Kenneth Grahame (1859-1952), Scottish essayist and author wrote The Wind in the Willows (1908);
Toad talked big about all he was going to do in the days to come, while stars grew fuller and larger all around them, and a yellow moon, appearing suddenly and silently from nowhere in particular, came to keep them company and listen to their talk. At last they turned in to their little bunks in the cart; and Toad, kicking out his legs, sleepily said, "Well, good night, you fellows! This is the real life for a gentleman! Talk about your old river!" Ch. 2
Mr. Toad, Ratty, Mr. Badger, and Mole are among the many creatures and characters who inhabit Grahame's version of Victorian era England. He weaves their riverbank life and many adventures in magical yet universally appealing style. Grahame was well-esteemed during his career with the Bank of England, which had started in 1879 and culminated in his being appointed Secretary at the age of thirty-nine. During these almost twenty years he also grew to be a respected writer, producing numerous essays, articles, and short stories for various publications. The Wind in the Willows was popular when first released, praised by American President Theodore Roosevelt, and established Grahame's career as a children's author. The year 1930 saw its first successful adaptation for the stage as Toad of Toad Hall, by A. A. Milne, and, that same year, it was re-published with lavish illustrations by E.H. Shepherd. This cemented its reputation as a classic among children's literature--almost a century later it remains in print and is popular among readers of all ages.
Kenneth Grahame was born in Edinburgh, Midlothian county, Scotland, on 8 March 1859, the third child born to Bessie nee Inglis (d.1864) and Cunningham Grahame (d. 1887), lawyer. He had three siblings: Helen, Willie, and Roland. After the family moved from their Castle Street home to Inverary, Scotland, Bessie contracted scarlet fever and died soon after. Cunningham, who was now acting as Sheriff's Substitute, took to drink and soon proved inadequate to raise his growing children. They were sent to live with their maternal grandmother, 'Granny Inglis', at her home 'The Mount' in Cookham Dean, Berkshire, England. These years left a positive impact on young Kenneth--the stately country home and its gardens and orchards proved to be fertile ground for his young mind. They attended church in nearby Cranbourne where Kenneth's favourite uncle, David Ingles, acted as curate. Kenneth tended to be shy and he had a great imagination and love of nature. Boating on the nearby River Thames and jaunts in the surrounding fields and woods became some of his favourite past times and proved to be excellent fodder for his future creativity as a writer.
Excelling in both academic and sports pursuits like Rugby whilst attending St. Edward's School in Oxford (from 1868 to 1875), Grahame did not continue on with his dream of a university education due to the financial constraints of his Uncle John Grahame, who had been supporting him. In 1879 Grahame obtained a position with the Bank of England in London on Threadneedle Street as a gentleman clerk. He found the routine dulling and so, from his rooms on Bloomsbury Street, turned his pen to fiction and non-, submitting articles and stories to such publications as St. Edward's Chronicle, the National Observer [previously The Scots Observer], St. James Gazette and The Yellow Book. His first published story was titled "By A Northern Furrow" (1888), and his most famous short story is, still, "The Reluctant Dragon" (1898);
"Well, all dragons must be small to begin with," said Charlotte: "like everything else. P'raps this is a little dragon who's got lost. A little dragon would be rather nice to have. He might scratch and spit, but he couldn't do anything really. Let's track him down!"
Grahame's works were printed in collections titled Pagan Papers (essays, 1893), his stories of orphaned children in The Golden Age (1895) and it's sequel Dream Days (1898) to critical acclaim. He was now a member of London's literary scene, among other such esteemed authors of the day including Rudyard Kipling.
A year after Grahame was appointed secretary of the Bank of England, he married Elspeth Thomson (1862-1946) in Cornwall on 22 July 1899, with whom he had a son, Alastair (1900-1920). Nicknamed 'Mouse', he was born sickly and blind in one eye, and had a tumultuous childhood between his fits of temper and enjoying the spoils of an only child. Through his works, Grahame re-created the idyllic and fantastical times from his own childhood and hoped to entertain his son and other children with them, for, children are "the only really living people"
The Grahames' spent much time between London and the resort of Fowey in Cornwall. Due to health problems, Grahame retired from the bank in 1907 and the family moved to the countryside in Blewbury. This gave Grahame time to travel and concentrate on his writing efforts, and The Wind in the Willows was published just a year later. A few years later, on 7 May 1920, Alastair was found dead by railway tracks near Oxford, possibly having committed suicide. Grahame was profoundly grieved and became reclusive and spent months at a time in Italy.
Kenneth Grahame died at his home 'Church Cottage' in Pangbourne, Berkshire county, England, on 6 July 1932, at the age of 73. He now rests with his wife and son in the St. Cross Church cemetery in Holywell, Oxford, England. His headstone, inscribed with words written by his cousin, author of The Prisoner of Zenda, Sir Anthony Hope Hawkins (alias Anthony Hope), reads thus;
"To the beautiful memory of Kenneth Grahame, husband of Elspeth and father of Alastair, who passed the River on 6 July 1932, leaving childhood and literature through him more blest for all time."
Biography written by C. D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2007. All Rights Reserved.
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