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Barrie's alphabet poem to Michael, who was sick in bed at Egerton House in Berkhamsted. Sent from Leinster Corner and dated January 7th, 1906. Peter's comments include 2 extracts from Dolly Ponsonby's diary.
Lancaster Gate, W
7 Jan 1906
A's any Asses that don't love my Mick,
B's what I fling at them, namely a Brick.
C's Combinations, with Michael inside,
D's Normandy's Dives where he once did reside.
E's Evian water, his favourite drink.
F is his Friend – who is that, do you think?
G stands for George, his elderly brother.
H for 14 and 2, that alarmed his mother.
I stands for Imp, which applies to the lot of you.
J is for Jack, who is sometimes too hot for you.
K is for Kads who don't do as you wish,
L's the eel caught at Dives when we went out to fish.
M's your dear Mary, who's always awake,
N's Nick, who's your sweet mother's smallest mistake.
O's the Oil you are told for to take like a man,
P stands for Peter, and Peter for Pan.
Q are the Questions Mick asks for to pose me,
R my Replies, which are vain, for he knows me.
S stands for Sylvia, Michael's delight,
T is his Tu'penny when tucked in at night.
U is U silly who are reading this letter,
V is your Vanity, you couldn't do better.
W's old Wilk, who is still trouncing boys,
X is the X's sent Mick with his toys.
Y is the Yawns I give till we meet,
Z are the Zanies who are not at his feet.
A harsh critic might find some weak lines in this rigmarole, but Matthew Arnold himself would have to admit that there are some wizard ones, too, such as C and N for example. H, which may well be one of the best – in point if not metrically – baffles me completely.
From Lady Dolly Ponsonby’s diary:
[12 February] 1906. Took E[Dolly’s baby daughter Elizabeth] to Berkhamsted with me to stay with Sylvia and Arthur. They have a beautiful Elizabethan house in the street: the outlook is dreary but nothing could be more perfect on the inside especially for so large a family. There are huge nurseries in a school room with mullioned windows which occupy the whole length of the rooms – odd-shaped bedrooms with beams and sloping floors – and all so charmingly done as only Sylvia can do things, with harmonious chintzes and lovely bits of Chippendale furniture. It seems very ideal – a cheap school where the older boys go and a kindergarten for Michael. Arthur came down in the evening looking handsome and severe.
13th February. Spent a happy day with Sylvia who is as dear as ever she was. I like to see her at lunch and at the head of her long table in the beautiful hall with its huge windows and great 16 century chimney-piece – serving food to 4 beautiful boys who all have perfect manners and are most agreeable companions, especially George. My Arthur came down with hers in the evening.
I remember a funny sort of conservatory through which you passed to go into the little garden – it was filled with plants and flowers by Sylvia. Mary would put the prams there – and Sylvia said, “I do wish they wouldn’t leave the prams here.” And Arthur said, “I think the prams are more beautiful than the flowers.”
Quite interesting to have this confirmation of the charms of Egerton House from someone a good deal “grander” than we were. She speaks of the “little” garden: to me – a 9-year-old Bayswater cockney – it seemed and still seems in retrospect, quite large. Well I remember the hall, used as the dining room, and how Arthur would come in after we had begun lunch on Saturdays, on his return from the Temple, and kiss the top of Sylvia’s head as she sat at her end of the table, before taking his place at the other end. But very surprising to me is Lady P’s impression that we had perfect manners! I should’ve thought we were an unruly and tiresome lot. Still, there it is, down in the diary.
The denizens of the prams – or the pram and the go-cart – then were Michael aged 6, and Nico aged 2½.
Severity is a word Lady P. uses more than once as an attribute of A’s good looks. One sees what she means, perhaps; though, in its usual sense, it is the last word that comes to my own mind if I try to focus my childish awareness of his demeanour and expression: humorous kindness would be nearer the mark. His beauty, one was, of course, too young to perceive. In a later passage which will be quoted fully in its place, Lady P. herself qualifies the severity, writing: “He was so tender and gentle with children that I never met one who feared him, in spite of his rather severe though wonderful looks.”
The E. whom Dolly brought with her on this occasion to Berkhamsted was her daughter Elizabeth, then not much more than a baby, who eventually, poor girl, after achieving some notoriety as a leader of the bright young people, came to a bad end in the late 20s or early 30s. [AB: After a failed marriage, she died of alcoholism in 1940, aged 39.]
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