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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 28 November 1927

page 1
21 Brunswick Square
London W.C.1
P.P.S. I have only one cutting to offer this time,
but it is a perfect example.

My dear Mummy,

I am apprehensive the mail may close tomorrow
being Tuesday instead of Friday, or rather that there may be no
supplementary mail on Friday, that being the one I usually catch,
so I cut London Ronald & [unclear: Suggia] & Schubert in [unclear: C] & Debussy
to make sure of getting something written to you. Greater love hath
no son for his Mother. Though now that I am safe inside I am
greatly tempted to relapse into the arm-chair & continue with
Keats' Letters, which which I am reading now. No doubt you have
read them several times, but no doubt also it would do you
good to read them again; so if it is not [unclear: infra dig]for you
to take my advice, I think you had better do so. You give
a formidable list of books you have read, apparently in a week;
though as the list includes both Nicholas Nickleby & Dombey &
Son that seems a tall order for a week even for you. I should
just like to know, à propos of some more of your advice, how
you expect me to read Dickens while I am in London? — I
thought I had explained at considerable length that apart from
the world's worsh books on history I read about one book a
month — & that a lot smaller than [gap — reason: unclear] anything your Dickens
ever succeeded in writing. Anyhow I reckon Dickens is a
back number, & any up to date cove with vision & the modern
spirit would tell you the same. Sentimental — long-winded.
page 2 Preposterous. Never thought much of him myself. I much prefer
the Sitwell family. However you are able to work a point on
me: you can fill up 7 5½ lines with the blooming books you've
read & then sink back & think you've done a good days' work,
while I've got to fill up my five lines all out of my own
head. I see you have been doing a bit of psychology, normal
& abnormal — why don't you read a bit of history for a change
& get an idea where you stand in time as well as in mentality.
Have you finished that Gibbon yet? That's what I want to
see you getting into. But I suppose that by the time you
get this you will be up & running round town again & saying
you haven't got any time for reading anyhow. As a matter of
fact, I don't trust you myself — I shouldn't be surprised if
you just made up that list out of your head, to prove what
could be done without proper supervision. A good thing you
don't have to make a statutory declaration, or it might be all
up with you. And by cripes! I shouldn't have any sympathy
for you. I always did think you wanted careful watching.

I note your disapproval of de K's wearing my blazer & your
phrase “false colours”. False or not he wore a lot of them, because
he had on a pair of light khaki shorts & bright red stockings,
remanant of a football team, as well — a ghastly sight. All the
Germans in the Black Forest turned round & guffawed. As
for Auntie Em's question about the postcards, I don't quite know
whether they are yours absolutely or in trust for me; but anyhow
don't go giving any of them away to stray aunts or ½ aunts.
page 3 I now come to Daddy's portion of the letter. I see you generally
make him start first now & write ¾ of it. I thought I should
have sent out a good many more snaps long ago, but in spite
of the fact that I have handed over mine & have made suggestions
ranging from pointed hints to plain demands to my compan-
, they continue to do nothing in the matter of forking
out cop the copies I have ordered of their photos. They speak
me fair words, but do nothing more. Write to the Post &
say that the only really honest people in the world are New
Zealanders. They're dead sure to publish anything like that.
I am glad Daddy liked the Blake Blake. And that reminds
me — in [unclear: re] the book on your cobber H. Walpole I sent you
for Christmas. I am of course not labouring under the delusion
that it will tell you anything you don't know about a friend
so intimate; but I thought, Well, they say it is a good book,
& it may interest one keen & penetrating feminine mind to see
how what knows so well appeals to another. So I hope you
won't chuck it into the fire indignantly before you have read
even as far as the title-page. — The Molesworth arrived as
good as new, thank you — it was all right sending it here. I
believe I asked for it to be sent to the Institute because we
had arrived at one of our periodical spasms of thinking of
moving out of this place into a flat or some such idea. How-
Daddy needn't be so apologetic about it. I think I
have exhausted any remarks I ever had to make on the subject
of night-work — obviously if neither of you give a darn what
page 4 the doctor says, it's no use my praying for you, or cursing
you, as far as that goes.

[Interlude: Now it looks to me as if the gas is going out; & it
was only last night at 12.30 that I put a bob in the meter &
the thing hasn't been used since, unless by that confounded
Jew Miss Hawkins. I'll say the [unclear: fas loy] are a mean lot of
swp swipes anyhow]

Erin's thesis seems to be a verbose blooming thing. No use
trying to impress me with theses. I live in [gap — reason: unclear] an atmosphere of the
darned things & they only make me feel slightly sick. I finished
the second draft of my introduction the other day & of that
I am sick to death. I suppose I shall have to write it all
over again some time. I think I must learn to play on
Duncan's typewriter; I'll have to buy one soon too — £14../4
for a portable Corona — life is one darn cheque after
another. It was painful to fork out £22.1 for another
year's fees, espically as you get practically nothing for it
at all. As far as fees go, in the States you can do a
whole PhD on 20 guineas — here, counting various [unclear: drib-
, this to the University, this to King's, that somewhere else, it's
nearer £100. Thank God I had a bit of cash of my own,
or it's precious few concerts I should have been to. It's
about time that the Univ of N.Z. woke up to the fact that from
⅕ to ¼ of their travelling schols goes in fees which is to a
large extent just money chucked away.

Thanks for the Historical Assn circular. The usual
page 5 sort of people seem to be running it. I don't know two or three
of them. P.J. Smith is a funny sort of cove to have for Sec
& Treasurer. I'm willing to bet he'll never get through a
degree of any kind — he's too keen on improving his mind.
F.P. will of course do his best to smash the thing up by
sitting among the girls & grinning; or he may even lecture,
which would be worse. He gives me a bad taste in the
mouth. However it is an excellent idea to finish up the
meetings with supper. If it was in the Women's Common
Room Daddy was treading on holy ground — that was
where the Stud Ass farewelled me with many rhap-
over my virtues & made me a present of that singu-
ill-fated blazer. I think by the way I'll send it
back & ask for a new one.

You might tell Frannie I don't approve of her abandoning
her husband for the delights of Wanganui, which is a dan-
place for an unattached girl. I admit it would be a
distinct relief to get away from K for a bit, indeed I
wonder that she has been able to stand it for so long; but I
warned her about that before she left England, she may remem-
. For better or worse, so runs the sacred words, or to
that effect, & if she didn't percieve before she leapt in that
it would be a pretty poor life is it a Christian thing to
try & sneak out by the backdoor now? I ask her, as man
& woman, as brother & sister. But I don't suppose I'll get
an answer. She never even seems to think a cove is worth
page 6 writing to. Sniff! Sniff! It's a hard life.

Wotcher getting at, calling me cynical? Daddy this
time. The amount of abuse I get flung at my head is aston-
. Here is a cove, 13000 miles away, asks a polite question
& he gets accused of general cynicism, of writing pages of cyn-
remarks & so on & so forth. This is as bad as marking
papers at V.U.C. again. A more painfully well—meaning,
transperently honest cove I never did meet, & yet even his
family turns on him & rends him. Oh God! as the immortal
Tom Bracken so exquisitely & inevitably says Oh God! that
men would see a little clearer Or judge less harshly when they
cannot see Oh God! that men would draw a little nearer
To one another they'd be nearer thee And understand. That
book of NZ verse has that FP gave me has been a real godsend —
that & Duncan's Sentimental Bloke, we read the SB, Not Under-
& one or two others out to all our visitors & they roar with
laughter. Personally I think Not Understood knocks Gray's
overrated Elegy well into the discard.

Well, well, to get away from the poets to saner matters. I
went to two dud lectures last week, the [unclear: Leighten] lecture by
Grant Robertson, Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield Univ, on History
& Citizenship, for one. He started out well, but [gap — reason: unclear] went to
the pack soon after. I gathered he had one or two great ideas
lost somewhere; but he got in more words to the square
minute, arranged in more, & more complicated metaphors,
than I've ever run into before. The other was a thing
page 7 by Gooch on Liberty, for school-teachers & such luck, I afterwards
found, & pre-digested pap it was. However optimistic as
ever — optimism is my disease, not cynicism — I am
going to hear Philip Guedalle tomorrow On Writing History.
Not that he can tell me much, but still he might make
one or two jokes, & to quote Daddy's words, a man has
got to pick up his amusement where he can these days.
I only went to two concerts last week — the last of the
Léver series, César Franck, Ravel, & Debussy, all first rate;
& a choral concert, the Royal Choral Society in Brahms'
Requiem & Gustav Holsts' Hymn of Jesus. I was a bit disap-
in the Brahms — it struck me as being a glorified
Anglican anthem more than anything else. However appar-
its' [sic: it's] not, & all the papers said it was a pretty poor
performance owing to the fog which filled the Hall (Albert)
& various other misfortunes. But the Holst was great stuff.
He conducted it himself. He has two choruses sub-divided
& a smaller sub-chorus of women's voice, a very big or-
, & uses a whole tone scale. There is a terrific
sweep in it — it pictures a sort of early Xian ritual
dance; words from some apocryphal gospel of St.
John. There are too many darned concerts this week,
though, about 3 a night. London String Quartet is
giving all Beethoven's quartets through the week. Opera at
Golder's Green — B.N.O.C. I suppose you have heard ab
about Beecham's great opera scheme? I should be in it all
page 8 right if I were going to be here for 5 years. It doesn't seem
to be going too well, all the same. The English are a pitiful
lot of chumps. Then the Berlin Symphony Orchestra is playing
on Friday & Sunday. There are about 18 smaller concerts.
This means doing precious little work at nights, while the
only nights you can shake free you have to spend in writing
letters. I see my thesis going in about 1930.

29/11/27 Shore enough — no mail on Friday. So I have to
take the afternoon off to get up to date. The weather is filthier
than ever. It is dark enough in the morning normally; but just
as I put on my coat to leave the day turned pitch-dark sudden-
& completely, with the further fog the faithful & unerring Times
predicted. The combination of fog & thick rain is juicy, I'll
tell you. Lucky the fog was gone by lunch time but the rain
still pours down. My mind goes back to the bird who yapped to
me on the Osterley as we tied up at Filbury "Yes" says this bird,
"the more I travel the more I like the English climate. You're
lucky to have such a fine afternoon to arrive here". It
wasn't quite as bad as this afternoon.

I went to Laski's on Sunday afternoon & heard some
pretty good yarns — one or two of them slightly touched up since
I heard them last. He has some some good books that cove. Did I
ever tell you how he picked up a copy of Quarles' Divine
(Moral!) Emblems on the Farringdon Road for 3/6, took it straight
along to some place like Quaritch's & got £30 for it & a set of
the D.N.B & a set of 17th century things he wanted? He
page 9 seems to have a flair that way. He had a good set of tutors
at Oxford — Dicey, Fisher, & Barker — what more could a
man ask for? Unfortunately there was a repulsive S.
African there who yapped the whole time & Laski was too
polite to stoush him publicly. Heard a lot of other yarns too,
but it would take too long to write them out.

The Sunday before I was invited out with some others,
the usual two or three, to the Crumps, Helen Josephine
Crump being a fat girl who has taken Roo's place as assist.
librarian & office boy at the Institute, Father Crump the
celebrated mediaevalist who edited the Legacy of the Middle
Ages, & Mother Crump something or other historical.
My dear, too English, as you might say. Old Crump
has retired from the P.R.O. where he was assistant keeper
of the Records; he has a Victorian beard & wheezes & thinks
up allegedly funny academic stories when he can get
a word past Crumpie [gap — reason: unclear] (i.e Miss H.J.) & Ma Crump.
Helen Allen not being their [sic: there], they were all free to give their
uncensored impressions of America, where they all, so I
understand, made a great impression themselves. I played
the pianer & was invited nay pressed to go again, &
on Xmas day if I had now relatives to make myself a
nuisance to. Charming people, after visiting whom, as
H.A. says, you appreciate Jane Austen a great deal better.
I stop with love & best wishes for a Bright & Prosperous New

Your affect. son


P.S. By the way, Auntie's Hankey was from Brussels.