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George du Maurier to Arthur Llewelyn Davies - 1890

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Letter from George du Maurier to Arthur Llewelyn Davies, re his proposal of marriage to Sylvia du Maurier.

For Peter’s comments from his Morgue, see the transcription.


March 23rd, 1890

My Dear Davies,
My daughter has just told me of your letter to her, and I have asked her to let me see you and speak to you. Could you come tomorrow, at any time that would be convenient you? - letting me know when you will come?
I remain, yours very truly,
George du Maurier

Peter commented in his Morgue:

George du Maurier was at this time 56 years old, and though his name was a household word through his Punch drawings and jokes, he had given little or no sign to the world of the late and literary gift which was to blossom shortly in "Peter Ibbetson" (on which he was already at work), and then to bring him resounding fame on both sides of the Atlantic and considerable wealth as well, with "Trilby". But he was already comfortably off, with his eldest son [Guy] in the Royal Fusiliers, and his eldest daughter, Trixie, married a few years earlier to Charles Hoyer Millar; his youngest son [Gerald] had been sent to Harrow (a step up, I suppose, from Guy's Marlborough) and only the two younger daughters, Sylvia and May, were still at home.

I think I am right in saying that New Grove House had been let furnished, and that the family had moved quite recently to a furnished house in Bayswater Terrace, either in order to give the girls a better time, or because the old Hampstead home seemed half empty with three of the birds flown. Bayswater Terrace has ceased to exist as an address. It lay immediately east of the junction of Queen's Road (now Queensway) and the Bayswater Road, facing Kensington Gardens.

Sylvia was in her 23rd* year when she received the letter from Arthur (now 27), presumably containing a formal proposal of marriage, to which George du M refers. [Added later: *24th apparently. I had always been under the impression Sylvia was born in 1867, as indicated in the list of birth-years written down by Arthur on his deathbed. But only the other day (May 1950) Daphne du M pointed out to me that in George du M's diary for 1867, which she has, mention is made of Sylvia's christening in February of that year. So she must have been born in 1866.] How pretty she was may be seen from the profile portrait of her by her father which Jack has, and which must have been painted about this time.

Dolly Ponsonby in a recent letter to me (to which I shall refer later) writes of "the extraordinary charm, and beauty, and grace, and wit, and sense of humour, which she possessed as a girl and in early married life." Of course a great many other people have spoken similarly; but Lady Ponsonby's is the only contemporary evidence I have in writing. I have only a very few of Sylvia's letters, and none at all, I am sorry to say, belonging to her childhood or before she met Arthur.

Arthur had little enough to offer in the way of "prospects", having scarcely begun to earn a penny yet at the Bar; and George du M was, both by nature, and through his own early experience of the bitterness of poverty, very much alive to that side of things. On the other hand he had himself married on prospects and almost nothing more, and made a huge success of married life, and any inquiries he made must have shown him that few young barristers held out clearer promise of hard work and accomplishment and eventual prosperity than Arthur. And then, too, the love of beauty in human form which was so deep a part of his character, must have been well satisfied. His pencil drawing of Arthur, which is admirable if perhaps a shade "prettified", shows that. And finally, no doubt, he and his fond, sensible, practical wife [Emma] had to do pretty much what their daughter told them in the matter. At any rate a formal engagement was agreed to, and next day George du M wrote as follows to his close friend, Tom Armstrong, the "original" (partly) of Taffy in "Trilby".


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