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Sir John Millais to George du Maurier - 1890

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Letter from Sir John Millais to George du Maurier re Sylvia's engagement to Arthur.


2, Palace Gate, Kensington.
28th March 1890

Dear Miss du Maurier,
We all of us congratulate you heartily on Sylvia's engagement. Lucky young man. I sometimes almost wish Mr Mephistopheles would touch me with his wand and turn me into a beautiful young gentlewoman, to the sound of a chorus outside of the R.A. students and let me [??renew] such bliss's rhyming to missis.
I am ever,
Yours affectionately,
J E Millais

This hasty scrawl would no doubt read better if I had been able to decipher the word which has baffled me [and if you can do better than Peter or me, please comment. My best guess is either "renew" or "romeo"].

The Millais and du Maurier families had been on close and friendly terms for many years. There was an amusing little postscript to this in 1944, when I was stationed at Marlborough and was saddled, as an obscure and antiquated army captain, with the organisation of the local "Warships Week". The guest of honour, who came to declare the dreary festivities open and take the salute at the ludicrous parade in the town, was Millais' grandson, Admiral Sir William James, then commander-in-chief, Portsmouth. There was a sort of little reception afterwards, with drinks and so on, and brass hats of all Services cluttering the place up; and the cherubic pink-faced, blue-eyed admiral, with his delightful once golden but now silvery curls, somehow recognised me, perhaps from my name having occurred in the correspondence about the beano or from its being on the programme, and insisted on talking to P [Peter's wife] and myself practically the whole time, rather to our embarrassment, and much to the disgust of the Generals and Air-Marshals and their wives who were also present.

I don't suppose, though, that any of them realised they were witnessing an historic event: a meeting between the original of "Bubbles" and the original of "Peter Pan". He made himself extraordinarily pleasant for us; and I felt, with a certain amount of chagrin, that he had always been able to take in his stride, and even to profit by, his own childish notoriety, unlike myself, to whom an equivalent distinction has been a source of something like misery all my life. I have an idea that the original of "Little Lord Fauntleroy" would know what I mean; I believe he used to live somewhere; gloomily mumbling his toothless gums and in absent-minded moments fondling the ghosts of his sausage curls and wishing he or Frances Hodgson Burnett had never been born.
Millais died in 1895, being then president of the Royal Academy and all that. In his day, he was able to inform the Prince of Wales that he had made £90,000 in one year (income tax at sixpence or so in the £). All the same he was a damned good painter at his best. He painted a very bad portrait of George du Maurier which is reproduced in the Life of him by his son; and a much better portrait, which used to hang in Granny's [= Emma du Maurier's] flat and possibly in May's house; and which turned up after Coley's death, is by some attributed to him. It has been presented to the National Portrait Gallery.


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