James Matthew Barrie was born at Kirriemuir, Forfarshire, on May 9, 1860. Kirriemuir, as soberly stated by the Encyclopædia Britannica, is "a borough of barony and a market town of Forfarshire, Scotland, beautifully situated on an eminence above the glen through which the Gairie flows. It lies about five miles northwest of Forfar, and about sixty-two miles north of Edinburgh. The special industry of the town is linen weaving, for which large power-loom factories have recently been built." Mr. Barrie has made his birthplace famous as Thrums, after hesitating for a little between that name and Whins, which is the word used in the earliest Auld Licht sketches.
Only a part of Mr. Barrie's boyhood was spent in Kirriemuir. At an early age he went to Dumfries, where his brother was inspector of schools. He was a pupil in the Dumfries Academy. At that time Thomas Carlyle was a not unfrequent visitor to the town, where his sister, Mrs. Aitken, and his friend, the venerable poet editor Thomas Aird, were then living.
Carlyle is the only author by whom Mr. Barrie thinks he has been influenced. The Carlyle fever did not last very long, but was acute for a time. He fervently defended his master against the innumerable critics called into activity by Mr. Froude's biography. Apart from this, Dumfries seems to have left no very definite mark on his mind. The only one of his teachers who impressed him was Dr. Cranstoun, the accomplished translator from the Latin poets, and he rather indirectly than directly. In the Dumfries papers Mr. Barrie inaugurated his literary career by contributing accounts of cricket matches and letters, signed "Paterfamilias," urging the desirability of pupils having longer holidays. He was the idlest of schoolboys, and seldom opened his books except to draw pictures on them.
At the age of eighteen, Mr. Barrie entered Edinburgh University. His brother had studied in Aberdeen with another famous native of Kirriemuir, Dr. Alexander Whyte, of Free St. George's, Edinburgh. At Aberdeen you could live much more cheaply, also it was easier there to get a bursary, enough to keep soul and body together till an income could be earned. The struggles and triumphs of Aberdeen students greatly impressed Mr. Barrie, who has often repeated the story thus told in the Nottingham Journal:—
"I knew three undergraduates who lodged together in a dreary house at the top of a dreary street, two of whom used to study until two in the morning, while the third slept. When they shut up their books they woke number three, who arose, dressed, and studied till breakfast time. Among the many advantages of this arrangement, the chief was that, as they were dreadfully poor, one bed did for the three. Two of them occupied it at one time, and the third at another. Terrible privations? Frightful destitution? Not a bit of it. The Millennium was in those days. If life was at the top of a hundred steps, if students occasionally died of hunger and hard work combined, if the midnight oil only burned to show a ghastly face 'weary and worn,' if lodgings were cheap and dirty, and dinners few and far between, life was still real and earnest, in many cases it did not turn out an empty dream."
In 1882 he graduated, and was for some months in Edinburgh doing nothing in particular. In the meantime he saw an advertisement asking for a leader writer to an English provincial paper. The salary offered was three guineas a week. He made application for this, and found himself, in February, 1883, installed as leader writer to the Nottingham Journal. He was not editor, the work of arranging the paper being in other hands; but he was allowed to write as much as he pleased, and practically what he pleased.
During the last months of his stay in Nottingham, Mr. Barrie had begun to send articles to the London papers. The first of these was published by Mr. Stead, then editing the Pall Mall Gazette.
In March, 1888, a much more important book, "Auld Licht Idyls," was published. When Mr. Barrie came up to London he had letters of introduction from Professor Masson to an eminent publisher, and to Mr. John Morley. He took his "Auld Licht Idyls" to the publisher, and was told that, although they were pleasant reading, they would never be successful as a book. Mr. Morley, then editor of Macmillan, asked him to send a list of subjects on which he was willing to write. The request was complied with, but the subjects were returned by Mr. Morley with the singularly uncharacteristic comment that they were not sufficiently up to date. Mr. Morley, who has since read with great admiration all Mr. Barrie's works, was much astonished at having this brought to his remembrance the other day.
"When a Man's Single" was published in September, 1888, dedicated to W. Robertson Nicoll. The story was originally published in The British Weekly, but, as his manner is, Mr. Barrie made great changes in revising it for publication. It was well received, and was pronounced by the Daily News as "Perhaps the best single volume novel of the year." It is not at all autobiographical, though it gives the author's impressions of journalistic life in Nottingham and London. Perhaps the best parts of it are those devoted to Thrums, of which George Meredith expressed special admiration.
Mr. Barrie's greatest book, however, was yet to come. "A Window in Thrums" was published in May, 1889. It contained articles contributed to the National Observer, The British Weekly, and the St. James's Gazette, along with new matter. It is not too much to say that it was received with one burst of acclamation. It has been the most popular of the author's works, and it is hard to conceive how he can surpass certain parts of it. It has found admirers among all classes.
"My Lady Nicotine," reprinted from the St. James's Gazette, was published in April, 1890, and a second edition appeared in September, 1890, and although issued later than "A Window in Thrums," it is really in point of time almost the first of the author's books.
In January, 1891, Mr. Barrie commenced a story in Good Words, entitled "The Little Minister," which has since been issued in book form, and is acknowledged to be his best book.
Sorry, no summary available yet.