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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Father, 28 June 1929

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I hope this doesn’t run you into
extra stamp-money: but I have run
out of stamps./

My dearest Father,

I have to thank you this time for your
letters to me of May 12th-20th, & to Ernest & me of May
20th. I really mean thank you, for though since I
left home I have realised more & more what a love & admir-
I have for you & Mummy, they seemed to well up
& cover me completely when I read your letters. I will
always think it a great thing in our lives that you could
sit down & write to us like that two days after Mummy’s
passing. I had too what we both thought a very beautiful
letter from Keith; I’m very glad he was there to represent
us four & that Geoffrey could come down too. It was very
bitter being so far away at that hour. Why do you
talk of my being so “good” to Mummy? It makes me feel
ashamed to realise what my own shortcomings have been &
are measured in the scale of her love & goodness & beauty.
God knows I have done little enough to have such words
said to me; God knows that the more I thought of her,
the deeper my love grew. If I didn’t think that Mummy
knew how I loved her dearness & sweetness I would indeed
be miserable now; it is something to know that beneath
the family restraint, amongst ourselves, there was that strong
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reality of love & confidence. I have liked to think, too,
that the mourning of her quiet passing was so beautiful;
as if she had something in common with that calm autumn,
though her own autumn was so short. There isn’t much more
I can say just now, nor I think do I need to say anything;
there is that between us which will make you understand,
as I have understood I think a lot more than you wrote
of your own feelings. I am enclosing a note from
Espiner which I thought you might like to see; you will
remember he came to tea with us once or twice in the old
days & he, like Bickerton, always had an immense admir-
for Mummy. I had notes from Auntie & Auntie Win,
as well as Auntie Nancy & Joe, & have answered them
all. Sall also wrote a typical Saline letter, but it was
very good of him. Ernest & I agreed that he should keep
your letter to us both, & I Keith’s; I took a copy of yours.

Well, I’m very glad now I sent that Ph.D. cable, &
only sorry I didn’t make it a bit longer. — As for Moby
Dick, I don’t know whether I gave you any critical opinion
of that; but I think of it about the same as you do. As a
matter of fact I think it is a bad thing for a book & its
readers when it becomes so much the fashion. H. M.
Tomlinson, whom I respect, said it is the crown of one’s
reading life — well, that’s a blooming big claim! The book
has to be so supreme to justify that that you begin to
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examine it narrowly, & yourself, & the critics you have
read, till you are a mass of suspicion all over — or at
least I am; while if said critics had been a bit more
moderate you would have probably said By gosh! this is
a damn good book! It certainly is that anyhow, parts
of it a Carlyle-Shakespeare-Melvillean mixture of extraord-
power. I see there is a new study of Melville out,
by the way, by Lewis Mumford — he is a pretty good critic, I
believe. I think the Brook Kerith stirred me more, on
the whole — yes, I’m sure it did. I told you about Freud &
the B. [unclear: K.] didn’t it I? — that he thought it was the greatest book
in the world, & had read it 12 times in English? — I
managed to keep up the instalments on My Apprenticeship
all right — no, I rather think I missed a week, & had to
[unclear: dub] up a final 5/- all at once — anyhow the book is now
all mine. — Thanks for your [unclear: extrav.] programme, as
well as your other enclosures. The Great Man himself
also sent me a programme, with notices (very favourable)
from the chief Wellington critical journals pasted inside.
I should think that now, having consummated this Life’s
ambition, he would be satisfied to retire & hang up
his laurels over the dining-room mantelpiece; but I hear
that he has now been appointed to run the Spike. It
looks as if he is determined to last out most of the
staff at that place; I sometimes think it is a pity he
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doesn’t consent to grow up; it isn’t decent thus to Peter
Pan it indefinitely. However he appears to have the
lecture-going habit, let alone that worse one of standing
around the Hall at college talking. I think it was in
1921 he first began to talk to me there, while Mrs. Han-
thinks he was going in her day.

Thank you very much for your expert publicity
in the Post. On reading, I said to myself, My God!
this bloke must be a bit of a winner! A friend ac-
went to the extent of cutting the article out of
one copy to preserve. The cove in the photograph
though looks a very innocent young feller — myself of
1926! You must remember I have grown a moustache
now, in addition to my horn-rims. It is said to make
me look older, as well as having the added advantage
of covering up a certain portion of my face. From the
snapshots I enclose in this letter you will get a vague idea
of how I look now; though remember that since they
were taken the moustache has had a month’s further growth.
As for the Dominion Personalities of the Week, I gathered
that it was I who was portrayed from the letterpress, but
the blur was so bad that identity was otherwise doubtful. I
count it as a distinct honour however to figure next to
Sir Josiah Stamp, once [sic] of the really great men of this
dispensation; about my other companions I am not so
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certain. I gathered from some correspondent of somebody
else in London that I also appeared in an Auckland
paper; fame does seem to spread once it gets a start. I am
certainly glad that the hearts of Mrs Kilfoy & McColl have
been so touched.

As far as things go over here, I had better try
first to tell you how I stand about coming back. The Geneva
thing I thought I might get is no go — they were full up
there for their next session, though if they had known a
month earlier they would have been very pleased to consider
me — small satisfaction. The London travelling studentship
I applied for was also no go — they put me in the final
six for interview, but when it came to the point gave
the cash to a cove to go & make phonetic investigations
into the chief Arabic dialects, & to a girl for something
called “classical research” — which sounds like a crowning
insult. Everything else which I may have mentioned
seems pretty much of a washout. The last Orient boat
I can catch leaves on July 20, though I may be able
to wangle a transfer to a later P. & O. one. I last night
applied for the chair of history, a brand-new affair, at
Singapore, where a university college is just in the
making. The appointment is made through the Colonial
Office, & Laski said he might be able to do something
with Webb in the matter. I don’t know about this.
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They wanted applicants to be between 30 & 35, so that is
one snag. However, it is just possible the luck may turn
on this impossible chance, as it has gone against me on all
the impossible ones. It wouldn’t be an ideal job, of course;
but of course it would be a job. Pay & holidays & such
like things very good; continual free passages backwards
& forwards provided, & so on; however it doesn’t seem worth
while at this stage enlarging on that part of the business.
I have one or two other enquiries out, but not of much
practical value, I am afraid. Well, you see if I sail,
I sail in three weeks or a month, probably three weeks;
if I sail I shall send you a cable as I step on board
the boat, so you will very probably know that I am on
my way before you get this. If you haven’t had a cable
by the time you get this, you will know either that I have
got a later passage or a job — anyhow if it is a passage you
won’t have long to wait. This is a rather unsatisfactory
position; but if I sail you will have at least a couple
of months to get ready for me — bed made, brass band &c;
while I ha shall have less than 3 weeks in which to get
packed up, see the rest of England, & bid heaven knows
how many fond & long farewells. I’m sorry I can’t
tell you more just at present.

On the doings of the last fortnight there isn’t
much to relate. I seem to have been writing letters most
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of this week. The other night I went to an allegedly musical
comedy called Funny Face, the second thing of its kind I
have been to in nearly three years over here. It wasn’t mus-
, but it was a lot more comic than any other of these
things I have seen; or, to be more precise, two of the men
in it were extraordinary comedians, Stanley Lupino &
some other cove. It is something to be able to laugh, I suppose.
There was also some good trick-dancing of the stiff-jointed kind.
This was a set-off to Galsworthy’s new play. Exiled, to which we
went, accompanied by Berrie, a week ago. It is not a
very good play, rather sentimental, & in one or two places
even priggish in a whimsical way, but the papers have
attacked it with a surprising savagery. Ern I gather was
also considerably displeased. They seemed to have
missed all the humour & gentle irony in it, which relieved
the sentiment (possibly sentimentality) ; Anyhow the
acting was all thoroughly first-rate. Names I won’t give
you, as you will probably get them out of Punch. Lewis Casson,
Sybil Thorndike’s husband, I am conceiving an
extremely great admiration for. I should like to see
some more of Galsworthy’s earlier plays. We went to
our first talkie the other day too, an appalling thing called
the Fox Movietime 1929 Follies; appalling both in construction,
speech, song, & everything else. If this is a fair sample,
it looks to me as if the talkies are the worst thing that
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could possibly have happened to the cinema. We couldn’t
stand it, & left half-way. However it must be admitted
that perhaps it wasn’t a fair sample; certainly it was a Yank
picture, & I hadn’t seen a Yank picture for a long while.
I didn’t realise how shockingly bad they were beside these
European ones I have been seeing lately. I shall wait &
see. Those I think have been all my theatre excitements.

I had a very interesting Thursday evening last week
with Williamson, who you will remember is the editor of
these Pioneer Histories to which I am to contribute. I haven’t
done anything in the matter yet. If I come back to N. Z. I
can write the book there all right. He says that the
publisher told him he had been talking to a very exper-
book traveller, who had convinced him they
would sell just as many copies at 10/6 or 12/6 as at 7/6,
so one of the higher prices will probably be settled on.
It seems doubtful economics to me, but then I’m not
an expert. If true, one reason for the high price of books,
which publishers so strenuously deny. And all the
better for me, as my percentage, 10%, remains the same.
They don’t want my stuff till 1931; if I could get it in
then, it would be one of the first three; but there’s no time
limit, & of course it will depend on how things go with
me & where I am situated. — Monday & Tuesday of that
week I went on the tramp again; went by train to a
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very charming little village called West Wycombe, just
bought for preservation by the Royal Society of Arts — it is
in Buckinghamshire; thence stuck south through the
most beautiful beech-woods & over village commons & a
good deal of bare hill-side down to the Thames at Marlow.
We got away bathed here & walked down the touring path
to a place called Bourne End, where we had a good stoke
up. We then got away from the river past a wonderful
hill-side of daisies (it looked lil as if there had been a fall of
snow) on to a marvellous tree-lined road; then trespassed
through some estate to get a remarkable view of the river at
twilight, looking from a high cliff, then down this cliff & along
a path by the side of a backwater for miles — all private
property, as it turned out. Woods coming down the steep
hillside on the left all the while; on the right the river
bordered by a long line of drooping trees — there’s nothing
in N. Z. like this. However it was possible to find a fair
place to sleep out, in spite of [gap — reason: unclear][unclear: keepers] & such-like; & early rising
in the morning avoided them successfully. We then got on
to the touring-path again at Maidenhead, & walked along it
down to Eton, bathing & sun-bathing on the way. I’ve never
known such a two-days weather in England. It kept on for
the rest of the week. At Eton I had a look at the chapel; we
then crossed the bridge into Windsor, lunched in Windsor Great
Park, & then walked through it to Virginia Water, very hot &
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at times slightly dusty from flash limousines speeding back
from Ascot. From Virginia Water took the train back to London.
You can certainly get some good walking in this country if
you have a map, & know where to go, & do a judicious amount
of trespassing — in spite of the universal 1st class roads, so
blooming hard on the feet. We really struck remarkably
little road this trip. You would like the beech-woods.

Yesterday we went out to have a look at Chelsea again,
& explored Carlyle’s house (1/-). It is a regular museum — about
600 exhibits, & everything numbered, with a catalogue to refer
to. It is very interesting though; & I had the luck to strike it
in a slack hour between a class of school-children (with
exercise-books) & a char-à-banc of Yanks (with guide). If I
owned it, I should be tempted to paint the walls a more cheer-
colour — they seem mainly a drab brown — but perhaps
this would be sacrilege. I think I told you that I went to
Johnson’s House in Gough Court a few weeks back. These places
make me think very much of Mummy & her reading. I wish
we could go round them together. — This afternoon I heard
Webb speak at the School Oration Day. He is a very unexciting
speaker, though a great man, & now a Lord. (“The House of
Lords must go!” he says in his Fabian lecture pamphlet on
the subject). And tomorrow Uncle George is going to do a
sketch-portrait of me. — Well, I must knock off now.
Thank you for your letters.