Peter Ibbetson

Produced by Charles Aldarondo, Keren Vergon, Charlie
Kirschner, and Project Distributed Proofreaders

PETER IBBETSON

by George du Maurier

With an Introduction by His Cousin Lady **** (“Madge Plunket”)

Edited and Illustrated by George Du Maurier

Part One

INTRODUCTION

The writer of this singular autobiography was my cousin, who died at
the ——- Criminal Lunatic Asylum, of which he had been an inmate
three years.

He had been removed thither after a sudden and violent attack of
homicidal mania (which fortunately led to no serious consequences),
from ——- Jail, where he had spent twenty-five years, having been
condemned to penal servitude for life, for the murder of —— ——,
his relative.

He had been originally sentenced to death.

It was at —— Lunatic Asylum that he wrote these memoirs, and I received
the MS. soon after his decease, with the most touching letter, appealing
to our early friendship, and appointing me his literary executrix.

It was his wish that the story of his life should be published just as
he had written it.

I have found it unadvisable to do this. It would revive, to no useful
purpose, an old scandal, long buried and forgotten, and thereby give
pain or annoyance to people who are still alive.

Nor does his memory require rehabilitation among those who knew him, or
knew anything of him—the only people really concerned. His dreadful
deed has long been condoned by all (and they are many) who knew the
provocation he had received and the character of the man who had
provoked him.

On mature consideration, and with advice, I resolved (in order that his
dying wishes should not be frustrated altogether) to publish the memoir
with certain alterations and emendations.

I have nearly everywhere changed the names of people and places;
suppressed certain details, and omitted some passages of his life (most
of the story of his school-days, for instance, and that of his brief
career as a private in the Horse Guards) lest they should too easily
lead to the identification and annoyance of people still alive, for he
is strongly personal at times, and perhaps not always just; and some
other events I have carefully paraphrased (notably his trial at the Old
Bailey), and given for them as careful an equivalent as I could manage
without too great a loss of verisimilitude.

I may as well state at once that, allowing for these alterations, every
incident of his natural life as described by himself is absolutely
true, to the minutest detail, as I have been able to ascertain.

For the early part of it—the life at Passy he describes with such
affection—I can vouch personally; I am the Cousin “Madge” to whom he
once or twice refers.

I well remember the genial abode where he lived with his parents (my
dear uncle and aunt); and the lovely “Madame Seraskier,” and her husband
and daughter, and their house, “Parva sed Apta,” and “Major Duquesnois,”
and the rest.

And although I have never seen him since he was twelve years old, when
his parents died and he went to London (as most of my life has been
spent abroad), I received occasional letters from him.

I have also been able to obtain much information about him from others,
especially from a relative of the late “Mr. and Mrs. Lintot,” who knew
him well, and from several officers in his regiment who remembered him;
also from the “Vicar’s daughter,” whom he met at “Lady Cray’s” and who
perfectly recollects the conversation she had with him at dinner, his
sudden indisposition, and his long interview with the “Duchess of
Towers,” under the ash-tree next morning; she was one of the
croquet-players.

He was the most beautiful boy I ever saw, and so charming, lively, and
amiable that everybody was fond of him. He had a horror of cruelty,
especially to animals (quite singular in a boy of his age), and was very
truthful and brave.

According to all accounts (and from a photograph in my possession), he
grew up to be as handsome as a man can well be, a personal gift which he
seems to have held of no account whatever, though he thought so much of
it in others. But he also became singularly shy and reserved in manner,
over-diffident and self-distrustful; of a melancholy disposition, loving
solitude, living much alone, and taking nobody into his confidence; and
yet inspiring both affection and respect. For he seems to have always
been thoroughly gentlemanlike in speech, bearing, manner, and aspect.

It is possible, although he does not say so, that having first enlisted,
and then entered upon a professional career under somewhat inauspicious
conditions, he felt himself to have fallen away from the social rank
(such as it was) that belonged to him by birth; and he may have found
his associates uncongenial.

His old letters to me are charmingly open and effusive.

Of the lady whom (keeping her title and altering her name) I have called
the “Duchess of Towers,” I find it difficult to speak. That they only
met twice, and in the way he describes, is a fact about which there can
be no doubt.

It is also indubitable that he received in Newgate, on the morning after
his sentence to death, an envelope containing violets, and the strange
message he mentions. Both letter and violets are in my possession, and
the words are in her handwriting; about that there can be no mistake.

It is certain, moreover, that she separated from her husband almost
immediately after my cousin’s trial and condemnation, and lived in
comparative retirement from the world, as it is certain that he went
suddenly mad, twenty-five years later, in —— Jail, a few hours after
her tragic death, and before he could possibly have heard of it by the
ordinary channels; and that he was sent to —— Asylum, where, after his
frenzy had subsided, he remained for many days in a state of suicidal
melancholia, until, to the surprise of all, he rose one morning in high
spirits, and apparently cured of all serious symptoms of insanity; so he
remained until his death. It was during the last year of his life that
he wrote his autobiography, in French and English.

There is nothing to be surprised at, taking all the circumstances into
consideration, that even so great a lady, the friend of queens and
empresses, the bearer of a high title and an illustrious name, justly
celebrated for her beauty and charm (and her endless charities), of
blameless repute, and one of the most popular women in English society,
should yet have conceived a very warm regard for my poor cousin; indeed,
it was an open secret in the family of “Lord Cray” that she had done so.
But for them she would have taken the whole world into her confidence.

After her death she left him what money had come to her from her father,
which he disposed of for charitable ends, and an immense quantity of MS.
in cipher—a cipher which is evidently identical with that he used
himself in the annotations he put under innumerable sketches he was
allowed to make during his long period of confinement, which (through
her interest, and no doubt through his own good conduct) was rendered as
bearable to him as possible. These sketches (which are very
extraordinary) and her Grace’s MS. are now in my possession.

They constitute a mystery into which I have not dared to pry.

From papers belonging to both I have been able to establish beyond doubt
the fact (so strangely discovered) of their descent from a common French
ancestress, whose name I have but slightly modified and the tradition of
whom still lingers in the “Departement de la Sarthe,” where she was a
famous person a century ago; and her violin, a valuable Amati, now
belongs to me.

Of the non-natural part of his story I will not say much.

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