Location:   http://jmbarrie.co.uk/view/2678/

«« Click here to go back to your search.

sometime in 1957

Sydney Blow's Foreword to J M Barrie's "When Wendy Grew Up:
An Afterthought" (Thomas Nelson, 1957)

Sydney Blow's Foreword to J M Barrie's "When Wendy Grew Up:
An Afterthought"

Some are given the good fortune to encounter in life personalities that are never forgotten. The recollection of them is always pleasant and contributes greatly to life's enjoyment. I wish I could put into adequate words what it meant to me when over seventy years ago I was first brought into contact with a young Scottish author. I should like to thank him for all the joy that has been mine ever since that meeting.

It was through a magazine called “Good Words”. Month after month my father would read to me from this magazine a serial story written by a young man from the small Scottish town of Kirriemuir. It told the adventures of a girl of high degree who, dressed as a gipsy, stole along an underground passage from her castle home to meet in secret and to `bewitch', as the elders of the kirk called it, a young man recently called to the ministry and appointed to the local kirk.
Little did I realise then that I should one day be an actor and play that `little minister', and that the actress who played the gipsy girl, Babbie, would one day be my wife. Still less did I realise that she would be known to so many as the original Wendy of Peter Pan and as the creator of heroines of other plays that have become world famous, and all from the pen of the author who hailed from the little Scottish town - J. M. Barrie.

James Barrie was born in the small town of Kirriemuir on 9 May 1860, the ninth child of David and Margaret Barrie. David Barrie was a weaver and the Barrie home was in no way remarkable. It was a stone cottage, dour and uninspiring -just an ordinary Scottish weaver's house that stood among a cluster of houses all occupied by weavers and their families. From early morning to late at night a clatter of noise would emerge from each doorway, a klick, klap, Much, the continuous rhythmic beat of the loom. In those days a weaver's life was a hard one; he had to straddle his loom at daybreak and could never leave it all through the long day and far into the night. For all this labour he would be lucky if he managed to cam a hundred pounds a year.

According to David Barrie, his wife Margaret Ogilvy was `a rare guid one as well as a grand mither'. Perhaps it was what fell to her lot that made her so exceptional.
Her mother had died when she was barely eight years old, and from then on the care of her father, the local stone-mason, her little brother and the household fell on her shoulders. She joyfully followed in her mother's footsteps. For all her childish years, she scrubbed and cooked and baked, and did the sewing and the mending, the weekly washing and the ironing, with the eagerness of a grown woman. She was forced to give up her schooling and she grieved over leaving her school, for she loved learning, so much so that she would always turn to her books for odd moments even whilst she was about her household duties. If she had ten minutes to spare whilst the baking oven got properly heated for the bannocks, she found time to spend those ten minutes with Edward Gibbon and delve into his Decline and Fall. Throughout her life she bewailed her lack of a good education. Perhaps it was this lack that made her concentrate on getting `a guid edication' for her children.
In January 1867 a tragedy befell the Barrie household. One of the sons, young David, died as a result of a skating accident. He was not quite fourteen. His mother was broken-hearted and young James, then seven, did all that he could to comfort her. This bond of sorrow seemed to draw them closer and they spent more and more time together. When she was not teaching him his lessons they read books, taking it in turns to read aloud to one another. The first book that they read together was Robinson Crusoe. Next came Pilgrim's Progress by which the young James was fascinated. He even turned the garden into a Slough of Despond! These were followed by other books, everything that they could beg or borrow, Ballantyne's Coral Island and the Chatterbox Annual among them. These days Barrie has described in Margaret Ogilvy: `Besides reading every book we could hire or borrow I also bought one now and again, and while buying (it was the occupation of weeks), I read, standing at the counter, most of the other books in the shop, which is perhaps the most exquisite way of reading. 'During his adventures in this bookshop he discovered a penny monthly magazine with the alluring title of Sunshine which he declared was the most delicious periodical, I am sure, of any day.' It was full', he said, `of stories about pirates and desert islands, besides the usual gallimaufry of fairytale and romance.' It was the love of these stories and books that led him to write some of his own. Even in those days his fingers must have been filled with an ingredient that was most unusual.
During the first production of Peter Pan, Nibs, one of the Lost Boys, asked a pertinent question of him: `What makes you write, Mr Barrie? ' `Why, don't you know, my fingers are full of ink.' This answer quite satisfied Nibs, and he soon told the other Lost Boys of his strange discovery. It was only Slightly Soiled who found this hard to swallow, but then as the other Lost Boys said: `That's Slightly all over. He always thinks he knows better. ' Whether his fingers were really filled with ink or were just common ordinary fingers, stories began to flow from them. Writing in a garret under the roof of the Barrie home, young James began his tales of adventure, and as he finished each chapter he rushed down the stairs with it to his mother and read it for her approval. When he spoke of these stories in later years he said: `They were all tales of adventure (happiest is he who writes of adventure), no characters were allowed within if I knew their like in the flesh, the scene lay in unknown parts, desert islands, enchanted gardens, with knights on black chargers.
Not long afterwards his stories took life; he made them into plays and the acting of them began. Near the house stood a wash-house, which was used by young James and his friends, not for its right and lawful purpose but for `Jimmie Barrie's Theatre Royal'. This, as Barrie later declared in the `Dedication' by way of a preface to Peter Pan, was `the original of the little house that the Lost Boys built in the Never Land for Wendy, the chief difference being that it never wore John's hat as a chimney'. It was here that the story of the adventures of Peter Pan was first developed.
What fun young James must have had imagining that he was Peter, fighting Pirates, Redskins and the Crocodile and having to climb trees to evade being eaten or captured - living the life of a bold buccaneer!
But he began to realise that this make-believe life could not continue for ever. He realised that he would soon grow a beard and have to face a grown-up man's responsibilities; he would pass his hand over his chin with expectant horror to feel if any stubble had yet begun to sprout. On this he has recorded his feelings: `The horror of my boyhood was that I knew a time would come when I also must give up the games, and how it was to be done I saw not. . . . I felt that I must continue playing in secret. ' Surely this is the beginning of Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn't grow up, the boy who wanted always to be young and have fun.
With the coming of his beard Barrie realised that he had reached the cross-roads between manhood and boyhood. So he pretended to grow up; but not really, for all his life he had the good fortune to keep a firm grip on youth and be eternally young. Even his shadow, as the years went by, kept its youthful look. If you passed him in a sunlit street the shadow that fell behind him was one that knew no age - it had an impish look and was much given to laughing at its own secret jokes.

With the introduction of steam into weaving David Barrie left Kirriemuir to work for a while in a linen works at Forfar. But he subsequently returned to a bigger house in Kirriemuir, a house called Strath View and which was the original for A Window in Thrums. After a brief spell of school at Forfar and another brief spell at Kirriemuir, Barrie was sent at the age of thirteen to attend the Academy at Dumfries where his elder brother, Alec, was then an Inspector of Schools. It was in some gardens in Dumfries that Barrie himself identified the original home of the Lost Boys.
While pursuing his studies there he found time to read many more books of adventure. Fenimore Cooper and Mayne Reid provided him with stories of Redskins and Mohicans. Captain Marryat provided tales of seafaring and shipwrecks. But Ballantyne still remained his favourite author and Coral Island his favourite story, as he himself has recorded in the Preface he wrote to Coral Island in 1913.
From Dumfries he went in 1878 to the University of Edinburgh where he took his degree in April 1882. His first job was as a journalist on the staff of the Nottingham Journal and soon he was writing leading articles for the sum of three pounds a week.
After eighteen months in Nottingham he returned for a brief spell to Kirriemuir and then went to London. The story of his life in London and of his success has been told by him in The Greenwood Hat. His stories of Kirriemuir and of the people there gave him the material fora succession of books, Auld Licht Idylls, A Window in Thrums, The Little Minister and Margaret Ogilvy, the story of his mother's life. Meantime in 1892 his comic play Walker, London was produced at Toole's Theatre, on the site of the present Charing Cross Hospital.

In 1894 he married the actress Mary Ansell who had appeared in Walker, London. In 1896 his mother died.
His success as a playwright seems to have been finally established in 1897 with the production of The Little Minister. It was produced in America by Charles Frohman with Maude Adams as Babbie. It was so successful with the American public that Charles Frohman urged Barrie to keep on writing plays.
And what of Peter Pan? What was Peter doing all this time? Was he forgotten? Far from it. He was tucked away safely and always in mind. When some little friend of Barrie's (and he had many little Friends, being so Fond of children) would beg him to tell a story, Peter Pan was called forward to meet them. Peter Pan's master knew of old that whenever he told the adventures of this half fairy, half boy, his listeners never tired of them. It was in the continual retelling that Peter was kept alive and active.
After his marriage Barrie settled in a little house in South Kensington, not far from Kensington Gardens. With him came to live Porthos, a big St Bernard dog, who was a fellow of some character, which was much developed by his master. According to report Porthos had a strong inkling that his master loved children. This no doubt was the reason why, when he and his master were out walking in Kensington Gardens, Porthos got into the habit of looking into perambulators to see if he could find a lovable child for his master to be introduced to. It was in the gardens that Porthos introduced him to a boy called George, the eldest of a family of boys. Porthos didn't know at the time of their introduction that his master had met the boy's mother. This boy, like so many others, was greatly attracted to this big dog who gazed mysteriously into perambulators and had such fun with his master playing hide-and-seek with him behind the big elm trees. On these occasions Porthos knew quite well what was expected of him, and he would add a bit of uncertainty to the game by pretending he didn't know which tree to make for. He would purposely choose the wrong ones in order to prolong the game and to add to its excitement. And it added to the joy of the children in their perambulators who were having such fun in watching them. This boy George Davies, was the grandson of George du Maurier, the famous Punch artist and novelist, author of Trilby. George Davies had at that time two brothers Jack and Peter, and it was through the friendship of these three boys that the story of Peter Pan began to develop and grow.
When the play began to be written the names of the Darling family were taken from the Davies children. John was Jack, and Michael whose second name is Nicholas bears the names of the two younger members of the family. Wendy was a new name. It came from Barrie's first child friend Margaret, the daughter of W. E. Henley, who died at the age of five. She was devoted to Barrie and used to call him`Friendy' which soon became `Wendy' or `Friendy-wendy'. Nana to the Darling family was of course Porthos, Barrie's St Bernard, though when the play was put into production Porthos was dead and his successor Luath, was used as a model and his movements were studied by Arthur Lupino, the first actor to play Nana.
In the summer of 1900 the Barnes took Black Lake Cottage between Farnham and Tilford in Surrey. By it was a lake, a little black lake, and a dense fir wood and no other house was in sight. In the following year the Davies family came to stay for six weeks in a farm-house at Tilford and the boys spent much of their time with Barrie in the woods and on the shores of the lake. The fairy stories of Kensington Gardens were continued and new adventures befell the Davies children, adventures which have been recorded in a book written by Barrie and called The Boy Castaways of Black Lake Island, being a Record of the Terrible Adventures of Three Brothers in the summer of 1901 faithfully set forth by Peter Llewelyn Davies (No. 3 as he is called in the `Dedication' to Peter Pan).
From this it is easy to imagine how the days of the holidays passed. What could have been more exciting than that day of their first visit when they discovered the Black Lake, which had an island floating on its waters, and the dark wood? It is easy to conjure up how the lake became a lagoon and how the boys found the Crocodile asleep on the shore and pelted him with stones to wake him up and make him slither back into the dark water. They had to crawl on all fours when tracking down the Redskins, taking cover through the thick wood until they located their encampment of wigwams. Then they hunted wild animals. Porthos was a great help in this for he would turn himself into a roaring lion or a fierce tiger at request. And what a moment it was when they first sighted the `Jolly Roger', the pirate ship, sailing into the lagoon! That was the first time that they heard the pirates singing their blood-thirsty song:

Yo ho, yo ho, the pirate life,

The flag of skull and bones,

A merry hour, a hempen rope,

And hey for Davy Jones!

Avast, belay, yo ho, heave to,

A-pirating we go,

And if we're parted by a shot

We're sure to meet below!

Such adventures naturally made them hungry. So for dinner they would shoot parrots and roast them over huge fires! Is there anything more delicious than the breast of a parrot roasted on a glowing wood fire with a few fir-cones to keep it going? What fun it was - first to build the fires and then to light them! To light a fire is really very simple - that is to say if you have two dry sticks and plenty of energy. It is very important to have plenty of energy, as you have to rub the two sticks together until you are tired. Only then will a spark fall from the sticks like a shooting star at night in the heavens. You must be very careful to see that when it does fall it sets the fire alight, otherwise you will have to start rubbing all over again. When the fire gets going a lovely-smelling smoke rises from the burning fir-cones. This smoke should be allowed to waft over the breasts of the parrots as it is this which adds that certain something, that delicious flavouring so very necessary for perFectly roasted Psittacidaes roti. While the parrots were roasting, a search party would go out to find Bread Trees and coconuts, for roasted parrot washed down by the milk of a coconut tastes heavenly. At first the gathering of coconuts presented the boys with a difficult problem. As they climbed up the trees to reach the coconuts a swarm of monkeys climbed down to attack them, for, of course, coconuts are the sole property of monkeys. A fierce fight took place in which the monkeys, at first, were victorious and it was only by a chance that the boys learned how to defeat them. Being very angry with a monkey for slapping his face one of the boys picked up a big fir-cone and flung it at him, hitting him full in the eye. This infuriated all the monkeys so much that they pelted the boys with coco-nuts. Now, Barrie, at cricket, had excelled in fielding and from him the boys learnt the best way to field coconuts. And so the gathering of coconut s ceased to be a problem. The boys merely fielded them as they were hurled down on them by the monkeys.
When later Barrie began to write the play of Peter Pan, the adventures which he and the Davies boys had experienced at Black Lake enabled him to write with first-hand knowledge of pirates and redskins, of crocodiles and lagoons.

When the tenancy of the Barrie's house in South Kensington was nearing its close Mrs Barrie found a charming dwarf house called `Leinster Corner' in the Bayswater Road, right opposite Kensington Gardens. From here Barrie had but to cross the road to get to the Round Pond and feed the ducks or to wander down the Broad Walk where the most important people of the day could be found sitting in their perambulators or bowling their hoops. What delighted Barrie most in the new home was a stable in the back garden, a relic of the days of Broughams and Victorias. This stable Barrie turned into his workroom where he could shut himself away from everyone and every-thing. Barrie was a naturally shy man who did not like meeting strangers; but he enjoyed the company and conversation of old friends.
It was on 23 November 1903 that Barrie began to write the play that was to become Peter Pan. At first it had no name but was called simply Anon - A Play. If you should ever pass the old stable, remember it was here that Barrie began to write down the stories he had so often told of Hook and the pirates, of the Redskins and the Lost Boys, of Peter, Wendy, John, Michael, of Nana and Mr Darling.
How play grew and developed has been recounted by Mr Lancelyn Green in Fifty Years of Peter Pan. For a long time it kept its original title Anon. Then later, Barrie called it Peter and Wendy. This title was changed to The Great White Father which it bore when Barrie somewhat timidly gave it to Charles Frohman to read. Barrie was so afraid that it would be a failure that he handed Frohman, his manager, two plays at the same time. The second was Alice-Sit-by-the-Fire which Barrie had written for Frohman and with Ellen Terry in mind. As Barrie placed the two plays in Frohman's hands, it is said that he touched the cover of The Great White Father saying: `I am sure it will not be a commercial success. But it is a dream-child of mine, and I am so anxious to see it on the stage that I have written another play which I will be glad to give you and which will compensate you for any loss on the one I am so eager to see produced.
Alice-Sit-by-the-Fire actually ran only one hundred and fifteen nights whilst Peter Pan has flown in the last fifty years to many parts of the world.
The writing of Peter Pan cost Barrie many sleepless nights. Often in his old ulster and muffler, his cap well pulled down over his eyes, he would leave his workroom and cross the road to a small iron gate in the locked-up gardens. The Ranger of the Park had given him a key to this gate. Round the gardens, in the shadowy night, he would stalk, smoking his pipe and wrestling with the sequence and order of the scenes of the play. The ducks, asleep on the Round Pond, got used to his nightly visits. They were always pleased to see him as he had a habit of carrying some bread in his pocket for them. Members of the Garrick Club used to notice that he would stuff pieces of bread into his pockets and so did diners at the Savoy. One morning at break-fast he informed his wife, `You know, the ducks on the Round Pond prefer the Garrick Club rolls to the Savoy ones.
At last the play went into rehearsal and Barrie was hardly ever absent. For hours he would sit in the stalls, his pipe hanging from his mouth, one leg tucked up beneath him, watching the producer Dion Boucicault. At times he gave suggestions, but only when asked, for he was a model dramatist. Many alterations were made at rehearsal. The script was continually being rewritten. In fact, the final acting script was not delivered at the Lord Chamberlain's office until eight days before the production.

On Tuesday, 27 December 1904, the first night of Peter Pan at last arrived. It was a great night. All the lovers of Barrie's plays were there as well as the usual First Nighters and the critics. The Davies boys were eagerly sitting in front, and Barrie hidden by curtains satin a box with his wife. Unfortunately, Frohman had been unable to leave America, detained by a new play he was producing in New York. There he sat in his office in the Old Empire Theatre anxiously waiting for news from London as to the reception of the play whose production had cost him so much. At last a cable arrived. He tore it open and frowned for he saw it had but a few words. William Lestocq, his general manager, ever careful to save the management money, had used only five words: `Looks like a success. Lestocq.'
Barrie was very disappointed that Frohman was not present to hear the great applause and shouts that followed the final curtain of the First Night. But later Frohman did come and heard the enthusiasm with which the play was received at every performance. On the last night of the third season Barrie had planned an Epilogue that was to be written for his dream play. The idea of' writing an Epilogue arose from the question Barrie was so often asked, `What happened to Wendy when she grew up?' When Barrie heard that Frohman was coming over from America for the last night of the London 1907-1908 season, 22 February 1908, he decided that the Epilogue should be played then and then only as a surprise for Frohman. It was rehearsed in secret; no-one was allowed to breathe a word about it. The secret was so well kept that curiously enough even the Lord Chamberlain knew nothing about it. It was called An Afterthought.
When the curtain went down at the end of the play the house lights were not turned on and the audience sat in the dark. There was a pause while behind, scenery and dresses were changed. In the dark the audience kept applauding. Presently the Baby Mermaid, `a small night-gowned figure' appeared before the curtain and made the following announcement: `My friends, I am the Baby Mermaid. We are now going to do a new act, the first and only time on any stage. Mr Barrie told us a story one day about what happened to Peter when Wendy grew up, and we made it into an act, and it will never be done again. You are to think that a lot of years have rolled by, and that Wendy is an old married lady. You will be surprised to see what I am going to play. ...
The curtain went up to reveal the Darling nursery. Twenty years had elapsed and Wendy was a real mother and the Baby Mermaid was her little daughter Jane. When the curtain fell there was still more applause. Though he critics had not been bidden to attend that night, by chance one was in the audience, and the notice which he wrote of the Epilogue was printed in the Liverpool Daily Post on 24 February 1908. He described the action of the scene and, referring to its reception, said: `The curtain dropped at eleven o'clock and the crowded audience cheered steadily until twenty minutes past, when they were rewarded by a glimpse of Mr Barrie between Peter and Wendy. All those privileged to witness this never-to-be-forgotten and only performance of this striking act will acknowledge it to be the finest thing that Mr Barrie has done.'
When the curtain fell for the last time Barrie slipped some sheets of paper into Hilda Trevelyan's hands and as he did so, he said: `For you, Hilda. Now you know my afterthought. '

* * *

I am indebted and tender my thanks to Lady Cynthia Asquith for allowing An Afterthought to appear in these pages, and to my wife Hilda Trevelyan for her permission to have a copy made from the original manuscript. Also I would like to thank Roger Lancelyn Green for allowing me to dip into his excellent book Fifty Years of Peter Pan and verify incidents that I knew of or witnessed connected with the production of the original Peter Pan.


Click here to download original document.