Letter from Arthur to Barrie, 16 September 1906. Peter's comments include his assessment of Arthur's attitude towards Barrie, as well as Jack's.
[No original available]
Egerton House, Berkhamsted.
Sept 16, 1906.
You have done wonderful things for us since the beginning of June – most, of course, during June and also in the last week – but at Rustington also you made all the difference to the success and pleasantness of the holiday.
We all hope to see you soon and often.
It is easy enough to read all sorts of undertones into this laconic note. One can say that it expresses gratitude but little cordiality; or even feel that there is a hint of resentment against the fate which had brought about the position in which gratitude had to be incurred and acknowledged in that quarter. But I fancy one would be wrong, and that in so thinking one would be interpreting a brief note of thanks in the light of much later, more complex, and in the last analysis scarcely justifiable resentments of one’s own. However, to each his own prejudices.
I am strongly inclined to think, myself, that when he wrote this, Arthur already suspected the recurrence which was confirmed by Roughton only two days later, and was in no mood for much letter-writing to anyone less intimate than his sister.
This letter makes it quite clear that JMB had begun to assume a major share of the financial responsibility at the time of the operation, besides devoting almost all of his own waking hours to Arthur and Sylvia. That he did so purely because he wanted to, and that (according to Denis Mackail) he made no less than £44,000 during 1907 alone [= £3,750,000 in 2020], constitutes no reason for modifying the view I have arrived at after going through all these documents, namely, that he played an incredibly generous part, and that, but for him, Arthur’s last months would have been far more unbearable even than they were; and that the gratitude felt by Arthur for the comfort so afforded him far outweighed the resentment which he must also at times have experienced.
But what do I know?
I gave a wad of these pages in the rough to Jack to read, not without a certain amount of trepidation, since there is so much that he must remember more clearly than I do. He more than generously “passed” most of my attempts at interpretations of things, but disagreed with the point of view expressed above, and possibly elsewhere, as regards Arthur’s feelings about JMB. He writes to me as follows:
“I couldn’t at all agree that Father did anything but most cordially dislike the Bart. I felt again and again that his remarks and letters simply blazoned the fact that he was doing all he could, poor man, to put up a smoke-screen and leave Mother a little less sad and try and show her he didn’t grudge the Bart being hail and hearty and rich enough to take over the business. I realised, of course, that I might too easily be biased, so I asked Gerrie [his wife], and she agreed with me. I’ve no doubt at all he was thankful, but he was a proud man, and it must have been extraordinarily bitter for him. And altogether too soft and saint-like to like the little man as well.
It doesn’t really matter I suppose: it’s not going to be published. But it may be read by several generations of our families, and presumably, or rather, possibly, Mary and Theo, and I’d be grateful, as every now and then you mention me in it, if some small sign of my disagreement could go in.”
I am only too glad to include these words of Jack’s. For one thing I’m not at all sure he doesn’t get nearer to the true state of affairs than I have got myself: and let me add here that there are many bits of the record which I know he could have “edited” better than I have. With regard to this particular matter, which I confess I find almost impossible to contemplate impartially, even after so many years, I believe most disinterested readers would very likely agree with Jack rather than with me, and it is certainly a very good thing that his strongly but most aptly worded protest should be in the record. I don’t altogether surrender my judgement to his, but very nearly. The only serious difference is that I believe gratitude on the whole outweighed both distaste and grudge. But Jack’s phrase about the smoke-screen is terribly convincing.
I am uncertain whether it was before or after Jack’s comment that I wrote to Mary Hodgson, asking her the following question: “Would you say that, assuming father never really liked JMB, he nevertheless became much fonder of him towards the end, and was much comforted in his last months by the thought that JMB’s money would be there to help Mother and all of us after his death?“
Her answer was: “I understood that your Aunt Margaret had been asked by your father – and could not see her way to accept the responsibility. That JMB was put forward as being more than willing. Your father acquiesced to the inevitable, with astounding grace and fortitude. It would help your mother – and further than that he neither desired nor was able to go.”
Well, in my opinion Mary’s impression (not prompted by any of these papers, which she has not seen) tallies more nearly with Jack’s view than with my own. Somewhere between the three the truth must lie – a sad truth at best, I fear.
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