A. A. Milne
On January 18, 1882, a very special person was born to
London and the world. Alan Alexander Milne began life in a household
where his parents ran a private school for boys. While he was growing
up, one of the teachers who worked there, H. G. Wells, encouraged the
lad to think creatively and to become a writer.
A brilliant mathematician, Milne pursued his education on
a scholarship in mathematics at Westminster School at the age of eleven.
He continued his education at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he edited
the student magazine, Granta, for one year. His own earliest
literary efforts appeared in the humor magazine, Punch, where a month
after his twenty-fourth birthday he began work as Assistant Editor,
remaining there until the outbreak of the First World War. He quickly
became one of the leading humorists of the day, publishing essays on golf,
croquet, parties, and cricket.
In 1913, Milne married Dorothy Daphne de Selincourt, who
would bear him one son named Christopher. Although he was a staunch
pacifist, Milne enlisted in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and served in
France during World War I. The horrors he witnessed in war left him
longing for the peacefully idyllic fantasies of childhood.
In 1917, he produced the play, Wurzel-Flummery.
He went on to write more than thirty plays in all, most of them typically conventional
English drawing room comedies. Although they were all successful, they were
also all quickly forgotten.
Wells suggested that Milne turn his sketches into novels,
so the author went to work. He specialized in writing detective
stories, which proved also to be successful and were also quickly forgotten.
He published several volumes of essays, but they too quickly disappeared from the
public's mind. More than anything else, Milne was searching for a way
to leave a lasting mark on society.
Although Milne had no interest in writing children's
literature, one day, during a holiday in Wales, he found himself trapped in
the house during a rainstorm. "So there I was with an exercise-book
and a pencil," he recalled, "and a fixed determination not to leave the
heavenly solitude of that summer-house until it stopped raining...and there
on the other side of the lawn was a child with whom I had lived for three
years...and here within me unforgettable memories of my own childhood."
He began writing a series of poems, most of them addressed to his son,
Christopher Robin. They were collected in his book, When We Were
Very Young (1924), which was a huge success.
At the same time, his son had begun playing with a group of
stuffed animals named Pooh Bear, Piglet, Tigger, and Eeyore in the Ashdown
Forest near their house. Milne was fascinated by the notion that his
son enjoyed playing with fake animals in a real forest setting. He set
out to write about the event. In his books, Winnie-the-Pooh
(1926) and The House at Pooh Corner (1928), he turned that Ashdown
Forest into a magical place with no adults, but only Christopher Robin and
his animal friends.
Since his first published book in 1922, more than sixty of
his works have all but gone out of print, but Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh
remains a classic of children's literature. The series has been
translated into more than twenty languages, including Latin.
A. A. Milne wrote, "Wherever they go, and whatever happens
to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a
little boy and his Bear will always be playing."
In 1938, at the age of fifty-six, Milne published his
autobiography, It's Too Late Now, focusing mostly on his childhood
years. An operation on his brain in 1952 left him an invalid during
the last four years of his life. He died at Hartfield, Sussex, on
January 31, 1956. After his wife's death in 1971, part of the fortune
earned by the Pooh books went to the Royal Literary Fund to be used to
provide for writers in financial distress.
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