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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 18th April, 1929

page 1

My dear Mummy,

You see I have temporarily shifted
my residence again, but of that more in good time. The
recipe for letters with me is: finish comment on the
incoming mail, then complete the outgoing. — Well,
Daddy needn't be afraid that whatever I do in the
way of improving the world, I will abolish Sunday —
in fact, if the Almighty had taken a few more rests
in the course of creation & commanded Moses to
keep them ever after for a [unclear: covenant] to a memorial,
it would have been all to the good in my opinion.
So Sharland's have bought out Youngs! I suppose
that means a rise in salaries all round, with a
bowus bonus in addition for harassed secretaries? They
surely can't do less than celebrate the occasion in
some such way. Sharland's must be more pros-
than I thought — I was under the impression
that they simply could not afford to treat their
employees decently, what with taxation & the war &
the peace & the politicians. I should say that
they ought to be able to afford a pension now at
any rate. Not off course that they are likely to
page 2 fork out a quarter or a tenth of what they can
afford. — As to who has taken Matthew [unclear: Bromould's]
place in the modern world, I am unable to say, not
being in on the ground floor with the intelligensia, though
I do live in Bloomsbury. (Have you noticed by
the way how in the reviews Bloomsbury is becoming
the regular butt when anyone wants to [unclear: swear] at "decadent"
ideas, or highbrow ideas, or ideas of any oddity whatsoever?
You never see a word against Chelsea or any other
district nowadays — its all "Bloomsbury" or the
"Bloomsbury School"; you would think the entire
district spent its whole time in boozing, adultery,
free verse, & other unnatural practices. Not as far
as I've seen, the place is just about as averagely and stick-
in-the-mudly respectable as any other part of the British
Empire. It has its lapses off course, & the police raided
a house in Brunswick Square some months ago,
but I don't remember any murders. Of course the
Hogarth Press people & the Clive Bell-Roger [unclear: fly] mob
all hang out in Gordon Square (so does Duncan) &
no doubt all their pet enemies take care to let
them have a good whinge whenever possible) — To
come back to M. [unclear: Bromould], I rather gathered from some-
I read, that he was coming back into popu-
, although for all I know, he may never have
page 3 been out of it. You can't take much that blokes say in
reviews or literary suppliments as being worth more
than about [unclear: 2 pins]. — Extraordinarily radical stuff
you all seem to be reading these days! I always
imagined that Upton Sinclair was a pretty mediocre
novelist, apart from his general & unceasing social
indignation & capacity for making up nasty home truths.
I can see you will all be leaving me standing
in knowledge of the evil ways of the financial mind
(anyhow in America) My own reading seems very
indeterminate & mild & watery beside this determined plunge
into reality. — As for the provision of reading [unclear: maths]
for Mummy, I really can't do anything but throw
up my hands. Wouldn't it be worth while trying to get
a special grant out of the fool? Didn't Joe Ward nod
to Daddy one day? Perhaps Peter Fraser could do
something for you in the matter? If you still buy
books from Whitcombe's occasionally I wouldn't
have any hesitation in exploiting [unclear: Sichie]. If you
bully him enough he'll do anything for you. Tell
him that as I havn't had any favours from him
recently I'd be obliged if he would make up leeway
with you [unclear: jollie]. Of course if you got the [unclear: Envy.]
Brit. that would keep her going for a bit. I see
that Laski is doing the article theorim on Bolshevism.
page 4 And fine [unclear: money] on boxing. I should have thought they
would have had him on Shakespeare. They've got all
the celebrities apparently, except me & one or two more.
I should think that what they might do would be to
give you a complete list of the articles & then let you
pick out our own selection for delivery. Perhaps
the whole thing would be better for Mummy though, if she
is getting really desparate for something to read. Otherwise
I wouldn't buy it, as you are still something short of a
public reference library. It would only lead to you
being bothered still more by people wanting a loan
of odd volumes & not returning them. By the way,
has Mummy read all my books? I fancy there is
a good deal of miscellaneous stuff there she might
have a go at still, even if most of it is not red-blooded
enough. — I don't quite get the point of Ern's having
put Daddy's wind up over my final chapter — I can't
see Ern going thou through it four times becuase he couldn't
understand it in the first. What he did was correct
the five copies for me — typists errors, I mean — still
it may be he was a tip bit foggy on the final nature of
the maths contained therein being a bit of a student
himself. — On the whole I am all in favour of
you selling the house & retreating to a more peaceful
abiding place. I know it would be a [unclear: pang] to leave
page 5 but I should think it would probably give you both a
new lease of life. I wish to God I could do something
more than merely repeat the above remarks for the
umteenth time. — As for swollen glands & so on,
I am now in the best of health, & have been so far for some

I am glad you have done the outline of History,
Mummy — now don't you fel feel quite a different being,
with such an understanding of your place in the flux of
time. I dare say you could get up & give an address
to P. G. Smith's Historical [unclear: lesson] without the least
bit of trouble. "A few words on Nepolean"; or "Stitches
in Villainy, Judas Iscariot, Gladstone & Llyo Lloyd
George" might go down well. — I don't know why you go
on repeating year after year your complaint about
getting books as well as flowers. Why don't you take
all you can get or grab and give thanks to God like a
good Christian? And here at the same time is
Daddy grieving because he can't keep up a supply
of books large & steady enough to occupy your time.
I should think that consideration for him alone
would present such a constant growl. But then you
were always a bit of a fraud, as I have told you
before & as you well know. I don't say it is due to
original sin of your own, but h you are not the
page 6 only woman I have met with much the same
characteristics. I don't know how you would have
got on for books if you hadn't got married — you couldn't
have got half the books you have liked specially &
read so much at a library, you know, & with your
rooted objection to paying for anything in the nature
of a book heaven knows where you would have been.
I suppose you would have got a job in the Municipal
Library & sat in a glass case & read all day in public.
I must not forget of course that you once bought a
Plato & I had a great admiration for your feat ever
after. — A bit stiff on that cove about whom you
sent me the cutting, wasn't it? — 12 months hard for
helping himself after a [unclear: crime] like that. A pity he
couldn't have robbed his mother. A choice and prize spec-
she was, all right. For other cuttings also thank
you. All interesting with one exception. I regret to
say that [unclear: Alan's] cartoons of Bolsheviks bore me extremely.
They do express admirably what is apparently the
complete ignorance of the average N.Zer of anything
the other side of his own back fence which does not
happen to have to do either with the [unclear: lening] c or the
Price of Wales, & so may have a certain value as a
sociological document. But my oath! surely he
can adopt a different theme sometimes when he is on
page 7 cartooning Russians — I should have thought they
presented plenty of scope to any artist of intelligence.
However its not for me to direct the policy of humour-
art in my own country. After all, it may
be merely political prejudice on my part, & a [unclear: consequence]
in appreciation of the fine points of satire. I opened
the Dominion you sent in great excitement, thinking it
must contain at least a leading article & head-lines
about myself, but after looking through it very care-
trwice twice, & failing to see anything of that
nature either marked or unmarked, I came to the
conclusion it must have been the sad blow-up at
the Arthur's Pass tunnel about which I was to be
informed — which information duly impressed me.
I suppose this will be another good excuse for Keith
to make off south at odd times when family life
grows rather oppressive on him. I must say
he looks a terrible [unclear: Yank] of the commercial type in
the snapshots you sent me. I suppose he spends
his spare time giving addresses to the Rotary Club on
service. Jeoffrey's kid looks the dead spit of the
photographs of him at the same or approximately same
age, doesn't she? while I fancy Keith's has a Johnson-
look (Manchester not [unclear: Lexicographer]). The
rest of the [unclear: figgers] in said photos all seem to look
page 8 healthy enough. I should say W'gton agrees with Frannie
all right. You look pretty bright yourself & not
over-much the grandmother.

Well, since I wrote my last letter I have
been buzzing round the country a bit, & London & its
temtations has known me hardly at all. I have
been staying at Welwyn Garden City with Lorrie Richard-
for a week. I borrowed Duncan's bike, which
was not much of a fit, & we rode out the Saturday before
last to Letchmore Heath, a village about 15 miles out
of London, where Elsie Holmes, sister of friend had
the loan of a house for a fortnight or so & had invited
us for the day. The country round there is very
good either for cycling or walking, as indeed is most
of Hertfordshire. So we had a good walk, in spite of
being warned off forbidden land by a bloke who ex-
great terror of "the guv'nor". These gov'nors always
seen strolling about if you move off a six inch path-
. You'd think every blade of grass in the country
was numbered or personally fostered by the owners of
some of these estates. God preserve N.Z. from any
such fate as this. — After a hearty tea (we had
a very good dinner that day too) I moved on to Wel.
Garden City, about 10 miles, slept there, & rode in on
Sunday morning to a Film Society Showing — a Russian
page 9 film, Bed & Sofa, pretty feminist & anti-abortion
propaganda, but a very good film and well worked out.
As far as I can see, the Germans and the Russians are
the people who are doing the really valuable things in
the way of films — anyhow on a big scale. This was
one of the best F.S. performances I have been to. I dare
say Ern will have something more authoritative to say
on the subject. I see that an English film crowd has
made an agreement to distribute Russian films here,
subject to the censorship — but lord know knows what will
get past that supreme abode of idiocy. — Then I stayed
in town and typed out letters to American
University presidents & heads of departments — seven I
sent in all, & testimonials; which meant typing out
the same letter seven times, as I could hardly send
carbon copies. They overspread the states from California
to Virginia, & I also sent an inquiry to a scolastic
agency in Chicago, the name of which was given to me
as pretty good — if all that falls through, I don't see
what else I can do very well on this side. Then
I cycled out to the Holme's joint again, & got a buck-
ride to Harrow, Miss Holmes the elder has hired
a car in which to do a three weeks tour of South-
England, Miss H the younger driving, & they
tried the car out for the first time on that occasion.
page 10 We saw all the celebrated things, old school-rooms
with names carved, Byron's, Sheridan's, [unclear: Peel's] etc;
but what I liked best about the place was a new
block of war memorial buildings by Sir Herbet Baker,
very clean & bright & spacious, with one extra special
room which they have lined with the most beautiful
old oak panelling I have ever seen. The floor is done
in planks from some old battleship, I forget which, &
the tables & chairs are all gorgeous contemporary or
slightly later things. You never saw such a room.
It would be worth taking one like it out to N.Z. & building
a house round it specially, if you had the money. We
ought to have one or two things like that out there, I think,
pending the time when we evolve a characteristic &
distinguished architecture of our own, just to show us
what's what & set a decent standard. At present that's
what we lack out there in everything except books —
standards. No architecture — Nugent Wl Welch [unclear: esteems]
the ultimate thing in painting — [unclear: no] furniture & so on.
I got a postcard for you with a picture of this room
which gives you a vague idea of what its like, but I
have left it at W.G.C., so I will have to send it next
time, together with a choice epitaph I copied off a
tomb in the churchyard at Harrow — what must
have been one of the earliest railway fatalities — 1838.

page 11

Otherwise I was not greatly impressed with Harrow, apart
from its situation. It is expanding down on the flat like
most of the towns here in a horrible building growth,
of which the best you can say is that it is not quite so
bad as what has gone before. To come into the
Garden City is like entering Paradise. & [unclear: It] itself
is a big advance I think on Letchworth, the first Garden
City, through which I made a detour yesterday riding
up, though I don't think the surrounding country & lanes
are quite as good. The buildings are mainly a modern
adaptation of the Georgian style, & mostly in red brick;
some of it I don't like, but on the whole it is very pleasing.
Lorrie lives in a big block of flats, built in two
stories round three sides of a quadrangle, very simple
& dignified, & quite cheap in rent. The quadrangle
is all lawn, except for a path all round, & trees & a
garden border. You get a living room & a bed-room
& a bathroom & a kitchen, quite big for one or
even two persons, & I believe you can get more if you
want it. That is the extent of his flat. The kitchen
has come in very handy, & I have found myself
scraping spuds & carrots & parsnips once more in
the best tradition of Hopper Street. At night we have
had a good roaring open fire — I haven't been so
homelike for a long while. The only thing I object
page 12 to in Lorrie is his distaste for furniture. One deck chair
is the extent of his belongings in that line, with the
exception of a couch & a camp-bed. He always sits
on the floor and leans against the couch, but when I
or anybody else does that the couch immediately slides
away behind him, so that in about 5 minutes you
are reduced to untold depths of raging fury. He
is an energetic bloke, & generally rides over to work &
back — 15 miles — every day at the agricultural experi-
station at Harpenden, where he is a chemical soil
expert reseacher or something, & a bit of a brain wave, so
I believe. I cycled over to see the Holmes turn-out
two or three times, alone or with Lorrie; but the weather
turned dirty on us. The first time I cycled back
against a terrific head-wind; the second against wind &
heavy rain; the third against a short but terrific
snowfall; the forth in pitch darkness. I should
also add that I cycled over to Harpenden with L
one morning to see the place & the intervening country,
& for five miles out of the seven it sleeted bitingly.
Riding later in the day to St Albans it hailed
like a [unclear: flail]; & coming back from Hatfield where
I went the same afternoon to see Hatfield Huse House
(nothing doing — family in residence — come back
next week & you may get in) the wind blew so
page 13 hard that I could hardly get the bike along. So now
you have a brief conspectus of a Week's Spring
weather in [unclear: Merrie] England. It has cheered up a
bit since, I'm thankful to say, & I had a very
good run up here yesterday — 30-35 miles. L and I got a
ride to Asbridge Park on Sunday — the place presented
to the Conservative Party for an educational centre (none
too early) by a cove called Broughton, who unfor-
died before he could receive the consequent peerage
but his son got it instead. The gardens are wonder-
a marvellous lawn — but the building is
a ramshackle higgledy piggledy aimless endless 19th
century gothic extravaganza, with several towers,
one most weird & appaling. We walked into the
place, which they are now doing up, & I had a good look
over the interior. Remarkable kitchen effects, elec-
& labour saving, & very good views from the
windows, but otherwise not very impressive. The
furniture they were installing seemed to be the worst
kind of 10th rate Tottenham Court Road wholesale stuff.
We climbed up to the topmost tower, where there was a
flagstaff, & I would have given [unclear: ts] for a red handker-
to run up on it. The place is in the middle
of the most beautiful park, belonging a lot of it to the
National Trust. I hear that nowadays whenever a
page 14 bloke owns a good bit of country or a historic building
he gets an offer for it from a development syndicte &
then offers it to the National Trust; thus does the astute
landlord make a lot of money out of the public's
hardly whipped-up subscriptions.

I came up here to see McG. but when I
arrived found he had gone down to London suddenly
for a few days on business partly connected with
his girl threatened with a maternal recall to Dallas,
Texas, partly with the house which he is doing up
here for Forbes, the celebrated Fellow of Clare, whom
I think I have told you about before. Luckily I ran
into Forbes, & stayed the night in the cottage, it being
vacation, & may stay a night or so longer, as I should
like to see McG. The house ti is going to be a
marvelous place, plugged full of new ideas in
decoration & ventilation & furniture & [unclear: mirrorist]
patent finishes. It is in a very messy state at present;
they reckon to finish it about the middle of June, &
then to write a book about it. It has a first rate
garden too, a lot of which is being remodeled, with
provision for a swimming-pool & heaven knows what.
Forbes seems to be well-endowed with money. Some
things in the place are expensive, but they have worked
out some to be very effective & yet very cheap. They
page 15 are using tin-foil a lot, for instance, instead of
wall-paper! & having a [unclear: water-can] finish on most
of the doors, so that they'll need hardly any cleaning
at all. Forbes is going to have plenty of space to move
about in — he also gets his rooms in college (very good
ones) as long as he is a fellow, free, together with a
dinner every night. He took me in to dinner last night
as the guest of the college — a quiet show, only four or
five [unclear: dows] present; but my word! they do themselves well.
What looked like [unclear: tambol] (I speak from recollection of happy
days on the Osterley & very delicate roast beef & asparagus
& [unclear: Morelle]; after which they sit round the fire & sip
coffee & port & discuss weighty questions of administration
& swop a feeble joke or so. A very low intellectual
level on the whole; after the others left Forbes gave me
his uncensored opinion on them & the things in
Cambridge he didn't like — which was pretty sweeping
& vigorous on some of them. A bloke, once be became
a fellow here, could certainly waste his life & everybody
else's time in a very fat and greasy state.

Well, I must knock off for lunch & to inspect
the bookshops, though not I am afraid to blue in any
cash in them. — I have finished the Intelligent
Woman & read Moby Dick; I am now embarking
on Scientist of the Modern World. By the way, Forbes
page 16 told me last night that [unclear: Frend] told a common friend
that The Brook Kerith he thought was about the greatest
book in the world — he had read it 12 times in Eng-
. — F.S. Marvin at W.G. City; he
lives in Guessen's Court, the aforesaid flats — he is the
bloke who writes on universal history, & a good
deal in the Hibbert Journal. Seemed a pretty in-
bloke, we had him along to dinner, & fed him
on stew & gave him a full & stimulating account of
N.Z. I noticed that a good many of his books were
in the same editions as Daddy's — his room made
me feel quite home-like.

Well, so-long. Nothing to repeat in the
way of jobs or publishers. [unclear: Blum] turned my offer
for his [unclear: bad] library down. Give my underlying affection
to all aunts, neices, sisters-in-law, etc. & tell them that
if they can manage to [unclear: beem] up a few more moths
months they may see me in the flesh.

With much love to you both.


P.S. I am, for experimental purposes, growing a moustache;
at least I am seeing what will happen to my upper
lip if I leave it long enough. About all that seems
to have happened so far is a dirty [unclear: swear]. The
first day I forgot all about it and shaved it off as usual.