Christopher Milne

Christopher Milne

In an effort to make this document easier to read, I have split it into sections that are roughly chronological.


Foreword

This has been a difficult project for me to complete. I've tried to write a short biography on Christopher Milne, the man behind Christopher Robin. So many people don't even realize that a real "Christopher Robin" existed, and many of those that do know this believe that Christopher Milne hated his association with the Pooh stories and with his father. It is true that Christopher had said things publicly about his dislike of being associated with the Pooh stories, but these things were said during a bad period in his life, when nothing seemed to be going right for him. I set out to educate the public on what sort of man Christopher Milne really was.

It proved to be a challenge, as the only biographies written on Christopher Milne were written by Christopher Milne, and his books are not so much about events in his life as they are about his feelings and thoughts at certain points in his life. There is no way that I could do justice to him in trying to briefly describe these thoughts of his. I've tried to sift through stuff, and narrow it down to biographical information, but that didn't seem to be enough to really shed some light on the sort of man that Christopher was. So, this is an attempt at a middle ground. Unfortunately, I've had to fall back and include direct quotes from Christopher's books, as I don't have the skill to convey the meaning in his words, without actually using his words.

This effort of mine is only meant to be a starting point, to fill in the holes on what most people know of "Christopher Robin". To truly understand the type of person he was, you need to read his books. He wrote several, but the most important of these are probably his first two: The Enchanted Places and The Path Through the Trees. Most likely, you'll need to ask your local library if they have these, or try to get them through interlibrary loan, since they are no longer in print.


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Growing Up

On August 21, 1920, Christopher Robin Milne was born.

We had intended to call it Rosemary, but decided that Billy would be more suitable. However, as you can't be christened William—at least, we didn't see why anybody should—we had to think of two other names, two initials being necessary to ensure him of any sort of copyright in a cognomen as often plagiarized as Milne. One of us thought of Robin, the other of Christopher, names wasted on him who called himself Billy Moon as soon as he could talk, and has been Moon to his family and friends every since. (Autobiography, 278)
So if I seem ill at ease posing as Christopher Robin this is because posing as Christopher Robin does today makes me feel ill at ease. And if I seem to write most happily about the ordinary things that boys do who live in the country it is because this is the part of my childhood that I look back upon with the greatest affection. (The Enchanted Places, 5)

The world knew him as Christopher Robin, the young boy around which the Pooh stories are based. And many people always knew him as such. But Christopher Robin Milne's life wasn't always what was portrayed in the stories, and as he grew up, he left the world of Cotchford Farm behind him.

Many people would say that A. A. Milne was a hard man to get to know. He tended to be uncomfortable with meeting people, and he was also uncomfortable around children.

Some people are good with children. Others are not. It is a gift. You either have it or you don't. My father didn't—not with children, that is. Later on it was different, very different. But I am thinking of my nursery days. (The Enchanted Places, 36)

It was quite different in later years, but Christopher's parents weren't all that involved with his upbringing during his nursery years. That task fell to his nanny.

She had me when I was very young. I was all hers and remained all hers until the age of nine. Other people hovered around the edges, but they meant little. My total loyalty was to her... She was just a very good and very loving person; and when that has been said, no more need be added. (The Enchanted Places, 31)

As Christopher grew up, his parents spent more time with him.

I enjoyed playing with my mother. This was something she was good at. There were plenty of things that she couldn't do, had never been taught to do, didn't need to do because there was someone to do them for her, and she certainly couldn't have coped alone with a tiny child. But provided Nanny was at hand in case of difficulty, she was very happy to spend an occasional half hour with me, playing on the floor, sitting me on her lap to show me how the gentlman rides, reciting (for the hundredth time) Edward Lear's "Calico Pie". (The Enchanted Places, 21)

Growing up, Christopher had only three close friends. The first was his nanny. The second was a girl he had met that lived near Cotchford named Hannah. The third was Anne Darlington, who lived in London and was his closest friend for many years.

Anne Darlington lived half a mile away in a flat in Beaufort Mansions. She was eight months older than I was, and, like me, without brothers or sisters. So instead we had each other and we were as close and inseparable as it is possible for two children to be who live half a mile apart. It was a closeness that extended to my parents, for Anne was and remained to her death the Rosemary that I wasn't. (The Enchanted Places, )
Christopher Robin

Christopher was always skinny as a child. He was given strengthening medicine (quite similar to Roo's) to help him build up some muscle and took gymnasium classes and boxing lessons. Nothing really seemed to work. As he got older, he would spend more time outdoors, gaining exercise by hiking through the woods, helping his mother garden, or playing golf or cricket with his father. In his books, Christopher makes a note that his parents didn't often do activities together, and he would have to divide his time up between them.

In fact, there were really few things that they did enjoy doing together. So wisely, they did them separately, then met afterwards and told each other of their adventures: and if something funny had happened to one of them, they could both laugh together about it and be happy.

This meant that when, in 1930, I came downstairs to join them, I found that I was either doing things with my mother or doing things with my father; not very often with both. (The Enchanted Places, 105)

Perhaps it was due to the time he spent separately with each parent that Christopher gained the talents of both. He enjoyed working with his hands, just as his mother did in her garden.

[Mother] responded to the beauty, peace and the solitude that [the country] offered. She found this in her garden and she found it too in the countryside beyond. Solitude. She was happiest alone. (The Enchanted Places, 44)

He once took apart his nursery lock at the age of 7, and owned his own set of tools. Among his creations was modifying a cap gun to fire real bullets (His parents would later take the gun from him.) and the clockworks for a grandfather clock. Christopher mentions in The Enchanted Places that the poem "The Engineer" was not about him.

The poem begins:
Let it rain
Who cares
I've a train
Upstairs
With a brake
Which I make...
and it ends up:
It's a good sort of brake
But it hasn't worked yet.
I may have been a bit undersize. I may have been a bit underweight. I may have looked like a girl. I may have been shy. I may have been on the dim side. But if I'd had a train (and I didn't have a train) any brake that I'd wanted to make for it — any simple thing like a brake — WOULD HAVE WORKED. (The Enchanted Places, 40)

Christopher also shared talents with his father, such as his love for mathematics and for playing cricket. Christopher also shared in the creation of the stories that his father wrote about.

As a young child, Christopher enjoyed being associated with the Pooh stories. He and his friends once put on a play in the forest for the parents, enacting out one of the stories. He also took part in helping his father come up with the stories.

It is difficult to say which came first. Did I do something and did my father then write a story around it? Or was it the other way about, and did the story come first? Certainly my father was on the look-out for ideas; but so too was I. He wanted ideas for his stories, I wanted them for my games, and each looked towards the other for inspiration. But in the end it was all the same: the stories became a part of our lives; we lived them, thought them, spoke them. And so, possibly before, but certainly after that particular story, we used to stand on Pooh-sticks Bridge throwing sticks into the water and watching them float away out of sight until they re-emerged on the other side. (The Enchanted Places, 58)

It wasn't until boarding school, at the age of 10, that Christopher began to hate his association with Christopher Robin. Previously, he had been upset that some of the newspaper articles that had been written about him were wrong about certain facts, but for the most part, he enjoyed being associated with the stories. However, away from the family and amongst a new group of boys, he was often teased about being Christopher Robin. Earlier, a gramophone recording of Christopher singing "Vespers" had been made. Some of the boys at school had managed to get a copy of the recording.

I vividly recall how intensely painful it was to me to sit in my study at Stowe while my neighbors played the famous—and now cursed—gramophone record remorselessly over and over again. Eventually, the joke, if not the record, worn out, they handed it to me, and I took it and broke it into a hundred fragments and scattered them over a distant field. (The Enchanted Places, 164)

Like his father had done, Christopher went to Cambridge on a mathematics scholarship. He only spent about eight months at school, having lost his love for mathematics and deciding to join the army to help with the war effort.


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World War II

World War II was just breaking out. Christopher decided to try and get into the Royal Engineers (known as Sappers) since he enjoyed carpentry. His father wrote to the Under Secretary of State and several army officers to make sure that Christopher got placed with the Sappers and not in the Infantry. While waiting to hear back, Christopher joined the Local Defense Volunteers, or the Home Guard as it was later called. He spent eight months with the group. He was called up in November to join a Royal Engineer training battalion, conditional on a physical examination. He failed the exam the first time because the doctor misinterpreted Christopher's excitement as something more serious. Alan wrote to Lord Holder, the King's physician and asked him to intervene for Christopher. Christopher was allowed a second examination, and joined the training battalion in February. In July, he was assigned to HQRE 56th (London) Division. The division sailed from England at the end of August and were established in Kirkuk, Iraq, by November.

The division left Kirkuk in March, and four weeks and 3200 miles later, was engaged in the final battle against the Germans in Tunisia. Although Christopher didn't see much fighting himself, he had managed to catch malaria, get stung by a scorpion, and discovered a new type of land mine. This qualified him to receive the Africa Star.

The division then crossed the sea and landed in Italy. There, Christopher would find some more action. In October of 1944, he was wounded near Sant'Arcangelo, on the edge of the Plain of Lombardy. He was evacuated to Fano where a piece of shrapnel was removed from his head. By December, he had rejoined the division.

Like his father before him, Christopher came to hate the horrors of war.

In war you may be killed or wounded. But people are killed and wounded every day on our roads and we don't talk about the horror of driving. The horror of war is not what it does to the human body (which anyway it probably does only once if at all) but what it does to the human spirit. It is the sight (and sound and smell) of the dead and the injured, the fear that what has happened to them will happen to you, together with all the feelings of revulsion and despair aroused by the human carnage and general destruction that go to make war's horror. (The Path Through the Trees, 71)

Not all was horrible about the war, however. Christopher managed to fall in love for the first time while stationed in Italy. He was introduced to Hedda by another member of his company at a dance for the officers. Together, they often spent time while the company was stationed in Trieste. Through spending time with Hedda, Christopher came to learn a little Italian (he could read it easily, but had trouble speaking it) and to love the country. After Christopher had returned to England, the romance fizzled out.


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After the War

After the war, things started to go bad for Christopher. He had gone back to Cambridge in 1946 and graduated in 1947 with a degree in English literature. He tried to be a writer, but there wasn't the market for light stories as there had been for his father. It was at this point in his life that Christopher was most upset with his father.

...in 1947 all this changed. Up to then we had run neck and neck. He had been the better cricketeer but I had been the better mathematician. We had both done equally bad at Cambridge, but I—with a six-year break for the war—could offer the better excuse. We had both been equally indifferent soldiers, but I had at least started from the ranks; and a wound in the head was surely more glorious than trench fever. We had been companions, but now our ways were to part... In pessimistic moments, when I was trudging London in search of an employer wanting to make use of such talents as I could offer, it seemed to me, almost, that my father had got to where he was by climbing upon my infant shoulders, that he had filched from me my good name and had left me with nothing but the empty fame of being his son.

This was the worst period for me. It was a period when, suitably encouraged, my bitterness would overflow. On one or two occasions it overflowed more publicly than it should have done, so that there seemed to be only one thing to do: to escape from it all, to keep out of the limelight... It is better to say nothing than to say something I might regret. (The Enchanted Places, 165)

He would work briefly for the Central Office of Information, providing facts and figures to government speakers. He also worked briefly as a furniture buyer, but was more interested in designing furniture, and so drifted from department to department for 15 months before quitting.

On July 24, 1948, Christopher married Lesley de Selincourt, his cousin. His parents did not approve of his choice. Partly because they had hoped that Christopher might one day marry long-time friend Anne Darlington, and partly because of Lesley's parents.

[Lesley was] a de Selincourt; and de Selincourts were not always on speaking terms with each other. In particular my mother hadn't spoken to her brother Aubrey for about thirty years. That was why we had never met before. (The Path Through the Trees, 130)

Christopher had taken it upon himself to meet his mother's family, and that was how he met Lesley. They hit if off right away.

Although Lesley had an older sister, a four-year gap and a great difference in temperament lay between them. So, like me, she had led the life of a solitary child and like me she had enjoyed it. We had both of us been brought up in the country, both of us had spent long, happy hours wandering alone through the fields and woods, sitting alone under trees, lying alone in the grass, Like me she preferred animals to humans. Our discovery was that though we were both solitaries we liked being solitary in each other's company. We enjoyed walking together along a country footpath, we enjoyed sitting together on a sofa, we enjoyed lying together beneath a hedge. Together we were yet separate; touching, yet silent; she and I each engaged with our own thoughts—yet lost and lonely now without the presence of the other. (The Path Through the Trees, 131)

Christopher was still having troubles finding a job in London. He had written some occasional talks for the BBC, but it wasn't permanent. That, and the conflict he was having with his parents, caused Lesley and him to leave London in 1951. They moved to Dartmouth and opened a bookstore there.

There were two things that were then overshadowing my life and that I needed to escape from: my father's fame and "Christopher Robin". Yet here I was apparently deliberately seeking out his shadow so as to work beneath it, choosing a trade that would put me on public exhibition as Christopher Robin, wrapping up the books he had written. (The Path Through the Trees, 136)

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Life in Dartmouth, and Acceptance

It took some time, but the Harbour Bookshop managed to take off in Dartmouth. Christopher helped to supplement book sales by creating picture frames, and he and Lesley also stocked the store with a variety of cards and gift items.

For twenty-one years Lesley and I lived on the profits of out shop and the bulk of this came from bookselling. We had no other source of income. I say this loudly and proudly. Loudly, because a number of people seem to have suspected that all the while Pooh's earnings were keeping my pockets comfortably lined. Proudly, because it is not easy to survive as a bookseller—in fact as well as name—in a town whose population is under 7,000. (The Path Through the Trees, 166)

Christopher did begin to collect royalties from the Pooh books in 1971, after his mother died.

Originally, they lived above the shop, but that changed in 1956. The reason was the birth of their daughter, Clare. They moved to a house on the edge of town, and filled the second floor with gift items.

Clare was a special daughter. Christopher described her as being "spastic". She suffered from cerebral palsy. Her special needs led to some changes with the Milne's. When she was old enough, she was sent to a special boarding school. When she was home, either Christopher or Lesley needed to be home with her at all times, so extra help was needed at the bookstore. Christopher also found an outlet for his carpentry skills, as he now designed tools that Clare was able to use.

A. A. Milne never had the chance to meet his granddaughter, as he died a few months before Clare was born.

In 1956 my father died. In a sense, however, he was already dead; for the operations that had given him an extra year of life had made him a different person. It had made my mother a different person too. And it had made Cotchford a different place...

Selfishly I was glad that I lived in Devon and had a bookshop that I could not easily leave. Children drift away from their parents as they grow up, and it is right that they should. I had been very close to mine, especially my father, for rather longer than is usual, and so the drifting when it came was perhaps a little farther than is usual. I saw my father on two occasions during his illness, my mother and Cotchford on three. On his death I never saw Cotchford again. And although my mother survived him by fifteen years I saw her only once. (The Path Through the Trees, 257)

Christopher was very upset to find out that soon after his father's death, his mother sold his manuscripts.

When I first learned what my mother had done I felt only a sudden surge of anger and a stab of sorrow. My poor father, that she should have treated him like this! And so started the train of emotions that led in the end to my writing The Enchanted Places.

It was I suppose a feeling of guilt, a guilt which my mother and I had shared. We had both in our different ways failed him. And I owed it to him to make amends. (The Path Through the Trees, 260)

Originally, Christopher set out to write a book about the real toys and places from which the stories grew out of. However, he changed his mind and decided to write a book to try and answer the questions he knew that other people had about him and his father.

In the second half of The Enchanted Places I wanted to talk about my father. I had probably known him better than anybody then alive. Yet when I came to think about him I realized how much there was that I didn't know; and I wondered for a time whether to consult with others and add their impressions to mine. In the end I decided against this, partly because I felt that if I was going to consult anybody I ought to do the job properly and consult as many people as possible—a mammoth task—and partly because I wasn't really writing that sort of book at all. Mine was a personal memoir, not a biography. I decided therefore to confine myself to my own memories; and this, besides being a great deal easier, had the added advantage that nobody could tell me I had gotten them wrong. (The Path Through the Trees, 245)

The irony of Christopher writing a book about his father did not escape him.

Many sons follow their fathers; but mine had never wanted this and I had only wanted it only at odd moments in my life. He had feared that, whatever I wrote, comparisons would be made and one of us judged less good than the other. Jealous by nature—as I was too—more than anything he hated rivalry. Yet here I was, not just writing a book by writing one which, whether I liked it or not, was going to be put alongside the Pooh books and tested by its ability to hold its own in such company. Not only that but one of my purposes was to show the extent to which the son was a product of his parents—thus tacitly inviting the all-too-inevitable comparison. (The Path Through the Trees, 265)
Christopher Milne

Christopher's first book, The Enchanted Places was published in 1974. It focuses on his childhood, and his relationship to his parents. A second book, The Path Through the Trees, came out in 1979, and deals with his adult life, and the struggles that he went through to escape from his father's shadow and find himself. He also wrote other books, mostly short essays on his beliefs and observations, but they were published in small numbers and didn't receive as much attention as his first two books.

In his later years, Christopher was very active in the community. He pushed for better libraries in the schools, campaigned to save his childhood stomping grounds in Ashdown Forest from oil prospectors, and gave his time to promoting the Save the Children Fund.

Christopher Milne died April 20, 1996, leaving behind his wife, Lesley, and his daughter, Clare.


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A Final Note

I want to leave this biographical sketch with a final quote from Christopher.

Some years ago I had a letter from a small child in America. She was very, very angry with me because—so she had heard—I didn't like being Christopher Robin. If she had been Christopher Robin, she told me, she would have been VERY PROUD, and I ought to be ashamed of myself for not feeling proud, too. It was a "Wol" letter, naturally: I doubt if she expected it to be otherwise. She will be older now. Older, wiser, more tolerant. And if she happens on this book she may perhaps understand just how and why it all came about.

"Pooh," said Christopher Robin earnestly, "if I—if I'm not quite—" he stopped and tried again— "Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won't you?"

I like to think that Pooh understood. I hope that now others will understand too. (The Enchanted Places, 169)

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