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Significant Scots
Sir James Barrie

Sir James Barrie"I AM a man of sentiment only," says Tommy in "Tommy and Grizel," speaking for his creator, Sir James Barrie. He would be different if he could, we feel, and yet, what man is more noble than the man of sentiment? This particular "man of sentiment" came from that land of conquerors, Scotland, as long ago as 1883, eager to subjugate literary England. As journalist, as essayist, as novelist, as playwright, he has caught us completely in the web of his phantasy, and made us all willing partners in his dreams. Last of all, he has entrapped that most concrete and matter-of-fact institution, the cinema, and has voyaged to America, there to watch over the adventures of Peter Pan in film form.

Sir James Matthew Barrie was born at Kirriemuir, in Perthshire (the "Thrums" of so many of his books), on the 9th May, 1860. His boyhood was passed at Kirriemuir and at Dumfries, where his elder brother was inspector of schools. In "‘Margaret Ogilvy,’ by her son J. M. Barrie," most of the secrets of that son’s childhood are laid bare. First and foremost Barrie was certainly not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, for he writes: "On the day I was born we bought six hair-bottomed chairs, and in our little house it was an event . . . they had been laboured for."

Barrie must have passed a joyful childhood, since no child could have had a more delightful mother than "Margaret Ogilvy," who brought him up. A rich imaginative atmosphere helped to eke out their slender financial resources. By schemes and plans and economies, all entered upon in a spirit of laughing adventure, the means were found for Barrie to be put to school at Dumfries Academy. From there he proceeded to Edinburgh University—a step which involved the most thrilling adventures of all in domestic economy. Mother and son played a game together of pretending that "it would be impossible to give me a college education." But, continues Barrie, "was I so easily taken in, or did I know already what ambitions burned behind that dear face?"

Nevertheless, her son’s true education took place neither at Dumfries nor at Edinburgh, but by "Margaret Ogilvy’s" own fireside. "We read many books together when I was a boy, ‘Robinson Crusoe’ being the first (and the second)." When he was eleven, James and his mother had fully embarked on a career of literary phantasy together. "Margaret Ogilvy" suggested that her son should write tales for himself. "I did write them, but they by no means helped her to get on with her work, for when I finished a chapter I bounded downstairs to read it to her, and so short were the chapters, so ready was the pen, that I was back with new MS. before another clout had been added to the rug" (which Margaret was making).

Thus mother and son shared a life in which the imagination surpassed all else in importance. Through the attic window of their cottage, Barrie "could see nearly all Thrums." Looking out from this window, Barrie, imbued with that intimate blending of keen perception and whimsical fancy which his mother and he had so much developed in their daily life, unconsciously, and without premeditation, wove in his mind the materials which were later to be incorporated in his "Auld Licht Idylls," "Margaret Ogilvy," and "A Window in Thrums." His mother shaped his mind in these happy days at Kirriemuir. All his fancy, all his sentiment, all his whimsical charm, originated in the years he spent with the delightful, tender-hearted "Margaret Ogilvy."

In 1882, Barrie graduated from Edinburgh University as M.A. In his earliest days at Edinburgh Barrie had revived his childish dreams of authorship, and had written a three-volume novel. Mother and son packed up the MS. with the greatest care and sent it off to a publisher. "The publisher replied that the sum for which he would print it was a hundred and—however, that was not the important point (I had sixpence); where he stabbed us both was in writing that he considered me a ‘clever lady.’ I replied stiffly that I was a gentleman, and since then I have kept that MS. concealed. I looked through it lately, and, oh! but it is dull. I defy anyone to read it."

Determined to be an Author

About the time he left the university, two maiden ladies asked Barrie what he was to be. "When I replied brazenly, ‘An author,’ they flung up their hands, and one exclaimed reproachfully, ‘And you an M.A. !‘" For in Scotland then all M.A.’s aspired to the ministry. But Barrie’s mind was made up; an author he would be, so he cast about for the best avenue of approach to the literary Muse.

Owing to his sister seeing an advertisement in a paper for a leader writer on the Nottingham Journal, Barrie obtained his first journalistic appointment—for he had decided, on "Margaret Ogilvy’s" advice, to approach literature through journalism. He went to Nottingham in February, 1883, and for eighteen months and more he wrote often as much as four columns a day of political leaders and miscellaneous articles signed "Hippomenes," and "A Modern Peripatetic." For those who would learn more of his Nottingham experiences, Barrie has published a full record of them in his "When a Man’s Single."

"An Auld Licht Community"

The Journal’s leaders, however, did not absorb all his Scottish energy, and Barrie was busy "trying journalism of another kind and sending it to London, but nearly eighteen months elapsed before there came to me, as unexpected as a telegram, the thought that there was something quaint about my native place." Acting on this thought he wrote an article entitled "An Auld Licht Community," and sent it off to the St. James’s Gazette.

The article was accepted. Barrie was over-joyed with his good fortune, and also with the St. James’s Gazette. "To this day," he wrote (before the paper was incorporated with another), "I never pass its placards in the street without shaking it by the hand." Moreover, the editor of the Gazette soon wrote asking for more; and so, early in 1885, Barrie bade farewell to Nottingham, and moved to London, where he contributed regularly to the St. James’s Gazette, the Anti-Jacobin, and the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch.

Shortly after his arrival in London, Barrie collected together his "Auld Licht" sketches and, with their publication in the form of a book in 1888, he may be said to have graduated formally from journalism to literature. He was lucky in being able to leave journalism while he still enjoyed the fun of it all—before he had grown oppressed by the dreary task of daily grinding out the maximum number of words upon nothing in particular in the minimum number of minutes.

A New Vein of Humour

Quick on the heels of "Auld Licht Idylls," which is a group of sketches portraying the adherents of a particular community in Kirriemuir, came "A Window in Thrums" (1889), and "The Little Minister" (1891). In these books Barrie worked a new and rich vein of Scottish humour. He appeared as something entirely new in English letters, a whimsical and sentimental humorist, who was yet as racy, as full of local colour and idiomatic phrase as Dickens or Sterne. He again, in his own inimitable way, did what Dr. Johnson claimed for Samuel Richardson—"enlarged the knowledge of human nature and taught the passions to move at the command of virtue."

First Successful Novel

Hitherto, he had mainly been content to appear as a droll, but "The Little Minister," his first successful novel, made him ambitious for a novelist’s laurels. In consequence, "Sentimental Tommy" (1896), and "Tommy and Grizel "(1900) made their appearance. In these two works Barrie touches the sentimental chord almost exclusively—one might almost say he exploits his own sentiment a trifle ruthlessly.

His genius is not entirely fitted to analyse, to construct, to theorize over his puppets; he had not the manner to follow up the then recent triumphs of George Meredith and Thomas Hardy. Of course, his novels have their ardent devotees; but, without exaggeration, one might say that their place, in comparison with his plays, is no more important than the place George Bernard Shaw’s "Novels of My Nonage" take in relation to his great creations for the theatre.

Before the plays, however, we must consider Barrie’s children’s books, for in "The Little White Bird" and "Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens" Barrie has scored a success as personal and as positive as Lewis Carroll’s. Sentiment for its own sake was the pit which yawned beneath Barrie’s feet in his novels, the pit into which he sometimes vanished. In "The Little White Bird," however, he blends delicate pathos with fairy laughter in exactly the right proportions with an indescribable deftness of artistic touch. It is a children’s book— but one for children of all ages, the older the better, perhaps.

"Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens," of course, is one of childhood’s most supreme joys. How many thousands of small hearts have thrilled when someone has started to read (possibly for the fiftieth time) that entrancing narrative which begins to unfold with the magic words: "Kensington Gardens are in London where the king lives." It is, very possibly, the quintessence of Barrie, an idyll into which he has managed to distil more fairy essence into anything else he has done.

Barrie first attacked the theatre with a play called Walker, London, a play which has now been largely and justly forgotten. It met nevertheless, with some success, and he follow it up quickly enough with The Professor's Love Story (1895), which Mr. Granville Barker has called "about as cynically bad a play any man of its author’s calibre could expect to write, tried he never so hard." So far Barrie had been trying his hand, had been experimenting to see if his fancies and ideas were suited to the glamour of the footlights.

Production of Quality Street

However, these experiments bore ample fruit in Quality Street, that charming echo of Napoleonic Wars, which was produced with immense success during 1903. Quality Street first showed us, on the stage, the Barrie with whom we are now all so familiar—the dramatist, all taste and sensibility, whose dialogue can paint a picture more surely and delicately than all the art of scene-painters and the resources of wardrobe mistresses.

The Admirable Crichton quickly followed Quality Street (both plays, in fact, being produced in the same year), and Barrie took another step forward. As daringly as ever he balanced his romance on the edge of the impossible yet he added a spice of satire to his humorous sentiment.

The remarkable idea of the complete Butler Crichton changing places with his master, Lord Loam, on a desert island, and doing so naturally and quietly, is one of Barrie’s most elfin inspirations of genius. The play scored an instant and immense success. It has been equally successfully revived since. With The Admirable Crichton, moreover, Barrie stepped into the foremost rank of playwrights.

The Spell of Imagination

There is not space here to mention all his subsequent plays. He has written a play about politics in What Every Woman Knows. At less you think it is going to be a play about politics; but Barrie (as usual) takes you in completely, and really the echoes of politics only resound in the background, for Barrie could never flatter politics with his serious attention—the things of the imagination held him too completely in happy thraldom.

In 1904, Peter Pan was first played in theatre. It has remained an annual fixture ever since, and is the stage counterpart of Barrie’s children’s books, which have already been mentioned. Completely at liberty to cast possibility to the winds, to follow his fancies unrestrained, Barrie is here absolutely at his ease, treating the theatre as a gigantic toy. Mr. Darling, who will not take his medicine, the children’s Newfoundland dog nurse, John’s top-hat turned into a chimney-pot, the pirates, the ticking crocodile, the Indians, the great appeal, "Do you believe in fairies?" (made to the audience that the dying fairy may be restored to life)—all these, and many more, crowd into our memories.

Courage of Their Faith

The very unreality of the play is its main strength, especially with children. Maeterlinck and Barrie, almost alone among modern playwrights, have been bold enough to put creatures quite divorced from life on to the stage, without ostentatiously labelling their pieces "Fable," or" Allegory," or some such name. They have been brave enough to put into practice their faith that the imagination, beyond all else, is what counts.

The reader may complain, having read thus far, that while something has been said of Barrie’s works, little or no mention has been made as to what manner of man he is himself. To which objection only one answer can be given, namely that, apart from his works and what autobiographical details he himself has chosen to reveal, we do not know. We do know, however, that unlike most literary men, Barrie does not indulge in many recreations. In his younger days he could wield a good bat at cricket, but beyond this sport, and the great solace which he derives from his much loved pipe, he has very few hobbies indeed.

Fondness for Tobacco

The fact must not be neglected—how evident it is—that Barrie enjoys tobacco as much as any other man might enjoy billiards or collecting rare pieces of china. He is a devoted servant to the "fragrant weed." He has even gone to the extent of proving his devotion in a little book which he called "My Lady Nicotine."

There is a story told which, if it be true, well illustrates the author’s intense dislike for all unnecessary conversation. One day a lady visitor made an unexpected call on Barrie and found him smoking in a room, in company with one of his male cousins.

For a long time she tried her utmost to engage the author in conversation, choosing her subject with a tact which would have done considerable credit to a diplomat. The attempt was a miserable failure. Apart from giving monosyllabic answers to her questions, Barrie remained silent, puffing away at his briar.

At last, in desperation, the visitor left the room, chagrined that success had not rewarded her efforts. About an hour later she returned. The two men were still in their same positions, clouds of smoke were still ascending from the two pipes, and the same silence enshrouded them.

"Well, you are having a lively time!" she exclaimed sarcastically.

"Fine," drawled Barrie. "We haven’t spoken a word since you went away."

Rector of  St. Andrews University

Sir James Barrie is a member of the Athentaeum Club. He was created a baronet in 1913, and has been Rector of St. Andrews University in his native country. But all these external details, and the many more that could be added of a like nature, do not, in his case, give us much information. The details of the lives of many men, of many great men, disclose the secrets of their character and ambitions, but such a method is useless in dealing with Barrie.

The only ways in which we can learn anything about such as he, is by reading his books, by going to see his plays, and by listening to his rare speeches—which are surely delightful methods. On the rare occasions when Barrie can be persuaded to adopt the role of public speaker, he sometimes gives interesting revelations of incidents that happened in his boyhood days, the days that are ever-present in his memory.

Of his schooldays he has a fund of whimsical anecdotes. He has told the public how he suffered from the terrible habit of reading "penny dreadfuls," and the way in which he was cured. The following is the actual account he gave of his terrifying experience:—

In those tender days, I used, when in funds, to devour secretly penny dreadfuls, containing exclusively sanguinary matter. They were largely tales about heroic highwaymen and piracy on the high seas; but what most enamoured me were the stories of goings-on at English boarding-schools. Those were the schools for me.

The masters were sneaks, and the boys blew them up with gunpowder. My mind became so set on explosions that when a Sassenach sent me a box containing mysterious red and blue tubes I placed them one by one near the fire, and darted back in confidence that they would go off. I dare say I wept when I discovered that they were only coloured chalks.

In "Chatterbox" I read an article on the dire future in store for those that read. penny dreadfuls. I tried to stand up to it, but when black night fell I stole off to a distant field, my pockets stuffed with back numbers, a shovel concealed up my little waistcoat, and deep in the bowels of the earth I buried the evidence of my guilt.

Some Characteristics

Barrie is the sort of man who makes his elfin Peter Pan remark "To die would be an awfully big adventure." He is the sort of man who conceives of a London police constable as the hero of a play, and then makes him as whimsical, as poetic, and as fanciful as he is himself. The sort of man who, though he knows literature from the L to the last E, yet writes always so simply and unpretentiously that everyone can understand him, even what someone has called "those small aborigines, whose cave-dwellings and rock-shelters are under piano and table." In short, Barrie, like Peter Pan, is the sort of boy who never grows up.

Tremendously shy, or else we should know much more about him than we do, Barrie has become a great force in our English theatre. He has founded no school, because his genius is far too intensely individual to afford much food for professional disciples. But, desperately laying his shyness aside, he slips into the theatre whenever his plays are being produced, and in the most tentative and hesitating way he makes suggestions. Suggestions, moreover, on which the most gifted and experienced of actors are only too delighted to seize. In a word, he has transformed the acting in London.

You can read an e-taxt of Peter Pan here

See an account of James Barrie with genealogy from John Henderson

An Edinburgh Eleven
Pen Portraits from College Life
By James Barrie

The Little White Bird
In 1902 J.M. Barrie published 'The Little White Bird', a pretty fantasy, wherein he gave full play to his whimsical invention, and his tenderness for child life, which is relieved by the genius of sincerity from a suspicion of mawkishness. This book contained the episode of "Peter Pan," which afterwards suggested the play of that name.

We are now in the process of serializing this book with a chapter per week intil complete.


Chapter I - David and I set forth upon a Journey
Chapter II - The Little Nursery Governess
Chapter III - Her Marriage, her Clothes, her Appetite and an Inventory of her Furniture
Chapter IV - A Night-Piece
Chapter V - The Fight for Timothy
Chapter VI - A Shock
Chapter VII - The Last of Tomothy
Chapter VIII - The Inconsiderate Waiter
Chapter IX - A Confirmed Spinster
Chapter X - Sporting Reflections
Chapter XI - The Runaway Perambulator
Chapter XII - The Pleasantest Club in London
Chapter XIII - The Grand Tour of the Gardens
Chapter XIV - Peter Pan
Chapter XV - The Thrush's Nest
Chapter XVI - Lock-Out Time
Chapter XVII - The Little House
Chapter XVIII - Peter's Goat
Chapter XIX - An Interloper
Chapter XX - David and Porthos Compared
Chapter XXI - William Paterson
Chapter XXII - Joey
Chapter XXIII - Pilkington's
Chapter XXIV - Barbara
Chapter XXV - The Cricket Match
Chapter XXVI - The Dedication

Margaret Ogilvy
By her son J. M. Barrie, Second Edition (1897) (pdf)

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