Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (digital text)   Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 8 August 1928

page 1

My dear Mummy,

I bring you up to date with my
travels with a last letter written from France; I go
back to London at the end of this week, but whether
I shall catch the next N.Z. mail from there I do
not know, so don’t expect anything till you get
it. — No time for anything else to come from you,
so nothing to answer, unless I comb out your last
letter for debatable points, & I don’t propose to do
this. Therefore I proceed at once to Chartres,
whither Elsie & Kathleen & I & Hemming & a cobber
of his called Taylor went last Wednesday. We
went on a Wednesday to avoid the week-end crush.
as well as being the day on which hard working coves
like H & T would naturally take off; but we
arrived at the station to find it almost hidden
in singing crowds & the whole train service
apparently hopelessly disorganized — a sign board
telling you one thing, & every porter or other offic-
you asked telling you others, & none of them
reconcilable with anything else. We then realised
that it was the 1st August, & that the French as
well as the English were accustomed to making
themselves acutely uncomfortable on this occasion.
page 2 Also there were other confusing factors. In this coun-
you often cannot travel 3rd unless for a journey
over a certain distance, or on certain trains. We
carefully looked out an early train which took 3rd
class passengers, performed the heroic feat of rising
in time to catch it, get to the station & find
that nobody has heard of the train, or that the
time-table has been suspended, or that the train
has gone, or something has changed its platform —
you can take your choice of all these possibilities,
as we had to — but that there is another train,
not down in any time-table, going ¾ hour
later. So we t carefully enquire — is this train
really going to Chartres? & when? & does it actually
take 3rd class passengers in the 3rd class car-
? even to Chartres? Everybody at last
agrees that all these things are so, & we hop
in. Seats nowhere to be had — notices that stand-
in the couloirs strictly forbidden — f couloirs
filled with a singing mass — fat Frenchmen
continually getting on with large suitcases — Pardon,
monsieur! — push you off your feet & deposit
suitcases where you were standing. Train at
last so full that even the conductors can
hardly get on, but they do & close all the
doors & we move off. After standing in this

page 3 conditions [sic] for 1 ¾ hours, reach Chartres. Produce
tickets at gate. “Where’s your supplements?”
Supplements? What supplements? “These are
3rd class tickets & you can’t travel 3rd on this
train.” By Jingo! we travelled 3rd all right!
— Off goes ticket-collector to interview station-master,
off go we after him. Great flow of language on
chef de gare’s part, likewise Hemming’s & Taylor’s,
hands waving all over the place. —, “No, quite im-
! no 3rd class passengers taken to Chartres
on that train! Yes, you may have been told
that in Paris, but that’s nothing to do with us!
Oh yes, I quite believe all you say! But you
pay the supplements & then write in a full
account of the circumstances to the State & you
may get reimbursed.” Well, we can’t stay on
the station all day, & even the French of the
experts having proved unavailing, we decide to
pay up our 2nd class fare. — but each to pay our
own with a 100 franc note. No good — the
cove has to go all over the station to change the
first note, so it looks as if they will have to
open the banks to change any more. So we
let it go at that, take it all out of the same
note, enquire very carefully what trains go to
Paris, which of them take 3rd class passengers, &
page 4 move off, ticket-collector having had immense
difficulty in counting out the change, & having said
“5! 10!! 20!!!” so often in tones of increasing
despair that we thought he would go straight away
& cut his throat. So behold us at last in Chartres.

It was a terrifically hot day, but we man-
to see the cathedral & one or two other things,
which is about all that Chartres consists of. The
Cathedral is a fine place, & has the distinction of
being built almost entirely in the same style, 13th
century. Also that they had the useful rule there
as that as it was the church of Our Lady, it was
far too sacrosanct to bury anyone in it, so
there is a welcome absence of tombs, & you are
able to see the place practically unimpeded.
The cathedrals here, though badly looked after
in comparison with the English ones, seem on the
whole to be less obstructed with junk. Certainly
none of them have been turned into a stone-
, without any of a stone-quarry’s dignity,
like Westminster Abbey. Notre Dame in
Paris seems even fuller of tourists than the
Abbey, but at least the tourists can be cleared
out periodically. But the tombs of our undis-
English dead seem fated to outlast
the Abbey itself. Well, anyhow Chartres is a
page 5 very beautiful dignified place. It has almost a
complete set of stained glass windows, all of its
own period, except for 8 which the canons
took down & threw away in the 18th century, to
let in a bit of light, & four or five which the
good old Revolution, slightly less destructive than
the Church, smashed up in sheer high spirits.
Otherwise the fenestration is about as perfect as
anything could be, though I don’t think they have
any individual window to touch two or three
of those at Rouen. However opinions may differ.
My old cobber Henry Adams wrote a book on
Mont St Michel & Chartres, as an attempt to
interpret the Middle Ages (which I must read some
day) in which he reckoned that one of the Chartres
windows was the most perfect expression of mediaev-
art in existence; at which I can only ex-
my surprise. Of course he was an
American, & as is well known, the Yanks
have no culture. ([unclear: Latent] aphorism of
Hemming’s — “Culture means ruins, [gap — reason: unclear] & the Yanks
haven’t got any.”) — The rest of Chartres is mainly
nondescript modern, with the usual superabun-
restaurants & appalling smells. They all seem
to do their washing in the river in these small
towns in France; & the river is generally full of
page 6 tin-cans & dead dogs. And yet, from the way
they bang away at the clothes with bits of board
& go over it with scrubbing brushes, you wonder
at their [sic: there] being any washing left at all. A
wonderful place indeed. We had a long chat
also with an old cove working on the tram lines
(no trams in sight) who had found a couple
of old coins & sold them to Taylor for 2 francs; &
a large & varied amount of information we got from
him, including the facts that the Romans’ use of
gunpowder was very imperfect, but that modern guns
could shoot as far as 200 yards!, that times were
hard, & that the town was insanitary. He then
moved off with a couple of cobbers who downed
tools as soon as the 2 francs changed hands & [gap — reason: unclear]
it in at the nearest cafe! We managed to catch
a train to Paris which took 3rd class passengers, &
still more wonderful, left at the stated time;
being entertained in transit by the conversation of
the Yanks who occupied the rest of the compartment.
Recipe to be amused in this way — stick your
head into a French paper & listen hard. You
can hear anything from what their brothers think
of cathedrals (“What’s the use of all this dead
stank anyway!”) to the comparison of prices paid
for meals in Vancouver & Chicago. A wonderful
page 7 people.

Since then we have been on one or two
other expeditions — to a play “Vient de Paraitre”
(Just Out), a very funny satire on the French
literary prize system & the antics of publishers;
but in which the dialogue went so rapidly that
it was impossible to catch more than a bit of it.
It has been running for a year here, but the prizes
still seem to be handed out. I heard of one cove
with a thirst for literary distinction who put up
the money for a prize, chose his own jury, &
arranged that it should be awarded to him, as
it was. I dare say the passion will work itself
out; anyhow the play was good. There are often
things running, as well as opera, but it seems so hard
to work in anything in the evening these days,
except arguments. However we went to see The
Gold Rush again last night — the French are
mad on Charlot, & have him running in differ-
things all over the place. And two or
three nights ago we went up to Montmartre to a high-
movie place cl called Studio 28, where
they put on some old fashioned magic lantern
slides, a gory Chinese film of Love & Passion,
some nutty f pictures of ordinary things taken
edgeways & upside down (not on the proper screen,
page 8 but on both side walls of the theatre simultaneously!) Some
studies in light & shade with cubes & triangles &
cylinders continually in motion, an ancient
Buster Keaton comedy, & a new French film of
Pres’ Fall of the House of Usher — a first rate thing,
the best & most interesting film I have seen since the
Gold Rush came out. First rate photography too;
just one or two palpable fakes wrong. If this
ever comes out your way, be sure to see it —
plenty of thrills too, & nightmare atmosphere
about it. So you see you get a lot for
your money at Studio 28.

Let’s see where else we have been — the girls
were out with a cousin who owns a silver mine
or something, doing things in style, on Sunday: so
Hemming, de K, a Frenchy called Hébert, a very
decent cove & I went to Malmaison, one of
Napoleon’s country houses, now used as a museum
of the great man. A fearful place! What an
utter vulgarian he was! The more I see of
palaces, & the material remains of kings & queens
& emperors the more I despise them. You would
think that the Empire could be summed up in
three words: Gold Paint & Plush. The rooms
are very small, & you are taken over the place
by guides in dense masses by guides who admire
page 9 most profusely. Everything’s there, from the robes
the Emperor wore at his coronation to the
handkerchief he held in his hand when he died.
There was another thing there that annoyed me —
a BATH belonging to Josephine — one of the
first in France, said the guide. The first we saw
later, at Fontainebleau — this belonged to Marie
Antoinette; but the state of preservation of both seems
so good, after so many years, that it seems doubt-
if either was used much. However Malmaison
has possibilities — if all the shutters were painted green,
& the inside was cleaned out & thoroughly re-decorated,
it would make quite a good country house, if
a country house could be so near Paris. Paris ex-
like London, dirtily & unceasingly & hideously.
The grounds would have to be done up too — the French
plant magnificent avenues, & lay out magnificent
parks, but they don’t know the first thing about
lawns — Malmaison is like a park meadow.
That is one direction where the English, with all
their faults, are supreme — I must & do admit this.
(Comment from Daddy unnecessary) And the
gardens here, apart from general layout, are pretty
poor. Still the general layout, & the fountains,
& the trees, are superb.

On Monday we went to Fontainbleau; the
page 10 woods there are fine, the palace is another museum
of junk of all periods, with one or two good
things that seem to have crept in by accident. It
reminded me of Schonbrunn last year — why
is royalty always so horribly over decorated?
why does it reach such abysmal depths of
vulgarity? Napoleon wasn’t the only one, though
perhaps the most ostentatiously ugly — the rest of
the stuff is almost as uniformly bad. There are
one or two fine rooms at Fontainebleau — but
smothered in gilding & admiration. A terrible
place. I suppose I must go to Versailles & complete
my impressions; but that I believe is just gold paint
& mirrors — an even more frightful conglomeration.
At Fontainebleau the combination of the waitress at
our restaurant & the Fontainebleau tram caused us to
miss our train; so we had a good walk through
the woods for 5 or 6 miles to the station, though it
was three [unclear: parts] in the dark. Certainly in the
matter of natural scenery the Kings of France did
themselves well.

In between these expeditions we have been to
museums, bookshops, up the tower of Notre Dame to
see the gargoyles, Rodin museum, & so on & so
forth. — Good heavens! it just occurs to me
that I have not answered your last letter at all!
page 11 Later: I now proceed to do so. Thank you for same
& for enclosure re Bates College v. V.U.C. & Grant’s impressions.
I read these in the N.Z. News in the days when Harrop
sent it to me free in the hope of getting me for a sub-
. Debating tours seem to be becoming a disease,
but I suppose they’re all right as long as Bates College
foots the bill. — In answer to your question as towhether I
had ever felt homesick — yes, I have, but what’s the use
of talking about that? The world is full of things to feel
sick about. I wouldn’t mind coming back now that
Ern has hopped off; but I had better try to get a job
over here first, I suppose, before burying myself. It
was two years ago precisely on Monday at midday since
I left home, & there I was in the woods at Fontainebleau
that afternoon. However I will not go into any philo-
disquisitions on this subject. — As to my goggles,
they have only had about four accidents since I left —
I do not wish to provoke a fresh argument on an old
subject, but I may point out that your average has
probably been far higher. — No, I don’t want photographs
of myself in early youth. I remember the picture of
Daddy & Balfour. However a Forward Movt young
man came to take up with a washout like that I don’t
know. Someone said that there hasn’t been a pro-
movement of any kind in Balfour’s political
life that he hasn’t been against, or a reactionary one
page 12 which he hasn’t favoured; while I always thought
that Daddy in those days was a bloody revolutionary, or
at least a [gap — reason: unclear] socialist. F.W. Maurice & [unclear: W.]J Balfour,
a funny combination. Or perhaps not so funny. I
gather that F.W.M was a bit of a muddlehead. — The
flower girls in London do sell freesias, & most other
flowers. A pity you can’t see them sometimes. — It is
very cheering to learn that you can now walk as far
as [unclear: Falty] Bishop’s Church. Funny how these half-wits
flourish. — So Alice Brown has settled on a bloke at
last — I hope suitably handsome. — I have duly conveyed
your message to Elsie Holmes.

Everything else noted but does not seem to call for
special remark, except that (a) it seems to be a habit of
these psychology birds, Ern, Fortune & the rest to exploit
their theses to a remarkable degree, get an M.A. on
it, deliver a lecture on it, article in Evening
Post, ditto in Aus. Psych. Journal, — & then I sup-
it will be published entire [sic] in England & [gap — reason: unclear] get
two lines of patronage in the [unclear: Lib[gap — reason: unclear]]. Supp. Nothing
like working your ideas for all they’re worth.
(b) I notice Daddy is on to another stocktaking
again. I hope it is over by now, or that he can
get some help. It worries me to think of his
being at the same old nightly grind again. And
(c) why do you thank me for my letters?
page 13 They are surely pretty poor & few on the whole to
get all that appreciation. As a matter of fact,
I have come to the conclusion that writing letters
is a whole-time job. If I had Horace Walpole’s
time off, I might do a bit at it, & revise them
periodically for publication. The easiest way of
writing a book anyhow.

Talking of which, Captain Hobson has at last
arrived; at least, I have got one copy. It doesn’t
look bad, although there are one or two misprints
& still some very stupid alterations by Fay. Still
it is not as bad as it was, & if I could give it
another thorough revision it would be able to stand
up on its legs fairly well. I shall be able to
send you out one by the next English mail I
can catch; I shall try to send it corrected. Or I
may possibly leave you to pick out the editorial
alterations, as an exercise in criticism. I shall
be interested to see if any copies reach N.Z. inde-
of the ones I send & if they get any sen-
reviews. I might get C.Q.P. to do one in the
Dominion! — & I hope that the Spike at least will
come out strong, especially as I have dedicated
the thing to V.U.C. I reckon my Govs’ Ints will
be at least 4 times as long as this thing, probably
a good deal more; so you can see it will be a
page 14 fairly hefty thing. I shall be back in London
next week hacking away at that, if according
to schedule.

I had one or two more odd things to
say, but I have forgotten what they were. We
went to a very interesting museum of Chinese
art this afternoon — some beautiful pottery there —
also some early stuff about 5000 years old with
Maori patterns on them in red & black for decor-
. Perhaps Daddy, as a student of anthro-
, may be able to explain this. They are
also like early Greek stuff. I am getting
somewhat interested in eastern art. — The Cluny
Museum is another very interesting place here, full
of all sorts of junk, old top boots, doors, chimney
pieces, china, armour, spinets, lace, & so on.
Not a patch on the Victoria & Albert though. The
Louvre still unexhausted but exceedingly exhausting.
A very fine sunset tonight up the Seine. Mr
Hemming & I stood on a bridge, the Pont du Car-
, & admired & philosophised. Afterwards
to a café for café. The cafés are a marvellous
institution. I got £10 the other day for the
[gap — reason: unclear] scholarship scheme. Not bad, though
not over generous. And so on. And so on.

I conclude with very much love to you both.
And all aunts.