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Once upon a time, a long time ago now, about last 1925, Christopher Milne left Mallord Street in Chelsea with his mother and father to live at Cotchford Farm in Sussex.  This remained his home for many years, until he began to walk the paths that eventually led to an idyllic 18th century hillside home, a former forge in Embridge, Devon, where, surrounded by plane trees, oaks, hazels, pansies, daffodils, primroses, bluebells, campions, narcissi and sun-basking cats, he shared many happy years with his wife, Lesley, and their daughter, Clare.  Sadly, continuing ill health forced him away from that peaceful hollow in the hill and he spent his last few years with his Lesley and Clare in an early nineteenth century house situated on the outskirts of Totnes in Devon, complete with walled garden, lily pond and conservatory.  

 

As he watched his father, Alan Alexander Milne, pipe in mouth, on the putting green at Cotchford, the young country-lover was innnocently unaware of the literary adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh, which had begun during the wet Welsh summer of 1923 and the effect the bear would have on his life.  He would explore many paths and by-roads along the route from Cotchford; Miss Walters' School in Tite Street, Chelsea; Gibbs' day school near Sloane Square; Boxgrove, Guildford; Stowe; Trinity College, Cambridge; the Army to the Harbour Bookshop in Dartmouth, Devon.  

 

During these adventurous years, Christopher began frequently, and often rudely, to be mistaken for the Christopher Robin portrayed in his father's books, Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, and in poems such as Vespers, Buckingham Palace, The Engineer, Lines and Squares, In the Dark, James James Morrison Morrison.  The real Christopher, only hinted at in Us Two and Market Square, remained unfamiliar and unrecognised, though burdened with the fame that rested uneasily on his reluctant shoulders.  By making him a household name in millions of homes throughout the world, A. A. Milne had "filched from me my good name and had left me with nothing but the empty fame of being his son".  

 

Father and son saw very little of each other during Christopher’s early years — perhaps half an hour at the breakfast table and a few minutes before dinner, although Christopher sought every opportunity to accompany his father on his frequent walks through the woods, where they both shared a passion and joy in nature.  In his late teens, Christopher forged a close friendship with his father.  His mother, Daphne, was more interested in fashion and spending her husband’s money than spending time with her shy son.  After his father’s death Christopher did not see his mother again, although she lived on for another fifteen years.    

 

Christopher shared a passion for pure mathematics with his father and took up a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge after leaving Stowe school;  but the coming of World War II made it impossible for him to enjoy his success and he enlisted in the Royal Engineers.   He had a good four years, enjoying the comradeship of his fellow officers and a fascination with building Baily Bridges and dismantling landmines.  This career ended abruptly with a serious head wound at Salerno in Italy.  His wartime travels left him with a lifelong love of that country and he and his wife, Lesley, holidayed there almost every summer for the next fifty years.  

 

Up to the day he died, he used old woodwork tools that he bought as a nine year old and his talent as a carpenter proved useful during the years as a struggling bookseller when money was short — no holiday luggage was complete without his trusty tool kit.  He was ingenious designing and fashioning furniture and equipment for his daughter, Clare, who had cerebral palsy.  

 

After a year or so of unemployment and dead-end jobs in London, he and his wife Lesley opened The Harbour Bookshop in Dartmouth, Devon, a small but successful venture.  After his mother’s death he felt able to write freely about his life and his first autobiographical book “The Enchanted Places” was a critical success and set him on his writing career.  This led to “The Path Through the Trees” - ‘The Story of my non-Pooh life’, followed soon afterwards by “The Hollow on the Hill” a portrayal of his personal philosophy and finally “The Windfall”, a reinterpretation of the Adam and Eve story (and his own favourite) proved to be his last work.  

 

Christopher was a quiet man who lived in a small world, where he lovingly researched its inhabitants.   He loved beetles and moths and birds and music and knew them all intimately.  He loved a few people very much indeed.  He died after suffering for some years of a neurological disease, myasthenia gravis, on April 20th 1996.  A few days later, his life was celebrated in a small Quaker gathering of family and friends.  Describing the service, Michael Brown, the Chairman of the Pooh Trustees, wrote the following:  

"We are here ... we all remember the words spoken at Pooh's party ... "because of what someone did."  And we are here because of what someone, Christopher, was and, for us, will always be. And we are here because of the path he chose.  I think of his book "The Path Through The Trees" and of the words on the last page about Christopher and Clare at the top of the garden.  "Here we come Clare and I ... And here we sit and dream and perhaps I do this and that among my trees ... Small and slow is our world and luckily this is how we like it."  

We all had the extraordinary privilege of being counted amongst Christopher's friends and we knew him as a man of such talents, such humility and such goodness.  Sadly, not all of his friends could be with us here.  In particular Peter and Diane Dennis, who so much wanted to come all the way from California but could not do so, have asked me instead to read on their behalf a poem by Robert Frost which they always associate with Christopher.  It appears at the front of The Path Through Tthe Trees and its significance for Christopher is explained in the opening pages of the book.  It is called The Road Not Taken:  

 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;  

 

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same.  

 

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.  

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.  

 

It is painful to imagine what the world will be like without Christopher Milne, but Christopher Robin of the stories and verses will live on in the homes of countless generations of millions of families the world over for all time.  However, he would prefer to be remembered as Christopher Milne to a few close friends, rather than as Christopher Robin to the rest of the world.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"So they went off together.  But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on top of the Forest, a little boy and his bear will always be playing."  

 

Extracts of letters from Christopher Robin Milne:  

17th October 1991  

 

Dear Christopher Toyne,   The postman brought your parcel this morning, ringing the bell and leaving it lying against the door.   What an extremely handsome production you have made.  I do thank you for wanting to do it and for presenting me with my own copy of it.  I have just been listening to the opening chapter – and of course Peter reads it perfectly, as I knew he would.   I congratulate you both, and I wish you great success with it.  Well done!  

Your sincerely,  

Christopher Milne    

 

22nd April, 1995  

“Pooh is as English as Brer Rabbit is American.  And so a dramatic interpretation, to be as faithful as possible to the original, must not only use the author’s words but speak them with an English accent.   Many Americans know Pooh only through Walt Disney’s cartoon version.  This is an interpretation which, to me, is so far from the original as to be unrecognisable.  By contrast, Peter Dennis’s ‘Bother!’ is totally English, sympathetic and truthful.”

 

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Born 18 January 1882 at Henley House, Mortimer Road, Hampstead,

Died in Sussex 21 January 1956.        

 

Scots by birth, Alan Milne spent his childhood in London, where his father was a preparatory schoolmaster.  His early education owed much to the skills of a young teacher and mentor — H.G. Wells —  years later, Milne described Wells as ‘a great writer and a great friend’.  He continued his education at Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge.  He bequethed his original hand-written manuscripts of Winnie-the-Pooh and The House At Pooh Corner to the College Library.

While an undergraduate at Cambridge he edited Granta for a year —  his first literary efforts were published in the humourous magazine Punch, where a month after his twenty-fourth birthday he started work as Assistant Editor, remaining there until the outbreak of the First World War.  

In 1913 Milne married Dorothy Daphne de Selincourt and they had one son, Christopher.  Although a noted pacifist, Milne enlisted in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and served in France.  His famous denunciation of war entitled Peace With Honour was published in 1934.  His writings met with great success between the wars and in 1924 Methuen published When We Were Very Young, a collection of verses, many of which had already been eagerly read by his regular readers when they first appeared in Punch.   Two years later saw the introduction of the Bear of Very Little Brain in Winnie-the-Pooh.  A second book of verses, Now We Are Six, appeared in 1927 and in 1928 the final volume of the quartet arrived, The House At Pooh Corner.  

It had seemed to Milne at the time that he should be writing something meatier, like a detective story, which would hopefully earn £2,500!  Even after the phenomenal success of Pooh, he was still to remain doubtful and wrote “I wanted to escape from them as I once wanted to escape from Punch as I have always wanted to escape.  In vain ...”   In fact, in 1922 he wrote  a detective novel, The Red House Mystery — as well as many novels, essays, short stories and verses, he wrote over twenty five plays and his autobiography It’s Too Late Now was published by Methuen in 1939.  

A.A. Milne always acknowledged that it was his wife, Daphne, and his young son, Christopher Robin, who inspired him to write the poems and stories. History has a strange way of mixing fact and fiction, but, whatever the origins, the four Pooh books printed in over twenty five languages have taken their rightful place in the hearts and on the bookshelves of many millions of people .    

In Which We are Introduced to Winnie-the-Pooh and Some Bees and the Stories Begin was first printed in the London Evening News on December 24th, 1925 and broadcast by the BBC on Christmas Day that year read by Donald Calthrop.   Winnie-the-Pooh was published by Methuen on October 14th, 1926, but for too long Milne’s four classics have been relegated to children’s bookshelves and Disney children's cartoons.   A. A. Milne didn't write the stories and poems for children. He intended them for the child within us.  He rarely read the stories and poems to his son Christopher, preferring rather to amuse him with the works of P.G. Wodehouse, one of Milne’s favourite authors.  This compliment was returned in full by Wodehouse, who described Milne as “about my favourite author”.  Wodehouse’s works continued to live long in the Milne household after his death, as Christopher frequently read the stories to his daughter, Clare and her bedroom shelves contain many of his novels.  In a letter to Peter, Christopher wrote, “My father did not write the books for children. He didn’t write for any specific market;  he knew nothing about marketing.  He knew about me, he knew about himself, he knew about the Garrick Club — he was ignorant about anything else.  Except, perhaps, about life."  Christopher first heard the stories and poems when he listened to Peter’s recordings over sixty years after their first publication.  

The Pooh books are firm favourites with old and young alike and have been translated into almost every known language — in a national reader’s poll carried out in England by England premier booksellers, Waterstone’s, and Channel 4 Television during 1996, Winnie-the-Pooh was placed number 17 in the list of the 100 most popular books published during the 20th century.  

The worldwide sales of the four books between 1924 and 1956 totalled about seven million.  Amusingly, once sales passed a million, the publishers stopped counting!  

Since 1968, Sales of the Methuen edition have averaged over 500,000 a year, with 30 per cent of these selling in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.  A conservative figure for the total sales of the four Methuen editions up to the end of 1996 would be over 20 million copies.  These figures do not include sales of the four books published by Dutton in Canada and the States, nor the foreign language editions printed in over 25 languages the world over.  

The Pooh books have been translated into almost every language.  In 1985, the Russian translation, Vinnie Pookh, sold more than three and a half million copies in the Soviet Union and, in the same year, the Latin version, Winnie Ille Pu, became the first book in a foreign language to be included in the best-seller list in the United States.   There is now a companion volume, A. A. Milnei Domus Anguli Puensis, Librum exornavit E. H. Shepard, Liber alter de Urso Puo de anglico sermone in Latinum conversus auctore Briano Staplesio, Londinii: Sumptibus Methueni, MCMLXXX.  If, like Pooh, you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, I should explain that Brian Staples translated The House at Pooh Corner into Latin, published by Methuen in 1980.  Brian had studied Latin as a young boy while at school and many years later, while ill in hospital had busied himself just for fun translating Milne's last Pooh book, with no thought whatsoever to completing it.    Fortunately for us all, his fun became reality and the book was published with enormous success.  Sadly, Brian's health deteriorated over several months during 1996 and he died of septicaemia in April that year, the same month as dear Christopher Milne passed away.  

Before the success of the Pooh books, Alan Milne was a popular dramatist, novelist, and humourist and many of his plays were performed to great critical acclaim in both Europe and America.  Today, his plays are rarely performed in the professional theatre, although amateur productions are playing in almost every English speaking country throughout the world, where they still attract large and eager audiences.   Readers of this web site are recommended to seek out his plays, novels and essays in their libraries and antiquarian bookshops.  A detailed bibliography of Milne by Tori Haring-Smith was published in 1982 by Garland Publishing Inc. of New York. In 1990 Methuen published Ann Thwaite’s definitive biography A. A. Milne His Life.  

 

Milne's plays include: Worzel-Flummery, The Lucky One, The Boy Comes Home, Belinda, The Red Feathers, Make-Believe, Mr. Pim Passes By, The Camberley Triangle, The Romantic Age, The Stepmother, The Dover Road, The Truth about Blayds, The Great Broxopp Success, The Man in the Bowler Hat, To Have the Honour - or Meet the Prince, Ariadne, Portrait of a Gentleman in Slippers, Miss Marlow at Play, The Ivory Door, Toad of Toad Hall, The Fourth Wall - or The Perfect Alibi, Michael and Mary, Portrait of a Gentleman in Slippers, Other People’s Lives, Miss Elizabeth Bennett, The Ugly Duckling and Before the Flood.  

 

In 1952 Milne underwent an operation of the brain, which left him an invalid.  He survived the operation and returned to his home at Cotchford Farm in Susex, where he spent the rest of his life reading and in country pursuits.   After a long illness, he died on 31st January, 1956.    Soon after the publication of Winnie-the-Pooh, Milne wrote in the Nation:  ‘I suppose that every one of us hopes secretly for immortality;  to leave, I mean, a name behind him whiich will live for ever in this world, whatever he may be doing, himself, in the next.’   When he died, thirty years later, there was already no doubt at all that A. A. Milne had achieved more than the ordinary mortal’s fifteen minutes of fame — he had achieved an immortality equalled by few others, though not as he would. have wished based on his huge literary output of plays and novels, but rather on the adventures of a Bear of Very Little Brain.   In 1996 his own favourite bear was sold by Bonham’s auction house in London to an anonymous buyer in 1996 for £4,600.

* For a list of all Milne's writing, CLICK HERE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ernest Shepard, who died in the fiftieth anniversary year of the publication of Winnie-the-Pooh, lived in Lodsworth in Sussex and spent his childhood years in London.  He was born only a five minute walk from the birthplace of A.A. Milne, but it would be many years before they met, when their names would be linked for all time to the creation of one of the most loved of all bears.  

He enlisted in the Army in the First World War, rose to the rank of Major and was awarded the Military Cross for bravery in the field.  During the war years he sent jokes about the battles to Punch.  Shortly after his return from the front he was invited to join the Punch Editorial Table, where he first met Alan Milne.  

He is perhaps the most-loved illustrator of children's books, best remembered for the When We Were Very Young, Winnie-the-Pooh, Now We Are Six and The House At Pooh Corner, Kenneth Grahame’s classics The Wind In The Willows, Dream Days and The Golden Age and a book which later became the favorite reading of Christopher Robin Milne, Bevis, the Story of a Boy by Richard Jefferies.  Shepard’s autobiographical books, Drawn from Memory (1957) and Drawn From Life (1962) are joyfully written and present a superb picture of England’s upper middle classes.  His drawings in over fifty books frequently poked fun at social contretemps and domestic perplexity, especially where children were involved. His illustrations continued to show extraordinary vigor and vivacity throughout his long working life.    

In his ninetieth year, Ernest Shepard donated 300 of his preliminary sketches for the drawings to the Victoria and Albert Museum and an exhibition celebrating his life and work was preented there, an event attended by the original Pooh.    

In 1998 Christie’s auction house in London set a new world record when four of Shepard's pen and ink drawings from 'In Which Pooh and Piglet Go Hunting And Nearly Catch a Woozle' were sold to an anonymous European private collector for over over $325,000.  

Interestingly, Shepard’s sketches of Pooh were not based on Christopher Robin’s bear, but on Growler, the much loved bear belonging to Graham, the artist’s son. During World War II, Shepard’s grand-daughter, Minette, took the tired and worn Growler with her to Canada where, sadly, he lost a battle with a Scottie dog in a Montreal garden.  Piglet had suffered a similar fate years before in an English orchard, but he lived to tell the tale!  

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