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J M Barrie to George Llewelyn Davies - 1912

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Letter from Barrie to George at Eton, 19 June1912.


23 C.H. Sq.

19 June 1912

My dear George,
Nicholas having got a superb bow and arrows has nearly done for all the inhabitants of the Campden Hill district. He is now prepared to use them against any batsmen who is not tied in a knot by your bowling. I found Michael surrounded by his presents when I got back from Eton. He has a grand salmon net from your granny, which in low water would I shd say do for scooping the fish out of the pools.
I have seen a picture of Amhuinnsuidh1. The house is nearer the sea than Scourie Lodge – just separated from it by a terrace which I take to be the tennis lawn. Also a picture of (I think) the "burn" by the door which (perhaps being in flood) is so tumultuous that I am not certain the picture does not represent the Atlantic Ocean.
Michael had not read your 'Study in Scarlet' wonderful to tell, and has devoured it greedily. No dreams, which is more than one had a right to expect.
I think the £12 Note2 will likely be done at Eton on the 5th July under the auspices of your tutor.
I fear I shall have to sit on a Jury most of next week, which is a considerable bore.
Your affec.

Peter's comments:

No letters to or from George during the last weeks of his time at Eton seem to have survived. [AB: In fact 3 further letters survived, dated 5th, 8th and 27th July, 1912] He had been a very great success there, and had paved the way for the later Etonian triumphs of two of his brothers. In the XI, Treasurer of Pop, Five Choices, Essay Prize – a splendid performance indeed.
"My dear Barrie," wrote Hugh Macnaghten at the end of the half, "Five short years are gone, and the last report has come. Thank goodness the end which crowns the work has been a great success. There was one disappointment when George played for the Second XI and seemed in danger of losing his place, but it proved to be a blessing in disguise, for it gave him an opportunity of showing that ‘ he could bear the dreaded disappointment well, and after all our “fears were liars.” The effect upon his happiness has been very clear – the anxious expression has passed away. I think he ought to realise the great danger of worrying – and once for all determine not to do so. If one could make up one’s mind never to expect anything but to take things when they come, how much happier we should be. For George it is a duty not to worry. The whole of the first part of the half I found him silent and wrapped up in his thoughts: since Winchester it has been very different, and he has been at his very best. I have not said anything about work, but it is a great satisfaction to be able to say that George has worked quite creditably, and indeed has taken more trouble with his verses than he has ever done before. He will do respectably, I believe, in this last examination, and with that I shall be quite satisfied. I can only end by saying how thankful I am to have had him in my house – though 5 years is not long enough to get all the good out of Eton – and I am very thankful too for the happiness of these last few weeks. For a modest boy there is no tonic like success, and George has not forgotten to be modest though he is ceasing to be quite so shy.”

Until I read this I had not, in memory, given shyness so prominent a place in George’s young character. It may well have been so, though possibly Hugh put down as mere shyness some reticence vis-a-vis himself on George's part. Hugh was a queer one, as queer in his own way as was J.M.B. in his, and the two ways had something in common. Hugh was too good to be wise. In view of the simply terrific things he had later to say about Michael, he is a shade disappointing on George. To some minds, indeed, the preoccupation of a master with success or failure at cricket might seem a condemnation of the Public School attitude to games.

I must be allowed my little dig at Hugh. In his book "Fifty Years of Eton", musing upon the room in the Warre Schools where he used teach Upper Division, does he not make fond and honourable mention of “George, Michael and Nico Davies” (among a dozen or so others, Collegers as well as Oppidans similarly signalized)? So, if I him a poor judge of character, in seeing so much less in George than in Michael, no one can accuse me of lack of prejudice.

George was a Sergeant in the Dog-Potters (E.C.O.T.C.), and took his duties very lightly. At the end of “Camp” in 1912, as he and I boarded the Scotch night express at King’s Cross, and as a proper old Etonian (would this be the year in which Captain Hook became an O.E.?) showed me how to get exclusive possession of a 3rd class carriage, viz. by undressing, putting on pyjamas and lying full length on either seat, before the train left the station, and pretending to be asleep. He also introduced me, much against my inclination, during the journey, in the art of inhaling cigarettes right down to the stomach.

Amhuinnsuidh, a vast mansion on the island of Harris [in the Outer Hebrides], built in what Osbert Lancaster might describe as Stockbroker’s Scotch Baronial taken by J.M.B, for the Summer holidays of that year. The cost must have been fabulous. The fishing was to match. Among those who came to stay were Alf [A.W.E.] Mason, E.V. Lucas and his wife, Lord Lucas (no relation), Nurse Loosemore, and the Hawkinses, (Anthony Hope [Hawkins ]and his wife and their two young children).

George (aged 19) was much intrigued by Lady Hawkins [nee Elizabeth Somerville Sheldon] , and I think this was his first, and probably his last, experience of the delights of a flirtation with an attractive femme du monde. I also doubt whether Betty Hawkins ever had a more attractive adolescent to play around with. They enjoyed themselves quite a lot, sheltering from the eternal rain in the fishing-huts by the side of those lonely romantic lochs. She was very easy on the eye, and American [from New York], which perhaps accounts for the circumstance, rare enough in those far off days that occasional nips of whisky fed the flames of dalliance. On these occasions George forcibly taught me the elements of tact, i.e. the necessity of making myself scarce, and I envied from afar, being just at the stage when poor J.M.B. had had to give me, by the banks of a burn, a small talking to for indulging at Eton in what my tutor euphemistically termed water-closet talk. He very nearly penetrated my juvenile defences by telling me it had always been his view that a man without some element of coarseness in his nature was not a whole man, which much disconcerted me, coming from him. But I don't think he knew what was afoot between George and Betty, not that it amounted to anything. I also remember vividly an occasion when some doubtless intolerable bickering and obstreperousness among “the boys” drove Anthony Hope into a fury, so that he cursed us roundly. There is no need to attribute this either to any knowledge on his part as to his wife’s little tendresse for George, when we bear in mind his celebrated cri de coeur, at the first night of “Peter Pan” – "Oh, for an hour of Herod!”

[AB: George's dalliance with Betty Hope Hawkins seems to have continued after the end of the Hebridean holiday, for in January the following year, George's grandmother Emma wrote to her daughter May, "George left this morning as Mrs Anthony Hope is taking him to a theatre tonight. I am not sure that I like George to see much of her."

How I have wished since that J.M.B. had talked to us sometimes about Arthur Ll.D., whom he had known so well in years gone by. But he never did, to me at any rate. It is true we were in many ways an abominable gang, unruly, self-centred and by now pretty much cut off from family traditions of moderation and simplicity, though George retained a good deal of all that.

I am almost sure that at Amhuinnsuidh George and I put on boiled shirts for dinner. The early part of the letter affords a passing glimpse of the strange household at 23 Campden Hill Square, between which and his flat in the Adelphi J.M.B. at this period divided his time. Michael and Nico, both now at Wilkinsons, were the permanent residents; the other three of us returned to the queer fold from time to time on leave or holidays. The presiding genius of the place was Mary Hodgson, faithful to her trust, though inevitably disapproving of so much of the nouveau regime.

To this period, or perhaps a year earlier, belongs the visit recalled by Moya L1.D. in a letter written to me just after Crompton Ll.D.’s death. Crompton concerned himself closely with our affairs both as friend and lawyer, from the death of A.Ll.D. to that of S.Ll.D., soon after which he became engaged to Moya. He was the most emotional of men and had no doubt been eloquent to his equally emotional betrothed on the tragic aspect of the family story. And indeed there must have been something about that house to wring the withers of any but the least sensitive.

Furry Park, Raheny

4 December 1935

My dear Peter,
…… your beautiful mother, of whom he [Crompton] never spoke without a break in his voice. His love and admiration for her were intense. He brought me into your house in Campden Hill Square as if it were a holy sanctuary. I felt completely awed. Then we went up to the nursery where Michael and Nicholas were at tea with Mary, looking like two angels in little overalls their mother had designed for them. I was terrified. I thought, this is all too exquisite and these glorious people cannot possibly love such an ordinary thing as I am. But he did .....

[AB: Peter, in his modesty, omitted the first part of Moya’s letter: “Crompton mentioned your name, Peter, in his second or third last letter to me. He said you were always a very special person to him, that he felt a loving intimacy with you beyond what he felt for almost anyone else, and I remember him telling me in the early years of our marriage more than once, “Peter is the One”. You were certainly his favourite of the five sons of your beautiful mother….”]

Another visitor of, I think, a year or two later, brought round by J.M.B., was John Masefield, then rising to fame on the wings of "The Everlasting Mercy" and "Dauber”. He gave Michael the model mast of a ship, about 4 ft high, made and fully rigged by himself to the last detail of sail, shroud, halliard and block. A wonderful gift which, I am sorry to have to say, has utterly disappeared, whither I know not. It was only when reading not long ago the latest of Masefield's autobiographical volumes, 'The Mill', that I understood why he came to the house, and what it was that must have moved him to give such a notable gift to one of George du Maurier's grandsons. No more perfect tribute can ever have been paid to a book than that which Masefield in "The Mill" pays to “Peter lbbetson”:

"I remember," he says, writing of his very early youth, “with what fever I waited till I could buy Peter Ibbetson, and how I bore the volume home, opened it at the drawing of the little child wheeling a barrow from the Past into the Future, and at once drew measurably nearer to the garden of romance. I have i read that book through many times since then. God forgive me once or twice I have wondered whether there be not one or two faults in it if there be, there were none to me then. It came to me just when I most needed an inner life. On the whole, no prose story, not even “Don Quixote”, has I given me one fifth part of the pleasure and mental companionship ... “

“Peter Ibbetson” is largely an idealization, rather than a true relation, of the author’s childhood. The drawing of the child with the barrow represents Geoffrey or Guy Millar rather than the childish George du M. And the likeness of the childish and bereft Davieses to the drawing, and the poignancy of their situation, must have been enough to make a considerable impression on the future Laureate.

Michael’s dreams (or nightmares) were the almost invariable sequel, in his childhood, to the reading of an exciting book, whether it was Conan Doyle or “Jekyll & Hyde” or a serial in “Chums”. He had the true stuff of the poet in him from birth, and his surviving two sonnets are quite good enough to be included in an anthology with poems from the pen of Masefield.


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