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J M Barrie to George Llewelyn Davies - 1911

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Letter from Barrie to George, 11 November 1911.


3 Adelphi Terrace House
Strand, W. C.

20 Nov 1911

My dear George,
Lots of them would tell you that civilization and war cannot go together. At all events one of the uses of civilization is to make war ugly and to show the masses what they lose by it and what they gain. However I would never give in to those who hold war so wrong that they would avoid it at whatever cost. It may certainly be glorious, and one can hope that as time goes on the other kinds will be avoided because civilization proves them never to be worth while.
Here endeth my essay, shorter than yours. I shall be curious to read yours if I ever get a chance. It would be great if you won the prize. I presume they will give no marks for verbosity.
When you wrote of your tutor complaining you did not talk enough to your neighbours, I wanted to come and sit beside you. I suppose a man with a house of boys changing yearly gets into the way of thinking all is well when all seems smooth on the surface. He must aim at making all the boys as alike as possible, superficially at all events. I think he is bound, however good a man he may be, to lay too much stress on the superficial because it is not possible with so many to know anything deeper. And all getting on nicely and chatting together seems so satisfying. In after life you will many a time have to talk at meals to neighbours who would not be there if you had the choice, so it may be good for you to acquire the correct note for these ordeals. But it has nothing to do with character. At its best it may mean consideration for your neighbour which is a nice trait. By asking too much of it, a master might rather spoil a boy's time. But it must be frightfully hard to a master to be just when he meddles with the relations that exist between his many boys. Yours I feel sure does his very best & sometimes succeeds & sometimes fails. Personally I think boys are often better judges of man and motives than the man of boys and their motives. Something of the child remains in them to make them see very clearly - children sometimes bore down to the soul. Nico for instance.
Yours affec’te.

Nico’s birthday is on [???] Friday – remember.


Peter Llewelyn Davies opened the last volume of his Morgue with this letter, commenting:

The early part of this letter refers to George's forthcoming entry for the essay prize at Eton, which he won. The subject was evidently the hackneyed – and in those incredible days more less academic – one, of whether or not war can be justified as a solution of international differences. JMB belonged politically, like all the Ll. Davieses, to the Liberal or Radical party, which had always numbered in its ranks a proportion of anti-war-at-any-cost enthusiasts. In disassociating himself from these he may have been having a dig at Margaret Ll. Davies, who was devoted to George, and who was a militant, in fact a diehard pacifist to the end of her days. She would have loved us all to be conscientious objectors, I have no doubt, bless her. Where she got her pacifism from I don’t know. Her father [the Rev. John Ll. Davies] was not at all of that persuasion, as several of his sermons show.

For a temporary modification of JMB’s attitude towards the glory of war and military prowess, see his last letter to George. Temporary, having regard to his subsequent semi-proprietary adulation of “my general“ Bernard Freyberg, who ultimately became the recipient of the last letters JMB ever wrote. This last rather tiresome remark of mine is really out of place here, but I haven’t the heart to put it in its proper place, i.e. after his last very wonderful letter to George.

By November 1911 George was in the full flush of his Eton career: in Pop and the Twenty-two, a regular young blood, a known figure throughout the school, very dressy, fully aware of his attractions and popularity. I seem to remember thinking, in my squalid scuggishness, that he was a bit up-stage and affected about this time; but in fact his head was no more turned than such a young blood's should be. He was far from being a “sap“ but always (I think) managed to keep in Select Division; and that he should have won this particular prize, for which there was plenty of competition, is strong evidence of his intellectual capacity, and all round quality. He spent part of the prize money on a complete edition of Meredith, which Nico now has.

The letter as a whole shows how thoroughly JMB was prepared to enter into the problems of those of “his boys” who gave him an opening, George and Michael particularly. It sounds as if George must have had his share of the stand-offishness which is perhaps a family trait, though he may merely have happened to sit at meals between two exceptionally revolting boys.

For Nico’s private consideration I submit the probability, which is to me almost a certainty, in view of the last sentence in it, that this letter was written very soon after the immortal episode of “you cad!”**


** Nico wrote to Sharon Goode (9 February 1976):

‘You Cad’. In its way this is an awful story, tho’ in later years it used to give Peter a lot of devilish delight! The scene was the dining room at 23 Campden Hill Square. I think breakfast-ish: company: J.M.B., all the brothers, possibly excepting Jack: date I don’t know, but if Peter’s ‘almost a certainty’ in the reference to which you refer is correct, it would be autumn of 1911.
Uncle Jim had just returned from America and we were all peppering him with questions as he ate his breakfast. I, aged about 7 or 8, suddenly hurled at him ‘How was Maudie?’ meaning Maude Adams, to whom Uncle Jim always referred to as ‘Miss Adams’.
Uncle Jim’s almost incomprehensible reaction was immediate: looking at me with the very depth of contempt he just said ‘you cad’ which plunged me into a paroxysm of tears and I buried my head in Peter’s lap on a sofa. I can’t recall at all if there were any apologies, but I know all sympathy (even from Michael!) were for me this time.
The point, I suppose, in my telling you and Andrew this story is to show that with all the humour and intense and sympathetic kindness, he could be cruel for brief moments on rare occasions and when he was, he was all the more withering to sensitive souls! But, as perhaps Peter hints in his use of the words ‘immortal episode’ Peter - during the time we worked together and saw so much of each other - was constantly saying ‘You Cad!’ to annoy me.


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