Was Barrie a Genius?
It’s a good question. It’s one often asked about him – in his day, many considered he was – and it’s one he addressed himself (with subtle variation) at the beginning and end of his career.
Our forthcoming first volume of ANON has the original article from the St James’s Gazette, August 1887
while our new society edition of The Greenwood Hat and An Edinburgh Eleven has the later version. The changes are subtle (often just due to the passage of time/perspective) but interesting to compare.
But here we offer you (by a stroke of genius?) both articles, side by side so you can do your own comparative analysis. Download free PDF HERE.
We’d be interested on your thoughts, both on the article/s and on whether Barrie was (in your opinion) a Genius.
And hopefully this whets your appetite for our first Journal - to be published on May 9th: title PERSPECTIVES ON BARRIE.
In 'Courage' Barrie writes:
The face itself, of course, is still more tell-tale, for it is the record of all one's past life. There the man stands in the dock, page by page; we ought to be able to see each chapter of him melting into the next like the figures in the cinematograph. Even the youngest of you has got through some chapters already. When you go home for the next vacation someone is sure to say 'John has changed a little; I don't quite see in what way, but he has changed.' You remember they said that last vacation. Perhaps it means that you look less like your father. Think that out. I could say some nice things of your betters if I chose.
In youth you tend to look rather frequently into a mirror, not at all necessarily from vanity. You say to yourself, 'What an interesting face; I wonder what he is to be up to?' Your elders do not look into the mirror so often. We know what he has been up to. As yet there is unfortunately no science of reading other people's faces; I think a chair for this should be founded in St. Andrews.
The new professor will need to be a sublime philosopher, and for obvious reasons he ought to wear spectacles before his senior class. It will be a gloriously optimistic chair, for he can tell his students the glowing truth,that what their faces are to be like presently depends mainly on themselves. Mainly, not altogether--
'I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.'
Now, we know the quote is from Henley. But what about the rest of it? Interesting points to consider are 'the science of reading people's faces' - any comments on that?
And more specifically, what does anyone make of the bit about the professor needing to be a sublime philosopher who 'for obvious reasons should wear spectacles'
Is this a) a reference to a specific professor?
b) a reference to the nature of philosophers/professors more generally
c) are the spectacles important to prevent the students from reading the face of the professor?
d) is the wearing of spectacles itself an indicator of something in this nascent (non existent) science of identity through face reading?
e) any other comments...
One of our members is engaged in translating some of Barrie's work into Italian. She has some questions. Some are easily answered, but there are others which offer the opportunity for a lot of discussion. So McConnachie's seemed like a great place to open up the debate. Please contribute your thoughts and knowledge.
Question 1: In the speech ‘Courage’ (1922) Barrie refers to an ‘unfinished play’ Does anyone recognise this?
I do not know whether you are grown a little tired of that word hero, but I am sure the heroes are. That is the subject of one of our unfinished plays; M'Connachie is the one who writes the plays. If any one of you here proposes to be a playwright you can take this for your own and finish it. The scene is a school, schoolmasters present, but if you like you could make it a university, professors present. They are discussing an illuminated scroll about a student fallen in the war, which they have kindly presented to his parents; and unexpectedly the parents enter. They are an old pair, backbent, they have been stalwarts in their day but have now gone small; they are poor, but not so poor that they could not send their boy to college. They are in black, not such a rusty black either, and you may be sure she is the one who knows what to do with his hat. Their faces are gnarled, I suppose--but I do not need to describe that pair to Scottish students. They have come to thank the Senatus for their lovely scroll and to ask them to tear it up. At first they had been enamoured to read of what a scholar their son was, how noble and adored by all. But soon a fog settled over them, for this grand person was not the boy they knew. He had many a fault well known to them; he was not always so noble; as a scholar he did no more than scrape through.
It seems pretty like a couple of the Echoes plays, but I'm wondering if anyone who is familiar with Barrie's notebooks knows any more about this. Was the play ever any more than an 'idea' of many, in his notebooks?
Please give your comments below. There will be more questions coming up through March.
M'Connachie's is back with the first talking shop of 2018.
We'd really love to have your comments - just add them below (or email us if you've a longer one you want to add)
Our first topic is:
To be born is to be wrecked on an island
In the summer I’m giving a talk at the Creative Archipelagos conference (on the Isle of Skye) which will focus on the work of both J.M.Barrie and S.R.Crockett. I’m taking as one of my start points an exploration of what ‘to be born is to be wrecked on an island’ might mean.
Barrie is credited as writing this in an Introduction to an edition of Ballantyne’s Coral Island in 1913. Earlier, in 1894 he wrote an article titled ‘Wrecked on an Island’ for the National Observer.
There's a downloadable PDF of both pieces available below for those who are interested.
When I first read the 1913 quote I thought it was an interesting counterpoint to ‘to die will be an awfully great adventure’ but then, when I read the 1894 article and joined the dots, I realised that really Barrie was suggesting that being wrecked on an island is, in fact, both a natural and desirable state. And reading the full 1913 preface (as I have just lately done) has given me even more food for thought. Which, after all, is what Barrie does best!
Have a read for yourself and then do please come back and share your thoughts and opinions.