Letter from Sylvia Llewelyn Davies to her sister-in-law Margaret, 16 July 1895
[No original available]
18, Craven Terrace, W.
[16 July 1895]
I enjoyed Essex Hall so much, and your part of it was splendid — I heard every word and you looked such a sweet!
I wish I had been there in the morning, and I did not stay late this afternoon because I had to get back. I liked the old woman who got up on the chair near me, and threw her arms about! I do hope you are not too awfully tired. If there is a chance of my seeing you at Barton Street any afternoon, do let me know and I would go in a moment!
Dear love to you.
Written, I suppose, before Mary Ll.D's death, and the only letter I have for 1895 or 1896. It was addressed to Margaret at 14, Barton Street, where Charles Ll.D. had no doubt then recently established himself, and to which I have referred previously. I fancy it and most of its surroundings in Westminster were at that date more or less slummy, and that the house, a charming late 18th century one, was pretty cheap. I think it only became a sought-after neighbourhood (and kind of house) between the two wars, or at any rate shortly before 1914.
Just as I have no letters bearing on Mary Ll.D's death, so there are absolutely none which in any way refer to the death, in the following year (1896) of George du Maurier. It is rather outside the scope of my present purpose (whatever that may be, and I'm never quite sure, as must be clear enough to any reader) to attempt to say anything about G. du M. in the absence of letters to which I might have been able to add a few words by the way. Sources of information about him exist, though I personally wish that a proper Life had been undertaken by a competent hand. Thanks to the enormous success of "Trilby" (1894) he had right at the end of his life become famous to an extent which, according to all accounts, bewildered and almost distressed him: for he seems to have been a modest man of simple, frugal and essentially domestic habit. I take him to have been a man of very great charm, as well as a very good man, and I wish I could have known him; but in fact I know nothing even about him which has not been published. His death, at the comparatively early age of sixty, must have been a heavy blow to S., who was deeply devoted to him.
"Trilby" made a lot of money, which was passed on to his family in what I have heard called a typically French will (I used to have a copy of it at one time); i.e, it provided for the interests of his family down to our own generation. How much came to S. immediately I know not, but it must have been a help. The amount that came to each of us, since G. du M. had five children and there were three of our own generation of Davieses (allowing for the intestacy of G[eorge] and M[ichael] Ll.D.) was nothing large. (It would, I think, have been more, had not Emma du M. diverted some of what should have come to us, in view of J.M.B.'s undertaking to provide for us.) But the odd windfalls of ten or twenty pounds from the du Maurier estate (administered till a few years ago in some mysterious way by Charlie Millar) which used to come to us from time to time after Emma du M's death — I fancy it is all pretty well dried up now — have always been welcome.
I have loved very few books in my life as much as I loved "Peter Ibbetson" when I was young, and though I don't read it with half so much pleasure now, I like to think that I got my name from it, and I cherish the copy which Grandpapa gave to S., with its charming inscription: ‘To Sylvia du Maurier, from the author of her being (and of this book), George du Maurier, 1892'.
He painted two charming self-portraits of himself in youth, one of which Muriel [Beaumont, Gerald du M’s wife] had, but which appears to have been lost. The other I collected from Taff Coles, after Coley's death, and still have. Many old letters of his turned up at the same time, which are at present (February 1950) being sifted by Daphne. He was buried in the pretty Hampstead churchyard which has since become a sort of family burying-place to us. I hope a book of his letters may eventually emerge from Daphne's investigations.
[Extract from a diary of Lady Ponsonby's, believed by her to belong to 1896:] "Rustington, Aug. 9th. Arthur and Sylvia came down to the Mill House, which much delighted my heart ... (Then, after some critical remarks about other people:) Sylvia is a joy, however, she is the dearest, sweetest, prettiest person in the world — lucky, lucky Arthur ... "
The first Mill House holiday seems to have been in 1895, when A. and S. were there "with two babies." They returned there again in 1897 with three, and how often thereafter I am not quite sure. This Mill House, really no more than a cottage, was right on the shore, and I fancy my very earliest memory is of looking over the wall at the foot of the little garden (perhaps being held up for the purpose) at the sea which, at high tide, came right up to it.
An enchanted place, with the windmill in working order and lofts and sacks of flour to play about among.....
Thus far I had written when a further communication from Lady P. brought me up short by revealing that the second of the three Rustington houses, at which we stayed at various times subsequently, and which I remember only as a thatched flint cottage, was in fact also a Mill House, complete with windmill; so that may be the mill and lofts and sacks of flour I was thinking of. Be that as it may, the whole of Rustington as it was or seemed to be then, is to me an enchanted place. We must have gone there for our summer holidays much more often than to any other place up to the death of A.Ll.D., and never afterwards.
Even in those days, of course, vile and vulgar encroachments had begun. But they passed unnoticed by the childish eye, and were for the most part away from the heart of the village, which still preserved much of its ancient dignity and seclusion, and from the sea shore. With unerring discrimination, A. and S. chose the pleasantest, least tampered with spots in it. Today Rustington is utterly bevilla'd and bungaloid; is, in fact, little more than a loathsome suburban excrescence on the dismal fringe of Littlehampton. Cudlow House, meaning 1906 to us, holds out almost a sole survivor, fenced in from the surrounding crudities, still retaining a passé sort of late Georgian graciousness, an all too obvious air of having seen better days. On the site of the Mill House by the sea, and its weather-boarded outbuildings and rural surroundings, stands a large, unlovely, staring red-brick loony-bin. Not that I bear the loonies any grudge, poor critters. But the whole thing is a good instance of the shocks that surely await those who revisit the glamourized haunts of their childhood in this progressive age.
From Lady Ponsonby: "In 1897 A. and S. were at the Mill House again. I write: 'Had tea with Sylvia and Arthur and Mrs. du Maurier — how exceptionally delightful they are.' Sylvia I describe as much occupied with the last baby, Peter Ibbetson. You were not nearly so strong as George and Jack, and it was thought to be due to vaccination as you were quite normal until you were vaccinated. You were pale and different, and the fact that you were not hearty for some years appealed to me."
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