August 25, 2010

The Reading Corner...Alan Alexander Milne

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. "Pooh!" he whispered. "Yes, Piglet?"
 "Nothing." said Piglet, taking Pooh's paw.
 "I just wanted to be sure of you."

Alan Alexander Milne
Born: January 18, 1882 
Birthplace: London, England
Died:  January  31,1956  after lengthy illness following a stroke...74 years of age

In researching the life of Alan Alexander Milne, I learned that he seemed to enjoy entering a child's world of make-believe inspired by his only child...his son, Christopher Robin Milne. Who can deny the sweetness and the innocence of the stories of Christopher Robin's childhood and the relationships he created between this boy and his stuffed animals....the mere acceptance of each other and their love for one another.

A. A. Milne was born in Kilburn, London, to parents John Vine Milne and Sarah Maria Heginbotham. He shared a special kinship with his brother, Kenneth, and they remained close throughout their lives. At the age of nine, Milne and Kenneth, along with a childhood friend, dramatized a novel they had read. This exercise awakened his love of theater.

 A.A. grew up at Henley House School, Kilburn, London, a small public school run by his father. One of his teachers was H. G. Wells. 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.

Alexander married Dorothy "Daphne" de Sélincourt in 1913, and their only son, Christopher Robin Milne, was born in August of 1920. In 1924 Milne produced a collection of children's poems When We Were Very Young, which were illustrated by Punch staff cartoonist E. H. 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. Milne's children's books were illustrated by Ernest H. Shephard.

Christopher Robin Milne's stuffed 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". E. H. 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.

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 & amp; Forest Row, insisting on being plain 'Mr. Milne' to the members of his platoon.

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. His best known comment on the subject was recalled on his death:

"The Old Testament is responsible for more atheism, agnosticism, disbelief—call it what you will—than any book ever written; it has emptied more churches than all the counter-attractions of cinema, motor bicycle and golf course."

 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". Cotchford Farm was where the Rolling Stones' lead guitarist Brian Jones would later live and be found drowned in 1969. Cotchford Farm has since been demolished, due to the excessive maintenance and repair costs, and a new house built on the site.

A.A. Milne's brilliance and sense of humour are evident, something that human beings can recognize, and perhaps, learn from.

And then Piglet did a Noble Thing...

"Yes, it's just the house for Owl," he said grandly. "And I hope he'll be very happy in it." And then he gulped twice, because he had been very happy in it himself.

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