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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Father, 31 May 1929

page 1

My dearest Father,

I do wish to God I could say some-
to comfort you; because I have been trying to realise
that however bad it is for us it must be still worse for you.
It is damnable being so far away & I have never wished
more that I were at home with you. Now I am writing
I don’t know what to say; I can’t give you an ordinary ac-
of what I have been doing, because that must always
seem a bit jejune at the best of times; & yet to talk about
Mummy is so difficult. Please believe that you have all
my love. — I think I said in my last letter that I
was going down into Surrey next day; I went with Elsie,
& that day (Friday) & the next seem in retrospect to
have been about the happiest I ever spent. The weather
was gorgeous. We took the bus from here to Guildford, &
then took another bus part of the way & walked the rest to
Compton, a little old village where G. F. Watts lived, with
a lovely little old Norman & early English church, fine
old brick houses & various memorials to Watts — a picture
gallery of his work, a chapel in the cemetery, & a pottery
run by Mrs Watts as a sort of village-industry on Waltsian
lines. She’s still alive. I bought a little medallion
page 2 there for Mummy of painted pottery, a design of fishes,
the sign of the zodiac for February; & next day I picked
wild violets to press & send out to her. We were talking about
her & you almost the whole time. I have asked Elsie now
to wear the medallion sometimes in memory of Mummy, &
I shall keep the violets. We had lunch at Compton &
walked by the most beautiful lanes to Shalford, another
village which used to be a stop of the Canterbury Pilgrims,
& then got on to the Pilgrim’s Way for a while, as far as an
old Norman chapel which has stood all these years
since before that their time on top of a hill — the way here lies all
along the ridge of hills. We then got on to another
ridge of hills at twilight & walked for a good while through
the most beautiful beech-woods I have ever seen; the air
was very still & clear & we slept on heaped dry leaves
from last autumn. It must have been about that time
that Mummy died. Next day we walked through more
beech-woods & over country that must have been very familiar
to Meredith & Leslie Stephen & his Sunday Tramps — we
crossed Ranmore Common & struck a main road again,
after a day of bluebells & cowslips & buttercups & violets, at
Box Hill — I though, & said, you would be very interested
to hear that we had been there. From Box Hill we struck
off over an old Roman Road, Ermyn Street, going in the
direction of Epsom, & finally crossed the race course &
page 3 at Epsom caught a late train back to London. We carried
a swag & it was almost like old times again. I came in
here about ¼ to 12 & as soon as I saw the cable I think I
knew what was in it. I had been afraid of getting it for
18 months, & yet I never believed it would come. It seems
incredible now — I think if I really believed in its truth
all the while I couldn’t exist. I went round & told Ernest
& Elsie. The cable had come about 8 in the morning; Ern
had seen it there & would have opened it that night if I hadn’t
come home. I went down with Elsie to an all-night cable
office in the strand & sent the cable; I would have added
Elsie’s name to ours, but we thought it perhaps better not
in the present stage of affairs. I don’t know what I should
have done in the last fortnight if it hadn’t been for her. She
has been the most wonderful dear & loyal companion; &
I remember how glad I was to tell Mummy, when I first told
her that we had fallen in love, that on my side at least
it had been partly because she was so like Mummy in so
many ways. Luckily that night I was pretty tired from
walking all day, & going to the Post Office & back made me
still more tired[gap — reason: unclear], & when I got back I smoked myself stupid
till about ½ past 2 before I went to bed. Next day we had
to go out to Uncle George’s to tea; we went to Kew first;
& everything there reminded me of Mummy; in fact wherever
I have been since everything seems to sum her up, or rather, to be among those things summed up in her spirit. She
page 4 would so have loved the wide lawns & the trees at Kew, &
the gardens at Hampton Court, where I was yesterday; & there
was great comfort in the trees atin Richmond Park & in a
grove of birches on Wimbledon Common where we sat one
night; the stillness & peace & the freshness of all the young
leaves, just fully out, seemed so like her spirit; & I sat
there a long while, while the moon was coming up, & thought
of her. By going out every day with Elsie for long walks in
the first week I managed to get tired-out by bed-time, &
that made it easier to sleep; & the more I was in the open,
the easier it was to think of the real beauty of Mummy’s
life without bitterness that it should have ended so soon.

It doesn’t seem much use saying anything about
your letter of 14 April, which came a few days after &
told me about Mummy’s renewed illness & your alarm
over that. I do regret some things in looking back. I
know you liked my letters, both of you, but they
seem such poor things now, as if I had not put my whole
self into them for her; & yet I suppose I did while I
was writing them, & that it was my self at fault. One
letter I was going to write I suppose must remain unwritten
now very largely — I always intended, when I got mar-
, to write & tell you both, so far as I could, what
your love & care & generosity & courage had meant to
me; because the older I get now the more I realise
page 5 what those qualities have been. I wanted, on the eve of
leaving the old family (so far as I can leave it) & starting
one of my own to tell you that I did realise this, & realise
too that it was something I treasured very dearly, & could
never repay. I think if I had come back in July & found
Mummy still there, I should have told her some of this,
though we are a fairly inarticulate family as such things
go; but now I can only try to remember that she knew
that she was surrounded by the love of all of us, however
far away we were. I do not think any woman could
have been better loved, however imperfectly we showed it; &
I know that you anyhow gave her love as great as any in
the world.

I have been thinking of you two a great deal.
I couldn’t read for a week, & for the last week I have
been reading only the Forsyte Saga very slowly; but my
thoughts of you have been all the more active. I think
you will always stand in my life as partners in a perfect
love & devotion — Mummy once showed me a part of a
letter you had written to her, I think on her 25th or 28th
wedding day, & told me how proud she was to get such a
thing from you. Now that I look back I feel there
was much more in our lives in Hopper Street than we
boys ever knew; & thinking of you both an enormous
thankfulness wells up in me. There are things I wish I
page 6 had done now — two days of my last week at home which
I wasted sitting for that stupid League of Nations exam I
might have spent with her; & I was looking forward to
coming home in July, if I do come, & sitting quietly with
her for the first two or three days & telling her all about
London & Paris. It will seem funny coming home now —
I always pictured myself getting away from the wharf
& springing into a taxi & leaving my luggage behind,
& goi arriving by myself & going straight down the garden
to see her. Although I never saw her there except when
she was well I always seem to think of her now as she is
in the last snaps sent to me — in the sun, well-browned,
knitting & reading with Mary or Betty playing about. I always
wanted to come back to N.Z. so that my children when they
came might know her. And now all these things can
never be. Yet I know her love will be always with me,
& with any unborn children of mine. I am profoundly thankful
that Elsie & she knew & loved each other; for I know they did.
Elsie was very proud of her letters, is very proud.
We talked about Mummy so often that Elsie knew her better
every week, I think, & she always read my letters. I am
profoundly thankful too that Mummy knew about Elsie
& me, & knew that things were all right for good between
us, after the rather rough spin we have had on the whole.
I suppose she told you all about that. The letters I
page 7 got from you both about our decision are among my very
dearest possessions. I know Elsie’s too are among hers.

If I could only say what I want to! But writing
puts a sort of false simplicity among one’s thoughts. I know I can’t
tell you in so many words what I feel, & what I think. I still
struggle with the incredibility of so final a stroke; I still
wonder confusedly & helplessly what you are doing & going to do.
For God’s sake don’t fling yourself away on Shanland’s balance-
sheet. I wish it were possible for me to get a decent job
here & for you to come over for a while & have the most com-
change possible. I wish I could at least be with you
for these weeks & sit with you among your books in the
evening, if nothing else. What it is like for you I try to
realise, & I think I can to some extent; I know it is like
the shattering of a world. It is that to me: To put it in
a simple form of words, to repeat the bare truth, is too hard.
I can only think of Mummy’s love, & lovely life; the
love & service which she gave all her life & which was
always hers, especially I think in these last years; & believe
that that love must still be with us, always, to our ends.
I seem to have said nothing now, in all these seven pages;
& yet there is the tense feeling in me trying to speak to
you, of grief I hardly dare mention, of love which seems
the only thing I can mention, of a will to be with you &
sharing your grief, of giving you the love of a son. I must
page 8 wait for your letters before I say anything more; but for the
last fortnight I have been living in Wellington, with you,
& with Mummy, far more than in London. I think the
girl [gap — reason: unclear] I love, your daughter [gap — reason: unclear] to be, has been with
you very much too.

I have put everything into this letter, which is
for you & not for anybody else. I could not write to you
without bringing in Elsie all the while; but the rest of the
letter is for you too. I can’t write a general letter which can
be passed round. I was hoping Mrs Holmes might have paid
a visit to Mummy; but I suppose the illness you mention
in your last letter stopped anything like that. To think
that I shall never get a letter from her again is the most
incredible thing; that I shall never address one as I have
been addressing them for nearly three years now the

I don’t think there’s much to answer in the rest
of your letter. I was amused at the way P. J. S. shoved
you on to the Hist. Assn. Committee. Evidently he has
taken up the Beaglehole family good & solid. I was
interested to get the 1st annual report. I looked up
the Zopay-Jix article of A. P. H.’s in Bumpus’ which
Mummy though would be so good for me. I heard Jix
speak the other night, by the way, at an election meeting
page 9 where he was much heckled but used a natural stentorian
roar to good purpose. I say at an election meeting,
but it was outside per loud-speaker, among the overflow.
However we afterwards had the honour of seeing him emerge
from the hall & cross to his car, a spacious Rolls Royce,
amid a chorus of hoots & the singing of the Red Flag — none
of which seemed to perturb him or alter his naturally sunny
smile. However his candidate lost — one of the many seats
the Tories have given up to fate. I didn’t vote; I thought
I was hardly an Englishman & therefore did not put my-
on the roll — not that it would have been more than
adding one to a 2000 odd majority anyhow. It looks now
as if Labour will just fail to get a clear majority in
the new House, which may mean a very stupid dead-
; but anyhow the govt have come a terrible crash,
richly deserved. There were about 30 more results still
to come in late tonight. The day has been very exciting.

I had a letter from F. P. to the same effect as
foreshadowed in your letter. Something may be doing next
year, so I gather. I should think that if I were back,
Tommy H & I could pull it off together. F. P. also said
(“in strict Confidence”) that he would be retiring in
two or three years — a fact which most people in the
know knew already. It might be better for me to stay
here & try for the chair; but that of course depends on
page 10 getting a job here. I have applied for one at Portsmouth,
not very good, but a stop-gap; I am also angling
gently, through Laski & at his suggestion for something
rather vague & indefinite, at the School of International
Studies of the University of Geneva. I shall probably
apply fairly soon to have a berth pencilled in, all the
same, just to be on the safe side.

I have been out a good deal, as I think I
have already said, anyhow to Auntie — the country is
looking very beautiful; & you will be pleased to hear
that with England, the soil & what grows thereon, in the
prime of spring, I have no fault to find. It is the
ideal England — anyhow Herefordshire & Surrey. I
hope to see a good deal more of it in the next few months.
It is nothing like N.Z., but incomparable in its kind.
Do you know Herbert Trench’s poem “Oh dreamy gloomy
friendly trees”? You feel that here. It seems native to
the country & the woods far more than to our N.Z.
cataracts & bush. — I see the rest of the Forsyte books
are coming out in one volume, as well as Galsworthy’s collected
plays in another. Well, I must end now, & journey to one
of the post offices to post this, as it’s now 12.45 & the
mail closes at 2 a.m. — Believe me, now as ever, with
as much love as a son can give his father

Yours son

Jack /