Letter from Arthur Llewelyn Davies to his mother Mary, 29 October 1889.
[No original available]
34 Craven Terrace, W
[29th October, 1889]
I was very glad to find your letter this evening on my return from a visit to Cambridge. It is rather sad, though natural, that you should find so much it luxury in solitude and surcease from your family. The experience must have made your present small party seem quite a festive gathering.
I spend the Sunday with Leathes at Cambridge and saw Crompton and Theodore in their new quarters. They have got capital rooms in a good situation, though it is sad to have left the Old Court, and have arranged them very ingeniously. They were both cheerful, but Theodore is not up to much, and does not seem to get better. I suggested to him to degrade a year and go to the most healthily situated of the German universities. It is unsatisfactory that he should be making no improvement, and the Cambridge climate evidently doesn't suit him. He is to speak at the Union next Tuesday on the subject of the strikes.
Charley spent most of Saturday with Dr Bridges at Wimbledon, taking lunch, lawn tennis and dinner with them. He also called on the Lawrences. He also dined with his dear Sibilla on Friday, so that he is full of dissipation. I am gradually working on him, with some success, to join at the Saville Club. Perhaps when I go he will take rooms somewhere near Piccadilly and dine regularly at his Club. But it must be suggested when he is in a receptive mood.
In Chambers we have relaxed our grip for the time on Madame Blavatsky and Jimmy Lowther, and are now engaged in persecuting Dr Barnardo, Walton being a leading Catholic advocate. There are five pupils, three of them quite beginners and two of those a trial. Coghlan and I are reducing them to order by a treatment verging on ferocity. The fifth is a young Matthew, with whose people I am to dine on Wednesday. I expect I owe the invitation to Margaret's patriotic hooting at the judge. I am afraid she wasn't there when old McFadden was in the witness-box. I haven't yet seen Uncle Charley or heard his account.
Your affectionate son,
Peter's comments in the "Morgue":
Crompton and Theodore were both at Trinity with scholarships which were in due course to be converted into fellowships. I have not the least doubt that when Theodore spoke at the Union he warmly espoused the striker's cause.
Dr Bridges is probably Robert Bridges, the future poet Laureate, who lived, I believe, at Wimbledon for some years.
Charlie's “dear Sibilla” I can't identify, nor do I know whether he joined the Saville Club, but I doubt it, my recollection of him being of a singularly "unclubbable" man. I don't think Arthur was ever a number himself, or of any other club.
The legal references are, apart from that to the notorious case of Madam Blavatsky, obscure to me. But Arthur had been called to the Bar in the July of this year, and was in the chambers of Joseph Walton, KC, later Mr Justice Walton.
The phrase "when I go" no doubt refers to Arthur's forthcoming move to Liverpool, where Maurice was now established in the Booth Shipping Company, and where, on the advice of Charles Crompton, QC, it was thought Arthur would stand a better chance in the way of briefs and legal business generally, for a start, than in London.
It is a reasonable assumption, in view of the engagement five months later, that by now Arthur had met Sylvia du Maurier. The following alleged account of their first meeting was given to me a few years ago by old H J Ford, the illustrator for all those Blue, Green, Red etc Fairy books edited by Andrew Lang. He had approached me in connection with some books he wanted to illustrate, and me to publish (I didn't). Jack will no doubt remember him in our early days, as I do: he did some pencil illustrations in a copybook in which either George or Jack was writing a romance, I should think while we were at Tilford [in 1901]. I say "alleged account" because it can hardly be regarded as reliable over the lapse of so many years. H J Ford in his old age was, I believe, generally regarded as rather a bad hat, and struck me in that light when I saw him about the time he wrote the letter which follows, dated 15th February 1938. Not that bad hats necessarily have bad memories! And not that some bad hats haven't been among the pleasantest people I've known. And anyway, perhaps he wasn't a bad hat at all.
Dear Peter, (he wrote)
I hope I may call you this as I have always considered that I am - indirectly - responsible for your existence on this globe. This is how it was: 63 years ago (or thereabouts) Mrs Rawlinson (still with us) gave a dinner party at which not only I, but a handsome young man called Arthur Llewelyn Davies, and Andrew Lang and Anthony Hawkins and a very beautiful lady called Sylvia du Maurier were present. My good fortune was to take Miss Sylvia in to dinner; on my left was posted Andrew the Great. On Miss du Maurier's right sat Arthur Ll.D.
Greatly trembling at all the beauty (for Miss du M displayed liberally the most beautiful neck, shoulders and bosom to the admiring world) and the talent, H J F ventured to break the ice and open the conversation with a riddle. He in fact asked Miss Sylvia why she was like a hinge (nothing to do with the late Dean of St Paul's). Some pretty deep thinking led to no solution of the problem. So I had to give the answer (not without a burning blush) (of course you know it!) "because you are a thing to a door."
Miss S shouted out this wantonness to the assembly, especially addressing Andrew, who admitted himself still puzzled, but by the time soup was finished proclaimed that "the operation is accomplished, and if you cut open my head you will find that my brain sees it, but with pain." Arthur Davies roared, but the ice was fairly broken, and on the way home as we walked to our respective lodgings he remarked that the beautiful Molly Muir - with whom he had been associating a good deal lately - was only an ''Andsome 'Arriet', and I perceived dimly that his fate was sealed. A few weeks later, the engagement of A.Ll.D was announced to Sylvia du M.
(Incidentally I got the job of my life from Lang, i.e. the job of illustrating 24 fairy books.)
So don't you think you ought to call on dear old Mrs Rawlinson, Cadogan Mansions, aged 92, and still alive and well, for surely she is in some sort your grandmother?
Old Henry F was exaggerating the antiquity of his little anecdote which went back 48 years, and not 63; but 48 years is quite a long time and he was 78 years old and it maybe full of inaccuracies. I remember JMB once telling me that Sylvia and Arthur first met at a dance, and that she decided then and there that he was the man she would marry. But that may well be inaccurate too. On the other hand, it is quite possible both stories are true. It doesn't signify, in any case; but I thought it worth putting Henry Ford's letter in.
Eleanor Clough, writing to Margaret Ll.D after Arthur's death, speaks of a charity ball at which he "danced and danced" with Sylvia, and adds that it was the second time they had met.
H J Ford was a very handsome man himself, one of the famous cricketing Ford brothers (another being Lionel, the headmaster of Harrow) and sometimes turned out for the Allahakbarries [Barrie's occasional cricket team]. He was not a good artist. I say 'was not', but he may still be alive for all I konw. I wish I had taken his advice and called on old Mrs Rawlinson, who might have been able to tell me many things. Am I not right in thinking that at the time of the dinner party recalled by H J F, and for a good many years later, she lived in a nice early Victorian house adjoining the south east corner of Campden Hill Square? Going to tea there (I think) with the Rawlinsons, and seeing Jack fall out of a swing in the large garden of the house then possessed, is one of my earliest memories - 1902 or so. The patch of blood on Jack's cracked skull, like a dollop of wet red sealing-wax, impressed itself even more indelibly on my mind than on his head.
Andrew Lang - poet, wit, scholar, Homeric translator, unpedantically learned man of letters, another of the almost forgotten great figures of those days - never so far as I'm aware formed part of our family circle.
Of the beautiful Molly Muir I know no more than her name; but curiously enough the name recurs in a letter of Arthur's many years later as that of a friend of Mary Barrie's, motoring with her in France.
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