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J M Barrie to Sylvia Llewelyn Davies - 1903

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Letter from Barrie to Sylvia, inviting her to the theatre. This letter was written only a few days after Barrie began scribbling down over 400 notes for Peter Pan, titled "Fairy" and dated 14 October 1903. Peter's comments include a long discourse about Sylvia's brother, Guy du Maurier.


Leinster Corner,
Lancaster Gate, W.
23 Oct. 1903.

My dear Jocelyn,
I shall come round for the revellers tomorrow about two. I hope Arthur can turn up at the theatre. We have two boxes flung into one, so there is plenty of room for Mary and Michael.
Yours ever,

Anyone might be forgiven for thinking this was Peter Pan, but in fact it antedates that terrible masterpiece by some fourteen months. In October 1905 “Crichton” had just come off and “Quality Street was still running – in its thirteenth month. “Little Mary” had begun its run the month before. It may have been either of these plays to which the revellers were bidden; perhaps the balance tips in favour of "Little Mary", where Jack was to hear his own line spoken, arising out of which the agreement between him and the author was drawn up, entitling him to a royalty of a halfpenny a performance (and giving him thirty years' precedence over another kind of Royalty, owing to the author's ineradicable habit of repeating himself, in letters as in life.)

The first occasion, by the way, on which J.M.B. had taken the Davies family en masse to the theatre was in the winter of 1902, to "Bluebell in Fairyland", the significance of which unusual pantomime in the genealogy of P.P. has been well pointed out by Denis. I can very faintly remember it; and its famous song. "The Honeysuckle and the Bee"; evokes those yearn for me as vividly as any other, with the possible exception of "Goodbye, Dolly, I Must Leave You". There were plenty of other, equally satisfying tunes of the day, of course, but many of them have been so mercilessly plugged in recent yearn that they have lost their nostalgic, evocative quality.

And the mention of Dolly Grey reminds me that during these years Guy du Maurier had been away in South Africa commanding first a Mounted Infantry company of his regiment, and later a M.I. Regiment: the only link between the family and that last of the old-fashioned, professional, voluntary wars. He wrote home to his mother with unfailing regularity and at great length and I have two leather-bound volumes containing typed copies of all those letters. I suppose they really belong to Muriel du M., having merely come to me years ago from Gerald, who wondered at one time whether they might be worth publishing. They are interesting as war letters, but for that very reason of comparatively little value for my present purpose.

There are only one or two insignificant references to S.Ll.D., and not a single mention anywhere of A.Ll.D. , between whom and Guy du M. I fancy there was little in common besides their Marlborough education; though curiously enough Mary Hodgson, in answer to a question about a later period, writes that "your Uncle Guy appeared to understand your father best.” In fact, these letters confirm the strong impression I have gathered from other sources that S's marriage, her devotion to A. and the very warm welcome she received into the Ll.D. family, took her further from her own family than was the case with either of her sisters. Mary H., in the same connection as the remark just quoted, says: "There were times when he defied the lot – and stood alone – and his wife stood by him!" Anyhow I think we were a decidedly self-contained household, besides being a numerous gang; and it is clearly observable in the letters that Trixy, May and Gerald figured much more in Guy's thoughts about the future than Sylvia. May and Coley were a devoted enough pair, one would say, but of course no children to absorb and constrict their social activities.

Trixy: presumably dear old Gerald Arthur will never read these lines – it sounds to me, and squares with all one has gathered since, and G.A. himself wouldn’t, I'm sure, mind my saying so, as if she [Trixy] was pretty sick of Charlie [Millar] by this time. Guy evidently had no opinion of C. the more so since he (Guy) was apparently being called on to contribute financially towards the launching of his nephew and namesake Guy Millar on a Naval career. To his mother he was clearly devoted, and with no thoughts then of getting married himself, he adverts more than once to the idea of a home with her in the country, to which his sisters and brother and their children, but not their husbands or wife (if Gerald should marry Miss Beaumont, who looks "most allurin'" in the photographs) could be invited from time to time.

The impression one gets of Guy du M. himself is of a regular soldier more or less reconciled to his lot, but with a shade too much temperament to be altogether contented ln a rather hide-bound profession. Temperament -- what a sod it, unless the possessor of it is in a walk of life where it can be made capital of! It rears its head rather particularly in his caustic remarks about generals and peace-time army life, but such feelings are usual enough towards the end of a campaign. If his own account is to be trusted, he was not a man to suffer gladly those set in authority over him; a trait which recurred in more than one of his nephews [i.e. Jack] (including occasionally even a mere amateur soldier like the writer of these lines). Guy never became a general himself, but was to die twelve years later in Flanders in command of a battalion of his regiment. I fancy he was then due to get command of a brigade at any moment.

As we shall see, S.Ll.D. in her last "will" expressed the wish that he should share in the guardianship and trusteeship of her five boys. He never actively did, partly through serving abroad again (S. Africa, Crete and India) from 1910 to 1914. But I think it is clear that, if he had lived, his presence in the background of our lives would have benefitted us not inconsiderably.

Attractive as are the suggestions he throws out in these letters of selling old Susan Caught's house and buying with the proceeds a Kentish farm where there would be horses and lessons in equitation tor all or us, the delights of Ramsgate linger so vividly in all my childish memories that I for one cannot regret Emma du M's decision to stick to dear old 16 Royal Crescent after all. I wonder if S.Ll.D. had anything to do with that decision? More than likely, with all five of us still then in the sand-digging and donkey-riding stage.

And so back to the main thread of the record, if it has such a thing, with Guy du M. home on leave and Gerald married to the allurin' Miss Beaumont -- it would be some years yet before Guy himself belied his own prophecies by marrying Gwen Price, who still survives, a widow these thirty years and more.


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