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19 February 1976

Extracts from a letter from Nico Llewelyn Davies to Andrew Birkin, 19 February 1976.

Obviously enough, I am much stirred by your Boothby letter [and transcript*]. I won't go so far as to say that I rather regret putting you in touch of with him - because it's probably right that you should examine from every angle; but from this side seat there has long been a somewhat deprecative shrug of the shoulders as I "look" at the maybe steadily vulgarising Boothby! I had no idea whatsoever of this anti-Buxton feeling - and it of course reads like a story of jealousy (in spite of "never went to bed with him"!) I would immensely like now to follow up the Rupert Buxton Trail. My own - certainly brief enough - memories of him are all of smiles and fun! Particularly as we went off to the Eton & Harrow match (see JMB's letter to Cynthia of 10 July 1920 in the published Letters of JMB, p177). Rupert's two brothers had been at our Eton house - one about George's time, one Michael's (killed in war) - why Rupert went to Harrow I don't know. I wonder if you're thinking of chasing up Sebastian Earl and Clive Burt? Ask them about Boothby. How I wish Roger Senhouse was alive. He would certainly have told me if he'd thought Rupert had an evil influence - and he never did. It was Roger who came to Eilean Shona that last summer. I've no idea if Rupert was asked. Others came but not Rupert.

I am quite unable to admit for a moment that JMB's influence was "unhealthy": oppressive maybe and over-constant - and I can believe that Michael could agree with Boothby that he was glad to be "out of the place" as many many people have felt as they were speeding from their home with pals back to Oxford. So far as I can tell you (FIRST-HAND!) I'm glad I lived with that odd little man rather than living in poverty or - hush my mouth! - in a Boothby household! I see "mountebank" means "a quack who harangues": I think Boothby is a mountebank! But a lovely tailpiece with JMB tucked away in his inglenook. I'm pretty sure I never saw Boothby with Michael anywhere, ever: it was Roger who told me what a devotion Boothby had for Michael. Why has nobody ever hinted to me before that Rupert had an evil influence? Why in Peter's and my very frequent talks of and around Uncle Jim did neither of us ever touch on an oppressive influence? Gloom and moods, yes: but a shortish duration: and (Peter just as much as myself) the stress on JMB's fun-to-be-with.


[* I had sent Nico the following transcript of the interview I'd had with Boothby on 14 February, which can be heard on this site:


Michael was the most remarkable person and the only one of my generation to be touched by genius. Michael could do everything except one - he couldn't swim. And I said to him, "keep away from water, because you are no good at it, it's the only thing you are no good at." He was afraid of water, but he had an immense courage and he plunged into it. In 1919 we went to St Malo with Roger Senhouse and Clive Burt. We had tremendous fun - the first time Michael ever gambled - and he won, and he was terribly excited. Then we went from St Malo to Paris for the peace procession. We climbed a tree in the Champs Elysees and sat in the tree all night and waited until the peace procession marched by, and we enjoyed ourelves no end. We went to some bistros first of all, and then climbed a tree to make sure of a place. Then he became great friends with this fellow Buxton. I didn't like that. I said to Michael "Don't", and he said "What's wrong with you, why don't you like my being friends with Rupert Buxton?" And I said, "The answer to that is doom - I have a feeling of doom." And what happened that day in Sandford Lock I shall never know because I think Rupert had an almost suicidal streak about him, and he was a good swimmer whereas Michael was useless. Whether Michael started drowning and Rupert tried to save him or whether Rupert suddenly had a fit of feeling life was no good and killed him - the bodies were together when they were found: holding on to each other, and that will remain a mystery to the end of time. I didn't like Buxton, I thought he was morbid. I think it quite possible that Michael tried to commit suicide, and that Rupert tried to save him.

There was a morbid atmosphere about Adelphi - this funny little man, sitting in the fireplace, silent, smoking and not speaking. It was unhealthy. He was sometimes in a good mood. I've had good conversations with him and quite a correspondence with him after Michael's death. I sent him Michael's photograph. And he was very pleased when Michael came to stay with me. Michael was a marvellous companion and we motored all over Scotland. He was very close to me at one time. He was introverted and moody though not bad with me - I used to make him gay. When I tried to talk French he used to laugh at me. We had immense fun in St Malo and then he came to stay with me on two or three occasions in Scotland. My mother and father adored him. He was always gay there. It was the Buxton influence that was deadly, I thought. Buxton was sardonic, dark, gloomy. I didn't like him. I'm not sure that it wasn't a mutual pact of suicide, that they both decided to do it. Michael's death had a profound effect on the lives of many people, and that you ought to try and bring out. Edward Marjoriebanks was devoted to Michael. He would never have committed suicide after he got into Parliament if Michael hadn't died. It altered the whole course of Roger Senhouse's life. Senhouse eventually got muddled up with Lytton Strachey and inherited all his books, but he would never have taken to this unhealthy life with Strachey if it hadn't been for Michael's death. Michael's homosexuality was just a phase, I think he might have come out of it.

[Do you think it had anything to do with Barrie?] Yes I do. It was an unhealthy relationship. Michael wrote to Barrie every day of his life. He was an unhealthy little man, Barrie. I mean in a mental sense. When Barrie was in a mood he tended to pull Michael in. It wasn't a very healthy relationship between them. It was morbid, and it was something beyond ordinary affection. It brooded over the whole scene and you felt it. There was an atmosphere in the flat. I remember going there one day and it almost overwhelmed me. I came out and Michael slammed the door of the car on my thumb - an accident - and I remember feeling relieved to get away. We were going down the Oxford in Michael's car. I said, "It's a relief to get away from that flat," and he said "It is" - though he would be writing to Barrie the next day. I asked Michael how he felt about Barrie and he said that he loved him. Sir Jazz Band Barrie he used to call him. It was a great love. I think there was sex with Buxton, but with Barrie never.

Michael was brilliant with his pen, painting people. What he would have done, God alone knows. Violet Bonham Carter got hold of his reputation and wanted him to join the The Liberal Party and go into politics at Oxford. I shall never forget his anger. "Who is this bloody Mrs Carter who thinks I'm clever and wants me to go into politics?" I don't think Michael would ever have gone into politics. He had a great admiration, as I did, for Lloyd George - partly because Lloyd George gave Barrie the Order of Merit. The King - George V - said, "I don't think he's worth the Order of Merit. He's not in the same class as Thomas Hardy." And L.G. - he told me this himself - said, "On the contrary, he's the greater genius of the two. He's going to have the Order of Merit" - and have it he did. L.G., with his Celtic imagination, loved Barrie. He loved his plays, and always spoke to me in the warmest terms of him - and Barrie used to go to breakfast with him at 10 Downing Street.

Michael was not particularly political, but he'd have kept me on the rails. My life would have been very different if he'd lived. He would have stopped me doing many foolish things. He had a great influence over me. My private life was a pretty good mess until I married Wanda. Those were the happiest days of my life, those Oxford days, until this bloody Buxton came along. I had a frightfully good relationship with Michael. It wasn't homosexual. It was, flashingly, with Senhouse, so he had a streak of it in him, but ours was not. It was emotional, but nothing more - I never went to bed with him.

Michael was a brilliant scholar, he'd have got a First in anything. I wasn't conscious of the fact that he was dissatisfied at Oxford, but I was conscious of the fact that he was unsure, he didn't know definitely what he wanted to do. He was a romantic. I think he was very emotional but he concealed his emotions to a large extent. He had emotional relationships with a good many people without much more. Certainly when he died I had desperate letters. I can see Roger Senhouse being led up the High Street after the funeral, sobbing. I had a lot of hysterical letters because people knew that I was a great friend of his, the most hysterical being from Edward Majoribanks. I'm sure that Michael's death was the cause of his own suicide. It had a profound effect, that day. I wrote to Barrie. I didn't go to see him because I didn't think he could bear it. I sent him a photograph of Michael, and I had one or two charming letters from him saying "anybody who writes about Michael is precious to me", but I didn't go and see him.

Michael and I had the gayest relationship. My relationship with Senhouse and Michael was almost perfection. And Clive Burt, who I think would have gone much father if Michael hadn't died, was in it too. And we were all tremendous friends, and frightfully gay, but after Buxton came into his life it all turned sour. Buxton was a very clever boy, morbid, suicidal I think, dark, saturnine, and I said to Michael - I was quite frank - "This is no good, Michael - we can't go on. I can't take Buxton." And for the last six months of his life we never spoke. We were gay, always gay, but when Buxton came with us, even the gaiety left. I never knew Buxton, only superficially, but I recognised in him a dark force and at the end of Michael's life we didn't speak. Senhouse tried to pull us together again but he failed. Buxton was clever, he was saturnine, he was gloomy. I always thought he was sinister and very possessive.]