Bank holiday and The Wind in the Willows
Another sunny day in Hampshire. We have had a string of the most beautiful summer days, though the calendar tells us it's April.
In The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame evokes the summer scene -
Drowsy animals, snug in their holes while wind and rain were battering at their doors, recalled still keen mornings, an hour before sunrise, when the white mist, as yet undispersed, clung closely along the surface of the water; then the shock of the early plunge, the scamper along the bank, and the radiant transformation of earth, air and water, when suddenly the sun was with them again, and grey was gold and colour was born and sprang out of the earth once more. They recalled the languorous siesta of hot midday, deep in green undergrowth, the sun striking through in tiny golden shafts and spots; the boating and bathing of the afternoon, the rambles along dusty lanes and through yellow cornfields; and the long, cool evening at last, when so many threads were gathered up, so many friendships rounded, and so many adventures planned for the morrow. . .
Substitute yellow fields of blooming flax for corn, and you have our scene. A dusty footpath leads to the water meadows, bathers and boaters float down the canal, and close at home neighbours sit outdoors in the evening and drink champagne.
Secretary of the Bank of England
AA Milne, who provided the introduction to the Rackham-illustrated edition of The Wind in the Willows, wrote -
To the moderately well-read person Kenneth Graham is known as the author of two books written in the nineties: The Golden Age and Dream Days. In his spare time he was Secretary of the Bank of England. Reading these delicately lovely visions of childhood, you might have wondered that he could be mixed up with anything so unlovely as a Bank; and it may be presumed that at the Bank an equal surprise was felt that such a responsible official could be mixed up with beauty.
In 1908 he wrote The Wind in the Willows. The first two books had been about children such as only the grown-up could understand; this one was about animals such as could be loved equally by young and old. It was natural that those critics who had saluted the earlier books as masterpieces should be upset by the author's temerity in writing a different sort of book; natural that they should resent their inability to place the new book as more or less of a 'children's book' than those which had actually had children in them. For this reason (or some other) The Wind in the Willows was not immediately the success which it should have been. Two people, however, became almost offensively its champions. One of them was no less important a person than the President of the United States. . .
From the President
The White House,
January 17, 1909
My dear Mr. Grahame,
My mind moves in ruts, as I suppose most minds do, and at first I could not reconcile myself to the change from the ever-delightful Harold and his associates, and so for some time I could not accept the toad, the mole, the water-rat and the badger as substitutes. But after a while Mrs. Roosevelt and two of the boys, Kermit and Ted, all quite independently, got hold of The Wind Among the Willows and took such a delight in it that I began to feel that I might have to revise my judgment. Then Mrs. Roosevelt read it aloud to the younger children, and I listened now and then. Now I have read it and reread it, and have to accept the characters as old friends; and I am almost more fond of it than of your previous books. Indeed, I feel about going to Africa very much as the sea-faring rat did when he almost made the water-rat wish to forsake everything and start wandering!
I felt I must give myself the pleasure of telling you how much we had all enjoyed your book.
With all good wishes,
Grahame created the distinctly British personalities known as the Mole, the Rat (Ratty), Toad and Mr Badger. Simultaneously he gave them many of the real animal attributes of their kind.
Rat and Mole's tenderness to each other, courage and bracing ethical and common sense are wonderful. I do love Ratty!
Grahame's voice is distinctly British - wry and dry and lyrical.
AA Milne finished his introduction by writing -
One can argue over the merits of most books. . .One does not argue about The Wind in the Willows. The young man gives it to the girl with whom he is in love, and if she does not like it, asks her to return his letters. The older man tries it on his nephew, and alters his will accordingly. The book is a test of character. . .
No doubt our readers pass that test with flying colours.