbers. Anybody
more like a farmer you never saw — he straddles London
like a cow-cocky from the Wairarapa, with his hat on
the back of his head & his hands in his pockets, & roars

page 3
out his views on London, research, the university & all
& sundry in a voice which brings every eye [unclear: out] in the B.M.
or the P.R.O. in his direction. His contempt for Newton
is complete. — Your remark on my pushing some doctor
or other into the river I do not understand — I feel sure I have
never suffered, nor could, from such homicidal tendencies. —
The London Museum & the B.M. are two different places.
The    "          is down near St James’ Palace, off Picca-
, & is devoted particularly to the history of London, so I
gather (for I haven’t been there yet). The B.M. is general, ethno-
, ancient history, pottery, prints, mss, books. The Victoria
& Albert is furniture, carpets, pottery much more than in the
B.M., books much less, prints — but South Kensington is
full of museums, art, science, needlework, Indian &c, &c, &c.
The V. & A. by itself is about as big as Wellington. — Hewey
is Helen A’s brother. — Glad the Colvin book
proved satisfactory — I shall read it myself when I get back.
I thank you also for your enclosures. I’m glad to learn that
Tommy Hunter is Vice-Chancellor, though he will probably
kill himself before long in the effort to do anything with
the job. Did you notice the references to Bobby Stout in that
[gap — reason: unclear] of print? — as thus: “Sir R.S. said that he was
opposed to the system...Sir R.S. & Mr H. being the only dissen-
...Clause 2 was also adopted, Sir R.S. objecting...Sir
R.S. objecting...Sir R.S. also objected...The motion was
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carried, Sir R.S. objecting”. He must be a thorn in the flesh.
The Dominion leader, so dreadful in its complacency, strikes
me as incidentally a very able diagnosis of what’s wrong with
N.Z. “Order for order’s sake” — whew! — “moderate & safe” —
“sound foundation for a progressive & prosperous citizenship” —
shade of ancient Hellas! Do you wonder that Katherine
Mansfield couldn’t stand Tinakori Rd except in the imagination?
Never did I read a more convincing & terrible indictment of
our country.

I now devote a little space to my future movements.
Walter Nash’s idea that the Fabian Society might help me
to a job won’t work — Laski is a member of the council of
same & if he can’t manage it nobody else there is likely to
do it. I forgot to tell you in my last letter that by
that same mail I was writing to F.P. to see if he could do
anything for me — having carried out an operation fore-
some time ago, & swallowed my pride. I had
to lie on my stomach for a couple of nights to keep
it down, but all is going on well so far. I hinted that
£500 would be a desirable remuneration, & asked him
to let me know if there would or could be d anything
doing by the end of May or the beginning of June. So
that’s that: I wish I could feel any basis for hope.
Englishand is just about hopeless, & I don’t think even Lloyd
George & the Liberal party could make more jobs vacant
on history staffs even if they came back with a clear
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majority in the election, which they won’t. The jobs simply
don’t exist. There is much more scope in the States, if I
could once get a job there — of course I don’t want to go there
for keeps, but for experience & to see the place. Laski has
given me the names of several good people in good univs
there to write to (which I shall be doing in the next few
days) who may be able to do something for me. The
trouble there is getting a footing. He reckons once I do
that I’ll be all right & that he might be able to get me up
to Yale, as he will be there himself for 3 months next year.
Newton is coming back from India in about a month, &
may have something up his sleeve from there, but I don’t
want to go there for good either. There is a job advertised
now at the Univ of Dacca, Eastern Bengal, mainly a
research place — & I don’t want to do research in Indian
history — about 400 rupies [sic: rupees], say £30 a month — which
doesn’t sound particularly bright for there. Oh, of course
with the States there is the quota problem, & I shall have
to find out how the N.Z. quota stands — that may block me
there. Well, if nothing at all turns up, my free passage
runs out in July, & I can just about last out till then;
therefore I may possibly be arriving home in August. How-
don’t expect me till you see me, as it were; nor need
Auntie immediately rush out & begin laying in stocks
for the fruit salad: I dare say also that if I got a
page 6
job in the States I could pay you a visit in my first
long vacation. Well, just in case I do come out in
July, is there anything I can bring either of you?
any particular book, garment or other thing which you
would like desperately but which is not obtainable in
N.Z. If you answer by return I shall probably
hear in ample time to rake up same. This reminds
me that Ern & I have just clubbed together to buy
a nice tie for Keith’s birthday, & I hope he will duly
appreciate, it, & every time he puts it on, think of his
loving & thoughtful brothers in far-away England, always
eager & attentive to his interests. However he will prob-
only growl at the pattern; & perhaps he may be
right, as Ern bought the tie, & I haven’t seen it. Well,
anyhow, that’s the state of affairs as regards jobs. Oh,
I did hear that there may possibly be an addition to the
col. history staff of King’s College, but that is very
vague & secret & as I have said, there are thousands
of 1st class history men in this country. Also as
regards my movements, I shall be going to
Paris again before I leave — what can I get you
there? & if I can manage it in time & money, Florence,
but this is very problematical, & will I am afraid
have to be left till next time. Meanwhile Spring is
coming & I shall soon be getting out my bike again.

I have heard nothing of my thesis; but have
page 7
written as nastily polite a letter as possible to the univ to
touch them up about it. Not much good, though — there is
a month’s vacation from the end of this week. I am
in negotiation with the O.U.P., though — they are offering
me £500 but I want to get them up to £1000. In other
words, they wrote & asked for further particulars before
having the ms. sent there; I complied & since have not heard.
Laski however wrote to Coupland, one of their advisers, &
asked him to give the matter his very best attention, &
Coupland replied very sympathetically & said he had heard
of me in a vague way. So even Oxford has heard of
me. — I have also written to Benn’s, on Laski’s suggestion,
& offered to do an essay for their 6d library on Dominion
Status, or something like that, but have not had an answer
yet. Also I have definitely agreed to do a volume
on Pacific exploration in that new series of Wmson’s &
Harlow’s that I was telling you about. The only ob-
thing about these schemes is that they will
involve a lot of reading & writing. The Pacific thing
would be about 100,000 words or a bit more — 300 or
320 pages — Benn if it comes off about 20,000. So
much for books & publications. The Pacific thing
of course I can do in N.Z. as I pointed out, & there-
would do to occupy my time while I spunged
on my parents & looked round for a job there.

page 8

The less I have to do, the less I seem to do in every
way. I’m only ½ way through the Intelligent Woman; but
I took up Yeats’ Autobiographies a couple of nights ago,
& have nearly finished that. It is very good, but he
collected a lot of queer cabbalistic, pseudo-mystical
ideas as he wandered through life, & blow me if I don’t
get tied up in them every now & again. It is a 1st rate
book though. I have been reading Keats too, who is
the goods as a poet. Plays: The Rumour, Major
Barbara, Marie Tempest, Beggar’s Opera. The Rumour
is good in some ways, but mixes up stage & cinema
technique in my humble opinion (I defer of course
to Ern) & seems to over-simplify the problem. However
as a play it is very effective at a first seeing. I don’t
think I’d go again in a hurry. Major Barbara
pretty well all 1st rate, though I am not quite sure
how 1st rate Sybil Thorndike really is. Marie
Tempest I was shouted to by the elder Miss Holmes;
it is the first time I have seen her since I have
been here — She hasn’t gone off in the slightest, but it
was a dreadfully weak play — Her Shop — with a feeble
plot, puerile sub-plot, & lamentable dialogue. She
made it. She always seems to be playing in these
feeble things — surely not because better ones are
unobtainable? Perhaps so, good comedies may be
scarce. Graham Browne sauntered on & off in a
page 9
good-humoured way with a stick & a hat & did nothing.
It seems a waste of genius. The Beggar’s Opera is
revived for a month, & we had a gods party there of
Misses Holmes (2) Misses Bridges (N.Z. & Casey (L.S.E.)
Messrs Beaglehole (2) Duncan & Richardson. I
heard a good Delius piano concerto at a B.B.C. concert
last Friday, & some good quartet playing — the
Calterall Quartet, from Manchester, I think, the week
before. I went to the Film Society two Sundays ago
(Ern will doubtless describe) & to the V. & A. last Sunday.
One day last week to an exhibition of pottery &
handwoven materials at Heal’s which you would have
very much liked — I may bring you out something
in the handwoven line when I come — I enclose a
blurb on this exhibition. This afternoon saw an exhibi-
of posters arranged by the L.N.E.R. — the railways
& Tubes are commissioning some first rate stuff these
days in this line. I have also been to a lecture
on English gardens (fairly good, though the gardens
were generally noblemen’s parks); & to one by Middle-
Murray on “Shakespeare’s Dedication” which you
could believe if you stretched a good many points a
good way. M.M. impressed me as being quite a
likeable cove, though unfortunately with a rather parson-
voice. I’d like to know him better. James Maxton
page 10
I also heard a week ago & found him very likeable —
a more charming smile I never heard saw. He is a
very dark cove — the with a great black sweep of hair
down across his forehead — the cartoonists get him pretty
well. He seemed to me to talk sound sense too. A very
pleasant evening we all spent at Campbell’s new flat,
too, a couple of Saturdays ago — they tried to teach
Ern bridge, but heaven knows how far they suc-
. The rest of the time was occupied in eating
& in arguing with D’Arcy the wild Irishman, as to
whether you washed up dishes with soap or no.

I have been spending a week of hospitality too.
The Butlers, Brian & Bernie, were down here for a
few days. Br at an exam, Bernie looking for rooms;
so I looked after them & gave them tea here & took them
to the Chinks for lunch. I suppose you have heard that
Uncle George is getting married again — a Miss Boyce, a
Mick — I am to be Best Man. They are selling the
Trimley joint — he is going to live at Richmond after
a visit to Siena & Florence, Bernie at Bayswater. And
one day I was bowling along towards Piccadilly from
St Charing X Rd when I heard a roar of “John
Beaglehole!” & there was the foresaid Walter Harris, with
whom I went to Mt Cook in days of old — over here
teaching for 6 months or so. So he came along here
one night & we swopped scandal & reputable news.

With that I beg to finish with [unclear: luv] to all, hoping Auntie Win is still strong in
faith & Auntie in works. Love to you both