“One of the advantages of being disorganized is that one is always having surprising discoveries.”
A. A. Milne was born on this day in Kilburn, London, England in 1882. Today is the 131st anniversary of his birth.
Alan Alexander Milne was the youngest of three boys born to John Vine and Sarah Maria Milne. John Milne ran a school, Henley House, and it was here that the boys took their first steps in the world of learning. One of the teachers at the school was H.G. Wells and he and Alan would remain friends for the rest of their lives. After Henley House Alan went on to Westminster School before attending Cambridge on a mathematics scholarship.
A.A. Milne’s first literary efforts came during his Cambridge days. He edited the college’s humorist publication, The Granta. Alan and his brother Ken worked together, by mail, on light verse that was published in The Granta under a mash-up of their initials A.K.M.
After graduation Alan moved to London and worked as a freelance writer. He had articles published in both newspapers, like the St. James Gazette, and in humor magazines, such as Punch.
In February of 1906 he became an assistant editor and weekly contributor to Punch magazine. His contributions included stories on sports (especially cricket and golf), the exploits of the fictional middle class Rabbit Family, and children stories that he wrote with his niece Marjorie in mind.
In 1913 he married Dorothy “Daphne” de Selincourt. When World War I broke out he volunteered as a signalling officer. He saw action in France until returning to England in November 1916 with a fever. Once recovered he was
While in the Army he wrote his first play Wurzel-Flummery. Alan didn’t go back to Punch after the war — his job had been given to some one else — and he preferred the freedom of not having a weekly deadline. He also liked writing plays and collaborating with the actors.
…put in charge of a company at a new formed signalling school at Fort Southwick. He stayed there until he was released from the army on February 14, 1919. [Pooh-Corner.org — The Author]
…he had several successes, both in London and in New York. …Mr Pim Passes By… opened in London on January 5, 1920, and ran for 246 performances in London. It also had a successful run in New York…. Within the next year, Milne had another four plays running in London. Other notable plays include Belinda, The Lucky One, The Romantic Age, The Dover Road, and The Truth About Bladys. … At one time, A. A. Milne was England’s most successful, prolific, and best-known playwright. [Pooh-Corner.org — The Author]
Ironically his biggest flop was called Success.
He wrote an adaptation of Mr. Pim Passes By and a mystery, The Red House Mystery. When he proposed writing Red House his agent bulked, suggesting the public wanted more humor stories. But Milne stuck to his guns, and The Red House Mystery was “his most successful book other than his four children’s books.” [Ibid]
Alan and Daphne Milne had a son Christopher Robin in 1920. They called the little boy “Billy Moon” at home and among friends (the first name was a nickname, the “Moon” came from Christopher’s mispronunciation of his last name). Alan wrote the first Billy Moon poem “Vespers” after watching the little boy say his prayers before going to bed. It proved so popular that Milne was
asked to provide another children’s verse for a new children’s magazine entitled The Merry-Go-Round. That poem was “The Dormouse and the Doctor“, and also became quickly famous. Alan toyed with the idea of writing a whole book of children’s verse, and the result was When We Were Very Young, published in 1924. To illustrate the book, Milne enlisted the aid of Punch illustrator, Ernest Shepard. The combination of Milne’s poetry and Shepard’s drawings proved to be a winner, as the book sold over 50.000 copies within eight weeks of its first publication. [Ibid]
The family moved to Cotchford Farm, in Hartfield, East Sussex, in 1925 and Alan used the bucolic setting as his backdrop for his next book,Winnie-the-Pooh. Shepard was on board again as illustrator. Milne thought so highly of Shepard’s role in the success of the first children’s books that he insisted Shepard get an 80/20 share of the royalties of Winnie-the-Pooh instead of a flat rate. Winnie-the -Pooh was enormously well received.
The second Pooh book, The House at Pooh Corner was equally loved. (Except by Dorothy Parker who famously quipped in her Constant Reader column in the New Yorker that by page 5 of the book the “tonstant Weader fwowed up”. Milne was unfazed by Parker’s quip, noting that “no writer of children’s books says gaily to his publisher, “Don’t bother about the children, Mrs Parker will love it.””[Ibid])
Alan wrote more plays. His Toad of Toad Hall, based on Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, got it’s stage debut in 1929. The play was hailed as a “family classic” and Milne was quickly getting painted into a corner. Especially in London, his works for adults were being ignored as the public clamored for more Pooh, or at least more children’s fiction. New York was more forgiving and his plays had longer runs on Broadway, including The Ivory Door and Michael and Mary. In 1933 his adult novel Four Days of Wonder sold moderately well, but he didn’t publish another novel for another 13 years.
At the dawn of World War II Milne, the pacifist, wrote Peace With Honour in which he outlined that nothing was
“worth repeating the Somme for. He would later change his mind and would write a pamphlet called War With Honour, in which he explained his changed views. ‘If anyone reads Peace With Honour now, he must read it with that one word HITLER scrawled across every page. One man’s fanaticism has cancelled rational argument.’ [Ibid]
The Milnes had moved away from the ‘Hundred Acre Woods’ and Cotchford Farm for London and New York, but with the War they moved back to East Sussex. Alan was Captain of the Home Guard for the area. His relationship with Daphne, which had waned, rekindled, but his ties with Christopher, which had always been strong, weakened. Christopher joined the Royal Engineers as a Sapper.
In 1946 Milne’s Chloe Marr, his last novel, came out to good reviews. It sold well. He continued to see success with his plays, which were now running in repertory.
But his relationship with Christopher — who ” had begun to resent his father and hated the books that made his name famous” [Ibid] — was crumbling. By the early 1950’s Christopher was married and living 200 miles away.
In October 1952, Milne had a stroke which left him an invalid for his remaining years. … A. A. Milne died on January 31, 1956. [Ibid]