May 092015
 

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Today is the birthday (1860) of Sir James Matthew Barrie, 1st Baronet, OM, Scottish author and dramatist, the child of a family of small-town weavers, and best remembered today as the creator of Peter Pan. Barrie was born in Kirriemuir, Angus, to a conservative Calvinist family. His father, David Barrie, was a modestly successful weaver. His mother, Margaret Ogilvy, had assumed her deceased mother’s household responsibilities at the age of eight. Barrie was the ninth child of ten (two of whom died before he was born), all of whom were schooled in at least the three Rs, in preparation for possible professional careers. His siblings were; Alexander (1842 – 16 July 1914), Mary Ann (1845–1918), Jane (14 March 1847 – 31 August 1895), Elizabeth (12 March 1849 – 1 April 1851), Agnes (23 Dec 1850–1851), David Ogilvy (30 January 1853 – 29 January 1867), Sarah (3 June 1855 – 1 November 1913), Isabella (4 January 1858 – 1902) and Margaret (9 July 1863 – 1936). He was a small child (he grew to only 5 ft 3 ½ in. ), and drew attention to himself with storytelling. When he was 6 years old, Barrie’s next-older brother David (his mother’s favourite) died two days before his 14th birthday in an ice-skating accident. This left his mother devastated, and Barrie tried to fill David’s place in his mother’s attentions, even wearing David’s clothes and whistling in the manner that he did. One time Barrie entered her room, and heard her say “Is that you?” “I thought it was the dead boy she was speaking to”, wrote Barrie in his biographical account of his mother, Margaret Ogilvy (1896), “and I said in a little lonely voice, ‘No, it’s no’ him, it’s just me.'” Barrie’s mother found comfort in the fact that her dead son would remain a boy forever, never to grow up and leave her. Eventually Barrie and his mother entertained each other with stories of her brief childhood and books such as Robinson Crusoe, and The Pilgrim’s Progress.

At the age of 8, Barrie was sent to The Glasgow Academy, in the care of his eldest siblings Alexander and Mary Ann, who taught at the school. When he was 10 he returned home and continued his education at the Forfar Academy. At 14, he left home for Dumfries Academy, again under the watch of Alexander and Mary Ann. He became a voracious reader, and was fond of Penny Dreadfuls, and the works of Robert Michael Ballantyne and James Fenimore Cooper. At Dumfries he and his friends spent time in the garden of Moat Brae house, playing pirates “in a sort of Odyssey that was long afterwards to become the play of Peter Pan”. They formed a drama club, producing his first play Bandelero the Bandit, which provoked a minor controversy following a scathing moral denunciation from a clergyman on the school’s governing board.

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Barrie wished to follow a career as an author, but was dissuaded by his family who wanted him to have a profession such as the ministry. With advice from Alec, he was able to work out a compromise: he was to attend a university, but would study literature. He enrolled at the University of Edinburgh, where he wrote drama reviews for the Edinburgh Evening Courant. He graduated and obtained an M.A. on 21 April 1882.

He worked for a year and a half as a staff journalist on the Nottingham Journal following a job advertisement found by his sister in The Scotsman, then returned to Kirriemuir, using his mother’s stories about the town (which he renamed “Thrums”) for a piece submitted to the newspaper St. James’s Gazette in London. The edi