"a different sort of book" -- 12/27/19
Today's encore selection -- from The Wind in The Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Introductions by Theodore Roosevelt and A.A. Milne. We recently reread The Wind in the Willows and thought you would enjoy these wonderful introductions, one by President Theodore Roosevelt, and the second by A.A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh, one of our favorite children's books:
"To the moderately well-read person Kenneth Grahame is known as the author of two books written in the 1890s: 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, Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote:
The White House, Washington,
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 judgement. 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 come 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 seafaring 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,
|Original pencil sketch for The Wind in the Willows|
"The other was no more important than the writer of this essay.
'For years I have been talking about this book, quoting it, recommending it. In one of my early panegyrics I said: "I feel sometimes that it was I who wrote it and recommended it to Kenneth Grahame." This is even truer now than it seemed to be at the time. A few years ago I turned it into a play called Toad of Toad Hall, which ran for many Christmas seasons in London; and constant attendance at rehearsals made me so familiar with the spoken dialogue that I became more and more uncertain as to which lines of it were taken direct from the book, which lines were adapted, and which lines were entirely my own invention. It has been a great disappointment at times to see some pleasant quotation after the words: 'As Kenneth Grahame so delightfully said,' and to realise that he actually did say it .. . and an equal disappointment at times to realise that he didn't.
'When he and Mrs Grahame first came to see the play, they were charming enough to ask me to share their box. I was terrified, for had I been the writer of the book, and he the dramatist, I should have resented every altered word of mine and every interpolated word of his.
'He was not like that. He sat there, an old man now, as eager as any child in the audience, and on the occasions (fortunately not too rare) when he could recognise his own words, his eye caught his wife's, and they smiled at each other, and seemed to be saying: "I wrote that" -- "Yes, dear, you wrote that," and they nodded happily at each other, and turned their eyes again to the stage. It was almost as if he were thanking me in his royally courteous manner for letting him into the play at all, whereas, of course, it was his play entirely, and all I had hoped to do was not to spoil it. For, when characters have been created as solidly as those of Rat and Mole, Toad and Badger, they speak ever after in their own voices, and the dramatist has merely to listen and record.
'One can argue over the merits of most books, and in arguing understand the point of view of one's opponent. One may even come to the conclusion that possibly he is right after all. 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. We can't criticise it, because it is criticising us. It is a Household Book; a book which everybody in the household loves, and quotes continually; a book which is read aloud to every new guest and is regarded as the touchstone of his worth. But I must give you one word of warning. When you sit down to it, don't be so ridiculous as to suppose that you are sitting in judgement on my taste, or on the art of Kenneth Grahame. You are merely sitting in judgement on yourself. You may be worthy: I don't know. But it is you who are on trial.