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Some Davies Letters and Papers (aka the Morgue): 1

Details

Some Davies Letters and Papers

1907-1910

Compiled by

Peter Llewelyn Davies

[AB: See “Some Davies Papers & Letters, 1889-1897” for an introduction to ‘The Morgue’. The layout is exactly as Peter had it typed up, except that all formatting has been removed, being inconsistent with the website technology, and first names substituted for Peter's initials, e.g. Sylvia Ll.D. instead of S.Ll.D. or Sylvia instead of S., except where used in contemporary letters. A number of additional letters have come to light since Peter compiled his Morgue, and I have included them here where relevant. The originals of some letters can be found in the database, mostly ones that Peter didn’t have while compiling the Morgue, and thus evaded his systematic destruction.

This volume ends with the following post-script, written by Nico and dated February 1962:

“I think Peter’s plan was to add to this “morgue” (as he liked to call it) both at the end – to include George’s death in action, March 15, 1915 aged 21, and Michael’s drowning at Oxford, May 19, 1921 a month before his 21st birthday – and at the beginning (one notices the word “continued” on the title page of the first typescript), perhaps the whole to stem from Father’s birth.

It was, of course, only for family consumption – Jack and myself, and the wives and children of the three of us; with, presumably, a Davies or du Maurier cousin if they would be interested.

Peter fully edited and distributed to Jack and me the first two volumes – up to Arthur’s death – in, I think, 1952, but in spite of constant proddings from me never produced a fair copy of the third volume, and so far as I can trace never started serious compilation of material prior to 1889 or post 1910.**

Jack died on September 17, 1959, aged 65; and Peter shortly after on April 5, 1960, age 63. So – fairly enough, I suppose, as I was the youngest – I’m the only survivor.

I think Peter’s compilation wholly remarkable, a brilliant – he was brilliant – labour of love; so it has given me infinite pleasure to arrange the fair copy of this third volume, just instructing the typist where to insert Peter’s handwritten additions, i.e. it’s all Peter’s work, in the hopes that Arthur’s and Sylvia’s grandchildren may like to know a little more about their family tree.”]

[AB: ** Nico later found two earlier volumes, 1812-1874, and 1874-1881, as well as the last volume, 1911-1915.]

*

The following “directions” are in Sylvia’s handwriting, in ink, on three sheets of unheaded paper. They do not seem to have been completed, and there is no date; the envelope in which I found them in J.M.B.’s desk has on it in his handwriting: “Notes for a Will, written by Mrs. Davies at Berkhamsted soon after Mr. Davies’s death. J.M. Barrie.”:

I may die at any time but it's not likely to happen yet as I am strong I think on the whole. However in case it happens (& God forbid because of my precious boys) I will put down a few directions. I wonder if my dear kind Florence Gay [a close family friend] would care to make a home for them till they are out in the world (if she is still single) as she is so good and kind to them always and so understanding and she could always ask advice from Margaret & J.M.B. & Trixie & May & all the kind uncles – (also of course Mama if she is still alive). With dear Mary Hodgson, & I hope she will stay with them always (unless she marries). Florrie would find it not too unattractive I hope to think of what I ask. The boys are fond of her and she has known their mother for very many years.

I believe they will all be good brave men (seeing that they are Arthur's sons & understand how very very much they were beloved by him & Sylvia, his altogether faithful & loving wife). I hope they will marry & have children & live long & happily & be content to be poor if it should have to be, and that they will always be very careful (whatever incomes they have) to live within their means. Also that they will realise that there is nothing so perfect as a true love match & in that no one was ever more blessed than their own mother. I hope that they will work hard, for to be idle is disastrous, that at play time (& everyone can play a little) I like to think of them doing so in a dear healthy honest way & bringing happiness to others as well as to themselves. After their beloved father I want them to think of their uncle Theodore and I hope they remember him.

I should like all my dear one's love letters to me to be burnt unread, but the one he wrote to me just before his operation (to read while he was unconscious) they (the boys) may each read & then please let it be cremated with me & lie with me & Arthur in the Hampstead churchyard close to that other dear grave.

If it is possible for dear Florrie to do what I ask, of course a sum of money will be paid her each year, but that will be settled by Crompton. Of one thing I am certain – that J.M. Barrie (the best friend in the whole world) will always be ready to advise out of his love for

*

In J.M.B.’s handwriting are added the words: “This paper which ends thus was found after Mrs. Davies’s death. It was evidently written (as relatives agree) at Berkhamsted soon after Mr. Davies’s death. J.M. Barrie.”

But for the confident assignment of these “directions” by J.M.B., and presumably by Crompton and Margaret and Trixie or May, to the late spring or summer of 1907, I should have felt a little doubtful of dating them so early. I still think it possible that they may have been written two years or so later, when Sylvia felt the first approach of her own fatal disease. (There is no indication as to when or where J.M.B found them.) But I feel no strong conviction on the point, and accordingly insert them here.

Florrie Gay I have referred to, inadequately but as well as I can, on an earlier page. In the later “Will” which Sylvia wrote down a few nights before her death, there is no mention of her.

It seems clear that, whenever Sylvia wrote these directions, it had not occurred to her that we should be so comprehensively “looked after” by J.M.B. as in fact we eventually were. This might be thought an argument in favour of the earlier dating of them; but J.M.B.’s divorce proceedings did not materialise until late 1909 (decree nisi, October 13th), so that his own future was bound up with Mary Barrie until then. And in point of fact, nowhere in the documents I have, neither in any of the letters, nor in the final “Will”, nor anywhere else, is there mention of any definite undertaking on our behalf by J.M.B.

Sylvia had very little money of her own: there must have been a thousand or two of Arthur’s, and there were a (very) few thousands which had been left to her during her lifetime, and thereafter to us, under George du Maurier’s will. I have always understood that there was a whip round among the uncles – kind uncles indeed. But on any showing there was precious little out of which to deal with five boys and their education, without J.M.B. in the background. There is a vagueness about the financial future which suggests that Sylvia was not very exact in the matter of money. I don’t mean that she was in the least extravagant; on the contrary I am sure that her insistence on the importance of living within one’s means was heartfelt and sincere; though I daresay it reflected the influence of Arthur rather than Sylvia’s own natural inclinations. Her father both preached and practised a frugality of which Davieses and Cromptons would have approved, but I don’t think he transmitted his carefulness to his children, from what I remember of Trixie, Guy and Gerald. Perhaps to Sylvia, as to many women and not a few men, money was something that generally turns up somehow or other, in sufficient quantities to make life tolerable. And perhaps this attitude, which is very far from being a greedy or grasping one, made it easy for her to accept the money which J.M.B. was so ready to give.

I have referred earlier to the particular fondness Sylvia had for Theodore Ll.D., dating from the Swiss holiday during the time of her engagement to Arthur. Early death no doubt crystallises such feelings; we all know that. But he was certainly an outstanding character, even in that family, and I wish I could say I remembered him in any serious sense of the word.

Later: Recently (1950), happening to glance through An Autobiography & Other Essays by George Macaulay Trevelyan, O.M., published in 1949, I came across the following passage: “Another Trinity man slightly senior to myself, whom I knew and loved, was Theodore Llewelyn Davies, of the Treasury. The men among whom I lived all looked up to him as an elder brother. He was the best of us all, and died in a bathing accident in 1905. Intimacy with such seniors I have always regarded as one of the chief blessings of my life and I am glad to think I made the most of the chance.”

Conscious of having failed, anywhere in this compilation, to “characterise” the Llewelyn Davies brothers at all adequately, I asked the distinguished old historian if he could amplify his high estimate of Theodore. He replied: “I think the remarkable thing about Theodore was the balance of his qualities making a perfect man. He was at once so solid and reliable and so wise in judgement, and with that so full of human sympathy, of humour, and of love for all that was best in poetry. I do not think his artistic side was equally developed, but his friends were not very artistic, though deeply interested in literature and, latterly, in politics. The reliance we all had on his character was extraordinary.”

All Sylvia’s letters from Arthur were destroyed, probably by joint consent and act of the uncles and aunts and J.M.B. after her death; unless she destroyed them herself, when she knew death was near. I don’t remember that the particular letter from Arthur to which reference is made in these “directions” was read by any of us – certainly not by me; it cannot have been buried with her. When Arthur’s ashes were interred in the churchyard at Hampstead, following the funeral service at the Golders Green crematorium on April 23th, I don’t know. Perhaps later the same day. “That dear grave” is the grave of George du Maurier.

What would the next word or words have been if Sylvia had not stop writing when she did?

Jocelyn? My precious boys?

A saddish document.

*

[NOT IN THE MORGUE]

[Sylvia Ll.D. to Dolly Ponsonby]

Egerton House,
Berkhamsted.
[May, 1907]

Dear Darling Dolly,
I think of you so often & I know how you love Arthur & me & that helps me in my sorrow – You will love me always won't you – & help me to live through the long long years. How shall I do it I wonder – it seems so impossible. We were so utterly & altogether happy & that happiness is the most precious thing on earth. We were so young to part. I must be terribly brave now & I know our boys will help me. They only can keep me alive & I shall live for them and do always what Arthur w[oul]d most like for them. How he loved us all & he has been taken from us. Kind Hugh Macnaghten – a dear friend of Arthur's – is going to have George in his house at Eton in September. Thus was a promise made by Arthur to Hugh some time ago, and I am very grateful to Hugh for his love and generosity. I am grateful to many many friends, & I will show it some day I hope, but just now I am full of deadly pain & sorrow & I often wonder I am alive. The little boys are loving & thoughtful & I always sleep with my George now – & it comforts, more than I can say, to touch him, & I feel Arthur must know. He will live again in them I feel & that must be my dear comfort till I go to him at last. We longed to grow old together – oh my dear friend, it is all so utterly impossible to understand. My Jack is at Osborne now & writes happy letters to me – I am going to pay him a visit when I am strong enough – I miss him very much – but they have all got to be men & leave me & for Arthur's sake I must fight that fight too. I shall come to London later on – we are trying to let the house – it is too big for me & too full of pain & sorrow. I think of him almost always now as he was before the tragic illness & God gavehim the finest face in the world.

Lovingly,
Your Sylvia.

[AB: This heart-breaking letter fell out of one of Nico’s books – he had no idea where it came from, but clearly Peter didn’t have it when compiling his Morgue.]

*

Very few letters remain dealing with the months immediately succeeding Arthur’s death. Most of what I remember myself is too childish to have more than a private significance, and the last thing I want is to let this record degenerate into mere personal reminiscences of my own. But a few notes seem more or less necessary here.

Life went on for a while, in a half-hearted way, at Egerton House. I recall, not in much detail, but with a vague sense of misery and discomfort which still survives, the return of Jack, Michael and Nico and myself with Mary Hodgson from Ramsgate, and the ineffably tragic figure of Sylvia in her despair.

Did anyone – aunts, uncles, Emma du M., J.M.B., Florrie – come to stay at Egerton House, to comfort Sylvia and help with the bothers and worries which must have descended on her at this time. Probably, but I don’t remember.

Nor can I be sure whether Jack went off at once to Osborne for the summer term of 1907, the first of the family to leave home, or whether like George, he stayed on for one more term at Berkhamsted School, where I remained myself; Michael going, as I suppose, to some nearby kindergarten, and Nico being still in the nursery. Adult observation must have found it a melancholy household.

When J.M.B. from the start made himself responsible for Jack at Osborne I don’t know, but it seems likely; and I take it that meanwhile arrangements were come to with Hugh Macnaghten to take George into his house at Eton as soon as a vacancy occurred, i.e. in the coming winter half. By the summer Sylvia had decided to give up Egerton House and return to London – doubtless with financial help from J.M.B.

Of the last phase at Berkhamsted I have one little recollection which, though not particularly edifying, is perhaps worth recording. One day George and I were larking about in an intolerable way, arguing and letting off steam and very likely shouting at the top of our voices and generally making the most abominable and unattractive nuisance of ourselves – the scene being the small sitting room to the right of the big hall dining room as you entered the house – until at last poor Sylvia, exasperated beyond endurance, cried out “Oh stop, stop, stop! You know you would never dare behave like this if your father was still alive!” I can still hear her distracted voice as she said these words, or words very like them, and still feel the turmoil of shame and resentment with which we (or I at any rate) subsided into half-sulky, half-giggling quiescence. I only put this horrid little memory in because it is an instance on the one hand of the apparent, and to a certain extent real, heartlessness or thoughtlessness of small boys – a necessary condition of their development and survival, possibly – and on the other of the unquestionable fact that the removal of the infinitely kind but also just and respected Arthur from our lives removed and influence wholly admirable and of irreplaceable value to the formation of our characters. I am not implying that this scene was typical of the atmosphere in the family at that time; only that to ignore it all together would be mere sentimentality. We had often misbehaved pretty horribly while Arthur was still alive, but as a rule got effectively, though not very heavily sat on in consequence. He never laid over his knee and spanked us, as I regret to say I have occasionally done with my own boys. Jack indeed remembers being kicked up the behind by Arthur, who for once lost his temper with him for some intolerableness or other – I think Jack was cheekily and obstreperously refusing to go for a walk with the rest of us at Ramsgate, or something of the sort. And what he remembers still more clearly is that Arthur came to him later in the day and unmanned him utterly by apologising. Anyhow, from now onwards there was no masculine or paternal authority over us: a bad thing.

I have nothing material to add here as regards those last months in Berkhamsted. I remember being miserably conscious of the black tie and armband which distinguished me from my fellows at the school, and of painfully in some warped complex fashion fearing and resenting their questionings and their kindly, well-meant expressions of sympathy when one had to answer that one’s father was dead. And otherwise what I chiefly recall are the cricket and the stickleback fishing and the fun of all sorts in which one indulged with one’s contemporaries, in blissful oblivion, for the most part, after a brief interval, of the domestic tragedy.

The four following poems or extracts are in Sylvia’s handwriting. They do not necessarily belong to this date. Three of them – the three which come first – are copied out, in pencil, on 31 Kensington Park Gardens writing paper, and may date back to then, though it is quite possible that she may have kept some leftover bits of that paper till 1907. The last of the four is in ink, on unheaded paper. I don’t remember where I found them, and there is thus no clue, that I can see, as to when they were written, or why they happened to have been preserved. If I put them here, it is because, interesting as they are to me at whatever period of Sylvia’s life she wrote them down, they seem to fit in now at least as appropriately as anywhere else in this record.

*

“Give me back, give me back the wild freshness of morning.
Her clouds and her tears are worth evening’s best light.”

(On the back of the back of the above)

“The past is death’s, the future is thine known. Take it while it is still yours, and fix your mind, not on what you have done long ago to hurt, but on what you can do now to help.” Shelley

*

Vous et moi.

Vos yeux sereins et purs ont voulu me sourire,
Votre main comme une aile a caressé ma main,
Mais je ne sais trouver, hélas! rien à vous dire,
Car nous ne marchons pas dans le même chemin.

Vous êtes le soleil d'un beau jour qui commence,
Et moi la nuit profonde et l'horizon couvert;
Vous êtes fleur, étoile, et joyeuse cadence,
Vous êtes le printemps, et moi je suis l'hiver!

Vous buvez les rayons et respirez les roses,
Car vous êtes l'aurore, et moi la fin du jour;
Il faut nous dire adieu sans en chercher les causes,
Car je suis le regret, et vous êtes l'amour.”
Comtesse de Castellane

[AB: An approximate translation:

Your serene, pure eyes want to smile at me
Your hand like a wing caresses my hand,
But alas, I don’t know what to say to you,
For we are not walking the same path.

You are the rising sun of a beautiful day,
And I the deep night and the lost horizon;
You are flowers, stars, joyous cadences,
For you are spring, and I am winter.

You drink light and breathe roses,
For you are the dawn, and I the end of the day;
We must say goodbye without looking for causes,
For I am regret, and you are love.]

*

Hymn to Adversity.

“Adversity, the daughter of Jove, frightens the wicked, and afflicts the good. Even Kings she subdues with unwonted sorrow. To her Jove entrusted the care of his only child, when he sent it to Earth, and truly she was a stern nurse who taught what sorrow and pity were.
From her frown folly and laughter, … and joy, fly, and with them all who are friends in word, but not in deed, who follow in prosperity’s wake. May she be gentle to me and not approach me in the guise of… despair, sickness or poverty. Rather may she come to me in a softer mood, to teach me to be patient and soft, to love and to forgive, and, observing my faults, to feel that I deserve to be a man.”

*

“Give me back, give me back,” etc. These beautiful lines of Tom Moore’s. Though I was sure of this, I wrote to Desmond MacCarthy and asked him where they came from. He confirmed their authorship but didn’t say where they occur, and I had some difficulty in tracking them down to the poem beginning (I’ve forgotten how it does begin, now). Desmond M. in his letter recalled that they were favourite lines of Crompton Ll. D's and added, by the way, that he had known no family in his life for whom he entertained a greater respect than the Llewelyn Davieses. Crompton was the one he knew best – they were Cambridge contemporaries – and I believe I have mentioned earlier that Crompton was godfather to Desmond M’s daughter Rachel, who married David Cecil.

I don’t know where the Shelley quotation is from, nor the “Hymn to Adversity”, which may or may not be a translation from the Greek or Latin, and both the Comtesse de Castellane and her charming poem are quite unknown to me.

[AB: “Give me back, give me back” is from the ballad I Saw From the Beach by the Irish poet Thomas Moore (1779-1852):

I saw from the beach, when the morning was shining,
A bark o'er the waters move gloriously on;
I came when the sun o'er that beach was declining,
The bark was still there, but the waters were gone.

And such is the fate of life's early promise,
So passing the spring-tide of joy we have known:
Each wave that we danced on at morning ebbs from us,
And leaves us, at eve, on the bleak shore alone.

Ne'er tell me of glories serenely adorning
The close of our day, the calm eve of our night;
Give me back, give me back the wild freshness of Morning,
Her clouds and her tears are worth Evening's best light.

Oh, who would not welcome that moment's returning,
When passion first wak'd a new life through his frame;
And his soul, like the wood that grows precious in burning,
Gave out all its sweets to love's exquisite flame!

“The past is death’s, the future is thine own” is from Shelley’s The Revolt of Islam, Canto VIII, Verse XXII – but the poem continues quite differently: “And love and joy can make the foulest breast / A paradise of flowers, where peace might build her nest.” Nor does the rest of the quote sound like either poetry nor Shelley’s style. A further Google search reveals the answer. In a book called The Gadfly by the Irish writer Ethel Voynich, first published in 1897, one of the characters – Martini – tells another, “Remember what your own Shelley says: ‘The past is death’s, the future is thine own.’” Martini then goes on to say (no longer quoting Shelley) “Take it, while it is still yours, and fix your mind, not on what you may have done long ago to hurt, but on what you can do now to help.” If the title The Gadfly sounds familiar, the Soviets adapted it into a film in 1955, to which Dmitri Shostakovitch wrote the score, on which the celebrated Gadfly Suite is based.

Vous et Moi are the lyrics to a song set to music by Francesco Paolo Tosti (1846-1916). It was apparently first published in 1879, with words by Sofia Acquaviva d’Aragona, Countess of Castellana, born in Naples in 1855, died 1937.

The Hymn to Adversity appears to be a prose paraphrase of Thomas Grey’s 1742 poem of the same name, the opening lines being “Daughter of Jove, relentless Power, / Thou Tamer of the human breast, / Whose iron scourge and tort’ring hour / The Bad affright, afflict the Best!” The closing lines also carry the same sentiment as the concluding sentence in the quoted passage: “Teach me to love and to forgive, / Exact my own defects to scan, /What others are, to feel, and know myself a Man.” Samuel Johnson seemed to think that Grey “took the hint” from one of Horace’s Odes: 'O Diva, gratum quae regis Antium' …]

The nature of all the four extracts seems rather to point to 1907. But it remains perfectly possible that Sylvia may have had a habit, years before that, of copying out things which she had read and which had pleased her. If it was so, the note of regret or pathos which is common to all of them might indicate a characteristic trait. Denis Mackail, in trying to describe her as she was in early married life, no doubt from impressions given to him by those who had known her then, wrote the following:

“Sylvia was adored by everyone; first, no doubt—since it was the first thing that everyone noticed—for her looks, and then, as they got to know her better, for so much that was there as well. She could be mischievous, which was another family characteristic, and nothing human, as one might say, was outside her interest and sense of fun. Certainly no languishing beauty, but high-spirited and amusing and even fond of stories—again like the other du Mauriers—which weren’t supposed to be feminine in those days. Quick and clever, and with inherited good taste. But chiefly, perhaps—if one can forget those looks for a moment—someone who was real, free from all nonsense, and frank in her essential attitude towards life.

However, last as well as first, it was the looks that were remembered, and with very good reason, for there has been nothing like them since. She was a little taller and larger than the average, as though her father had drawn her—which, of course, more literally, he had done again and again—with movements that were sometimes even on the verge of being clumsy; and then weren’t, because she was Sylvia Davies, and the word just wouldn’t fit. Her nose was what is known as tip-tilted. Her mouth was firm and resolute, until suddenly there was a provoking and enchanting lift on one side. Her wide-spaced, grey eyes—But that’s the difficulty, and that is where all words must begin to fail. For human, happy Sylvia, a wife and mother who seemed so richly blessed, looked out at you with the most heart-rending and heart-piercing expression that you had ever seen. You knew—or you knew in those days—that this arrangement of her features was only an accident, that as yet it represented no inner tragedy or tragic philosophy, for wasn’t she making another part of you laugh at the same time? She was, indeed; and yet you were haunted. Such pathos, such poignancy—all in due time, Heaven knows, to be written there in genuine, dreadful suffering—but at this moment spiritualised, as it seemed, or made unearthly to a point that you could hardly stand. Does this sound like beauty? But it was, and other artists tumbled over each other to try and draw it, though perhaps not one of them could succeed—any more than we can—in reproducing what they thought they saw. So many subtleties; though perhaps more than half of them in the eye of the beholder. So many reasons, as their pencils toiled at this baffling task, why she shouldn’t be beautiful at all. Yet that’s what she was, and it didn’t take a draughtsman to see it. In one flash you knew it, and here at any rate was the one and only word that would do.”

[AB: I have extended Mackail’s description; the actual lines quoted by Peter are “Her wide-spaced, grey eyes” down to “A point that you could hardly stand.”]

*

Assuming that that is an accurate description, as I believe it to be in the main, and bearing in mind what has already been said about the Furse portrait, there is reason for believing that there was in Sylvia’s character, from early times and probably innate, an underlying tendency towards melancholy, a constant awareness of the lacrimae rerum. I feel sure somehow that it was so, though these fragments are the only tangible evidence of it which I have come across. A similar mentality is discernible in her father, through his novels but particularly through the quotations from the poets so freely scattered through them. And those quotations, by the way, from Musset, Hugo, Verlaine, Shelley, Byron etc., indicate a habit of reading the poets, and remembering them, which his daughter may well have inherited or acquired from him.

These fragments, then, so touching in their present context, may well have been copied out by Sylvia in the old, happy days at 31 Kensington Park Gardens, when sorrow to her was a mood rather than a reality; though there had been real sorrows, it is true, in 1895 and 1896, when first Mary Ll.D. and then George du Maurier died. But whenever they were written down, they shed a new and interesting light on her personality, of which in the end I know so little.

To return to facts. The question of the summer holidays, that dark year, was solved, like so much else by J.M.B., who discovered and rented, for the occasion, Dhivach Lodge, near Drumnadrochit, more or less in the wilds of Inverness-shire. Thither we all repaired, including Mary Barrie – how much did she relish the arrangement, one wonders? A queerish set up, in one way and another. To quote Denis again: “Arthur Davies’s death was so recent that still there must be the shadow of mourning. Kindness and hospitality from the host, whose main plan it had been that the boys should enjoy themselves, but moments of infectious blackness and gloom as well.”

I suppose the house, a pretty one for Scotland, most romantically situated among woods and mountains and waterfalls, may have been picked on partly because the du Mauriers had spent a summer at Drumnadrochit years before. I have the charming little pencil profile of Sylvia which was drawn there by her father in 1885, in her 19th year. So there were memories of happier, simpler days for her close by, that summer at Dhivach.

No letters referring to it survive. I remember it pretty well. The boys did enjoy themselves, sometimes still chasing butterflies but fishing madly with worms most of the time in every burn within walking distance. Various people came to stay, including Crompton Ll.D, whose advent was naturally the occasion of an ascent of the local mountain, Mealfourvonie, unhampered for once by any fishing paraphernalia; and nice Madge Murray, J.M.B.’s niece, then in her very early 20s, the most normal and human member of the Barrie family, who sang songs at the piano and I think must have introduced a welcome note of natural gaiety into the household; and Captain Scott and Harley Granville-Barker and Lillah [McCarthy] his then wife, a somewhat overwhelming person. Neither the sailor-explorer nor the producer-dramatist altogether appreciated (small blame to them) the game of “egg-cap” as somewhat viciously played by the undisciplined gang we were becoming.

It would be fascinating to know what such guests as these thoughts of the Dhivach inmates. Plenty of scope for comment, one would say. And however thoroughly the boys enjoyed it, there must have been uncomfortable moments among the adults.

Also present, having driven Mary Barrie and perhaps Madge up from London in the new Fiat, was the merry French chauffeur Alphonse, today host of the Pilot Boat inn at Bembridge [Isle of Wight], who still enquires after ‘Neekolah’ and speaks English as badly on purpose now as he did genuinely then. He knows a good deal that has never been made public, does the excellent Alphonse, having remained on at Black Lake Cottage until the final break up of the Cannan ménage, but he has the shrewdness and discretion of his race. His wife, one of the Black Lake maids, would I think be equally uncommunicative, though I have never put her to the test. A photograph of the Fiat hangs on the wall behind Alphonse as he wields the beer-handle in the public bar.

If I look back on the summer of 1907 with a certain – not exactly distaste but, for lack of a better word, discomfort, it is because, independently of those vague quarrellings with fate which do, I suppose, lurk still in the dusty attics of my brain, and which that summer first symbolises, in retrospect, with any sharpness; independently of all that, and of the fact that I enjoyed myself hugely at the time, the whole pattern of the Dhivach holiday seems me to have had something rather deplorable about it. I won’t try to elaborate any further; possibly Jack, possibly Nico, though too young to have felt it, will understand what I have failed to express in this intolerably shapeless paragraph.

At the end of the holiday George went to Hugh Macnaghten’s [at Eton], Jack back to Osborne, and the rest of us lingered on for a few weeks at Berkhamsted, while preparations were made for the move to London.

*

[Thomas Armstrong to Emma du Maurier]

The Abbot’s House,
Abbot’s Langley, Herts.
9 August 1907

My dear Mrs. du Maurier,

We were very glad to have your letter and to know that you are in comfortable quarters at Bude…

I have had two short notes from Sylvia but she said nothing about the house. She wrote about a stone to put over Arthur’s grave but she has not told me what I wanted most to know. I am afraid Arthur is buried so near Kicky [= George du Maurier] that anything on his grave would be under the drip of the yew tree. I have not been able to go to see. However, there is no hurry, for the manager of Farmer and Brindley, the great marble merchants, to whom I must go in search of a suitable material, is away till the end of the month…

8 September 1907:

… On Monday of last week I went to see Farmer and Brindley, the great marble and stone workers, to enquire about suitable material for a stone to put over Arthur Davies’ grave. Sylvia said she would like a green one, if it could be had. There is no coloured material which will be durable out of doors except the red granite so commonly used and it is too hard to have the carving done which she desires. I think the colour of polished granite very unpleasant. She has not told me what the legend is to be, only that she would like lilies of the valley introduced and the carving of these would be very difficult in any kind of granite. I wonder how much she ought to spend and if she would care more for a pleasing effect now than for durability. She must surely be coming to look after her things at Berkhamsted very soon so perhaps I can see her …

Ever yours affect’ly
T. Armstrong

*

The writer of the letters from which the above extracts are taken, and which I found among [May du M.’s husband] Coley’s effects, was George du M.’s oldest surviving intimate friend of the old Trilby days, and was Trixie’s godfather. He had been head of the Victoria & Albert Museum, and was also a decorative artist of some repute. His home was only a few miles from Berkhamsted and he had very likely visited Egerton House, though I don’t remember him.

I take it that the stone which marks the grave now, a few feet from the grave of George du M., and to which the names of Sylvia, George and Michael have from time to time been added, is the one designed by Tom A. At Sylvia’s request. It is not unpleasing and I think of greenish stone. The drip from the yew tree does not seem to have had any damaging effect. On the other hand the stone which marks the grave of A.’s father, two or three years away, is rather defaced by drips.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D. at Berkhamsted]

Eton College
Windsor
Goodness knows what date!
[18 September 1907]

Dearest Mother,
At last I am in my study, but, alas! not my [indecipherable]. It’s not a bad den, and will be able to be fitted up jolly nicely. Will you ask Aunt Trixie to send me some of Grand-papa’s pictures – about a dozen if possible. There is a cupboard above my bed full of grub from the hamper, oh joy!

I have spoken to two or three chaps here already. They are jolly decent. One is called Lord Newtown Butler. He used to be in this study last half.

The Matron came in just now and has taken care of all my chink. She is awfully decent, and she takes lots of chaps’ chink. She saw my picture of you and said you were very pretty.

I have put up some photos over the mantelpiece (there’s a fire, not pipes). I’m afraid there’s nothing else to say.

Good-bye
from your loving son
George.
P.S. Mr. and Miss M. are very well.

*

I take this to be George’s first letter from Eton. Whether Sylvia had taken him down there I don’t know: it sounds rather as if she hadn’t seen the “den” or sized up its decorational or heating potentialities. Perhaps she had taken Jack to Osborne, in which case J.M.B. may have accompanied George.

Grand-papa’s pictures would be “Punch” and similar drawings by George du M., of which apparently Trixie Millar had charge of the family store. A dozen seems rather a lot for one very small room.

The underlining of Lord is a sign that members of the peerage had been very rare birds in the family background up until now. On the other hand I am glad to put it on record that [Peter’s eldest son] Rivvy Ll.D, when he went to Eton in 1946, seemed just as surprised as George at the thought that there could possibly be any Lord in his house.

Mr. and Mrs. M. Are Hugh Macnaghten and his sister Kitty who more or less kept house for him.

Interesting to compare this letter with Arthur’s first letter from Marlborough. Despite the three years difference in their ages – Arthur was just under 11, George just over 14 – Arthur’s is in every respect the better of the two: much longer, better expressed, more informative, not so “young”. I fancy children in general stayed young a good deal younger in our generation than in Arthur’s, though as I believe I have said elsewhere, I think Jack wrote a better letter than George, and may have matured sooner, apart from any natural gift in that direction. But I don’t think he came up to Arthur’s standard at 11.

George seems to have settled in very quickly and happily at Eton. I am not sure whether he took Remove or Upper Fourth. He is much less informative about his work than Arthur in his schoolboy letters to his mother. Doubtless there would have been a difference here if Arthur had been alive to receive letters from his eldest son.

[AB: Lord Newtown-Butler (aka John Brinsley Danvers) 1893-1912]

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Tuesday, October 1st, 1907
Eton College
Windsor.

Dearest Mother,
I don’t think there is anything I want out of Egerton House in the way of furniture. Will you please send me, however, the photograph of Smee taken by Aunt May, if you can find it. I think it is in one of the pigeon-holes in the school room. Also will you send me those photos of the garden by Mr. Locock if you can get some more prints from him, and some slip-in frames for them; if possible like the green ones in which I put those of the hall and drawing room.

I begin fagging tomorrow. My fag master is called Millington-Drake, and he is, I believe, awfully strict. The captain of the house is called McMinnes. He is very small, and is greatly ragged by the other chaps. The footer captain is called Eastwood. There is a chap in the house called Arthur Austen-Cartmell, who used to be at the Norland Place School. He says he remembers George Davies, Jack Davies and Peter Davies. I can’t remember him. He remembers you and recognised your picture.

I often see chaps who used to be at Wilkinson’s. Gordon Bryce is here, who used to be at the Norland Place School. He is awfully small.

I am getting on rippingly at Eton footer, and shall probably be in my house Lower Boy team.

From your loving son
George.
P.S. Don’t bother about the photo of Smee, if you can’t find it.

*

This is the last letter written by George to Egerton House, to which, a few days later, Sylvia said goodbye, with what anguish and relief can be imagined. She and the three youngest of us went to Ramsgate, where we stayed while the new home at 23 Campden Hill Square was being got ready. The business end was attended to by Crompton Ll.D., now a partner in the eminent firm of lawyers named Withers, Benson and Co. I found a good deal of the legal correspondence relating to the lease etc. when going through all the old papers after J.M.B.‘s death, but destroyed them long ago. No doubt the cash was partly put up or guaranteed by J.M.B. Denis Mackail has a passage in which he refers to the raised eyebrows of observers of this move to a house Sylvia could never have afforded otherwise.

Smee, the Airedale terrier, survived a good many years, and became the scourge of neighbouring dogs on Campden Hill.

Eugen Millington-Drake, [K.C.M.G. = Kindly Call Me God] at whose ineffable grandeur at Eton – I fancy he was Captain of the Boats and President of Pop – I can remember Sylvia poking amiable fun, is now Sir Eugen, K.C.M.G. [Knight Commander Order of St Michael and St George] etc., a leading light of the Foreign Office, and Eastwood is General Sir “Rusty” Eastwood, pretty eminent in Army circles.

McMinnes I know nothing of. Perhaps he was killed, as were the delightful and witty Arthur Austen-Cartmell and his younger brother Hugh (both in 1916).

*

[Michael Ll.D. at Ramsgate to J.M.B. in London]

18 Oct. 1907

DEAR MR BARRIE
I hope you are quite well
I HAVE SENT YOU A
Picture of a Pirate he has
GOT PLENTY OF WEAPONS
and looks very fierce. Please
COME SOON TO FISH
from Michael with Love
FROM NIK-O THE END

*

[J.M.B. to Sylvia Ll.D. at Ramsgate]

Leinster Corner
Lancaster Gate, W.
Oct. 19 [1907]

Dearest Jocelyn,

All right, I’ll go down with you on the Wed’y or Thursday and meet you wherever and whenever you fix. Mr. Mason will come sometime also. You might get me a sitting room and bedroom. I am hoping you are pretty well and that the glass swallowing hasn’t caused you any trouble. Mary’s intention is to start on Monday, but at present she is miserable with neuralgia. Madge is here at rehearsing and I suppose I’ll have to be up for the first night, about a week hence. I had capital letters from both George and Jack. Jack was 8 his first fortnight and Capt. Scott was so delighted he at once agreed to go with me soon to see him. S. will be away for a fortnight.

I am writing away at my play, and am just getting among the breakers.

Your
J.M.B.

*

Idle, perhaps, to speculate after all these years as to what Mary Barrie’s feelings may have been, now that Jocelyn was a widow and her children fatherless. It is at least possible she may have found the situation to her taste, up to a point. This is the month when there first appeared at Leinster Corner, as secretary of a committee formed to do battle with the Censor of plays, a good-looking young writer named Gilbert Cannan.

I suppose the first night for which Madge [Murray] was rehearsing was of the annual Peter Pan revival. The play at which he was writing away was What Every Woman Knows, produced eleven months later.

The glass swallowing means nothing to me.

The sitting room and bedroom would have been taken, I think, at the Granville, most classy of Ramsgate’s not particularly classy hotels.

Is there a faintly proprietary air about this letter? It didn’t strike me so when I first read it, but it does seem a little now. A bit odd, for example, to be informing Sylvia of her son’ s place in class at Osborne. However …

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D. at Ramsgate]

Eton College,
Windsor
Sunday, November 3rd [1907]

Dearest Mother,
Yesterday was the Old Boy match. Most other Houses had theirs the same day. We just beat them. At half past six came to sock supper! We had tons of sock, soup, and grouse and things. Towards the end a great silver challenge cup came round full of champagne. We all drank to the prosperity of the House. I was not TIGHT!

After supper we all went into the drawing room and sang songs. At the end we all sang “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” about my tutor [i.e. Hugh Macnaghten], and then sang “Auld Lang Syne”. (Champagne is ripping stuff, and I wish I’d taken a longer booze!)

Millington-Drake made some ripping speeches. He imitated French porters, English workmen, Americans and sang a French song.

I am longing for my pictures of Egerton House. Sometime I hope Jack and I can go and spend a few days at Berkhamsted, in the holidays. As it is Sunday I’m afraid I shall be unable to have any sausages for tea today. Only eggs!

Your loving son
George.

*

[J.M.B. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Leinster Corner,
Lancaster Gate, W.
Nov. 4. [1907]

Dearest Jocelyn,
I am having a life of it over this censorship business. Receiving committees, telephones, telegrams etc. all day & every day. [I’ve done more business this last week or two than in all the rest of my life & it will go on till the 19th. It was stupid of me to get pushed into it but now that I am in I’ve got to do my best. There is just a shadow of a chance of its having any practical result.]

When I can I’m working hard at my play, which is dull, with occasional bright moments.

Madge seems to have had a happy time with you, but can’t tell me how your indigestion is, which was what I sent her down for. Mary writes that she is to be back on Sunday. She seems to have influenza & grand rides daily.

I planned out a message you would probably send me about my glittering tea party by Madge, & it came all right.

I wrote Jack y’day. Scott seems to be out of town again. Mason is busy orating with the one hand and writing books with the other.

I would have sent the boys fireworks but the post office won’t pass them.

I sit up for Madge every night till 11.45 & then we go to bed. At least write and tell me how you are. I want to know so much that I think you might do this. I’m very tired.

Your
J.M.B.

*

Though I have a few letters from J.M.B. to Sylvia from now on, or of hers to him, it is obvious that there must have been many. Taking it all round, I am not sorry they have mostly disappeared; except in the sense that her letters might have thrown light on her character and personality – but her letters to other people might have been of more value in that sense. I think her attitude to him was a special and peculiar one, not very representative of her true self. Indeed, on reflection, I doubt if he brought out or even recognised (or wanted to) the true characteristics of anyone he made much of; he was such a fantasy-weaver that they all ended by either playing up to him or clearing out. When he was strongly attracted by people, he wanted at once to own them and to be dominated by them, whichever their sex. The owning he was often able to manage for a time to a greater or less degree, with the help of his money, which made generosity an easy business for him (not that the rich are usually generous), plus his wit and charm and the aura of success and fame which surrounded him.

The being dominated was more difficult of attainment, as he was a pretty strong character in his own strange way. There's no denying that, from Arthur's death onwards, he did increasingly “own” Sylvia and her boys after his fashion. And Sylvia, a strong character herself, couldn't help dominating him. Later, I think, he achieved something of the same peculiar equilibrium with George, and much more so with Michael, who, however, was beginning to show signs of restiveness by the time of his death.

The above is not a serious attempt to define the relationship between Sylvia and J.M.B. To do that would be beyond my powers and is beyond the scope of this record. But these stray thoughts occurred to me after reading the preceding letter, so I thought I might just as well put them down, erroneous as they very likely are. I think, by the way, that Sylvia’s was a far from simple character.

As for the five of us at this juncture, let Denis [Mackail] speak, with his customary perception:

“Even George, not fourteen yet and brought up with this strange little Providence always at least in the offing, was too young to realise with full understanding what the strange little Providence had done. Jack, perhaps, with a touch already of inherited intolerance, had a deep-down notion that it was an interloper who was saving them all from ruin. But for Peter—who now goes back to Wilkinson’s in Orme Square—and still more for the two youngest, this was just something that had happened. Their father was dead. They were moving to London. And Mr. Barrie was still nearly always there. Not yet could they guess what they had gained or lost.”

Apart from “ruin”, which is a ludicrous overstatement for whatever might have been done with us if there had been no J.M.B. about, Denis sums the position up very neatly.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D. at Ramsgate]

H. Macnaghten’s Esq.

Eton College,
Windsor
[18 November 1907]

Dearest Mother,
Mrs. Millington-Drake came down to Eton yesterday. She had tea in the House, and gave Lawrence major and me ten bob each! We were pretty bucked, I can tell you! It just saved me from starvation, and I was able to get some eggs (not sausages!) for tea.

My tutor’s dog has recovered from distemper, and is very lively indeed. Yesterday he insisted on playing with the ball while we were at footer. It was rather a nuisance as it was a Lower Boy tie. It was a draw, so we shall have to play it again.

I sent you one of my phizes. It is pretty hopeless, but I don’t care. It will last me for two or three years, and then I shall have to be fitted again in change clothes and stick-ups!

I hope Jack is getting on well as Osborne, and that Peter, Michael and Nicholas are enjoying themselves at Ram[sgate].

Your loving son,
George.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D. at Ramsgate]

H. Macnaghten’s Esq.
Eton College,
Windsor
[21 November 1907]

Dearest Mother,
Please come on Tuesday, and not on Wednesday, as Tuesday is a half holiday. Hurrah! I am awfully glad you can come!! It will be splendid!!! I told my tutor, and he was jolly glad, quite bucked, in fact!

We played our Lower Boy tie today, and were just beaten by a goal. It is the third time we have had to play it, because we drew them twice before, so we were pretty even.

Our Lower Boys have sent in four pairs for the Lower Boy fives competition. I am in the second pair! I’m jolly bucked. We ought to win some matches – one at least.

In a month more today the Christmas holidays begin. It is much nicer being a boarder to go home for the holidays than being a day-boy, and just getting off work, and nothing else.

Tomorrow morning I am going out to breakfast with Mrs. Hollway-Calthrop. Uncle Harry is going to be there. I haven’t seen him for ages. Millington-Drake has lent me a tremendous book to read, called “The Letters of Queen Victoria (Vol. 1)” It is a very instructive book, but I like it rather.

Your loving son,
George.

*

This is the last of George’s letters written during his first half of the term, and the last letter of any sort for 1907.

Phiz = a small photograph (head and shoulders) customarily taken at one or two stages of one’s career at Eton, and mounted on pasteboard. I used to have a copy of George’s first phiz, full face, in Eton collar etc.; an excellent likeness, but I’m not sure if I still have it.

Hollway-Calthrop was Bursar of Eton and with his wife occupied one of the lovely old houses in the Cloisters. I don’t know what the connection with Harry Ll.D. was, but suspect Mr. or Mrs. Hollway-Calthrop were related to Agnes Ll.D. Harry and Agnes used often to go down to see them, and I remember meeting Harry at tea with them myself during my first half. He scandalised me on that occasion by producing copies of comics like Puck and Lot o’Fun out of his pocket and offering them to me, a most undignified proceeding, as I, aged thirteen and a half, thought. Hollway-Calthrop retired years ago, but he (stone-blind) and his plain wife still survive; the god knows how manyeth anniversary of their wedding was columnised on the front page of the Times the other day.

23 Campden Hill Square must have been ready for occupation not long after the date of this letter, though I don’t think the family moved in from Ramsgate until after Christmas. I was sent on ahead myself, presumably in order to be ready for the first day of term at Wilkinson’s, and inhabited the house alone for a short while with Florrie Gay. Meanwhile I suppose George and Jack returned to Eton and Osborne, and in due course the others came to Campden Hill, and Sylvia took up the threads of life again, in January 1908.

It was in some respects a more attractive house than the two earlier homes, so close by, in Kensington Park Gardens; and I expect a snob would have to admit that it was a better address. I think I am right in saying that the ground floor front (dining room) bow window was put in by Sylvia, to lighten the room. A room already built-out at the back, used as a drawing room, added largely to the capacity of the house, which, with the old familiar furnishings from Berkhamsted, took on the unelaborate but individual charm with which Sylvia invested all her homes. And very early in the proceedings, J.M.B. affixed to the dining-room ceiling, by means of a coin adroitly spun, the penny stamp with which he used to hallmark his acquaintances houses, whether he effectively owned them or not.

On the first floor, at the back, Sylvia had her lonely bedroom, next door to the school-room, whose most prominent feature was a new three-quarter-size billiard table presented by J.M.B., as promised in one of the last conversations which have been recorded between him and Arthur.

On the second floor were nursery and night nursery, where Mary Hodgson, Michael and Nico slept; and on the top floor were a two-bedded room for George and Jack when they came home, a single room at the back which I occupied, and another two-bedded room for slaves. A nice house, which Nico, who lived there so much longer than I did, and who lives next door now, at No. 22, could describe far better than I. It still stands, though shakily, much damaged in 1944 by the flying bomb which flattened several of its neighbours and left Nico’s house minus its top storey. From Nico’s garden at the back can be seen the built-out sanitary installation on the half landing above the first floor of No. 23 – “Far Japan”, so named (I think) by Mary Hodgson, alternatively known to us as “the seat of honour” and “the abode of bliss”.

To 23 C.H.S. came, besides Mary Hodgson, Minnie the cook, maker of excellent lentil soups and rice and chocolate puddings, and a pretty, buxom new house-parlourmaid, Amy, who stirred the young Adam in some of us, more or less obscurely.

And here, I think, Sylvia did succeed, gradually, in regaining something of the zest for life. The boys were fond amusement and distraction for her, relatives came frequently, and the dog like J.M.B., still living at Leinster Corner and constantly in attendance. Of the rest of her “circle”, the people with whom she lunched or dined and learnt how to smile again, I have neither knowledge nor recollection, so separate is the world in which a small boy has his being. I only recall that I liked the new home, and Wilkinson’s, where George and Jack were of course well remembered, and enjoyed London (fell in love with it, in fact), and do not remember being weighed down by any keen sense of loss or sorrow.

I have attributed this lightness of heart in the shadow of tragedy to the natural selfishness and insulation of the young. But I also know that everything must have been done, by all who had the care of us and above all by Sylvia herself, to shut out the imp of sorrow and self-pity from our young lives. In my own case, at any rate, it was not till a good deal later, when the significance of Sylvia’s own death had had time to sink in, and to blend with and sharpen the dormant sense of what Arthur’s death signified – it was not till adolescence at 16 also, when all feelings become acuter, that, largely as a result of reading Peter Ibbetson, I began to look back with nostalgic yearnings on Egerton House and its garden and the three short years at Berkhamsted (long years, though, to a small boy), as on a sort of last paradise.

[AB: Ten bob = 10/- = ten shillings = 50p = about £60 in 2021]

*

[NOT IN THE MORGUE]

[J.M.B. to Sylvia Ll.D. at Ramsgate]

Leinster Corner,
Lancaster Gate, W
29 Nov. 1907

Dearest Jocelyn,
At last I enclose the cheque for Miss Rigby. I hope you are all pretty well. When I don’t hear I dread you may be ill, but I trust it is not so. Tomorrow I am meaning to go to see George as they have a big “footer” day, and I am a good deal agitated as to what hat Millington-Drake would prefer me to wear. It will probably end (against my better judgement) in my donning the now somewhat passée bowler.

I was lunching today with Bernard Shaw in his flat in Adelphi Terrace, a very pleasant place. I found Mrs. Bright fairly well. I don’t know whether I told you I had to go Ascot way to her. It was three hours in the train. She is in a rest-care there. I am longing for you to be on Campden Hill.

Love to all,
Yours
J.M.B.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D. at 23 C.H.S.]

H. Macnaghten’s Esq.
Eton College,
Windsor.
Tuesday, February 4 [1908]

Dearest Mother,
Thank you awfully for your very kind anxiety on my behalf, but I really promise you there was no need. The paperchase was extremely mild and perfectly easy. I enjoyed it awfully, and ran without any frightful exertions. It was fine fun. One of the points of Eton runs is jumping over or into streams. We had plenty of it. The last thing was about 12 feet across, so we simply had to wade it. It was just mad at the other side, so we were nearly up to our middles! It was absolutely spanking. As we all changed as soon as we reach my tutor's, there is no possibility of colds, coughs, etc. I am perfectly well, but for a slight stiffness in one knee, I am not a hope that the worse. We never even saw the hairs. But we did see a hair. (Pun: A real hair, Jessy?)

On Sunday I went out for a walk with Roger Woodhouse, Esquire. We went on a ripping walk, he is an awfully nice fellow really, though so effusively polite. He was telling me a lot of funny stories. We got over Jack and the fagging story alright! I am sorry I wrote such a short letter on Sunday, but I suddenly remembered after supper, and only just got it done before prayers.

Lawrence minor says he has got Uncle Gerald’s Vanity Fair in his room at home. I hope my own is nearly done. I am longing for it. I asked a fellow the other day if he had been to Drury Lane. He said: “Yes. But I’ve been to something much funnier – Brewster’s Millions.” You ought to tell that to Uncle Gerald. Everyone at Eton’s mad on him.

Will you send me as soon as you possibly can a green book, called “Sidgwick’s First Greek Writer”, or something of the sort. It’s light green, and smallish, a lesson book. I am sure I had it at Berkhamsted, and I expect it is in the school room.

I hope Peter likes Wilkinson's and has got into the eleven there. I hope he will get his shirt, though I am afraid I shall be awfully envious. I am beginning to think that a Davies is fated never to get any colours! Let’s hope I shall deceive this fate here and get my house-colours. I have a faint chance. Very slight!

Your loving son,
George.
P.S. Long letter!
P.P.S. Really and truly, the paperchase was quite alright. I am not in the least bit the worse for it – better in fact!

*

Roger Woodhouse is only an echo of a name to me. I somehow connect him with the Millars. Jack may remember him, and maybe able to elucidate the reference to himself and the fagging story.

Lawrence minor (Micky) and his major (Oliver) were both killed in the war. I take it Uncle Gerald’s Vanity Fair was the “Spy” cartoon in the periodical of that name. Brewster’s Millions was his play of the moment.

How curious is the diffidence about athletic success on the part of the Davieses in view of the ensuing triumphs of George himself and then Michael and Nico.

See 1874 for letters of Arthur’s and Charley’s from Marlborough describing the effects of cross-country runs and water-jumps. More recently (October 1946) Rivvy Ll.D. wrote home about his exploits in the junior steeplechase at Eton (123rd out of 300), from which, however, the water jump appears to have been excluded, much to his disgust.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D]

H. Macnaghten’s Esq.
Eton College,
Windsor.
Thursday, February 20th [1908]

Dearest Mother,
Thank you very much for the Punch and Country-side. The joke about the man in tails changed to an Etonian was very funny, and it said that Sir Ray Lankester would be Gog in a pageant.

Yesterday I was called “a baby who had grown out of his clothes.” So I have, but it was meant because I’m not in tails. Some of my shirt always shows below my waistcoat, and if I tighten my braces, my trousers come up to my knees. I’m one of Eton’s sights. Such as fame!

Aunt Margaret came down today. We had lunch in my tutor’s house. After lunch I showed her round Eton, and we went a short walk. She caught the 4.25 back.

Will you please send me my cricket bat? Please send mine, not Jack’s. Do you think it could possibly reach me before Saturday afternoon? I’ve got the cricket-shed on Saturday afternoon. Will you pad the bat up fairly securely so as to escape been knocked about?

I have won two matches in Junior House Fives, and am consequently rather bucked. However I’m certain to be kicked out next round!

But I’ve got Extra Work and Greek Grammar to-night so good-night.

Your loving son,
George.

*

[George Ll.D. to Peter Ll.D.]

H. Macnaghten’s Esq.
Eton College,
Windsor.
Monday, Feb. 24th [1908]

My dear Peter,
Gratters on your birthday! Many happy returns of the day! I’m frightfully ashamed of not getting you a present, but I didn’t have time. All the day was filled up chock full one way or another. However you may like to have these Chronicles, and perhaps you may not. Millington-Drake comes in a lot. He is the blood!

It’s jolly good getting your footer colours so soon. I’d like to see you wearing them! It’s a pity you don’t have cap and stockings to match, in fact you really ought to suggest a cap at all events to Milky. You’ve at last broken the Davies record! I hope to get a cup for fives this half by luck or for sports, but you’ve really broken that record too by getting the pencil at Berkhamsted.

How is Smee? Have you changed your hardness of heart towards rabbits yet?

Will you ask mother to send me a ham? I meant to ask her [in my] last letter but I forgot. Lord Newtown Butler and I are on the verge of starvation; in spite of a hamper of 12 dozen oranges which he received last week! Will you also persuade her that I must go into tails? Tons of chaps go in in the middle of the half.

How is Poolo? Have you had any more egg-cap? If so, I hope you got Uncle Coley!

I have got fives every day this week, except on Saturday, when I’m hoping to get the cricket-shed. This is a ripping invention for indoor cricket during the winter.

George.
P.S. Myself! [a drawing here, designed to show how much he had grown out of his jacket.]

*

Even odder than the diffidence about his own hopes of colour-collecting, expressed in the last letter but one, is the apparent attribution to myself of pre-eminence in this respect, seeing that I alone of the family had an entirely undistinguished athletic career. George was deliberately ignoring the fact that he and Jack had left Wilkinson’s too young to be in the running for their football colours, and that there was no colours for junior day-bugs at Berkhamsted.

The copies of the Eton College Chronicle which he apparently sent me on this occasion are missing.

The ham and the gross of oranges have a delectable ring in these austerity days. Poor old Rivvy Ll.D [Peter’s son] in his first year at Eton never got anything comparable sent him.

George, I suppose, “went into tails” soon after this. I myself was tall enough to make my debut at Eton in tails, thus avoiding the agonies George went through, and Rivvy followed my example. God knows what the cost of new suits must have been at Eton in 1908. I know what it is now, and also that, thanks to the coupon and cash saving custom which fortunately became established, we were able to fit Rivvy out with two complete suits, a top hat and a great-coat, all indescribably patched and filthy, and not second but fourth or fifth hand, for £6,10s, probably a cheaper transaction than could be managed at any other public school. But what a change from the old days! The outward squalor of post-war Eton is extreme.

Poolo: Aunt May’s poodle, well known to all of us. The envelope of this letter, addressed by George to 23 C.H.S., was redirected in Mary Hodgson’s writing to c/o Mrs. Coles, Great Woodcote Farm, Purley, where I suppose I had been for the weekend. I can just remember this nice old house, long since overwhelmed by the sprawling cancer of Croydon and its satellite growths. Of playing egg-cap with Coley, and launching tennis balls at his apprehensive back in the course of that excellent if slightly brutal game, I have no recollection.

[AB: According to Nico, egg-cap was played as follows: “Each player had a cap on the ground about a couple of yards in front of him: each took it in turn to try and lob a tennis ball into a cap: if the ball got to and stayed in the cap, the ‘cap-owner’ rushed to get it while everyone else rushed away: the ‘owner’ then hurled the ball at a rushing-away back – a hit, one ‘egg’ to the person hit, a miss: one egg to the thrower – three ‘eggs’ OUT!”]

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D]

H. Macnaghten’s Esq.
Eton College,
Windsor.
Friday, May 1st, [1908]

Dearest Mother,
I’m awfully sorry for not writing last night, but I was busy with packing, etc. I was very early after all, and there is no fixed time for arriving, after all! I must remember that …

I was awfully sick to leave home. I felt rotten in the evening. While as for the shock I had waking up at Eton – ugh! I was dreaming of a footer match on Ramsgate sands and just waking up peacefully – when suddenly the thought flashed through me …

Love to Miss Ethel, Miss Mary and Miss Winnie.

Your affectionate son
George

*

Sunday, May 3rd, 1908.

… By a ghastly lie I got off going a walk with our dear Roger Woodhouse. I think it’s excusable, because you can’t say “No” when a chap asks you to go out a walk with him. So I said a chap wanted to talk to me about something, and found a chap afterwards. On our walk we came across some chaps smoking away like anything, among them Viscount Carlton, who is about the biggest bounder out …

P.S. I’m reading “The Broken Road”. It’s topping!

*

Sunday, May 14th, 1908.

… Yesterday our Junior played Impey’s. We were beaten! Absolutely sickening, I call it! I made four, and took two wickets. Now we’re not likely to get into the final.

I saw Lady Cynthia Grahame today. She appeared wearing a hat 8 times the size of any ordinary hat. It was the sight for the gods! She came into Lower Chapel. I call it lip to Eton!

Now for supper!

Your loving son,
George.
P.S. Love to the caterpillars.

*

Miss Ethel, Miss Marie and Miss Winnie were the three daughters of Sir Francis Burnand, ex-editor of Punch, who lived two or three doors from 16 Royal Crescent, Ramsgate. They must have been in their early twenties at this stage, and made themselves very pleasant to us, giving tea parties with charades and jumbles which the younger of us enjoyed, and playing golf with the older ones in due course.

Roger Woodhouse and Viscount Carlton figure no more in these pages. The bounding Viscount is now Earl of Wharncliffe, and I know nothing of him to justify or refute George’s estimate of his qualities; nor can I contribute anything to the tale of Lady Cynthia Graham and her scandalous hats.

The caterpillars will reappear, showing that George had not yet put away childish things.

*

[J.M.B. to Michael Ll.D.]

Hotel d'Albe,
Avenue des Champs Elysées,
Paris,
15 June 1908.

My dear Michael,

Paris is looking very excited today, and all the people think it is because there were races yesterday, but I know it is because tomorrow is your birthday. I wish I could be with you and your candles. You can look on me as one of your candles, the one that burns badly–the greasy one that is bent in the middle.

But still, hurray, I am Michael's candle. I wish I could see you putting on the redskin's clothes for the first time. Won't your mother be frightened. Nick will hide beneath the bed, and Peter will cry for the police.

Dear Michael, I am very fond of you, but don't tell anybody.

The End.

J. M. Barrie.

*

[George Ll.D. to Michael Ll.D.]

Eton College,
Windsor.
Monday, June 15th, 1908.

Dear Michael,
Many happy returns of the day! I hope you will get lots of presents, although I have not sent you one, owing to poverty and forgetfulness. I suppose you get a lot of cricket at Miss Langhorne’s. How is the blazer? You must look a little blood! Have you made many runs?

I have fine cricket here; my top score is 25 not out. What’s yours?

I hope you have been finding caterpillars. I have got about 40! You can find a good many in London. There will be some in the square. It will be awfully good if you can keep some.

How is Smee? Has Nicko been teasing him any more? I hope he hasn’t bitten him yet!

Now I must tidy up Millington-Drake's room.

Your loving brother,
George.

*

[Jack Ll.D. to Michael Ll.D.]

Royal Naval College,
Osborne.
Monday, June 15th [1908]

Dearest Mick,
I wish you many happy returns of the day. I hope you will enjoy yourself awfully. I wonder if you will wear your Redskin suit in Kensington Gardens. They would be frightened of you. All the dogs would run away from you.

I am sending you 2/- and you must buy something for yourself with it. I thought it was better than sending you chocolate.

In 3 weeks you are coming down with Mother and Mr. Barrie, and we are going to try to hire a motor and go for a picnic.

I think you might get a little present for Nicholas from me with some of the money. Just a little of it.

I hope you will have a happy birthday.

I did enjoy seeing Mother and Peter yesterday. I want to see you too and I’m looking forward to three weeks time. I hope Mary enjoyed her holiday. Will you tell her so from me.

Yr. affte. brother,
Jack R.N.

*

Michael’s eighth birthday. He was now going daily to the Norland Place School at the foot of Holland Park Avenue, and was doubtless already top of his class, the only one of us to emulate the previous generation of Davieses in this respect.

J.M.B. was in Paris with Frohman, in connection with a fortnight’s run of Peter Pan, ou le petit garçon qui ne voulait pas grandir.

Jack’s letter, as it seems to me, is more mature than George’s, in expression as it is in handwriting. I have a cloudy recollection of going down to Osborne with Sylvia to see Jack, but chiefly in connection with a miniature brass cannon, purchased in a shop in Cowes as a rather eccentric deck fitting for the model yacht which I passionately sailed in those days on the Round Pond, and which automatically bore the name, God help me – pinned to its bows on the zinc strip obtain from a penny-in-the-slot machine of – Peter Pan.

[AB: 2/- = two shillings = 10p = £12 in 2021 = really quite generous for Jack, aged 13 and away at boarding school.]

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D]

Sunday, July 12, [1908]

Dearest Mother,

I arrived at Eton safely after the Lords calamity. Lawrence major, in whose cab I travelled, and I immediately rushed to my room to see the caterpillars. A tiger of mine and a drinker of his had come out. Today another tiger of mine came out. They are lovely moths.

I am longing for the New Forest! We shall have a splendid time! I vote we have meals and things outside and never come indoors at all. We must have a camp etc! Topping!

All lower boys went to Upper Chapel today, owing to leave. It was rather dull and much more uncomfortable than Lower Chapel. The Head preached about the Match.

There is absolutely no more to tell you.

Your loving son,
George.

*

I take it Harrow had won at Lords, and perhaps there had been some hat-bashing afterwards, and the Head’s sermon may have condemned such unseemly, not to say unsporting exhibitions. I suppose headmasters, if in orders, must preach in chapel about cricket; it seems to me to be scarcely worthy of their creed. The Head at this time, by the way, was I think still Edmond Warre, who had been Headmaster while Arthur was an assistant master for a half or two in the ’eighties. He was Provost in my time, and pretty decrepit by then. I used to see him shuffling round the cloisters, but never conversed with him.

The moth-hatching excitement shows that George still retained the entomological or bug-hunting enthusiasm of his very young days, despite the intervention of the Dhivach fishing holiday, during which, however, an occasional sunny day was devoted to the pursuit of lepidoptera. Butterflies were a principal lure to the summer holiday of this year, which was spent at a small farmhouse called Black Bush, near Burley, more or less in the heart of the New Forest. George, who was very knowing on the subject, had found out that White Admirals, and a very rare local variety of the Silver-washed Fritillary might be discovered there, and so they were.

I followed his lead in such things, and spent many happy days with him wandering in the woods and over the commons, armed with net and killing-bottle and sandwiches for lunch; but I was never so keen or scientific or thorough as George, while Jack, if I remember right, was heartily bored by the whole business and thought it all tedious. In a word, he had outgrown it, maturing earlier than George. I must say I myself think it’s chief, if not its only real merit was that it gave one a good reason for long hours of outdoor activity, and also, and consequently, made one less of a nuisance to one’s elders. Up to a point the same may be said of the juvenile fishing which, after this summer, drove bug-hunting finally out of all our heads, including George’s.

Dhivach the year before, originated and organised by J.M.B., had probably been a relief to Sylvia, in the sense that it took all worry and responsibility for the boys’ summer holiday off her shoulders, and was more or less of a novelty. The finding of Black Bush, and the occupying of it alone with her often tiresome, however much loved brood, must have had many melancholy moments for her. It was the kind of place, in itself and in its setting, of which Arthur would have thoroughly approved: simple, unpretentious, surrounded by lovely walking and bicycling country. I think she must have missed Arthur terribly indeed that summer.

As for us, I believe any regrets we had were confined to the subconscious. Besides butterfly-hunting, I recall constructing a sort of encampment with George (as predicted in his letter) of old sacks over a hole in a sandy hillside, and spending hours crouched therein blissfully enough, eating plums and Mellin’s Food biscuits; a family bicycling expedition to the neighbouring little town of Lymington; a grander motor expedition – had J.M.B. come down? – to Bournemouth, involving pierrots (“A pretty little girl that I know, that you know, we all know”) and the purchase of bows and arrows, banned since the dreadful day three or four years earlier at Black Lake when I had shot Jack in the lip. On the return journey the car stuck on the way up the hill, and was only stopped from running down backwards by the sudden release of the “sprag” with which all cars were still provided in those days. This was thrilling, and for a moment, until the sprag stuck in the dusty, untarred surface of the road and held fast, frightening. The car, in case these pages should be read in the future by an antiquarian automobile fan, was a Dennis – a French make then popular. A singularly futile memory …

I remember very little of Sylvia in the New Forest. I think that I, and probably George and Jack too, but perhaps Jack less than George, lived in the boy world to the exclusion of any other, and were little troubled by the disappearance of Arthur from our lives or by the misery which the bereft Sylvia no doubt did everything to hide from us.

One afternoon George and I, making for home towards the end of a day's pursuit of White Admirals and Fritillaries, encountered a company of Highlanders on the march along one of the dusty forest roads. Doubtless they were on manoeuvres. They halted and fell out for a few minutes, unbuckling their equipment and sprawling by the roadside in the relaxed attitudes of tired men, and George and I got into conversation with a sergeant and one or two of the privates at the rear of the little column. When they moved on again after their halt, we followed close behind them, enjoying the rhythm of the marching feet, and moved obscurely by a sense of unity with the sweating, swearing, back-chatting soldiers. I dare say they were entertained too, in their turn, by the curiosity and admiration of two small boys. Somehow this scene has always remained vividly in my mind: rather like a piece of a silent film, for I have long forgotten what we talked about. It was a queer little romantic presage of the real marchings of six years later, for which the Highlanders were more or less consciously preparing themselves, but than which nothing could then have seemed more remote from the destiny of the two boys. I have often wondered how many of those Scotchmen bit the dust of Mons and the Aisne or the mud of Ypres in 1914.

The New Forest summer holiday ended earlier than usual, perhaps owing to difficulty in getting Black Bush farm for any longer period, and the last fortnight was spent by the seaside at Milford, a few miles away, opposite the [Isle of Wight] Needles. I remember nothing about it worth recording here.

*

[NOT IN THE MORGUE]

[From Dolly Ponsonby’s diary:]

Aug 12 [1908]. Mr. Barrie arrived in the evening [at Shulbrede Priory]. He was quite talkative at dinner. Discussed Galsworthy whom he admires tremendously both as a man & a writer. … He says he thinks he is a man of very strong passions kept well under control. He was good about L[illah] Granville B[arker] too – said she had no sense of humour. … We talked a great deal of Sylvia's boys & it is extraordinary to see how they fill his life & supply all his human interest. Of course J.M.B. does alarm me. I feel he absolutely sees right through one & sees just how stupid I am – but I hope also that he sees my good intentions. The things he says about people so absolutely knock the right nail on the head that though they are not in the least unkind they are almost cruel.’

[Arthur Ponsonby’s diary]: “J. M. Barrie stayed here for the night coming down from the rehearsal of his new play. I have never met a man with a more just discernment, he sees everything, gives everything its right proportion and in his very quiet modest way expresses the result of his perceptions so perfectly and so humorously that one becomes completely captivated. ... I feel he has a great nobility and simplicity of character."

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D]

Eton College,
Windsor.
Sunday, December 11, 1908.

Dearest Mother,
I have asked my tutor [i.e. Macnaghten] about clothes for Switzerland. He said you have to have a knickerbocker change suit (a good warm one), sweaters and thick stockings. He also said puttees would jolly good things to have, to keep your legs warm (two pairs each).

From what he said about it it sounded topping fun to be in Switzerland. He said it’s quite warm for part of the day. He said the most comfortable hotel to stay at was the “Palace”. I wish he was going to be at St. Moritz. It’s the first year he hasn’t been there for Christmas for some time.

The journey will be pretty exciting, I expect. I expect to be ill going from Dover to Calais, or wherever you cross the channel. It will be rather funny travelling on Christmas Day.

It will be glorious fun at St. Moritz! I suppose there’ll be tons of skating and tobogganing. My tutor said he used to “ski” most of the time. I suppose that’s rather an art, though.

Is Mrs. Barrie coming? Perhaps she’ll prefer to go motor touring or something else. We shall be a wacking party. It is kind of Uncle Jim to do it all. I hope Alphonse’ll come!

I’m absolutely burning for the holidays – now more than ever! Eleven days more! I envy Jack with only four more days.

I suppose there’ll be a good many Eton fellows at St. Moritz. My tutor said about a dozen were generally there every Christmas.

Alas! I must now go down to Puppy Hole.

Your loving son,
George.

*

Not St. Moritz but the less fashionable Caux, above Montreux, was in fact selected for this exciting innovation in the way of Christmas holidays. I don’t suppose there were 12 other Etonians there, but probably it was a more suitable place for the oddly constituted party, consisting of J.M. and Mary Barrie, Gilbert Cannan, Sylvia and the boys (four or all five? I think Nico must have gone, aged 5, to Morecambe with Mary Hodgson), and Alphonse. The boys all enjoyed themselves hugely. See Denis for a masterly if rather cruel analysis of the adult situation.

[AB: From Denis Mackail’s The Story of J.M.B.:

“On Boxing-Day [Mary Barrie] and Barrie, and Sylvia Davies, and the boys, and Gilbert Cannan—the clever young secretary to the unofficial Censorship Committee—all set off for Switzerland. For three weeks or so—the rest of the school holidays—at the Grand Hôtel at Caux, which overlooks the Lake of Geneva from above Montreux. The luxury and elaboration of winter sports were still some way from reaching their subsequent heights, nor was this one of the most fashionable resorts. But it seemed fairly exciting and pretty good fun to the boys, and Barrie did some lugeing and enjoyed playing host. A rather odd party in a way, though. Almost three generations, in a sense. The Barries and Sylvia all in their forties, the boys ranging from fifteen to five, and Cannan only twenty-four. One sees who Sylvia’s chief companion would be, and who would be left over among the grown-ups. Yet Cannan not only had an intense admiration for the host’s genius and attainments, but was extremely popular with the boys. He told stories, too, and perhaps—for he was brilliant and keen enough—he would follow in other footsteps as well. Tall, thin, fair, and sensitive-looking. A fully-fledged barrister now, but the law wasn’t his ambition. He was to be one of the novelists and playwrights of the new era, and indeed for the next few years there was plenty of encouragement and recognition. It was just, in the end, perhaps, another bit of destiny that he couldn’t stay the course.

Destiny was at work in other ways, though still hidden from those who were too innocent, and in one case too unobservant or preoccupied, to read its almost conspicuous signs. If Sylvia saw, then either it wasn’t her business or else she also saw—one has to admit this—how the situation was playing into her hands. Temptation here, as well as elsewhere. The money again. The feeling, stronger rather than weaker, that life still owed her something for all that she had lost. Pity her; for the tangle is growing worse and worse, and life hasn’t finished with its cruelty to her yet. Pity all this gay extravagance at the Grand Hôtel at Caux. There is something dreadfully ominous about. Something, behind the laughter, as cold and relentless as the Alps.”]

That things advanced rapidly to their inevitable conclusion at Caux between Mary Barrie and Gilbert Cannan I have not the least doubt: the crisis came only six months later. I suppose in a way I ought not in this compilation to leave all the i-dotting and t-crossing in this connection to Denis; but there is little I can add to his interpretation, which seems to me to be substantially fair to all concerned. None of it entered into my consciousness at the time. I remember “luge-ing” and ski-ing in the clumsy but exhilarating fashion; I remember a pair of very high yellowy-brown lacing boots of Mary Barrie which somehow impressed me, standing outside the door of her room; most vividly I recall the agony, one day, of not knowing the French for lavatory or wee-wee, and getting no change at all out of the bewildered maids and valets de chambre as I hurried along the hotel corridors asking “Ou sont les Messieurs?” There was a fine expedition, with J.M.B., George, Jack and Alphonse and an exciting bearded guide, up the local mountain, called the Rochers de Naye, the descent being accomplished mostly in the sitting position, “glissanding”. True, there was a hotel at the top, where the caretaker regaled us with coffee, and I believe in summer it was reached by light railway. But in winter it was quite a walk, and we were proud of ourselves, and I daresay the conqueror of the Dom [i.e. Rev. John Ll.D.] would not have disapproved. It was good fun, in fact.

But in the evenings, it must have been a queer quartet of adults that conversed together after the boys had gone to bed.

A last small juvenile memory of Caux. One evening at dusk I was summoned to J.M.B.' s room, to find him sitting, in a somehow dejected attitude, at the far end of the room, in the half-light. As I entered he looked up, and, in a flat, lugubrious voice said: “Peter, something dreadful has happened to my feet,” and glancing down I saw to my horror that his feet were bare and swollen to four or five times their natural size. For several seconds I was deceived, and have never since forgotten the terror that filled me, until I realised that the feet were artificial (bought at Hamley's), made of the waxed linen masks are made of, and that I had been most successfully hoaxed.

On reflection, I think Nico did come with us to Caux, and that to that winter also belongs the story which J.M.B. used sometimes to tell in after years, of how Nico, then aged five, attracted the admiring attention of one of the lady guests at the hotel, who exclaimed: “My word, you are a lovely boy!” So he was, too, by the way. But this was the last way to curry favour with a young Davies, and Nico duly retaliated with a face of fury and the comprehensive nursery repartee: “Oh, ditto!”

And alas, on still further reflection, and prompted by recent correspondence with Mary Hodgson, I must record that near the end of the stay at Caux, Sylvia became alarmingly unwell, suffering great pain (I think close to the heart). It comes back to me, now that I am reminded of the anxiety from which even my luge-obsessed mentality was not immune, that an English doctor who happened to be staying in the hotel was approached, and either refused outright to advise, or at any rate made himself as unhelpful as he could, on the grounds that he was on holiday. His name, if I’m not mistaken, was Gell: an unattractive son of his was later my contemporary at Eton.

From this time forward Sylvia, though sometimes better for shorter or longer periods, was never completely well; and though it was not so diagnosed, there is no doubt that this was the first onset of the malignant disease of which she was to die less than two years later.

So soon: little more than 18 months after the death of Arthur. There were those, naturally, who spoke of infection caught from him. But the why of cancer is still as much of a question as ever, and when it is borne in mind that Trixie, May and Gerald all in their turns succumbed to the same disease, one can only conclude that the case for infection or contagion, in this instance at least, is far from being proved. Neither George nor Emma du Maurier was a victim of cancer, so it seems probable that heredity had nothing to do with it; nor have I found any other incidents of the disease, besides Arthur, in the Llewelyn Davies history.

*

[NOT IN THE MORGUE]

[J.M.B. to Millicent, Duchess of Sutherland:]

January 9th, 1909.

My dear Milly,

… The world here is given over to lugeing. I don't know if you have a luge, you have everything else. It's a little toboggan, and they glide down on it for ever and ever. And evidently man needs little here below except his little luge. Age annihilated. We are simply ants with luges. I say we, but by great good luck I hurt myself at once, and so I am debarred. … I hope … that I am to see you soon and explain you to yourself.

Yours always,
J. M. Barrie.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Thursday, 25th [February] 1909.

Dearest Mother,
Please write to my tutor as soon as you get this, or else I shan’t be able to go for leave. Anything will do – just a line asking that I may go for leave. Please write at once.

We had house sports this afternoon, in more or less inclement weather, though it didn’t actually rain. I was second in the junior high jump, doing 4ft. 3in. I won my heat in the 100 yards, but was nearly last in the final.

I get 3/- I think. I’m glad house sports are over!

The train leaves Windsor station at 12.5 on Saturday, so it reaches Paddington at about 12.35. I shall come straight to 23 C.H.S., unless I hear otherwise. It is topping to think of this week-end!

I’ve got a good deal of work tonight.

Your loving son,
George.
P.S. Don’t forget to write.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D]

Eton,
Tuesday, March 2, 1909.

Dearest Mother,
I reached Eton in safety, if not exhilaration, in due time. The chap in my carriage had been to “An Englishman’s Home” on the Saturday night. He thought all but the ending was very good. Of course the ending does rather spoil the lesson – it makes one think that even if the Germans did have a high old time for a bit, England would win in the end all right. I suppose it had to be put in to please the average public.

I think that now I’m back here for five weeks, I’d better get “flu” for a fortnight just to kill time! It came in jolly useful last year!

I wish I’d got the billiard table in my room. It is a topping thing! Tell Peter he better practice, to give me a better game – haw! – in the holidays! We ought to take it to Ramsgate.

I’m sorry this is such a short letter, but work (I mean it, although I have written it in former epistles) is beckoning to me!

Can you send me some stamps?

Your loving son,
George.

*

An Englishman’s Home had been produced with enormous success in January, and I suppose that well before George (and I with him) saw it during his Long Leave, the identity of “A Patriot” had been disclosed. Guy du Maurier was in South Africa and knew nothing about the production of his play by Gerald with a lot of help from J.M.B., until he had a cable informing him of the tremendous reception it had on its first night. Denis M. is rather hard on the play, of which I have a copy. It may be crudish melodrama, but it is by no means so devoid of merit as he makes out. Daphne, in “Gerald”, is better on it, and gives some characteristic messages sent to Guy by various members of his family. In Guy’s own version, the curtain fell on amateur England prostrate under the professional invader’s heel; the more palatable ending at which George and his Eton friend rightly cavilled – breezy entrance at the last moment of a dozen blue jackets who carry everything before them – had been substituted, I suppose by Gerald and J.M.B. with an unerring eye on the box office.

The play was a big success, ran for five months, earned a thousand or two for Major du Maurier and had no small effect as a piece of patriotic propaganda. And incidentally, it thrilled me to the core: I can still hear the cold tones of the “Norland” commander dismissing Mr. Brown – “take him out and shoot him!” and see Lawrence Grossmith as the facetious son of the house climb on to a table in the beleaguered drawing-room in order to see out of the window, and the next moment collapse with a bullet through his napper.

“My beloved Guy,” wrote Sylvia. “The world is writing and talking of nothing else but your play. I am, alas, in bed, and cannot go, but I think of you and Gwen [Guy’s wife] talking about it, and wish so much I could hear you. Mummie tells people the author’s name is a profound secret, but in my heart I know she tells everyone she meets!”

I take this from “Gerald”. There is no doubt that what had a confined Sylvia to her bed on this immensely important and exciting family occasion was the same trouble which had come upon her three or four weeks earlier at Caux, and that it was a forewarning of the fatal development which revealed itself more definitely the following October.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Friday, March 5th, 1909.

Dearest Mother,
Thank you very much for the snow-boots. Unfortunately it’s an exclusive privilege of POP to wear snow boots, and it’s almost as impossible to violate that rule as to appear in school in a blue waistcoat. I suppose, even with all these reasons, you’ll still think I’m just thin-skinned, but perhaps, if you were here, you’d understand.

I went to the cricket shed yesterday and today. It was quite fun. I hope I’m going to be a better bowler this season. I must practice at Ram[sgate]. Perhaps Jack, Peter and I will be able to go to the nets there. I think there’ll be plenty to do there – golf, cricket and squash, and perhaps we may play footer once a twice.

We had a parade in the snow on Thursday morning. It was snowing hard, and we must have looked very picturesque, if we didn’t feel so! The effect was greatly enhanced by our new hats, which are like this: [sketch] I look very prepossessing in one!

Will you ask Mary to give you the odd, thick, greenish sock in my drawer, to send me. It’s one of my warm winter socks, and I couldn’t think where it was until I saw it. It’s one of a pair you got me at Eton. The other is here.

Your loving son,
George.
P.S. Thanks for the stamps.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Saturday, March 13th, 1909

Dearest Mother,

I am afraid this will be a very short letter, as Extra Books are calling me jolly loudly. They are a cuss! It’s wonderful how Extra Books shows you how much time you get for reading. I seem to be doing Extra Books all day!

The Field Day on Thursday was rather fun. We started at 9 o’clock, had an hour’s train journey to Aldershot, and when we got there we waited about for half an hour. We marched some way then and had another wait of about ¾ of an hour. Then my Tutor’s section of the dog-potters were sent off to join another company. When we reached the company we weren’t wanted, and had to wait under cover for some time. Then the company retreated back on us, and we had some fighting. I shouldn’t think my firing would be very dangerous in actual warfare! It’s rather fun seeing an enemy skulking along about 500 yds off, and potting at him.

After about 30 minutes’ engagement we retired at a double until we fell in with the rest of our company and marched back to the station where we had lunch (rather a good one). We had a topping rag in the train coming back. Finally we all put on our coats, and marched through Eton to the New Schools Yard, where we fell out and went back to our houses. Here ended an eventful day.

Can I get a new pair of grey flannel bags, as the pair I’ve had since I’ve been here are really getting a lot too short?

Your loving son,
George.
P.S. My cold, cough, etc. is quite all right. I am enjoying excellent health.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Sunday, March 14, 1909

Dearest Mother,
Will you send me “The Time Machine”? It is on one of the school-room shelves, I think. Johnstone, at my tutor’s, wants to read it. He and I are both great Wells-lovers.

The weather has been beastly here today. We’ve had a great deal of snow and wind. I thought we’d about finished with snow. I went out a short walk in the afternoon, and then came in and did Sunday Questions.

We are going to do a field day with Wellington on Thursday week at Aldershot. I hope it will be a good one, and less slack than the last. There are some terrific regulations about Camp. It lasts 9 days, from July 27th to August 4th. We have to have lots of things, including razors! Perhaps they won’t make me shave!

It is awful to think of spending the first and best week of the holidays in camp. If we go to Scotland I shall have to travel up alone, which would be rather fun. You must let me, and not wait behind to escort me. I would thereby prove my practicalness! Somehow you always seem to be casting slurs on it!

I hope we go to Scotland, as, although I’m very very fond of Burley, even bug hunting can’t compare with fishing!

Your loving son,
George.

*

George’s humorous protest about being thought thin-skinned and unpractical are interesting. I think he was thin-skinned; I should say all five of us were, though perhaps showing it in different ways. But an Eton boy of 15 would have had to be thick-skinned indeed to wear snow boots! I expect he had to put up with a good deal, as the first Etonian in the family, from a fond mother who knew nothing of the customs of the school, and cared even less, and probably thought he was just inventing excuses because he didn’t fancy snow-boots.

As for the “unpracticalness”: I guess this to have been little more than the effect of a rather slow development, in George’s case, from inconsequential childish ways to maturer boyhood. Not that, on reflection, I would call any of us conspicuously practical either. It comes back to me that Sylvia once, when (at Berkhamsted) I lost a half-sovereign with which I had been in trusted on some shopping errand, by dropping it down a drain, was particularly exasperated and disappointed, she said, because she had always looked on me as the practical one of the family. Now perhaps no one knows but myself how far this was from being the truth. I conclude that, devoted as she was, and in all respects utterly exquisite and beyond criticism by me, Sylvia understood her children no better than most other fond parents. P[eggy] and I try to understand our own three, but, in case any of them ever read these lines, I hasten to assure them that I very much doubt if we really do. At the moment we both of us think young Peter “the most practical” of them. That may make him smile in years to come.

[AB: I met all three of Peter’s sons as adults, and came to know both Rivvy and Peter Jnr quite well. George – an insurance salesman living in Brooklyn – struck me as being the most easy-going; Rivvy, in Nico’s words, had his “eye on the main chance”, but whose life was complicated by the sufferings of his charming American wife Polly, who had multiple sclerosis. Peter was my favourite: I stayed with him and his wife/partner in New York several times, sharing his attic with a pair of fruit bats. He was without doubt the brightest of the three, and was, at the time I knew him, employed compiling an Australian dictionary. Both Rivvy and Peter inherited their mother’s Huntingdon’s disease gene (I don’t know about George as I lost track of him), and in the mid-80s I heard from Nico’s Laura that, like his father, Peter had killed himself. A tragic family in almost every way imaginable.]

George’s account of the field day with the dog-potters, otherwise known as the Eton College Officers Training Corps, makes curious reading in the light of after events and later letters. There is something truly ghastly in the thought of all these young creatures light-heartedly training for death in the school corps of 1909; though perhaps I can scarcely expect Jack, a professional warrior from the age of 12, to share this sentiment. George eventually became a Sergeant of a not very serious kind. I never rose above (non-proficient) Private myself, and I fear shouldn’t have got any further even if I had stayed on for another half or two. The Corps later became a more earnest affair altogether, of course, in Michael’s and Nico’s days, and I think both ended up as Cadet Officers. Nico certainly did, as I remember watching him carrying the colours at the parade in 1922 or so.

Johnstone (Johnny) had by this time become George’s closest friend at Eton, and remained so until in due course George’s election to Pop, and consequent aggrandisement, rather tended to separate them. A most excellent and worthwhile sort of chap, from what I remember of him, though not of the stuff of which Pops are made. He went into the Gunners as a regular soldier, and was killed in his turn in 1915.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

[A postcard, posted 1 p.m. March 19, 1909]

Dearest Mother,
I wrote to you last night, and took the letter to the usual place at my tutor's from which the Butler posts the letters. So I was surprised to get your telegram just now (12 o’clock). I’m so sorry if it’s made you anxious. Anyhow I was a bit late in writing, I know, but I was doing a final sap for Extra Books, which took every spare moment I had. I hope and trust you’ve got the letter by now. I will write again tonight. I can’t think what’s happened.

Your loving son,
George.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Friday, March 19th, 1909
[Posted at 10 p.m.]

Dearest Mother,
I’m so sorry about the miscarriage of that letter. I do hope you weren’t anxious. I can’t think what has happened to the letter. Perhaps it missed the post, and if so, I suppose you’ve got it now. Anyway I’m so sorry about it.

I believe Aunt Margaret is coming down on Sunday. It’s rather a bad day, but no matter! It’s rather funny that Sunday should be Jack’s day, while it’s a bad day for me.

I do wish Jack’s holidays were the same as mine. I suppose we shall go to Ram[sgate] before he breaks up. It’s rather rot for him to have Easter at Osborne. Thinking of Ram. reminds me of the glorious woman who sings just behind us in church. I intend to make a solemn and terrific effort to ousting her. I fear that will be rather dreadful, as you know from experience at Osborne that my voice is not that of the nightingale!

It is topping to have no Extra Books. They are an awful thing while they last. I think I have enough work without them, in fact my life this half has been full of sap.

I’m rather sick at the idea of Camp. Although I believe it’s rather fun, it’s a dreadful sweat. I believe it’s a bit grimy to, as everyone has to do everything (boot-cleaning, bed-making etc.) entirely for himself. I shall there have a chance of bringing out that latent practicalness within me, about the lack of which you always rag me.

Your loving son,
George.

*

The letter alleged by George to have been lost in the post does not appear to have survived. I can’t think what happened to it! All the same, in spite of this little drama, few boys can have given less cause for concern to their mothers than George.

Ramsgate and Kirkby Lonsdale where the only places at which we ever went to church. What were Sylvia’s religious beliefs? I don’t know, but have my own opinion. She was the daughter of one sceptic, the widow of another. I suppose Emma du M. remained orthodox, and that we all went to church (quite merrily) to please her. I was certainly no unbeliever myself at this time, and doubt if any of us were, though the odour of sanctity was not a conspicuous ingredient of the atmosphere in which we lived.

Extra Books: A rather painful Eton institution. The wretched boys had to prepare a book of Homer and the book of Virgil out of school hours (cribs being allowed), and were examined in them about two-thirds of the way through the half. I failed in the Greek part of this examination myself my first half, a thing almost on heard of for a Colleger, and got into exceedingly hot water thereby.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Sunday, March 21st, 1909.

Dearest Mother,
Aunt Margaret came down this afternoon. We went a short walk through cloisters, saw the chapel and other school buildings, and then went to my room. She caught the 5.9 train back.

I suppose you and Peter went to Osborne today to see Jack. Was he well enough to be confirmed or still in sick-bay?

I went out another run yesterday, and did unimaginable feats of jumping. We didn’t run far, but spent our time leaping across rivers. We finished up with the school jump, of course.

I’m sitting in Johnstone’s room, by a roasting fire. Millington-Drake is down here for the week-end in great form, swaggering about everywhere. I saw him in chapel today.

Alas! I must now go down to prayers.

Good night,
Your loving son,
George.

*

From this and later references to Margaret Ll.D., it will be seen that she played her part gallantly as a good aunt and link with the Llewelyn Davies element in our composition. She kept it up for many years, though possibly with decreasing satisfaction; fondness, based on something more than blood, always remained between us and our Ll.D. relatives, but there was a drift apart, most unfortunately. Her father, still in 1909 at Kirkby Lonsdale, was too old (83) to concern himself much with his grandsons, and no doubt the feeling Arthur gave expression to in one of his last notes, that his father would not understand Sylvia’s way of life, was justified. I think that, devoted as Sylvia had been to her mother-in-law, and fond as she was with Margaret and “the kind uncles”, she was not very closely en rapport with those of Arthur’s family who survived him. The differences were too great: differences which we all, in varying degrees, inherited and which were enhanced by our environment and upbringing, so that, even before Sylvia’s death, we were gradually drawing away from the Davies influence and what it stood for.

Charles Ll.D. we saw little of; he was by temperament a hermit, and the last man in the world to come forward in such a situation. Maurice and Harry had their own family affairs, and Margaret herself was the devoted slave of her now enfeebled father. Crompton did much, in his affectionate unobtrusive way, but would soon be caught up in his own all-absorbing marriage. There was in fact precious little they could any of them do; and I haven’t the least doubt that the curious position of J.M.B. was something that, however thankfully they may have recognised the value of it, they found rather hard to swallow. Be that as it may, this drawing apart, though inevitable, was a great misfortune from our point of view. Had it been possible to instil into us, in our impressionable years, more of the balanced, able, essentially sound Davies characteristics, we should all have benefited accordingly.

To a certain extent I think I myself may have stayed a little closer than the rest of us, in the first years after Arthur’s death and Sylvia’s, to Margaret Ll.D. She had interested herself rather particularly in me from early times, for some reason – partly perhaps because I succumbed to the charms of a huge photograph of the Winged Victory of Samothrace in an upper room at Kirkby Lonsdale. At any rate she sought to educate me, by means of handbooks and photographs, in the principles of Greek architecture, and later insinuated lives of William Morris and similar edifying influences into my young mind. But in the end I drifted away from it all quite as much as any of us; and much regret it. Yet something lingered, so that she was moved in her latter years, when putting her affairs in order, to send me all the letters from Arthur to his mother and to herself which I have reproduced in this record. Sentiment apart, Margaret Ll.D. was a most distinguished figure in her day, and would have been more so has she not had her full share of that unwillingness to indulge in the normal vulgarities of ambition for which her family was remarkable. I wish I could have done her more justice in these pages.

Jack was well enough to be confirmed that Sunday, and I can just remember watching the ceremony at Osborne with Sylvia.

*

[J.M.B. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Royal Hotel,
Edinburgh.
Saty. (3 April 1909)

Dearest Jocelyn,
I am now slowly recovering from the functions, which continued for about six solid hours. The gown turned out to be the gayest affair, all red and blue, and if Michael had met me in the wood he would have tried to net me as a Scarlet Emperor. We wandered the streets in this guise and I even walked half a mile in mine all alone. Edinburgh was so full of birds of paradise that not a stone was thrown. But the five missed the chance of their lives in not encountering me in the streets arrayed in my glory. I feel strangely drab today in my old purple tie.

Edinburgh is looking its best, which is I think the best in the world, for it must be about the most romantic city on the earth. But it strikes cold on me nowadays, for the familiar faces have long been gone and there are only buildings left. I am going onto Kirriemuir this afternoon and may go to see my oldest sister on Monday. I’ll get back to London on Tuesday. “The Englishman’s Home” is a great subject up here, and I boast that I have asked Guy to pass the mustard. I believe this is why they gave me the degree.

Your affect.
J.M.B.

[AB: Barrie had been awarded an honorary LL.D. by his alma mater, Edinburgh University. A month later he was offered a knighthood in the Birthday Honours List, but politely declined.]

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton College,
Windsor.
Sunday, April 4th, 1909.

Dearest Mother,
I went to the concert on Saturday evening. It was rather good. One fellow sang some very nice French songs – “L’oiselet a quitté sa branche” and “Le coeur de ma mie.” I liked them, and the school songs at the end of the evening. It’s the first time I’ve been to the school concert.

It’s absolutely ripping to think there are only three more days before the holidays. Alas! and woe is me! and out and alack! I fear me they will be long ones!

Will you send me my journey money? I think it had better be 10 bob, and I can give you what’s left of it when I arrive in time for breakfast on Thursday morning.

I suppose we set off to Ramsgate directly after lunch. Or soon after I arrive? I rather wish we were going to see “The Prisoner of Zenda” in the evening. But no matter! After all, I’m afraid George Alexander would rather spoil my lofty conceptions of Rudolf Rassendyl!

Trials are moving on slowly. I’m rather afraid I’m not doing very well. But I may do better after today. I am sending my class list. Philips mi[nor] is the only person above me whom I beat in trials. The people with crosses are the ones above me in the school whom I beat. “Sent up for good” is something to do with verses, at which I’m useless, as my tutor may sadly tell you.

Your loving son,
George.
P.S. Ask Nicholas not to break the billiard table absolutely until next half!

*

The class list shows that for the “Lent School-time” of 1909 George was twentieth out of thirty in D I, the “select” division of the Lower Fifth. This makes it clear that he had originally taken Remove, and was now at the end of his second year as an Upper. He had made a late start, being over fourteen on passing in, but kept his place in the highest division for which he was qualified: no mean performance for an Oppidan to whom all the Eton diversions came so easily and in such attractive guise.

Of the other boys in the division two are perhaps worth mentioning: Huxley, K.S. (Aldous Huxley), 5th, who was I think 18 months or perhaps two years younger, and Lord Cranborne, the present leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords, 22nd and the same age as George. Neither of these, by the way, had been “sent up for good”, a distinction achieved by ten of the division. The evidence, in a word, is that, while not one of the outstandingly clever boys of his time at Eton, he was well above the average and maintained a high standard.

He is G.L. Davies, by the way, in the list; not using the double L on which A.Ll.D. had insisted at Marlborough.

*

[NOT IN THE MORGUE]

[J.M.B. to Sylvia Ll.D.] at Ramsgate

Black Lake Cottage,
Near Farnham,
Surrey.
Sunday, [11 April 1909]

Dearest Jocelyn,
I suppose you are all running about barefoot by the sea-shore thinking it is really summer. It is sad to think that George may have had to take off his socks. I should have thought out the Easter egg question before I left London, and now Michael and Nicholas will be scorning me. Mea culpa, as they say at my tutor’s.

Mason came down same day as I, and yesterday Sylvia Brett motored over & Frohman came down for some hours, so we had games to play. We go back to London on Tuesday, and if you send me word there I’ll meet the cadet on Wed’y. I’m going to the Lewis’s Sat’y to Monday. I’ll come down to see you soon after that.

Frampton was very taken with Mick’s pictures & I had to leave them with him. He prefers the Peter clothed to a nude child. It will take him at least two years. George’s wife can unveil it. I don’t feel gay, so no more at present, dear Jocelyn.

Yours,
J.M.B.

[AB: The cadet = Jack. “Mick’s pictures” refers to the photographs Barrie took of Michael dressed as Peter Pan in the garden at Rustington in August 1906.]

*

[J.M.B. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Hotel Adlon, Berlin W.
Unter den Linden I
am Pariser-Platz.
24 April [1909]

Dearest J.
Thus far into the bowels of the earth. Unter den Linden will suggest much to your romantic mind. It is a leafy avenue down the middle of the chief street, but as yet I have not seen the dashing warriors with their [?] damsels. I walked up it with F[rohman], and I hope we made a strongly picturesque couple. I in my frayed cuffs.

My first impression is that Berlin is a man’s world, so different from the impression of Paris. Man seems to be glorified everywhere, there are a thousand statues of him and not one to a woman. You have a queer feeling that there is only one sex. If they have children it is done by some new scientific means. Down with the old methods – as we say in repertory theatres. The men look uncommonly intelligent and most of them are so like Maurice in “The Englishman’s home” that I feel he can’t be playing his part tonight. The women look happy too and there is a pleasant courtesy about all. They seem tremendously far from “smart”, and it is really a relief. You can’t believe that gowns and hats rule here, though perhaps they do. There is a curious absence of prettiness. Perhaps it is hidden away. Or it is considered improper.

Have seen a number of their theatres from the outside at least, and they are fine impressive buildings. Is it a cathedral or a museum or public library, you might ask of various piles – and they are theatres. They give splendid performances too, and one theatre will think nothing of playing all the pieces of Ibsen, say, in three weeks. They make our fuss about repertories seem very half educated. You had seen that our scheme was in the papers. If I had not gone back to London that day we should have been too late.

Have not yet had a wire from [A.E.W.] Mason saying whether he is coming. If he is he will arrive on Monday morning. We have not seen the papers yet about the play, but I am rather afraid it will seem a bit mild. Our idea is to get back to London on Wed’y night, so I fear that will be too late for my having Peter. I would have liked to have him and keep him till he grew a beard. Speaking of that, you can tell the boys that not only have I had my hair cut in Berlin, but I have had a most learned and technical talk with a master the art about how the moustaches are made to grow upwards. In a few weeks now I shall look so like the Kaiser that you English will send a Dreadnought against me.

There is a dogged young German here whom we cannot get away from. His parents who are friends of F. and are not in Berlin have evidently warned him that he must devote himself to us, and he is doing it in the most wearisome way. He is as wearied of us as we are of him but he is determined to do his duty. At first we were polite to him, then sulky, then openly threatening but all is of no avail. It always ends with his bringing his feet together and saying he will call for us again in half an hour’s time.

I have forgotten to tell you about Mrs. Joshua. She made a most charming companion and – no, to stick to facts she didn’t come. She went the day before we did.

We are going out now to Potsdam to see the Kaiser’s palace, but he is not there himself.

I hope all, including Max, are well. I think Max is rather like me, especially when he falls into the fender.

Yours,
J.M.B.

*

F. is the course Charles Frohman, by now J.M.B.’s greatest friend, with the possible exception of Alfred Mason, as well as being his mainstay and support in all matters of theatrical business. I suppose they were in Berlin for Frohman to acquire German plays for New York and London. The reference to repertory arose from the temporary interest which J.M.B. was then taking – and persuading Frohman to take – in the launching of a repertory theatre in London, in collaboration with Shaw, Galsworthy and Granville Barker.

Edmund Morris was the actor who played the part of the Norland commander in “An Englishman’s Home”. He was made up with a square beard, unmistakably German.

I am unable to elucidate the remark about Mrs. Joshua (that at least is how I read the lady’s name); and for once Denis’s book gives no clue.

Max was a dachshund, recently presented to me by Sylvia. I don’t remember why. Perhaps someone had given him to her. He was a delightful dog, but somehow faded away into limbo during the turmoil and confusion of 1914-18.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton College,
Windsor
Friday, May 9 (1909)

Dearest Mother,
I went for a walk this afternoon in search of caterpillars. My bag was one small drinker, which I am very bucked with. It is at present eating grass in a jam jar. Tell Peter I hope he’ll be as keen as I am, and get caterpillars from Kensington Gardens!

I am in need of a pair of black boots – my others are growing too small. Can I get a pair? I shall need them badly for dog-potting etc.

I played cricket yesterday. I played in First Upper Sixpenny, which was pretty good. I had no chance of distinguishing myself, alas! I didn’t get an innings or bowl. But are we downhearted? No!

Mr. Bowlby, whom I’m up to, sets terrifically long Sunday Questions. I foresee a sap half for George Llewelyn Davies. I’m up to Bodkin for mathematics, and thank goodness I do no French! I do a lot more mathematics though, instead. I am also going to do Greek verse, I think.

I have had a great change in position in chapel. I sit just underneath the choir in a much more comfortable place. But alas! Some of the little trebles are very husky and bad when you’re close to them.

Your loving son,
George.
P.S. I wrote to J.M.B.

*

Rather curious to find George is still a caterpillar enthusiast not far short of 16. None of the rest of us showed a comparable keenness on lepidoptera.

Oh those Sunday Questions! They were the bane of my life at Eton, and of pretty well everyone else’s too. They made Sundays hideous with their interminable and excruciating problems about the kings of Judah and the plain of Esdraelon and the meaning of Corban and the difference between a Maccabee and a Pharisee and the Zebedee and all that; the mind of man could surely conceive no shorter road to atheism.

I never can remember which pair it was, out of the trio Bowlby, Ford and Alington, who were known to the irreverent is Creeping Christ and Slimy Jesus. None of them were masters in my day, but two of them survived legendarily under those pseudonyms, bestowed on them by some ingenious young student of Blake.

The P.S. implies that Sylvia had sent George a reminder to write to J.M.B. on his birthday, May 9th.

*

[J.M.B. to Sylvia Ll.D. at 23 C.H.S.]

Leinster Corner,
Lancaster Gate, W.
Thursday [17 June 1909]

Dearest Jocelyn,
I shall try to get to the school tomorrow at ½ past 4 and see Peter off. At three I am going to see about the Meredith letters and don’t know how long it will take.

How I wish I were going down to see Michael and Nicholas. All the donkey boys and the fishermen and sailors see them but I don’t. I feel they are growing up without my looking on, when I grudge any blank day without them. I cannot picture a summer day that does not have Michael skipping on in front. That is summer to me, and all the five know me as nobody else does. The bland indifference with which they accept my tantrums is the most engaging thing in the world to me. They are quite sure that despite appearances I am all right. To be able to help them and you, that is my dear ambition, to do the best I can always and always, and my greatest pride is that you let me do it. I wish I did it so much better. It is always such a glad thought me to find you even a little finer a woman than I had thought. I am so sorry about those pains in your head.

Your affectionate,
J.M.B.

*

It is not quite clear to me why we were going to Ramsgate in June, but I suppose it was Whitsuntide, when Wilkinson’s had a week’s holiday. Presumably the main body would go down by “The Granville Express” in the early afternoon, and J.M.B. had been fagged by Sylvia to fetch me from Orme Square after school and put me on a later train.

George Meredith died on May 18th and J.M.B. had been asked by Morley, one of the executors, to write the biography, which eventually he declined.

This letter is the nearest thing to a pledge or solemn undertaking to Sylvia by J.M.B. which appears to have survived. I have been a little surprised, by the way, to find so little of the love-letter about any of his letters to her which remain. No doubt they are only a few of many that were written, but on the whole they do not give me such an impression of intimacy as might have been expected.

Were the headaches and ill-health to which allusion is made in this and the next letter fore-shadowings, as yet unrecognised, of the doom which was to declare itself in the autumn of this year? It seems probable; though to some observers, this summer, Sylvia had seemed gayer and happier. Denis Mackail: “She had put off her mourning, and though she would always be beautiful whether she thought of her looks or not, it was a joy to her friends to see her in her pretty things again.”

A little scene which made a deep impression on me must belong, I fancy, to about this time. I was reading a book in the dining room at 23 C.H.S., presumably on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, when Sylvia came in, having just returned from lunching out somewhere. There was a sort of sparkle about her, of vivacity which even I at the age of 12 detected instantly; it quite confused me in a vague sort of way, and then I was actually dumbfounded with the words: “Don’t you like my lovely new stockings, Peter?” She pulled her dress up to her knees to show me. In those days one was unaccustomed to seeing one’s mother’s legs, or any other woman’s. I hardly knew which way to turn, and feel sure I must have blushed, being overcome with the strangest feeling of half horrified, half flattered and delighted intimacy. I wish I could say that I remember the stockings – they were black, certainly – or the shoes or the hat or any of the clothes that she was wearing. But I can’t; only the words and the action, and the sense of Sylvia’s gaiety and of my own bewilderment have stayed in my mind, all combining to form perhaps the most vivid of all my memories – few, alas, as they are, in the end – of Sylvia. I am sure she had had a “success” that day, that for a moment some admirer had evoked in her the conscious exercise of her charms.

*

[J.M.B. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Black Lake Cottage,
Nr Farnham,
Surrey.
5 July [1909]

Dearest Jocelyn,
I hope you are feeling pretty well, but I don’t believe it, and that saddens me. At all events I can trust to the others being lusty and am looking forward to you being here with George. I have not heard definitely yet when Miss [Maude] Adams is to be in London but expect it will be on Thursday so that I’ll come up that day and come down with you on Friday. If so my notion is to lunch with you on Thursday.

My temperature has been bobbing about, and I went to bed again on Saturday, but it seems better now. I lay in bed that day and didn’t grudge not being with the visitors. I read a good deal in Meredith’s note-books. He kept little note-books just like mine (until they began to be written in alas), and entered in one I found “Woman will be the last thing civilised by man” and “Who rises from prayer a better man, his prayer is answered.” It was strange to read them in pencil, as written for the first time. Also nice letters from the first son from school, signed “Your loving little man.” How sad it sounds.

The Hewletts and Miss Stahl have gone. The new room is over the end part of the dining room and is bright and werry artistic.

I do wish you were feeling stronger and had not so many things to do. I’m very unhappy about it.

Yours,
J.M.B.

*

If Sylvia did take George down to Black Lake Cottage for that week-end (which was doubtless the week-end of George’s Lord’s leave from Eton), it must have been the last visit paid by any of the family to the scene of “The Boy Castaways” and, with nearby Tilford, of so many happy memories. For it was at the end of this month – the 28th – that the Black Lake gardener opened J.M.B.’s eyes to what a good many other people had suspected for months past, so that he hurried back to Leinster Corner to confront Mary Barrie with the charge, which neither she nor Gilbert Cannan attempted to deny. All this, and the divorce which followed, is adequately dealt with by Denis M. in his book.

I really don’t see how anyone conversant with the facts can possibly blame Mary B. or her 20 years younger lover. And I don’t suppose they did, though the law naturally pilloried them as the guilty parties. It was a species of crucifixion, too, for the wretched J.M.B., however much he may have brought it on himself: one of the things that darkened his life from then on, however much it may have benefited him in the long run in various ways. Not being a moralist in matters of this kind to any noticeable extent, I don’t feel the least inclination to a lot “blame” to him either, or to anyone else. One can be quite certain that the gossips’ tongues wagged with plenty of malice about Sylvia’s position in the affair; they must have had a perfectly splendid time, indeed. I hope and believe that she didn’t care a rap to the world’s opinion of herself.

Had she seen it coming? I don’t know. I don’t know what the relations were between her and Mary Barrie, whether they loathed each other, were bored by each other, got on quite well together, tolerated each other, or what. That she must have thought many thoughts about the whole affair, and about it’s possible effect on her own and our future, goes without saying. But as to how those thoughts ran, I have no idea, and there is nothing in any of the letters in my possession to throw any light on that. I doubt whether she put much of her inner self into her letters in any case, or spoke her inner thoughts to anyone. Dolly Ponsonby lays such emphasis on the reserve and reticence which she noticed in Sylvia’s character, that I am sure she is perfectly right.

Any situation involving J.M.B. was inevitably peculiar. That Sylvia found in him a comforter of infinite sympathy and tact, and a mighty convenient slave, and that she thankfully accepted his money as a gift from the gods to herself and her children – all that is clear enough. I think she laughed at him a little too, and was a little sorry for him, with all his success, as anyone who knew him well and liked him was more or less bound to be. I mean sorry for him in a general way, quite apart from the pity which his misery over the fact and machinery and publicity of divorce must have stirred in any generous breast. But whether she regarded the divorce as, ultimately, a simplification of the relation in which she stood to him, or as the exact reverse, who can say?

I think neither she nor anyone at this stage realised the seriousness of the periodical attacks of ill-health from which she was suffering. It was not until the following October – the month in which J.M.B.’s case came up for judgement and his decree nisi was pronounced – that the gravity of her illness became apparent and its fatal nature began to be suspected.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton College,
Windsor.
Sunday, July 18th, 1909

Dearest Mother,
My blazer has just arrived. It’s a startling sight, I promise you! Brown with white stripes down it. I shall wear it for the first time tomorrow! You can’t think how nice it is to have a Colour. I change awfully quickly, so as to get on my cap and scarf! Lots of people at my tutor’s are extraordinarily jealous! I shall be glad when you see them in the holidays!

We are playing Hare’s in house matches. We have got them out for 130 (I took 5 wickets), and for 6 wickets we’ve made 41. So it looks as if we shall be beaten pretty badly. I’m going in first thing tomorrow. I should love to make about 30. It would be awfully useful to my tutor’s.

We had an awful inspection of the dog-potters yesterday afternoon. First of all we had to stand absolutely still for nearly 10 minutes and be looked at. Then we drilled and skirmished the rest of the afternoon. And pretty hot it was!

Have you settled on a house yet? I should think that unless Dartmoor has good fishing, Whitby would be much nicer. I should like to be somewhere where we could get some cricket. Perhaps we could play some with other people at Whitby. After getting my Sixpenny I’m twice as keen on cricket!

Your loving son,
George.

*

By “getting his Sixpenny” (1st eleven under 16), George had his foot securely on the first rung of the ladder which leads to athletic fame at Eton. The pleasure it gave him is delightfully expressed. Perhaps no one who has never got a colour of some sort at Eton can comprehend the satisfaction it gives, the increased stature and self assurance and general sense of well-being. A successful love affair is possibly the only comparable triumph in after life. It must have done George a great deal of good.

Evidently Sylvia had had thoughts of revisiting the scenes of her childhood, and introducing her children to them, for the summer holidays this year. The Millars, I believe, still went to Whitby now and then, and I think Gerald du M. and his children too. But we never as a family spent any of our holidays with our cousins, and on this occasion Dartmoor won the day, and the Parsonage, Postbridge, with good cheap boys’ fishing in the upper Dart and other little streams, was taken for August and September.

I have been a little surprised, in going through these letters of George’s, to find so few references to Sylvia going down to see him at Eton. I might have expected to hear of her going continuously. She may have, and letters mentioning her visits may have disappeared; but the present letter, for example, suggests that there was no likelihood of her coming to see him in the glory of his new cap and blazer. Perhaps on the whole then, with all her tenderness and devotion, she was not the ridiculously fond and fussy mother of J.M.B.’s idealised fancy, but something much better. I dimly remember once going to Eton with her to see George – it might have been this summer or the summer before, on the 4th of June, and I think we were with the Olivers, and had the motored over with them from Checkenden. A ghostly vision of pretty hats and dresses, including hers, still vaguely haunts me, and a sort of echo of the laughter in her voice as she professed to be overwhelmed by the grandeur of a row of Pops sitting on the low wall in front of Upper School, and by the size and manly beauty of one of the Grenfells, I think Billy, who passed by, resplendent, on Barnes Pool Bridge.

*

[J.M.B. to Sylvia Ll.D. at Postbridge]

17 Stratton Street, W.
Thursday [12 August 1909]

Dear Jocelyn,
I hope you are all settled down comfortably now and that there is a bracing feeling in the air despite the heat. In this weather the boys need not expect to get many trout as the waters will all be small and clear, but after all the sun is better than trout and they will find lots of other things to do. I sent some gut, etc. with some fly hooks. They are flies of the kind that are supposed to be effective on Dartmoor, for every part of the country seems to have its special sort of flies.

I hope George’s cold is quite better now and that Jack has arrived to brighten the party. I wrote to Madge [Murray] the night the play ended, sending her some money for the other two, and she replied from Black Lake, where I see she still is as she has forwarded some of my letters. They are forwarded to Leinster Corner still, as I have not given change of address. I don’t know whether Madge has been told of things, but suppose so. It was just a grateful letter. I am still quite well, and tomorrow will go down again with Mason to his Wootton house and come back here on Monday.

I may possibly go with him to Switzerland at the end of the month. I wouldn’t climb but could get some good walks with him. However I’ve settled nothing. I went with him yesterday to see the Test Match at the Oval.

Yours ever,
J.M.B.

*

This was written a fortnight after the storm had burst. J.M. and Mary B. had been to see Sir George Lewis, and all discussions had ended in the inevitability of divorce; that is to say, in no circumstances would she give up Gilbert Cannan, and the only possible course was for J.M.B. to cite him as co-respondent. He would never see Black Lake Cottage again; it and Luath, and Alphonse and the two cars were to be hers. Leinster Corner itself had become hateful to him, and he had been glad to take refuge in Alf Mason’s flat, where, as A.E.W.M. once told Nico and me, he would walk up and down, up and down all night in his heavy boots until the sound of it drove everyone within hearing almost as frantic as the miserable little figure himself.

Had Sylvia and he met since the Black Lake gardener’s revelation, or had she and the boys left for Dartmoor by then? I don’t know. A strange scene to have overheard, if they did. One can’t help noticing, by the way, that for the first time she is “Dear Jocelyn”, and not “Dearest” and that he signs himself more conventionally than heretofore. This may imply mere agitation, or a sort of acknowledgement of provocation offered in recent years to his wife, or a cautious hint from Sir George Lewis; or of course it may mean nothing at all.

“The night the play ended” must refer to the last night of “What Every Woman Knows”, which was actually July 28th, the very day of the revelation. (I take both dates from Denis). If in fact J.M.B. remembered, on that very night, after his return from Black Lake to Leinster Corner to have it out with Mary B., if he remembered in his then state of mind to send one of his periodical allowance-payments to his three nieces, one must certainly take off one’s hat to him.

The sending of flies to Dartmoor may perhaps be a symptom of his agitation, as no one knew better than he that none of us yet aspired to the art of fly-fishing. But he may have thought it high time we began; or it may be that worm fishing was only allowed in those waters after a certain date. In any case we stuck exclusively to the humble worm that summer.

*

[J.M.B. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

17 Stratton Street, W.
[26 August 1909]

My dear Jocelyn,
Mason and I are going off on Saturday morning, and the idea is to stay twelve days or so at Zermatt, where he will do some climbing, but I shall content myself with walks to the places where the real climbing begins. We’ll get to Zermatt on Sunday, and the address is Hotel Monte Rosa, Zermatt, Switzerland, so be sure to write soon and let me know how you all are. The boys can conceive me cutting a mild dash in my knickerbockers, which I admit are things I feel rather a guy in. It’s possible that Crompton may pass that way on his road to the Tyrol presently, but he is not sure when he will be able to get away from his labours on the Budget bill. I have told him about my affairs and he is very kind. What a disappointment to Guy [du Maurier] and his wife [Gwen]. It is a good thing he’s coming home to comfort her.

Sir George thinks my case will come on early in October as the undefended cases come early. I’ll see if I can get hold of any readable books for the boys. I’ll send at any rate “The Pools of Silence”, which is about all the cruelties practised by King Leopold’s people in the rubber part of Africa [i.e. the Belgian Congo], and can be taken I fancy as quite a true picture as well as an exciting yarn.

I see the new play Gerald is in [Arsène Lupin] comes out in a few days, and I hope he’ll have another big success. I’ve managed not to see anybody, have no heart for it, but I do a little work and feel quite well. I’ve just been to Leinster Corner to get lots of warm things in case it’s cold Zermatt. It is always so painful to me to go to Leinster Corner now. Mason will be on that Dramatic Censorship committee all day, but we dine together at any rate. He will probably stay abroad a good while but I can come back any time if I prefer it though there’s nothing to do.

Yours ever,
J.M.B.

*

There is very little intimacy as to “my affairs” in this or any of the letters. This might imply a particular degree of reticence due to circumstances. I can’t say whether J.M.B. expanded more in writing to other correspondents; it is evident that he kept his own counsel in writing to Sylvia. I doubt if he exposed his wounds much to anyone, being in most ways an exceedingly reserved character himself.

There were one or two letters, among the stuff I collected in my ghoulish way from Taft Coles [May’s husband], between May and Trixie which contain references – slightly ribald and unkind ones – to the “disappointment to Guy and his wife”. Their conclusion (probably correct) was that the whole thing was all my eye, i.e. that poor Gwen du M’s idea that she was going to have a baby had been simply a piece of silliness all along, based on ignorance. The letters left a faintly unpleasant taste in the mouth and I am not sorry to have lost them.

*

[J.M.B. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Hotel Monte Rosa,
Zermatt, Switzerland.
Monday [30 August 1909]

My dear Jocelyn,
Mason went off early this morning with his guides and I am to meet them on the way back. It is an attractive little place this, with enough climbing to give it a character of its own and there is no evening dress at dinner and we are waited on by maids only. The hotel is on the little village street and from your open window you can hear all the gossip of the day, with Mason’s laugh rising above it. There has been no big climbing owing to the weather. Tell the boys we passed Montreux all green. It is green everywhere except on the peaks. The Matterhorn is our next door neighbour here and is considerably amused by my knickerbockers. In happier circumstances this would be a delightful place and its novelty will help to pass the days. I’m just going off to meet Mason and walk back with him.

Yours ever,
J.M.B.

*

Mason was absorbing local colour for one of his best and most successful novels, “Running Water”.

Montreux, on the banks of Lac Léman, was the station for Caux, where we had gone for winter sports the preceding Christmas.

*

[Sylvia Ll.D. to J.M.B.]

The Parsonage,
Postbridge.
Sep. 3 [1909 ]

My dear J.
I was so very glad to get your letter. I can picture you and Mr. Mason so well at Zermatt – I went there years ago with Mr. and Mrs. Davies and Margaret and Crompton and dear Theodore. I cannot remember the name of the hotel but it was small and rather attractive and on the little lively street. Crompton and Theodore and I and two guides slept one night in a little cottage on the mountains I remember and started very early in the morning to climb the Breithorn – I can’t imagine how I did it – perhaps because I was twenty and very happy.

It is quite cold here now but fine and good and rather beautiful I think. I wish I could walk more and see all the lovely places but the hills try me now. – There is a cart called “The Dead Cart” for going over the hills in – it has no springs and is perhaps the most unrestful place in the world – I rather envy the people with motors which no doubt is feeble of me!

I always hate it when the holidays come to an end – Jack has to return to Dartmouth on the 19th – he is fifteen on the 11th and we shall want you with us on that day. George is lucky and has till the 25th. Michael (St) is going to Wilkinson’s with Peter – you will think of me when I have to cut his hair – he is longing and longing for the moment.

I think we shall leave here on the 20th.

Love from us all,
Yours ever,
Jocelyn.

*

A sad letter, one would say; the leaden weight of ill-health now an added burden.

Of her holiday at Zermatt with her prospective family-in-law, in 1891, we have had an account in one of John Ll.D.’s letters to Arthur [12 July 1891: “I am astonished at what Margaret and Sylvia can do. After a very severe ascent yesterday, Theodore and Sylvia danced down steep places as if they were just starting.”]. Sylvia was in fact 23 at the time, not 20.

I have pretty clear recollections of the Postbridge holiday, though not many that are material for the present record. Florrie Gay came for some of the time, partly I suppose to be a companion for Sylvia, and partly to bear a hand in looking after the gang of boys. George and I worm-fished insatiably in the Dart and the Cherrybrook and Vitifer Leat, walking and bicycling many miles in the process. Jack, I think, was less easily amused, (more adult, perhaps), and occasionally sought the company of a neighbouring farmer’s daughter – was her name Elsie Coaker? Michael and Nico were more or less tied to Mary Hodgson’s apron strings still. There was the inevitable Major, staying at the local pub, who befriended us, and was reputed to have caught a sea-trout in the long pool below the Clapper Bridge.

What else that is worth mentioning? The Parsonage was small and gaunt and, as a house, devoid of charm; the surroundings beautiful in their upland way, the hamlet of Postbridge as isolated, almost, as possible, right in the middle of the moor. It must have been dreadfully boring for Sylvia, but no doubt it was very healthy for all of us. To counteract that we stole an occasional Egyptian cigarette (Nestor) from the pink cardboard packets which Sylvia used, and smoked it surreptitiously behind the hedge that bounded the garden. George, too, had now begun to affect a pipe, also of course sub rosa. I remember him smoking it one day, when we were out fishing, after a picnic lunch in which slightly unripe plums – bought from a horse-drawn grocer’s van which delivered supplies every other day or so from Princetown or Chagford – had figured largely. He was very sick indeed, almost immediately afterwards, which is why I so clearly recall the plums. I think it was this summer, too, that George began to shock me to the core by strange locutions picked up at Eton. Obscenity and profanity would mingle horrifically and fortissimo in impassioned oaths when a big (quarter-pound) trout escaped after being hauled half out of the water, wriggling irresistibly. Many public schoolboys acquire a certain eloquence in this kind of language, though by no means all; and George, in no sense a dissolute or ill-living boy, had unquestionably a marked talent for it, which he was from the age of 16 at all times ready to display in suitable surroundings. Curious enough, in a son of Arthur. It is not for me to speak for Jack or Nico in such a connection in these pages, but for myself I may record that I soon discarded the youthful blush of shame, and became my brother’s apt pupil.

Of Sylvia herself at Postbridge I remember very little. I think she rarely went for more than a few hundred yards from the house, though I recall a longer expedition over the hills in the “dead cart”; and, except for walking, there was absolutely nothing else for her to do apart from the normal household cares. In the evenings or on wet days she used sometimes to encourage George and more particularly Jack to sing songs which she accompanied on the piano; songs from “Our Miss Gibbs” or “The Cingalee” or “The Arcadians”.

I can’t clearly remember Michael’s hair unshorn; but photographs show that he had the most entrancing curls, so that Sylvia’s anguish and his own delight at the idea of losing them are equally understandable.

*

[J.M.B. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Hotel Couttet,
Chamonix,
France.
13 Sep [1909]

My dear Jocelyn,
We are still at Zermatt but on Wednesday we shall get to the above address and be there for a week or so, after which I must be thinking of getting back to London. If you have written here it will be forwarded. I hope Jack had a good birthday. It is a great pity his holidays don’t go on as long as George’s but it can’t be helped. Yesterday Crompton and I had a splendid tramp of seven or eight hours and I feel not a bit tired, which shows that all this exercise is doing me good. I haven’t taken as much this twenty years. The boys would have been amused to see Crompton helping an old lady to drive her cows home. He does not come with us to Chamonix as he is going on into the Tyrol. It has been good having him here. The weather has been bright and sunny again. It was at the Poste you stayed, only a few yards down the street from here. The great climber Whymper is here and we have long talks with him. He is now about 70, married lately to a girl of 22 and they have a baby. Mason’s two guides are brothers and they have another eight brothers.

Yours affect.
J.M.B.

[AB: One of the pleasures – not to say distractions – while transcribing the Morgue is being able to Google this and that. Both the super-posh Hotel Monte Rosa and Sylvia’s more modest Hotel Poste still exist, “tastefully” modernised in a manner that would doubtless make Peter squirm even more than it does me. Of more bizarre interest is this chap Edward Whymper, the first person to scale the Matterhorn in 1865, although he lost four of his climbing party on the way back down. According to Wikipedia, “On 25 April 1906, aged 65, Whymper married Edith Mary Lewin aged 23. The marriage produced one daughter, Ethel. The couple were separated in 1910. Edith remarried in 1913 and died the following year from complications of pregnancy. Shortly after returning to Chamonix from another climb in the Alps, Whymper became ill, locked himself in his room at the Grand Hotel Couttet, and refused all medical treatment. He died alone on 16 September 1911, at the age of 71, and is buried in the English cemetery in Chamonix.]

*

I have no more Swiss letters from J.M.B. after this curiously flat and dull one. I suppose he was beset with the horrors of the approaching divorce case, involving his own appearance in the witness box. He and Alfred Mason returned to the latter’s flat in London early in October, and the (undefended) suit was heard on October 13th, before Mr. Justice Bigham [later Lord Mersey], whose friendship for Arthur has been mentioned earlier, and his continued interest in Arthur’s sons was to be the subject of a letter to J.M.B. some six years later.

Among the papers left by Coley I came across one or two letters to May from Trixie, or it may have been from Emma du M., which showed that Mary Cannan had been to see Emma du M. while the divorce was pending, and that Trixie had been taken up and attitude unsympathetic to Sylvia. (The allusions were rather muddled or at any rate tricky to elucidate, and I am not sorry to have mislaid the letters.) This will serve to explain reference to Trixie in one of Emma du M.’s letters from Ashton in August 1910 which would otherwise have been obscure.

Family rows were only too natural in such circumstances. I asked Mary Hodgson whether she remembered a state of tension between Sylvia and Trixie at that time, and she replied “Yes! Arising from jealousy of a friendship she was incapable of understanding!“

I can think of no fate bad enough for anyone who should ever show this to Gerald M[illar], whom I love and whose friendship I value more than most people’s, bless him.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton College,
Windsor.
Tuesday, September 28th, 1909.

Dearest Mother,
I have got a brolly, which I used all today.

We played footer this afternoon – my tutor's without their two house colours against Somerville’s without theirs. These games are called Sinés, from the Latin siné, meaning without (i.e. house colours). Each house has two Sinés, and this is my tutor's first Siné. I played short, which was pretty hard work; I got knocked about a good deal! I am now so stiff that I can scarcely move! I do hope I get my shorts.

I am going to see about a shelf for the Stevenson books as soon as possible. There is rather a good man here for that sort of thing. I showed them to my tutor last night and he was awfully bucked with them. I am reading “The Ebb Tide” at present.

Long Leave is on Sat. Sunday and Monday, the 30th and 31st of October and 1st November. It’s a bit early in the half, so I hope the weather will be good. It rained the whole day here.

Early school is a bit of a nuisance. It’s so cold getting up. And the bathwater is never hot. It’s harder still to get up than it used to be, as my bed is so much nicer than before.

I am up to Mr. Booker this half. He is a topping chap. He asked me if I was any relation to the Llewelyn Davies who was at Eton, so I suppose he knew father. He is one of the best.

To-morrow is a whole holiday. I am going to play fives in the morning, and I believe there’s a house game in the afternoon. I hope I’m going to get on at footer and fives this half, though I haven’t quite got to loving footer!

Your loving son,
George.
P.S. Thank you very much for stamps and picture of “The whip”. Love to the caterpillars.

*

“Short” = short behind, one of the key positions in the Eton field game.

“Get my shorts”. In those days a boy still began his football career at Eton wearing grey flannel knickerbocker Shorts (= cut-shorts) were the privilege of those who were recognised as members of their house eleven. As a rule only two or three boys in a house would win the additional distinction of house-colours. George did “get his shorts” this half.

R.P.L. Booker, a Wykehamist himself, had I suppose been an assistant master at Eton with Arthur in 1889, though I should have thought he was scarcely old enough. I confirm George’s opinion of him; he was one of the very few masters for whom I had a real liking.

*

[NOT IN THE MORGUE]

[Emma du Maurier to May Coles]

2L Portman Mansions
Oct 5 [1909]

My darling May,
… I went out for the 1st time today to see Sylvia who is still in bed. She says she has difficulty in breathing, especially when she walks. Dr Rendel doesn’t seem to be doing much for her & doesn’t say what it is. I have told her to ask him to have another opinion – but I don’t suppose she will.

Guy met me at Sylvia’s & we came home in a taxi. …

I tore up your letter as you wished. I don’t think Mrs J.M.B. writes to her husband, & he is quite as [?usual] in his friendship, but doesn’t wish to go to the house, 23 C.H.S. He rang up while I was there & said how he should like to see Guy, so I hope Guy will go and see him. Guy didn’t get your letter by the bye …

Much love from us all,
Your loving Mother

*

[NOT IN THE MORGUE]

[Emma du Maurier to May Coles]

2 Portman Mansions
Wednesday [7 October 1909]

My darling May,
… Sylvia tells me that Doctor Rendel says there is an obstruction in one lung & Dr Bott is to see her. I do trust it is nothing of great importance. Lucy came here before seeing Mrs M]?] – of course I won’t say anything without your permission but I should like to tell Trixie. – Trixie told me that Mrs M told her that Lucy had her to believe that she Lucy knew all about our affairs & that I had told her – now I never say anything to Lucy, much as I like her I don’t think she is a person to tell things to unless one doesn’t mind their being repeated. I’m tired of all the gossip that goes on. Yesterday at Sylvia’s I felt so ashamed of knowing that T[rixie] had seen Mary B[arrie] & not being able to say so – however S[ylvia] knows Mary B has been here & I have asked S to let me tell T that it is known to her – & she says certainly. – I have never said anything to Trixie that Sylvia has told me & I can’t tell Sylvia that Trixie knows a good deal from M[ary B]. You mustn’t either, will you. I begin to wish I was an animal, as Travers said. I hope you are well dearest. I’m glad you have a lovely day. Here it has been very nice. I went for a walk in the morning & this afternoon Angela & Daphne came to tea.

Much love from us all,
Your loving mother.

[AB: Nico found this gossipy letter and the one that follows. Are these the ones alluded to by Peter, or were there others? Who knows, indeed who cares.]

*

[NOT IN THE MORGUE]

[Trixie Millar to her sister May Coles]

Felden,
Boxmoor.
[October 17, 1909]

Darling May,
… I am so distressed about Sylvia & shall go and see her soon. But I am not surprised, she never seem to rest at all – & I expect when holidays come is quite tired out – at her age & after all she went through [??] it was bound to come to something but I hope the rest will [?] show improvement.

As regards Mrs Barrie I think you have endlessly mistaken what I said to you, & what has now happened is only after all a perfectly natural sequence. It is a pity the man is so young, but those things do happen & I hear from Sylvia that he is very much in love with her & I sincerely hope there may be a baby or two. I do think she deserves something to make up for what she has probably suffered in seeing J. entirely wrapped up in someone else’s children when it was very obviously his fault that she had none – human nature is human nature and will out. I find that is the general view. I was surprised that my most straight-laced friend Mabel Sandwith (who by the by I think [?means] you cut her lately) wrote & said “she was so glad that Mrs. B had someone to be fond of her now – and that if J was unhappy he deserved it –“ tho’ poor little man one knows well he is simply the victim of circumstance & of his own kindness.

I have by the bye often heard you & Coley say she might be forgiven if she did seek consolation. Well well.

Y[ou]r loving Trixie.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Sunday, October 17th, 1909.

Dearest Mother,
I shouldn’t think there’d be much fun to be got out of Long Leave spent in London. So perhaps I’d better wait till next half. Perhaps it’s selfish, but I do my best to think of my own happiness on leave, and no one else’s! Rather me-ish! And as you’re in bed and mustn’t dream of any inconvenience for a month or two, I expect it would be easier for me to stay here this half. I might go to a play on the Saturday, but what would I do on Sunday and Monday but remain indoors surrounded by my adoring brothers!

We’ve got a field-day tomorrow, at Aldershot. I don’t much care for field-days, especially when the train journey is over an hour. It may be fun, though.

My tutor’s just been giving us our first confirmation jaw. He’s jolly good at it, and I expect he’ll be awfully nice. He’s so very broad-minded.

I hope you’re getting better. I hope you’re no worse than you’ve told me. I do hope it hasn’t been Postbridge that’s made you ill.

Do you think that beside my change suit I could get a rough coat (no trousers or anything) like Jack’s to wear here? I should have to get a grey flannel one very soon, and you can’t think how beastly that looks when you’re wearing a colour with it. This may seem a silly argument, but nobody with a colour wears a grey flannel coat, and I wouldn’t wear a norfolk here. I wear my dark grey coat at present, but it’s getting awfully small. Of course, it’s utterly your business to decide. I hope it doesn’t sound expensive and unnecessary!

Your loving son,
George
PS I apologise for this letter only being long because it’s selfish.

*

A crescendo sounds here in the death-march which runs like a theme song through this record. Sylvia was indeed worse that she had told her firstborn; worse, certainly, than she herself yet clearly realised.

The details are difficult to unravel. There may have been letters at the time from which much could have been learnt; if so, they have not survived. According to Denis, the first sign was when, about now, a few days after a weekend with the [E.V.] Lucases at Kingston, near Lewes (during which they had found her “young and radiant”), she fainted in the hall at 23 C.H.S. I well remember the week-end at Kingston, where “Milky” also had a cottage at which we called; Sylvia by now having, as Denis states, “put off her mourning, so that it was a joy to her friends to see her in pretty things again.” But, apart from the earlier forewarnings already noted, I think the fainting in the hall may be an inaccuracy; though possibly it preceded a different scene of which I was an involuntary and scared witness. This took place, not in the hall, but on the flight of stairs between Sylvia’s bedroom and that “far Japan” to which reference has been made before and which was the only lavatory in the upper part of the house. There it was that Sylvia collapsed, in her nightdress, on her way up or down. I happened to be about (a Saturday or Sunday morning, perhaps), and Mary Hodgson, red-faced and agitated, tended her and shooed me away, but not before I had received an impression of direness and fatality, and a sense of shocked misery and half- comprehending desolation, which has remained with me ever since.

Later (1949): Replying to an enquiry, Mary Hodgson wrote as follows: “Your mother had had a few days in bed. Dr Rendel had been – she was to rest. I was called by Amy who had found your Mother in a fainting condition. Dr R. was sent for – said he would take the matter in hand and acquaint Mrs du M. I asked if I could do anything and he replied “It is a grave matter – say Nothing to the family.” Nurse Loosemore came, an excellent nurse – who not unnaturally resented my presence in her domain. Occasionally there was a duel of words – your mother insisting that her children should come into her bedroom at all times and that their noise and chatter cheered her.

It was impressed on me that your Mother – on no account – was to talk about her illness to me and that at all costs she must not know how ill she was. Life was to go on as usual and the Boys were just to be told Mother had to stay in bed and rest for a long time.”

It seems clear from this that Dr Rendel now recognised or strongly suspected cancer. Exactly when the consultation to which Mary H. next refers took place I can’t be sure, but it was probably quite soon.

“There was another consultation and another specialist. By this time your Mother was worried and restless. I had gone down stairs out of the way – returning – Dr R. had evidently been up stairs to find me. He just shook his head sadly. At this moment your Mother’s bell rang gently. The rest of the gathering were in the School Room. Your mother said “Shut the door, Mary. You are the only one I trust – what did Dr Rendel say?” I replied “Nothing,” and she lay back, bitterly disappointed. Nurse appeared, fortunately, followed by Mrs du M.”

The specialist (Fowler) one supposes, had given his opinion that Dr Rendel’s suspicions were justified, and that the disease was cancer. (The growth was near the heart and lungs – too close, I believe, for operating (thank God?) – and obstructed the breathing.) Who constituted the gathering in the school room? J.M.B. presumably, perhaps Margaret D., perhaps Crompton. Mary H. states that the name of the disease was never expressly mentioned to her, except by Nurse Loosemore, who now remained with Sylvia till the end.

What Mary H. does not mention and had probably forgotten, was that there was still another consultation (or else that there were two specialists, who differed) as a result of which, apparently, the second specialist (Goodhart) declared there was no cancer and no serious risk. This emerges from a letter dated the following July 4th from Emma du M. to May, which will be found in its place.

Uncertainty as to when this second opinion was taken (it may have been a good deal later) makes one or two of the references in the letters from now on, particularly with regard to the view held by the various people concerned as to the seriousness of Sylvia’s illness, rather obscure. My own impression is that Emma du M. and J.M.B. both allowed themselves to be half persuaded by Goodhart until very near the end; that Dr Rendel wasn’t deceived for a moment, but felt that no good could come from pressing his own view; and that Nurse Loosemore and Mary H. agreed with Dr Rendel but were compelled by circumstances to keep their own counsel. Sylvia was certainly never told.

George’s letter shows that he have suspected – no doubt from what was said in her letter to him – that she was gravely ill. I am a little puzzled by the readiness with which he accepts the no leave position; but accept it he evidently did, quite blithely, and it seems from his next letter that a good many boys in those days spent the long leave at Eton and were content to do so.

This letter of George’s (he was now 16) shows that he was just becoming clothes-conscious. A year later he would be a full blown Eton blood, dressy to a degree: in the extra-Etonian slang of the day, a “knut”. There are tiny embryonic signs of a similar tendency, which never developed, in Arthur’s letters from Marlborough at about the same age, “bucky“ being then the epithet. But George was a true son of Sylvia’s as well as of Arthur’s, and that other Marlburian, his Uncle Guy du M., was the dressiest of men, choice and affected in his clothes to a degree which I remember with delight.

How beautifully of the period is George’s phrase “I couldn’t wear a norfolk here.” I suppose he had an old norfolk jacket at home and was terrified lest Sylvia should suggest his wearing it at Eton. Or might there have been some idea of his wearing old norfolk jacket of Arthur’s? I can’t pause here to describe the exact sartorial significance of the term “norfolk” for the benefit of any son or grandson of mine who may read these lines. They must consult photographs of the day, and take it from me that such a cut, presumably named after the Duke of late Victorian days was a comical curiosity by 1909.

I think I have already drawn attention to the remarkable closeness, in date, between the first violent impact of Sylvia’s fatal illness, and J.M.B.’s decree nisi on October 13th.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton College,
Windsor.
November 2nd [1909]

Dearest Mother,
We had a fine time on Monday. In the morning we had a fives tournament, in which I was but indifferently successful. In the afternoon we played footer. A huge blood, with both footer and cricket elevens, was on our side. He talked to me and was jolly nice. He’s got every colour possible but two, and those he will get this half. His name’s Foljambe.

Everyone came back yesterday evening. I was jolly sorry, as we’d been having a topping time. I used to sit in the Library (a very bloody thing to do) at any time I liked, etc!

We played footer this afternoon and won our match. The Old Boy, with its glorious sock-supper, is on Saturday. It will be fine fun.

The socks Aunt Margaret told you of were far the prettiest I’ve got – a lovely blue, darker than most. They’re a simple dream!

Your loving son,
George.

*

This indicates that George and the other boys who spent their Long Leave at Eton that half had an enjoyable enough time. The huge blood was E.W.S. Foljambe, later of the Rifle Brigade, who, through being taken a prisoner in 1914, was perhaps prevented from covering himself with further glories in the war.

Evidently the faithful Margaret Ll.D/ had gone down to see George at Eton recently.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Sunday, November 7th [1909]

Dearest Mother,
The Provost was buried yesterday, so that a good deal of the school routine was changed. We had lunch at one, and no games were started till 3.15. All Collegers had to follow the procession, but Oppidans didn’t have to. We all had to stand in the School Yard.

We’re going to have a field-day on Tuesday, with Harrow against Oxford. I think we’re rather fed up with field-days nowadays. I believe too, that when the King of Portugal comes we shall have to line the streets. I’m getting terribly military! So is my moustache! As a matter of fact I shall shave it off, as I don’t like moustaches, though light ones are all very well.

Half term has now passed. From now I begin joyfully to anticipate the holidays. I wonder what we shall do. I hope we’ll be able to use the Debenhams’ squash court.

Your loving son,
George.

*

The Provost was Hornby, who was now succeeded by Warre, Edward Lyttelton taking the latter’s place as Headmaster.

The Debenhams’ house in Addison Road boasted a fives as well as a squash court, and I suppose it was here that in earlier days Arthur had played fives on a Sunday with F.S. Oliver, Gerard Lee Bevan and others. Debenham was the head of Debenham & Freebody, in which Fred Oliver was a partner.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Thursday, November 18th [1909]

Dearest Mother,
Extra books are over! You can’t imagine how bucking it is to be able to say that. The burden has dropped from my back, and I am free! My sapping for that explains my not writing before, and I’m sorry if I’ve made you anxious. But I say again in boastful language that nearly all people at Eton only write once a week. But then of course I’m so exceptional in many ways!

It was topping having Mr. Barrie down here on Sunday. I have grown a lot, as now I simply tower above him. I’m reaching the goal of my ambition – 6 feet in height! We went for a walk and then had tea with my tutor. He was very sad, of course, but he seemed to buck up a bit at times. Mr. Mason does seem to be being kind to him, getting all his clothes at blood tailors and things. The flat seems rather jolly too. We shall have to go and see him a lot next holidays, and cheer him up. I’m hoping he’ll be able to come down here on St Andrew’s day with Mr. Mason.

I suppose I’d better be getting some blue serge patterns to send you. I think there’d be nothing easier for me than to choose a good thick serge. But as you will. Pray remember that one has to be rather à la mode in London!

My taste in socks is settling down from loudness to real good taste. My last pair is quite a dream! Such an exquisite blue, you know, a trifle dark and subdued! I always rather liked blue! I’ve also got a lovely dark green thick Jaeger pair, which I feel certain you’ll adore. I think I’m rather a coming man!

Your loving son,
George.
P.S. I would like a Victory the same size as my last, but there’s no hurry.

*

Sylvia must have smiled as she lay in bed reading these first hints of a taste for the elegant which was so clearly inherited from herself. I am sure she enjoyed it all hugely and discouraged it not at all. How Arthur would have reacted is another matter, but after all he had chosen Eton himself for his eldest son, and might have watched this characteristically Etonian development with an indulgent eye.

J.M.B. was still staying with Alfred Mason in Stratton Street, but two days after the date of this letter moved to the first of his two flats in the Adelphi – the “rather jolly” flat which he evidently told George about on his visit to Eton. It had been found for him by Lady [George] Lewis, as had the inimitable manservant Harry Brown also, who was to do so much for his comfort in the years that followed, and would soon be on intimate terms with all of us, calling Nico “tuppence” and generally brightening the atmosphere.

J.M.B.’s sadness on his visit to George may have been due primarily to Sylvia’s illness, or to his divorce. But he was being bothered, besides, at this time by the horrid business of Addison Bright, his close friend and agent of many years standing, who had swindled him and others of many thousands of pounds by an ingenious system of falsifying accounts, and whose case, now three years after his confession and suicide, was to come before the courts (at the beginning of February), much against the wishes of J.M.B., the principal victim. So there was plenty to sadden him that autumn.

To George, who knew of no cause other than a divorce, it may well have seemed that an introduction to so blood a tailor as Scholte of Savile Row was ample compensation for worse ills than that. As a matter of historical interest I may record that Scholte had the honour of building J.M.B.’s suits from now until within a few years of his death, besides operating on occasion, in due course, for George and most if not all of his brothers, some of whom have since had recourse to the fifty-shilling artists of the trade. The eventual split between Savile Row and the Adelphi arose from the refusal of the mountain to come to Mahomet’s flat to try on his creations, whereupon J.M.B. summarily transferred his patronage to Burberry. The conscientious chronicler feels bound to add that, despite a sort of semi-facetious satisfaction which J.M.B. derived from these luxurious tailorings, he remained faithful to the end, where his feet were concerned – small feet of which he affected to be rather proud – to thoroughly inelegant boots, bought as required by Harry Brown or [Harry’s later replacement] Frank Thurston, from the nearest Horne Bros establishment, and not far removed in point of homeliness from the tackety boots of his boyhood.

Jack, I suppose, as well as George, must have been aware, in a half-comprehending way, of the divorce, of which I don’t myself remember being even vaguely conscious. There had been a Mrs. Barrie, and a Leinster Corner and Black Lake Cottage, to say nothing of Alphonse and a car or two; now there was only Mr. Barrie and a new flat with a view over the river, and a comical little manservant called Harry Brown; but things like that weren’t half as interesting as corridor cricket at Wilkinson’s, or Blériot’s astounding [25 July 1909 first cross-Channel] flight or the identification of a twopenny-halfpenny Roman coin at the British Museum, or the gradual expulsion, by dashing steam and petrol, of the old horse-buses and hansoms and growlers from the streets of London.

The Victory asked for by George in his P.S. would be a white plaster cast or replica, about 18 inches high, of the statue of the “Winged Victory of Samothrace” in the Louvre. There was more of a vogue in those days than there is now for such casts. I think Margaret Ll.D.’s was the influence which produced the Victory and one or two others such as the something-or-other Diana which embellished the school-room at 23 C.H.S. The larger (3 or 4 ft) Venus of Milo which stood on the piano came probably from du Maurier sources – see Peter Ibbetson. I take it George had had a Victory in his room at Eton, which had got broken.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Friday, December 17th [1909]

Dearest Mother,
Thank you so much for the ten bob. The extra half-crown just does me nicely till the end of the half. It’s sad to say, but I shall need £1 to get back home, 10/- for tips (horrible institution), and the rest for journey money.

Trials have begun, and after this I’m going to sap for them. I shall be glad when they’re over and I can fly to the bosom of my family! I’m sorry Jack isn’t well, but I hope he’ll be better soon. Is he coming down tomorrow?

We had a wall game today in which I failed to distinguish myself. I played in a jolly blood place and never seemed to be doing the right thing. I was always waiting for the glorious chance, which alas! never came.

Shall we be able to play squash or fives at the Debenhams’? I’ve been arranging a game with a chap here called Rowlatt if we can. He used to play there last Christmas. He’s by way of being rather a blood, having got his house colours.

I’m now going to sap!

Your loving son,
George.

*

Arthur Rowlatt, who used to play fives at the Debenhams’, was a son of Mr. Justice Rowlatt who had been a friend of Arthur’s. His two younger brothers, one of whom later became a housemaster at Eton, were both in College with me. Within a very short time now George would be a greater blood than ever Arthur Rowlatt became.

This brings 1909 to a close. The Christmas holidays were spent at 23 C.H.S., where much billiards and billiard-fives were played in the school-room, while Sylvia lay in her bed in the room next door, not at this time, I think, in pain, but weak and easily tired. (The billiard table, three-quarter size, had been presented by J.M.B. (see earlier). The top revolved, so that it could easily be turned into an ordinary large table, on which other games such as ping-pong were played). Sometimes she was able to move into the school-room, and lay on the sofa there, watching the games and jollifications. A bathroom was added at the back of her bedroom. None of us had the faintest inkling that she had less than a year to live.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton College,
Windsor.
Wednesday, January 26th [1910]

Dearest Mother,
The clock’s just arrived and looks topping. Johnstone, who was in the room at the time, admires it very much. It’s going, too.

To my great joy, I’ve experienced no pangs today. Even waking up was quite all right. I’ve been about with Johnstone most of the time, as well as other fellows. The first day is always very slack and very long. But it’s practically over now, but for the evening, which I always enjoy. I did holiday tag in the school library after 12, and we had the examination at 4.30. I’m pretty certain to have passed, I think.

This half lasts exactly ten weeks, and finishes on April the sixth. The holidays last four weeks, I believe, so the rumour of twenty days is false, I rejoice to say. Altogether, things seem conductive to happiness, except one thing – early school. Getting up, as I did this morning, at a quarter to eight, wasn’t exactly hilarious, but the thought of rising tomorrow at a quarter to seven makes my very marrow dry up! Gods!

I was awfully bucked last night to find my fire burning. If it hadn’t been I should have dropped lifeless. As it was, I did some unpacking, read some holiday tag, and got to bed soon after eleven. It will be ten tonight.

My dame [= matron] looked at my absurd knee, and said it was only a scar, which was of course right. Shows I must have bravely borne terrible pain. Unfortunately I don’t seem to remember the exact accident, outside being certain it occurred on Dartmoor.

I hope Uncle Guy and Uncle Gerald and Mr Barrie will come down to Eton sometime – say, in about a fortnight or three weeks.

Your loving son,
George Llewelyn Davies.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Sunday, February 1st [1910]

Dearest Mother,
I finished “The Expensive Miss Du Cane” last night. I think of all the sad endings it’s about the saddest I’ve ever read. I suppose you’ve read some of Miss Macnaughtan’s books. If you haven’t I should. I think the young man in The Expensive Miss Du Cane is the most terrible young fellow I’ve read about for some time.

I’m getting quite the nut. I’ve been asked to a swagger cricket week already. Alas! It’s too swagger and I shall have to evade it somehow (let’s hope Scotland’ll afford me an excuse), but still I feel quite the blood.

How are you? You never say anything about how you’re getting on. What rot it is to think you’ve never even seen this room. Next half you’ll have to come here for a long afternoon, and we’ll go on the river or watch cricket.

I went for a walk with a nice boy called Beaumont-Nesbitt this morning. We’re going in for school fives together. He lives in Ireland and has cattle of his own! Rather my sort of life.

I have just had a short and amusing tête-à-tête with Mrs. Warre Cornish. Fitz added to the amusement by coming in and busting a picture. And now for Sunday Questions!

Your loving son,
George.

*

Miss [Sarah Broom] Macnaghtan (no relation to Hugh McN.) was a popular and I think excellent novelist of the day, whose works one read chiefly in Nelson’s “Sevenpennies”, those admirable precursors of the Penguins of more recent times. I don’t remember the “Expensive Miss Du Cane”, but I am sure it was good, and the oblivion to which it and all this author’s books have since been consigned is something that the Misses X., Y. and Z. who makes such a stir in literary circles nowadays (and their publishers) should occasionally ruminate on.

“Nut” (cf. Gilbert the Filbert), though not an Etonian word, was contemporary slang for dude, masher, or blood. Often spelt, and pronounced, knut. George’s diffidence about accepting a swagger invitation is quite interesting. There is evidence that, at any rate in his early Eton years, he was a shy boy; but this little incident may also serve as a reminder that we Davieses were humblish lot, socially speaking; that George, as the first Etonian of the family, was something of a pioneer, and that it took a succession of Eton careers with all the contacts it brought (George’s own highly successful career being doubtless the most operative in this curious ascension), plus J.M.B.’s financial backing, and, as his fame increased, more exalted circles of acquaintance, before any of us could and would accept with more or less equanimity any invitation, however blood, to a cricket week or the equivalent. Snobbishness and social barriers are a curious and fascinating study on which I am not herein engaged; but it may be said that in one sense at least Eton is the least snobbish of communities, and that personal charm, particularly when allied to athletic prowess, opens, with a minimum of pushing, most of the doors in the world to which Eton is a kind of antechamber.

Beaumont-Nesbitt, F.G., was a friend of only short duration, I believe. It is in my mind, for some reason, but he had a younger brother in Jack’s term and Osborne and Dartmouth. He survived 1914-18, somehow, by way of the Grenadiers, and was Major-General directing Intelligence in the more recent [second world] war.

Mrs. [Blanche] Warre-Cornish [1848-1922], wife of the Vice-Provost, is beyond my powers, or province here, to describe. She was half mad, yet supernaturally intelligent; an oldish lady at this time and a very notable personality altogether. There was some slight link, I fancy, between her or her husband and our family. Her eccentricity often took disconcerting form, as when, on a later occasion which I remember hearing about, she was entertaining George and other guests, male and female, to tea in her lovely drawing room in the Cloisters, and addressed the company at large, during a pause, with the remark: “Such a charming young man, George Llewelyn Davies, don’t you think?” Me, too, she reduced to pulp once, during a conversation about the then infant science of aeronautics – Chavez had recently made the first trans-alpine flight, crashing at the end of it to his death at Domodossola, a place familiar to the Cornishes – by turning to me (I was 14 or so) with the words: “And do you fly much, Mr Davies?” [According to a contemporary, she was celebrated for the “pregnant and startling irrelevancies of her discourse.”]

Fitz = Hugh Macnaghten’s dog.

Was Sylvia ever again, temporarily, well enough to go down to see George and his new room at Eton? I’m not sure, but don’t think any of the letters in my possession throw any light on the sad question.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Thursday, February 17th [1910]

Dearest Mother,
My cough’s a good deal better today I’m glad to say. I did without my dame’s lozenges last night, and didn’t wake up once.

An awfully nice fellow called Hume came down to see Johnstone today and we all had tea together. He’s just back from Switzerland where he seems to have been having a glorious time, bobsleighing etc.

Can you make sure of Mr Barrie’s being in London during leave. I hope you’ll be able to because we can go to Uncle Gerald’s new play in the evening and talk to Uncle Gerald. I wonder what other play I can go to in the afternoon. I think I’ll get some Eton fellow to come with me. What a pity Miss Dix isn’t acting!

How soon shall you go out in your bath-chair? I do hope I’ll be able to wheel you on leave.

I shall be immaculate on leave. My new socks are all absolute dreams! Brown and purple, brown and green, brown and light brown, etc. They are lovely. Topping and thick too. I expect I shall set the fashion in socks at Ramsgate!

I’ve just finished “The Princess Sophia” by E.F. Benson. I like it awfully good though the ending spoils it. I’m an awful reader nowadays.

Your loving son,
George.

*

Though I can’t pretend to remember the occasion, I have little doubt Sylvia was able to make sure of J.M.B.’s presence in London.

Gerald du Maurier’s new play would probably be Alias Jimmy Valentine, one of the earliest of his crook melodramas.

I take it that Sylvia had been almost completely bed-ridden since October, and that the bath chair, and the prospect of going out of it, were signs of an improvement.

Miss [Dorothy] Dix will recur, and I will annotate her later. It is amusing to note how very closely, in George’s case, calf-love and the beginnings of clothes-consciousness synchronised.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
February 20th [1910]

Dearest Mother,
Thank you so much for the handkerchiefs. They are very welcome, and simply dazzled my eyes as I opened the box. They will be much admired.

Today has been simply beastly. It has poured with rain from half past twelve to five and everything’s sopping. Even a part of Chapel was rendered impossible to occupy! I stayed in all day with a fire.

My bruised hand is gradually getting better, though it still hurts a bit. I hope it’ll get all right soon because of school fives and div. fives. I’m afraid I shan’t win division fives, as I’ve drawn a rather bad partner, but there’s a chance.

I did a silly thing the other day, in fact a doosid asinine thing. I and Chris Lawrence were listening to a gramophone record in the shop. Then alas! I knocked some records onto the floor and so – bang went ten bob. I cussed myself pretty steadily! One does feel a terrible fool doing a thing like that. It was lucky in only being ten bob, because I knocked over dozens of records.

Jack’s just written a very amusing letter to Johnstone, in answer to a witty one from Johnny. I read it with many a chuckle; Johnstone and I are pretty friendly just now, as we argued together against some terrible statements of Lawrence’s against the government. Among other things he said he was convinced Lloyd-George was in the pay of Germany, etc., etc. I was livid with rage, and Johnstone began to crush every single argument Lawrence used. We talked enough politics to last the whole half!

My tutor’s still in bed and isn’t very well, I think. I believe he’s suffering from gout as well as influenza. He’s been ill for some time now.

A chap at my tutor’s has got a gramophone in his room, which I rather envy him. Unfortunately his taste isn’t as classy as mine. I wish I could have all the Dollar Princess, Our Miss Gibbs, and Arcadians songs in my room on a gramophone. Or an electrophone, by Jove!

Your loving son,
George.

[AB: doosid = stupid, daft]

*

Chris Lawrence, a year or so younger than George – and a first cousin of Oliver and Mickey Lawrence, who have been or will be mentioned in these pages (all at Hugh Macnaghten’s) – tall, handsome, attractive in a boundery sort of way and, as the glimpse of him in this letter hints, as stupid as they come, was a very early casualty in the 1914-18 war. Having somehow joined the special reserve of the 60th some weeks before George and I succeeded in doing so, he managed to get himself sent out “on a draft” by the very day we joined, and was killed on the Aisne in late September or very early October, less than two months after the outbreak of war. However, this is getting too far ahead.

I had not realised that Jack and Johnny Johnstone were on corresponding terms. Johnny J. came once or twice to stay with us in the holidays; I remember him at Ramsgate, but should have thought later than this.

The electrophone was a device which had been installed by Sylvia’s bedside at 23 C.H.S., by means of which (I think through the telephone system) one could “listen-in” to certain theatres specially fitted for the purpose. Headphones were provided, and the hearing was clear and good. It must have been a real solace to Sylvia, and was of course regarded as a great lark by all of us. No tune more clearly brings back those days to me, and George in particular, with whom it was a great favourite, than the pretty, gay waltz song from “The Dollar Princess”.

*

[Sylvia Ll.D. to J.M.B. at 3 Adelphi Terrace House, Strand.]

Monday evening late
[21 February 1910]

Dear J.
I hear Gwen wants to go to Dartmouth as it was an old promise to Jack she says, but if you would rather not she will stay! Of course I said you would like it and you will please – what else could I do – you will understand as you always do and you won’t be put out but I’m sorry because I know you would much rather have Guy alone.

Thank you for not minding,

Your
Jocelyn

*

Very hurriedly written in pencil, in bed of course, and probably after a telephone call from Guy. Jack will most likely remember whether eventually Gwen did go down with Guy du M. and J.M.B. to see him at Dartmouth. I suppose J.M.B. had not particularly taken to Guy’s wife; but in any case he always preferred, even more than most, having people he liked to himself.

Guy du Maurier had recently got a home appointment after a good many years’ foreign service, and was commandant of a Mounted Infantry training depot at Longmoor.

It is difficult to be sure whether the word after the irresistible phrase “Thank you for not minding” is “your” or “yours”. Sylvia seems to have had no fixed way of signing her letters to J.M.B.: both the next two are signed differently.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Friday, February 25, [1910]

Dearest Mother
Will you tell me if Mr Barrie’s new play will be on during leave? I’m trying to settle what plays to see on the Saturday of leave. I should like the Arcadians to be one. And perhaps something in the evening with J.M.B. more his type.

We went off yesterday in the train for the field day. But when we arrived at Sunningdale, our future battleground, it was raining so much that after waiting we decided to return to Eton. I’m afraid it doesn’t say much for us that our field day can be put off by rain. Still, I wasn’t particularly sorry to get back.

I shall reach 23 C.H.S. at about a quarter to one on Saturday, March 5th. It will be a case of “But who is this tall and handsome young man who drives up to the front door? Can it be – yes – no – yes, it is the Eton blood!”

Some French actors and actresses (I don’t know how good) are coming to Eton to act “Le Voyage de Monsieur Perrichon” tomorrow evening. I do hope they’ll be good. It will depend a great deal on whether the heroine is pretty or not! Because, as the whole dialogue will be in French I shall find plenty of time for gazing at her (if lovely).

My cold is practically nil.

Your loving son,
George.
P.S. Any stamps to spare?

*

So far as I can ascertain Mr B’s new play must been the two short plays, Old Friends and The Twelve Pound Look, which were produced, with a fragment by Meredith called The Sentimentalists as a triple bill on March 1st, as part of the repertory season at the Duke of York‘s Theatre with which J.M.B. associated himself that year. I can just remember going to see them, presumably on the Saturday afternoon of George’s leave.

The Twelve Pound Look was the outstanding success of the trio; but George was much taken with The Sentimentalists, and this may have been the beginning of the taste for Meredith which led him to choose a complete set of that author’s works for the Essay Prize which he won two years or so later.

“But who is this tall and handsome” etc: future readers of this record may not realise that George is here echoing a passage in Peter Pan.

*

[Rev. John Ll.D. to Peter Ll.D.]

11 Hampstead Square,
1 March 1910.

My dear Peter,
Many thanks for your kind birthday good wishes. I cannot expect to live much longer in this world; but meantime it is a happiness to me to have good and promising grandsons. I trust they will be kept always high-minded, and will do their father honour and be a blessing to their dear mother.

With your grandfather’s love.

*

Evidently I had written a dutiful letter to John Ll.D. on his 84th birthday (Feb. 26). His writing is still firm and clear in this letter, but I think he was now beginning to show signs of decrepitude, and needed much looking after from his devoted daughter Margaret. He had left Kirkby Lonsdale and moved to Hampstead in 1908, retiring then from all clerical work. He was too old to be able to concern himself in any practical sense with his grandson’s progress.

It could truthfully be said that all his sons and daughter were high-minded people. One doubts whether the epithet could be applied with strict justice to any of us.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton College,
Windsor.
Wednesday, March 2 [1910]

Dearest Mother,
Would you mind very much if as well as going to Mr Barrie’s play I went to the Arcadians with Johnstone and a very nice friend of his. Of course if you really don’t want me to I won’t go, but I want to see it awfully badly, and it’s the last chance. Besides, leave’s intended for a bit of a spree. I leave it to you, of course. Please answer pretty soon because the tickets must be got.

Your loving son,
George.

*

I take this to be a request for permission to go out for the evening on his own, i.e. unaccompanied by an adult, for the first time. Most likely it was granted. Oddly enough The Arcadians was the first evening performance I attended myself, though not on this particular evening, and not unaccompanied.

John Ll.D., I think it is clear from the records I have, never went to the play at all as a boy, let alone a musical comedy. Arthur, as we have seen, went to Tom Robertson’s farce, “Society”, with Mr Beesly at the age of 11, and possibly to “Hamlet” at the Lyceum with only an older boy – both evening performances. Very go-ahead.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Tuesday, March 8th [1910]

Dearest Mother,
The crowd at the station was terrific. I wondered about for some time with Johnstone looking for a seat, but we couldn’t find one, so we decided on honouring by our presence a very smelly little van. At Slough we changed into a slightly more roomy van. Finally we reached Windsor and walked down to my tutor’s.

I was rather surprised this morning to find I could get up punctually at a quarter to seven. I woke up after a terrible dream in which Uncle Guy brought Miss Dix down to Eton. She was little and ugly! Heavens above! But I’m afraid I rather bore you by continually talking about her. Perhaps it is a little tiny bit silly!

I had rather a good game of fives this afternoon in which I and Austen-Cartmell managed to beat two others. Of course my hand has regained some of its purple! I don’t know when it won’t. It seems to be a little bit better than it was a week ago.

I must now do an extra work and a construe.

Your loving son
George.

*

In what play George had seen Miss Dorothy Dix [1892-1970] and fallen victim to her charms, I don’t know; but he “got it badly”, and had to submit to a good deal of ragging on her account from his brothers. His mother was tolerant enough of this first adolescent passion, as a later letter indicates, to send him a photograph of the charmer; it probably came from an illustrated paper, as I doubt if Miss Dix ever attained the dignity of a picture postcard, for the embellishment of silver frames in the shop-windows of the day along with the Marie Studholmes, Edna Mays, Lily Elsie’s and Gertie Millars. She may have played lead now and then, but was not either then or later in the front rank. Candour compels me to add that to my own eyes she was no great shakes, but that may have been the automatic reaction to one’s brother’s fancies, or simply because at 12 years old one would have found no higher praise than “not bad” or “fairly decent” for Helen of Troy herself. George, as I have said, was sorely smitten, and I expect she was ravishing really.

[AB: Peter was wrong: I found several postcards of Miss Dix on eBay, as well as a sheaf of professional photos on the National Portrait Gallery’s website, taken later in 1916. She was only a year older than George, with a strong and striking face, not unlike his later fiancee, Josephine Mitchell-Innes. The play George probably saw her in – or at any rate saw a postcard of her – was A White Man (1908) in which she played a Tiger-Lily-esque Indian called Nat-u-Ritch, aged 16.]

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Thursday, March 10th [1910]

Dearest Mother,
Just a short line to tell you the news and that my cold is improving.

We had the dullest of dull field-days today. We took the train to Sunningdale, detrained, and stormed a hill about 2 miles away. Then we marched a mile or two and had a wait. Then we march back again and fought our way to the station. Incidentally I may mention that there were no enemy! We lunched at about twelve in the train. We got back about a quarter of an hour before lock-up.

I had a long letter from the Mr. Wright who used to be at Ram. the other day. I hope he’ll be there these holidays, as, if of somewhat amusing exterior, he was not half a bad sort.

Will you be content with only two lessons next week? I have got to use every moment of the day sapping up Extra Books.

Your loving son,
George.
P.S. Many thanks for the kind offer to obtain photograph. Hope get good one.
G.Ll.D.

*

The photograph was presumably of Miss Dix. Of Mr Wright I have no recollection whatever.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton College,
Windsor.

Sunday, March 13th [1910]

Dearest Mother,
Yesterday reverted to the usual half-holiday custom and poured. Consequently Johnstone and I went for a run, and according to our time-honoured custom got soaked. We found one interesting natural history thing – a pond full of frogs and frogspawn – and shuddered thereat.

It’s rather pleasant to think that in a little over three weeks I shall be blooding it at Ramsgate. It’s sad that Jack won’t be there till ten days later, though.

Can you send me “Running Water”? I hate leaving off in the middle of a book, especially when it’s rather exciting. I want to know how it ends.

Today has been rather cold. But owing to my forethought in storing coal in my hat box I managed to keep the fire going all day. Life with a fire is very different to life without one.

How I envy you being able to listen on the electrophone night. I feel just like it myself. “Ah! now listen.” “What is it?” “Um – um – um – la, la, la, la etc.” “Divine!”

Or again: “Let’s have ‘The Arcadians’ Electrophone?” “Yes.” “Put us on to the Shaftesbury, please.” “Oh yes, they just finishing that decent song… ‘Oh, what very charming weather.” “Perfect.”

Your loving son,
George.

*

[NOT IN THE MORGUE:]

[Sylvia Ll.D. to Mary Hodgson’s sister Jenny.]

23 C.H.S.
Wednesday [23 March 1910]

My dear Jenny,
I think the lace you have made for me is quite lovely & I only wish I could make some. Thank you so much for thinking of me, it was wonderfully good of you to think of such a very charming present.

I hope so much you will come away with us again in the summer holidays tho’ I have no doubt we all made you rather tired.

Sincerely yours,
Sylvia Llewelyn Davies

[AB: This letter was among Mary Hodgson’s little “collection of treasures” that her niece Mary Hill kindly gave me when Sharon and I visited her in September 1976. Jenny was Mary’s younger sister, whom Sylvia had hoped would join Mary in helping to look after the boys, see Sylvia’s letters to Mary from Easter, 1901.]

*

[Sylvia Ll.D. to J.M.B.]

16 Royal Crescent,
Ramsgate,
[April 1910]

Dear J.
I am better and the good air and blue sky and bright sun will soon make me strong I think. I am out in my bath chair for a good many hours and enjoy it, and if all the boys are happy and keep well I shall be more or less content. But I often think of that other woman who walked and ran and played cricket in this garden last year – somewhat out of breath perhaps but quite comfy on her feet!

Will you be kind and get Peter 3 left-handed golf clubs – a brassie, a mashie and a putter, and Jack will bring them – we can’t get left-handed ones here – you won’t mind?

And this you won’t mind, a few carnations packed in a box for Jack to bring to me. I want to look at them and smell them when I’m not out and to think of you in the big shop with beautiful Clementine smiling imperially at your side. I often wish Papa had looked in at that window.

I’m sorry you have another cold but what you said is true, and I shall think of Jack too. I know you will be careful. I wish you would not have so many colds. I wonder if you are seedy and in bed – you mustn’t do anything for Jack if you are, but you will ring up Crompton for me and he will be able to help I think. Don’t risk getting a worse cold please.

I hope Jack will come by the Granville Express but you will send a wire, or Crompton.

Affec.
Jocelyn.
I want to hear about the dinner party.

*

It would appear that Sylvia was a little better or stronger than she had been a few weeks earlier. Was she able to walk, with help, inside the house? I believe so, as to I don’t in memory associate with Ramsgate the special chair in which two men used to carry her up and down stairs at 20 3C.H.S.

It would appear that Sylvia was a little better or stronger than she had been a few weeks earlier. Was she able to walk, with help, inside the house? I believe so, as I don’t in memory associate Ramsgate with special chair in which to manage to carry her up and down stairs at 23 C.H.S. But I am sorry to say I remember very little of her that last Easter of her life. Ramsgate was repeated so often, up to 1913, that it is difficult, looking back, to separate one holiday there from another. I remember her in her bath chair, on the “prom”, and little else. The journeys with her to Broadstairs or Margate and back on the top of a tram; the singing of Jack in the drawing room, accompanied by her – “Shepherdess, Shepherdess, tell me true”, “I may be crazy” etc; the going with her to a performance of “La Mascotte” at the Pavilion Theatre – these may be memories of earlier times. It surprises me, and a little disgusts me with myself, to find after deep reflection how very little I recall, and consequently how little I must have observed, of the last sad months of Sylvia’s life. But I dare say I don’t differ from most human beings in being grossly self-centred, especially when young.

Golf clubs were never much use to me, as the game never really gave me any satisfaction. In other words I was never any good at it: partly, perhaps, because I was as far from being left-handed as it is possible to be, and only played that way from some mistaken notion of imitating the genuinely left-handed George. However, I consoled myself with a memory of Arthur’s scorn of the game and its exponents, whom he always called golfiacs. And wise from my own experience, I have nipped in the bud a similar tendency in Rivvy Ll.D. to bat left-handed at cricket, in fake imitation of myself.

“Beautiful Clementine” was presumably Clementine Hozier, who had married Winston Churchill the year before; but the reference to the big shop, apparently in connection with the purchase of flowers for Sylvia, conveys nothing to me. Nor do I know what the dinner party was. J.M.B. was evidently beginning to come back to life again. His decree nisi must have been made absolute about now.

I wonder whether this letter and the next will bring back memories to Jack, of arriving at 16 Royal Crescent with carnations to Sylvia, and a boring load of golf clubs for me.

[AB: Peter often defers to Jack’s older memory, but it seems unlikely that Jack ever read this compilation since Nico only found it in 1962 and Jack had died in 1959.]

*

[Sylvia Ll.D. to J.M.B.]

16 Royal Crescent,
Ramsgate.
Thursday [7 April 1910]

My dear J.
Jack came with all his most wonderful parcels – I felt like a child undoing them. I was quite excited. It was dear and kind of you and I felt very spoilt and that I always enjoy – more than ever now I am on my back so much. I do feel better and I would love to try and walk but I have promised not to alas. I am growing quite fond of the bath chair and I am generally in it for 4 or 5 hours.

The boys play golf most of the time and there is really not much more for them to do here now. Mama is on the telephone here now and if you would like to ring up sometimes it would be nice tho’ I cannot talk on it. 288 Ramsgate is the number.

Perhaps if Guy comes down you will come? I will write and tell you. Write often as it’s so nice hearing from you dear J. To have all five again with me is so loving.

Love from all,
Your affect.
Jocelyn.

*

For all their restraint, there is something profoundly sad about these two letters, as it seems to me. I think that she suspected, and that few other people at this time suspected, that she was dying.

Guy did come down that Easter. He much impressed us by “dressing” for dinner: our first experience of such grandeur in the home circle. We were particularly struck by the cuffs of his soft silk shirt, turned back over the cuffs of his dinner jacket. I don’t remember J.M.B. coming.

*

[Sylvia Ll.D. to Peter Ll.D.]

16 Royal Crescent,
Ramsgate.
[30 April 1910]

Darling Peter,
You will have wanted Grahame White to win because he is English but Englishmen always seem asleep.

I think Paulhan is a fine fellow and I got pale with excitement reading about it.

I hope you got the coins safely – perhaps I shall have a line tomorrow? Did you have a good day at Wilkinson’s, and is dear Hertzfelder at home yet? I want all the news and tell me if you got your prize and if Michael’s is it home?

Is Smee well and was he very glad to see you and Florrie?

Fondest love my Peter,
Mother.

*

No doubt Wilkinson’s term had begun earlier than Eton or Dartmouth, and I had gone home ahead of the family, with Florence Gay fagged to look after me at 23 C.H.S. until their return.

Aviation, then in its infancy, was one of the twin passions of my life at that time, the other being coin collecting. The exciting event referred to was the London to Manchester flight, for a price of £10,000 offered by The Daily Mail, which was won by the Frenchman Louis Paulhan after a very close contest with Grahame White, the only other entrant. The race took two days (April 27 and 28) and both contestants came down more than once in the course of it. England lagged very much behind France and America in the pioneer development of aviation – Grahame White’s aeroplane for example was, like Paulhan’s, a French one – hence, I suppose, the reference to Englishman always seeming asleep. I had a glimpse of the start of this historic flight (they took off from somewhere near Hendon I think) from the top floor at 23 C.H.S. Thirty-five years later Nico and I were to look out of the top windows of No. 22, watching the flying bombs fall, a few weeks before the arrival of the one which destroyed the top storey of his house and shook poor old 23 so thoroughly that it narrowly escape being scheduled for complete demolition.

Fat, good-natured Charlie Herzfelder was one of my chief buddies at Wilkinson’s. His father was a rich German Jewish stockbroker, and they lived in one of the fabulous houses in Palace Gardens Terrace. It was with the Hertzfelders that I attended my first theatrical evening performance – “The Arcadians”. Sylvia delivered me at their house in a taxi, and outrageously flattered Mrs H., a handsome, blackavised Bavarian, who appeared in the entrance hall very much dolled up for the occasion, by comparing her to a Greek goddess – a compliment she received with startled delight. They were nice, kind people as I remember them, and needless to say changed their name to Hardinge in 1914, following the example of the Royal Family. Charlie went to Marlborough and I lost sight of him. A quarter of a century or so later I ran into him in the street, still recognisable in spite of a large beard. He had become an alienist [precursors of psychiatrists] or loony-doctor, out of pure enthusiasm for the art, being well furnished with shekels, and I believe has quite a distinguished reputation in that line. We dined together subsequently at his club, but it was not a success: the years wouldn’t be bridged, and we no longer resembled the brats who mercilessly teased Sammy, otherwise Miss Salmon, his sprightly, tight-waisted governess, or nervously chased the street-cads into the dark slums behind the synagogue down the street from Milky’s.

[DB: New West End Synagogue, St Petersburgh Place, W2]

*

[J.M.B. to Sylvia Ll.D. at Ramsgate]

3 Adelphi Terrace House,
Strand, W.C.
30 April [1910]

Dearest J,
Tonight is the Academy dinner, and you may conceive [Harry] Brown and me hard at work inking my coat sleeves. In the drama, the old vicomte who has had, alas, to fly to England and become a teacher of the violin, always inks his coat sleeves, and there is no surer a way of melting an audience’s heart. He does it so bravely and courteously, and that is how I am inking mine now.

I feel sure a philosopher could deduce all sorts of profundities from the study of an Academy dinner. In all the world there cannot be a much more solemnly dull festivity, and yet all the sparklers of their generation like to be asked, and feel sorry, if they have hearts, for the crowd outside. The speeches are usually monuments of dreariness, one ought to get up and scream in the middle of them, it is all tedious beyond expression, and yet every loyal heart is proud of it. No one would like it so well if it were less dull; the day the President makes a joke or the Japanese Ambassador smiles, it will begin to go down in public estimation. I don’t know if all this is specially English – I should think a German function was probably as pretentious. It is the rigid etiquette that we are so proud of, for the time being we all feel ourselves as important as the red-coated footmen at the Carlton. Once a year we feel we have calves. That must be it.

I have seen three presidents at work. The present one so anxiously correct, grown care-worn over the heavy job of saying so often “Your Royal Highness, Your Excellences, Your Superbities, my Lords and gentlemen” till one feels he says it to his water-jug (“Your Sponginesses, Your Soapinesses, Your Hot and Coldnesses, my Towels and Loofahs”), it is no longer possible to think of him without his robe and tapes. Take them off, and you would find so little there. Yet he has laughed in his time I don’t doubt, and even been young, and perhaps, God knows, (life is so strange) has dug a friend in the ribs. He has a portrait of the King this year, and there is a heartbreaking story abroad that His Majesty is dissatisfied with the Royal legs.

Leighton on the other hand wore his honours as one more to the manner born. One always felt that however he addressed the gathering, it was really he who was Prince of Wales. I was there on the only occasion that when Millais was in the chair, the one awful occasion when flesh and blood addressed their Immensities. He called on a Bishop to speak, and there was an Archbishop present, and the dreadful blunder turned us all into stone. In the eerie silence I dropped a pin, and the noise reverberated thro’ the hall. Then some trembling official whispered the dire trouble to Millais, who merely waved his cigar and said something to this effect, “You go ahead, Bishop, and the Archbishop can have his go later.”

Anthony [Hope]’s play [Helena’s Path] comes out on Tuesday, and [Harley Granville] Barker is rather in despair about it. I am not sure to what extent this is because it is not about drainage. He has worked hard at it, but scorning it all the time and shuddering over its romance. Now he fears this may have made him produce it badly, and possibly it has prevented his getting warmth and life into it. I have not seen much of it, but it entertained me in the reading. I feel a little sorry for Helena’s first husband, who is dead before the story begins. Doubtless he was a worthy Italian gentleman, but just because Anthony conceives a tale of a right-of-way, he kills off the unoffending Italian, and tosses Helena on to English soil. It is really hard on that Italian. Novelists and playwrights do cruel things in their light-headed way. She is talked about in Act I, till you feel she is his one interesting character, and then you discover that she never appears at all. I have a haunting fear that neither of these places will pass Janet Case*. In the one there is a distinct attempt on the part of a designing female to make a man fall in love with her and J.C. will make short work of Henry’s weakness for noble houses.

[AB: *Janet Case (1863-1937) was a classical scholar in ancient Greek and an ardent advocate of women’s rights and the suffragette movement. A co-founder of Girton College’s classical club, she was the first actress to perform in an ancient Greek play, thus breaking the long-standing tradition that only men could perform in them.]

Stage direction – Lord Lynborough is raising Helena’s hand to his lips in courtly fashion, when enter left down stage Miss Janet Case, carrying pamphlets.
J.C. (Sternly) Stop!
(Lynborough drops hand. Helena starts to her feet guiltily.)
Helena
(Confused) I didn’t know – I never thought –
J.C.
(Grimly) That I was in the play! Yes, madam, I am in the play. Henceforth I shall be in all plays.
Lynborough Perhaps you are not aware that – ah – this is private property.
J.C
. I thank you for the word. Property! And what have you to say on the subject of the rights of property? Take your arm away from that doll, sir, and answer me that.
Lyn
. I refuse to discuss questions of public policy in the middle of a love scene.
J.C
. Love! (Derisively)
Helena Well then? (With a show of spirit)
J.C. As for you, you minx, will you please to put on the table the cost of that outrageous gown. Will you please to answer the following sixteen questions –
Helena I will answer no questions.
Lyn
. I forbid her to answer them.
J.C. Just what I had hoped. I will now proceed to answer them myself. Sit down both of you. (Gets pamphlets ready)
Helena Help! Help!
Lyn. Call the author.
(Mr. Hawkins enters nervously)
Lyn
. This is the author.
J.C. (Running Anthony out) That the author! Call the only author – call Granville B.
(Enter Granville B[arker])
J.C
. My Granville, please to present this play so that it may be endurable to thinking women.

Helena’s Path
or “The Straight Way to the Polls”.

ACT I

Enter Helena in a sensible washing alpaca.
Helena
This path is the shortest road to the polling station. Therefore it is my right of way.
(Enter Lord Lynborough, a man of the baser sort)
Lyn
. Excuse me, but I must use this path as it belongs to me.
Helena (Closing gate and standing against it) The way to the poll is Helena’s way.
Lyn. Then this is my way (Jumps over her head and goes to vote)
Helena (Shouting after him) That has always been man’s way, but it shall be woman’s way henceforth.

ACTS 2 and 3

Lyn. I love you. Will you be my wife?
Helena
On one condition – that you allow me to jump over your head.
(After some discussion he yields)
Lyn. Every morning I shall come here and you shall jump over me.
Helena And as I jump it shall be called “Helena’s Way” (jumps and jumps and jumps).

I am hoping you will stand the journey on Monday well. Guy says you look so much better.

Your
J.M.B.

*

Either the making absolute of his decree, or a first taste of the pleasures of bachelor life in the Adelphi, or both, had apparently had an exhilarating effect on J.M.B. The wit of the first half of this letter is in his best and purist vein of drollery, and it isn’t really to the point to reflect that no one was further removed than he from the straits of an impoverished vicomte. He went invariably each year to the academy dinner and always enjoyed it, both in spite of and because of the satirical spectacles through which he couldn’t help viewing the proceedings; and he often made me laugh aloud by his descriptions of these dinners and their portentousness and philistinism in later years, but never pretended that he didn’t enjoy being one of the most distinguished persons present for all that.

The second part, about Anthony Hope’s play, Helena’s Path and also apparently about some play of Henry James’s, perhaps goes on a bit long, but that may be because in my ignorance I am unable to place Miss Janet Case, who presumably had some connection with the Repertory season Granville Barker was then running, and which, with its rather highbrow ideals, was inevitably antipathetic to J.M.B. although he had allowed himself to be mixed up with it for a time.

Note, by the way, the resumption of “Dearest Jocelyn” and “Your J.M.B.” – as I myself am convinced, because it was no longer necessary to be circumspect now that the divorce decree had been made absolute.

So far as it goes, I regard this merry letter as evidence that J.M.B., for one, had at this date somehow blinded himself to the gravity of Sylvia’s illness, whereas the tone of the two immediately preceding letters from her to him gives me the impression that she more than half realised it herself, as she lay in her bed or on the sofa, or sat out in her bath chair in the Crescent garden, that Easter at Ramsgate.

It is just conceivable that he wrote in this vein simply to cheer her up. But I doubt it. There was at no stage the absolute certainty, in Sylvia’s case, which had existed in Arthur’s from the moment of the first exploratory operation. And Sylvia did, every now and then, seem so much better …

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton College,
Windsor.
Wednesday, May 3 [1910]

Dearest Mother,
What a beastly day the first day of the half is! At all events it’s taken up by holiday task. I have got into B (Upper Fifth) by virtue of my “stinker”, and though I’m not up to my tutor, I’m next to that – B2 – up to Mr. Vaughan. For maths, I am in B2 up to McNeile, and for French in B1 up to Cuvelier. Altogether I’ve done pretty well.

There are a good many things I want. To begin with I found my old umbrella, so don’t send another. I want you to have sent to me my rough greenish coat (which I wore for golf); my other pair of brogues, as I’ve got the wrong pair; my watch and keys (Mary will know). I think that’s about all.

I can imagine Jack sitting at The Balkan Princess. I’m not sure that I quite envy him, as he’s got to go back Friday morning, and he’ll probably find Thursday rather a blank day. I met Johnstone at the station and we travelled down together. He got a fall from a horse in the holidays and got concussion for a fortnight.

Now for prayers after a durned dull day.

Your loving son,
George.

*

[NOT IN THE MORGUE:]

[May Coles to her mother Emma du Maurier:]

23 Cheyne Walk
Chelsea, [London] S.W.
Wednesday [4 May 1910]

My darling Mummie –
I seem to have been on the go all yesterday with no time to write to you. … Today I shall see Sylvia – I have had a telephone talk with her & she told me how much better she felt. It was a shocking day the day she came back, a fog like night, but yesterday was quite lovely & I hope she was out a lot. She ought to try & go out in the afternoon as well as in the morning but she doesn’t seem to mean to. Wh[at] I think is a thousand pities. Goodbye darling, you know our sort of arriving time, lateish from the town station.

Your loving
May

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Sunday, May 14th [1910]

Dearest Mother,
I’m so sorry I forgot to write last night. Just a few lines now to atone.

Cricket’s going along well enough. I got a twenty and two wickets last Thursday. I expect it’ll be the same game today. The eleven are playing their first match today. Pity I’m not playing! Next year perhaps!

Work is going along dully enough. I’m afraid that Vaughan, although a very worthy man, is a bit dull. However, he sets quite enough work to do.

I’m dining with the Hollway Calthrops tonight – why, I can’t think. Perhaps Aunt Agnes or someone’ll be there. I hope there won’t be a great crowd. I hate to go out to find a crowd of Eton fellows standing about, all of us acutely shy, and bored to death.

Your loving son,
George.

*

[Guy du M. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Longmoor Camp,
East Liss,
Hants.
Friday [May 20, 1910]

Dearest,
I was hoping to come and see you early next week, and now I find I can’t. I’m like everyone in a new place – trying to make a good impression – and not showing the anxiety I feel to get away for a bit. I should have liked to see the procession today, but wasn’t invited by anyone to see it in comfort, so stayed away. But I would gladly have paid the Good King the respect of seeing his funeral. As you say he had charm, tho’ I don’t know where he got it from. P’raps the father had it and the Mid Victorians didn’t know what it meant.

What do you think of Kipling’s poem [“The Dead King”]? I love it. It strikes such a good note, and doesn’t harp on Virtue too much, which some of the papers with strange lack of humour do.

The worst literary effort the sad event has produced is the Queen’s letter. It reads as if it was in direct communication with the Servants’ Hall.

How is J.M.B.? I sent him a duologue to read. But he hasn’t said anything about it. Perhaps he can’t express himself politely about it. My brother [Gerald] said he couldn’t imagine how the author of the weakest line in The Englishman’s Home could have written such muck. So I’m prepared for anything. But it made me laugh as only my own jokes do. Tell me when to begin to look for a house in these parts, for the summer holidays, and even Nikko shall be trained in the whole duties of a Mounted Infantryman.

Love from us both,
Your loving brother,
Guy.

*

Guy du M. was in command of a Mounted Infantry training establishment, which I think must have been disbanded soon after this. At any rate it was not long before he got command of the 3rd Battalion of his regiment in India.

The funeral was that of Edward VII. I can remember watching it from a room on the first floor in Oxford and Cambridge Terrace; and there is evidence here that Sylvia’s health improved during this part of the summer, because she came too, accompanied by Nurse Loosemore, by now in permanent attendance. All recollection of how serious an undertaking this was for her – whether she had to be carried down and up stairs and so on – has gone from me: I only recall the [late king’s] fox-terrier walking behind the gun-carriage and the equestrian figures of the Kaiser and the bearded Duke of Norfolk. But it is certain that Sylvia must have rallied considerably, as I recall going with her to spend the weekend with Guy and Gwen at Longmoor shortly after this. Guy’s “quarters” were in the usual corrugated iron bungalow, so that there would have been no difficulty over stairs. Here again, however, I remember nothing to the point, my powers of observation having been absorbed, seemingly, by the performance of a very superior model aeroplane which have been given to me by J.M.B., and which I launched from every heather-clad eminence in the vicinity of the camp. Once more it is strange to me, and rather humiliating, to find how vivid an impression childish things still made on me in my 14th year, and how little remains of what I would so much rather recall. The sad truth is that, try as I may, and I have tried hard in connection with this record – and have had, after all, plenty to jog my memory – I can summon up not one single clear, breathing lightness of Sylvia. Before I began this unsatisfactory document I would have said, in the loose way one does, that I remembered her perfectly. But it is not so, I find. A shadowy presence is all that I can recapture, dimly seen, and as dimly heard; not an echo of her voice comes out of the past, not the timbre of it nor any characteristic trick of speech. I confess that this very much surprises, as well as disappoints me, when I reflect how many hours I must have spent, in the last 35 years, thinking of her, and of Arthur, and of the old days generally.

The family holiday at Longmoor never came off, for one reason or another, so Nico missed his chance of becoming an accomplished horseman at the age of six. Guy gave George and Jack a Christmas present of a course of riding lessons in London either the following winter or it may have been the winter before this.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton College,
Windsor.
Wednesday, June 1st [1910]

Dearest Mother,
Friday is a holiday all right, but we don’t come up to London. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get off cricket, and I suppose you won’t be able to sit on the seat and watch me playing, which I should like you to do. You’d have to walk a bit to get to the seat. Perhaps you’re well enough to walk, though, now. Otherwise you couldn’t very well bring those two carrier men down! I’ll write tomorrow if I can get off cricket. Then I suppose you’ll come in a motor and we’ll go for a spin somewhere.

June 4th would be rather a good day for you. If I’m playing for the 2nd XI you could watch that, and otherwise, as there are no games, I’d have nothing to get off and we could go off somewhere. Could you let me have an answer as to your plans by tomorrow evening?

Your loving son,
George.

*

The “two carrier men”, with an invalid’s chair, were a necessity at 23 C.H.S., owing to the front door steps and to the stairs leading to Sylvia’s bedroom on the first floor. I believe I am right in saying that at this time Sylvia was able to walk short distances, with an arm to lean on, on level ground.

*

[NOT IN THE MORGUE:]

[Sylvia to Nico]
23 C.H.S.
22nd. [June 1910]

Darling,
I am longing to see you and I am counting the moments till Saturday.

Today Peter and Michael and Nurse and I went twice to Kensington Gardens. Michael sometimes sits at the end of the bath chair and guides it while the man pushes it behind. Will you guide it sometimes when you come back? It is very hot and I must get you a thin coat. I wish I could sit on the sands with you and throw stones into the sea! Dear darling Nico, I have got to be carried to bed now. I wish I could run upstairs instead! What would nurse say?

Good night my dear little boy.
Loving and loving, Mother.

[AB: Nico found this letter, which he though was probably sent to Morecambe around this time while he was staying with Mary Hodgson’s family, which he so often did.]

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton College,
Windsor.
Saturday, June 4th [1910]

Dearest Mother,
What a topping phiz of Dorothy! I’m awfully bucked with it, and it holds a prominent position in my room. I notice that The Rivals is off, and I don’t think she’s acting at present, unless in a very inferior part. Lewis Waller’s doing something adapted by Uncle Gerald – Spanish, or something. I suppose it would be French though. Well, there’s plenty of time for her to get a part before next holidays!

I played for the 2nd XI today, and got three wickets, so I’m fairly satisfied. I do hope I’ll keep up my bowling till Lord’s. If so I’m sure of my Twenty-two. Twenty-two means the Eleven and the next eleven, so it’s not such a bad colour. I took two wickets in the game yesterday (two fellows with their Eleven) so that was quite satisfactory.

I met Wilkinson today and he talked about Peter. He’s not very sanguine of his getting into College, though he says he’s got a chance. He’s rather bucked with Peter’s bowling, which I’m glad about.

I wrote to Uncle Guy the other day to see if he could come down to Eton today. He hasn’t answered so perhaps he didn’t get the letter. He wrote me rather a good letter, suggesting that we should spend the holidays near him and ride. I think it would be rather a notion to spend the first half there, if you wouldn’t get anxious. We could fish in the rainier second-half.

Your loving son,
George.
P.S. Thank you for the watch-chain and quid [= £1].

*

How altogether charming, to be given by one’s mother a topping phiz of the object of one’s adolescent infatuation. No wonder George has bucked, as he sat in his room contemplating the magic features, on the evening of the 4th of June, after doing reasonably well for the 2nd XI.

Had anyone told him how serious his mother’s illness might be? I doubt it; but the apparent lack of any realisation of the fact in his letters is not conclusive, as on the whole there is little that is intimate in them; little to show what his thoughts were about anything except games. One would have thought, by the way, that some relation or other would have gone down to see him play that 4th of June – quite a big event in the life of an Etonian. Surprising that J.M.B. was not there, with his love of the game, to see the boy David of The Little White Bird make his first important appearance on the cricket-field. Taking it all round, one has the impression that George was not much visited at Eton.

*

[NOT IN THE MORGUE:]

[J.M.B. to Gwen du Maurier at Longmoor Camp:]

3 Adelphi Terrace House,
Strand, W.C.
13 June [1910]

My dear Gwen,
(I hope I may say so) Yes, I sh[oul]d be delighted to go to you next Saturday. Could I bring Peter also? I remember what you said about its being small, but a couch or anything in my room would make all well. In that case we’d arrive early Sat’y & get back Sunday evening.

Yours always
J.M.Barrie

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton College,
Windsor.
Friday, July 1st [1910]

Dearest Mother,
Yesterday I played in a match for Lower Club. It doesn’t follow that I’m kicked out of Upper Club, as another fellow played who has played for the Eleven. I was first choice which I shall remain unless I manage after all (I don’t think I shall) to get my Twenty-two. I went in two from last and swiped at every ball until I made 40, when I got caught in the deep! The record of this year’s cricket! I also took five wickets so I didn’t do so badly. There’s a 2nd XI match in which I hope to be playing tomorrow. It’s the last, and I shall feel pretty desperate when I go on to bowl. Anything under five wickets will mean ruin!

I’ve written to ask Uncle Jim to fulfil his telephone promise and come down tomorrow. I hope he’ll be able to do so. I’m feeling very keen to see his best silk socks! I hope it isn’t going to rain to stop him coming or anything of that sort. If it does rain all day it’ll be rather interesting to see if I shall get my Twenty-two. Perhaps interesting is rather a mild word to use from my point of you!

Your loving son,
George Llewelyn Davies.
P.S. Thank the Lord, I’m playing tomorrow!

*

This is the last letter from George to his mother which I have.

From a family point of view, perhaps the most interesting thing in it is the use of the term “Uncle Jim” for the first time* – symbolising the intimacy which had so rapidly increased since 1907, until he was closer by far to us, as well as directing our destinies, than any of our real uncles. Uncle Jim he remained to the end, to those of us who survived, though for a short while after his elevation to the Baronetcy (1912) we knew him variously as Sir Jas, Sir Jazz and the Bart.

No letters remain conveying the great news home that George did in fact get his Twenty-two, and, still more signal triumph, was elected at the end of the half to Pop – rather unexpectedly I believe, and exceptionally young for admission into that august body. By the end of that summer half, therefore, George had attained the stature of a full-blown Eton blood, and would be a known figure to every boy in the school.

He was “put up” for Pop by the handsome, attractive John Manners (killed 1914), whose sister Angela would in due course marry Malise Ruthven and produce second cousins for Rivvy, George and Peter Ll.D.

[AB: *Actually George had referred to J.M.B. as Uncle Jim in his 11 December 1908 letter to Sylvia 18 months earlier, just before their Swiss holiday: “It is kind of Uncle Jim to do it all.” The context gives the impression that the epithet had been in use for some time, at any rate between George and Sylvia.]

*

[Emma du Maurier to May Coles]

Longmoor Camp,
East Liss,
Hants.
July 4, 1910.

My darling May,
It is bad news to hear you had a migraine when you wrote. I daresay the thundery weather has something to do with it. I hope it is over today and Dr Rendel’s medicine has done your throat good. It is strange he should never have told me what he has told you. I began to think he did not agree with Dr. Goodhart and was still thinking Dr. Fowler’s opinion the right one. I do begin to think Dr. G. must be right and it seems too bad we should all have had these months of anguish – just imagine if some people had told Sylvia and I really believe at one time Margaret Davies was inclined to think it was the right thing to do.

It is dear of you to worry about me and the pony cart – we are not going in it, as Gwen says the pony is a frisky one and the cart very uncomfortable. ... I like the hat very much and they have made it charming with their pretty things. Plenty going on in the camp, soldiers and horses and bugle calls and Guy looks very nice in his uniform. He has just ridden off to Frensham with 300 men. … I should be back on Thursday or Friday but I shall want to know what he advises. Of course I won’t say a word to anybody. Has the Morning Post noticed Papa’s drawings?

Your loving Mother.

*

The implications of this letter have been discussed earlier. [See Peter’s comments following George’s letter to Sylvia, October 17th, 1909]

Margaret’s alleged view that Sylvia should be told raises the whole vexed question of what ought to be done in such circumstances. No one can say who is not in possession of all the arguments for and against in each particular case, and perhaps in some cases there is no one so fully qualified. What is inclined to share Emma du M.’s feelings on the point; on the other hand, it is clear that Sylvia was very seriously worried and upset by never knowing what the disease was from which she increasingly (though with occasional temporary improvements) suffered. Again, on the existing state of surgical and medical knowledge, it may not have been possible to diagnose with certainty without a more thorough examination. I have no record of X-rays having been taken. Finally, the word cancer was less easily spoken in those days, more wrapped in unmentionable horror, than it is in these case-hardened times; and there was enough on this occasion to cause any of those concerned to recoil from the truth.

The last sentence of E.’s letter refers to an exhibition of George du Maurier’s drawings, mostly from Punch, which had opened on the 1st of the month at the Leicester Galleries.

*

[Sylvia to J.M.B.]

Twenty Three
Campden Hill Square,
Kensington.
Telephone 3041 Kensington
[6 July 1910 ]

Dear J,
I shall not be able to get to Eton tomorrow after all I am sorry to say – however the weather looks very bad. Will you do something for me? I want 1½ doz white colours (George wears the shape) for Peter and 2 doz white ties (also like George), as they are best bought at Eton. The shop is called New & Lingwood. Ask for collars for tails and Peter will know what size and can try one on if wanted. He must bring them home with him.

I so liked your letter about G. and P.! I have thought so much of Peter and am wondering how he has done.

I daresay you will come back after lunch but I hope you will stay to dinner.

Elizabeth is perhaps going to tea with you tomorrow so you could drop P. and come on afterwards to me – send me a wire if you have altered any plans but dinner if possible, that is if you w[oul]d like that.

I suppose George can’t be let off camp for his delicate mother’s sake.

Affec.
S.

*

This is the last of Sylvia’s letters of which I can find any trace.

It is written in ink, quite strongly, and addressed to J.M.B. care of H. Brinton at Eton, where he was evidently staying (though I had quite forgotten that he did) with me on the occasion of the scholarship examination for which I was sitting daily in Upper School. That Sylvia should have contemplated going down to Eton herself shows that she was not at this time entirely inactive; but I think that all movement was now a serious effort to her, and that at frequent intervals she suffered great discomfort.

J.M.B. is now clearly seen in the role of leading uncle, if not step-father; perhaps guardian angel best describes him. The purchase of collars and ties at this stage indicates that definite arrangements had been made, in case I failed for the scholarship, to go to Eton as an expensive Oppidan; necessarily of course on J.M.B.’s money. And in this connection I might add that I don’t remember it ever being put to me for a second that it was in any way vital that I should succeed. (I feel sure I should have failed miserably if I had had any such notion in my mind.)

I suppose this is as good a place as any in which to introduce an aspect of things from which I have always rather shied away. I don’t remember him ever saying so to me, but I believe J.M.B. did once, in after years, say to Jack, that he had asked Sylvia to marry him, and that she had said she would, and would have done so had she lived; and Nico has told me that, at the time of his marriage to Mary in 1926, J.M.B. gave Mary some of Sylvia’s jewellery including a ring which – J.M.B. told Nico – he had given to Sylvia for an engagement ring as “we would have been married had your mother lived.” Well: it may have been so. But somehow I doubt it. J.M.B. was quite capable of imagining, and of coming in the end to believe, such a might-have-been.

The few letters between them which have survived, and which have appeared in this record, don’t at all support the idea. And from the date of this last letter of Sylvia’s, to the day of her death, is less than two months. No doubt there must have been conversations between them during those two months about the future, and about what they were to be to each other; and she may well have given him the thought of marriage – if it could be called that – to play with. But by then, as we have seen, he already had reason to suspect that her disease might prove fatal, and I guess that she too, though never told, suspected it also.

Are any rate that’s how I see it. Others may well say, and doubtless did, that it would have been the most natural thing in the world: that she was already more intimate with him than with any other living being, that he had adored her for years and loved her children, that she was taking so much from him that she could scarcely refuse if that was what he wished, and in fact that it was much the best solution. All this is true enough. But I think to Jack (who will please correct me if I’m wrong) the thought was and still is intolerable and even monstrous; so much so that he could not refrain from expressing himself in the most forcible manner to that effect, when J.M.B. in an unguarded moment spoke to him of it.

To me too, I confess, the idea of such a marriage is repugnant. Up to a point, perhaps, this is mere sentimentality. The two sublime creatures of one's childhood die when one is too young to have much sense of reality, and the naïve impression remains, so that in after life no one who survives to meet the more calculating glance of one's maturity can ever move in the same dimension as the enchanted dead. But I think there is more to it than that. I am certainly not among those who try to make out that a second marriage is a betrayal of the dead, or that there is any essential virtue in clinging to the widowed state. But it does seem to me that a marriage between Sylvia, the widow, still so beautiful in her forty-fourth year, of the splendid Arthur, and the strange little creature who adored her and dreamed, as he surely must have dreamed, of stepping into Arthur's shoes, would have been an affront, really, to any reasonable person’s sense of the fitness of things. And I do not believe that Sylvia seriously contemplated it.

I feel I have rather laboured this point, which in a sense matters so little now. Yet it would hardly have done to ignore it all together in this record. I don’t know what Nico, who can remember so much less of his parents, thinks about it, but I imagine he sees it pretty much in the same light as the other two of us.

Let me not be thought unmindful, in writing what I have written, of the innumerable benefits and kindnesses I have received, at one time and another, from the aforesaid strange little creature, to whom, in the end, his connection with our family brought so much more sorrow than happiness.

To revert to Sylvia’s letter, the last of hers as I have said, either to J.M.B. or to anyone else, which I have.

The ties and collars were presumably bought, though I don’t remember the incident. Little or nothing else would have been required in the way of Eton uniform, as George’s discarded garments were available for me.

“Elizabeth” was no doubt Elizabeth Lucas [wife of E.V.]. If J.M.B. after entertaining her to tea in the Adelphi, came to dine with Sylvia at 23 C.H.S., would it have been in her bedroom? I rather think not, but that, on the contrary, she was now well enough to dine downstairs. She would often, on such occasions (but I think mostly when there was cold supper on Sundays) make scrambled eggs or oeufs sur le plat in a chafing-dish, peppering them well – the smell of pepper is in my nostrils as I write.

A few days later, when I was playing “corridor cricket” after lunch at Wilkinson’s, entered Milky in some excitement, table-napkin in one hand and brandishing in the other an opened telegram, to interrupt the game with the news that Davies One had brought off the Eton scholarship, to his own surprise as much as to mine. It is true that I was lowish on the list – 11th or 12th, I think – but there would be more boys than that leaving College during the ensuing year, so that my place was assured. And that day was made more memorable for me when, later in the afternoon, Sylvia arrived in a taxi to praise me for my puny triumph and bear me off early home to tea.

I hope I shall be forgiven for dwelling a little on this, the solitary distinction, such as it was, that I ever attained in my mostly mis-spent life. That it gave pleasure to Sylvia in her last sad weeks has always been to me a source of secret satisfaction. Much I wish that I could remember one word of what she then said to me; but no, the fragment is of a silent film only, a brief vision of her sitting in the taxi (or was it a hired electric brougham?), smiling, and crying a little, and holding out her arms, as I emerged from the little side door in St. Petersburgh Place.

The saving in money which the scholarship would mean can only, it is clear, have been of secondary importance, though one may guess that the thought of some small reduction in the extent of her obligations to J.M.B. may not have been unwelcome. But I think what chiefly pleased Sylvia was that it constituted a link, slender enough but recognisable, with the so much more substantial scholarship-prowess of Arthur.

And so to the end of that term at Wilkinson’s with no letters to guide or prompt me. Nothing more seems to have been done about spending a part of the summer holiday near Guy du M. at Longmoor, and a house was taken, called Ashton, near the northern end of the Devon and Somerset border, on Exmoor, for the sake of the fishing. That Sylvia was, in her own estimation and that of her advisors, strong enough to face so long a journey and the discomfort of what was little more than an isolated farmhouse, seems to show that she was at this time deceptively well. But Dolly Ponsonby came to see her at 23 C.H.S. a few days before the move was made: “I think she was in a black gown, and lying on the sofa. I realised then that she was not going to live, and I remember going back and telling my husband, and weeping.”

And Mary Hodgson’s recollection is: “Your mother insisted on going out of town with her family, thinking it would finally decide matters – if they would not let her go. Dr. Rendel said “If Sylvia wishes to go, she should have what she wishes.” Nurse Loosemore said Dr.Rendel and J.M.B. were quite mad and eventually told me to make myself and the boys scarce on the journey as anything might happen.”

Had J.M.B., or anyone else, been down to Ashton Farm to see what comforts, if any, existed there, and how inaccessible it was, or had it been selected merely by correspondence? I don’t in the least know; but he had hired a car and chauffeur for the holidays. Nor, I am glad to say, can I remember anything at all of the journey down there. “At Minehead,“ says Mary H., “there was a climax – your mother insisting that the two youngest and myself should travel in the car. Dr Rendel took her side and Nurse Loosemore barely spoke to me thereafter.

“At Ashton, I only saw your mother at odd times. I think the powers that be thought I was not to be trusted, and were probably wise in that view.”

So Dr. Rendel was in the cortège, presumably also J.M.B., who would stay, not at the farm itself, but at the neighbouring village of Brendon. It must have been an exhausting day for poor, weak Sylvia; a five-hour train journey from Paddington, followed by 15 beautiful but hilly miles in the car across Exmoor. All to provide fishing for the boys!

I suppose the rest of us, i.e. J.M.B., self, Minnie, Amy, followed or went ahead in another car.

Eton and Dartmouth broke up rather later, and I imagine George was not “let off camp for his delicate mother’s sake.“ First Jack, and a day or two later George, followed the rest of us down to Exmoor. They were both almost young men now, and mighty good-looking ones at that. I recall how, one day soon after their arrival, they came together, both wearing new suits, into the room where Sylvia lay on the sofa, and how she greatly enjoyed their stylish appearance and exclaimed with delight: “What a pair of young rakes!”

A curious, attractive little thing to remember, for no apparent reason. They are the last words of Sylvia’s of which any echo, however dim, remains in my mind.

For a few days she seemed, all things considered, to be surprisingly well, and was up a good deal and able to come out into the rare sunshine in the little garden. For us, or perhaps more accurately for George and me, fishing was the main occupation, still with the humble worm, and we made almost daily expeditions, sandwiches in pocket, up the beautiful valleys of the Lynn and the Oare and Badgworthy waters. In the evenings we would take the day’s catch of small trout in to show to Sylvia, as she lay, so much frailer than we knew, on the sofa or in her bed.

*

[Emma du Maurier to May Coles]

Ashton Farm,
Countisbury,
By Lynton, North Devon.
[About August 1, 1910 ]

My darling May,
No post out to-day but there may be tomorrow.

Mr Barrie and Peter met us at Minehead in the motor and it is a most exquisite drive from there but oh dear, it is terrible to think dear Sylvia is so far from doctors. She was sitting in the garden when we got here, but she is still very oppressed and sleeps badly. She didn’t like the Lynton doctor – he is deaf, and seems to have asked silly questions, so I begged Mr Barrie to telegraph today to Dr. Rendel to say she must have a doctor here and he has done so. Sylvia seemed quite willing that this should be done, and really when you think that it is 5 miles to Lynton to get a doctor and 5 miles for him to come, and then he mightn’t be in. All this is too alarming and it mustn’t be. Dear Sylvia was tearful last night and that is so distressing.

It is a nice house but hills all round, even from the lawn to the garden is quite a hill. This ought never to have been taken. To-day Sylvia is staying in bed, she seems quite to wish to. She seems glad I have come and hopes I can stay and of course I shall, but you can imagine what I feel. As you know I can generally sleep, but it is the waking. Nurse is as splendid as she always is, but she feels a doctor would be a comfort.

Write on a separate piece of paper anything I can’t read out. I hope you liked your visit to Hindhead, tell me all about it.

Your loving Mother.

*

This and the succeeding letters from Emma du M. to May, all matter-of-fact and not the less moving for that, came into my possession quite recently (1949) among the various documents etc. which Taff Coles handed over to the family after the death of his twin brother “Coley”, May’s widower. (Another relic which then came to light was a little portable writing-desk, with the name Emma Wightwick on a mother-of-pearl label on the lid, containing George du M.’s happy letters to her during their courtship fifty years earlier – some of these are being included in the volume of Kicky’s youthful letters which Daphne is now preparing for publication.)

These letters from Ashton, which of course I had never seen before, make a certain amount of modification necessary it what I had already written about Sylvia’s last days, though not much needed alteration up to this point.

Not only do I not remember going with J.M.B. to meet Emma du M. at Minehead: I have no recollection of her at Ashton at all, though I had guessed she must have been there, and a remark of Mary Hodgson’s had confirmed my guess. This blank spot is odd enough, seeing that I was now thirteen and a half. I take it Crompton Ll.D., whom I remember there very well indeed come, had accompanied her. He, like J.M.B. himself, stayed not at Ashton Farm but at the village of Brendon, a mile or so off.

The general tone of this letter suggests that Sylvia’s mother was now much more alarmed about her condition than she had been when she wrote to May on July 4th. May herself, as we shall see, never realised how ill Sylvia was; she probably thought her mother was alarming herself unnecessarily. Trixie, I think, knew more, because being of a robust temperament she was allowed to know more; but owing to the part she played in the Mary Barrie drama she was at this time cut off from Sylvia. Margaret Ll.D. was tied to the now infirm John Ll.D. Otherwise one might have thought some female relative would have stepped into the breach before Emma du M.’s arrival. Still, it would not have been easy. Not a comfortable collaborator, J.M.B. How well he and Emma du M. “got on” I don’t really know. She obviously thought it monstrous of him to have allowed Sylvia to come to so isolated a spot (where there was besides no telephone), and perhaps it is significant that after 13 years acquaintance he is Mr Barrie or J.M.B. and not Jimmy.

Crompton Ll.D. was full of helpfulness and took us walks and climbed us to the top of the local mountain, Dunkery Beacon, in true Llewelyn Davies fashion. At this time, and for a good many years later, there was a really close bond between him and J.M.B.

There also joined the party a charming blue-eyed youth of 21 or so named Lloyd, a Cambridge running blue, who was supposed to be a tutor in some way for George and perhaps Jack. I can’t think what either of them wanted a tutor for; it may have been that George needed some coaching for School Certificate or the eventual Cambridge examination. He was also a golf companion for Jack, over whom fishing never cast the spell it did over the rest of us. The soft-voiced, fair-haired Lloyd perished at Loos in 1915.

*

[Emma du M. to May Coles]

Ashton Farm,
Countisbury,
Near Lynton, North Devon.
Aug. 5, 1910.

My darling May,
Very many happy returns and I enclose my usual birthday cheque, with a little added. I do hope you feel better darling and that if not, you have had Rendel.

Dr. Spicer has come this morning, but he isn’t at the house yet; he missed his train and so Crompton who had gone in the motor to meet him, had to stay all night at Minehead and has brought him here this morning. Crompton sleeps at Mr Barrie’s. When Sylvia heard the doctor was to sleep here (but we all think it a great mistake if he didn’t) she was angry and then began to cry, and said “I believe I am very ill,” so you can imagine how dreadful that was. I said it was my fault, that I had suggested it, and somehow we got over it, and she was pacified. It is a good way to the farm where he could sleep and if in the middle of the night he was wanted, it would be quite a business to get him, no woman could go in the dark and the only man here is the farmer.

Dear Sylvia has such bad nights, even with trional, and she looks so wan and thin, it breaks my heart to look at her. Last night just before I left her she asked nurse and me questions about her health, and that is difficult to bear. Her breathing is so laboured and sometimes it seems she has difficulty in swallowing. She takes food fairly well but without any appetite. She doesn’t wish the boys ever to be kept away from her; of course they are out all day until tea time, and when they’re in the garden she can see them.

We have a great deal of rain and very little sun. I can’t think it is particularly good for the boys especially Michael to be always on low ground fishing, whereas on the moors it is so much more airy.

Yesterday Sylvia wanted me to go out in her chair and Crompton went with me. A donkey led the chair, but Amy had to pull it up the hill and Crompton pushed it, so you can see what a tiresome position the house is in, it ought to be at the top. It was a nice morning and I was out about an hour and a half. Crompton is such a kind fellow, I hope he will stay.

George and the tutor Mr. Lloyd come tomorrow. The latter sleeps and breakfasts at the farm.

The dogs have given trouble. Max has killed some chickens and must always be tied up. Smee is better, but has to be muzzled.

Jack looks well. He said he thought his mother was much thinner in the face.

Of course, I would give worlds for you to be here, but you couldn’t be in the house and it would perhaps alarm Sylvia if you came. Still perhaps you and Coley could come later, one must see. The Lynton doctor is to meet Dr. Spicer here – we thought it would be more polite and he may be asked to come again, we shall see. Do write often and tell me how are you are in every way and all you do. Write on a separate paper as you did before.

Your loving mother.

*

Of Dr. Spicer all I remember is his big brown boots, his Norfolk knickerbocker suit, his long upper lip and a sort of deerstalker hat he wore. He wasn’t, alas, liked; but one could hardly expect a first-rate man in the circumstances, and at such short notice.

Dear Grannie’s worry about the effect of low ground is a reminder of the fact that there had at one time been a slight fear of tuberculosis in the case of Michael.

From now onwards, while we finished and golfed and walked furiously, or made expeditions to Lynton and ate huge teas with bilberry jam and Devonshire cream, or on idle days watched the buzzards circling slowly, high above the valley of the Lynn – while, in fact, we went our boys’ ways – Sylvia weakened rapidly, and I think she never again left her room.

*

[Emma du M. to May Coles]

August 8. [1910]

My darling May,
There is no post in or out from here on Sunday, so I only got your letter to-day.

Dr. Spicer says the altitude does not affect dear Sylvia’s breathing. On Saturday I was very distressed as Dr. Spicer told us he wanted to put a needle in to see if there was any fluid, as if so he could relieve her. We all discussed it, and it is difficult to disagree with the doctor when he assures one it is for the best. So it was done, but there was no fluid; so it was useless. It did no harm, and gave only slight pain when it was being done. Then the doctor told us he had come prepared to put in a tube if necessary and he had seen Dr. Tilly about it, but we all feel if it has to be done, Dr. Tilly or some specialist should do it. Crompton has written to Dr. Rendel to-day about this. But dear Sylvia, talking about it the other day, said she knew that was done as a last resource and when there was no hope. I do trust it may not have to be done, still it may come to that.

She doesn’t like Dr. Spicer much, she says he is to cocksure, and he is. She slept better and coughed less however last night owing to a draught he gave her. I sit in her room a good deal, but I feel cowardly when I’m alone, because I wonder if she would like to say anything to me. I feel she is so considerate that she wouldn’t like to make me unhappy and there is no one she can talk to. J.M.B. I know would give way and she wouldn’t care to say anything to Crompton. You couldn’t bear it and Trixie of course has displeased her. She never however talks of Mary B. now, she talks very little and doesn’t feel strong enough to be carried out in a hammock I know.

We are of course far from everything here, without a motor it would be terrible, the 5 miles drive to Lynton is worse than the 15 miles to Minehead, J.M.B. says. Dear Sylvia is quite contented with the place. The boys fish and seem happy and Jack and the tutor have gone into Porlock to golf. If you come, it must be to Brendon, 2 miles off, near J.M.B.

Sylvia talked about moving in three weeks, but I believe steps are being taken to get this house for the whole time.

I have been well but yesterday I was a little seedy, water brash etc. – emotion isn’t good for digestion. I did walk up a hill on Sat. with Crompton very slowly. I won’t try again. I am quite contented to sit in the tent in the garden.

Much love darling and do write often.

Your loving Mother.

*

A gap of 12 days now occurs in the letters from Emma du M. to May. She evidently wrote other things during the interval, but they have disappeared. Perhaps it is just as well.

It is still not clear to me how grave a view each of the persons most concerned was taking. One would say that they all by now must have expected the worst; yet my impression is that Crompton left during this interval, which perhaps he would hardly have done had he realised the end was so near? No other relatives came down.

A curious visitor was Maude Adams, leading interpreter of J.M.B.’s plays in the U.S., who was brought down by him to Oare or Brendon for a night or two, that she might see and be seen by Sylvia and her boys (my boys).

For the rest, we went our way blithely enough, I seem to remember. The remote and beautiful Doone Valley, a few miles from Ashton, was among our regular fishing places: sentiment, as well as sport and appreciation of romantic scenery, was involved here, as one remembered Arthur reading Lorna Doone to us in the winter evenings at Egerton House. (I had selected L.D. as the subject of an essay “on my favourite character in fiction” in the English paper for the Eton Scholarship examination.)

Somewhere about now, I take it, Sylvia must have written the “will” which is reproduced further on, but which was not found until some weeks after her death.

*

[Emma du M. to May Coles]

Sat. August 20. (1910)

My darling May,

Yesterday, after my letter went off to you, dear Sylvia had a bad day. When I was alone with her she cried a good deal and said she felt very ill and asked if no other doctor was to be sent for. I told her Dr. Rendel was coming and then he would tell us what had better be done. She said she thought Dr. Fowler would be best as he had seen her oftener than the others. She said, perhaps she ought not to be here, but to be on a large balcony with the sun pouring on her, and of course I do believe it would be better, but how is it to be done? She’s getting tired of her room, and yesterday she couldn’t get into a comfortable position in bed. Altogether she was wretched, poor darling. She had reaching too about 11 o’clock after I had left her, not being sick, and Nurse thinks it was flatulence. She takes a little food and sometimes only liquid things. She had some rusks yesterday with milk.

I have just got two letters from you, one dated Thursday and one Friday. I hoped you would really prefer this place to Ramsgate which you rather objected to when I said I couldn’t afford a house elsewhere – that is if I can get decent lodgings for you. I of course will stop on here as long as Sylvia stays but I do long for you or Trixie often I assure you, and if things get worse, I don’t know how I shall bear it. Of course I can’t suggest Trixie, because in the 1st place it would alarm Sylvia and also she wouldn’t care to have her on account of the Barrie friction, whereas with you and Coley it is quite natural that you should take your holiday here as well as anywhere else. Also, she suggested it herself. There is no occasion for quick decision, since you say: it doesn’t get away until the 8th of Septb’r. I will enquire about rooms and see if there are any that would do. You couldn’t be quite near but if you are at Oare or Brendon where Mr. Barrie would be, the car would always bring you up and the walk down isn’t much.

Crompton thinks the more might be too exposed for you by the time Septb’r comes.

Still you mustn’t come at all if either of you would much rather not.

You won’t get this until Monday.

Your loving Mother.

*

[Emma du M. to May Coles]

Ashton Farm,
Aug. 24 [1910]

My darling May,

No letter from you this morning, but of course I can’t expect one every day.

Dear Sylvia had a bad night and seems very languid and weak this morning. Yesterday afternoon she seemed more comfortable and wished to hear the gramophone and the boys came in. However too many of them soon tire her. Dear little Nicholas is very good but of course he is lively and wants to jump about and climb on the backs of the others and all that is too much in her room. After tea they play games in the garden and it amuses her to watch them.

Yesterday she told me she didn’t want to go home until the 16th but of course nothing can be decided. The doctor here, Dr. Spicer, would like to get her home sooner I know, but we don’t want to worry her and as far as possible she must do just as she likes. I told her your suggestion about Torquay, she smiled and said it was a relaxing place and she should think a bracing air was best for her.

I don’t know when Trixie goes back to Ramsgate but I should think to-day, so will you telephone to her if she is in London and tell her that I have written to Ramsgate.

Your loving Mother.

*

On reconsideration, it seems that my memory was at fault and that Crompton have not left. He may have been, and probably was, there till the end. Have I mentioned earlier in this record that he could never, till the end of his days, so many years later, mention Sylvia to me without tears in his eyes and voice?

Denis Mackail has a story in his book that, “two days before the end, as she lay there in bed, she asked for a hand mirror. She looked in it, and laid it down. ‘Don’t let the boys see me again,’ she said.” I don’t know where he got it from, but it cannot have been directly from anyone who was there. It can hardly be true either, having regard to the above letter.

Among the tunes played on the gramophone at Ashton I remember a sentimental waltz: Liebestraume (no connection with Liszt’s composition of the same name – I think the composer was [Dominik] Ertl [1857-1911]). I have never heard it since; but it haunted me for years, and still does, very faintly, as the sort of obligato to Sylvia’s last hours.

The next unbearable letter presumably followed a telegram conveying the fatal news.

*

[Emma du M. to May Coles]

Ashton Farm,
Saty. [27 August 1910]

My darling May,
I’m afraid you didn’t quite realise how very ill dear Sylvia had become. She was worn out poor darling and on Thursday night the doctor had to give her morphia, although he didn’t tell me. Yesterday morning he repeated it, and about 11 o’clock Nurse said she would rather I didn’t go into the room again just yet (I had been with dear Sylvia for a little about 10 o’clock) but that she would remain.

At ¼ to 2 she called me and the doctor was holding dear Sylvia’s hands and asked me to fan her, but I didn't know the end was so near. She was breathing with great difficulty and I couldn't bear to look at her, then they called in Mr. Barrie and I saw what it was and it was all over in about a ¼ of an hour. It was her breathing that was exhausted, not heart failure. The doctor, Nurse, Mr. Barrie and I were the only ones in the room. The big boys were out.

In a few hours Nurse had arranged everything and asked me to go in. I hardly dared, but I’m glad I did. Darling Sylvia looked perfectly lovely–so calm and happy, and those who love her can only be thankful she is at peace.

Guy has wired to say he is coming and Trixie too. We shall go up on Monday and the funeral will I suppose be on Tuesday at Hampstead, but I shall see you on Monday.

Your loving Mother.

*

I am well aware that some might question the propriety of preserving these sad and private letters, yet they were deliberately preserved by May – herself to waste and die of the same disease 20 years later – and, after reading them, not without emotion, I felt it right, and still do, to include them in this mausoleum. If their rather brutal effect is, alas, to yield a clearer impression of the dying Sylvia than any of the earlier pages can give of Sylvia living, that misfortune is not in itself a condemnation. They dispel some of the uncertainties which have lingered in dark corners of our minds for 40 years; moreover, this is a family record, and these letters shed a valuable light on the character of Emma du M., nobly, not to say stoically, playing her part in the tragedy.

On the morning of the day Sylvia died, Jack remembers that Nurse Loosemore told us she was not well enough to see us, as she usually did before we went off on our various activities, but that she sent us all her love and would see us in the evening. While Jack went off in the car to Minehead with Lloyd to play golf, George and I set out on our usual all-day fishing expedition. I question whether any of us, even George, the oldest and much the most intimate with J.M.B., felt more than a vague sense of oppression – certainly no clear forebodings.

For some reason which I can’t now recall – perhaps because sport was bad – I gave up soon after lunch, when I suppose we were 4 or 5 miles from Ashton, and decided to go home, leaving George, always a more thorough fisherman than myself, in undisputed possession of the likely pools.

It was a grey, lowering, drizzly sort of day, and I walked fast, and was pretty blown, I remember, by the time I reached the top of the steep footpath which led from the river valley up to the house. As I went in at the gate, it struck me that there was something peculiar in the aspect of the house: in every window the blinds had been drawn. Somehow or other the dreadful significance of this sombre convention conveyed itself to my shocked understanding, and with heart in boots and unsteady knees I covered the remaining thirty or forty yards to the front door. There J.M.B. awaited me: a distraught figure, arms hanging limp, hair dishevelled, wild-eyed.

In what exact words he told me what I had no need to be told, I forget; but it was brokenly, despairingly, without any pretence of philosophy or resignation or the stiff upper lip. He must have been sunk in depths far below all that, poor Jimmy; I think it was I that propelled him, as much as he me, into the room on the left of the little entrance hall, where we sat and blubbered together. Good cause for blubbering too, for both of us; but I remember, and wish I didn't, sobbing out “Mother! Mother!” at intervals during the sad and painful scene, and realising, even as I did so, that this wasn't altogether natural in me – that, though half involuntary, it was also a half-deliberate playing-up to the situation. I can forgive myself now, after thirty-five years, for this rather shameful bit of nervous reaction: the rest of it, the tears and misery and desolation, were genuine enough.

I suppose I must have got home about half past three, less than two hours after Sylvia had died.

Jack, in a recent letter to me, writes: “When the car fetched Lloyd and me back from Minehead I was taken into a room where the bart was alone and he told me she was dead. He also told me, which angered me even then, that Mother had promised to marry him and wore his ring. Even then I thought if it was true it must be because she knew she was dying. I was then taken in to see her and left with her for a bit. She looked quite natural, as she’d always been so pale, very lovely and asleep.”

On the subject of that abortive betrothal I have already dilated. Jack was then a few days short of his 16th birthday. His feelings are wholly comprehensible.

I am almost sure, but cannot by any effort of recollection say with certainty, that I too went in to look my last on Sylvia as she lay dead in the room on the ground floor which had been made into her bedroom. One would have thought such a moment must imprint itself so clearly on a young mind as to be in ineffaceable ever afterwards. But all I retain, or seem to retain, is a dream-like, cloudy sense of going in and standing for a matter of seconds, confused, unhappy, frightened, looking and yet not looking at the pale, lifeless features, and then escaping to I know not what limbo in some remote corner of the house. Conceivably it is all imagination. I wrote not long ago to Mary Hodgson and asked her about this. She answered: “Mrs du M. and J.M.B. were for, and I against – so do not know.” Poor Mary; her memory of that time is not at all exact, and no wonder, it must have been a terrible time indeed for her. On this particular point she alone correctly interpreted Sylvia’s own wishes – see the “Will” reproduced a few pages further on.

Nico, then aged 6 and three-quarters, has a memory of approaching the door of Sylvia's room, meaning to go in as had been his habit after tea each day, and of being shooed away with significant gruffness by one of his kind brothers, probably Michael. He has told me, too – and I trust he won’t mind my repeating it here – that he very well remembers Mary Hodgson trying to explain things to him, and how she laid the responsibility on God, adding hopelessly enough, to soften the blow, that sometimes people who were so spirited away were brought back, and it might be that she would come back at Christmas. And he remembers, thereupon, crying out in misery, half hysterically, “Cruel God! Cruel God!”

Of how the word of death was spoken to George, when he came back that evening from his day's fishing, I know nothing; or to Michael, then a little over ten years old, and the most highly strung and impressionable of us, one would say. Each must have carried to his early grave a far more vivid recollection of that day than I now retain after 30 intervening years, during which, however, I doubt if a week has ever gone by without my thoughts harking back to the summer of 1910. I refer to conscious thoughts: what dark complexes may have found a lodgement in the subconscious minds and personalities of all five of us that summer, only a Freud could say.

To get over the following few days quickly is not difficult, as I can remember very little about them. The next morning George and I were dispatched to the nearest village – Brendon, I think – with a sheaf of telegrams addressed to relatives and friends (I suppose written out by J.M.B.). As we walked down the hill on this gloomy errand – but it was good for us, I think, to be given something practical to do – George remarked to me, perhaps merely speaking his thoughts aloud, or perhaps with the deliberate object of knocking the nonsense out of me, that in spite of the tragedy that had come upon us, we seemed to have got up and washed and tied our ties and put on our boots and eaten our breakfast all right: that it wasn’t, in fact, the end of the world. Life went on. Physically speaking, we were much as before.

For an instant I was shocked and even disgusted by the apparent callousness of his words, and thought of walking off and leaving him to do the telegram-despatching by himself, while I indulged in a little private mourning on my own. But further reflection persuaded me that there was something in what he said, and I fancy it did knock some of the nonsense out of me. It was not indifference or resignation or fatalism that George, aged 17, was expressing, but a sort of rough and ready working philosophy, based on an instinctive sense of proportion. There was nothing morbid in his composition. I knew quite well that he was feeling things at least as deeply as I was myself. But he was the eldest brother, and felt his responsibility, and I dare say I was sniffling in a way that irritated him, on edge himself as he must have been.

Of the next week or so I remember almost literally nothing. Undertakers must have come and gone, but the grisly activities seem to have made no impression. The following short letter from Emma du M., the last of hers which I have, serves to cross a few t’s and dot a few i’s.

*

[Emma du M. to May Coles]

Ashton,
Sunday.

My darling May,
Amy is going up to-day so will post this. The arrangements are that we all go up tomorrow (all but Michael and Nicholas) by the 1 o’clock train reaching London 5.40 – I shall go to the flat with Trixie and Guy, but I shall sleep at Campden Hill Sq. with Nurse.

Trixie and Guy can have a meal at the flat and sleep there if they like but we shall see, and the funeral is on Tuesday at 12. I think I shall go, but I haven’t quite settled and if so you and Coley might either go independently or with me and the others – I can’t quite make up my mind about anything, there is so much to decide about, but Trixie can telephone to you from the flat.

Your loving Mother.

*

The dreadful arrangements must have fallen chiefly on the shoulders of J.M.B., with help no doubt from Guy, whose figure I dimly recall, with bent head and overcoat thrown loosely across the shoulders, pacing up and down in the garden at Ashton, and what I fancy must have been the evening after the day of Sylvia’s death. Trixie, who seems to have come down too, though I don’t remember her at Ashton, would be primarily concerned for her mother, who must have been near breaking point. The absence of any reference to Crompton in the last three letters rather seems to suggest that he did, after all, leave before the end; or conceivably he may have gone to London to the cremating and funeral arrangements.

The hideous problem had to be faced, too, of what to do with five orphans, for the remaining two or three weeks of the holidays: quite apart from the long-term question of a future. It must have been a nightmare indeed for all concerned. Before I came across Emma du M.’s letters, I wrote to Mary Hodgson to ask her if she could remember the sequence of events. She answered, in her usual laconical style: “Michael and Nico stayed with me. I was not consulted about matters. You, yourselves requested packing done and disappeared – reappearing in a day or two with J.M.B. Memory may be faulty but I feel M. and N. stayed where we were till our return to town. Have no recollection of Jack returning.”

“I was not consulted about matters.” The faithful Mary, as we all know, was liable to be “difficult” at any time; and the present time was almost more harrowing, for her perhaps, than for anyone else. I dare say she was inconsultable. Upon my soul, one’s mind recoils from contemplating in any detail the horrors of the day immediately following Sylvia’s death. It is true that tragedies and serious emergencies often bring out the best in people; it is also true that sorrow sometimes exacerbates irritability, and that lacerated feelings don’t always cope in the most tactful manner with that practical side of things from which there is no escape.

The problems were solved, somehow, and I think Mary is right in saying that she stayed on, with Michael and Nico, at Ashton. The rest of us went our strange way to London. Jack recalls “a hideous journey, with the coffin in a van, covered in purple cloth, and the Bart at every stop doing sentry-go outside!” Of that journey I remember – thankfully – nothing, and nothing of the macabre night or nights we must have spent at Campden Hill Square, or of the days, or of the funeral itself. I have in fact only two recollections of that time which are at all clear. One is a glimpse of the tear-strained features of the pretty house-parlour-maid, Amy, sitting. all in black, in a four-wheeler cab or carriage outside No. 23. I take it the glimpse was caught, and somehow recorded itself indelibly, as one climbed into another carriage, preparatory to setting off on the long drive to the Hampstead churchyard. But who else was in that strange cavalcade – whether, for example, there was a cab or undertaker’s carriage containing J.M.B. and George and Jack and myself, and whether there were others, and whether (for it had to approach the graveyard from somewhere) a hearse led the way, I simply don’t remember. Was Sylvia cremated, as she wished, before the Hampstead ceremony? I know not.

Grotesque that one should retain so little of all that, and yet that one should clearly remember going with J.M.B. and George, presumably the morning after the funeral, to an old-fashioned, long since pulled down shop in the Haymarket, called Little, to purchase exciting, slender 8 foot fly-rods, and fine casts and flies, with which to divert ourselves during the remainder of the holidays! For it had been decided, by those who took charge of our destinies, that George and I should go back with J.M.B., not indeed to Ashton itself, but to Oare, a mile or so higher up the little river, there is a fish on till Eton and Wilkinson’s claimed us; while Jack went his separate way to Guy and Gwen du M. at Longmoor.

Michael and Nico still has Ashton, George and I almost within sight of it – it seems an odd solution; but doubtless other solutions were thought of and discussed and found impracticable. And I dare say it worked well enough, and that the new rods helped, as no doubt J.M.B. with generous cunning knew that they would, do the trick. At any rate one seems to remember quite enjoying oneself, flogging the little uplands streams and hauling out the little trout, and putting the lowly worm behind one for ever.

But I think perhaps this is the place to insert the “Will”, to which I referred a few lines back. It is written in pencil, on seven sheets of 23 C.H.S. writing paper. In the top right- hand corner of the first page, in J.M.B.’s handwriting, in ink (but undated) are the words:

“This was written by Mrs Davies on her deathbed at Ashton, Exmoor, Devonshire. She had told me she was writing it. J.M. Barrie.“

Last year (1949) I found a copy of it, in J.M.B.’s handwriting, in an envelope addressed to Emma du Maurier among May’s effects. At the end of this copy J.M.B. had written “The above is an exact copy, including the word Sylvia’s Will, of paper found by me at 23 Campden Hill Square on March 24th, 1911. It is undated, but I do not doubt it to be the Will written by her at Ashton, Exmoor, a few days before her death, of which all she told me was ‘I thought I was dying and I began to write a will.’ I think she said this took place in the night time. I believe it to be unfinished, and that it came back to London with her things. “

SYLVIA’S WILL

I would like everything to go on as far as possible as it has been lately. Twenty-three [Campden Hill Square] to be kept up for the dear boys with Mary (whom I trust with my whole heart) looking after them.

At any time I know friends who love them will come & stay sometimes – one at a time – & see them & be with them for a little just as if I was there. What I wd like wd be if Jenny wd come to Mary & that the two together would be looking after the boys & the house & helping each other. And it would be so nice for Mary.

I would like Mama & J.M.B. & Guy & Crompton to be trustees & guardians to the boys & that May & Margaret would give their dear advice & care. (Trixie has boys of her own but I know she wd do all that is possible). I would also like the advice of dear Hugh Macnaghten, Frederick Oliver, George Booth.

J.M.B. I know will do everything in his power to help our boys – to advise, to comfort, to sympathise in all their joys & sorrows.

At present my Jack is going into the Navy – if he should grow to dislike it and if there was anything else, I know he (J.M.B.) would do all that was best. I want all the boys to treat him (& their uncles) with absolute confidence & straightforwardness & to talk to him about everything. I know he will understand always & be loving & patient. I hope from my soul that they will be happy & lead good lives & be as much as possible like their most beloved father & I also hope that if they marry they will be good & tender husbands & fathers & be with their wives as happy as he & I were.

What money I have to leave I wish divided between them – the money that comes to me through dear Papa goes on to them by his Will.

They have all been the most splendid & beloved & affectionate & open sons & I know they will go on being affectionate brothers & help each other all they can in the years to come.

I do not want my Michael to be pressed at all at work – he is at present not very strong but very keen & intelligent: great care must be taken not to overwork him. Mary understands & of course J.M.B. knows & will be careful & watch.

I do not wish any of my dear boys to look at me when I am dead – it is a great mistake I think – let them remember me at my best & when I could look at them – that must have been the best time always because I love them so utterly.

I will be cremated & buried with my Arthur at Hampstead next to beloved Papa.

Perhaps Mama or May will keep my trinkets & give them to the wives of my five boys when the time comes.

I would like May to have any of my garments she would wear – I wd like her to wear them – and if Trixie would care to have some also I would like it though she generally has enough – I wd like May to see if there was any frock Daisy’s girl Bel wd like – also Nelly Hozier. I don’t of course mean old things. I want Mama to have all my musquash fur. Also my bath chair in case she may need it.

I would like Mama to go over my letters in case anything has to be kept – otherwise I would like everything burnt.

I do not want any of my boys to go to my funeral, nor do I want it made into a long gloomy day for them.

*

The last sentence comes at the foot of the seventh page, in such a way that one can’t tell whether there were further pages which have been lost. There is no full-stop, but Sylvia was not at any time very particular about punctuation. It may have been unfinished, or a further page or pages may been lost at Ashton. The seven pages are in an envelope inscribed “Mrs Davies’s Will” in JMB’s handwriting.

The writing is quite strong, but not always very clear, though the only word I have found undecipherable is the name of Daisy’s girl (I don’t know at all who she was).

Jenny was Mary Hodgson sister, to obtain whose services a previous attempt had been vainly made, in 1901. Nothing ever came of the suggestion. (JMB in his copy made for Emma transcribed “Jenny” as “Jimmy”. There is, however, no doubt that “Jenny” is right.)

Nelly Hozier, later Romilly, was the younger of Lady Blanche Hozier’s two daughters, the elder, Clementine, having married Winston Churchill in 1908.

Was this most moving document ever shown to myself or to any of us? I have no recollection of ever having seen it before I unearthed it from the dusty depths of JMB’s desk after his death; but it is possible I may have read it in years gone by, and forgotten it. One seems to be capable of the most astounding feats of forgetfulness, often perhaps semi- deliberate. In its simplicity (yet hers was, I think, by no means so simple a character as Arthur’s) its lack of self pity, its loving kindness, its thoughtfulness for others, its freedom from the conventional sentiments of the dying, it is to me supremely impressive. The note of resignation which I seem to detect in it may imply a willing acceptance of release from the discomfort and pain and misery of her long illness, or (as I also believe) an admission that, for all her love of her sons, life had meant little to her since the death of Arthur. The absence of any allusion to the consolations of religion, both in this and the earlier “Will” almost certainly bears witness to her scepticism in that respect; but she may have felt, I suppose, that annihilation could be a form of reunion.

He first deceased; she for a little tried
to live without him; liked it not, and died.

Though it is nowhere explicitly stated, there is a clear enough underlying assumption that the principal part in the direction of her sons’ destinies would be taken by JMB. He is named more often and more prominently than any of the other “trustees and guardians”. On the other hand there is no suggestion that he was to have sole control, either financially – but perhaps the financial vagueness of the will suggests that this was taken for granted – or as guide, counsellor and friend. Of this more later.

The burning of letters must, I think, have been done pretty thoroughly. All between Sylvia and Arthur were undoubtedly destroyed. I suppose JMB could not find it in his heart to destroy those to himself from her which appear in the present record. The spirit in which, after nearly 40 years, I have reproduced them, and a few others which survived is, I trust, sufficiently pious to absolve me from any charge of going against her wishes in the matter.

It is not within my powers to sum up Sylvia’s qualities, nor will Jack or Nico expect it of me. There are naturally no obituary letters, adequate or otherwise, such as those which were written to her about Arthur after his death. All I can do, by way of bringing this part of the family morgue to a conclusion, is to insert here the rather sketchy and not altogether successful attempt at a résumé of her memories of Sylvia, which Dolly Ponsonby gave me recently in addition to the various extracts from her diaries which I have already inserted in their appropriate places.

“My sister (i.e. Gwen Parry, Mrs. Plunket Green) said the other day that you couldn’t describe Sylvia, because she was indescribable. I think everyone who saw her felt this, while in many cases what is termed charm is relative. I remember my father speaking of her, his very expressive grey eyes full of sadness, and with sigh: ‘She’s got such a wonderful lot of temperament.’ As you know, this word can be interpreted in different ways. I should say she had the genius of temperament. She was gay on the surface, with a delicious and real sense of humour, but never malicious. We were both mimics, and she had really a penetrating critical faculty, and would imitate the sort of thing certain people would say on certain occasions.

I can’t ever forget her voice and laugh – and her extraordinary grace which grew with years – the shape of her arms and hands and her most lovely neck.

I don't want to say that Sylvia was perfect. Perfection is dull, but she was perfect to me. I was always very critical and yet throughout the years from 1892 till she died, I cannot remember any occasion when I should not have been filled with joy at seeing her or being with her. This is testified by my diaries. I loved her little feminine weaknesses, such as being frightened of going out in the dark. I used to have to see her home in the country after dinner. I cannot think of any faults she had, unless it was that she would not answer letters – and enjoyed the admiration of men, naturally – while at the same time never apparently wanting to be the centre of a circle – which is very rare.

She had some curiously old-fashioned virtues. She did not like one to criticize any one at all before the children. I remember her saying “Ssh” when I burst out with something about J.M.B. and Mary Barrie, who were staying at Rustington – looking at Michael, and I felt quite ashamed.

She had certain rules and regulations she laid down in bringing up her family. When I look back on it, I think it was very remarkable – to have five sons, and to keep them what one may call in order, so that one could be with them without any sense of bother, and she had no theories – only a general sense of balance and quality. All the niceties of behaviour she thought of – and Arthur the definite moral principles. He was so tender and gentle with children, but I never met one who feared him, in spite of his rather severe though wonderful looks. His anger at any force being applied to a weaker creature was extreme.

It does not seem to me remarkable in Sylvia, who could have had the world at her feet, that she preferred so much to look after her children and her home. She went about comparatively little, beyond association with her friends. Her sense of responsibility was strong and her tact quite exceptional – and occasionally the devoted Mary [Hodgson] was trying.

As I grew older, I realised that she was much more profound than as quite a young girl I had thought. Though so completely happy in her family, yet her sensitiveness and intuition did give her what I call an apprehensive imagination. She loved so much that she feared.

Perhaps there were people who didn't know what her passionate devotion to your father was – I have neither before nor since known such anguish as she suffered during his illness. She burst out twice to me about it, but not more – words were inadequate to both of us – and always her reserve about what she cared about was very strong. She had an inner life of her own, which is what gave her her great interest. I think I did know her as well as anybody – and I know that many of her lesser friends merely saw the charming vivacious lovely exterior, which is what she chose to show them.

Lady Ponsonby would certainly not claim for her sketch that it provides more than a shadowy and blurred likeness. It will have to serve here, since I can find no other, and it is much better than nothing.

[AB: Peter was clearly unaware of the following letter from Henry James to Emma du Maurier, held at the University of Nebraska:]

*

[NOT IN THE MORGUE]

[Henry James to Emma du Maurier, on black-edged paper]

Chocorua,
New Hampshire,
U.S.A.
11 September 1910

My dear dear Mrs du Maurier,
It is by a letter from Mrs Francis Ford, my Sussex neighbour, that I am unutterably shocked and stricken to hear of the tragic fact of dear Sylvia’s death. It moves me to the deepest pity and sympathy that you should have had helplessly to watch the dreadful process of her going, and to see that beautiful, that exquisite light mercilessly quenched. What you have had to go through in it all, dear Mrs du Maurier, and what you all, and what her young children, have, affects me more than I can say. She leaves with us an image of such extraordinary loveliness, nobleness and charm – ever unforgettable and touching. What a tragedy all this latter history of hers! May you yourself find strength somehow not to be shaken to pieces by such sorrows. They call out for you all my faithfullest old friendship and affection – and above all make me want to know about her children, of whose brightness and bravery and promise I have so delightful an impression.

I saw her much less lately than I desired – I had so long and dismal an illness myself for so many months of this dreadful year. And since then, being somewhat better, but miserably anxious and overstrained for my last surviving, my elder and beloved brother, I helped my poor sister-in-law to bring him back to this place from England, terribly suffering, and dying in the plenitude of his great powers – so that we too are stricken and sitting in darkness. He died here 16 days ago. I stay in America a while – some months – to be near her and his children – but I shall see you as soon as possible after that – as soon as all this darkness clears a little.

Please believe, dearest Mrs du Maurier, in all the old-time intimacy of interest of your faithfullest Henry James

*

Meanwhile the thought occurs to me – before we move on to contemplate the two final instalments in this morgue [i.e. up to George’s death in 1915, and the abandoned final section up to Michael’s death in 1921] – that much the most painful part of your commentator’s task is now over. The things that follow are neither so far off nor, intrinsically, so unhappy. A kind of haunted, through-a-glass-darkly atmosphere clouds one’s childish recollections of untoward events, and somehow enhances and distorts them in a rather nightmarish sort of way. From all that, the later memories which follow are free. And when all’s said and done, the sudden snuffing out of those two brief candles in 1915 in 1921, though tragic enough, was as nothing, for sheer misery and despair, beside the long drawn out agonies of 1906-1910.

“You can’t believe in a God who let that happen to Arthur and Sylvia,” Arthur Ponsonby used to say to his wife, so she told me when I re-met her the other day after all those years. Well, of course, countless highly intelligent people can and do, though I can never see that it makes all that amount of difference. The intolerable things happen, just the same. To plenty of people “Thy will be done” remains the answer; I dare say it comes to pretty much the same thing in the end. Poor old man has to have some way of relieving his outraged feelings, when confronted with tragedy, through whichever way he chooses, though I doubt if it helps in much. To the classically minded Anthony Hope the marriage of those two seemed, as he notes in his autobiography, so perfect a thing “that one was tempted to see in the feet that destroyed it the envy of the gods.” An idle enough fancy, respectable for its antiquity, but only applicable, one would say, if the envy one joins extreme malignancy.

Human tragedies are not the monopoly of the Davies family. Since 1914, indeed, they have become so commonplace and widespread that particular examples are apt to become submerged in the universal misery. But, prejudice apart, there was something not often paralleled about Arthur and Sylvia and their doom. That which seemed atrocious to Arthur Ponsonby and other friends and acquaintances had obviously an additional, special and dire significance for the five wretched young parties most intimately concerned, three of whom may still ask themselves, vainly enough, whether Arthur’s death or Sylvia’s was the more disastrous to their children. Yet the banker to whom, years later, Nico repaired preparatory to making his debut in the city, greeted him – and in doing so voiced the sentiments of the world at large – with the words: “So you’re one of the lucky boys who were adopted by Sir James Barrie.”

Meagre and incomplete as this record is, I dare say there is enough in it to suggest that the banker was expressing rather less than half the truth of the matter.

* * * *

Some Davies Letters and Papers

1907-1910

Compiled by

Peter Llewelyn Davies

[AB: See “Some Davies Papers & Letters, 1889-1897” for an introduction to ‘The Morgue’. The layout is exactly as Peter had it typed up, except that all formatting has been removed, being inconsistent with the website technology, and first names substituted for Peter's initials, e.g. Sylvia Ll.D. instead of S.Ll.D. or Sylvia instead of S., except where used in contemporary letters. A number of additional letters have come to light since Peter compiled his Morgue, and I have included them here where relevant. The originals of some letters can be found in the database, mostly ones that Peter didn’t have while compiling the Morgue, and thus evaded his systematic destruction.

This volume ends with the following post-script, written by Nico and dated February 1962:

“I think Peter’s plan was to add to this “morgue” (as he liked to call it) both at the end – to include George’s death in action, March 15, 1915 aged 21, and Michael’s drowning at Oxford, May 19, 1921 a month before his 21st birthday – and at the beginning (one notices the word “continued” on the title page of the first typescript), perhaps the whole to stem from Father’s birth.

It was, of course, only for family consumption – Jack and myself, and the wives and children of the three of us; with, presumably, a Davies or du Maurier cousin if they would be interested.

Peter fully edited and distributed to Jack and me the first two volumes – up to Arthur’s death – in, I think, 1952, but in spite of constant proddings from me never produced a fair copy of the third volume, and so far as I can trace never started serious compilation of material prior to 1889 or post 1910.**

Jack died on September 17, 1959, aged 65; and Peter shortly after on April 5, 1960, age 63. So – fairly enough, I suppose, as I was the youngest – I’m the only survivor.

I think Peter’s compilation wholly remarkable, a brilliant – he was brilliant – labour of love; so it has given me infinite pleasure to arrange the fair copy of this third volume, just instructing the typist where to insert Peter’s handwritten additions, i.e. it’s all Peter’s work, in the hopes that Arthur’s and Sylvia’s grandchildren may like to know a little more about their family tree.”]

[AB: ** Nico later found two earlier volumes, 1812-1874, and 1874-1881, as well as the last volume, 1911-1915.]

*

The following “directions” are in Sylvia’s handwriting, in ink, on three sheets of unheaded paper. They do not seem to have been completed, and there is no date; the envelope in which I found them in J.M.B.’s desk has on it in his handwriting: “Notes for a Will, written by Mrs. Davies at Berkhamsted soon after Mr. Davies’s death. J.M. Barrie.”:

I may die at any time but it's not likely to happen yet as I am strong I think on the whole. However in case it happens (& God forbid because of my precious boys) I will put down a few directions. I wonder if my dear kind Florence Gay [a close family friend] would care to make a home for them till they are out in the world (if she is still single) as she is so good and kind to them always and so understanding and she could always ask advice from Margaret & J.M.B. & Trixie & May & all the kind uncles – (also of course Mama if she is still alive). With dear Mary Hodgson, & I hope she will stay with them always (unless she marries). Florrie would find it not too unattractive I hope to think of what I ask. The boys are fond of her and she has known their mother for very many years.

I believe they will all be good brave men (seeing that they are Arthur's sons & understand how very very much they were beloved by him & Sylvia, his altogether faithful & loving wife). I hope they will marry & have children & live long & happily & be content to be poor if it should have to be, and that they will always be very careful (whatever incomes they have) to live within their means. Also that they will realise that there is nothing so perfect as a true love match & in that no one was ever more blessed than their own mother. I hope that they will work hard, for to be idle is disastrous, that at play time (& everyone can play a little) I like to think of them doing so in a dear healthy honest way & bringing happiness to others as well as to themselves. After their beloved father I want them to think of their uncle Theodore and I hope they remember him.

I should like all my dear one's love letters to me to be burnt unread, but the one he wrote to me just before his operation (to read while he was unconscious) they (the boys) may each read & then please let it be cremated with me & lie with me & Arthur in the Hampstead churchyard close to that other dear grave.

If it is possible for dear Florrie to do what I ask, of course a sum of money will be paid her each year, but that will be settled by Crompton. Of one thing I am certain – that J.M. Barrie (the best friend in the whole world) will always be ready to advise out of his love for

*

In J.M.B.’s handwriting are added the words: “This paper which ends thus was found after Mrs. Davies’s death. It was evidently written (as relatives agree) at Berkhamsted soon after Mr. Davies’s death. J.M. Barrie.”

But for the confident assignment of these “directions” by J.M.B., and presumably by Crompton and Margaret and Trixie or May, to the late spring or summer of 1907, I should have felt a little doubtful of dating them so early. I still think it possible that they may have been written two years or so later, when Sylvia felt the first approach of her own fatal disease. (There is no indication as to when or where J.M.B found them.) But I feel no strong conviction on the point, and accordingly insert them here.

Florrie Gay I have referred to, inadequately but as well as I can, on an earlier page. In the later “Will” which Sylvia wrote down a few nights before her death, there is no mention of her.

It seems clear that, whenever Sylvia wrote these directions, it had not occurred to her that we should be so comprehensively “looked after” by J.M.B. as in fact we eventually were. This might be thought an argument in favour of the earlier dating of them; but J.M.B.’s divorce proceedings did not materialise until late 1909 (decree nisi, October 13th), so that his own future was bound up with Mary Barrie until then. And in point of fact, nowhere in the documents I have, neither in any of the letters, nor in the final “Will”, nor anywhere else, is there mention of any definite undertaking on our behalf by J.M.B.

Sylvia had very little money of her own: there must have been a thousand or two of Arthur’s, and there were a (very) few thousands which had been left to her during her lifetime, and thereafter to us, under George du Maurier’s will. I have always understood that there was a whip round among the uncles – kind uncles indeed. But on any showing there was precious little out of which to deal with five boys and their education, without J.M.B. in the background. There is a vagueness about the financial future which suggests that Sylvia was not very exact in the matter of money. I don’t mean that she was in the least extravagant; on the contrary I am sure that her insistence on the importance of living within one’s means was heartfelt and sincere; though I daresay it reflected the influence of Arthur rather than Sylvia’s own natural inclinations. Her father both preached and practised a frugality of which Davieses and Cromptons would have approved, but I don’t think he transmitted his carefulness to his children, from what I remember of Trixie, Guy and Gerald. Perhaps to Sylvia, as to many women and not a few men, money was something that generally turns up somehow or other, in sufficient quantities to make life tolerable. And perhaps this attitude, which is very far from being a greedy or grasping one, made it easy for her to accept the money which J.M.B. was so ready to give.

I have referred earlier to the particular fondness Sylvia had for Theodore Ll.D., dating from the Swiss holiday during the time of her engagement to Arthur. Early death no doubt crystallises such feelings; we all know that. But he was certainly an outstanding character, even in that family, and I wish I could say I remembered him in any serious sense of the word.

Later: Recently (1950), happening to glance through An Autobiography & Other Essays by George Macaulay Trevelyan, O.M., published in 1949, I came across the following passage: “Another Trinity man slightly senior to myself, whom I knew and loved, was Theodore Llewelyn Davies, of the Treasury. The men among whom I lived all looked up to him as an elder brother. He was the best of us all, and died in a bathing accident in 1905. Intimacy with such seniors I have always regarded as one of the chief blessings of my life and I am glad to think I made the most of the chance.”

Conscious of having failed, anywhere in this compilation, to “characterise” the Llewelyn Davies brothers at all adequately, I asked the distinguished old historian if he could amplify his high estimate of Theodore. He replied: “I think the remarkable thing about Theodore was the balance of his qualities making a perfect man. He was at once so solid and reliable and so wise in judgement, and with that so full of human sympathy, of humour, and of love for all that was best in poetry. I do not think his artistic side was equally developed, but his friends were not very artistic, though deeply interested in literature and, latterly, in politics. The reliance we all had on his character was extraordinary.”

All Sylvia’s letters from Arthur were destroyed, probably by joint consent and act of the uncles and aunts and J.M.B. after her death; unless she destroyed them herself, when she knew death was near. I don’t remember that the particular letter from Arthur to which reference is made in these “directions” was read by any of us – certainly not by me; it cannot have been buried with her. When Arthur’s ashes were interred in the churchyard at Hampstead, following the funeral service at the Golders Green crematorium on April 23th, I don’t know. Perhaps later the same day. “That dear grave” is the grave of George du Maurier.

What would the next word or words have been if Sylvia had not stop writing when she did?

Jocelyn? My precious boys?

A saddish document.

*

[NOT IN THE MORGUE]

[Sylvia Ll.D. to Dolly Ponsonby]

Egerton House,
Berkhamsted.
[May, 1907]

Dear Darling Dolly,
I think of you so often & I know how you love Arthur & me & that helps me in my sorrow – You will love me always won't you – & help me to live through the long long years. How shall I do it I wonder – it seems so impossible. We were so utterly & altogether happy & that happiness is the most precious thing on earth. We were so young to part. I must be terribly brave now & I know our boys will help me. They only can keep me alive & I shall live for them and do always what Arthur w[oul]d most like for them. How he loved us all & he has been taken from us. Kind Hugh Macnaghten – a dear friend of Arthur's – is going to have George in his house at Eton in September. Thus was a promise made by Arthur to Hugh some time ago, and I am very grateful to Hugh for his love and generosity. I am grateful to many many friends, & I will show it some day I hope, but just now I am full of deadly pain & sorrow & I often wonder I am alive. The little boys are loving & thoughtful & I always sleep with my George now – & it comforts, more than I can say, to touch him, & I feel Arthur must know. He will live again in them I feel & that must be my dear comfort till I go to him at last. We longed to grow old together – oh my dear friend, it is all so utterly impossible to understand. My Jack is at Osborne now & writes happy letters to me – I am going to pay him a visit when I am strong enough – I miss him very much – but they have all got to be men & leave me & for Arthur's sake I must fight that fight too. I shall come to London later on – we are trying to let the house – it is too big for me & too full of pain & sorrow. I think of him almost always now as he was before the tragic illness & God gavehim the finest face in the world.

Lovingly,
Your Sylvia.

[AB: This heart-breaking letter fell out of one of Nico’s books – he had no idea where it came from, but clearly Peter didn’t have it when compiling his Morgue.]

*

Very few letters remain dealing with the months immediately succeeding Arthur’s death. Most of what I remember myself is too childish to have more than a private significance, and the last thing I want is to let this record degenerate into mere personal reminiscences of my own. But a few notes seem more or less necessary here.

Life went on for a while, in a half-hearted way, at Egerton House. I recall, not in much detail, but with a vague sense of misery and discomfort which still survives, the return of Jack, Michael and Nico and myself with Mary Hodgson from Ramsgate, and the ineffably tragic figure of Sylvia in her despair.

Did anyone – aunts, uncles, Emma du M., J.M.B., Florrie – come to stay at Egerton House, to comfort Sylvia and help with the bothers and worries which must have descended on her at this time. Probably, but I don’t remember.

Nor can I be sure whether Jack went off at once to Osborne for the summer term of 1907, the first of the family to leave home, or whether like George, he stayed on for one more term at Berkhamsted School, where I remained myself; Michael going, as I suppose, to some nearby kindergarten, and Nico being still in the nursery. Adult observation must have found it a melancholy household.

When J.M.B. from the start made himself responsible for Jack at Osborne I don’t know, but it seems likely; and I take it that meanwhile arrangements were come to with Hugh Macnaghten to take George into his house at Eton as soon as a vacancy occurred, i.e. in the coming winter half. By the summer Sylvia had decided to give up Egerton House and return to London – doubtless with financial help from J.M.B.

Of the last phase at Berkhamsted I have one little recollection which, though not particularly edifying, is perhaps worth recording. One day George and I were larking about in an intolerable way, arguing and letting off steam and very likely shouting at the top of our voices and generally making the most abominable and unattractive nuisance of ourselves – the scene being the small sitting room to the right of the big hall dining room as you entered the house – until at last poor Sylvia, exasperated beyond endurance, cried out “Oh stop, stop, stop! You know you would never dare behave like this if your father was still alive!” I can still hear her distracted voice as she said these words, or words very like them, and still feel the turmoil of shame and resentment with which we (or I at any rate) subsided into half-sulky, half-giggling quiescence. I only put this horrid little memory in because it is an instance on the one hand of the apparent, and to a certain extent real, heartlessness or thoughtlessness of small boys – a necessary condition of their development and survival, possibly – and on the other of the unquestionable fact that the removal of the infinitely kind but also just and respected Arthur from our lives removed and influence wholly admirable and of irreplaceable value to the formation of our characters. I am not implying that this scene was typical of the atmosphere in the family at that time; only that to ignore it all together would be mere sentimentality. We had often misbehaved pretty horribly while Arthur was still alive, but as a rule got effectively, though not very heavily sat on in consequence. He never laid over his knee and spanked us, as I regret to say I have occasionally done with my own boys. Jack indeed remembers being kicked up the behind by Arthur, who for once lost his temper with him for some intolerableness or other – I think Jack was cheekily and obstreperously refusing to go for a walk with the rest of us at Ramsgate, or something of the sort. And what he remembers still more clearly is that Arthur came to him later in the day and unmanned him utterly by apologising. Anyhow, from now onwards there was no masculine or paternal authority over us: a bad thing.

I have nothing material to add here as regards those last months in Berkhamsted. I remember being miserably conscious of the black tie and armband which distinguished me from my fellows at the school, and of painfully in some warped complex fashion fearing and resenting their questionings and their kindly, well-meant expressions of sympathy when one had to answer that one’s father was dead. And otherwise what I chiefly recall are the cricket and the stickleback fishing and the fun of all sorts in which one indulged with one’s contemporaries, in blissful oblivion, for the most part, after a brief interval, of the domestic tragedy.

The four following poems or extracts are in Sylvia’s handwriting. They do not necessarily belong to this date. Three of them – the three which come first – are copied out, in pencil, on 31 Kensington Park Gardens writing paper, and may date back to then, though it is quite possible that she may have kept some leftover bits of that paper till 1907. The last of the four is in ink, on unheaded paper. I don’t remember where I found them, and there is thus no clue, that I can see, as to when they were written, or why they happened to have been preserved. If I put them here, it is because, interesting as they are to me at whatever period of Sylvia’s life she wrote them down, they seem to fit in now at least as appropriately as anywhere else in this record.

*

“Give me back, give me back the wild freshness of morning.
Her clouds and her tears are worth evening’s best light.”

(On the back of the back of the above)

“The past is death’s, the future is thine known. Take it while it is still yours, and fix your mind, not on what you have done long ago to hurt, but on what you can do now to help.” Shelley

*

Vous et moi.

Vos yeux sereins et purs ont voulu me sourire,
Votre main comme une aile a caressé ma main,
Mais je ne sais trouver, hélas! rien à vous dire,
Car nous ne marchons pas dans le même chemin.

Vous êtes le soleil d'un beau jour qui commence,
Et moi la nuit profonde et l'horizon couvert;
Vous êtes fleur, étoile, et joyeuse cadence,
Vous êtes le printemps, et moi je suis l'hiver!

Vous buvez les rayons et respirez les roses,
Car vous êtes l'aurore, et moi la fin du jour;
Il faut nous dire adieu sans en chercher les causes,
Car je suis le regret, et vous êtes l'amour.”
Comtesse de Castellane

[AB: An approximate translation:

Your serene, pure eyes want to smile at me
Your hand like a wing caresses my hand,
But alas, I don’t know what to say to you,
For we are not walking the same path.

You are the rising sun of a beautiful day,
And I the deep night and the lost horizon;
You are flowers, stars, joyous cadences,
For you are spring, and I am winter.

You drink light and breathe roses,
For you are the dawn, and I the end of the day;
We must say goodbye without looking for causes,
For I am regret, and you are love.]

*

Hymn to Adversity.

“Adversity, the daughter of Jove, frightens the wicked, and afflicts the good. Even Kings she subdues with unwonted sorrow. To her Jove entrusted the care of his only child, when he sent it to Earth, and truly she was a stern nurse who taught what sorrow and pity were.
From her frown folly and laughter, … and joy, fly, and with them all who are friends in word, but not in deed, who follow in prosperity’s wake. May she be gentle to me and not approach me in the guise of… despair, sickness or poverty. Rather may she come to me in a softer mood, to teach me to be patient and soft, to love and to forgive, and, observing my faults, to feel that I deserve to be a man.”

*

“Give me back, give me back,” etc. These beautiful lines of Tom Moore’s. Though I was sure of this, I wrote to Desmond MacCarthy and asked him where they came from. He confirmed their authorship but didn’t say where they occur, and I had some difficulty in tracking them down to the poem beginning (I’ve forgotten how it does begin, now). Desmond M. in his letter recalled that they were favourite lines of Crompton Ll. D's and added, by the way, that he had known no family in his life for whom he entertained a greater respect than the Llewelyn Davieses. Crompton was the one he knew best – they were Cambridge contemporaries – and I believe I have mentioned earlier that Crompton was godfather to Desmond M’s daughter Rachel, who married David Cecil.

I don’t know where the Shelley quotation is from, nor the “Hymn to Adversity”, which may or may not be a translation from the Greek or Latin, and both the Comtesse de Castellane and her charming poem are quite unknown to me.

[AB: “Give me back, give me back” is from the ballad I Saw From the Beach by the Irish poet Thomas Moore (1779-1852):

I saw from the beach, when the morning was shining,
A bark o'er the waters move gloriously on;
I came when the sun o'er that beach was declining,
The bark was still there, but the waters were gone.

And such is the fate of life's early promise,
So passing the spring-tide of joy we have known:
Each wave that we danced on at morning ebbs from us,
And leaves us, at eve, on the bleak shore alone.

Ne'er tell me of glories serenely adorning
The close of our day, the calm eve of our night;
Give me back, give me back the wild freshness of Morning,
Her clouds and her tears are worth Evening's best light.

Oh, who would not welcome that moment's returning,
When passion first wak'd a new life through his frame;
And his soul, like the wood that grows precious in burning,
Gave out all its sweets to love's exquisite flame!

“The past is death’s, the future is thine own” is from Shelley’s The Revolt of Islam, Canto VIII, Verse XXII – but the poem continues quite differently: “And love and joy can make the foulest breast / A paradise of flowers, where peace might build her nest.” Nor does the rest of the quote sound like either poetry nor Shelley’s style. A further Google search reveals the answer. In a book called The Gadfly by the Irish writer Ethel Voynich, first published in 1897, one of the characters – Martini – tells another, “Remember what your own Shelley says: ‘The past is death’s, the future is thine own.’” Martini then goes on to say (no longer quoting Shelley) “Take it, while it is still yours, and fix your mind, not on what you may have done long ago to hurt, but on what you can do now to help.” If the title The Gadfly sounds familiar, the Soviets adapted it into a film in 1955, to which Dmitri Shostakovitch wrote the score, on which the celebrated Gadfly Suite is based.

Vous et Moi are the lyrics to a song set to music by Francesco Paolo Tosti (1846-1916). It was apparently first published in 1879, with words by Sofia Acquaviva d’Aragona, Countess of Castellana, born in Naples in 1855, died 1937.

The Hymn to Adversity appears to be a prose paraphrase of Thomas Grey’s 1742 poem of the same name, the opening lines being “Daughter of Jove, relentless Power, / Thou Tamer of the human breast, / Whose iron scourge and tort’ring hour / The Bad affright, afflict the Best!” The closing lines also carry the same sentiment as the concluding sentence in the quoted passage: “Teach me to love and to forgive, / Exact my own defects to scan, /What others are, to feel, and know myself a Man.” Samuel Johnson seemed to think that Grey “took the hint” from one of Horace’s Odes: 'O Diva, gratum quae regis Antium' …]

The nature of all the four extracts seems rather to point to 1907. But it remains perfectly possible that Sylvia may have had a habit, years before that, of copying out things which she had read and which had pleased her. If it was so, the note of regret or pathos which is common to all of them might indicate a characteristic trait. Denis Mackail, in trying to describe her as she was in early married life, no doubt from impressions given to him by those who had known her then, wrote the following:

“Sylvia was adored by everyone; first, no doubt—since it was the first thing that everyone noticed—for her looks, and then, as they got to know her better, for so much that was there as well. She could be mischievous, which was another family characteristic, and nothing human, as one might say, was outside her interest and sense of fun. Certainly no languishing beauty, but high-spirited and amusing and even fond of stories—again like the other du Mauriers—which weren’t supposed to be feminine in those days. Quick and clever, and with inherited good taste. But chiefly, perhaps—if one can forget those looks for a moment—someone who was real, free from all nonsense, and frank in her essential attitude towards life.

However, last as well as first, it was the looks that were remembered, and with very good reason, for there has been nothing like them since. She was a little taller and larger than the average, as though her father had drawn her—which, of course, more literally, he had done again and again—with movements that were sometimes even on the verge of being clumsy; and then weren’t, because she was Sylvia Davies, and the word just wouldn’t fit. Her nose was what is known as tip-tilted. Her mouth was firm and resolute, until suddenly there was a provoking and enchanting lift on one side. Her wide-spaced, grey eyes—But that’s the difficulty, and that is where all words must begin to fail. For human, happy Sylvia, a wife and mother who seemed so richly blessed, looked out at you with the most heart-rending and heart-piercing expression that you had ever seen. You knew—or you knew in those days—that this arrangement of her features was only an accident, that as yet it represented no inner tragedy or tragic philosophy, for wasn’t she making another part of you laugh at the same time? She was, indeed; and yet you were haunted. Such pathos, such poignancy—all in due time, Heaven knows, to be written there in genuine, dreadful suffering—but at this moment spiritualised, as it seemed, or made unearthly to a point that you could hardly stand. Does this sound like beauty? But it was, and other artists tumbled over each other to try and draw it, though perhaps not one of them could succeed—any more than we can—in reproducing what they thought they saw. So many subtleties; though perhaps more than half of them in the eye of the beholder. So many reasons, as their pencils toiled at this baffling task, why she shouldn’t be beautiful at all. Yet that’s what she was, and it didn’t take a draughtsman to see it. In one flash you knew it, and here at any rate was the one and only word that would do.”

[AB: I have extended Mackail’s description; the actual lines quoted by Peter are “Her wide-spaced, grey eyes” down to “A point that you could hardly stand.”]

*

Assuming that that is an accurate description, as I believe it to be in the main, and bearing in mind what has already been said about the Furse portrait, there is reason for believing that there was in Sylvia’s character, from early times and probably innate, an underlying tendency towards melancholy, a constant awareness of the lacrimae rerum. I feel sure somehow that it was so, though these fragments are the only tangible evidence of it which I have come across. A similar mentality is discernible in her father, through his novels but particularly through the quotations from the poets so freely scattered through them. And those quotations, by the way, from Musset, Hugo, Verlaine, Shelley, Byron etc., indicate a habit of reading the poets, and remembering them, which his daughter may well have inherited or acquired from him.

These fragments, then, so touching in their present context, may well have been copied out by Sylvia in the old, happy days at 31 Kensington Park Gardens, when sorrow to her was a mood rather than a reality; though there had been real sorrows, it is true, in 1895 and 1896, when first Mary Ll.D. and then George du Maurier died. But whenever they were written down, they shed a new and interesting light on her personality, of which in the end I know so little.

To return to facts. The question of the summer holidays, that dark year, was solved, like so much else by J.M.B., who discovered and rented, for the occasion, Dhivach Lodge, near Drumnadrochit, more or less in the wilds of Inverness-shire. Thither we all repaired, including Mary Barrie – how much did she relish the arrangement, one wonders? A queerish set up, in one way and another. To quote Denis again: “Arthur Davies’s death was so recent that still there must be the shadow of mourning. Kindness and hospitality from the host, whose main plan it had been that the boys should enjoy themselves, but moments of infectious blackness and gloom as well.”

I suppose the house, a pretty one for Scotland, most romantically situated among woods and mountains and waterfalls, may have been picked on partly because the du Mauriers had spent a summer at Drumnadrochit years before. I have the charming little pencil profile of Sylvia which was drawn there by her father in 1885, in her 19th year. So there were memories of happier, simpler days for her close by, that summer at Dhivach.

No letters referring to it survive. I remember it pretty well. The boys did enjoy themselves, sometimes still chasing butterflies but fishing madly with worms most of the time in every burn within walking distance. Various people came to stay, including Crompton Ll.D, whose advent was naturally the occasion of an ascent of the local mountain, Mealfourvonie, unhampered for once by any fishing paraphernalia; and nice Madge Murray, J.M.B.’s niece, then in her very early 20s, the most normal and human member of the Barrie family, who sang songs at the piano and I think must have introduced a welcome note of natural gaiety into the household; and Captain Scott and Harley Granville-Barker and Lillah [McCarthy] his then wife, a somewhat overwhelming person. Neither the sailor-explorer nor the producer-dramatist altogether appreciated (small blame to them) the game of “egg-cap” as somewhat viciously played by the undisciplined gang we were becoming.

It would be fascinating to know what such guests as these thoughts of the Dhivach inmates. Plenty of scope for comment, one would say. And however thoroughly the boys enjoyed it, there must have been uncomfortable moments among the adults.

Also present, having driven Mary Barrie and perhaps Madge up from London in the new Fiat, was the merry French chauffeur Alphonse, today host of the Pilot Boat inn at Bembridge [Isle of Wight], who still enquires after ‘Neekolah’ and speaks English as badly on purpose now as he did genuinely then. He knows a good deal that has never been made public, does the excellent Alphonse, having remained on at Black Lake Cottage until the final break up of the Cannan ménage, but he has the shrewdness and discretion of his race. His wife, one of the Black Lake maids, would I think be equally uncommunicative, though I have never put her to the test. A photograph of the Fiat hangs on the wall behind Alphonse as he wields the beer-handle in the public bar.

If I look back on the summer of 1907 with a certain – not exactly distaste but, for lack of a better word, discomfort, it is because, independently of those vague quarrellings with fate which do, I suppose, lurk still in the dusty attics of my brain, and which that summer first symbolises, in retrospect, with any sharpness; independently of all that, and of the fact that I enjoyed myself hugely at the time, the whole pattern of the Dhivach holiday seems me to have had something rather deplorable about it. I won’t try to elaborate any further; possibly Jack, possibly Nico, though too young to have felt it, will understand what I have failed to express in this intolerably shapeless paragraph.

At the end of the holiday George went to Hugh Macnaghten’s [at Eton], Jack back to Osborne, and the rest of us lingered on for a few weeks at Berkhamsted, while preparations were made for the move to London.

*

[Thomas Armstrong to Emma du Maurier]

The Abbot’s House,
Abbot’s Langley, Herts.
9 August 1907

My dear Mrs. du Maurier,

We were very glad to have your letter and to know that you are in comfortable quarters at Bude…

I have had two short notes from Sylvia but she said nothing about the house. She wrote about a stone to put over Arthur’s grave but she has not told me what I wanted most to know. I am afraid Arthur is buried so near Kicky [= George du Maurier] that anything on his grave would be under the drip of the yew tree. I have not been able to go to see. However, there is no hurry, for the manager of Farmer and Brindley, the great marble merchants, to whom I must go in search of a suitable material, is away till the end of the month…

8 September 1907:

… On Monday of last week I went to see Farmer and Brindley, the great marble and stone workers, to enquire about suitable material for a stone to put over Arthur Davies’ grave. Sylvia said she would like a green one, if it could be had. There is no coloured material which will be durable out of doors except the red granite so commonly used and it is too hard to have the carving done which she desires. I think the colour of polished granite very unpleasant. She has not told me what the legend is to be, only that she would like lilies of the valley introduced and the carving of these would be very difficult in any kind of granite. I wonder how much she ought to spend and if she would care more for a pleasing effect now than for durability. She must surely be coming to look after her things at Berkhamsted very soon so perhaps I can see her …

Ever yours affect’ly
T. Armstrong

*

The writer of the letters from which the above extracts are taken, and which I found among [May du M.’s husband] Coley’s effects, was George du M.’s oldest surviving intimate friend of the old Trilby days, and was Trixie’s godfather. He had been head of the Victoria & Albert Museum, and was also a decorative artist of some repute. His home was only a few miles from Berkhamsted and he had very likely visited Egerton House, though I don’t remember him.

I take it that the stone which marks the grave now, a few feet from the grave of George du M., and to which the names of Sylvia, George and Michael have from time to time been added, is the one designed by Tom A. At Sylvia’s request. It is not unpleasing and I think of greenish stone. The drip from the yew tree does not seem to have had any damaging effect. On the other hand the stone which marks the grave of A.’s father, two or three years away, is rather defaced by drips.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D. at Berkhamsted]

Eton College
Windsor
Goodness knows what date!
[18 September 1907]

Dearest Mother,
At last I am in my study, but, alas! not my [indecipherable]. It’s not a bad den, and will be able to be fitted up jolly nicely. Will you ask Aunt Trixie to send me some of Grand-papa’s pictures – about a dozen if possible. There is a cupboard above my bed full of grub from the hamper, oh joy!

I have spoken to two or three chaps here already. They are jolly decent. One is called Lord Newtown Butler. He used to be in this study last half.

The Matron came in just now and has taken care of all my chink. She is awfully decent, and she takes lots of chaps’ chink. She saw my picture of you and said you were very pretty.

I have put up some photos over the mantelpiece (there’s a fire, not pipes). I’m afraid there’s nothing else to say.

Good-bye
from your loving son
George.
P.S. Mr. and Miss M. are very well.

*

I take this to be George’s first letter from Eton. Whether Sylvia had taken him down there I don’t know: it sounds rather as if she hadn’t seen the “den” or sized up its decorational or heating potentialities. Perhaps she had taken Jack to Osborne, in which case J.M.B. may have accompanied George.

Grand-papa’s pictures would be “Punch” and similar drawings by George du M., of which apparently Trixie Millar had charge of the family store. A dozen seems rather a lot for one very small room.

The underlining of Lord is a sign that members of the peerage had been very rare birds in the family background up until now. On the other hand I am glad to put it on record that [Peter’s eldest son] Rivvy Ll.D, when he went to Eton in 1946, seemed just as surprised as George at the thought that there could possibly be any Lord in his house.

Mr. and Mrs. M. Are Hugh Macnaghten and his sister Kitty who more or less kept house for him.

Interesting to compare this letter with Arthur’s first letter from Marlborough. Despite the three years difference in their ages – Arthur was just under 11, George just over 14 – Arthur’s is in every respect the better of the two: much longer, better expressed, more informative, not so “young”. I fancy children in general stayed young a good deal younger in our generation than in Arthur’s, though as I believe I have said elsewhere, I think Jack wrote a better letter than George, and may have matured sooner, apart from any natural gift in that direction. But I don’t think he came up to Arthur’s standard at 11.

George seems to have settled in very quickly and happily at Eton. I am not sure whether he took Remove or Upper Fourth. He is much less informative about his work than Arthur in his schoolboy letters to his mother. Doubtless there would have been a difference here if Arthur had been alive to receive letters from his eldest son.

[AB: Lord Newtown-Butler (aka John Brinsley Danvers) 1893-1912]

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Tuesday, October 1st, 1907
Eton College
Windsor.

Dearest Mother,
I don’t think there is anything I want out of Egerton House in the way of furniture. Will you please send me, however, the photograph of Smee taken by Aunt May, if you can find it. I think it is in one of the pigeon-holes in the school room. Also will you send me those photos of the garden by Mr. Locock if you can get some more prints from him, and some slip-in frames for them; if possible like the green ones in which I put those of the hall and drawing room.

I begin fagging tomorrow. My fag master is called Millington-Drake, and he is, I believe, awfully strict. The captain of the house is called McMinnes. He is very small, and is greatly ragged by the other chaps. The footer captain is called Eastwood. There is a chap in the house called Arthur Austen-Cartmell, who used to be at the Norland Place School. He says he remembers George Davies, Jack Davies and Peter Davies. I can’t remember him. He remembers you and recognised your picture.

I often see chaps who used to be at Wilkinson’s. Gordon Bryce is here, who used to be at the Norland Place School. He is awfully small.

I am getting on rippingly at Eton footer, and shall probably be in my house Lower Boy team.

From your loving son
George.
P.S. Don’t bother about the photo of Smee, if you can’t find it.

*

This is the last letter written by George to Egerton House, to which, a few days later, Sylvia said goodbye, with what anguish and relief can be imagined. She and the three youngest of us went to Ramsgate, where we stayed while the new home at 23 Campden Hill Square was being got ready. The business end was attended to by Crompton Ll.D., now a partner in the eminent firm of lawyers named Withers, Benson and Co. I found a good deal of the legal correspondence relating to the lease etc. when going through all the old papers after J.M.B.‘s death, but destroyed them long ago. No doubt the cash was partly put up or guaranteed by J.M.B. Denis Mackail has a passage in which he refers to the raised eyebrows of observers of this move to a house Sylvia could never have afforded otherwise.

Smee, the Airedale terrier, survived a good many years, and became the scourge of neighbouring dogs on Campden Hill.

Eugen Millington-Drake, [K.C.M.G. = Kindly Call Me God] at whose ineffable grandeur at Eton – I fancy he was Captain of the Boats and President of Pop – I can remember Sylvia poking amiable fun, is now Sir Eugen, K.C.M.G. [Knight Commander Order of St Michael and St George] etc., a leading light of the Foreign Office, and Eastwood is General Sir “Rusty” Eastwood, pretty eminent in Army circles.

McMinnes I know nothing of. Perhaps he was killed, as were the delightful and witty Arthur Austen-Cartmell and his younger brother Hugh (both in 1916).

*

[Michael Ll.D. at Ramsgate to J.M.B. in London]

18 Oct. 1907

DEAR MR BARRIE
I hope you are quite well
I HAVE SENT YOU A
Picture of a Pirate he has
GOT PLENTY OF WEAPONS
and looks very fierce. Please
COME SOON TO FISH
from Michael with Love
FROM NIK-O THE END

*

[J.M.B. to Sylvia Ll.D. at Ramsgate]

Leinster Corner
Lancaster Gate, W.
Oct. 19 [1907]

Dearest Jocelyn,

All right, I’ll go down with you on the Wed’y or Thursday and meet you wherever and whenever you fix. Mr. Mason will come sometime also. You might get me a sitting room and bedroom. I am hoping you are pretty well and that the glass swallowing hasn’t caused you any trouble. Mary’s intention is to start on Monday, but at present she is miserable with neuralgia. Madge is here at rehearsing and I suppose I’ll have to be up for the first night, about a week hence. I had capital letters from both George and Jack. Jack was 8 his first fortnight and Capt. Scott was so delighted he at once agreed to go with me soon to see him. S. will be away for a fortnight.

I am writing away at my play, and am just getting among the breakers.

Your
J.M.B.

*

Idle, perhaps, to speculate after all these years as to what Mary Barrie’s feelings may have been, now that Jocelyn was a widow and her children fatherless. It is at least possible she may have found the situation to her taste, up to a point. This is the month when there first appeared at Leinster Corner, as secretary of a committee formed to do battle with the Censor of plays, a good-looking young writer named Gilbert Cannan.

I suppose the first night for which Madge [Murray] was rehearsing was of the annual Peter Pan revival. The play at which he was writing away was What Every Woman Knows, produced eleven months later.

The glass swallowing means nothing to me.

The sitting room and bedroom would have been taken, I think, at the Granville, most classy of Ramsgate’s not particularly classy hotels.

Is there a faintly proprietary air about this letter? It didn’t strike me so when I first read it, but it does seem a little now. A bit odd, for example, to be informing Sylvia of her son’ s place in class at Osborne. However …

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D. at Ramsgate]

Eton College,
Windsor
Sunday, November 3rd [1907]

Dearest Mother,
Yesterday was the Old Boy match. Most other Houses had theirs the same day. We just beat them. At half past six came to sock supper! We had tons of sock, soup, and grouse and things. Towards the end a great silver challenge cup came round full of champagne. We all drank to the prosperity of the House. I was not TIGHT!

After supper we all went into the drawing room and sang songs. At the end we all sang “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” about my tutor [i.e. Hugh Macnaghten], and then sang “Auld Lang Syne”. (Champagne is ripping stuff, and I wish I’d taken a longer booze!)

Millington-Drake made some ripping speeches. He imitated French porters, English workmen, Americans and sang a French song.

I am longing for my pictures of Egerton House. Sometime I hope Jack and I can go and spend a few days at Berkhamsted, in the holidays. As it is Sunday I’m afraid I shall be unable to have any sausages for tea today. Only eggs!

Your loving son
George.

*

[J.M.B. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Leinster Corner,
Lancaster Gate, W.
Nov. 4. [1907]

Dearest Jocelyn,
I am having a life of it over this censorship business. Receiving committees, telephones, telegrams etc. all day & every day. [I’ve done more business this last week or two than in all the rest of my life & it will go on till the 19th. It was stupid of me to get pushed into it but now that I am in I’ve got to do my best. There is just a shadow of a chance of its having any practical result.]

When I can I’m working hard at my play, which is dull, with occasional bright moments.

Madge seems to have had a happy time with you, but can’t tell me how your indigestion is, which was what I sent her down for. Mary writes that she is to be back on Sunday. She seems to have influenza & grand rides daily.

I planned out a message you would probably send me about my glittering tea party by Madge, & it came all right.

I wrote Jack y’day. Scott seems to be out of town again. Mason is busy orating with the one hand and writing books with the other.

I would have sent the boys fireworks but the post office won’t pass them.

I sit up for Madge every night till 11.45 & then we go to bed. At least write and tell me how you are. I want to know so much that I think you might do this. I’m very tired.

Your
J.M.B.

*

Though I have a few letters from J.M.B. to Sylvia from now on, or of hers to him, it is obvious that there must have been many. Taking it all round, I am not sorry they have mostly disappeared; except in the sense that her letters might have thrown light on her character and personality – but her letters to other people might have been of more value in that sense. I think her attitude to him was a special and peculiar one, not very representative of her true self. Indeed, on reflection, I doubt if he brought out or even recognised (or wanted to) the true characteristics of anyone he made much of; he was such a fantasy-weaver that they all ended by either playing up to him or clearing out. When he was strongly attracted by people, he wanted at once to own them and to be dominated by them, whichever their sex. The owning he was often able to manage for a time to a greater or less degree, with the help of his money, which made generosity an easy business for him (not that the rich are usually generous), plus his wit and charm and the aura of success and fame which surrounded him.

The being dominated was more difficult of attainment, as he was a pretty strong character in his own strange way. There's no denying that, from Arthur's death onwards, he did increasingly “own” Sylvia and her boys after his fashion. And Sylvia, a strong character herself, couldn't help dominating him. Later, I think, he achieved something of the same peculiar equilibrium with George, and much more so with Michael, who, however, was beginning to show signs of restiveness by the time of his death.

The above is not a serious attempt to define the relationship between Sylvia and J.M.B. To do that would be beyond my powers and is beyond the scope of this record. But these stray thoughts occurred to me after reading the preceding letter, so I thought I might just as well put them down, erroneous as they very likely are. I think, by the way, that Sylvia’s was a far from simple character.

As for the five of us at this juncture, let Denis [Mackail] speak, with his customary perception:

“Even George, not fourteen yet and brought up with this strange little Providence always at least in the offing, was too young to realise with full understanding what the strange little Providence had done. Jack, perhaps, with a touch already of inherited intolerance, had a deep-down notion that it was an interloper who was saving them all from ruin. But for Peter—who now goes back to Wilkinson’s in Orme Square—and still more for the two youngest, this was just something that had happened. Their father was dead. They were moving to London. And Mr. Barrie was still nearly always there. Not yet could they guess what they had gained or lost.”

Apart from “ruin”, which is a ludicrous overstatement for whatever might have been done with us if there had been no J.M.B. about, Denis sums the position up very neatly.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D. at Ramsgate]

H. Macnaghten’s Esq.

Eton College,
Windsor
[18 November 1907]

Dearest Mother,
Mrs. Millington-Drake came down to Eton yesterday. She had tea in the House, and gave Lawrence major and me ten bob each! We were pretty bucked, I can tell you! It just saved me from starvation, and I was able to get some eggs (not sausages!) for tea.

My tutor’s dog has recovered from distemper, and is very lively indeed. Yesterday he insisted on playing with the ball while we were at footer. It was rather a nuisance as it was a Lower Boy tie. It was a draw, so we shall have to play it again.

I sent you one of my phizes. It is pretty hopeless, but I don’t care. It will last me for two or three years, and then I shall have to be fitted again in change clothes and stick-ups!

I hope Jack is getting on well as Osborne, and that Peter, Michael and Nicholas are enjoying themselves at Ram[sgate].

Your loving son,
George.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D. at Ramsgate]

H. Macnaghten’s Esq.
Eton College,
Windsor
[21 November 1907]

Dearest Mother,
Please come on Tuesday, and not on Wednesday, as Tuesday is a half holiday. Hurrah! I am awfully glad you can come!! It will be splendid!!! I told my tutor, and he was jolly glad, quite bucked, in fact!

We played our Lower Boy tie today, and were just beaten by a goal. It is the third time we have had to play it, because we drew them twice before, so we were pretty even.

Our Lower Boys have sent in four pairs for the Lower Boy fives competition. I am in the second pair! I’m jolly bucked. We ought to win some matches – one at least.

In a month more today the Christmas holidays begin. It is much nicer being a boarder to go home for the holidays than being a day-boy, and just getting off work, and nothing else.

Tomorrow morning I am going out to breakfast with Mrs. Hollway-Calthrop. Uncle Harry is going to be there. I haven’t seen him for ages. Millington-Drake has lent me a tremendous book to read, called “The Letters of Queen Victoria (Vol. 1)” It is a very instructive book, but I like it rather.

Your loving son,
George.

*

This is the last of George’s letters written during his first half of the term, and the last letter of any sort for 1907.

Phiz = a small photograph (head and shoulders) customarily taken at one or two stages of one’s career at Eton, and mounted on pasteboard. I used to have a copy of George’s first phiz, full face, in Eton collar etc.; an excellent likeness, but I’m not sure if I still have it.

Hollway-Calthrop was Bursar of Eton and with his wife occupied one of the lovely old houses in the Cloisters. I don’t know what the connection with Harry Ll.D. was, but suspect Mr. or Mrs. Hollway-Calthrop were related to Agnes Ll.D. Harry and Agnes used often to go down to see them, and I remember meeting Harry at tea with them myself during my first half. He scandalised me on that occasion by producing copies of comics like Puck and Lot o’Fun out of his pocket and offering them to me, a most undignified proceeding, as I, aged thirteen and a half, thought. Hollway-Calthrop retired years ago, but he (stone-blind) and his plain wife still survive; the god knows how manyeth anniversary of their wedding was columnised on the front page of the Times the other day.

23 Campden Hill Square must have been ready for occupation not long after the date of this letter, though I don’t think the family moved in from Ramsgate until after Christmas. I was sent on ahead myself, presumably in order to be ready for the first day of term at Wilkinson’s, and inhabited the house alone for a short while with Florrie Gay. Meanwhile I suppose George and Jack returned to Eton and Osborne, and in due course the others came to Campden Hill, and Sylvia took up the threads of life again, in January 1908.

It was in some respects a more attractive house than the two earlier homes, so close by, in Kensington Park Gardens; and I expect a snob would have to admit that it was a better address. I think I am right in saying that the ground floor front (dining room) bow window was put in by Sylvia, to lighten the room. A room already built-out at the back, used as a drawing room, added largely to the capacity of the house, which, with the old familiar furnishings from Berkhamsted, took on the unelaborate but individual charm with which Sylvia invested all her homes. And very early in the proceedings, J.M.B. affixed to the dining-room ceiling, by means of a coin adroitly spun, the penny stamp with which he used to hallmark his acquaintances houses, whether he effectively owned them or not.

On the first floor, at the back, Sylvia had her lonely bedroom, next door to the school-room, whose most prominent feature was a new three-quarter-size billiard table presented by J.M.B., as promised in one of the last conversations which have been recorded between him and Arthur.

On the second floor were nursery and night nursery, where Mary Hodgson, Michael and Nico slept; and on the top floor were a two-bedded room for George and Jack when they came home, a single room at the back which I occupied, and another two-bedded room for slaves. A nice house, which Nico, who lived there so much longer than I did, and who lives next door now, at No. 22, could describe far better than I. It still stands, though shakily, much damaged in 1944 by the flying bomb which flattened several of its neighbours and left Nico’s house minus its top storey. From Nico’s garden at the back can be seen the built-out sanitary installation on the half landing above the first floor of No. 23 – “Far Japan”, so named (I think) by Mary Hodgson, alternatively known to us as “the seat of honour” and “the abode of bliss”.

To 23 C.H.S. came, besides Mary Hodgson, Minnie the cook, maker of excellent lentil soups and rice and chocolate puddings, and a pretty, buxom new house-parlourmaid, Amy, who stirred the young Adam in some of us, more or less obscurely.

And here, I think, Sylvia did succeed, gradually, in regaining something of the zest for life. The boys were fond amusement and distraction for her, relatives came frequently, and the dog like J.M.B., still living at Leinster Corner and constantly in attendance. Of the rest of her “circle”, the people with whom she lunched or dined and learnt how to smile again, I have neither knowledge nor recollection, so separate is the world in which a small boy has his being. I only recall that I liked the new home, and Wilkinson’s, where George and Jack were of course well remembered, and enjoyed London (fell in love with it, in fact), and do not remember being weighed down by any keen sense of loss or sorrow.

I have attributed this lightness of heart in the shadow of tragedy to the natural selfishness and insulation of the young. But I also know that everything must have been done, by all who had the care of us and above all by Sylvia herself, to shut out the imp of sorrow and self-pity from our young lives. In my own case, at any rate, it was not till a good deal later, when the significance of Sylvia’s own death had had time to sink in, and to blend with and sharpen the dormant sense of what Arthur’s death signified – it was not till adolescence at 16 also, when all feelings become acuter, that, largely as a result of reading Peter Ibbetson, I began to look back with nostalgic yearnings on Egerton House and its garden and the three short years at Berkhamsted (long years, though, to a small boy), as on a sort of last paradise.

[AB: Ten bob = 10/- = ten shillings = 50p = about £60 in 2021]

*

[NOT IN THE MORGUE]

[J.M.B. to Sylvia Ll.D. at Ramsgate]

Leinster Corner,
Lancaster Gate, W
29 Nov. 1907

Dearest Jocelyn,
At last I enclose the cheque for Miss Rigby. I hope you are all pretty well. When I don’t hear I dread you may be ill, but I trust it is not so. Tomorrow I am meaning to go to see George as they have a big “footer” day, and I am a good deal agitated as to what hat Millington-Drake would prefer me to wear. It will probably end (against my better judgement) in my donning the now somewhat passée bowler.

I was lunching today with Bernard Shaw in his flat in Adelphi Terrace, a very pleasant place. I found Mrs. Bright fairly well. I don’t know whether I told you I had to go Ascot way to her. It was three hours in the train. She is in a rest-care there. I am longing for you to be on Campden Hill.

Love to all,
Yours
J.M.B.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D. at 23 C.H.S.]

H. Macnaghten’s Esq.
Eton College,
Windsor.
Tuesday, February 4 [1908]

Dearest Mother,
Thank you awfully for your very kind anxiety on my behalf, but I really promise you there was no need. The paperchase was extremely mild and perfectly easy. I enjoyed it awfully, and ran without any frightful exertions. It was fine fun. One of the points of Eton runs is jumping over or into streams. We had plenty of it. The last thing was about 12 feet across, so we simply had to wade it. It was just mad at the other side, so we were nearly up to our middles! It was absolutely spanking. As we all changed as soon as we reach my tutor's, there is no possibility of colds, coughs, etc. I am perfectly well, but for a slight stiffness in one knee, I am not a hope that the worse. We never even saw the hairs. But we did see a hair. (Pun: A real hair, Jessy?)

On Sunday I went out for a walk with Roger Woodhouse, Esquire. We went on a ripping walk, he is an awfully nice fellow really, though so effusively polite. He was telling me a lot of funny stories. We got over Jack and the fagging story alright! I am sorry I wrote such a short letter on Sunday, but I suddenly remembered after supper, and only just got it done before prayers.

Lawrence minor says he has got Uncle Gerald’s Vanity Fair in his room at home. I hope my own is nearly done. I am longing for it. I asked a fellow the other day if he had been to Drury Lane. He said: “Yes. But I’ve been to something much funnier – Brewster’s Millions.” You ought to tell that to Uncle Gerald. Everyone at Eton’s mad on him.

Will you send me as soon as you possibly can a green book, called “Sidgwick’s First Greek Writer”, or something of the sort. It’s light green, and smallish, a lesson book. I am sure I had it at Berkhamsted, and I expect it is in the school room.

I hope Peter likes Wilkinson's and has got into the eleven there. I hope he will get his shirt, though I am afraid I shall be awfully envious. I am beginning to think that a Davies is fated never to get any colours! Let’s hope I shall deceive this fate here and get my house-colours. I have a faint chance. Very slight!

Your loving son,
George.
P.S. Long letter!
P.P.S. Really and truly, the paperchase was quite alright. I am not in the least bit the worse for it – better in fact!

*

Roger Woodhouse is only an echo of a name to me. I somehow connect him with the Millars. Jack may remember him, and maybe able to elucidate the reference to himself and the fagging story.

Lawrence minor (Micky) and his major (Oliver) were both killed in the war. I take it Uncle Gerald’s Vanity Fair was the “Spy” cartoon in the periodical of that name. Brewster’s Millions was his play of the moment.

How curious is the diffidence about athletic success on the part of the Davieses in view of the ensuing triumphs of George himself and then Michael and Nico.

See 1874 for letters of Arthur’s and Charley’s from Marlborough describing the effects of cross-country runs and water-jumps. More recently (October 1946) Rivvy Ll.D. wrote home about his exploits in the junior steeplechase at Eton (123rd out of 300), from which, however, the water jump appears to have been excluded, much to his disgust.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D]

H. Macnaghten’s Esq.
Eton College,
Windsor.
Thursday, February 20th [1908]

Dearest Mother,
Thank you very much for the Punch and Country-side. The joke about the man in tails changed to an Etonian was very funny, and it said that Sir Ray Lankester would be Gog in a pageant.

Yesterday I was called “a baby who had grown out of his clothes.” So I have, but it was meant because I’m not in tails. Some of my shirt always shows below my waistcoat, and if I tighten my braces, my trousers come up to my knees. I’m one of Eton’s sights. Such as fame!

Aunt Margaret came down today. We had lunch in my tutor’s house. After lunch I showed her round Eton, and we went a short walk. She caught the 4.25 back.

Will you please send me my cricket bat? Please send mine, not Jack’s. Do you think it could possibly reach me before Saturday afternoon? I’ve got the cricket-shed on Saturday afternoon. Will you pad the bat up fairly securely so as to escape been knocked about?

I have won two matches in Junior House Fives, and am consequently rather bucked. However I’m certain to be kicked out next round!

But I’ve got Extra Work and Greek Grammar to-night so good-night.

Your loving son,
George.

*

[George Ll.D. to Peter Ll.D.]

H. Macnaghten’s Esq.
Eton College,
Windsor.
Monday, Feb. 24th [1908]

My dear Peter,
Gratters on your birthday! Many happy returns of the day! I’m frightfully ashamed of not getting you a present, but I didn’t have time. All the day was filled up chock full one way or another. However you may like to have these Chronicles, and perhaps you may not. Millington-Drake comes in a lot. He is the blood!

It’s jolly good getting your footer colours so soon. I’d like to see you wearing them! It’s a pity you don’t have cap and stockings to match, in fact you really ought to suggest a cap at all events to Milky. You’ve at last broken the Davies record! I hope to get a cup for fives this half by luck or for sports, but you’ve really broken that record too by getting the pencil at Berkhamsted.

How is Smee? Have you changed your hardness of heart towards rabbits yet?

Will you ask mother to send me a ham? I meant to ask her [in my] last letter but I forgot. Lord Newtown Butler and I are on the verge of starvation; in spite of a hamper of 12 dozen oranges which he received last week! Will you also persuade her that I must go into tails? Tons of chaps go in in the middle of the half.

How is Poolo? Have you had any more egg-cap? If so, I hope you got Uncle Coley!

I have got fives every day this week, except on Saturday, when I’m hoping to get the cricket-shed. This is a ripping invention for indoor cricket during the winter.

George.
P.S. Myself! [a drawing here, designed to show how much he had grown out of his jacket.]

*

Even odder than the diffidence about his own hopes of colour-collecting, expressed in the last letter but one, is the apparent attribution to myself of pre-eminence in this respect, seeing that I alone of the family had an entirely undistinguished athletic career. George was deliberately ignoring the fact that he and Jack had left Wilkinson’s too young to be in the running for their football colours, and that there was no colours for junior day-bugs at Berkhamsted.

The copies of the Eton College Chronicle which he apparently sent me on this occasion are missing.

The ham and the gross of oranges have a delectable ring in these austerity days. Poor old Rivvy Ll.D [Peter’s son] in his first year at Eton never got anything comparable sent him.

George, I suppose, “went into tails” soon after this. I myself was tall enough to make my debut at Eton in tails, thus avoiding the agonies George went through, and Rivvy followed my example. God knows what the cost of new suits must have been at Eton in 1908. I know what it is now, and also that, thanks to the coupon and cash saving custom which fortunately became established, we were able to fit Rivvy out with two complete suits, a top hat and a great-coat, all indescribably patched and filthy, and not second but fourth or fifth hand, for £6,10s, probably a cheaper transaction than could be managed at any other public school. But what a change from the old days! The outward squalor of post-war Eton is extreme.

Poolo: Aunt May’s poodle, well known to all of us. The envelope of this letter, addressed by George to 23 C.H.S., was redirected in Mary Hodgson’s writing to c/o Mrs. Coles, Great Woodcote Farm, Purley, where I suppose I had been for the weekend. I can just remember this nice old house, long since overwhelmed by the sprawling cancer of Croydon and its satellite growths. Of playing egg-cap with Coley, and launching tennis balls at his apprehensive back in the course of that excellent if slightly brutal game, I have no recollection.

[AB: According to Nico, egg-cap was played as follows: “Each player had a cap on the ground about a couple of yards in front of him: each took it in turn to try and lob a tennis ball into a cap: if the ball got to and stayed in the cap, the ‘cap-owner’ rushed to get it while everyone else rushed away: the ‘owner’ then hurled the ball at a rushing-away back – a hit, one ‘egg’ to the person hit, a miss: one egg to the thrower – three ‘eggs’ OUT!”]

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D]

H. Macnaghten’s Esq.
Eton College,
Windsor.
Friday, May 1st, [1908]

Dearest Mother,
I’m awfully sorry for not writing last night, but I was busy with packing, etc. I was very early after all, and there is no fixed time for arriving, after all! I must remember that …

I was awfully sick to leave home. I felt rotten in the evening. While as for the shock I had waking up at Eton – ugh! I was dreaming of a footer match on Ramsgate sands and just waking up peacefully – when suddenly the thought flashed through me …

Love to Miss Ethel, Miss Mary and Miss Winnie.

Your affectionate son
George

*

Sunday, May 3rd, 1908.

… By a ghastly lie I got off going a walk with our dear Roger Woodhouse. I think it’s excusable, because you can’t say “No” when a chap asks you to go out a walk with him. So I said a chap wanted to talk to me about something, and found a chap afterwards. On our walk we came across some chaps smoking away like anything, among them Viscount Carlton, who is about the biggest bounder out …

P.S. I’m reading “The Broken Road”. It’s topping!

*

Sunday, May 14th, 1908.

… Yesterday our Junior played Impey’s. We were beaten! Absolutely sickening, I call it! I made four, and took two wickets. Now we’re not likely to get into the final.

I saw Lady Cynthia Grahame today. She appeared wearing a hat 8 times the size of any ordinary hat. It was the sight for the gods! She came into Lower Chapel. I call it lip to Eton!

Now for supper!

Your loving son,
George.
P.S. Love to the caterpillars.

*

Miss Ethel, Miss Marie and Miss Winnie were the three daughters of Sir Francis Burnand, ex-editor of Punch, who lived two or three doors from 16 Royal Crescent, Ramsgate. They must have been in their early twenties at this stage, and made themselves very pleasant to us, giving tea parties with charades and jumbles which the younger of us enjoyed, and playing golf with the older ones in due course.

Roger Woodhouse and Viscount Carlton figure no more in these pages. The bounding Viscount is now Earl of Wharncliffe, and I know nothing of him to justify or refute George’s estimate of his qualities; nor can I contribute anything to the tale of Lady Cynthia Graham and her scandalous hats.

The caterpillars will reappear, showing that George had not yet put away childish things.

*

[J.M.B. to Michael Ll.D.]

Hotel d'Albe,
Avenue des Champs Elysées,
Paris,
15 June 1908.

My dear Michael,

Paris is looking very excited today, and all the people think it is because there were races yesterday, but I know it is because tomorrow is your birthday. I wish I could be with you and your candles. You can look on me as one of your candles, the one that burns badly–the greasy one that is bent in the middle.

But still, hurray, I am Michael's candle. I wish I could see you putting on the redskin's clothes for the first time. Won't your mother be frightened. Nick will hide beneath the bed, and Peter will cry for the police.

Dear Michael, I am very fond of you, but don't tell anybody.

The End.

J. M. Barrie.

*

[George Ll.D. to Michael Ll.D.]

Eton College,
Windsor.
Monday, June 15th, 1908.

Dear Michael,
Many happy returns of the day! I hope you will get lots of presents, although I have not sent you one, owing to poverty and forgetfulness. I suppose you get a lot of cricket at Miss Langhorne’s. How is the blazer? You must look a little blood! Have you made many runs?

I have fine cricket here; my top score is 25 not out. What’s yours?

I hope you have been finding caterpillars. I have got about 40! You can find a good many in London. There will be some in the square. It will be awfully good if you can keep some.

How is Smee? Has Nicko been teasing him any more? I hope he hasn’t bitten him yet!

Now I must tidy up Millington-Drake's room.

Your loving brother,
George.

*

[Jack Ll.D. to Michael Ll.D.]

Royal Naval College,
Osborne.
Monday, June 15th [1908]

Dearest Mick,
I wish you many happy returns of the day. I hope you will enjoy yourself awfully. I wonder if you will wear your Redskin suit in Kensington Gardens. They would be frightened of you. All the dogs would run away from you.

I am sending you 2/- and you must buy something for yourself with it. I thought it was better than sending you chocolate.

In 3 weeks you are coming down with Mother and Mr. Barrie, and we are going to try to hire a motor and go for a picnic.

I think you might get a little present for Nicholas from me with some of the money. Just a little of it.

I hope you will have a happy birthday.

I did enjoy seeing Mother and Peter yesterday. I want to see you too and I’m looking forward to three weeks time. I hope Mary enjoyed her holiday. Will you tell her so from me.

Yr. affte. brother,
Jack R.N.

*

Michael’s eighth birthday. He was now going daily to the Norland Place School at the foot of Holland Park Avenue, and was doubtless already top of his class, the only one of us to emulate the previous generation of Davieses in this respect.

J.M.B. was in Paris with Frohman, in connection with a fortnight’s run of Peter Pan, ou le petit garçon qui ne voulait pas grandir.

Jack’s letter, as it seems to me, is more mature than George’s, in expression as it is in handwriting. I have a cloudy recollection of going down to Osborne with Sylvia to see Jack, but chiefly in connection with a miniature brass cannon, purchased in a shop in Cowes as a rather eccentric deck fitting for the model yacht which I passionately sailed in those days on the Round Pond, and which automatically bore the name, God help me – pinned to its bows on the zinc strip obtain from a penny-in-the-slot machine of – Peter Pan.

[AB: 2/- = two shillings = 10p = £12 in 2021 = really quite generous for Jack, aged 13 and away at boarding school.]

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D]

Sunday, July 12, [1908]

Dearest Mother,

I arrived at Eton safely after the Lords calamity. Lawrence major, in whose cab I travelled, and I immediately rushed to my room to see the caterpillars. A tiger of mine and a drinker of his had come out. Today another tiger of mine came out. They are lovely moths.

I am longing for the New Forest! We shall have a splendid time! I vote we have meals and things outside and never come indoors at all. We must have a camp etc! Topping!

All lower boys went to Upper Chapel today, owing to leave. It was rather dull and much more uncomfortable than Lower Chapel. The Head preached about the Match.

There is absolutely no more to tell you.

Your loving son,
George.

*

I take it Harrow had won at Lords, and perhaps there had been some hat-bashing afterwards, and the Head’s sermon may have condemned such unseemly, not to say unsporting exhibitions. I suppose headmasters, if in orders, must preach in chapel about cricket; it seems to me to be scarcely worthy of their creed. The Head at this time, by the way, was I think still Edmond Warre, who had been Headmaster while Arthur was an assistant master for a half or two in the ’eighties. He was Provost in my time, and pretty decrepit by then. I used to see him shuffling round the cloisters, but never conversed with him.

The moth-hatching excitement shows that George still retained the entomological or bug-hunting enthusiasm of his very young days, despite the intervention of the Dhivach fishing holiday, during which, however, an occasional sunny day was devoted to the pursuit of lepidoptera. Butterflies were a principal lure to the summer holiday of this year, which was spent at a small farmhouse called Black Bush, near Burley, more or less in the heart of the New Forest. George, who was very knowing on the subject, had found out that White Admirals, and a very rare local variety of the Silver-washed Fritillary might be discovered there, and so they were.

I followed his lead in such things, and spent many happy days with him wandering in the woods and over the commons, armed with net and killing-bottle and sandwiches for lunch; but I was never so keen or scientific or thorough as George, while Jack, if I remember right, was heartily bored by the whole business and thought it all tedious. In a word, he had outgrown it, maturing earlier than George. I must say I myself think it’s chief, if not its only real merit was that it gave one a good reason for long hours of outdoor activity, and also, and consequently, made one less of a nuisance to one’s elders. Up to a point the same may be said of the juvenile fishing which, after this summer, drove bug-hunting finally out of all our heads, including George’s.

Dhivach the year before, originated and organised by J.M.B., had probably been a relief to Sylvia, in the sense that it took all worry and responsibility for the boys’ summer holiday off her shoulders, and was more or less of a novelty. The finding of Black Bush, and the occupying of it alone with her often tiresome, however much loved brood, must have had many melancholy moments for her. It was the kind of place, in itself and in its setting, of which Arthur would have thoroughly approved: simple, unpretentious, surrounded by lovely walking and bicycling country. I think she must have missed Arthur terribly indeed that summer.

As for us, I believe any regrets we had were confined to the subconscious. Besides butterfly-hunting, I recall constructing a sort of encampment with George (as predicted in his letter) of old sacks over a hole in a sandy hillside, and spending hours crouched therein blissfully enough, eating plums and Mellin’s Food biscuits; a family bicycling expedition to the neighbouring little town of Lymington; a grander motor expedition – had J.M.B. come down? – to Bournemouth, involving pierrots (“A pretty little girl that I know, that you know, we all know”) and the purchase of bows and arrows, banned since the dreadful day three or four years earlier at Black Lake when I had shot Jack in the lip. On the return journey the car stuck on the way up the hill, and was only stopped from running down backwards by the sudden release of the “sprag” with which all cars were still provided in those days. This was thrilling, and for a moment, until the sprag stuck in the dusty, untarred surface of the road and held fast, frightening. The car, in case these pages should be read in the future by an antiquarian automobile fan, was a Dennis – a French make then popular. A singularly futile memory …

I remember very little of Sylvia in the New Forest. I think that I, and probably George and Jack too, but perhaps Jack less than George, lived in the boy world to the exclusion of any other, and were little troubled by the disappearance of Arthur from our lives or by the misery which the bereft Sylvia no doubt did everything to hide from us.

One afternoon George and I, making for home towards the end of a day's pursuit of White Admirals and Fritillaries, encountered a company of Highlanders on the march along one of the dusty forest roads. Doubtless they were on manoeuvres. They halted and fell out for a few minutes, unbuckling their equipment and sprawling by the roadside in the relaxed attitudes of tired men, and George and I got into conversation with a sergeant and one or two of the privates at the rear of the little column. When they moved on again after their halt, we followed close behind them, enjoying the rhythm of the marching feet, and moved obscurely by a sense of unity with the sweating, swearing, back-chatting soldiers. I dare say they were entertained too, in their turn, by the curiosity and admiration of two small boys. Somehow this scene has always remained vividly in my mind: rather like a piece of a silent film, for I have long forgotten what we talked about. It was a queer little romantic presage of the real marchings of six years later, for which the Highlanders were more or less consciously preparing themselves, but than which nothing could then have seemed more remote from the destiny of the two boys. I have often wondered how many of those Scotchmen bit the dust of Mons and the Aisne or the mud of Ypres in 1914.

The New Forest summer holiday ended earlier than usual, perhaps owing to difficulty in getting Black Bush farm for any longer period, and the last fortnight was spent by the seaside at Milford, a few miles away, opposite the [Isle of Wight] Needles. I remember nothing about it worth recording here.

*

[NOT IN THE MORGUE]

[From Dolly Ponsonby’s diary:]

Aug 12 [1908]. Mr. Barrie arrived in the evening [at Shulbrede Priory]. He was quite talkative at dinner. Discussed Galsworthy whom he admires tremendously both as a man & a writer. … He says he thinks he is a man of very strong passions kept well under control. He was good about L[illah] Granville B[arker] too – said she had no sense of humour. … We talked a great deal of Sylvia's boys & it is extraordinary to see how they fill his life & supply all his human interest. Of course J.M.B. does alarm me. I feel he absolutely sees right through one & sees just how stupid I am – but I hope also that he sees my good intentions. The things he says about people so absolutely knock the right nail on the head that though they are not in the least unkind they are almost cruel.’

[Arthur Ponsonby’s diary]: “J. M. Barrie stayed here for the night coming down from the rehearsal of his new play. I have never met a man with a more just discernment, he sees everything, gives everything its right proportion and in his very quiet modest way expresses the result of his perceptions so perfectly and so humorously that one becomes completely captivated. ... I feel he has a great nobility and simplicity of character."

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D]

Eton College,
Windsor.
Sunday, December 11, 1908.

Dearest Mother,
I have asked my tutor [i.e. Macnaghten] about clothes for Switzerland. He said you have to have a knickerbocker change suit (a good warm one), sweaters and thick stockings. He also said puttees would jolly good things to have, to keep your legs warm (two pairs each).

From what he said about it it sounded topping fun to be in Switzerland. He said it’s quite warm for part of the day. He said the most comfortable hotel to stay at was the “Palace”. I wish he was going to be at St. Moritz. It’s the first year he hasn’t been there for Christmas for some time.

The journey will be pretty exciting, I expect. I expect to be ill going from Dover to Calais, or wherever you cross the channel. It will be rather funny travelling on Christmas Day.

It will be glorious fun at St. Moritz! I suppose there’ll be tons of skating and tobogganing. My tutor said he used to “ski” most of the time. I suppose that’s rather an art, though.

Is Mrs. Barrie coming? Perhaps she’ll prefer to go motor touring or something else. We shall be a wacking party. It is kind of Uncle Jim to do it all. I hope Alphonse’ll come!

I’m absolutely burning for the holidays – now more than ever! Eleven days more! I envy Jack with only four more days.

I suppose there’ll be a good many Eton fellows at St. Moritz. My tutor said about a dozen were generally there every Christmas.

Alas! I must now go down to Puppy Hole.

Your loving son,
George.

*

Not St. Moritz but the less fashionable Caux, above Montreux, was in fact selected for this exciting innovation in the way of Christmas holidays. I don’t suppose there were 12 other Etonians there, but probably it was a more suitable place for the oddly constituted party, consisting of J.M. and Mary Barrie, Gilbert Cannan, Sylvia and the boys (four or all five? I think Nico must have gone, aged 5, to Morecambe with Mary Hodgson), and Alphonse. The boys all enjoyed themselves hugely. See Denis for a masterly if rather cruel analysis of the adult situation.

[AB: From Denis Mackail’s The Story of J.M.B.:

“On Boxing-Day [Mary Barrie] and Barrie, and Sylvia Davies, and the boys, and Gilbert Cannan—the clever young secretary to the unofficial Censorship Committee—all set off for Switzerland. For three weeks or so—the rest of the school holidays—at the Grand Hôtel at Caux, which overlooks the Lake of Geneva from above Montreux. The luxury and elaboration of winter sports were still some way from reaching their subsequent heights, nor was this one of the most fashionable resorts. But it seemed fairly exciting and pretty good fun to the boys, and Barrie did some lugeing and enjoyed playing host. A rather odd party in a way, though. Almost three generations, in a sense. The Barries and Sylvia all in their forties, the boys ranging from fifteen to five, and Cannan only twenty-four. One sees who Sylvia’s chief companion would be, and who would be left over among the grown-ups. Yet Cannan not only had an intense admiration for the host’s genius and attainments, but was extremely popular with the boys. He told stories, too, and perhaps—for he was brilliant and keen enough—he would follow in other footsteps as well. Tall, thin, fair, and sensitive-looking. A fully-fledged barrister now, but the law wasn’t his ambition. He was to be one of the novelists and playwrights of the new era, and indeed for the next few years there was plenty of encouragement and recognition. It was just, in the end, perhaps, another bit of destiny that he couldn’t stay the course.

Destiny was at work in other ways, though still hidden from those who were too innocent, and in one case too unobservant or preoccupied, to read its almost conspicuous signs. If Sylvia saw, then either it wasn’t her business or else she also saw—one has to admit this—how the situation was playing into her hands. Temptation here, as well as elsewhere. The money again. The feeling, stronger rather than weaker, that life still owed her something for all that she had lost. Pity her; for the tangle is growing worse and worse, and life hasn’t finished with its cruelty to her yet. Pity all this gay extravagance at the Grand Hôtel at Caux. There is something dreadfully ominous about. Something, behind the laughter, as cold and relentless as the Alps.”]

That things advanced rapidly to their inevitable conclusion at Caux between Mary Barrie and Gilbert Cannan I have not the least doubt: the crisis came only six months later. I suppose in a way I ought not in this compilation to leave all the i-dotting and t-crossing in this connection to Denis; but there is little I can add to his interpretation, which seems to me to be substantially fair to all concerned. None of it entered into my consciousness at the time. I remember “luge-ing” and ski-ing in the clumsy but exhilarating fashion; I remember a pair of very high yellowy-brown lacing boots of Mary Barrie which somehow impressed me, standing outside the door of her room; most vividly I recall the agony, one day, of not knowing the French for lavatory or wee-wee, and getting no change at all out of the bewildered maids and valets de chambre as I hurried along the hotel corridors asking “Ou sont les Messieurs?” There was a fine expedition, with J.M.B., George, Jack and Alphonse and an exciting bearded guide, up the local mountain, called the Rochers de Naye, the descent being accomplished mostly in the sitting position, “glissanding”. True, there was a hotel at the top, where the caretaker regaled us with coffee, and I believe in summer it was reached by light railway. But in winter it was quite a walk, and we were proud of ourselves, and I daresay the conqueror of the Dom [i.e. Rev. John Ll.D.] would not have disapproved. It was good fun, in fact.

But in the evenings, it must have been a queer quartet of adults that conversed together after the boys had gone to bed.

A last small juvenile memory of Caux. One evening at dusk I was summoned to J.M.B.' s room, to find him sitting, in a somehow dejected attitude, at the far end of the room, in the half-light. As I entered he looked up, and, in a flat, lugubrious voice said: “Peter, something dreadful has happened to my feet,” and glancing down I saw to my horror that his feet were bare and swollen to four or five times their natural size. For several seconds I was deceived, and have never since forgotten the terror that filled me, until I realised that the feet were artificial (bought at Hamley's), made of the waxed linen masks are made of, and that I had been most successfully hoaxed.

On reflection, I think Nico did come with us to Caux, and that to that winter also belongs the story which J.M.B. used sometimes to tell in after years, of how Nico, then aged five, attracted the admiring attention of one of the lady guests at the hotel, who exclaimed: “My word, you are a lovely boy!” So he was, too, by the way. But this was the last way to curry favour with a young Davies, and Nico duly retaliated with a face of fury and the comprehensive nursery repartee: “Oh, ditto!”

And alas, on still further reflection, and prompted by recent correspondence with Mary Hodgson, I must record that near the end of the stay at Caux, Sylvia became alarmingly unwell, suffering great pain (I think close to the heart). It comes back to me, now that I am reminded of the anxiety from which even my luge-obsessed mentality was not immune, that an English doctor who happened to be staying in the hotel was approached, and either refused outright to advise, or at any rate made himself as unhelpful as he could, on the grounds that he was on holiday. His name, if I’m not mistaken, was Gell: an unattractive son of his was later my contemporary at Eton.

From this time forward Sylvia, though sometimes better for shorter or longer periods, was never completely well; and though it was not so diagnosed, there is no doubt that this was the first onset of the malignant disease of which she was to die less than two years later.

So soon: little more than 18 months after the death of Arthur. There were those, naturally, who spoke of infection caught from him. But the why of cancer is still as much of a question as ever, and when it is borne in mind that Trixie, May and Gerald all in their turns succumbed to the same disease, one can only conclude that the case for infection or contagion, in this instance at least, is far from being proved. Neither George nor Emma du Maurier was a victim of cancer, so it seems probable that heredity had nothing to do with it; nor have I found any other incidents of the disease, besides Arthur, in the Llewelyn Davies history.

*

[NOT IN THE MORGUE]

[J.M.B. to Millicent, Duchess of Sutherland:]

January 9th, 1909.

My dear Milly,

… The world here is given over to lugeing. I don't know if you have a luge, you have everything else. It's a little toboggan, and they glide down on it for ever and ever. And evidently man needs little here below except his little luge. Age annihilated. We are simply ants with luges. I say we, but by great good luck I hurt myself at once, and so I am debarred. … I hope … that I am to see you soon and explain you to yourself.

Yours always,
J. M. Barrie.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Thursday, 25th [February] 1909.

Dearest Mother,
Please write to my tutor as soon as you get this, or else I shan’t be able to go for leave. Anything will do – just a line asking that I may go for leave. Please write at once.

We had house sports this afternoon, in more or less inclement weather, though it didn’t actually rain. I was second in the junior high jump, doing 4ft. 3in. I won my heat in the 100 yards, but was nearly last in the final.

I get 3/- I think. I’m glad house sports are over!

The train leaves Windsor station at 12.5 on Saturday, so it reaches Paddington at about 12.35. I shall come straight to 23 C.H.S., unless I hear otherwise. It is topping to think of this week-end!

I’ve got a good deal of work tonight.

Your loving son,
George.
P.S. Don’t forget to write.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D]

Eton,
Tuesday, March 2, 1909.

Dearest Mother,
I reached Eton in safety, if not exhilaration, in due time. The chap in my carriage had been to “An Englishman’s Home” on the Saturday night. He thought all but the ending was very good. Of course the ending does rather spoil the lesson – it makes one think that even if the Germans did have a high old time for a bit, England would win in the end all right. I suppose it had to be put in to please the average public.

I think that now I’m back here for five weeks, I’d better get “flu” for a fortnight just to kill time! It came in jolly useful last year!

I wish I’d got the billiard table in my room. It is a topping thing! Tell Peter he better practice, to give me a better game – haw! – in the holidays! We ought to take it to Ramsgate.

I’m sorry this is such a short letter, but work (I mean it, although I have written it in former epistles) is beckoning to me!

Can you send me some stamps?

Your loving son,
George.

*

An Englishman’s Home had been produced with enormous success in January, and I suppose that well before George (and I with him) saw it during his Long Leave, the identity of “A Patriot” had been disclosed. Guy du Maurier was in South Africa and knew nothing about the production of his play by Gerald with a lot of help from J.M.B., until he had a cable informing him of the tremendous reception it had on its first night. Denis M. is rather hard on the play, of which I have a copy. It may be crudish melodrama, but it is by no means so devoid of merit as he makes out. Daphne, in “Gerald”, is better on it, and gives some characteristic messages sent to Guy by various members of his family. In Guy’s own version, the curtain fell on amateur England prostrate under the professional invader’s heel; the more palatable ending at which George and his Eton friend rightly cavilled – breezy entrance at the last moment of a dozen blue jackets who carry everything before them – had been substituted, I suppose by Gerald and J.M.B. with an unerring eye on the box office.

The play was a big success, ran for five months, earned a thousand or two for Major du Maurier and had no small effect as a piece of patriotic propaganda. And incidentally, it thrilled me to the core: I can still hear the cold tones of the “Norland” commander dismissing Mr. Brown – “take him out and shoot him!” and see Lawrence Grossmith as the facetious son of the house climb on to a table in the beleaguered drawing-room in order to see out of the window, and the next moment collapse with a bullet through his napper.

“My beloved Guy,” wrote Sylvia. “The world is writing and talking of nothing else but your play. I am, alas, in bed, and cannot go, but I think of you and Gwen [Guy’s wife] talking about it, and wish so much I could hear you. Mummie tells people the author’s name is a profound secret, but in my heart I know she tells everyone she meets!”

I take this from “Gerald”. There is no doubt that what had a confined Sylvia to her bed on this immensely important and exciting family occasion was the same trouble which had come upon her three or four weeks earlier at Caux, and that it was a forewarning of the fatal development which revealed itself more definitely the following October.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Friday, March 5th, 1909.

Dearest Mother,
Thank you very much for the snow-boots. Unfortunately it’s an exclusive privilege of POP to wear snow boots, and it’s almost as impossible to violate that rule as to appear in school in a blue waistcoat. I suppose, even with all these reasons, you’ll still think I’m just thin-skinned, but perhaps, if you were here, you’d understand.

I went to the cricket shed yesterday and today. It was quite fun. I hope I’m going to be a better bowler this season. I must practice at Ram[sgate]. Perhaps Jack, Peter and I will be able to go to the nets there. I think there’ll be plenty to do there – golf, cricket and squash, and perhaps we may play footer once a twice.

We had a parade in the snow on Thursday morning. It was snowing hard, and we must have looked very picturesque, if we didn’t feel so! The effect was greatly enhanced by our new hats, which are like this: [sketch] I look very prepossessing in one!

Will you ask Mary to give you the odd, thick, greenish sock in my drawer, to send me. It’s one of my warm winter socks, and I couldn’t think where it was until I saw it. It’s one of a pair you got me at Eton. The other is here.

Your loving son,
George.
P.S. Thanks for the stamps.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Saturday, March 13th, 1909

Dearest Mother,

I am afraid this will be a very short letter, as Extra Books are calling me jolly loudly. They are a cuss! It’s wonderful how Extra Books shows you how much time you get for reading. I seem to be doing Extra Books all day!

The Field Day on Thursday was rather fun. We started at 9 o’clock, had an hour’s train journey to Aldershot, and when we got there we waited about for half an hour. We marched some way then and had another wait of about ¾ of an hour. Then my Tutor’s section of the dog-potters were sent off to join another company. When we reached the company we weren’t wanted, and had to wait under cover for some time. Then the company retreated back on us, and we had some fighting. I shouldn’t think my firing would be very dangerous in actual warfare! It’s rather fun seeing an enemy skulking along about 500 yds off, and potting at him.

After about 30 minutes’ engagement we retired at a double until we fell in with the rest of our company and marched back to the station where we had lunch (rather a good one). We had a topping rag in the train coming back. Finally we all put on our coats, and marched through Eton to the New Schools Yard, where we fell out and went back to our houses. Here ended an eventful day.

Can I get a new pair of grey flannel bags, as the pair I’ve had since I’ve been here are really getting a lot too short?

Your loving son,
George.
P.S. My cold, cough, etc. is quite all right. I am enjoying excellent health.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Sunday, March 14, 1909

Dearest Mother,
Will you send me “The Time Machine”? It is on one of the school-room shelves, I think. Johnstone, at my tutor’s, wants to read it. He and I are both great Wells-lovers.

The weather has been beastly here today. We’ve had a great deal of snow and wind. I thought we’d about finished with snow. I went out a short walk in the afternoon, and then came in and did Sunday Questions.

We are going to do a field day with Wellington on Thursday week at Aldershot. I hope it will be a good one, and less slack than the last. There are some terrific regulations about Camp. It lasts 9 days, from July 27th to August 4th. We have to have lots of things, including razors! Perhaps they won’t make me shave!

It is awful to think of spending the first and best week of the holidays in camp. If we go to Scotland I shall have to travel up alone, which would be rather fun. You must let me, and not wait behind to escort me. I would thereby prove my practicalness! Somehow you always seem to be casting slurs on it!

I hope we go to Scotland, as, although I’m very very fond of Burley, even bug hunting can’t compare with fishing!

Your loving son,
George.

*

George’s humorous protest about being thought thin-skinned and unpractical are interesting. I think he was thin-skinned; I should say all five of us were, though perhaps showing it in different ways. But an Eton boy of 15 would have had to be thick-skinned indeed to wear snow boots! I expect he had to put up with a good deal, as the first Etonian in the family, from a fond mother who knew nothing of the customs of the school, and cared even less, and probably thought he was just inventing excuses because he didn’t fancy snow-boots.

As for the “unpracticalness”: I guess this to have been little more than the effect of a rather slow development, in George’s case, from inconsequential childish ways to maturer boyhood. Not that, on reflection, I would call any of us conspicuously practical either. It comes back to me that Sylvia once, when (at Berkhamsted) I lost a half-sovereign with which I had been in trusted on some shopping errand, by dropping it down a drain, was particularly exasperated and disappointed, she said, because she had always looked on me as the practical one of the family. Now perhaps no one knows but myself how far this was from being the truth. I conclude that, devoted as she was, and in all respects utterly exquisite and beyond criticism by me, Sylvia understood her children no better than most other fond parents. P[eggy] and I try to understand our own three, but, in case any of them ever read these lines, I hasten to assure them that I very much doubt if we really do. At the moment we both of us think young Peter “the most practical” of them. That may make him smile in years to come.

[AB: I met all three of Peter’s sons as adults, and came to know both Rivvy and Peter Jnr quite well. George – an insurance salesman living in Brooklyn – struck me as being the most easy-going; Rivvy, in Nico’s words, had his “eye on the main chance”, but whose life was complicated by the sufferings of his charming American wife Polly, who had multiple sclerosis. Peter was my favourite: I stayed with him and his wife/partner in New York several times, sharing his attic with a pair of fruit bats. He was without doubt the brightest of the three, and was, at the time I knew him, employed compiling an Australian dictionary. Both Rivvy and Peter inherited their mother’s Huntingdon’s disease gene (I don’t know about George as I lost track of him), and in the mid-80s I heard from Nico’s Laura that, like his father, Peter had killed himself. A tragic family in almost every way imaginable.]

George’s account of the field day with the dog-potters, otherwise known as the Eton College Officers Training Corps, makes curious reading in the light of after events and later letters. There is something truly ghastly in the thought of all these young creatures light-heartedly training for death in the school corps of 1909; though perhaps I can scarcely expect Jack, a professional warrior from the age of 12, to share this sentiment. George eventually became a Sergeant of a not very serious kind. I never rose above (non-proficient) Private myself, and I fear shouldn’t have got any further even if I had stayed on for another half or two. The Corps later became a more earnest affair altogether, of course, in Michael’s and Nico’s days, and I think both ended up as Cadet Officers. Nico certainly did, as I remember watching him carrying the colours at the parade in 1922 or so.

Johnstone (Johnny) had by this time become George’s closest friend at Eton, and remained so until in due course George’s election to Pop, and consequent aggrandisement, rather tended to separate them. A most excellent and worthwhile sort of chap, from what I remember of him, though not of the stuff of which Pops are made. He went into the Gunners as a regular soldier, and was killed in his turn in 1915.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

[A postcard, posted 1 p.m. March 19, 1909]

Dearest Mother,
I wrote to you last night, and took the letter to the usual place at my tutor's from which the Butler posts the letters. So I was surprised to get your telegram just now (12 o’clock). I’m so sorry if it’s made you anxious. Anyhow I was a bit late in writing, I know, but I was doing a final sap for Extra Books, which took every spare moment I had. I hope and trust you’ve got the letter by now. I will write again tonight. I can’t think what’s happened.

Your loving son,
George.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Friday, March 19th, 1909
[Posted at 10 p.m.]

Dearest Mother,
I’m so sorry about the miscarriage of that letter. I do hope you weren’t anxious. I can’t think what has happened to the letter. Perhaps it missed the post, and if so, I suppose you’ve got it now. Anyway I’m so sorry about it.

I believe Aunt Margaret is coming down on Sunday. It’s rather a bad day, but no matter! It’s rather funny that Sunday should be Jack’s day, while it’s a bad day for me.

I do wish Jack’s holidays were the same as mine. I suppose we shall go to Ram[sgate] before he breaks up. It’s rather rot for him to have Easter at Osborne. Thinking of Ram. reminds me of the glorious woman who sings just behind us in church. I intend to make a solemn and terrific effort to ousting her. I fear that will be rather dreadful, as you know from experience at Osborne that my voice is not that of the nightingale!

It is topping to have no Extra Books. They are an awful thing while they last. I think I have enough work without them, in fact my life this half has been full of sap.

I’m rather sick at the idea of Camp. Although I believe it’s rather fun, it’s a dreadful sweat. I believe it’s a bit grimy to, as everyone has to do everything (boot-cleaning, bed-making etc.) entirely for himself. I shall there have a chance of bringing out that latent practicalness within me, about the lack of which you always rag me.

Your loving son,
George.

*

The letter alleged by George to have been lost in the post does not appear to have survived. I can’t think what happened to it! All the same, in spite of this little drama, few boys can have given less cause for concern to their mothers than George.

Ramsgate and Kirkby Lonsdale where the only places at which we ever went to church. What were Sylvia’s religious beliefs? I don’t know, but have my own opinion. She was the daughter of one sceptic, the widow of another. I suppose Emma du M. remained orthodox, and that we all went to church (quite merrily) to please her. I was certainly no unbeliever myself at this time, and doubt if any of us were, though the odour of sanctity was not a conspicuous ingredient of the atmosphere in which we lived.

Extra Books: A rather painful Eton institution. The wretched boys had to prepare a book of Homer and the book of Virgil out of school hours (cribs being allowed), and were examined in them about two-thirds of the way through the half. I failed in the Greek part of this examination myself my first half, a thing almost on heard of for a Colleger, and got into exceedingly hot water thereby.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Sunday, March 21st, 1909.

Dearest Mother,
Aunt Margaret came down this afternoon. We went a short walk through cloisters, saw the chapel and other school buildings, and then went to my room. She caught the 5.9 train back.

I suppose you and Peter went to Osborne today to see Jack. Was he well enough to be confirmed or still in sick-bay?

I went out another run yesterday, and did unimaginable feats of jumping. We didn’t run far, but spent our time leaping across rivers. We finished up with the school jump, of course.

I’m sitting in Johnstone’s room, by a roasting fire. Millington-Drake is down here for the week-end in great form, swaggering about everywhere. I saw him in chapel today.

Alas! I must now go down to prayers.

Good night,
Your loving son,
George.

*

From this and later references to Margaret Ll.D., it will be seen that she played her part gallantly as a good aunt and link with the Llewelyn Davies element in our composition. She kept it up for many years, though possibly with decreasing satisfaction; fondness, based on something more than blood, always remained between us and our Ll.D. relatives, but there was a drift apart, most unfortunately. Her father, still in 1909 at Kirkby Lonsdale, was too old (83) to concern himself much with his grandsons, and no doubt the feeling Arthur gave expression to in one of his last notes, that his father would not understand Sylvia’s way of life, was justified. I think that, devoted as Sylvia had been to her mother-in-law, and fond as she was with Margaret and “the kind uncles”, she was not very closely en rapport with those of Arthur’s family who survived him. The differences were too great: differences which we all, in varying degrees, inherited and which were enhanced by our environment and upbringing, so that, even before Sylvia’s death, we were gradually drawing away from the Davies influence and what it stood for.

Charles Ll.D. we saw little of; he was by temperament a hermit, and the last man in the world to come forward in such a situation. Maurice and Harry had their own family affairs, and Margaret herself was the devoted slave of her now enfeebled father. Crompton did much, in his affectionate unobtrusive way, but would soon be caught up in his own all-absorbing marriage. There was in fact precious little they could any of them do; and I haven’t the least doubt that the curious position of J.M.B. was something that, however thankfully they may have recognised the value of it, they found rather hard to swallow. Be that as it may, this drawing apart, though inevitable, was a great misfortune from our point of view. Had it been possible to instil into us, in our impressionable years, more of the balanced, able, essentially sound Davies characteristics, we should all have benefited accordingly.

To a certain extent I think I myself may have stayed a little closer than the rest of us, in the first years after Arthur’s death and Sylvia’s, to Margaret Ll.D. She had interested herself rather particularly in me from early times, for some reason – partly perhaps because I succumbed to the charms of a huge photograph of the Winged Victory of Samothrace in an upper room at Kirkby Lonsdale. At any rate she sought to educate me, by means of handbooks and photographs, in the principles of Greek architecture, and later insinuated lives of William Morris and similar edifying influences into my young mind. But in the end I drifted away from it all quite as much as any of us; and much regret it. Yet something lingered, so that she was moved in her latter years, when putting her affairs in order, to send me all the letters from Arthur to his mother and to herself which I have reproduced in this record. Sentiment apart, Margaret Ll.D. was a most distinguished figure in her day, and would have been more so has she not had her full share of that unwillingness to indulge in the normal vulgarities of ambition for which her family was remarkable. I wish I could have done her more justice in these pages.

Jack was well enough to be confirmed that Sunday, and I can just remember watching the ceremony at Osborne with Sylvia.

*

[J.M.B. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Royal Hotel,
Edinburgh.
Saty. (3 April 1909)

Dearest Jocelyn,
I am now slowly recovering from the functions, which continued for about six solid hours. The gown turned out to be the gayest affair, all red and blue, and if Michael had met me in the wood he would have tried to net me as a Scarlet Emperor. We wandered the streets in this guise and I even walked half a mile in mine all alone. Edinburgh was so full of birds of paradise that not a stone was thrown. But the five missed the chance of their lives in not encountering me in the streets arrayed in my glory. I feel strangely drab today in my old purple tie.

Edinburgh is looking its best, which is I think the best in the world, for it must be about the most romantic city on the earth. But it strikes cold on me nowadays, for the familiar faces have long been gone and there are only buildings left. I am going onto Kirriemuir this afternoon and may go to see my oldest sister on Monday. I’ll get back to London on Tuesday. “The Englishman’s Home” is a great subject up here, and I boast that I have asked Guy to pass the mustard. I believe this is why they gave me the degree.

Your affect.
J.M.B.

[AB: Barrie had been awarded an honorary LL.D. by his alma mater, Edinburgh University. A month later he was offered a knighthood in the Birthday Honours List, but politely declined.]

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton College,
Windsor.
Sunday, April 4th, 1909.

Dearest Mother,
I went to the concert on Saturday evening. It was rather good. One fellow sang some very nice French songs – “L’oiselet a quitté sa branche” and “Le coeur de ma mie.” I liked them, and the school songs at the end of the evening. It’s the first time I’ve been to the school concert.

It’s absolutely ripping to think there are only three more days before the holidays. Alas! and woe is me! and out and alack! I fear me they will be long ones!

Will you send me my journey money? I think it had better be 10 bob, and I can give you what’s left of it when I arrive in time for breakfast on Thursday morning.

I suppose we set off to Ramsgate directly after lunch. Or soon after I arrive? I rather wish we were going to see “The Prisoner of Zenda” in the evening. But no matter! After all, I’m afraid George Alexander would rather spoil my lofty conceptions of Rudolf Rassendyl!

Trials are moving on slowly. I’m rather afraid I’m not doing very well. But I may do better after today. I am sending my class list. Philips mi[nor] is the only person above me whom I beat in trials. The people with crosses are the ones above me in the school whom I beat. “Sent up for good” is something to do with verses, at which I’m useless, as my tutor may sadly tell you.

Your loving son,
George.
P.S. Ask Nicholas not to break the billiard table absolutely until next half!

*

The class list shows that for the “Lent School-time” of 1909 George was twentieth out of thirty in D I, the “select” division of the Lower Fifth. This makes it clear that he had originally taken Remove, and was now at the end of his second year as an Upper. He had made a late start, being over fourteen on passing in, but kept his place in the highest division for which he was qualified: no mean performance for an Oppidan to whom all the Eton diversions came so easily and in such attractive guise.

Of the other boys in the division two are perhaps worth mentioning: Huxley, K.S. (Aldous Huxley), 5th, who was I think 18 months or perhaps two years younger, and Lord Cranborne, the present leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords, 22nd and the same age as George. Neither of these, by the way, had been “sent up for good”, a distinction achieved by ten of the division. The evidence, in a word, is that, while not one of the outstandingly clever boys of his time at Eton, he was well above the average and maintained a high standard.

He is G.L. Davies, by the way, in the list; not using the double L on which A.Ll.D. had insisted at Marlborough.

*

[NOT IN THE MORGUE]

[J.M.B. to Sylvia Ll.D.] at Ramsgate

Black Lake Cottage,
Near Farnham,
Surrey.
Sunday, [11 April 1909]

Dearest Jocelyn,
I suppose you are all running about barefoot by the sea-shore thinking it is really summer. It is sad to think that George may have had to take off his socks. I should have thought out the Easter egg question before I left London, and now Michael and Nicholas will be scorning me. Mea culpa, as they say at my tutor’s.

Mason came down same day as I, and yesterday Sylvia Brett motored over & Frohman came down for some hours, so we had games to play. We go back to London on Tuesday, and if you send me word there I’ll meet the cadet on Wed’y. I’m going to the Lewis’s Sat’y to Monday. I’ll come down to see you soon after that.

Frampton was very taken with Mick’s pictures & I had to leave them with him. He prefers the Peter clothed to a nude child. It will take him at least two years. George’s wife can unveil it. I don’t feel gay, so no more at present, dear Jocelyn.

Yours,
J.M.B.

[AB: The cadet = Jack. “Mick’s pictures” refers to the photographs Barrie took of Michael dressed as Peter Pan in the garden at Rustington in August 1906.]

*

[J.M.B. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Hotel Adlon, Berlin W.
Unter den Linden I
am Pariser-Platz.
24 April [1909]

Dearest J.
Thus far into the bowels of the earth. Unter den Linden will suggest much to your romantic mind. It is a leafy avenue down the middle of the chief street, but as yet I have not seen the dashing warriors with their [?] damsels. I walked up it with F[rohman], and I hope we made a strongly picturesque couple. I in my frayed cuffs.

My first impression is that Berlin is a man’s world, so different from the impression of Paris. Man seems to be glorified everywhere, there are a thousand statues of him and not one to a woman. You have a queer feeling that there is only one sex. If they have children it is done by some new scientific means. Down with the old methods – as we say in repertory theatres. The men look uncommonly intelligent and most of them are so like Maurice in “The Englishman’s home” that I feel he can’t be playing his part tonight. The women look happy too and there is a pleasant courtesy about all. They seem tremendously far from “smart”, and it is really a relief. You can’t believe that gowns and hats rule here, though perhaps they do. There is a curious absence of prettiness. Perhaps it is hidden away. Or it is considered improper.

Have seen a number of their theatres from the outside at least, and they are fine impressive buildings. Is it a cathedral or a museum or public library, you might ask of various piles – and they are theatres. They give splendid performances too, and one theatre will think nothing of playing all the pieces of Ibsen, say, in three weeks. They make our fuss about repertories seem very half educated. You had seen that our scheme was in the papers. If I had not gone back to London that day we should have been too late.

Have not yet had a wire from [A.E.W.] Mason saying whether he is coming. If he is he will arrive on Monday morning. We have not seen the papers yet about the play, but I am rather afraid it will seem a bit mild. Our idea is to get back to London on Wed’y night, so I fear that will be too late for my having Peter. I would have liked to have him and keep him till he grew a beard. Speaking of that, you can tell the boys that not only have I had my hair cut in Berlin, but I have had a most learned and technical talk with a master the art about how the moustaches are made to grow upwards. In a few weeks now I shall look so like the Kaiser that you English will send a Dreadnought against me.

There is a dogged young German here whom we cannot get away from. His parents who are friends of F. and are not in Berlin have evidently warned him that he must devote himself to us, and he is doing it in the most wearisome way. He is as wearied of us as we are of him but he is determined to do his duty. At first we were polite to him, then sulky, then openly threatening but all is of no avail. It always ends with his bringing his feet together and saying he will call for us again in half an hour’s time.

I have forgotten to tell you about Mrs. Joshua. She made a most charming companion and – no, to stick to facts she didn’t come. She went the day before we did.

We are going out now to Potsdam to see the Kaiser’s palace, but he is not there himself.

I hope all, including Max, are well. I think Max is rather like me, especially when he falls into the fender.

Yours,
J.M.B.

*

F. is the course Charles Frohman, by now J.M.B.’s greatest friend, with the possible exception of Alfred Mason, as well as being his mainstay and support in all matters of theatrical business. I suppose they were in Berlin for Frohman to acquire German plays for New York and London. The reference to repertory arose from the temporary interest which J.M.B. was then taking – and persuading Frohman to take – in the launching of a repertory theatre in London, in collaboration with Shaw, Galsworthy and Granville Barker.

Edmund Morris was the actor who played the part of the Norland commander in “An Englishman’s Home”. He was made up with a square beard, unmistakably German.

I am unable to elucidate the remark about Mrs. Joshua (that at least is how I read the lady’s name); and for once Denis’s book gives no clue.

Max was a dachshund, recently presented to me by Sylvia. I don’t remember why. Perhaps someone had given him to her. He was a delightful dog, but somehow faded away into limbo during the turmoil and confusion of 1914-18.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton College,
Windsor
Friday, May 9 (1909)

Dearest Mother,
I went for a walk this afternoon in search of caterpillars. My bag was one small drinker, which I am very bucked with. It is at present eating grass in a jam jar. Tell Peter I hope he’ll be as keen as I am, and get caterpillars from Kensington Gardens!

I am in need of a pair of black boots – my others are growing too small. Can I get a pair? I shall need them badly for dog-potting etc.

I played cricket yesterday. I played in First Upper Sixpenny, which was pretty good. I had no chance of distinguishing myself, alas! I didn’t get an innings or bowl. But are we downhearted? No!

Mr. Bowlby, whom I’m up to, sets terrifically long Sunday Questions. I foresee a sap half for George Llewelyn Davies. I’m up to Bodkin for mathematics, and thank goodness I do no French! I do a lot more mathematics though, instead. I am also going to do Greek verse, I think.

I have had a great change in position in chapel. I sit just underneath the choir in a much more comfortable place. But alas! Some of the little trebles are very husky and bad when you’re close to them.

Your loving son,
George.
P.S. I wrote to J.M.B.

*

Rather curious to find George is still a caterpillar enthusiast not far short of 16. None of the rest of us showed a comparable keenness on lepidoptera.

Oh those Sunday Questions! They were the bane of my life at Eton, and of pretty well everyone else’s too. They made Sundays hideous with their interminable and excruciating problems about the kings of Judah and the plain of Esdraelon and the meaning of Corban and the difference between a Maccabee and a Pharisee and the Zebedee and all that; the mind of man could surely conceive no shorter road to atheism.

I never can remember which pair it was, out of the trio Bowlby, Ford and Alington, who were known to the irreverent is Creeping Christ and Slimy Jesus. None of them were masters in my day, but two of them survived legendarily under those pseudonyms, bestowed on them by some ingenious young student of Blake.

The P.S. implies that Sylvia had sent George a reminder to write to J.M.B. on his birthday, May 9th.

*

[J.M.B. to Sylvia Ll.D. at 23 C.H.S.]

Leinster Corner,
Lancaster Gate, W.
Thursday [17 June 1909]

Dearest Jocelyn,
I shall try to get to the school tomorrow at ½ past 4 and see Peter off. At three I am going to see about the Meredith letters and don’t know how long it will take.

How I wish I were going down to see Michael and Nicholas. All the donkey boys and the fishermen and sailors see them but I don’t. I feel they are growing up without my looking on, when I grudge any blank day without them. I cannot picture a summer day that does not have Michael skipping on in front. That is summer to me, and all the five know me as nobody else does. The bland indifference with which they accept my tantrums is the most engaging thing in the world to me. They are quite sure that despite appearances I am all right. To be able to help them and you, that is my dear ambition, to do the best I can always and always, and my greatest pride is that you let me do it. I wish I did it so much better. It is always such a glad thought me to find you even a little finer a woman than I had thought. I am so sorry about those pains in your head.

Your affectionate,
J.M.B.

*

It is not quite clear to me why we were going to Ramsgate in June, but I suppose it was Whitsuntide, when Wilkinson’s had a week’s holiday. Presumably the main body would go down by “The Granville Express” in the early afternoon, and J.M.B. had been fagged by Sylvia to fetch me from Orme Square after school and put me on a later train.

George Meredith died on May 18th and J.M.B. had been asked by Morley, one of the executors, to write the biography, which eventually he declined.

This letter is the nearest thing to a pledge or solemn undertaking to Sylvia by J.M.B. which appears to have survived. I have been a little surprised, by the way, to find so little of the love-letter about any of his letters to her which remain. No doubt they are only a few of many that were written, but on the whole they do not give me such an impression of intimacy as might have been expected.

Were the headaches and ill-health to which allusion is made in this and the next letter fore-shadowings, as yet unrecognised, of the doom which was to declare itself in the autumn of this year? It seems probable; though to some observers, this summer, Sylvia had seemed gayer and happier. Denis Mackail: “She had put off her mourning, and though she would always be beautiful whether she thought of her looks or not, it was a joy to her friends to see her in her pretty things again.”

A little scene which made a deep impression on me must belong, I fancy, to about this time. I was reading a book in the dining room at 23 C.H.S., presumably on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, when Sylvia came in, having just returned from lunching out somewhere. There was a sort of sparkle about her, of vivacity which even I at the age of 12 detected instantly; it quite confused me in a vague sort of way, and then I was actually dumbfounded with the words: “Don’t you like my lovely new stockings, Peter?” She pulled her dress up to her knees to show me. In those days one was unaccustomed to seeing one’s mother’s legs, or any other woman’s. I hardly knew which way to turn, and feel sure I must have blushed, being overcome with the strangest feeling of half horrified, half flattered and delighted intimacy. I wish I could say that I remember the stockings – they were black, certainly – or the shoes or the hat or any of the clothes that she was wearing. But I can’t; only the words and the action, and the sense of Sylvia’s gaiety and of my own bewilderment have stayed in my mind, all combining to form perhaps the most vivid of all my memories – few, alas, as they are, in the end – of Sylvia. I am sure she had had a “success” that day, that for a moment some admirer had evoked in her the conscious exercise of her charms.

*

[J.M.B. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Black Lake Cottage,
Nr Farnham,
Surrey.
5 July [1909]

Dearest Jocelyn,
I hope you are feeling pretty well, but I don’t believe it, and that saddens me. At all events I can trust to the others being lusty and am looking forward to you being here with George. I have not heard definitely yet when Miss [Maude] Adams is to be in London but expect it will be on Thursday so that I’ll come up that day and come down with you on Friday. If so my notion is to lunch with you on Thursday.

My temperature has been bobbing about, and I went to bed again on Saturday, but it seems better now. I lay in bed that day and didn’t grudge not being with the visitors. I read a good deal in Meredith’s note-books. He kept little note-books just like mine (until they began to be written in alas), and entered in one I found “Woman will be the last thing civilised by man” and “Who rises from prayer a better man, his prayer is answered.” It was strange to read them in pencil, as written for the first time. Also nice letters from the first son from school, signed “Your loving little man.” How sad it sounds.

The Hewletts and Miss Stahl have gone. The new room is over the end part of the dining room and is bright and werry artistic.

I do wish you were feeling stronger and had not so many things to do. I’m very unhappy about it.

Yours,
J.M.B.

*

If Sylvia did take George down to Black Lake Cottage for that week-end (which was doubtless the week-end of George’s Lord’s leave from Eton), it must have been the last visit paid by any of the family to the scene of “The Boy Castaways” and, with nearby Tilford, of so many happy memories. For it was at the end of this month – the 28th – that the Black Lake gardener opened J.M.B.’s eyes to what a good many other people had suspected for months past, so that he hurried back to Leinster Corner to confront Mary Barrie with the charge, which neither she nor Gilbert Cannan attempted to deny. All this, and the divorce which followed, is adequately dealt with by Denis M. in his book.

I really don’t see how anyone conversant with the facts can possibly blame Mary B. or her 20 years younger lover. And I don’t suppose they did, though the law naturally pilloried them as the guilty parties. It was a species of crucifixion, too, for the wretched J.M.B., however much he may have brought it on himself: one of the things that darkened his life from then on, however much it may have benefited him in the long run in various ways. Not being a moralist in matters of this kind to any noticeable extent, I don’t feel the least inclination to a lot “blame” to him either, or to anyone else. One can be quite certain that the gossips’ tongues wagged with plenty of malice about Sylvia’s position in the affair; they must have had a perfectly splendid time, indeed. I hope and believe that she didn’t care a rap to the world’s opinion of herself.

Had she seen it coming? I don’t know. I don’t know what the relations were between her and Mary Barrie, whether they loathed each other, were bored by each other, got on quite well together, tolerated each other, or what. That she must have thought many thoughts about the whole affair, and about it’s possible effect on her own and our future, goes without saying. But as to how those thoughts ran, I have no idea, and there is nothing in any of the letters in my possession to throw any light on that. I doubt whether she put much of her inner self into her letters in any case, or spoke her inner thoughts to anyone. Dolly Ponsonby lays such emphasis on the reserve and reticence which she noticed in Sylvia’s character, that I am sure she is perfectly right.

Any situation involving J.M.B. was inevitably peculiar. That Sylvia found in him a comforter of infinite sympathy and tact, and a mighty convenient slave, and that she thankfully accepted his money as a gift from the gods to herself and her children – all that is clear enough. I think she laughed at him a little too, and was a little sorry for him, with all his success, as anyone who knew him well and liked him was more or less bound to be. I mean sorry for him in a general way, quite apart from the pity which his misery over the fact and machinery and publicity of divorce must have stirred in any generous breast. But whether she regarded the divorce as, ultimately, a simplification of the relation in which she stood to him, or as the exact reverse, who can say?

I think neither she nor anyone at this stage realised the seriousness of the periodical attacks of ill-health from which she was suffering. It was not until the following October – the month in which J.M.B.’s case came up for judgement and his decree nisi was pronounced – that the gravity of her illness became apparent and its fatal nature began to be suspected.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton College,
Windsor.
Sunday, July 18th, 1909

Dearest Mother,
My blazer has just arrived. It’s a startling sight, I promise you! Brown with white stripes down it. I shall wear it for the first time tomorrow! You can’t think how nice it is to have a Colour. I change awfully quickly, so as to get on my cap and scarf! Lots of people at my tutor’s are extraordinarily jealous! I shall be glad when you see them in the holidays!

We are playing Hare’s in house matches. We have got them out for 130 (I took 5 wickets), and for 6 wickets we’ve made 41. So it looks as if we shall be beaten pretty badly. I’m going in first thing tomorrow. I should love to make about 30. It would be awfully useful to my tutor’s.

We had an awful inspection of the dog-potters yesterday afternoon. First of all we had to stand absolutely still for nearly 10 minutes and be looked at. Then we drilled and skirmished the rest of the afternoon. And pretty hot it was!

Have you settled on a house yet? I should think that unless Dartmoor has good fishing, Whitby would be much nicer. I should like to be somewhere where we could get some cricket. Perhaps we could play some with other people at Whitby. After getting my Sixpenny I’m twice as keen on cricket!

Your loving son,
George.

*

By “getting his Sixpenny” (1st eleven under 16), George had his foot securely on the first rung of the ladder which leads to athletic fame at Eton. The pleasure it gave him is delightfully expressed. Perhaps no one who has never got a colour of some sort at Eton can comprehend the satisfaction it gives, the increased stature and self assurance and general sense of well-being. A successful love affair is possibly the only comparable triumph in after life. It must have done George a great deal of good.

Evidently Sylvia had had thoughts of revisiting the scenes of her childhood, and introducing her children to them, for the summer holidays this year. The Millars, I believe, still went to Whitby now and then, and I think Gerald du M. and his children too. But we never as a family spent any of our holidays with our cousins, and on this occasion Dartmoor won the day, and the Parsonage, Postbridge, with good cheap boys’ fishing in the upper Dart and other little streams, was taken for August and September.

I have been a little surprised, in going through these letters of George’s, to find so few references to Sylvia going down to see him at Eton. I might have expected to hear of her going continuously. She may have, and letters mentioning her visits may have disappeared; but the present letter, for example, suggests that there was no likelihood of her coming to see him in the glory of his new cap and blazer. Perhaps on the whole then, with all her tenderness and devotion, she was not the ridiculously fond and fussy mother of J.M.B.’s idealised fancy, but something much better. I dimly remember once going to Eton with her to see George – it might have been this summer or the summer before, on the 4th of June, and I think we were with the Olivers, and had the motored over with them from Checkenden. A ghostly vision of pretty hats and dresses, including hers, still vaguely haunts me, and a sort of echo of the laughter in her voice as she professed to be overwhelmed by the grandeur of a row of Pops sitting on the low wall in front of Upper School, and by the size and manly beauty of one of the Grenfells, I think Billy, who passed by, resplendent, on Barnes Pool Bridge.

*

[J.M.B. to Sylvia Ll.D. at Postbridge]

17 Stratton Street, W.
Thursday [12 August 1909]

Dear Jocelyn,
I hope you are all settled down comfortably now and that there is a bracing feeling in the air despite the heat. In this weather the boys need not expect to get many trout as the waters will all be small and clear, but after all the sun is better than trout and they will find lots of other things to do. I sent some gut, etc. with some fly hooks. They are flies of the kind that are supposed to be effective on Dartmoor, for every part of the country seems to have its special sort of flies.

I hope George’s cold is quite better now and that Jack has arrived to brighten the party. I wrote to Madge [Murray] the night the play ended, sending her some money for the other two, and she replied from Black Lake, where I see she still is as she has forwarded some of my letters. They are forwarded to Leinster Corner still, as I have not given change of address. I don’t know whether Madge has been told of things, but suppose so. It was just a grateful letter. I am still quite well, and tomorrow will go down again with Mason to his Wootton house and come back here on Monday.

I may possibly go with him to Switzerland at the end of the month. I wouldn’t climb but could get some good walks with him. However I’ve settled nothing. I went with him yesterday to see the Test Match at the Oval.

Yours ever,
J.M.B.

*

This was written a fortnight after the storm had burst. J.M. and Mary B. had been to see Sir George Lewis, and all discussions had ended in the inevitability of divorce; that is to say, in no circumstances would she give up Gilbert Cannan, and the only possible course was for J.M.B. to cite him as co-respondent. He would never see Black Lake Cottage again; it and Luath, and Alphonse and the two cars were to be hers. Leinster Corner itself had become hateful to him, and he had been glad to take refuge in Alf Mason’s flat, where, as A.E.W.M. once told Nico and me, he would walk up and down, up and down all night in his heavy boots until the sound of it drove everyone within hearing almost as frantic as the miserable little figure himself.

Had Sylvia and he met since the Black Lake gardener’s revelation, or had she and the boys left for Dartmoor by then? I don’t know. A strange scene to have overheard, if they did. One can’t help noticing, by the way, that for the first time she is “Dear Jocelyn”, and not “Dearest” and that he signs himself more conventionally than heretofore. This may imply mere agitation, or a sort of acknowledgement of provocation offered in recent years to his wife, or a cautious hint from Sir George Lewis; or of course it may mean nothing at all.

“The night the play ended” must refer to the last night of “What Every Woman Knows”, which was actually July 28th, the very day of the revelation. (I take both dates from Denis). If in fact J.M.B. remembered, on that very night, after his return from Black Lake to Leinster Corner to have it out with Mary B., if he remembered in his then state of mind to send one of his periodical allowance-payments to his three nieces, one must certainly take off one’s hat to him.

The sending of flies to Dartmoor may perhaps be a symptom of his agitation, as no one knew better than he that none of us yet aspired to the art of fly-fishing. But he may have thought it high time we began; or it may be that worm fishing was only allowed in those waters after a certain date. In any case we stuck exclusively to the humble worm that summer.

*

[J.M.B. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

17 Stratton Street, W.
[26 August 1909]

My dear Jocelyn,
Mason and I are going off on Saturday morning, and the idea is to stay twelve days or so at Zermatt, where he will do some climbing, but I shall content myself with walks to the places where the real climbing begins. We’ll get to Zermatt on Sunday, and the address is Hotel Monte Rosa, Zermatt, Switzerland, so be sure to write soon and let me know how you all are. The boys can conceive me cutting a mild dash in my knickerbockers, which I admit are things I feel rather a guy in. It’s possible that Crompton may pass that way on his road to the Tyrol presently, but he is not sure when he will be able to get away from his labours on the Budget bill. I have told him about my affairs and he is very kind. What a disappointment to Guy [du Maurier] and his wife [Gwen]. It is a good thing he’s coming home to comfort her.

Sir George thinks my case will come on early in October as the undefended cases come early. I’ll see if I can get hold of any readable books for the boys. I’ll send at any rate “The Pools of Silence”, which is about all the cruelties practised by King Leopold’s people in the rubber part of Africa [i.e. the Belgian Congo], and can be taken I fancy as quite a true picture as well as an exciting yarn.

I see the new play Gerald is in [Arsène Lupin] comes out in a few days, and I hope he’ll have another big success. I’ve managed not to see anybody, have no heart for it, but I do a little work and feel quite well. I’ve just been to Leinster Corner to get lots of warm things in case it’s cold Zermatt. It is always so painful to me to go to Leinster Corner now. Mason will be on that Dramatic Censorship committee all day, but we dine together at any rate. He will probably stay abroad a good while but I can come back any time if I prefer it though there’s nothing to do.

Yours ever,
J.M.B.

*

There is very little intimacy as to “my affairs” in this or any of the letters. This might imply a particular degree of reticence due to circumstances. I can’t say whether J.M.B. expanded more in writing to other correspondents; it is evident that he kept his own counsel in writing to Sylvia. I doubt if he exposed his wounds much to anyone, being in most ways an exceedingly reserved character himself.

There were one or two letters, among the stuff I collected in my ghoulish way from Taft Coles [May’s husband], between May and Trixie which contain references – slightly ribald and unkind ones – to the “disappointment to Guy and his wife”. Their conclusion (probably correct) was that the whole thing was all my eye, i.e. that poor Gwen du M’s idea that she was going to have a baby had been simply a piece of silliness all along, based on ignorance. The letters left a faintly unpleasant taste in the mouth and I am not sorry to have lost them.

*

[J.M.B. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Hotel Monte Rosa,
Zermatt, Switzerland.
Monday [30 August 1909]

My dear Jocelyn,
Mason went off early this morning with his guides and I am to meet them on the way back. It is an attractive little place this, with enough climbing to give it a character of its own and there is no evening dress at dinner and we are waited on by maids only. The hotel is on the little village street and from your open window you can hear all the gossip of the day, with Mason’s laugh rising above it. There has been no big climbing owing to the weather. Tell the boys we passed Montreux all green. It is green everywhere except on the peaks. The Matterhorn is our next door neighbour here and is considerably amused by my knickerbockers. In happier circumstances this would be a delightful place and its novelty will help to pass the days. I’m just going off to meet Mason and walk back with him.

Yours ever,
J.M.B.

*

Mason was absorbing local colour for one of his best and most successful novels, “Running Water”.

Montreux, on the banks of Lac Léman, was the station for Caux, where we had gone for winter sports the preceding Christmas.

*

[Sylvia Ll.D. to J.M.B.]

The Parsonage,
Postbridge.
Sep. 3 [1909 ]

My dear J.
I was so very glad to get your letter. I can picture you and Mr. Mason so well at Zermatt – I went there years ago with Mr. and Mrs. Davies and Margaret and Crompton and dear Theodore. I cannot remember the name of the hotel but it was small and rather attractive and on the little lively street. Crompton and Theodore and I and two guides slept one night in a little cottage on the mountains I remember and started very early in the morning to climb the Breithorn – I can’t imagine how I did it – perhaps because I was twenty and very happy.

It is quite cold here now but fine and good and rather beautiful I think. I wish I could walk more and see all the lovely places but the hills try me now. – There is a cart called “The Dead Cart” for going over the hills in – it has no springs and is perhaps the most unrestful place in the world – I rather envy the people with motors which no doubt is feeble of me!

I always hate it when the holidays come to an end – Jack has to return to Dartmouth on the 19th – he is fifteen on the 11th and we shall want you with us on that day. George is lucky and has till the 25th. Michael (St) is going to Wilkinson’s with Peter – you will think of me when I have to cut his hair – he is longing and longing for the moment.

I think we shall leave here on the 20th.

Love from us all,
Yours ever,
Jocelyn.

*

A sad letter, one would say; the leaden weight of ill-health now an added burden.

Of her holiday at Zermatt with her prospective family-in-law, in 1891, we have had an account in one of John Ll.D.’s letters to Arthur [12 July 1891: “I am astonished at what Margaret and Sylvia can do. After a very severe ascent yesterday, Theodore and Sylvia danced down steep places as if they were just starting.”]. Sylvia was in fact 23 at the time, not 20.

I have pretty clear recollections of the Postbridge holiday, though not many that are material for the present record. Florrie Gay came for some of the time, partly I suppose to be a companion for Sylvia, and partly to bear a hand in looking after the gang of boys. George and I worm-fished insatiably in the Dart and the Cherrybrook and Vitifer Leat, walking and bicycling many miles in the process. Jack, I think, was less easily amused, (more adult, perhaps), and occasionally sought the company of a neighbouring farmer’s daughter – was her name Elsie Coaker? Michael and Nico were more or less tied to Mary Hodgson’s apron strings still. There was the inevitable Major, staying at the local pub, who befriended us, and was reputed to have caught a sea-trout in the long pool below the Clapper Bridge.

What else that is worth mentioning? The Parsonage was small and gaunt and, as a house, devoid of charm; the surroundings beautiful in their upland way, the hamlet of Postbridge as isolated, almost, as possible, right in the middle of the moor. It must have been dreadfully boring for Sylvia, but no doubt it was very healthy for all of us. To counteract that we stole an occasional Egyptian cigarette (Nestor) from the pink cardboard packets which Sylvia used, and smoked it surreptitiously behind the hedge that bounded the garden. George, too, had now begun to affect a pipe, also of course sub rosa. I remember him smoking it one day, when we were out fishing, after a picnic lunch in which slightly unripe plums – bought from a horse-drawn grocer’s van which delivered supplies every other day or so from Princetown or Chagford – had figured largely. He was very sick indeed, almost immediately afterwards, which is why I so clearly recall the plums. I think it was this summer, too, that George began to shock me to the core by strange locutions picked up at Eton. Obscenity and profanity would mingle horrifically and fortissimo in impassioned oaths when a big (quarter-pound) trout escaped after being hauled half out of the water, wriggling irresistibly. Many public schoolboys acquire a certain eloquence in this kind of language, though by no means all; and George, in no sense a dissolute or ill-living boy, had unquestionably a marked talent for it, which he was from the age of 16 at all times ready to display in suitable surroundings. Curious enough, in a son of Arthur. It is not for me to speak for Jack or Nico in such a connection in these pages, but for myself I may record that I soon discarded the youthful blush of shame, and became my brother’s apt pupil.

Of Sylvia herself at Postbridge I remember very little. I think she rarely went for more than a few hundred yards from the house, though I recall a longer expedition over the hills in the “dead cart”; and, except for walking, there was absolutely nothing else for her to do apart from the normal household cares. In the evenings or on wet days she used sometimes to encourage George and more particularly Jack to sing songs which she accompanied on the piano; songs from “Our Miss Gibbs” or “The Cingalee” or “The Arcadians”.

I can’t clearly remember Michael’s hair unshorn; but photographs show that he had the most entrancing curls, so that Sylvia’s anguish and his own delight at the idea of losing them are equally understandable.

*

[J.M.B. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Hotel Couttet,
Chamonix,
France.
13 Sep [1909]

My dear Jocelyn,
We are still at Zermatt but on Wednesday we shall get to the above address and be there for a week or so, after which I must be thinking of getting back to London. If you have written here it will be forwarded. I hope Jack had a good birthday. It is a great pity his holidays don’t go on as long as George’s but it can’t be helped. Yesterday Crompton and I had a splendid tramp of seven or eight hours and I feel not a bit tired, which shows that all this exercise is doing me good. I haven’t taken as much this twenty years. The boys would have been amused to see Crompton helping an old lady to drive her cows home. He does not come with us to Chamonix as he is going on into the Tyrol. It has been good having him here. The weather has been bright and sunny again. It was at the Poste you stayed, only a few yards down the street from here. The great climber Whymper is here and we have long talks with him. He is now about 70, married lately to a girl of 22 and they have a baby. Mason’s two guides are brothers and they have another eight brothers.

Yours affect.
J.M.B.

[AB: One of the pleasures – not to say distractions – while transcribing the Morgue is being able to Google this and that. Both the super-posh Hotel Monte Rosa and Sylvia’s more modest Hotel Poste still exist, “tastefully” modernised in a manner that would doubtless make Peter squirm even more than it does me. Of more bizarre interest is this chap Edward Whymper, the first person to scale the Matterhorn in 1865, although he lost four of his climbing party on the way back down. According to Wikipedia, “On 25 April 1906, aged 65, Whymper married Edith Mary Lewin aged 23. The marriage produced one daughter, Ethel. The couple were separated in 1910. Edith remarried in 1913 and died the following year from complications of pregnancy. Shortly after returning to Chamonix from another climb in the Alps, Whymper became ill, locked himself in his room at the Grand Hotel Couttet, and refused all medical treatment. He died alone on 16 September 1911, at the age of 71, and is buried in the English cemetery in Chamonix.]

*

I have no more Swiss letters from J.M.B. after this curiously flat and dull one. I suppose he was beset with the horrors of the approaching divorce case, involving his own appearance in the witness box. He and Alfred Mason returned to the latter’s flat in London early in October, and the (undefended) suit was heard on October 13th, before Mr. Justice Bigham [later Lord Mersey], whose friendship for Arthur has been mentioned earlier, and his continued interest in Arthur’s sons was to be the subject of a letter to J.M.B. some six years later.

Among the papers left by Coley I came across one or two letters to May from Trixie, or it may have been from Emma du M., which showed that Mary Cannan had been to see Emma du M. while the divorce was pending, and that Trixie had been taken up and attitude unsympathetic to Sylvia. (The allusions were rather muddled or at any rate tricky to elucidate, and I am not sorry to have mislaid the letters.) This will serve to explain reference to Trixie in one of Emma du M.’s letters from Ashton in August 1910 which would otherwise have been obscure.

Family rows were only too natural in such circumstances. I asked Mary Hodgson whether she remembered a state of tension between Sylvia and Trixie at that time, and she replied “Yes! Arising from jealousy of a friendship she was incapable of understanding!“

I can think of no fate bad enough for anyone who should ever show this to Gerald M[illar], whom I love and whose friendship I value more than most people’s, bless him.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton College,
Windsor.
Tuesday, September 28th, 1909.

Dearest Mother,
I have got a brolly, which I used all today.

We played footer this afternoon – my tutor's without their two house colours against Somerville’s without theirs. These games are called Sinés, from the Latin siné, meaning without (i.e. house colours). Each house has two Sinés, and this is my tutor's first Siné. I played short, which was pretty hard work; I got knocked about a good deal! I am now so stiff that I can scarcely move! I do hope I get my shorts.

I am going to see about a shelf for the Stevenson books as soon as possible. There is rather a good man here for that sort of thing. I showed them to my tutor last night and he was awfully bucked with them. I am reading “The Ebb Tide” at present.

Long Leave is on Sat. Sunday and Monday, the 30th and 31st of October and 1st November. It’s a bit early in the half, so I hope the weather will be good. It rained the whole day here.

Early school is a bit of a nuisance. It’s so cold getting up. And the bathwater is never hot. It’s harder still to get up than it used to be, as my bed is so much nicer than before.

I am up to Mr. Booker this half. He is a topping chap. He asked me if I was any relation to the Llewelyn Davies who was at Eton, so I suppose he knew father. He is one of the best.

To-morrow is a whole holiday. I am going to play fives in the morning, and I believe there’s a house game in the afternoon. I hope I’m going to get on at footer and fives this half, though I haven’t quite got to loving footer!

Your loving son,
George.
P.S. Thank you very much for stamps and picture of “The whip”. Love to the caterpillars.

*

“Short” = short behind, one of the key positions in the Eton field game.

“Get my shorts”. In those days a boy still began his football career at Eton wearing grey flannel knickerbocker Shorts (= cut-shorts) were the privilege of those who were recognised as members of their house eleven. As a rule only two or three boys in a house would win the additional distinction of house-colours. George did “get his shorts” this half.

R.P.L. Booker, a Wykehamist himself, had I suppose been an assistant master at Eton with Arthur in 1889, though I should have thought he was scarcely old enough. I confirm George’s opinion of him; he was one of the very few masters for whom I had a real liking.

*

[NOT IN THE MORGUE]

[Emma du Maurier to May Coles]

2L Portman Mansions
Oct 5 [1909]

My darling May,
… I went out for the 1st time today to see Sylvia who is still in bed. She says she has difficulty in breathing, especially when she walks. Dr Rendel doesn’t seem to be doing much for her & doesn’t say what it is. I have told her to ask him to have another opinion – but I don’t suppose she will.

Guy met me at Sylvia’s & we came home in a taxi. …

I tore up your letter as you wished. I don’t think Mrs J.M.B. writes to her husband, & he is quite as [?usual] in his friendship, but doesn’t wish to go to the house, 23 C.H.S. He rang up while I was there & said how he should like to see Guy, so I hope Guy will go and see him. Guy didn’t get your letter by the bye …

Much love from us all,
Your loving Mother

*

[NOT IN THE MORGUE]

[Emma du Maurier to May Coles]

2 Portman Mansions
Wednesday [7 October 1909]

My darling May,
… Sylvia tells me that Doctor Rendel says there is an obstruction in one lung & Dr Bott is to see her. I do trust it is nothing of great importance. Lucy came here before seeing Mrs M]?] – of course I won’t say anything without your permission but I should like to tell Trixie. – Trixie told me that Mrs M told her that Lucy had her to believe that she Lucy knew all about our affairs & that I had told her – now I never say anything to Lucy, much as I like her I don’t think she is a person to tell things to unless one doesn’t mind their being repeated. I’m tired of all the gossip that goes on. Yesterday at Sylvia’s I felt so ashamed of knowing that T[rixie] had seen Mary B[arrie] & not being able to say so – however S[ylvia] knows Mary B has been here & I have asked S to let me tell T that it is known to her – & she says certainly. – I have never said anything to Trixie that Sylvia has told me & I can’t tell Sylvia that Trixie knows a good deal from M[ary B]. You mustn’t either, will you. I begin to wish I was an animal, as Travers said. I hope you are well dearest. I’m glad you have a lovely day. Here it has been very nice. I went for a walk in the morning & this afternoon Angela & Daphne came to tea.

Much love from us all,
Your loving mother.

[AB: Nico found this gossipy letter and the one that follows. Are these the ones alluded to by Peter, or were there others? Who knows, indeed who cares.]

*

[NOT IN THE MORGUE]

[Trixie Millar to her sister May Coles]

Felden,
Boxmoor.
[October 17, 1909]

Darling May,
… I am so distressed about Sylvia & shall go and see her soon. But I am not surprised, she never seem to rest at all – & I expect when holidays come is quite tired out – at her age & after all she went through [??] it was bound to come to something but I hope the rest will [?] show improvement.

As regards Mrs Barrie I think you have endlessly mistaken what I said to you, & what has now happened is only after all a perfectly natural sequence. It is a pity the man is so young, but those things do happen & I hear from Sylvia that he is very much in love with her & I sincerely hope there may be a baby or two. I do think she deserves something to make up for what she has probably suffered in seeing J. entirely wrapped up in someone else’s children when it was very obviously his fault that she had none – human nature is human nature and will out. I find that is the general view. I was surprised that my most straight-laced friend Mabel Sandwith (who by the by I think [?means] you cut her lately) wrote & said “she was so glad that Mrs. B had someone to be fond of her now – and that if J was unhappy he deserved it –“ tho’ poor little man one knows well he is simply the victim of circumstance & of his own kindness.

I have by the bye often heard you & Coley say she might be forgiven if she did seek consolation. Well well.

Y[ou]r loving Trixie.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Sunday, October 17th, 1909.

Dearest Mother,
I shouldn’t think there’d be much fun to be got out of Long Leave spent in London. So perhaps I’d better wait till next half. Perhaps it’s selfish, but I do my best to think of my own happiness on leave, and no one else’s! Rather me-ish! And as you’re in bed and mustn’t dream of any inconvenience for a month or two, I expect it would be easier for me to stay here this half. I might go to a play on the Saturday, but what would I do on Sunday and Monday but remain indoors surrounded by my adoring brothers!

We’ve got a field-day tomorrow, at Aldershot. I don’t much care for field-days, especially when the train journey is over an hour. It may be fun, though.

My tutor’s just been giving us our first confirmation jaw. He’s jolly good at it, and I expect he’ll be awfully nice. He’s so very broad-minded.

I hope you’re getting better. I hope you’re no worse than you’ve told me. I do hope it hasn’t been Postbridge that’s made you ill.

Do you think that beside my change suit I could get a rough coat (no trousers or anything) like Jack’s to wear here? I should have to get a grey flannel one very soon, and you can’t think how beastly that looks when you’re wearing a colour with it. This may seem a silly argument, but nobody with a colour wears a grey flannel coat, and I wouldn’t wear a norfolk here. I wear my dark grey coat at present, but it’s getting awfully small. Of course, it’s utterly your business to decide. I hope it doesn’t sound expensive and unnecessary!

Your loving son,
George
PS I apologise for this letter only being long because it’s selfish.

*

A crescendo sounds here in the death-march which runs like a theme song through this record. Sylvia was indeed worse that she had told her firstborn; worse, certainly, than she herself yet clearly realised.

The details are difficult to unravel. There may have been letters at the time from which much could have been learnt; if so, they have not survived. According to Denis, the first sign was when, about now, a few days after a weekend with the [E.V.] Lucases at Kingston, near Lewes (during which they had found her “young and radiant”), she fainted in the hall at 23 C.H.S. I well remember the week-end at Kingston, where “Milky” also had a cottage at which we called; Sylvia by now having, as Denis states, “put off her mourning, so that it was a joy to her friends to see her in pretty things again.” But, apart from the earlier forewarnings already noted, I think the fainting in the hall may be an inaccuracy; though possibly it preceded a different scene of which I was an involuntary and scared witness. This took place, not in the hall, but on the flight of stairs between Sylvia’s bedroom and that “far Japan” to which reference has been made before and which was the only lavatory in the upper part of the house. There it was that Sylvia collapsed, in her nightdress, on her way up or down. I happened to be about (a Saturday or Sunday morning, perhaps), and Mary Hodgson, red-faced and agitated, tended her and shooed me away, but not before I had received an impression of direness and fatality, and a sense of shocked misery and half- comprehending desolation, which has remained with me ever since.

Later (1949): Replying to an enquiry, Mary Hodgson wrote as follows: “Your mother had had a few days in bed. Dr Rendel had been – she was to rest. I was called by Amy who had found your Mother in a fainting condition. Dr R. was sent for – said he would take the matter in hand and acquaint Mrs du M. I asked if I could do anything and he replied “It is a grave matter – say Nothing to the family.” Nurse Loosemore came, an excellent nurse – who not unnaturally resented my presence in her domain. Occasionally there was a duel of words – your mother insisting that her children should come into her bedroom at all times and that their noise and chatter cheered her.

It was impressed on me that your Mother – on no account – was to talk about her illness to me and that at all costs she must not know how ill she was. Life was to go on as usual and the Boys were just to be told Mother had to stay in bed and rest for a long time.”

It seems clear from this that Dr Rendel now recognised or strongly suspected cancer. Exactly when the consultation to which Mary H. next refers took place I can’t be sure, but it was probably quite soon.

“There was another consultation and another specialist. By this time your Mother was worried and restless. I had gone down stairs out of the way – returning – Dr R. had evidently been up stairs to find me. He just shook his head sadly. At this moment your Mother’s bell rang gently. The rest of the gathering were in the School Room. Your mother said “Shut the door, Mary. You are the only one I trust – what did Dr Rendel say?” I replied “Nothing,” and she lay back, bitterly disappointed. Nurse appeared, fortunately, followed by Mrs du M.”

The specialist (Fowler) one supposes, had given his opinion that Dr Rendel’s suspicions were justified, and that the disease was cancer. (The growth was near the heart and lungs – too close, I believe, for operating (thank God?) – and obstructed the breathing.) Who constituted the gathering in the school room? J.M.B. presumably, perhaps Margaret D., perhaps Crompton. Mary H. states that the name of the disease was never expressly mentioned to her, except by Nurse Loosemore, who now remained with Sylvia till the end.

What Mary H. does not mention and had probably forgotten, was that there was still another consultation (or else that there were two specialists, who differed) as a result of which, apparently, the second specialist (Goodhart) declared there was no cancer and no serious risk. This emerges from a letter dated the following July 4th from Emma du M. to May, which will be found in its place.

Uncertainty as to when this second opinion was taken (it may have been a good deal later) makes one or two of the references in the letters from now on, particularly with regard to the view held by the various people concerned as to the seriousness of Sylvia’s illness, rather obscure. My own impression is that Emma du M. and J.M.B. both allowed themselves to be half persuaded by Goodhart until very near the end; that Dr Rendel wasn’t deceived for a moment, but felt that no good could come from pressing his own view; and that Nurse Loosemore and Mary H. agreed with Dr Rendel but were compelled by circumstances to keep their own counsel. Sylvia was certainly never told.

George’s letter shows that he have suspected – no doubt from what was said in her letter to him – that she was gravely ill. I am a little puzzled by the readiness with which he accepts the no leave position; but accept it he evidently did, quite blithely, and it seems from his next letter that a good many boys in those days spent the long leave at Eton and were content to do so.

This letter of George’s (he was now 16) shows that he was just becoming clothes-conscious. A year later he would be a full blown Eton blood, dressy to a degree: in the extra-Etonian slang of the day, a “knut”. There are tiny embryonic signs of a similar tendency, which never developed, in Arthur’s letters from Marlborough at about the same age, “bucky“ being then the epithet. But George was a true son of Sylvia’s as well as of Arthur’s, and that other Marlburian, his Uncle Guy du M., was the dressiest of men, choice and affected in his clothes to a degree which I remember with delight.

How beautifully of the period is George’s phrase “I couldn’t wear a norfolk here.” I suppose he had an old norfolk jacket at home and was terrified lest Sylvia should suggest his wearing it at Eton. Or might there have been some idea of his wearing old norfolk jacket of Arthur’s? I can’t pause here to describe the exact sartorial significance of the term “norfolk” for the benefit of any son or grandson of mine who may read these lines. They must consult photographs of the day, and take it from me that such a cut, presumably named after the Duke of late Victorian days was a comical curiosity by 1909.

I think I have already drawn attention to the remarkable closeness, in date, between the first violent impact of Sylvia’s fatal illness, and J.M.B.’s decree nisi on October 13th.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton College,
Windsor.
November 2nd [1909]

Dearest Mother,
We had a fine time on Monday. In the morning we had a fives tournament, in which I was but indifferently successful. In the afternoon we played footer. A huge blood, with both footer and cricket elevens, was on our side. He talked to me and was jolly nice. He’s got every colour possible but two, and those he will get this half. His name’s Foljambe.

Everyone came back yesterday evening. I was jolly sorry, as we’d been having a topping time. I used to sit in the Library (a very bloody thing to do) at any time I liked, etc!

We played footer this afternoon and won our match. The Old Boy, with its glorious sock-supper, is on Saturday. It will be fine fun.

The socks Aunt Margaret told you of were far the prettiest I’ve got – a lovely blue, darker than most. They’re a simple dream!

Your loving son,
George.

*

This indicates that George and the other boys who spent their Long Leave at Eton that half had an enjoyable enough time. The huge blood was E.W.S. Foljambe, later of the Rifle Brigade, who, through being taken a prisoner in 1914, was perhaps prevented from covering himself with further glories in the war.

Evidently the faithful Margaret Ll.D/ had gone down to see George at Eton recently.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Sunday, November 7th [1909]

Dearest Mother,
The Provost was buried yesterday, so that a good deal of the school routine was changed. We had lunch at one, and no games were started till 3.15. All Collegers had to follow the procession, but Oppidans didn’t have to. We all had to stand in the School Yard.

We’re going to have a field-day on Tuesday, with Harrow against Oxford. I think we’re rather fed up with field-days nowadays. I believe too, that when the King of Portugal comes we shall have to line the streets. I’m getting terribly military! So is my moustache! As a matter of fact I shall shave it off, as I don’t like moustaches, though light ones are all very well.

Half term has now passed. From now I begin joyfully to anticipate the holidays. I wonder what we shall do. I hope we’ll be able to use the Debenhams’ squash court.

Your loving son,
George.

*

The Provost was Hornby, who was now succeeded by Warre, Edward Lyttelton taking the latter’s place as Headmaster.

The Debenhams’ house in Addison Road boasted a fives as well as a squash court, and I suppose it was here that in earlier days Arthur had played fives on a Sunday with F.S. Oliver, Gerard Lee Bevan and others. Debenham was the head of Debenham & Freebody, in which Fred Oliver was a partner.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Thursday, November 18th [1909]

Dearest Mother,
Extra books are over! You can’t imagine how bucking it is to be able to say that. The burden has dropped from my back, and I am free! My sapping for that explains my not writing before, and I’m sorry if I’ve made you anxious. But I say again in boastful language that nearly all people at Eton only write once a week. But then of course I’m so exceptional in many ways!

It was topping having Mr. Barrie down here on Sunday. I have grown a lot, as now I simply tower above him. I’m reaching the goal of my ambition – 6 feet in height! We went for a walk and then had tea with my tutor. He was very sad, of course, but he seemed to buck up a bit at times. Mr. Mason does seem to be being kind to him, getting all his clothes at blood tailors and things. The flat seems rather jolly too. We shall have to go and see him a lot next holidays, and cheer him up. I’m hoping he’ll be able to come down here on St Andrew’s day with Mr. Mason.

I suppose I’d better be getting some blue serge patterns to send you. I think there’d be nothing easier for me than to choose a good thick serge. But as you will. Pray remember that one has to be rather à la mode in London!

My taste in socks is settling down from loudness to real good taste. My last pair is quite a dream! Such an exquisite blue, you know, a trifle dark and subdued! I always rather liked blue! I’ve also got a lovely dark green thick Jaeger pair, which I feel certain you’ll adore. I think I’m rather a coming man!

Your loving son,
George.
P.S. I would like a Victory the same size as my last, but there’s no hurry.

*

Sylvia must have smiled as she lay in bed reading these first hints of a taste for the elegant which was so clearly inherited from herself. I am sure she enjoyed it all hugely and discouraged it not at all. How Arthur would have reacted is another matter, but after all he had chosen Eton himself for his eldest son, and might have watched this characteristically Etonian development with an indulgent eye.

J.M.B. was still staying with Alfred Mason in Stratton Street, but two days after the date of this letter moved to the first of his two flats in the Adelphi – the “rather jolly” flat which he evidently told George about on his visit to Eton. It had been found for him by Lady [George] Lewis, as had the inimitable manservant Harry Brown also, who was to do so much for his comfort in the years that followed, and would soon be on intimate terms with all of us, calling Nico “tuppence” and generally brightening the atmosphere.

J.M.B.’s sadness on his visit to George may have been due primarily to Sylvia’s illness, or to his divorce. But he was being bothered, besides, at this time by the horrid business of Addison Bright, his close friend and agent of many years standing, who had swindled him and others of many thousands of pounds by an ingenious system of falsifying accounts, and whose case, now three years after his confession and suicide, was to come before the courts (at the beginning of February), much against the wishes of J.M.B., the principal victim. So there was plenty to sadden him that autumn.

To George, who knew of no cause other than a divorce, it may well have seemed that an introduction to so blood a tailor as Scholte of Savile Row was ample compensation for worse ills than that. As a matter of historical interest I may record that Scholte had the honour of building J.M.B.’s suits from now until within a few years of his death, besides operating on occasion, in due course, for George and most if not all of his brothers, some of whom have since had recourse to the fifty-shilling artists of the trade. The eventual split between Savile Row and the Adelphi arose from the refusal of the mountain to come to Mahomet’s flat to try on his creations, whereupon J.M.B. summarily transferred his patronage to Burberry. The conscientious chronicler feels bound to add that, despite a sort of semi-facetious satisfaction which J.M.B. derived from these luxurious tailorings, he remained faithful to the end, where his feet were concerned – small feet of which he affected to be rather proud – to thoroughly inelegant boots, bought as required by Harry Brown or [Harry’s later replacement] Frank Thurston, from the nearest Horne Bros establishment, and not far removed in point of homeliness from the tackety boots of his boyhood.

Jack, I suppose, as well as George, must have been aware, in a half-comprehending way, of the divorce, of which I don’t myself remember being even vaguely conscious. There had been a Mrs. Barrie, and a Leinster Corner and Black Lake Cottage, to say nothing of Alphonse and a car or two; now there was only Mr. Barrie and a new flat with a view over the river, and a comical little manservant called Harry Brown; but things like that weren’t half as interesting as corridor cricket at Wilkinson’s, or Blériot’s astounding [25 July 1909 first cross-Channel] flight or the identification of a twopenny-halfpenny Roman coin at the British Museum, or the gradual expulsion, by dashing steam and petrol, of the old horse-buses and hansoms and growlers from the streets of London.

The Victory asked for by George in his P.S. would be a white plaster cast or replica, about 18 inches high, of the statue of the “Winged Victory of Samothrace” in the Louvre. There was more of a vogue in those days than there is now for such casts. I think Margaret Ll.D.’s was the influence which produced the Victory and one or two others such as the something-or-other Diana which embellished the school-room at 23 C.H.S. The larger (3 or 4 ft) Venus of Milo which stood on the piano came probably from du Maurier sources – see Peter Ibbetson. I take it George had had a Victory in his room at Eton, which had got broken.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Friday, December 17th [1909]

Dearest Mother,
Thank you so much for the ten bob. The extra half-crown just does me nicely till the end of the half. It’s sad to say, but I shall need £1 to get back home, 10/- for tips (horrible institution), and the rest for journey money.

Trials have begun, and after this I’m going to sap for them. I shall be glad when they’re over and I can fly to the bosom of my family! I’m sorry Jack isn’t well, but I hope he’ll be better soon. Is he coming down tomorrow?

We had a wall game today in which I failed to distinguish myself. I played in a jolly blood place and never seemed to be doing the right thing. I was always waiting for the glorious chance, which alas! never came.

Shall we be able to play squash or fives at the Debenhams’? I’ve been arranging a game with a chap here called Rowlatt if we can. He used to play there last Christmas. He’s by way of being rather a blood, having got his house colours.

I’m now going to sap!

Your loving son,
George.

*

Arthur Rowlatt, who used to play fives at the Debenhams’, was a son of Mr. Justice Rowlatt who had been a friend of Arthur’s. His two younger brothers, one of whom later became a housemaster at Eton, were both in College with me. Within a very short time now George would be a greater blood than ever Arthur Rowlatt became.

This brings 1909 to a close. The Christmas holidays were spent at 23 C.H.S., where much billiards and billiard-fives were played in the school-room, while Sylvia lay in her bed in the room next door, not at this time, I think, in pain, but weak and easily tired. (The billiard table, three-quarter size, had been presented by J.M.B. (see earlier). The top revolved, so that it could easily be turned into an ordinary large table, on which other games such as ping-pong were played). Sometimes she was able to move into the school-room, and lay on the sofa there, watching the games and jollifications. A bathroom was added at the back of her bedroom. None of us had the faintest inkling that she had less than a year to live.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton College,
Windsor.
Wednesday, January 26th [1910]

Dearest Mother,
The clock’s just arrived and looks topping. Johnstone, who was in the room at the time, admires it very much. It’s going, too.

To my great joy, I’ve experienced no pangs today. Even waking up was quite all right. I’ve been about with Johnstone most of the time, as well as other fellows. The first day is always very slack and very long. But it’s practically over now, but for the evening, which I always enjoy. I did holiday tag in the school library after 12, and we had the examination at 4.30. I’m pretty certain to have passed, I think.

This half lasts exactly ten weeks, and finishes on April the sixth. The holidays last four weeks, I believe, so the rumour of twenty days is false, I rejoice to say. Altogether, things seem conductive to happiness, except one thing – early school. Getting up, as I did this morning, at a quarter to eight, wasn’t exactly hilarious, but the thought of rising tomorrow at a quarter to seven makes my very marrow dry up! Gods!

I was awfully bucked last night to find my fire burning. If it hadn’t been I should have dropped lifeless. As it was, I did some unpacking, read some holiday tag, and got to bed soon after eleven. It will be ten tonight.

My dame [= matron] looked at my absurd knee, and said it was only a scar, which was of course right. Shows I must have bravely borne terrible pain. Unfortunately I don’t seem to remember the exact accident, outside being certain it occurred on Dartmoor.

I hope Uncle Guy and Uncle Gerald and Mr Barrie will come down to Eton sometime – say, in about a fortnight or three weeks.

Your loving son,
George Llewelyn Davies.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Sunday, February 1st [1910]

Dearest Mother,
I finished “The Expensive Miss Du Cane” last night. I think of all the sad endings it’s about the saddest I’ve ever read. I suppose you’ve read some of Miss Macnaughtan’s books. If you haven’t I should. I think the young man in The Expensive Miss Du Cane is the most terrible young fellow I’ve read about for some time.

I’m getting quite the nut. I’ve been asked to a swagger cricket week already. Alas! It’s too swagger and I shall have to evade it somehow (let’s hope Scotland’ll afford me an excuse), but still I feel quite the blood.

How are you? You never say anything about how you’re getting on. What rot it is to think you’ve never even seen this room. Next half you’ll have to come here for a long afternoon, and we’ll go on the river or watch cricket.

I went for a walk with a nice boy called Beaumont-Nesbitt this morning. We’re going in for school fives together. He lives in Ireland and has cattle of his own! Rather my sort of life.

I have just had a short and amusing tête-à-tête with Mrs. Warre Cornish. Fitz added to the amusement by coming in and busting a picture. And now for Sunday Questions!

Your loving son,
George.

*

Miss [Sarah Broom] Macnaghtan (no relation to Hugh McN.) was a popular and I think excellent novelist of the day, whose works one read chiefly in Nelson’s “Sevenpennies”, those admirable precursors of the Penguins of more recent times. I don’t remember the “Expensive Miss Du Cane”, but I am sure it was good, and the oblivion to which it and all this author’s books have since been consigned is something that the Misses X., Y. and Z. who makes such a stir in literary circles nowadays (and their publishers) should occasionally ruminate on.

“Nut” (cf. Gilbert the Filbert), though not an Etonian word, was contemporary slang for dude, masher, or blood. Often spelt, and pronounced, knut. George’s diffidence about accepting a swagger invitation is quite interesting. There is evidence that, at any rate in his early Eton years, he was a shy boy; but this little incident may also serve as a reminder that we Davieses were humblish lot, socially speaking; that George, as the first Etonian of the family, was something of a pioneer, and that it took a succession of Eton careers with all the contacts it brought (George’s own highly successful career being doubtless the most operative in this curious ascension), plus J.M.B.’s financial backing, and, as his fame increased, more exalted circles of acquaintance, before any of us could and would accept with more or less equanimity any invitation, however blood, to a cricket week or the equivalent. Snobbishness and social barriers are a curious and fascinating study on which I am not herein engaged; but it may be said that in one sense at least Eton is the least snobbish of communities, and that personal charm, particularly when allied to athletic prowess, opens, with a minimum of pushing, most of the doors in the world to which Eton is a kind of antechamber.

Beaumont-Nesbitt, F.G., was a friend of only short duration, I believe. It is in my mind, for some reason, but he had a younger brother in Jack’s term and Osborne and Dartmouth. He survived 1914-18, somehow, by way of the Grenadiers, and was Major-General directing Intelligence in the more recent [second world] war.

Mrs. [Blanche] Warre-Cornish [1848-1922], wife of the Vice-Provost, is beyond my powers, or province here, to describe. She was half mad, yet supernaturally intelligent; an oldish lady at this time and a very notable personality altogether. There was some slight link, I fancy, between her or her husband and our family. Her eccentricity often took disconcerting form, as when, on a later occasion which I remember hearing about, she was entertaining George and other guests, male and female, to tea in her lovely drawing room in the Cloisters, and addressed the company at large, during a pause, with the remark: “Such a charming young man, George Llewelyn Davies, don’t you think?” Me, too, she reduced to pulp once, during a conversation about the then infant science of aeronautics – Chavez had recently made the first trans-alpine flight, crashing at the end of it to his death at Domodossola, a place familiar to the Cornishes – by turning to me (I was 14 or so) with the words: “And do you fly much, Mr Davies?” [According to a contemporary, she was celebrated for the “pregnant and startling irrelevancies of her discourse.”]

Fitz = Hugh Macnaghten’s dog.

Was Sylvia ever again, temporarily, well enough to go down to see George and his new room at Eton? I’m not sure, but don’t think any of the letters in my possession throw any light on the sad question.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Thursday, February 17th [1910]

Dearest Mother,
My cough’s a good deal better today I’m glad to say. I did without my dame’s lozenges last night, and didn’t wake up once.

An awfully nice fellow called Hume came down to see Johnstone today and we all had tea together. He’s just back from Switzerland where he seems to have been having a glorious time, bobsleighing etc.

Can you make sure of Mr Barrie’s being in London during leave. I hope you’ll be able to because we can go to Uncle Gerald’s new play in the evening and talk to Uncle Gerald. I wonder what other play I can go to in the afternoon. I think I’ll get some Eton fellow to come with me. What a pity Miss Dix isn’t acting!

How soon shall you go out in your bath-chair? I do hope I’ll be able to wheel you on leave.

I shall be immaculate on leave. My new socks are all absolute dreams! Brown and purple, brown and green, brown and light brown, etc. They are lovely. Topping and thick too. I expect I shall set the fashion in socks at Ramsgate!

I’ve just finished “The Princess Sophia” by E.F. Benson. I like it awfully good though the ending spoils it. I’m an awful reader nowadays.

Your loving son,
George.

*

Though I can’t pretend to remember the occasion, I have little doubt Sylvia was able to make sure of J.M.B.’s presence in London.

Gerald du Maurier’s new play would probably be Alias Jimmy Valentine, one of the earliest of his crook melodramas.

I take it that Sylvia had been almost completely bed-ridden since October, and that the bath chair, and the prospect of going out of it, were signs of an improvement.

Miss [Dorothy] Dix will recur, and I will annotate her later. It is amusing to note how very closely, in George’s case, calf-love and the beginnings of clothes-consciousness synchronised.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
February 20th [1910]

Dearest Mother,
Thank you so much for the handkerchiefs. They are very welcome, and simply dazzled my eyes as I opened the box. They will be much admired.

Today has been simply beastly. It has poured with rain from half past twelve to five and everything’s sopping. Even a part of Chapel was rendered impossible to occupy! I stayed in all day with a fire.

My bruised hand is gradually getting better, though it still hurts a bit. I hope it’ll get all right soon because of school fives and div. fives. I’m afraid I shan’t win division fives, as I’ve drawn a rather bad partner, but there’s a chance.

I did a silly thing the other day, in fact a doosid asinine thing. I and Chris Lawrence were listening to a gramophone record in the shop. Then alas! I knocked some records onto the floor and so – bang went ten bob. I cussed myself pretty steadily! One does feel a terrible fool doing a thing like that. It was lucky in only being ten bob, because I knocked over dozens of records.

Jack’s just written a very amusing letter to Johnstone, in answer to a witty one from Johnny. I read it with many a chuckle; Johnstone and I are pretty friendly just now, as we argued together against some terrible statements of Lawrence’s against the government. Among other things he said he was convinced Lloyd-George was in the pay of Germany, etc., etc. I was livid with rage, and Johnstone began to crush every single argument Lawrence used. We talked enough politics to last the whole half!

My tutor’s still in bed and isn’t very well, I think. I believe he’s suffering from gout as well as influenza. He’s been ill for some time now.

A chap at my tutor’s has got a gramophone in his room, which I rather envy him. Unfortunately his taste isn’t as classy as mine. I wish I could have all the Dollar Princess, Our Miss Gibbs, and Arcadians songs in my room on a gramophone. Or an electrophone, by Jove!

Your loving son,
George.

[AB: doosid = stupid, daft]

*

Chris Lawrence, a year or so younger than George – and a first cousin of Oliver and Mickey Lawrence, who have been or will be mentioned in these pages (all at Hugh Macnaghten’s) – tall, handsome, attractive in a boundery sort of way and, as the glimpse of him in this letter hints, as stupid as they come, was a very early casualty in the 1914-18 war. Having somehow joined the special reserve of the 60th some weeks before George and I succeeded in doing so, he managed to get himself sent out “on a draft” by the very day we joined, and was killed on the Aisne in late September or very early October, less than two months after the outbreak of war. However, this is getting too far ahead.

I had not realised that Jack and Johnny Johnstone were on corresponding terms. Johnny J. came once or twice to stay with us in the holidays; I remember him at Ramsgate, but should have thought later than this.

The electrophone was a device which had been installed by Sylvia’s bedside at 23 C.H.S., by means of which (I think through the telephone system) one could “listen-in” to certain theatres specially fitted for the purpose. Headphones were provided, and the hearing was clear and good. It must have been a real solace to Sylvia, and was of course regarded as a great lark by all of us. No tune more clearly brings back those days to me, and George in particular, with whom it was a great favourite, than the pretty, gay waltz song from “The Dollar Princess”.

*

[Sylvia Ll.D. to J.M.B. at 3 Adelphi Terrace House, Strand.]

Monday evening late
[21 February 1910]

Dear J.
I hear Gwen wants to go to Dartmouth as it was an old promise to Jack she says, but if you would rather not she will stay! Of course I said you would like it and you will please – what else could I do – you will understand as you always do and you won’t be put out but I’m sorry because I know you would much rather have Guy alone.

Thank you for not minding,

Your
Jocelyn

*

Very hurriedly written in pencil, in bed of course, and probably after a telephone call from Guy. Jack will most likely remember whether eventually Gwen did go down with Guy du M. and J.M.B. to see him at Dartmouth. I suppose J.M.B. had not particularly taken to Guy’s wife; but in any case he always preferred, even more than most, having people he liked to himself.

Guy du Maurier had recently got a home appointment after a good many years’ foreign service, and was commandant of a Mounted Infantry training depot at Longmoor.

It is difficult to be sure whether the word after the irresistible phrase “Thank you for not minding” is “your” or “yours”. Sylvia seems to have had no fixed way of signing her letters to J.M.B.: both the next two are signed differently.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Friday, February 25, [1910]

Dearest Mother
Will you tell me if Mr Barrie’s new play will be on during leave? I’m trying to settle what plays to see on the Saturday of leave. I should like the Arcadians to be one. And perhaps something in the evening with J.M.B. more his type.

We went off yesterday in the train for the field day. But when we arrived at Sunningdale, our future battleground, it was raining so much that after waiting we decided to return to Eton. I’m afraid it doesn’t say much for us that our field day can be put off by rain. Still, I wasn’t particularly sorry to get back.

I shall reach 23 C.H.S. at about a quarter to one on Saturday, March 5th. It will be a case of “But who is this tall and handsome young man who drives up to the front door? Can it be – yes – no – yes, it is the Eton blood!”

Some French actors and actresses (I don’t know how good) are coming to Eton to act “Le Voyage de Monsieur Perrichon” tomorrow evening. I do hope they’ll be good. It will depend a great deal on whether the heroine is pretty or not! Because, as the whole dialogue will be in French I shall find plenty of time for gazing at her (if lovely).

My cold is practically nil.

Your loving son,
George.
P.S. Any stamps to spare?

*

So far as I can ascertain Mr B’s new play must been the two short plays, Old Friends and The Twelve Pound Look, which were produced, with a fragment by Meredith called The Sentimentalists as a triple bill on March 1st, as part of the repertory season at the Duke of York‘s Theatre with which J.M.B. associated himself that year. I can just remember going to see them, presumably on the Saturday afternoon of George’s leave.

The Twelve Pound Look was the outstanding success of the trio; but George was much taken with The Sentimentalists, and this may have been the beginning of the taste for Meredith which led him to choose a complete set of that author’s works for the Essay Prize which he won two years or so later.

“But who is this tall and handsome” etc: future readers of this record may not realise that George is here echoing a passage in Peter Pan.

*

[Rev. John Ll.D. to Peter Ll.D.]

11 Hampstead Square,
1 March 1910.

My dear Peter,
Many thanks for your kind birthday good wishes. I cannot expect to live much longer in this world; but meantime it is a happiness to me to have good and promising grandsons. I trust they will be kept always high-minded, and will do their father honour and be a blessing to their dear mother.

With your grandfather’s love.

*

Evidently I had written a dutiful letter to John Ll.D. on his 84th birthday (Feb. 26). His writing is still firm and clear in this letter, but I think he was now beginning to show signs of decrepitude, and needed much looking after from his devoted daughter Margaret. He had left Kirkby Lonsdale and moved to Hampstead in 1908, retiring then from all clerical work. He was too old to be able to concern himself in any practical sense with his grandson’s progress.

It could truthfully be said that all his sons and daughter were high-minded people. One doubts whether the epithet could be applied with strict justice to any of us.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton College,
Windsor.
Wednesday, March 2 [1910]

Dearest Mother,
Would you mind very much if as well as going to Mr Barrie’s play I went to the Arcadians with Johnstone and a very nice friend of his. Of course if you really don’t want me to I won’t go, but I want to see it awfully badly, and it’s the last chance. Besides, leave’s intended for a bit of a spree. I leave it to you, of course. Please answer pretty soon because the tickets must be got.

Your loving son,
George.

*

I take this to be a request for permission to go out for the evening on his own, i.e. unaccompanied by an adult, for the first time. Most likely it was granted. Oddly enough The Arcadians was the first evening performance I attended myself, though not on this particular evening, and not unaccompanied.

John Ll.D., I think it is clear from the records I have, never went to the play at all as a boy, let alone a musical comedy. Arthur, as we have seen, went to Tom Robertson’s farce, “Society”, with Mr Beesly at the age of 11, and possibly to “Hamlet” at the Lyceum with only an older boy – both evening performances. Very go-ahead.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Tuesday, March 8th [1910]

Dearest Mother,
The crowd at the station was terrific. I wondered about for some time with Johnstone looking for a seat, but we couldn’t find one, so we decided on honouring by our presence a very smelly little van. At Slough we changed into a slightly more roomy van. Finally we reached Windsor and walked down to my tutor’s.

I was rather surprised this morning to find I could get up punctually at a quarter to seven. I woke up after a terrible dream in which Uncle Guy brought Miss Dix down to Eton. She was little and ugly! Heavens above! But I’m afraid I rather bore you by continually talking about her. Perhaps it is a little tiny bit silly!

I had rather a good game of fives this afternoon in which I and Austen-Cartmell managed to beat two others. Of course my hand has regained some of its purple! I don’t know when it won’t. It seems to be a little bit better than it was a week ago.

I must now do an extra work and a construe.

Your loving son
George.

*

In what play George had seen Miss Dorothy Dix [1892-1970] and fallen victim to her charms, I don’t know; but he “got it badly”, and had to submit to a good deal of ragging on her account from his brothers. His mother was tolerant enough of this first adolescent passion, as a later letter indicates, to send him a photograph of the charmer; it probably came from an illustrated paper, as I doubt if Miss Dix ever attained the dignity of a picture postcard, for the embellishment of silver frames in the shop-windows of the day along with the Marie Studholmes, Edna Mays, Lily Elsie’s and Gertie Millars. She may have played lead now and then, but was not either then or later in the front rank. Candour compels me to add that to my own eyes she was no great shakes, but that may have been the automatic reaction to one’s brother’s fancies, or simply because at 12 years old one would have found no higher praise than “not bad” or “fairly decent” for Helen of Troy herself. George, as I have said, was sorely smitten, and I expect she was ravishing really.

[AB: Peter was wrong: I found several postcards of Miss Dix on eBay, as well as a sheaf of professional photos on the National Portrait Gallery’s website, taken later in 1916. She was only a year older than George, with a strong and striking face, not unlike his later fiancee, Josephine Mitchell-Innes. The play George probably saw her in – or at any rate saw a postcard of her – was A White Man (1908) in which she played a Tiger-Lily-esque Indian called Nat-u-Ritch, aged 16.]

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Thursday, March 10th [1910]

Dearest Mother,
Just a short line to tell you the news and that my cold is improving.

We had the dullest of dull field-days today. We took the train to Sunningdale, detrained, and stormed a hill about 2 miles away. Then we marched a mile or two and had a wait. Then we march back again and fought our way to the station. Incidentally I may mention that there were no enemy! We lunched at about twelve in the train. We got back about a quarter of an hour before lock-up.

I had a long letter from the Mr. Wright who used to be at Ram. the other day. I hope he’ll be there these holidays, as, if of somewhat amusing exterior, he was not half a bad sort.

Will you be content with only two lessons next week? I have got to use every moment of the day sapping up Extra Books.

Your loving son,
George.
P.S. Many thanks for the kind offer to obtain photograph. Hope get good one.
G.Ll.D.

*

The photograph was presumably of Miss Dix. Of Mr Wright I have no recollection whatever.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton College,
Windsor.

Sunday, March 13th [1910]

Dearest Mother,
Yesterday reverted to the usual half-holiday custom and poured. Consequently Johnstone and I went for a run, and according to our time-honoured custom got soaked. We found one interesting natural history thing – a pond full of frogs and frogspawn – and shuddered thereat.

It’s rather pleasant to think that in a little over three weeks I shall be blooding it at Ramsgate. It’s sad that Jack won’t be there till ten days later, though.

Can you send me “Running Water”? I hate leaving off in the middle of a book, especially when it’s rather exciting. I want to know how it ends.

Today has been rather cold. But owing to my forethought in storing coal in my hat box I managed to keep the fire going all day. Life with a fire is very different to life without one.

How I envy you being able to listen on the electrophone night. I feel just like it myself. “Ah! now listen.” “What is it?” “Um – um – um – la, la, la, la etc.” “Divine!”

Or again: “Let’s have ‘The Arcadians’ Electrophone?” “Yes.” “Put us on to the Shaftesbury, please.” “Oh yes, they just finishing that decent song… ‘Oh, what very charming weather.” “Perfect.”

Your loving son,
George.

*

[NOT IN THE MORGUE:]

[Sylvia Ll.D. to Mary Hodgson’s sister Jenny.]

23 C.H.S.
Wednesday [23 March 1910]

My dear Jenny,
I think the lace you have made for me is quite lovely & I only wish I could make some. Thank you so much for thinking of me, it was wonderfully good of you to think of such a very charming present.

I hope so much you will come away with us again in the summer holidays tho’ I have no doubt we all made you rather tired.

Sincerely yours,
Sylvia Llewelyn Davies

[AB: This letter was among Mary Hodgson’s little “collection of treasures” that her niece Mary Hill kindly gave me when Sharon and I visited her in September 1976. Jenny was Mary’s younger sister, whom Sylvia had hoped would join Mary in helping to look after the boys, see Sylvia’s letters to Mary from Easter, 1901.]

*

[Sylvia Ll.D. to J.M.B.]

16 Royal Crescent,
Ramsgate,
[April 1910]

Dear J.
I am better and the good air and blue sky and bright sun will soon make me strong I think. I am out in my bath chair for a good many hours and enjoy it, and if all the boys are happy and keep well I shall be more or less content. But I often think of that other woman who walked and ran and played cricket in this garden last year – somewhat out of breath perhaps but quite comfy on her feet!

Will you be kind and get Peter 3 left-handed golf clubs – a brassie, a mashie and a putter, and Jack will bring them – we can’t get left-handed ones here – you won’t mind?

And this you won’t mind, a few carnations packed in a box for Jack to bring to me. I want to look at them and smell them when I’m not out and to think of you in the big shop with beautiful Clementine smiling imperially at your side. I often wish Papa had looked in at that window.

I’m sorry you have another cold but what you said is true, and I shall think of Jack too. I know you will be careful. I wish you would not have so many colds. I wonder if you are seedy and in bed – you mustn’t do anything for Jack if you are, but you will ring up Crompton for me and he will be able to help I think. Don’t risk getting a worse cold please.

I hope Jack will come by the Granville Express but you will send a wire, or Crompton.

Affec.
Jocelyn.
I want to hear about the dinner party.

*

It would appear that Sylvia was a little better or stronger than she had been a few weeks earlier. Was she able to walk, with help, inside the house? I believe so, as to I don’t in memory associate with Ramsgate the special chair in which two men used to carry her up and down stairs at 20 3C.H.S.

It would appear that Sylvia was a little better or stronger than she had been a few weeks earlier. Was she able to walk, with help, inside the house? I believe so, as I don’t in memory associate Ramsgate with special chair in which to manage to carry her up and down stairs at 23 C.H.S. But I am sorry to say I remember very little of her that last Easter of her life. Ramsgate was repeated so often, up to 1913, that it is difficult, looking back, to separate one holiday there from another. I remember her in her bath chair, on the “prom”, and little else. The journeys with her to Broadstairs or Margate and back on the top of a tram; the singing of Jack in the drawing room, accompanied by her – “Shepherdess, Shepherdess, tell me true”, “I may be crazy” etc; the going with her to a performance of “La Mascotte” at the Pavilion Theatre – these may be memories of earlier times. It surprises me, and a little disgusts me with myself, to find after deep reflection how very little I recall, and consequently how little I must have observed, of the last sad months of Sylvia’s life. But I dare say I don’t differ from most human beings in being grossly self-centred, especially when young.

Golf clubs were never much use to me, as the game never really gave me any satisfaction. In other words I was never any good at it: partly, perhaps, because I was as far from being left-handed as it is possible to be, and only played that way from some mistaken notion of imitating the genuinely left-handed George. However, I consoled myself with a memory of Arthur’s scorn of the game and its exponents, whom he always called golfiacs. And wise from my own experience, I have nipped in the bud a similar tendency in Rivvy Ll.D. to bat left-handed at cricket, in fake imitation of myself.

“Beautiful Clementine” was presumably Clementine Hozier, who had married Winston Churchill the year before; but the reference to the big shop, apparently in connection with the purchase of flowers for Sylvia, conveys nothing to me. Nor do I know what the dinner party was. J.M.B. was evidently beginning to come back to life again. His decree nisi must have been made absolute about now.

I wonder whether this letter and the next will bring back memories to Jack, of arriving at 16 Royal Crescent with carnations to Sylvia, and a boring load of golf clubs for me.

[AB: Peter often defers to Jack’s older memory, but it seems unlikely that Jack ever read this compilation since Nico only found it in 1962 and Jack had died in 1959.]

*

[Sylvia Ll.D. to J.M.B.]

16 Royal Crescent,
Ramsgate.
Thursday [7 April 1910]

My dear J.
Jack came with all his most wonderful parcels – I felt like a child undoing them. I was quite excited. It was dear and kind of you and I felt very spoilt and that I always enjoy – more than ever now I am on my back so much. I do feel better and I would love to try and walk but I have promised not to alas. I am growing quite fond of the bath chair and I am generally in it for 4 or 5 hours.

The boys play golf most of the time and there is really not much more for them to do here now. Mama is on the telephone here now and if you would like to ring up sometimes it would be nice tho’ I cannot talk on it. 288 Ramsgate is the number.

Perhaps if Guy comes down you will come? I will write and tell you. Write often as it’s so nice hearing from you dear J. To have all five again with me is so loving.

Love from all,
Your affect.
Jocelyn.

*

For all their restraint, there is something profoundly sad about these two letters, as it seems to me. I think that she suspected, and that few other people at this time suspected, that she was dying.

Guy did come down that Easter. He much impressed us by “dressing” for dinner: our first experience of such grandeur in the home circle. We were particularly struck by the cuffs of his soft silk shirt, turned back over the cuffs of his dinner jacket. I don’t remember J.M.B. coming.

*

[Sylvia Ll.D. to Peter Ll.D.]

16 Royal Crescent,
Ramsgate.
[30 April 1910]

Darling Peter,
You will have wanted Grahame White to win because he is English but Englishmen always seem asleep.

I think Paulhan is a fine fellow and I got pale with excitement reading about it.

I hope you got the coins safely – perhaps I shall have a line tomorrow? Did you have a good day at Wilkinson’s, and is dear Hertzfelder at home yet? I want all the news and tell me if you got your prize and if Michael’s is it home?

Is Smee well and was he very glad to see you and Florrie?

Fondest love my Peter,
Mother.

*

No doubt Wilkinson’s term had begun earlier than Eton or Dartmouth, and I had gone home ahead of the family, with Florence Gay fagged to look after me at 23 C.H.S. until their return.

Aviation, then in its infancy, was one of the twin passions of my life at that time, the other being coin collecting. The exciting event referred to was the London to Manchester flight, for a price of £10,000 offered by The Daily Mail, which was won by the Frenchman Louis Paulhan after a very close contest with Grahame White, the only other entrant. The race took two days (April 27 and 28) and both contestants came down more than once in the course of it. England lagged very much behind France and America in the pioneer development of aviation – Grahame White’s aeroplane for example was, like Paulhan’s, a French one – hence, I suppose, the reference to Englishman always seeming asleep. I had a glimpse of the start of this historic flight (they took off from somewhere near Hendon I think) from the top floor at 23 C.H.S. Thirty-five years later Nico and I were to look out of the top windows of No. 22, watching the flying bombs fall, a few weeks before the arrival of the one which destroyed the top storey of his house and shook poor old 23 so thoroughly that it narrowly escape being scheduled for complete demolition.

Fat, good-natured Charlie Herzfelder was one of my chief buddies at Wilkinson’s. His father was a rich German Jewish stockbroker, and they lived in one of the fabulous houses in Palace Gardens Terrace. It was with the Hertzfelders that I attended my first theatrical evening performance – “The Arcadians”. Sylvia delivered me at their house in a taxi, and outrageously flattered Mrs H., a handsome, blackavised Bavarian, who appeared in the entrance hall very much dolled up for the occasion, by comparing her to a Greek goddess – a compliment she received with startled delight. They were nice, kind people as I remember them, and needless to say changed their name to Hardinge in 1914, following the example of the Royal Family. Charlie went to Marlborough and I lost sight of him. A quarter of a century or so later I ran into him in the street, still recognisable in spite of a large beard. He had become an alienist [precursors of psychiatrists] or loony-doctor, out of pure enthusiasm for the art, being well furnished with shekels, and I believe has quite a distinguished reputation in that line. We dined together subsequently at his club, but it was not a success: the years wouldn’t be bridged, and we no longer resembled the brats who mercilessly teased Sammy, otherwise Miss Salmon, his sprightly, tight-waisted governess, or nervously chased the street-cads into the dark slums behind the synagogue down the street from Milky’s.

[DB: New West End Synagogue, St Petersburgh Place, W2]

*

[J.M.B. to Sylvia Ll.D. at Ramsgate]

3 Adelphi Terrace House,
Strand, W.C.
30 April [1910]

Dearest J,
Tonight is the Academy dinner, and you may conceive [Harry] Brown and me hard at work inking my coat sleeves. In the drama, the old vicomte who has had, alas, to fly to England and become a teacher of the violin, always inks his coat sleeves, and there is no surer a way of melting an audience’s heart. He does it so bravely and courteously, and that is how I am inking mine now.

I feel sure a philosopher could deduce all sorts of profundities from the study of an Academy dinner. In all the world there cannot be a much more solemnly dull festivity, and yet all the sparklers of their generation like to be asked, and feel sorry, if they have hearts, for the crowd outside. The speeches are usually monuments of dreariness, one ought to get up and scream in the middle of them, it is all tedious beyond expression, and yet every loyal heart is proud of it. No one would like it so well if it were less dull; the day the President makes a joke or the Japanese Ambassador smiles, it will begin to go down in public estimation. I don’t know if all this is specially English – I should think a German function was probably as pretentious. It is the rigid etiquette that we are so proud of, for the time being we all feel ourselves as important as the red-coated footmen at the Carlton. Once a year we feel we have calves. That must be it.

I have seen three presidents at work. The present one so anxiously correct, grown care-worn over the heavy job of saying so often “Your Royal Highness, Your Excellences, Your Superbities, my Lords and gentlemen” till one feels he says it to his water-jug (“Your Sponginesses, Your Soapinesses, Your Hot and Coldnesses, my Towels and Loofahs”), it is no longer possible to think of him without his robe and tapes. Take them off, and you would find so little there. Yet he has laughed in his time I don’t doubt, and even been young, and perhaps, God knows, (life is so strange) has dug a friend in the ribs. He has a portrait of the King this year, and there is a heartbreaking story abroad that His Majesty is dissatisfied with the Royal legs.

Leighton on the other hand wore his honours as one more to the manner born. One always felt that however he addressed the gathering, it was really he who was Prince of Wales. I was there on the only occasion that when Millais was in the chair, the one awful occasion when flesh and blood addressed their Immensities. He called on a Bishop to speak, and there was an Archbishop present, and the dreadful blunder turned us all into stone. In the eerie silence I dropped a pin, and the noise reverberated thro’ the hall. Then some trembling official whispered the dire trouble to Millais, who merely waved his cigar and said something to this effect, “You go ahead, Bishop, and the Archbishop can have his go later.”

Anthony [Hope]’s play [Helena’s Path] comes out on Tuesday, and [Harley Granville] Barker is rather in despair about it. I am not sure to what extent this is because it is not about drainage. He has worked hard at it, but scorning it all the time and shuddering over its romance. Now he fears this may have made him produce it badly, and possibly it has prevented his getting warmth and life into it. I have not seen much of it, but it entertained me in the reading. I feel a little sorry for Helena’s first husband, who is dead before the story begins. Doubtless he was a worthy Italian gentleman, but just because Anthony conceives a tale of a right-of-way, he kills off the unoffending Italian, and tosses Helena on to English soil. It is really hard on that Italian. Novelists and playwrights do cruel things in their light-headed way. She is talked about in Act I, till you feel she is his one interesting character, and then you discover that she never appears at all. I have a haunting fear that neither of these places will pass Janet Case*. In the one there is a distinct attempt on the part of a designing female to make a man fall in love with her and J.C. will make short work of Henry’s weakness for noble houses.

[AB: *Janet Case (1863-1937) was a classical scholar in ancient Greek and an ardent advocate of women’s rights and the suffragette movement. A co-founder of Girton College’s classical club, she was the first actress to perform in an ancient Greek play, thus breaking the long-standing tradition that only men could perform in them.]

Stage direction – Lord Lynborough is raising Helena’s hand to his lips in courtly fashion, when enter left down stage Miss Janet Case, carrying pamphlets.
J.C. (Sternly) Stop!
(Lynborough drops hand. Helena starts to her feet guiltily.)
Helena
(Confused) I didn’t know – I never thought –
J.C.
(Grimly) That I was in the play! Yes, madam, I am in the play. Henceforth I shall be in all plays.
Lynborough Perhaps you are not aware that – ah – this is private property.
J.C
. I thank you for the word. Property! And what have you to say on the subject of the rights of property? Take your arm away from that doll, sir, and answer me that.
Lyn
. I refuse to discuss questions of public policy in the middle of a love scene.
J.C
. Love! (Derisively)
Helena Well then? (With a show of spirit)
J.C. As for you, you minx, will you please to put on the table the cost of that outrageous gown. Will you please to answer the following sixteen questions –
Helena I will answer no questions.
Lyn
. I forbid her to answer them.
J.C. Just what I had hoped. I will now proceed to answer them myself. Sit down both of you. (Gets pamphlets ready)
Helena Help! Help!
Lyn. Call the author.
(Mr. Hawkins enters nervously)
Lyn
. This is the author.
J.C. (Running Anthony out) That the author! Call the only author – call Granville B.
(Enter Granville B[arker])
J.C
. My Granville, please to present this play so that it may be endurable to thinking women.

Helena’s Path
or “The Straight Way to the Polls”.

ACT I

Enter Helena in a sensible washing alpaca.
Helena
This path is the shortest road to the polling station. Therefore it is my right of way.
(Enter Lord Lynborough, a man of the baser sort)
Lyn
. Excuse me, but I must use this path as it belongs to me.
Helena (Closing gate and standing against it) The way to the poll is Helena’s way.
Lyn. Then this is my way (Jumps over her head and goes to vote)
Helena (Shouting after him) That has always been man’s way, but it shall be woman’s way henceforth.

ACTS 2 and 3

Lyn. I love you. Will you be my wife?
Helena
On one condition – that you allow me to jump over your head.
(After some discussion he yields)
Lyn. Every morning I shall come here and you shall jump over me.
Helena And as I jump it shall be called “Helena’s Way” (jumps and jumps and jumps).

I am hoping you will stand the journey on Monday well. Guy says you look so much better.

Your
J.M.B.

*

Either the making absolute of his decree, or a first taste of the pleasures of bachelor life in the Adelphi, or both, had apparently had an exhilarating effect on J.M.B. The wit of the first half of this letter is in his best and purist vein of drollery, and it isn’t really to the point to reflect that no one was further removed than he from the straits of an impoverished vicomte. He went invariably each year to the academy dinner and always enjoyed it, both in spite of and because of the satirical spectacles through which he couldn’t help viewing the proceedings; and he often made me laugh aloud by his descriptions of these dinners and their portentousness and philistinism in later years, but never pretended that he didn’t enjoy being one of the most distinguished persons present for all that.

The second part, about Anthony Hope’s play, Helena’s Path and also apparently about some play of Henry James’s, perhaps goes on a bit long, but that may be because in my ignorance I am unable to place Miss Janet Case, who presumably had some connection with the Repertory season Granville Barker was then running, and which, with its rather highbrow ideals, was inevitably antipathetic to J.M.B. although he had allowed himself to be mixed up with it for a time.

Note, by the way, the resumption of “Dearest Jocelyn” and “Your J.M.B.” – as I myself am convinced, because it was no longer necessary to be circumspect now that the divorce decree had been made absolute.

So far as it goes, I regard this merry letter as evidence that J.M.B., for one, had at this date somehow blinded himself to the gravity of Sylvia’s illness, whereas the tone of the two immediately preceding letters from her to him gives me the impression that she more than half realised it herself, as she lay in her bed or on the sofa, or sat out in her bath chair in the Crescent garden, that Easter at Ramsgate.

It is just conceivable that he wrote in this vein simply to cheer her up. But I doubt it. There was at no stage the absolute certainty, in Sylvia’s case, which had existed in Arthur’s from the moment of the first exploratory operation. And Sylvia did, every now and then, seem so much better …

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton College,
Windsor.
Wednesday, May 3 [1910]

Dearest Mother,
What a beastly day the first day of the half is! At all events it’s taken up by holiday task. I have got into B (Upper Fifth) by virtue of my “stinker”, and though I’m not up to my tutor, I’m next to that – B2 – up to Mr. Vaughan. For maths, I am in B2 up to McNeile, and for French in B1 up to Cuvelier. Altogether I’ve done pretty well.

There are a good many things I want. To begin with I found my old umbrella, so don’t send another. I want you to have sent to me my rough greenish coat (which I wore for golf); my other pair of brogues, as I’ve got the wrong pair; my watch and keys (Mary will know). I think that’s about all.

I can imagine Jack sitting at The Balkan Princess. I’m not sure that I quite envy him, as he’s got to go back Friday morning, and he’ll probably find Thursday rather a blank day. I met Johnstone at the station and we travelled down together. He got a fall from a horse in the holidays and got concussion for a fortnight.

Now for prayers after a durned dull day.

Your loving son,
George.

*

[NOT IN THE MORGUE:]

[May Coles to her mother Emma du Maurier:]

23 Cheyne Walk
Chelsea, [London] S.W.
Wednesday [4 May 1910]

My darling Mummie –
I seem to have been on the go all yesterday with no time to write to you. … Today I shall see Sylvia – I have had a telephone talk with her & she told me how much better she felt. It was a shocking day the day she came back, a fog like night, but yesterday was quite lovely & I hope she was out a lot. She ought to try & go out in the afternoon as well as in the morning but she doesn’t seem to mean to. Wh[at] I think is a thousand pities. Goodbye darling, you know our sort of arriving time, lateish from the town station.

Your loving
May

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton,
Sunday, May 14th [1910]

Dearest Mother,
I’m so sorry I forgot to write last night. Just a few lines now to atone.

Cricket’s going along well enough. I got a twenty and two wickets last Thursday. I expect it’ll be the same game today. The eleven are playing their first match today. Pity I’m not playing! Next year perhaps!

Work is going along dully enough. I’m afraid that Vaughan, although a very worthy man, is a bit dull. However, he sets quite enough work to do.

I’m dining with the Hollway Calthrops tonight – why, I can’t think. Perhaps Aunt Agnes or someone’ll be there. I hope there won’t be a great crowd. I hate to go out to find a crowd of Eton fellows standing about, all of us acutely shy, and bored to death.

Your loving son,
George.

*

[Guy du M. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Longmoor Camp,
East Liss,
Hants.
Friday [May 20, 1910]

Dearest,
I was hoping to come and see you early next week, and now I find I can’t. I’m like everyone in a new place – trying to make a good impression – and not showing the anxiety I feel to get away for a bit. I should have liked to see the procession today, but wasn’t invited by anyone to see it in comfort, so stayed away. But I would gladly have paid the Good King the respect of seeing his funeral. As you say he had charm, tho’ I don’t know where he got it from. P’raps the father had it and the Mid Victorians didn’t know what it meant.

What do you think of Kipling’s poem [“The Dead King”]? I love it. It strikes such a good note, and doesn’t harp on Virtue too much, which some of the papers with strange lack of humour do.

The worst literary effort the sad event has produced is the Queen’s letter. It reads as if it was in direct communication with the Servants’ Hall.

How is J.M.B.? I sent him a duologue to read. But he hasn’t said anything about it. Perhaps he can’t express himself politely about it. My brother [Gerald] said he couldn’t imagine how the author of the weakest line in The Englishman’s Home could have written such muck. So I’m prepared for anything. But it made me laugh as only my own jokes do. Tell me when to begin to look for a house in these parts, for the summer holidays, and even Nikko shall be trained in the whole duties of a Mounted Infantryman.

Love from us both,
Your loving brother,
Guy.

*

Guy du M. was in command of a Mounted Infantry training establishment, which I think must have been disbanded soon after this. At any rate it was not long before he got command of the 3rd Battalion of his regiment in India.

The funeral was that of Edward VII. I can remember watching it from a room on the first floor in Oxford and Cambridge Terrace; and there is evidence here that Sylvia’s health improved during this part of the summer, because she came too, accompanied by Nurse Loosemore, by now in permanent attendance. All recollection of how serious an undertaking this was for her – whether she had to be carried down and up stairs and so on – has gone from me: I only recall the [late king’s] fox-terrier walking behind the gun-carriage and the equestrian figures of the Kaiser and the bearded Duke of Norfolk. But it is certain that Sylvia must have rallied considerably, as I recall going with her to spend the weekend with Guy and Gwen at Longmoor shortly after this. Guy’s “quarters” were in the usual corrugated iron bungalow, so that there would have been no difficulty over stairs. Here again, however, I remember nothing to the point, my powers of observation having been absorbed, seemingly, by the performance of a very superior model aeroplane which have been given to me by J.M.B., and which I launched from every heather-clad eminence in the vicinity of the camp. Once more it is strange to me, and rather humiliating, to find how vivid an impression childish things still made on me in my 14th year, and how little remains of what I would so much rather recall. The sad truth is that, try as I may, and I have tried hard in connection with this record – and have had, after all, plenty to jog my memory – I can summon up not one single clear, breathing lightness of Sylvia. Before I began this unsatisfactory document I would have said, in the loose way one does, that I remembered her perfectly. But it is not so, I find. A shadowy presence is all that I can recapture, dimly seen, and as dimly heard; not an echo of her voice comes out of the past, not the timbre of it nor any characteristic trick of speech. I confess that this very much surprises, as well as disappoints me, when I reflect how many hours I must have spent, in the last 35 years, thinking of her, and of Arthur, and of the old days generally.

The family holiday at Longmoor never came off, for one reason or another, so Nico missed his chance of becoming an accomplished horseman at the age of six. Guy gave George and Jack a Christmas present of a course of riding lessons in London either the following winter or it may have been the winter before this.

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton College,
Windsor.
Wednesday, June 1st [1910]

Dearest Mother,
Friday is a holiday all right, but we don’t come up to London. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get off cricket, and I suppose you won’t be able to sit on the seat and watch me playing, which I should like you to do. You’d have to walk a bit to get to the seat. Perhaps you’re well enough to walk, though, now. Otherwise you couldn’t very well bring those two carrier men down! I’ll write tomorrow if I can get off cricket. Then I suppose you’ll come in a motor and we’ll go for a spin somewhere.

June 4th would be rather a good day for you. If I’m playing for the 2nd XI you could watch that, and otherwise, as there are no games, I’d have nothing to get off and we could go off somewhere. Could you let me have an answer as to your plans by tomorrow evening?

Your loving son,
George.

*

The “two carrier men”, with an invalid’s chair, were a necessity at 23 C.H.S., owing to the front door steps and to the stairs leading to Sylvia’s bedroom on the first floor. I believe I am right in saying that at this time Sylvia was able to walk short distances, with an arm to lean on, on level ground.

*

[NOT IN THE MORGUE:]

[Sylvia to Nico]
23 C.H.S.
22nd. [June 1910]

Darling,
I am longing to see you and I am counting the moments till Saturday.

Today Peter and Michael and Nurse and I went twice to Kensington Gardens. Michael sometimes sits at the end of the bath chair and guides it while the man pushes it behind. Will you guide it sometimes when you come back? It is very hot and I must get you a thin coat. I wish I could sit on the sands with you and throw stones into the sea! Dear darling Nico, I have got to be carried to bed now. I wish I could run upstairs instead! What would nurse say?

Good night my dear little boy.
Loving and loving, Mother.

[AB: Nico found this letter, which he though was probably sent to Morecambe around this time while he was staying with Mary Hodgson’s family, which he so often did.]

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton College,
Windsor.
Saturday, June 4th [1910]

Dearest Mother,
What a topping phiz of Dorothy! I’m awfully bucked with it, and it holds a prominent position in my room. I notice that The Rivals is off, and I don’t think she’s acting at present, unless in a very inferior part. Lewis Waller’s doing something adapted by Uncle Gerald – Spanish, or something. I suppose it would be French though. Well, there’s plenty of time for her to get a part before next holidays!

I played for the 2nd XI today, and got three wickets, so I’m fairly satisfied. I do hope I’ll keep up my bowling till Lord’s. If so I’m sure of my Twenty-two. Twenty-two means the Eleven and the next eleven, so it’s not such a bad colour. I took two wickets in the game yesterday (two fellows with their Eleven) so that was quite satisfactory.

I met Wilkinson today and he talked about Peter. He’s not very sanguine of his getting into College, though he says he’s got a chance. He’s rather bucked with Peter’s bowling, which I’m glad about.

I wrote to Uncle Guy the other day to see if he could come down to Eton today. He hasn’t answered so perhaps he didn’t get the letter. He wrote me rather a good letter, suggesting that we should spend the holidays near him and ride. I think it would be rather a notion to spend the first half there, if you wouldn’t get anxious. We could fish in the rainier second-half.

Your loving son,
George.
P.S. Thank you for the watch-chain and quid [= £1].

*

How altogether charming, to be given by one’s mother a topping phiz of the object of one’s adolescent infatuation. No wonder George has bucked, as he sat in his room contemplating the magic features, on the evening of the 4th of June, after doing reasonably well for the 2nd XI.

Had anyone told him how serious his mother’s illness might be? I doubt it; but the apparent lack of any realisation of the fact in his letters is not conclusive, as on the whole there is little that is intimate in them; little to show what his thoughts were about anything except games. One would have thought, by the way, that some relation or other would have gone down to see him play that 4th of June – quite a big event in the life of an Etonian. Surprising that J.M.B. was not there, with his love of the game, to see the boy David of The Little White Bird make his first important appearance on the cricket-field. Taking it all round, one has the impression that George was not much visited at Eton.

*

[NOT IN THE MORGUE:]

[J.M.B. to Gwen du Maurier at Longmoor Camp:]

3 Adelphi Terrace House,
Strand, W.C.
13 June [1910]

My dear Gwen,
(I hope I may say so) Yes, I sh[oul]d be delighted to go to you next Saturday. Could I bring Peter also? I remember what you said about its being small, but a couch or anything in my room would make all well. In that case we’d arrive early Sat’y & get back Sunday evening.

Yours always
J.M.Barrie

*

[George Ll.D. to Sylvia Ll.D.]

Eton College,
Windsor.
Friday, July 1st [1910]

Dearest Mother,
Yesterday I played in a match for Lower Club. It doesn’t follow that I’m kicked out of Upper Club, as another fellow played who has played for the Eleven. I was first choice which I shall remain unless I manage after all (I don’t think I shall) to get my Twenty-two. I went in two from last and swiped at every ball until I made 40, when I got caught in the deep! The record of this year’s cricket! I also took five wickets so I didn’t do so badly. There’s a 2nd XI match in which I hope to be playing tomorrow. It’s the last, and I shall feel pretty desperate when I go on to bowl. Anything under five wickets will mean ruin!

I’ve written to ask Uncle Jim to fulfil his telephone promise and come down tomorrow. I hope he’ll be able to do so. I’m feeling very keen to see his best silk socks! I hope it isn’t going to rain to stop him coming or anything of that sort. If it does rain all day it’ll be rather interesting to see if I shall get my Twenty-two. Perhaps interesting is rather a mild word to use from my point of you!

Your loving son,
George Llewelyn Davies.
P.S. Thank the Lord, I’m playing tomorrow!

*

This is the last letter from George to his mother which I have.

From a family point of view, perhaps the most interesting thing in it is the use of the term “Uncle Jim” for the first time* – symbolising the intimacy which had so rapidly increased since 1907, until he was closer by far to us, as well as directing our destinies, than any of our real uncles. Uncle Jim he remained to the end, to those of us who survived, though for a short while after his elevation to the Baronetcy (1912) we knew him variously as Sir Jas, Sir Jazz and the Bart.

No letters remain conveying the great news home that George did in fact get his Twenty-two, and, still more signal triumph, was elected at the end of the half to Pop – rather unexpectedly I believe, and exceptionally young for admission into that august body. By the end of that summer half, therefore, George had attained the stature of a full-blown Eton blood, and would be a known figure to every boy in the school.

He was “put up” for Pop by the handsome, attractive John Manners (killed 1914), whose sister Angela would in due course marry Malise Ruthven and produce second cousins for Rivvy, George and Peter Ll.D.

[AB: *Actually George had referred to J.M.B. as Uncle Jim in his 11 December 1908 letter to Sylvia 18 months earlier, just before their Swiss holiday: “It is kind of Uncle Jim to do it all.” The context gives the impression that the epithet had been in use for some time, at any rate between George and Sylvia.]

*

[Emma du Maurier to May Coles]

Longmoor Camp,
East Liss,
Hants.
July 4, 1910.

My darling May,
It is bad news to hear you had a migraine when you wrote. I daresay the thundery weather has something to do with it. I hope it is over today and Dr Rendel’s medicine has done your throat good. It is strange he should never have told me what he has told you. I began to think he did not agree with Dr. Goodhart and was still thinking Dr. Fowler’s opinion the right one. I do begin to think Dr. G. must be right and it seems too bad we should all have had these months of anguish – just imagine if some people had told Sylvia and I really believe at one time Margaret Davies was inclined to think it was the right thing to do.

It is dear of you to worry about me and the pony cart – we are not going in it, as Gwen says the pony is a frisky one and the cart very uncomfortable. ... I like the hat very much and they have made it charming with their pretty things. Plenty going on in the camp, soldiers and horses and bugle calls and Guy looks very nice in his uniform. He has just ridden off to Frensham with 300 men. … I should be back on Thursday or Friday but I shall want to know what he advises. Of course I won’t say a word to anybody. Has the Morning Post noticed Papa’s drawings?

Your loving Mother.

*

The implications of this letter have been discussed earlier. [See Peter’s comments following George’s letter to Sylvia, October 17th, 1909]

Margaret’s alleged view that Sylvia should be told raises the whole vexed question of what ought to be done in such circumstances. No one can say who is not in possession of all the arguments for and against in each particular case, and perhaps in some cases there is no one so fully qualified. What is inclined to share Emma du M.’s feelings on the point; on the other hand, it is clear that Sylvia was very seriously worried and upset by never knowing what the disease was from which she increasingly (though with occasional temporary improvements) suffered. Again, on the existing state of surgical and medical knowledge, it may not have been possible to diagnose with certainty without a more thorough examination. I have no record of X-rays having been taken. Finally, the word cancer was less easily spoken in those days, more wrapped in unmentionable horror, than it is in these case-hardened times; and there was enough on this occasion to cause any of those concerned to recoil from the truth.

The last sentence of E.’s letter refers to an exhibition of George du Maurier’s drawings, mostly from Punch, which had opened on the 1st of the month at the Leicester Galleries.

*

[Sylvia to J.M.B.]

Twenty Three
Campden Hill Square,
Kensington.
Telephone 3041 Kensington
[6 July 1910 ]

Dear J,
I shall not be able to get to Eton tomorrow after all I am sorry to say – however the weather looks very bad. Will you do something for me? I want 1½ doz white colours (George wears the shape) for Peter and 2 doz white ties (also like George), as they are best bought at Eton. The shop is called New & Lingwood. Ask for collars for tails and Peter will know what size and can try one on if wanted. He must bring them home with him.

I so liked your letter about G. and P.! I have thought so much of Peter and am wondering how he has done.

I daresay you will come back after lunch but I hope you will stay to dinner.

Elizabeth is perhaps going to tea with you tomorrow so you could drop P. and come on afterwards to me – send me a wire if you have altered any plans but dinner if possible, that is if you w[oul]d like that.

I suppose George can’t be let off camp for his delicate mother’s sake.

Affec.
S.

*

This is the last of Sylvia’s letters of which I can find any trace.

It is written in ink, quite strongly, and addressed to J.M.B. care of H. Brinton at Eton, where he was evidently staying (though I had quite forgotten that he did) with me on the occasion of the scholarship examination for which I was sitting daily in Upper School. That Sylvia should have contemplated going down to Eton herself shows that she was not at this time entirely inactive; but I think that all movement was now a serious effort to her, and that at frequent intervals she suffered great discomfort.

J.M.B. is now clearly seen in the role of leading uncle, if not step-father; perhaps guardian angel best describes him. The purchase of collars and ties at this stage indicates that definite arrangements had been made, in case I failed for the scholarship, to go to Eton as an expensive Oppidan; necessarily of course on J.M.B.’s money. And in this connection I might add that I don’t remember it ever being put to me for a second that it was in any way vital that I should succeed. (I feel sure I should have failed miserably if I had had any such notion in my mind.)

I suppose this is as good a place as any in which to introduce an aspect of things from which I have always rather shied away. I don’t remember him ever saying so to me, but I believe J.M.B. did once, in after years, say to Jack, that he had asked Sylvia to marry him, and that she had said she would, and would have done so had she lived; and Nico has told me that, at the time of his marriage to Mary in 1926, J.M.B. gave Mary some of Sylvia’s jewellery including a ring which – J.M.B. told Nico – he had given to Sylvia for an engagement ring as “we would have been married had your mother lived.” Well: it may have been so. But somehow I doubt it. J.M.B. was quite capable of imagining, and of coming in the end to believe, such a might-have-been.

The few letters between them which have survived, and which have appeared in this record, don’t at all support the idea. And from the date of this last letter of Sylvia’s, to the day of her death, is less than two months. No doubt there must have been conversations between them during those two months about the future, and about what they were to be to each other; and she may well have given him the thought of marriage – if it could be called that – to play with. But by then, as we have seen, he already had reason to suspect that her disease might prove fatal, and I guess that she too, though never told, suspected it also.

Are any rate that’s how I see it. Others may well say, and doubtless did, that it would have been the most natural thing in the world: that she was already more intimate with him than with any other living being, that he had adored her for years and loved her children, that she was taking so much from him that she could scarcely refuse if that was what he wished, and in fact that it was much the best solution. All this is true enough. But I think to Jack (who will please correct me if I’m wrong) the thought was and still is intolerable and even monstrous; so much so that he could not refrain from expressing himself in the most forcible manner to that effect, when J.M.B. in an unguarded moment spoke to him of it.

To me too, I confess, the idea of such a marriage is repugnant. Up to a point, perhaps, this is mere sentimentality. The two sublime creatures of one's childhood die when one is too young to have much sense of reality, and the naïve impression remains, so that in after life no one who survives to meet the more calculating glance of one's maturity can ever move in the same dimension as the enchanted dead. But I think there is more to it than that. I am certainly not among those who try to make out that a second marriage is a betrayal of the dead, or that there is any essential virtue in clinging to the widowed state. But it does seem to me that a marriage between Sylvia, the widow, still so beautiful in her forty-fourth year, of the splendid Arthur, and the strange little creature who adored her and dreamed, as he surely must have dreamed, of stepping into Arthur's shoes, would have been an affront, really, to any reasonable person’s sense of the fitness of things. And I do not believe that Sylvia seriously contemplated it.

I feel I have rather laboured this point, which in a sense matters so little now. Yet it would hardly have done to ignore it all together in this record. I don’t know what Nico, who can remember so much less of his parents, thinks about it, but I imagine he sees it pretty much in the same light as the other two of us.

Let me not be thought unmindful, in writing what I have written, of the innumerable benefits and kindnesses I have received, at one time and another, from the aforesaid strange little creature, to whom, in the end, his connection with our family brought so much more sorrow than happiness.

To revert to Sylvia’s letter, the last of hers as I have said, either to J.M.B. or to anyone else, which I have.

The ties and collars were presumably bought, though I don’t remember the incident. Little or nothing else would have been required in the way of Eton uniform, as George’s discarded garments were available for me.

“Elizabeth” was no doubt Elizabeth Lucas [wife of E.V.]. If J.M.B. after entertaining her to tea in the Adelphi, came to dine with Sylvia at 23 C.H.S., would it have been in her bedroom? I rather think not, but that, on the contrary, she was now well enough to dine downstairs. She would often, on such occasions (but I think mostly when there was cold supper on Sundays) make scrambled eggs or oeufs sur le plat in a chafing-dish, peppering them well – the smell of pepper is in my nostrils as I write.

A few days later, when I was playing “corridor cricket” after lunch at Wilkinson’s, entered Milky in some excitement, table-napkin in one hand and brandishing in the other an opened telegram, to interrupt the game with the news that Davies One had brought off the Eton scholarship, to his own surprise as much as to mine. It is true that I was lowish on the list – 11th or 12th, I think – but there would be more boys than that leaving College during the ensuing year, so that my place was assured. And that day was made more memorable for me when, later in the afternoon, Sylvia arrived in a taxi to praise me for my puny triumph and bear me off early home to tea.

I hope I shall be forgiven for dwelling a little on this, the solitary distinction, such as it was, that I ever attained in my mostly mis-spent life. That it gave pleasure to Sylvia in her last sad weeks has always been to me a source of secret satisfaction. Much I wish that I could remember one word of what she then said to me; but no, the fragment is of a silent film only, a brief vision of her sitting in the taxi (or was it a hired electric brougham?), smiling, and crying a little, and holding out her arms, as I emerged from the little side door in St. Petersburgh Place.

The saving in money which the scholarship would mean can only, it is clear, have been of secondary importance, though one may guess that the thought of some small reduction in the extent of her obligations to J.M.B. may not have been unwelcome. But I think what chiefly pleased Sylvia was that it constituted a link, slender enough but recognisable, with the so much more substantial scholarship-prowess of Arthur.

And so to the end of that term at Wilkinson’s with no letters to guide or prompt me. Nothing more seems to have been done about spending a part of the summer holiday near Guy du M. at Longmoor, and a house was taken, called Ashton, near the northern end of the Devon and Somerset border, on Exmoor, for the sake of the fishing. That Sylvia was, in her own estimation and that of her advisors, strong enough to face so long a journey and the discomfort of what was little more than an isolated farmhouse, seems to show that she was at this time deceptively well. But Dolly Ponsonby came to see her at 23 C.H.S. a few days before the move was made: “I think she was in a black gown, and lying on the sofa. I realised then that she was not going to live, and I remember going back and telling my husband, and weeping.”

And Mary Hodgson’s recollection is: “Your mother insisted on going out of town with her family, thinking it would finally decide matters – if they would not let her go. Dr. Rendel said “If Sylvia wishes to go, she should have what she wishes.” Nurse Loosemore said Dr.Rendel and J.M.B. were quite mad and eventually told me to make myself and the boys scarce on the journey as anything might happen.”

Had J.M.B., or anyone else, been down to Ashton Farm to see what comforts, if any, existed there, and how inaccessible it was, or had it been selected merely by correspondence? I don’t in the least know; but he had hired a car and chauffeur for the holidays. Nor, I am glad to say, can I remember anything at all of the journey down there. “At Minehead,“ says Mary H., “there was a climax – your mother insisting that the two youngest and myself should travel in the car. Dr Rendel took her side and Nurse Loosemore barely spoke to me thereafter.

“At Ashton, I only saw your mother at odd times. I think the powers that be thought I was not to be trusted, and were probably wise in that view.”

So Dr. Rendel was in the cortège, presumably also J.M.B., who would stay, not at the farm itself, but at the neighbouring village of Brendon. It must have been an exhausting day for poor, weak Sylvia; a five-hour train journey from Paddington, followed by 15 beautiful but hilly miles in the car across Exmoor. All to provide fishing for the boys!

I suppose the rest of us, i.e. J.M.B., self, Minnie, Amy, followed or went ahead in another car.

Eton and Dartmouth broke up rather later, and I imagine George was not “let off camp for his delicate mother’s sake.“ First Jack, and a day or two later George, followed the rest of us down to Exmoor. They were both almost young men now, and mighty good-looking ones at that. I recall how, one day soon after their arrival, they came together, both wearing new suits, into the room where Sylvia lay on the sofa, and how she greatly enjoyed their stylish appearance and exclaimed with delight: “What a pair of young rakes!”

A curious, attractive little thing to remember, for no apparent reason. They are the last words of Sylvia’s of which any echo, however dim, remains in my mind.

For a few days she seemed, all things considered, to be surprisingly well, and was up a good deal and able to come out into the rare sunshine in the little garden. For us, or perhaps more accurately for George and me, fishing was the main occupation, still with the humble worm, and we made almost daily expeditions, sandwiches in pocket, up the beautiful valleys of the Lynn and the Oare and Badgworthy waters. In the evenings we would take the day’s catch of small trout in to show to Sylvia, as she lay, so much frailer than we knew, on the sofa or in her bed.

*

[Emma du Maurier to May Coles]

Ashton Farm,
Countisbury,
By Lynton, North Devon.
[About August 1, 1910 ]

My darling May,
No post out to-day but there may be tomorrow.

Mr Barrie and Peter met us at Minehead in the motor and it is a most exquisite drive from there but oh dear, it is terrible to think dear Sylvia is so far from doctors. She was sitting in the garden when we got here, but she is still very oppressed and sleeps badly. She didn’t like the Lynton doctor – he is deaf, and seems to have asked silly questions, so I begged Mr Barrie to telegraph today to Dr. Rendel to say she must have a doctor here and he has done so. Sylvia seemed quite willing that this should be done, and really when you think that it is 5 miles to Lynton to get a doctor and 5 miles for him to come, and then he mightn’t be in. All this is too alarming and it mustn’t be. Dear Sylvia was tearful last night and that is so distressing.

It is a nice house but hills all round, even from the lawn to the garden is quite a hill. This ought never to have been taken. To-day Sylvia is staying in bed, she seems quite to wish to. She seems glad I have come and hopes I can stay and of course I shall, but you can imagine what I feel. As you know I can generally sleep, but it is the waking. Nurse is as splendid as she always is, but she feels a doctor would be a comfort.

Write on a separate piece of paper anything I can’t read out. I hope you liked your visit to Hindhead, tell me all about it.

Your loving Mother.

*

This and the succeeding letters from Emma du M. to May, all matter-of-fact and not the less moving for that, came into my possession quite recently (1949) among the various documents etc. which Taff Coles handed over to the family after the death of his twin brother “Coley”, May’s widower. (Another relic which then came to light was a little portable writing-desk, with the name Emma Wightwick on a mother-of-pearl label on the lid, containing George du M.’s happy letters to her during their courtship fifty years earlier – some of these are being included in the volume of Kicky’s youthful letters which Daphne is now preparing for publication.)

These letters from Ashton, which of course I had never seen before, make a certain amount of modification necessary it what I had already written about Sylvia’s last days, though not much needed alteration up to this point.

Not only do I not remember going with J.M.B. to meet Emma du M. at Minehead: I have no recollection of her at Ashton at all, though I had guessed she must have been there, and a remark of Mary Hodgson’s had confirmed my guess. This blank spot is odd enough, seeing that I was now thirteen and a half. I take it Crompton Ll.D., whom I remember there very well indeed come, had accompanied her. He, like J.M.B. himself, stayed not at Ashton Farm but at the village of Brendon, a mile or so off.

The general tone of this letter suggests that Sylvia’s mother was now much more alarmed about her condition than she had been when she wrote to May on July 4th. May herself, as we shall see, never realised how ill Sylvia was; she probably thought her mother was alarming herself unnecessarily. Trixie, I think, knew more, because being of a robust temperament she was allowed to know more; but owing to the part she played in the Mary Barrie drama she was at this time cut off from Sylvia. Margaret Ll.D. was tied to the now infirm John Ll.D. Otherwise one might have thought some female relative would have stepped into the breach before Emma du M.’s arrival. Still, it would not have been easy. Not a comfortable collaborator, J.M.B. How well he and Emma du M. “got on” I don’t really know. She obviously thought it monstrous of him to have allowed Sylvia to come to so isolated a spot (where there was besides no telephone), and perhaps it is significant that after 13 years acquaintance he is Mr Barrie or J.M.B. and not Jimmy.

Crompton Ll.D. was full of helpfulness and took us walks and climbed us to the top of the local mountain, Dunkery Beacon, in true Llewelyn Davies fashion. At this time, and for a good many years later, there was a really close bond between him and J.M.B.

There also joined the party a charming blue-eyed youth of 21 or so named Lloyd, a Cambridge running blue, who was supposed to be a tutor in some way for George and perhaps Jack. I can’t think what either of them wanted a tutor for; it may have been that George needed some coaching for School Certificate or the eventual Cambridge examination. He was also a golf companion for Jack, over whom fishing never cast the spell it did over the rest of us. The soft-voiced, fair-haired Lloyd perished at Loos in 1915.

*

[Emma du M. to May Coles]

Ashton Farm,
Countisbury,
Near Lynton, North Devon.
Aug. 5, 1910.

My darling May,
Very many happy returns and I enclose my usual birthday cheque, with a little added. I do hope you feel better darling and that if not, you have had Rendel.

Dr. Spicer has come this morning, but he isn’t at the house yet; he missed his train and so Crompton who had gone in the motor to meet him, had to stay all night at Minehead and has brought him here this morning. Crompton sleeps at Mr Barrie’s. When Sylvia heard the doctor was to sleep here (but we all think it a great mistake if he didn’t) she was angry and then began to cry, and said “I believe I am very ill,” so you can imagine how dreadful that was. I said it was my fault, that I had suggested it, and somehow we got over it, and she was pacified. It is a good way to the farm where he could sleep and if in the middle of the night he was wanted, it would be quite a business to get him, no woman could go in the dark and the only man here is the farmer.

Dear Sylvia has such bad nights, even with trional, and she looks so wan and thin, it breaks my heart to look at her. Last night just before I left her she asked nurse and me questions about her health, and that is difficult to bear. Her breathing is so laboured and sometimes it seems she has difficulty in swallowing. She takes food fairly well but without any appetite. She doesn’t wish the boys ever to be kept away from her; of course they are out all day until tea time, and when they’re in the garden she can see them.

We have a great deal of rain and very little sun. I can’t think it is particularly good for the boys especially Michael to be always on low ground fishing, whereas on the moors it is so much more airy.

Yesterday Sylvia wanted me to go out in her chair and Crompton went with me. A donkey led the chair, but Amy had to pull it up the hill and Crompton pushed it, so you can see what a tiresome position the house is in, it ought to be at the top. It was a nice morning and I was out about an hour and a half. Crompton is such a kind fellow, I hope he will stay.

George and the tutor Mr. Lloyd come tomorrow. The latter sleeps and breakfasts at the farm.

The dogs have given trouble. Max has killed some chickens and must always be tied up. Smee is better, but has to be muzzled.

Jack looks well. He said he thought his mother was much thinner in the face.

Of course, I would give worlds for you to be here, but you couldn’t be in the house and it would perhaps alarm Sylvia if you came. Still perhaps you and Coley could come later, one must see. The Lynton doctor is to meet Dr. Spicer here – we thought it would be more polite and he may be asked to come again, we shall see. Do write often and tell me how are you are in every way and all you do. Write on a separate paper as you did before.

Your loving mother.

*

Of Dr. Spicer all I remember is his big brown boots, his Norfolk knickerbocker suit, his long upper lip and a sort of deerstalker hat he wore. He wasn’t, alas, liked; but one could hardly expect a first-rate man in the circumstances, and at such short notice.

Dear Grannie’s worry about the effect of low ground is a reminder of the fact that there had at one time been a slight fear of tuberculosis in the case of Michael.

From now onwards, while we finished and golfed and walked furiously, or made expeditions to Lynton and ate huge teas with bilberry jam and Devonshire cream, or on idle days watched the buzzards circling slowly, high above the valley of the Lynn – while, in fact, we went our boys’ ways – Sylvia weakened rapidly, and I think she never again left her room.

*

[Emma du M. to May Coles]

August 8. [1910]

My darling May,
There is no post in or out from here on Sunday, so I only got your letter to-day.

Dr. Spicer says the altitude does not affect dear Sylvia’s breathing. On Saturday I was very distressed as Dr. Spicer told us he wanted to put a needle in to see if there was any fluid, as if so he could relieve her. We all discussed it, and it is difficult to disagree with the doctor when he assures one it is for the best. So it was done, but there was no fluid; so it was useless. It did no harm, and gave only slight pain when it was being done. Then the doctor told us he had come prepared to put in a tube if necessary and he had seen Dr. Tilly about it, but we all feel if it has to be done, Dr. Tilly or some specialist should do it. Crompton has written to Dr. Rendel to-day about this. But dear Sylvia, talking about it the other day, said she knew that was done as a last resource and when there was no hope. I do trust it may not have to be done, still it may come to that.

She doesn’t like Dr. Spicer much, she says he is to cocksure, and he is. She slept better and coughed less however last night owing to a draught he gave her. I sit in her room a good deal, but I feel cowardly when I’m alone, because I wonder if she would like to say anything to me. I feel she is so considerate that she wouldn’t like to make me unhappy and there is no one she can talk to. J.M.B. I know would give way and she wouldn’t care to say anything to Crompton. You couldn’t bear it and Trixie of course has displeased her. She never however talks of Mary B. now, she talks very little and doesn’t feel strong enough to be carried out in a hammock I know.

We are of course far from everything here, without a motor it would be terrible, the 5 miles drive to Lynton is worse than the 15 miles to Minehead, J.M.B. says. Dear Sylvia is quite contented with the place. The boys fish and seem happy and Jack and the tutor have gone into Porlock to golf. If you come, it must be to Brendon, 2 miles off, near J.M.B.

Sylvia talked about moving in three weeks, but I believe steps are being taken to get this house for the whole time.

I have been well but yesterday I was a little seedy, water brash etc. – emotion isn’t good for digestion. I did walk up a hill on Sat. with Crompton very slowly. I won’t try again. I am quite contented to sit in the tent in the garden.

Much love darling and do write often.

Your loving Mother.

*

A gap of 12 days now occurs in the letters from Emma du M. to May. She evidently wrote other things during the interval, but they have disappeared. Perhaps it is just as well.

It is still not clear to me how grave a view each of the persons most concerned was taking. One would say that they all by now must have expected the worst; yet my impression is that Crompton left during this interval, which perhaps he would hardly have done had he realised the end was so near? No other relatives came down.

A curious visitor was Maude Adams, leading interpreter of J.M.B.’s plays in the U.S., who was brought down by him to Oare or Brendon for a night or two, that she might see and be seen by Sylvia and her boys (my boys).

For the rest, we went our way blithely enough, I seem to remember. The remote and beautiful Doone Valley, a few miles from Ashton, was among our regular fishing places: sentiment, as well as sport and appreciation of romantic scenery, was involved here, as one remembered Arthur reading Lorna Doone to us in the winter evenings at Egerton House. (I had selected L.D. as the subject of an essay “on my favourite character in fiction” in the English paper for the Eton Scholarship examination.)

Somewhere about now, I take it, Sylvia must have written the “will” which is reproduced further on, but which was not found until some weeks after her death.

*

[Emma du M. to May Coles]

Sat. August 20. (1910)

My darling May,

Yesterday, after my letter went off to you, dear Sylvia had a bad day. When I was alone with her she cried a good deal and said she felt very ill and asked if no other doctor was to be sent for. I told her Dr. Rendel was coming and then he would tell us what had better be done. She said she thought Dr. Fowler would be best as he had seen her oftener than the others. She said, perhaps she ought not to be here, but to be on a large balcony with the sun pouring on her, and of course I do believe it would be better, but how is it to be done? She’s getting tired of her room, and yesterday she couldn’t get into a comfortable position in bed. Altogether she was wretched, poor darling. She had reaching too about 11 o’clock after I had left her, not being sick, and Nurse thinks it was flatulence. She takes a little food and sometimes only liquid things. She had some rusks yesterday with milk.

I have just got two letters from you, one dated Thursday and one Friday. I hoped you would really prefer this place to Ramsgate which you rather objected to when I said I couldn’t afford a house elsewhere – that is if I can get decent lodgings for you. I of course will stop on here as long as Sylvia stays but I do long for you or Trixie often I assure you, and if things get worse, I don’t know how I shall bear it. Of course I can’t suggest Trixie, because in the 1st place it would alarm Sylvia and also she wouldn’t care to have her on account of the Barrie friction, whereas with you and Coley it is quite natural that you should take your holiday here as well as anywhere else. Also, she suggested it herself. There is no occasion for quick decision, since you say: it doesn’t get away until the 8th of Septb’r. I will enquire about rooms and see if there are any that would do. You couldn’t be quite near but if you are at Oare or Brendon where Mr. Barrie would be, the car would always bring you up and the walk down isn’t much.

Crompton thinks the more might be too exposed for you by the time Septb’r comes.

Still you mustn’t come at all if either of you would much rather not.

You won’t get this until Monday.

Your loving Mother.

*

[Emma du M. to May Coles]

Ashton Farm,
Aug. 24 [1910]

My darling May,

No letter from you this morning, but of course I can’t expect one every day.

Dear Sylvia had a bad night and seems very languid and weak this morning. Yesterday afternoon she seemed more comfortable and wished to hear the gramophone and the boys came in. However too many of them soon tire her. Dear little Nicholas is very good but of course he is lively and wants to jump about and climb on the backs of the others and all that is too much in her room. After tea they play games in the garden and it amuses her to watch them.

Yesterday she told me she didn’t want to go home until the 16th but of course nothing can be decided. The doctor here, Dr. Spicer, would like to get her home sooner I know, but we don’t want to worry her and as far as possible she must do just as she likes. I told her your suggestion about Torquay, she smiled and said it was a relaxing place and she should think a bracing air was best for her.

I don’t know when Trixie goes back to Ramsgate but I should think to-day, so will you telephone to her if she is in London and tell her that I have written to Ramsgate.

Your loving Mother.

*

On reconsideration, it seems that my memory was at fault and that Crompton have not left. He may have been, and probably was, there till the end. Have I mentioned earlier in this record that he could never, till the end of his days, so many years later, mention Sylvia to me without tears in his eyes and voice?

Denis Mackail has a story in his book that, “two days before the end, as she lay there in bed, she asked for a hand mirror. She looked in it, and laid it down. ‘Don’t let the boys see me again,’ she said.” I don’t know where he got it from, but it cannot have been directly from anyone who was there. It can hardly be true either, having regard to the above letter.

Among the tunes played on the gramophone at Ashton I remember a sentimental waltz: Liebestraume (no connection with Liszt’s composition of the same name – I think the composer was [Dominik] Ertl [1857-1911]). I have never heard it since; but it haunted me for years, and still does, very faintly, as the sort of obligato to Sylvia’s last hours.

The next unbearable letter presumably followed a telegram conveying the fatal news.

*

[Emma du M. to May Coles]

Ashton Farm,
Saty. [27 August 1910]

My darling May,
I’m afraid you didn’t quite realise how very ill dear Sylvia had become. She was worn out poor darling and on Thursday night the doctor had to give her morphia, although he didn’t tell me. Yesterday morning he repeated it, and about 11 o’clock Nurse said she would rather I didn’t go into the room again just yet (I had been with dear Sylvia for a little about 10 o’clock) but that she would remain.

At ¼ to 2 she called me and the doctor was holding dear Sylvia’s hands and asked me to fan her, but I didn't know the end was so near. She was breathing with great difficulty and I couldn't bear to look at her, then they called in Mr. Barrie and I saw what it was and it was all over in about a ¼ of an hour. It was her breathing that was exhausted, not heart failure. The doctor, Nurse, Mr. Barrie and I were the only ones in the room. The big boys were out.

In a few hours Nurse had arranged everything and asked me to go in. I hardly dared, but I’m glad I did. Darling Sylvia looked perfectly lovely–so calm and happy, and those who love her can only be thankful she is at peace.

Guy has wired to say he is coming and Trixie too. We shall go up on Monday and the funeral will I suppose be on Tuesday at Hampstead, but I shall see you on Monday.

Your loving Mother.

*

I am well aware that some might question the propriety of preserving these sad and private letters, yet they were deliberately preserved by May – herself to waste and die of the same disease 20 years later – and, after reading them, not without emotion, I felt it right, and still do, to include them in this mausoleum. If their rather brutal effect is, alas, to yield a clearer impression of the dying Sylvia than any of the earlier pages can give of Sylvia living, that misfortune is not in itself a condemnation. They dispel some of the uncertainties which have lingered in dark corners of our minds for 40 years; moreover, this is a family record, and these letters shed a valuable light on the character of Emma du M., nobly, not to say stoically, playing her part in the tragedy.

On the morning of the day Sylvia died, Jack remembers that Nurse Loosemore told us she was not well enough to see us, as she usually did before we went off on our various activities, but that she sent us all her love and would see us in the evening. While Jack went off in the car to Minehead with Lloyd to play golf, George and I set out on our usual all-day fishing expedition. I question whether any of us, even George, the oldest and much the most intimate with J.M.B., felt more than a vague sense of oppression – certainly no clear forebodings.

For some reason which I can’t now recall – perhaps because sport was bad – I gave up soon after lunch, when I suppose we were 4 or 5 miles from Ashton, and decided to go home, leaving George, always a more thorough fisherman than myself, in undisputed possession of the likely pools.

It was a grey, lowering, drizzly sort of day, and I walked fast, and was pretty blown, I remember, by the time I reached the top of the steep footpath which led from the river valley up to the house. As I went in at the gate, it struck me that there was something peculiar in the aspect of the house: in every window the blinds had been drawn. Somehow or other the dreadful significance of this sombre convention conveyed itself to my shocked understanding, and with heart in boots and unsteady knees I covered the remaining thirty or forty yards to the front door. There J.M.B. awaited me: a distraught figure, arms hanging limp, hair dishevelled, wild-eyed.

In what exact words he told me what I had no need to be told, I forget; but it was brokenly, despairingly, without any pretence of philosophy or resignation or the stiff upper lip. He must have been sunk in depths far below all that, poor Jimmy; I think it was I that propelled him, as much as he me, into the room on the left of the little entrance hall, where we sat and blubbered together. Good cause for blubbering too, for both of us; but I remember, and wish I didn't, sobbing out “Mother! Mother!” at intervals during the sad and painful scene, and realising, even as I did so, that this wasn't altogether natural in me – that, though half involuntary, it was also a half-deliberate playing-up to the situation. I can forgive myself now, after thirty-five years, for this rather shameful bit of nervous reaction: the rest of it, the tears and misery and desolation, were genuine enough.

I suppose I must have got home about half past three, less than two hours after Sylvia had died.

Jack, in a recent letter to me, writes: “When the car fetched Lloyd and me back from Minehead I was taken into a room where the bart was alone and he told me she was dead. He also told me, which angered me even then, that Mother had promised to marry him and wore his ring. Even then I thought if it was true it must be because she knew she was dying. I was then taken in to see her and left with her for a bit. She looked quite natural, as she’d always been so pale, very lovely and asleep.”

On the subject of that abortive betrothal I have already dilated. Jack was then a few days short of his 16th birthday. His feelings are wholly comprehensible.

I am almost sure, but cannot by any effort of recollection say with certainty, that I too went in to look my last on Sylvia as she lay dead in the room on the ground floor which had been made into her bedroom. One would have thought such a moment must imprint itself so clearly on a young mind as to be in ineffaceable ever afterwards. But all I retain, or seem to retain, is a dream-like, cloudy sense of going in and standing for a matter of seconds, confused, unhappy, frightened, looking and yet not looking at the pale, lifeless features, and then escaping to I know not what limbo in some remote corner of the house. Conceivably it is all imagination. I wrote not long ago to Mary Hodgson and asked her about this. She answered: “Mrs du M. and J.M.B. were for, and I against – so do not know.” Poor Mary; her memory of that time is not at all exact, and no wonder, it must have been a terrible time indeed for her. On this particular point she alone correctly interpreted Sylvia’s own wishes – see the “Will” reproduced a few pages further on.

Nico, then aged 6 and three-quarters, has a memory of approaching the door of Sylvia's room, meaning to go in as had been his habit after tea each day, and of being shooed away with significant gruffness by one of his kind brothers, probably Michael. He has told me, too – and I trust he won’t mind my repeating it here – that he very well remembers Mary Hodgson trying to explain things to him, and how she laid the responsibility on God, adding hopelessly enough, to soften the blow, that sometimes people who were so spirited away were brought back, and it might be that she would come back at Christmas. And he remembers, thereupon, crying out in misery, half hysterically, “Cruel God! Cruel God!”

Of how the word of death was spoken to George, when he came back that evening from his day's fishing, I know nothing; or to Michael, then a little over ten years old, and the most highly strung and impressionable of us, one would say. Each must have carried to his early grave a far more vivid recollection of that day than I now retain after 30 intervening years, during which, however, I doubt if a week has ever gone by without my thoughts harking back to the summer of 1910. I refer to conscious thoughts: what dark complexes may have found a lodgement in the subconscious minds and personalities of all five of us that summer, only a Freud could say.

To get over the following few days quickly is not difficult, as I can remember very little about them. The next morning George and I were dispatched to the nearest village – Brendon, I think – with a sheaf of telegrams addressed to relatives and friends (I suppose written out by J.M.B.). As we walked down the hill on this gloomy errand – but it was good for us, I think, to be given something practical to do – George remarked to me, perhaps merely speaking his thoughts aloud, or perhaps with the deliberate object of knocking the nonsense out of me, that in spite of the tragedy that had come upon us, we seemed to have got up and washed and tied our ties and put on our boots and eaten our breakfast all right: that it wasn’t, in fact, the end of the world. Life went on. Physically speaking, we were much as before.

For an instant I was shocked and even disgusted by the apparent callousness of his words, and thought of walking off and leaving him to do the telegram-despatching by himself, while I indulged in a little private mourning on my own. But further reflection persuaded me that there was something in what he said, and I fancy it did knock some of the nonsense out of me. It was not indifference or resignation or fatalism that George, aged 17, was expressing, but a sort of rough and ready working philosophy, based on an instinctive sense of proportion. There was nothing morbid in his composition. I knew quite well that he was feeling things at least as deeply as I was myself. But he was the eldest brother, and felt his responsibility, and I dare say I was sniffling in a way that irritated him, on edge himself as he must have been.

Of the next week or so I remember almost literally nothing. Undertakers must have come and gone, but the grisly activities seem to have made no impression. The following short letter from Emma du M., the last of hers which I have, serves to cross a few t’s and dot a few i’s.

*

[Emma du M. to May Coles]

Ashton,
Sunday.

My darling May,
Amy is going up to-day so will post this. The arrangements are that we all go up tomorrow (all but Michael and Nicholas) by the 1 o’clock train reaching London 5.40 – I shall go to the flat with Trixie and Guy, but I shall sleep at Campden Hill Sq. with Nurse.

Trixie and Guy can have a meal at the flat and sleep there if they like but we shall see, and the funeral is on Tuesday at 12. I think I shall go, but I haven’t quite settled and if so you and Coley might either go independently or with me and the others – I can’t quite make up my mind about anything, there is so much to decide about, but Trixie can telephone to you from the flat.

Your loving Mother.

*

The dreadful arrangements must have fallen chiefly on the shoulders of J.M.B., with help no doubt from Guy, whose figure I dimly recall, with bent head and overcoat thrown loosely across the shoulders, pacing up and down in the garden at Ashton, and what I fancy must have been the evening after the day of Sylvia’s death. Trixie, who seems to have come down too, though I don’t remember her at Ashton, would be primarily concerned for her mother, who must have been near breaking point. The absence of any reference to Crompton in the last three letters rather seems to suggest that he did, after all, leave before the end; or conceivably he may have gone to London to the cremating and funeral arrangements.

The hideous problem had to be faced, too, of what to do with five orphans, for the remaining two or three weeks of the holidays: quite apart from the long-term question of a future. It must have been a nightmare indeed for all concerned. Before I came across Emma du M.’s letters, I wrote to Mary Hodgson to ask her if she could remember the sequence of events. She answered, in her usual laconical style: “Michael and Nico stayed with me. I was not consulted about matters. You, yourselves requested packing done and disappeared – reappearing in a day or two with J.M.B. Memory may be faulty but I feel M. and N. stayed where we were till our return to town. Have no recollection of Jack returning.”

“I was not consulted about matters.” The faithful Mary, as we all know, was liable to be “difficult” at any time; and the present time was almost more harrowing, for her perhaps, than for anyone else. I dare say she was inconsultable. Upon my soul, one’s mind recoils from contemplating in any detail the horrors of the day immediately following Sylvia’s death. It is true that tragedies and serious emergencies often bring out the best in people; it is also true that sorrow sometimes exacerbates irritability, and that lacerated feelings don’t always cope in the most tactful manner with that practical side of things from which there is no escape.

The problems were solved, somehow, and I think Mary is right in saying that she stayed on, with Michael and Nico, at Ashton. The rest of us went our strange way to London. Jack recalls “a hideous journey, with the coffin in a van, covered in purple cloth, and the Bart at every stop doing sentry-go outside!” Of that journey I remember – thankfully – nothing, and nothing of the macabre night or nights we must have spent at Campden Hill Square, or of the days, or of the funeral itself. I have in fact only two recollections of that time which are at all clear. One is a glimpse of the tear-strained features of the pretty house-parlour-maid, Amy, sitting. all in black, in a four-wheeler cab or carriage outside No. 23. I take it the glimpse was caught, and somehow recorded itself indelibly, as one climbed into another carriage, preparatory to setting off on the long drive to the Hampstead churchyard. But who else was in that strange cavalcade – whether, for example, there was a cab or undertaker’s carriage containing J.M.B. and George and Jack and myself, and whether there were others, and whether (for it had to approach the graveyard from somewhere) a hearse led the way, I simply don’t remember. Was Sylvia cremated, as she wished, before the Hampstead ceremony? I know not.

Grotesque that one should retain so little of all that, and yet that one should clearly remember going with J.M.B. and George, presumably the morning after the funeral, to an old-fashioned, long since pulled down shop in the Haymarket, called Little, to purchase exciting, slender 8 foot fly-rods, and fine casts and flies, with which to divert ourselves during the remainder of the holidays! For it had been decided, by those who took charge of our destinies, that George and I should go back with J.M.B., not indeed to Ashton itself, but to Oare, a mile or so higher up the little river, there is a fish on till Eton and Wilkinson’s claimed us; while Jack went his separate way to Guy and Gwen du M. at Longmoor.

Michael and Nico still has Ashton, George and I almost within sight of it – it seems an odd solution; but doubtless other solutions were thought of and discussed and found impracticable. And I dare say it worked well enough, and that the new rods helped, as no doubt J.M.B. with generous cunning knew that they would, do the trick. At any rate one seems to remember quite enjoying oneself, flogging the little uplands streams and hauling out the little trout, and putting the lowly worm behind one for ever.

But I think perhaps this is the place to insert the “Will”, to which I referred a few lines back. It is written in pencil, on seven sheets of 23 C.H.S. writing paper. In the top right- hand corner of the first page, in J.M.B.’s handwriting, in ink (but undated) are the words:

“This was written by Mrs Davies on her deathbed at Ashton, Exmoor, Devonshire. She had told me she was writing it. J.M. Barrie.“

Last year (1949) I found a copy of it, in J.M.B.’s handwriting, in an envelope addressed to Emma du Maurier among May’s effects. At the end of this copy J.M.B. had written “The above is an exact copy, including the word Sylvia’s Will, of paper found by me at 23 Campden Hill Square on March 24th, 1911. It is undated, but I do not doubt it to be the Will written by her at Ashton, Exmoor, a few days before her death, of which all she told me was ‘I thought I was dying and I began to write a will.’ I think she said this took place in the night time. I believe it to be unfinished, and that it came back to London with her things. “

SYLVIA’S WILL

I would like everything to go on as far as possible as it has been lately. Twenty-three [Campden Hill Square] to be kept up for the dear boys with Mary (whom I trust with my whole heart) looking after them.

At any time I know friends who love them will come & stay sometimes – one at a time – & see them & be with them for a little just as if I was there. What I wd like wd be if Jenny wd come to Mary & that the two together would be looking after the boys & the house & helping each other. And it would be so nice for Mary.

I would like Mama & J.M.B. & Guy & Crompton to be trustees & guardians to the boys & that May & Margaret would give their dear advice & care. (Trixie has boys of her own but I know she wd do all that is possible). I would also like the advice of dear Hugh Macnaghten, Frederick Oliver, George Booth.

J.M.B. I know will do everything in his power to help our boys – to advise, to comfort, to sympathise in all their joys & sorrows.

At present my Jack is going into the Navy – if he should grow to dislike it and if there was anything else, I know he (J.M.B.) would do all that was best. I want all the boys to treat him (& their uncles) with absolute confidence & straightforwardness & to talk to him about everything. I know he will understand always & be loving & patient. I hope from my soul that they will be happy & lead good lives & be as much as possible like their most beloved father & I also hope that if they marry they will be good & tender husbands & fathers & be with their wives as happy as he & I were.

What money I have to leave I wish divided between them – the money that comes to me through dear Papa goes on to them by his Will.

They have all been the most splendid & beloved & affectionate & open sons & I know they will go on being affectionate brothers & help each other all they can in the years to come.

I do not want my Michael to be pressed at all at work – he is at present not very strong but very keen & intelligent: great care must be taken not to overwork him. Mary understands & of course J.M.B. knows & will be careful & watch.

I do not wish any of my dear boys to look at me when I am dead – it is a great mistake I think – let them remember me at my best & when I could look at them – that must have been the best time always because I love them so utterly.

I will be cremated & buried with my Arthur at Hampstead next to beloved Papa.

Perhaps Mama or May will keep my trinkets & give them to the wives of my five boys when the time comes.

I would like May to have any of my garments she would wear – I wd like her to wear them – and if Trixie would care to have some also I would like it though she generally has enough – I wd like May to see if there was any frock Daisy’s girl Bel wd like – also Nelly Hozier. I don’t of course mean old things. I want Mama to have all my musquash fur. Also my bath chair in case she may need it.

I would like Mama to go over my letters in case anything has to be kept – otherwise I would like everything burnt.

I do not want any of my boys to go to my funeral, nor do I want it made into a long gloomy day for them.

*

The last sentence comes at the foot of the seventh page, in such a way that one can’t tell whether there were further pages which have been lost. There is no full-stop, but Sylvia was not at any time very particular about punctuation. It may have been unfinished, or a further page or pages may been lost at Ashton. The seven pages are in an envelope inscribed “Mrs Davies’s Will” in JMB’s handwriting.

The writing is quite strong, but not always very clear, though the only word I have found undecipherable is the name of Daisy’s girl (I don’t know at all who she was).

Jenny was Mary Hodgson sister, to obtain whose services a previous attempt had been vainly made, in 1901. Nothing ever came of the suggestion. (JMB in his copy made for Emma transcribed “Jenny” as “Jimmy”. There is, however, no doubt that “Jenny” is right.)

Nelly Hozier, later Romilly, was the younger of Lady Blanche Hozier’s two daughters, the elder, Clementine, having married Winston Churchill in 1908.

Was this most moving document ever shown to myself or to any of us? I have no recollection of ever having seen it before I unearthed it from the dusty depths of JMB’s desk after his death; but it is possible I may have read it in years gone by, and forgotten it. One seems to be capable of the most astounding feats of forgetfulness, often perhaps semi- deliberate. In its simplicity (yet hers was, I think, by no means so simple a character as Arthur’s) its lack of self pity, its loving kindness, its thoughtfulness for others, its freedom from the conventional sentiments of the dying, it is to me supremely impressive. The note of resignation which I seem to detect in it may imply a willing acceptance of release from the discomfort and pain and misery of her long illness, or (as I also believe) an admission that, for all her love of her sons, life had meant little to her since the death of Arthur. The absence of any allusion to the consolations of religion, both in this and the earlier “Will” almost certainly bears witness to her scepticism in that respect; but she may have felt, I suppose, that annihilation could be a form of reunion.

He first deceased; she for a little tried
to live without him; liked it not, and died.

Though it is nowhere explicitly stated, there is a clear enough underlying assumption that the principal part in the direction of her sons’ destinies would be taken by JMB. He is named more often and more prominently than any of the other “trustees and guardians”. On the other hand there is no suggestion that he was to have sole control, either financially – but perhaps the financial vagueness of the will suggests that this was taken for granted – or as guide, counsellor and friend. Of this more later.

The burning of letters must, I think, have been done pretty thoroughly. All between Sylvia and Arthur were undoubtedly destroyed. I suppose JMB could not find it in his heart to destroy those to himself from her which appear in the present record. The spirit in which, after nearly 40 years, I have reproduced them, and a few others which survived is, I trust, sufficiently pious to absolve me from any charge of going against her wishes in the matter.

It is not within my powers to sum up Sylvia’s qualities, nor will Jack or Nico expect it of me. There are naturally no obituary letters, adequate or otherwise, such as those which were written to her about Arthur after his death. All I can do, by way of bringing this part of the family morgue to a conclusion, is to insert here the rather sketchy and not altogether successful attempt at a résumé of her memories of Sylvia, which Dolly Ponsonby gave me recently in addition to the various extracts from her diaries which I have already inserted in their appropriate places.

“My sister (i.e. Gwen Parry, Mrs. Plunket Green) said the other day that you couldn’t describe Sylvia, because she was indescribable. I think everyone who saw her felt this, while in many cases what is termed charm is relative. I remember my father speaking of her, his very expressive grey eyes full of sadness, and with sigh: ‘She’s got such a wonderful lot of temperament.’ As you know, this word can be interpreted in different ways. I should say she had the genius of temperament. She was gay on the surface, with a delicious and real sense of humour, but never malicious. We were both mimics, and she had really a penetrating critical faculty, and would imitate the sort of thing certain people would say on certain occasions.

I can’t ever forget her voice and laugh – and her extraordinary grace which grew with years – the shape of her arms and hands and her most lovely neck.

I don't want to say that Sylvia was perfect. Perfection is dull, but she was perfect to me. I was always very critical and yet throughout the years from 1892 till she died, I cannot remember any occasion when I should not have been filled with joy at seeing her or being with her. This is testified by my diaries. I loved her little feminine weaknesses, such as being frightened of going out in the dark. I used to have to see her home in the country after dinner. I cannot think of any faults she had, unless it was that she would not answer letters – and enjoyed the admiration of men, naturally – while at the same time never apparently wanting to be the centre of a circle – which is very rare.

She had some curiously old-fashioned virtues. She did not like one to criticize any one at all before the children. I remember her saying “Ssh” when I burst out with something about J.M.B. and Mary Barrie, who were staying at Rustington – looking at Michael, and I felt quite ashamed.

She had certain rules and regulations she laid down in bringing up her family. When I look back on it, I think it was very remarkable – to have five sons, and to keep them what one may call in order, so that one could be with them without any sense of bother, and she had no theories – only a general sense of balance and quality. All the niceties of behaviour she thought of – and Arthur the definite moral principles. He was so tender and gentle with children, but I never met one who feared him, in spite of his rather severe though wonderful looks. His anger at any force being applied to a weaker creature was extreme.

It does not seem to me remarkable in Sylvia, who could have had the world at her feet, that she preferred so much to look after her children and her home. She went about comparatively little, beyond association with her friends. Her sense of responsibility was strong and her tact quite exceptional – and occasionally the devoted Mary [Hodgson] was trying.

As I grew older, I realised that she was much more profound than as quite a young girl I had thought. Though so completely happy in her family, yet her sensitiveness and intuition did give her what I call an apprehensive imagination. She loved so much that she feared.

Perhaps there were people who didn't know what her passionate devotion to your father was – I have neither before nor since known such anguish as she suffered during his illness. She burst out twice to me about it, but not more – words were inadequate to both of us – and always her reserve about what she cared about was very strong. She had an inner life of her own, which is what gave her her great interest. I think I did know her as well as anybody – and I know that many of her lesser friends merely saw the charming vivacious lovely exterior, which is what she chose to show them.

Lady Ponsonby would certainly not claim for her sketch that it provides more than a shadowy and blurred likeness. It will have to serve here, since I can find no other, and it is much better than nothing.

[AB: Peter was clearly unaware of the following letter from Henry James to Emma du Maurier, held at the University of Nebraska:]

*

[NOT IN THE MORGUE]

[Henry James to Emma du Maurier, on black-edged paper]

Chocorua,
New Hampshire,
U.S.A.
11 September 1910

My dear dear Mrs du Maurier,
It is by a letter from Mrs Francis Ford, my Sussex neighbour, that I am unutterably shocked and stricken to hear of the tragic fact of dear Sylvia’s death. It moves me to the deepest pity and sympathy that you should have had helplessly to watch the dreadful process of her going, and to see that beautiful, that exquisite light mercilessly quenched. What you have had to go through in it all, dear Mrs du Maurier, and what you all, and what her young children, have, affects me more than I can say. She leaves with us an image of such extraordinary loveliness, nobleness and charm – ever unforgettable and touching. What a tragedy all this latter history of hers! May you yourself find strength somehow not to be shaken to pieces by such sorrows. They call out for you all my faithfullest old friendship and affection – and above all make me want to know about her children, of whose brightness and bravery and promise I have so delightful an impression.

I saw her much less lately than I desired – I had so long and dismal an illness myself for so many months of this dreadful year. And since then, being somewhat better, but miserably anxious and overstrained for my last surviving, my elder and beloved brother, I helped my poor sister-in-law to bring him back to this place from England, terribly suffering, and dying in the plenitude of his great powers – so that we too are stricken and sitting in darkness. He died here 16 days ago. I stay in America a while – some months – to be near her and his children – but I shall see you as soon as possible after that – as soon as all this darkness clears a little.

Please believe, dearest Mrs du Maurier, in all the old-time intimacy of interest of your faithfullest Henry James

*

Meanwhile the thought occurs to me – before we move on to contemplate the two final instalments in this morgue [i.e. up to George’s death in 1915, and the abandoned final section up to Michael’s death in 1921] – that much the most painful part of your commentator’s task is now over. The things that follow are neither so far off nor, intrinsically, so unhappy. A kind of haunted, through-a-glass-darkly atmosphere clouds one’s childish recollections of untoward events, and somehow enhances and distorts them in a rather nightmarish sort of way. From all that, the later memories which follow are free. And when all’s said and done, the sudden snuffing out of those two brief candles in 1915 in 1921, though tragic enough, was as nothing, for sheer misery and despair, beside the long drawn out agonies of 1906-1910.

“You can’t believe in a God who let that happen to Arthur and Sylvia,” Arthur Ponsonby used to say to his wife, so she told me when I re-met her the other day after all those years. Well, of course, countless highly intelligent people can and do, though I can never see that it makes all that amount of difference. The intolerable things happen, just the same. To plenty of people “Thy will be done” remains the answer; I dare say it comes to pretty much the same thing in the end. Poor old man has to have some way of relieving his outraged feelings, when confronted with tragedy, through whichever way he chooses, though I doubt if it helps in much. To the classically minded Anthony Hope the marriage of those two seemed, as he notes in his autobiography, so perfect a thing “that one was tempted to see in the feet that destroyed it the envy of the gods.” An idle enough fancy, respectable for its antiquity, but only applicable, one would say, if the envy one joins extreme malignancy.

Human tragedies are not the monopoly of the Davies family. Since 1914, indeed, they have become so commonplace and widespread that particular examples are apt to become submerged in the universal misery. But, prejudice apart, there was something not often paralleled about Arthur and Sylvia and their doom. That which seemed atrocious to Arthur Ponsonby and other friends and acquaintances had obviously an additional, special and dire significance for the five wretched young parties most intimately concerned, three of whom may still ask themselves, vainly enough, whether Arthur’s death or Sylvia’s was the more disastrous to their children. Yet the banker to whom, years later, Nico repaired preparatory to making his debut in the city, greeted him – and in doing so voiced the sentiments of the world at large – with the words: “So you’re one of the lucky boys who were adopted by Sir James Barrie.”

Meagre and incomplete as this record is, I dare say there is enough in it to suggest that the banker was expressing rather less than half the truth of the matter.

* * * *

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