Reading with Rose: Second Star to the Right


“The child’s map of Kensington Gardens,” from The Little White Bird, or Adventures in Kensington Gardens, 1920.

This November marks the 115th anniversary of the publication of J.M. Barrie’s The Little White Bird. Less known today than the idea it gave birth to, this novel was the world’s introduction to one of the most popular literary and cultural figures to date: Peter Pan. This month we will take a look at three books by Sir James Matthew Barrie held by Rose Standish Nichols in her library collection.

Sir James Matthew Barrie, 1892.

James Matthew Barrie was born May 9, 1860 in Kirriemuir, Scotland. The ninth child of David and Margaret, Barrie’s academic aptitude was identified and nurtured early in his life. He began his academic career in 1868 as his brother Alexander’s pupil at Glasgow Academy. Throughout the next several years, Barrie continued to follow his brother to various schools, including Dumfries Academy, where he composed his first play for the drama society. In 1878 Barrie enrolled at Edinburgh University, where he received his MA in 1882. With his education complete, Barrie began work almost immediately as a journalist. His literary career coincided with his journalistic one–he wrote six novels while contributing to fifteen journals. [1]

Rose Standish Nichols owned three of Barrie’s works:  two story-collections, When a Man’s Single (1888) and Auld Licht Idylls (1888), and the novel The Little White Bird, or Adventures in Kensington Gardens (1902;1920). The former are widely regarded as autobiographical fictions, while the latter is mainly remembered as the work that introduced the world to the boy who wouldn’t grow up. The Peter Pan in The Little White Bird only slightly resembles the one we have come to know through various film and stage adaptations, but his life began here.

Title page.

Rose’s copy of The Little White Bird, or Adventures in Kensington Gardens was published in 1920 by Charles Scribner’s Sons, the owners of Scribner’s Magazine in which the tale first appeared in America. This version of Peter Pan’s story was revised to include the earlier tales from both The Little White Bird and Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, a children’s book published in 1906 that expanded the mythology of Peter. Her copy of When a Man’s Single dates to 1890; Auld Licht Idylls to 1891. Rose would have been twenty years old and already traveling through the United Kingdom.

Inscription from Rose Standish Nichols’ copy of Auld Licht Idylls. 

Barrie’s works gained widespread attention and admiration during the 1890’s, when many of his plays were put on. He continued to write (mostly plays) throughout his life, but it was undoubtedly Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up that became his most endearing and successful work. In 1913 King George V made Barrie a Baronet, and in 1922 Barrie was awarded the Order of Merit. Barrie’s plays continued to be produced on stage–to varying degrees of success– until his death in 1937. He is buried alongside his family in Kirriemuir. [2]

J.M. Barrie’s London residence, near Kensington Gardens, is marked as a member of London’s Blue Plaque Heritage landmarks.       [Victoria Johnson, 2014.]

[1] R. D. S. Jack, ‘Barrie, Sir James Matthew, baronet (1860–1937)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sept 2014.

[2] Ibid.

By Victoria Johnson, Visitor Services and Research Associate