Letters of J. M. Barrie

Letters of J. M. Barrie

Letters of J. M. Barrie

Letters of J. M. Barrie

Excerpt

Barrie's letters of excuse would in themselves fill a volume-- called Please Excuse Me. In one's dotage one might teach the children lisping at one's knee that the word barrier derived from the inaccessible Scottish playwright. His attitude to personal publicity was too constant not to have its set formula; it was always 'please excuse me'. To invent a new phrase each time would have been like saying good morning in different words every day.

But that volume is not this volume, though this may contain an example or two of that. This volume, if it were given a parallel name, would be Please Use Me. Like all people who have won eminence in any art, Barrie could have what friends he chose; he chose those therefore that he could rate highly. The beauty and talent that we all admire, mostly from afar, he admired, with susceptibility, at close quarters. Even stronger was his susceptibility to kindness, to whomever shown. A sensitive awareness to others' needs or ills was the quality in his friends that laid him flat; and in himself it was the quality that made him a walking embodiment of 'please use me'. Nothing in that line escaped him. 'Your first instinct is always to telegraph to Jones the nice thing Brown said about him to Robinson; you have sown a lot of happiness that way,' he writes to one correspondent, spying on a surreptitious habit. And here in these letters he may be found out in his own habit of delight to praise--and Barrie's praise was a very heart-felt brand. (The compiling of this book has been none the easier for that: people's modesty has put up many a formidable obstacle.)

The reader must expect to find this a very private collection of letters in the sense that they deal little with public affairs. Nor did his letter-writing include letters to the papers--that temptation of authors when reviewers trip up. Barrie is accused for instance of using, as Scotch, a word that is not Scotch: 'I wrote a brief letter to that paper,' he has recorded, 'saying that this word was not only good Scotch but was in frequent use in the Waverley novels. . . . I then put the letter . . .

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