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J M Barrie to Sylvia Llewelyn Davies - 1904

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Letter from Barrie to Sylvia re Charles Furse's death


Leinster Corner,
Lancaster Gate, W
20 Oct. 1904.

My dear Jocelyn,
I know you would be made very sad by Charles Furse’s death. He was so splendidly alive, and a gallant sort of man I am sure, and most of the joys of life had been crowded into his short life. He had already had most of the best it has to give. What remained was chiefly his work, which might have risen to great things. But he had his fill, and the people I am sorriest for are those who die without having got the little glories which are something of a birthright. I am sorriest for his poor wife, but at least she has their children – I tear with some terror about them though he always held that consumption is not hereditary.
I am very vexed to hear your headaches have come back. Perhaps this shock has something to do with them. I have been so much at open graves of late years that I feel death less as a shock. The great thing is to try to be good and kind to those who are, for their brief space, alive.
I have written your mother and the Secy. of the Literary Fund about Mrs. Kingsley. If (as I fear) she has been helped before, the Fund has no power to help a widow twice. Of course in any case I shall do something myself.
Do write soon and tell me if your headaches still trouble you. I am so very sorry they do.
Always, dear incomparable girl,
It must have been shortly before his death [at the age of 36] that Charles Furse had painted (but not quite finished) the profile portrait of S.Ll.D. which J.Ll.D. has, and made the three-quarter face drawing which I have myself.

I have always thought both very good as likenesses, and am confirmed in this opinion by Dolly Ponsonby. But what is strange is that both J. and I, and I think N. also, had always assumed that they dated from some years later; not only because they have seemed to us to be portraits of a woman of more than 36 or 37, but because of the profound sadness of the expression – particularly in the case of the drawing. However, there it is: they cannot be later than 1904. I have looked up the data of Furse's death, and there is no doubt about it. Denis Mackail, by the way, by whom informed I don't know, mentions and emphasises the sad or tragic look in S’s eyes which formed a striking part of her beauty when quite young, long before she can have known the meaning of sorrow.

[AB: Mackail’s remark was echoed by a former teacher at Norland Place School, Betty Macleod, who recalled seeing “a lady with two really beautiful little boys. She had one of the saddest expressions on her face we had ever seen, and we wondered who she was. We were told she was a friend of J. M. Barrie and one of her boys was his model for Peter in “The Little White Bird”.]

Another curious thing is that on the back of the painting is written, in J.M.B's hand, "Bought from and paid to Dame Furse, March 7th, 1918, by J. M. Barrie", whereas we think we can remember it long before that. Indeed, I could have sworn that it hung above the fireplace in the drawing-room at 23, Campden Hill Square. Photographs of it and the drawing certainly appeared ln the rather grisly leather-bound photographic morgue of which J.M.B. had copies made for each of us – surely long before 1918? Perhaps he got them photographed for this purpose while they were still in the possession or Furse's widow?

At any rate both hung in J.M.B's flat until a year or two before his death, when the painting went to J; he gave me the drawing at the time of my marriage. The probability is that Furse asked S. to sit for her portrait, not as a commission but because he wanted to paint her. It obviously cannot have seen commissioned by J.M.B., despite the fact that Furse played at least once for the Allahakbarries. But it remains a mystery why he only bought it – and presumably the drawing too – in 1918; for £800 or £1,000, according to Jack.

Mrs. Kingsley I haven't traced. It would be interesting to have a list of all the impoverished authors and their families whom J.M.B. helped out of his own pocket at one time and another.

With regard to the termination of this letter (not one of its author's best, perhaps) if I confess that I can't help viewing this sort of thing with a certain distaste, I do so in the full awareness that I am being unfair to all concerned, and am allowing prejudice rather than knowledge or understanding to sway my thoughts.


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