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People of Angus

James Matthew Barrie 1860 - 1937

Early Life

James Barrie was born on 9 May 1860 in Kirriemuir. He was the son of a weaver and had three brothers and seven sisters. His father worked extremely hard, so his sons could go to University. His mother brought the children up strictly, never missing the service on a Sunday at the South Free church. She wanted her favourite son, David, to be a Minister but he died after a skating accident. James was only six at the time and he tried to take his brother’s place to comfort his mother. He often listened to his mother’s tales of her childhood, until he imagined himself in them. Opposite his home was a wash house, where he would make up plays with his friends and act in them. After going to school in Kirriemuir and Forfar, James was taken to Glasgow at the age of eight by his elder brother Alexander. Then they moved to Dumfries and at the Academy, James put his own plays with a friend. He was now determined to be a writer, but the family wanted him to go to Edinburgh University to get a degree. With money from Alexander, he agreed to go. He had to do some subjects he didn’t like, but after four years grind, he won his degree. During this time, he had managed to write articles for an Edinburgh newspaper.

J M Barrie

Thrums is Born

At Kirriemuir he still had to persuade his family he would earn his living as a writer. He saw a job advertised by the "Nottingham Journal" for someone to write leading articles. James sent away a University essay and got the job. Later, when the owners had to economise, he was out of work and came home. Listening once more to his mother’s tales, he thought he could turn them into an article. Kirriemuir was to be called "Thrums". The piece was sent to a London newspaper. Back came the reply, "I like that Scotch thing. Any more of those?"

Success as a Writer

In 1885, he moved to London, again with Alexander’s help. He worked hard on a wide range of articles for newspapers. This brought him regular money at last - 20 a month! He had "Auld Licht Idylls" published in 1888 and people liked the humour in it. Many successful novels followed and James was thrilled when Robert Louis Stevenson wrote to him from Samoa.

The Origins of Peter Pan

J M Barrie married an actress in 1894, and when they were on honeymoon in Switzerland they bought a St Bernard puppy. This dog was to become an important part of a future play.

Among his ever widening circle of friends, Barrie got to know a Mr & Mrs Llewelyn-Davies. They had a family of boys and Barrie, his wife and their large dog would meet them out for a walk with their nurse in Kensington Gardens. James would play with them and invent stories which they loved. These children inspired him to write about castaways and then came "Peter Pan". This play was put on by an American producer in London on December 29th 1904. An actor took the part of the dog! It was a great success. Barrie was becoming rich and famous and received many honours. "Peter Pan" is the most famous of his plays and Barrie gave the perpetual rights of it to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children.

Loyalty to Friends

He met members of the Royal family but he remained unaffected. With his amazing powers of concentration, he worked hard all his life and was able to be generous to family and friends. Letters were never thrown away. He would reply to all those people asking for advice, money or a job. Eventually he had to employ a secretary. One day, 1,700 in un-cashed cheques was found stuffed in a drawer in his over-crowded flat. Writing was the driving force of his life. Once, his agent defrauded him of 16,000. Other writers brought about a prosecution and the man committed suicide. Barrie gave the man’s younger brother the job, which he kept for over thirty years without a breath of scandal.

He died on June 19th, 1937 and is buried at Kirriemuir, next to his parents, sister and brother David.

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