Alan Alexander Milne 1882 – 1956
December 06, 2009
Alan Alexander Milne 1882 – 1956 was an English author, best known for his books about the teddy bear Winnie the Pooh and for various children’s poems.
A A Milne wrote about homeopathy in his book The Holiday Round, and he was a student of Herbert George Wells, a one time friend of Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, and Milne married into The de Selincourt Family, who had long been advocates of homeopathy,
1912: The Holiday Round: ’Try this. The chemist says it’s the best hay fever cure there is’. Its ‘Homeopathic. Its made from the pollen that causes hay fever’… ‘I suppose… if anybody took this who hadn’t got hay fever, the results might be rather - I mean that he might then find that he had in fact - er, had got it?‘… ‘Sure to’ said Beatrice… ‘Yes, this makes us a little thoughtful; we don’t want to over do this thing…’ ‘You know, it’s rather odd about my hay fever - it’s generally worse in the town than in the country.’ … ‘Take this thing back to the chemist and ask if he has anything homeopathic made from paving stones…’
(this alludes to the work of the homeopath Charles Harison Blackley who was the first person to identify pollens as the cause of hay fever, and the first person to fully describe and study allergens - and it also shows that A A Milne well understood homeopathic aggravations, the minimum dose and individuation).
A A Milne was born in Kilburn, London, England to parents John Vine Milne and Sarah Maria (née Heginbotham) and grew up at Henley House School, 6/7 Mortimer Road (now Crescent), Kilburn, London, a small independent school run by his father.
One of his teachers was Herbert George Wells who taught there in 1889–90.
Milne attended Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied on a mathematics scholarship. While there, he edited and wrote for Granta, a student magazine. He collaborated with his brother Kenneth and their articles appeared over the initials AKM.
Milne’s work came to the attention of the leading British humour magazine Punch, where Milne was to become a contributor and later an assistant editor.
Milne joined the British Army in World War I and served as an officer in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and later, after a debilitating illness, the Royal Corps of Signals.
After the war, he wrote a denunciation of war titled Peace with Honour (1934), which he retracted somewhat with 1940’s War with Honour.
During World War II, Milne was one of the most prominent critics of English humour writer Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, who was captured at his country home in France by the Nazis and imprisoned for a year. Pelham Grenville Wodehouse made radio broadcasts about his internment, which were broadcast from Berlin.
Although the lighthearted broadcasts made fun of the Germans, Milne accused Pelham Grenville Wodehouse of committing an act of near treason by cooperating with his country’s enemy. Pelham Grenville Wodehouse got some revenge on his former friend by creating fatuous parodies of the Christopher Robin poems in some of his later stories, and claiming that Milne “was probably jealous of all other writers… But I loved his stuff.”
He married Dorothy “Daphne” de Selincourt in 1913 (the Selincourt family had long been advocates of homeopathy), and their only son, Christopher Robin Milne (who married his first cousin Lesley Selincourt), was born in 1920.
In 1925, A A Milne bought a country home, Cotchford Farm, in Hartfield, East Sussex. During World War II, A A Milne was Captain of the Home Guard in Hartfield & Forest Row, insisting on being plain ‘Mr. Milne’ to the members of his platoon.
He retired to the farm after a stroke and brain surgery in 1952 left him an invalid and by August 1953 “he seemed very old and disenchanted”.
After graduating from Cambridge in 1903, A A Milne contributed humorous verse and whimsical essays to the British humour magazine Punch, joining the staff in 1906 and becoming an assistant editor.
During this period he published 18 plays and 3 novels, including the murder mystery The Red House Mystery (1922). His son was born in August 1920 and in 1924 Milne produced a collection of children’s poems When We Were Very Young, which were illustrated by Punch staff cartoonist Ernest Howard Shepard. A collection of short stories for children Gallery of Children, and other stories that became part of the Winnie the Pooh books, were first published in 1925.
Looking back on this period (in 1926) Milne observed that when he told his agent that he was going to write a detective story, he was told that what the country wanted from a ”Punch humorist” was a humorous story; when two years later he said he was writing nursery rhymes, his agent and publisher were convinced he should write another detective story; and after another two years he was being told that writing a detective story would be in the worst of taste given the demand for children’s books.
He concluded that “the only excuse which I have yet discovered for writing anything is that I want to write it; and I should be as proud to be delivered of a Telephone Directory con amore as I should be ashamed to create a Blank Verse Tragedy at the bidding of others.”
Milne is most famous for his two Pooh books about a boy named Christopher Robin, after his son, and various characters inspired by his son’s stuffed animals, most notably the bear named Winnie the Pooh. Christopher Robin’s bear, originally named “Edward”, was renamed “Winnie the Pooh” after a Canadian black bear named Winnie (after Winnipeg), which was used as a military mascot in World War I, and left to London Zoo during the war.
“The pooh” comes from a swan called “Pooh”. Ernest Howard Shepard illustrated the original Pooh books, using his own son’s teddy, Growler (“a magnificent bear”), as the model. Christopher Robin Milne’s own toys are now under glass in New York.__
Winnie the Pooh was published in 1926, followed by The House at Pooh Corner in 1928. A second collection of nursery rhymes, Now We Are Six, was published in 1927. All three books were illustrated by Ernest Howard Shepard. Milne also published four plays in this period.
He also “gallantly stepped forward” to contribute a quarter of the costs of dramatising Pelham Grenville Wodehouse’s A Damsel in Distress.
The success of his children’s books was to become a source of considerable annoyance to Milne, whose self-avowed aim was to write whatever he pleased and who had, until then, found a ready audience for each change of direction: he had freed pre-war Punch from its ponderous facetiousness; he had made a considerable reputation as a playwright (like his idol James Matthew Barrie) on both sides of the Atlantic; he had produced a witty piece of detective writing in The Red House Mystery (although this was severely criticised by Raymond Chandler for the implausibility of its plot).
But once Milne had, in his own words, “said goodbye to all that in 70,000 words” (the approximate length of his four principal children’s books), he had no intention of producing any reworkings lacking in originality, given that one of the sources of inspiration, his son, was growing older.
His reception remained warmer in America than Britain, and he continued to publish novels and short stories, but by the late 1930s the audience for Milne’s grown-up writing had largely vanished: he observed bitterly in his autobiography that a critic had said that the hero of his latest play (“God help it”) was simply “Christopher Robin grown up…what an obsession with me children are become!”
Even his old literary home, Punch, where the When We Were Very Young verses had first appeared, was ultimately to reject him, as Christopher Robin Milne details in his autobiography The Enchanted Places, although Methuen continued to publish whatever Milne wrote, including the long poem ‘The Norman Church’ and an assembly of articles entitled Year In, Year Out (which Milne likened to a benefit night for the author).
He also adapted Kenneth Grahame’s novel The Wind in the Willows for the stage as Toad of Toad Hall. The title was an implicit admission that such chapters as Chapter 7, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”, could not survive translation to the theatre. A special introduction written by Milne is included in some editions of Kenneth Grahame’s novel.
Several of Milne’s children’s poems were set to music by the composer Harold Fraser Simson. His poems have been parodied many times, including with the books When We Were Rather Older and Now We Are Sixty.
After Milne’s death, his widow sold the rights to the Pooh characters to the Walt Disney Company, which has made a number of Pooh cartoon movies, as well as a large amount of Pooh related merchandise.
Royalties from the Pooh characters paid by Disney to the Royal Literary Fund, part owner of the Pooh copyright, provide the income used to run the Fund’s Fellowship Scheme, placing professional writers in UK universities.
Milne did not speak out much on the subject of religion, although he used religious terms to explain his decision, while remaining a pacifist, to join the army: “In fighting Hitler”, he wrote, “we are truly fighting the Devil, the Anti Christ… Hitler was a crusader against God.”