James Matthew Barrie (1860- ), British novelist and dramatist, was born at Kirriemuir, a small village in Forfarshire, on the 9th of May 1860. He was educated at the Dumfries academy and Edinburgh University. He has told us in his quasi-autobiographical Margaret Ogilvy that he wrote tales in the garret before he went to school, and at Edinburgh wrote the greater part of a three-volume novel, which a publisher presumed was the work of a clever lady and offered to publish for £100. The offer was not accepted, and it was through journalism that he found his way to literature. After a short period of waiting in Edinburgh, he became leader-writer on the Nottingham Journal in February 1883. To this paper he contributed also special articles and notes, which provided an opening and training for his personal talent. He soon began to submit articles to London editors, and on the 17th of November 1884 Mr Frederick Greenwood printed in the St James's Gazette his article on "An Auld Licht Community." With the encouragement of this able editor, more Auld Licht "Idylls" followed; and in 1885 Mr Barrie moved to London. He continued to write for the St James's Gazette and for Home Chimes (edited by Mr F. W. Robinson). He was soon enlisted by Mr Alexander Riach for the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch, which in turn led to his writing (over the signature "Gavin Ogilvy ") for Dr Robertson Nicoll's British Weekly. Later he became a contributor to the Scots (afterwards National) Observer, edited by W. E. Henley, and also to the Speaker, upon its foundation in 1890. In 1887 he published his first book, Better Dead. It was a mere jeu d'esprit, a specimen of his humorous journalism, elaborated from the St James's Gazette. This was followed in 1888 by Auld Licht Idylls, a collection of the Scots village sketches written for the same paper.
They portrayed the life and humours of his native village, idealized as "Thrums," and were the fruits of early observation and of his mother's tales. "She told me everything," Mr Barrie has written, "and so my memories of our little red town were coloured by her memories." Kirriemuir itself was not wholly satisfied with the portrait, but "Thrums" took its place securely on the literary map of the world. In the same year he published An Edinburgh Eleven, sketches from the British Weekly of eminent Edinburgh students; also his first long story, When a Man's Single, a humorous transcription of his experiences as journalist, particularly in the Nottingham office. The book was introduced by what was in fact another Thrums "Idyll," on a higher level than the rest of the book. In 1889 came A Window in Thrums. This beautiful book, and the Idylls, gave the full measure of Mr Barrie's gifts of humanity, humour and pathos, with abundant evidence of the whimsical turn of his wit, and of his original and vernacular style.
In 1891 he made a collection of his lighter papers from the St James's Gazette and published them as My Lady Nicotine. In 1891 appeared his first long novel, The Little Minister, which had been first published serially in Good Words. It introduced, not with unmixed success, extraneous elements, including the winsome heroine Babbie, into the familiar life of Thrums, but proved the author's possession of a considerable gift of romance. In 1894 he published Margaret Ogilvy, based on the life of his mother and his own relations with her, most tenderly conceived and beautifully written, though too intimate for the taste of many. The book is full of revelations of great interest to admirers of Mr Barrie's genius. The following year came Sentimental Tommy, a story tracing curiously the psychological development of the "artistic temperament" in a Scots lad of the people. R. L. Stevenson supposed himself to be portrayed in the hero, but it may be safely assumed that the author derived his material largely from introspection.
The story was completed by a sequel, Tommy and Grizel, published in 1900. The effect of this story was somewhat marred by the comparative failure of the scenes in society remote from Thrums. In 1902 he 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. In the meantime Mr Barrie had been developing his talent as a dramatist. In 1892 Mr Toole had made a great success at his own theatre of Barrie's Walker, London, a farce founded on a sketch in When a Man's Single. In 1893 Mr Barrie married Miss Ansell (divorced in 1909), who had acted in Walker, London. In this year he wrote, with Sir A. Conan Doyle, a play called Jane Annie. He found more success, however, in The Professor's Love-Story in 1895; and in 1897 the popularity of his dramatized version of The Little Minister probably confirmed him in a predilection for drama, evident already in some of his first sketches in the Nottingham Journal. In 1900 Mr Bourchier produced The Wedding Guest, which was printed as a supplement to the Fortnightly Review in December of the same year.
After the publication of The Little White Bird, Mr Barrie burst upon the town as a popular and prolific playwright. The struggling journalist of the early 'nineties had now become one of the most prosperous literary men of the day. In 1903 no fewer than three plays from his hand held the stage - Quality Street, The Admirable Crichton and Little Mary. The year 1904 produced Peter Pan, a kind of poetical pantomime, in which the author found scope for some of his most characteristic and permanently delightful gifts. In 1905 Alice-Sit-by-the-Fire and in 1908 What Every Woman Knows were added to the list. As dramatist Mr Barrie brought, to a sphere rather ridden by convention, a method wholly unconventional and a singularly fresh fancy, seasoned by a shrewd touch of satirical humour; and in Peter Pan he proved himself a Hans Andersen of the stage. In literature, the success of "Thrums" produced a crop of imitations, christened in derision by W. E. Henley the "Kailyard School," though the imitations were by no means confined to Scotland. In this school the Auld Licht Idylls and A Window in Thrums remained unsurpassed and unapproached.
The Scots village tale was no novelty in literature - witness John Gait, the Chronicles of Carlingford and George MacDonald. Yet Mr Barrie, in spite of a dialect not easy to the Southron, contrived to touch a more intimate and more responsive chord. With the simplest materials he achieved an almost unendurable pathos, which yet is never forced; and the pathos is salted with humour, while about the moving homeliness of his humanity play the gleams of a whimsical wit. Stevenson, in a letter to Mr Henry James, in December 1892, said justly of Barrie that "there was genius in him, but there was a journalist on his elbow." This genius found its most perfect and characteristic expression in the humanity of "Thrums" and the bizarre and tender fantasy of Peter Pan.
See also J. M. Barrie and His Books, by J. A. Hamerton (Horace Marshall, 1902); and for bibliography up to May 1903, English Illustrated Magazine, vol. xxix. (N.S.), p. 208.
(W. P. J.)