The Boy David

Who was David? [Part I]

How did James Barrie originally come up with the idea of a boy who never grows old?

When JM Barrie was just six years old, his 13-year-old brother David died in a skating accident. It was hard on the whole family, but none was more affected than his mother Margaret Ogilvy, who sank into a deep depression ended up spending months in bed with the windows drawn. Not only was this a turning point in James and his mother’s relationship, as he tried to shoulder the burden and alleviate her suffering, but David’s premature death immortalized him in the eyes of both James and Margaret. To them, David would be a child forever.

“She had a son who was far away at school. I remember very little about him, only that he was a merry-faced boy who ran like a squirrel up a tree and shook the cherries into my lap. When he was thirteen and I was half his age the terrible news came, and I have been told the face of my mother was awful in its calmness as she set off to get between Death and her boy.”

-M Barrie, Margaret Ogilvy


JM Barrie loved his mother. Nothing is clearer when you read the biography he wrote for his mother, Margaret Ogilvy. But just as clear is that he wanted something from her that he never quite got. Her love for David and subsequent depression overshadowed a lot of Barrie’s childhood.

“My mother lay in bed with the christening robe beside her, and I peeped in many times at the door and then went to the stair and sat on it and sobbed. I know not if it was that first day, or many days afterwards, that there came to me, my sister, the daughter my mother loved the best; yes, more I am sure even than she loved me, whose great glory she has been since I was six years old.

This sister, who was then passing out of her ‘teens, came to me with a very anxious face and wringing her hands, and she told me to go ben to my mother and say to her that she still had another boy. I went ben excitedly, but the room was dark, and when I heard the door shut and no sound come from the bed I was afraid, and I stood still.

I suppose I was breathing hard, or perhaps I was crying, for after a time I heard a listless voice that had never been listless before say, ‘Is that you?’ I think the tone hurt me, for I made no answer, and then the voice said more anxiously ‘Is that you?’ again. I thought it was the dead boy she was speaking to, and I said in a little lonely voice, ‘No, it’s no’ him, it’s just me.’”

-JM Barrie, Margaret Ogilvy

James made it his self-appointed job to ‘fix’ his mother’s sadness.

“After that I sat a great deal in her bed trying to make her forget him, which was my crafty way of playing physician, and if I saw any one out of doors do something that made the others laugh I immediately hastened to that dark room and did it before her. I suppose I was an odd little figure; I have been told that my anxiety to brighten her gave my face a strained look and put a tremor into the joke (I would stand on my head in the bed, my feet against the wall, and then cry excitedly, ‘Are you laughing, mother?’)…

I kept a record of her laughs on a piece of paper, a stroke for each, and it was my custom to show this proudly to the doctor every morning.”

-JM Barrie, Margaret Ogilvy

No mother should have to go through that. No little kid should have to go through that. And neither one of them would ever forget it. 

Margaret Ogilvy, JM Barrie’s mother












Who was David? [Part II]

Here is an extremely depressing excerpt from the book Barrie wrote about his Mother. If you would like to feel vaguely unsettled, this is the post for you!

Specifically, the aftermath of his brother David’s death:

“I did not see how this could make her the merry mother she used to be, but I was told that if I could not do it nobody could, and this made me eager to begin. At first, they say, I was often jealous, stopping her fond memories with the cry, ‘Do you mind nothing about me?’ but that did not last; its place was taken by an intense desire…to become so like him that even my mother should not see the difference. …Then I practiced in secret, but after a whole week had passed I was still rather like myself. He had such a cheery way of whistling, she had told me, it had always brightened her at her work to hear him whistling, and when he whistled he stood with his legs apart, and his hands in the pockets of his knickerbockers. I decided to trust to this, so one day after I had learned his whistle (every boy of enterprise invents a whistle of his own) from boys who had been his comrades, I secretly put on a suit of his clothes, dark grey they were, with little spots, and they fitted me many years afterwards, and thus disguised I slipped, unknown to the others, into my mother’s room. Quaking, I doubt not, yet so pleased, I stood still until she saw me, and then – how it must have hurt her! ‘Listen!’ I cried in a glow of triumph, and I stretched my legs wide apart and plunged my hands into the pockets of my knickerbockers, and began to whistle.”

-JM Barrie, Margaret Ogilvy


more to come...