There is quite a bit of information on this page, so I have tried to break it down into sections of A.A. Milne's life. Sometimes, sections overlap the topics I have designated or are not exactly in chronological order, but for the most part... The following links will take you directly to that specific section on this page.
A short note on names. Alan refers to A. A. Milne. Billy Moon refers to Christopher Milne.
Alan Alexander Milne was born January 18, 1882, the youngest of three sons to Sarah Maria and John Vine Milne. His father ran a school for young boys, Henley House, in which Alan, and his older brothers, David Barrett Milne (Barry) and Kenneth John Milne (Ken) grew up in.
John Vine Milne was the eldest son of a Congregational minister (William Milne, who married Harriet Newell Barrett while a missionary in Jamaica in 1845) and had served in many odd jobs before settling on teaching. He had been a clerk in the counting-house of a biscuit factory, apprenticed in an engineering firm, and was an usher in various schools before he finally earned his B.A. and became a school teacher. J.V. married Sarah Maria Heginbotham (called Maria in the family) on August 27, 1878.
My only regret was that we had no daughters. But my wife used to always say, "Sons are good enough for me." (Thwaite, A. A. Milne, 6)
J.V. had said that the boys were extremely close with their mother, going to her with their troubles before seeing him and constantly spending time with her. Alan had a different opinion.
I don't think I ever really knew her. When I was a child I neither experienced, nor felt the need of, that mother-love of which one reads so much...She may...have felt that Papa was so good at playing with a child, and amusing a child, and making a child love him, that she oughtn't to interfere there...She was restfully aloof. (Autobiography, 37)
Alan was always close to his father, and more so to his brother Ken.
Father and mother had always determined that there should be no favourites in their family. The three of us were to be treated alike: to be give equal affection and equal opportunites. In practice the affections are not so easily controlled. There was never any doubt that Barry was Mother's darling and that I was Father's, leaving poor old Ken to take second place in both their hearts, and first in mine and Barry's. (Autobiography, 150)
Ken would remain Alan's closest friend up until his death in 1929.
The one family member that Alan had no love for was Barry. Even from an early age, Alan felt no kindness for Barry. He would dedicate The Holiday Round to Barry and his wife, Connie, but that was about the only mention of affection between the two, and it was probably more directed to Connie than to Barry. (Alan would remain close to Connie throughout his life, even though he wanted nothing to do with Barry.) Alan had this to say on the subject:
Whoever heard...of two frogs assuming a friendliness which they did not feel, simply because they had been eggs in the same spawn. Ridiculous... (Thwaite, A. A. Milne, 204)
Later, Alan's relationship with Barry would worsen. Alan watched as Connie had to suffer the infidelities of Barry. And as their father was dying, Barry convinced J.V. to change his will so that Barry ended up with the largest share of the money, drastically cutting the amount of money that J.V. had intentioned for his grandchildren and the welfare of Ken's widowed wife, Maud. Alan refused to speak to Barry for the rest of his life, refusing a plea for reconciliation as Barry was dying.
Back to the top.
School and Early Writing
Alan first started taking classes at Henley House, his father's school. Among his teachers there was one H.G. Wells, who would one day go on to be a famous author and a dear friend to Alan. From Henley House, he went to Westminster School (he detested the food there, and constantly stated that he was always hungry), then decided to attend Cambridge on a mathematics scholarship. His choice of Cambridge over Oxford was not based on any academic standards, but more so due to The Granta, a humorist publication produced at Cambridge.
My friend...and I stood looking at this copy of The Granta, and suddenly he said, "You ought to go to Cambridge and edit that." So I said quite firmly, "I will." (Autobiography, 149)
Through correspondence, Alan and Ken collaborated on light verse which was published in The Granta under the initials A. K. M., a mixture of Alan and Ken's. After about two years, Ken withdrew from the partnership, and Alan went on to writing material solo, and fulfilling his goal of being the editor of The Granta. During the years that Alan was publishing The Granta, the publication made quite a turn-around in readership, gaining a large following. Alan's greatest pleasure at the time came from light verse and the challenge of rhyme.
J.V. had set aside roughly £1000 for his sons to use after they had finished with their schooling, and Alan used this money to move to London and begin a career as an author. He calculated that he had enough to last him two years; the money ran out in sixteen months. However, Alan was earning a small amount of money writing articles freelance, which he would send to newspapers, as well as publications such as Punch. He made the most money from articles published in the St James Gazette. H.G. Wells had suggested to Alan that a series of articles he had written for the St James Gazette could be the basis for a book. In March 1905, Lovers in London was published. In 1915, Milne answered an inquiry about it:
It is out of print fortunately; I haven't even a copy myself. But I read my brother's copy the other day with mixed feelings; gladness that it was out of print, shame that I once thought it so good, pride that I had advanced so much since then. I hope you will never come across it. (Thwaite, A. A. Milne, 115)
Alan would later buy back the copyright on the book for £5 to prevent a reprint of the book when he was a more well-known author.
Later in 1905, Punch began to regularly print Milne's pieces, and his financial situation began to get a bit more secure. However, early in 1906, Alan began to plan another novel, and wrote Owen Seaman (just taking over as editor of Punch) that he would not be sending in articles for the next few months as he would be in the country concentrating on his novel. Seaman wrote back and asked Alan to wait just a bit. It was fortunate that Alan did. He met with Seaman and was asked to become assistant editor, a full time position, with the expectation of a weekly contribution to the magazine. He began on February 13, 1906.
Back to the top.
Punch and the War
Though Milne was hired in 1906 as assistant editor of Punch, he was not made a member of the famous Punch table until 1910. Regardless, he was now required to write regularly. This proved to be a problem.
Ideas may drift into other minds, but they do not drift my way. I have to go and fetch them. I know no work manual or mental to equal the appalling heart-breaking anguish of fetching an idea from nowhere. (Autobiography, 225)
Nevertheless, Milne always managed to complete his required article, which usually turned out to be very popular with the readers. He had some inspiration with several articles thanks to a niece that Ken had provided him. Ken had married Maud Innes in 1906. Alan spent a great deal of time with Ken's family, and Ken's first daughter, Marjorie, was the subject of many articles (although Alan insisted on spelling her name Margery). These articles would provide Alan with an insight into the mind of a child, which would help him with his future children's books years later. Other favorite topics included sports (Alan was an avid cricket player and also played a little football in school. His friend, Charles Turley Smith, got him hooked on golf.), and the Rabbits, a fictional family he created that made forty-six appearances in Punch. The Rabbits were totally middle-class, and could make enjoyment out of most any situation.
Alan augmented his constant work for Punch by publishing collections of his articles. What he would later consider to be his first book (wanting to forget about Lovers in London), The Day's Play, was published in 1910. E.V. Lucas, a friend of Alan's and also a member of the Punch table, suggested that, since Alan had parodied the title, Alan should send a copy to Kipling, the author of The Day's Work. Alan couldn't bring himself to send it to Kipling, and instead sent it to J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan. This was to be the start of a lifelong friendship between the two.
Owen Seaman had introduced Alan to his god-daughter, Dorothy de Selincourt (Daphne to her friends) at her coming-out dance, and the two spent a great deal of time with each other.
When I wanted a present for a sister-in-law or a new suit for myself, I would summon her to help me; when she wanted a man to take her to a dance she would ring me up. She laughed at my jokes, she had my contributions to Punch by heart before she met me, she had (it is now clear) the most perfect sense of humour in the world... (Autobiography, 242)
They married in 1913. Though Daphne was perfect for Alan, she did not get along well with Ken and Maud, and Alan would visit their family by himself.
War broke out in Europe, and Milne, though a pacifist, felt that he had to do something. He believed that this war was a "war against war", to use Owen Seaman's term. He wrote to his friend from Westminster, Edward Marsh (at one time, Churchill's Private Secretary) at the Admiralty to see if he could find any work for him. Apparently, Marsh could not. Milne was determined, though, and volunteered himself on February 10, 1915.
I should like to put asterisks here, and then write: "It was in 1919 that I found myself once again a civilian." For it makes me almost physically sick to think of that nightmare of mental and moral degradation, the war. (Autobiography, 249)
Not much happened until August 1915, when Alan was sent to the Southern Command Signalling School at Wyke Regis near Weymouth for a nine-week course, after which he became a signalling officer. He spent the winter on the Isle of Wight, during which time, he wrote Wurzel-Flummery, his first play. In the spring of 1916, he was sent to France.
The life of a signalling officer was a relatively safe one, and indeed, turned out to be more so for Alan. The company he was first assigned to, before he took his training as a signalling officer was mowed down on the front lines by the Germans. Even so, he managed to find himself in a few dangerous situations, and saw more than enough death and destruction.
Alan left the front lines on November 8, 1916, thanks to a fever he had contracted, and returned to England. After he recovered, he was was put in charge of a company at a new formed signalling school at Fort Southwick. He stayed there until he was released from the army on February 14, 1919.
Back to the top.
After being released from the army, Alan went to talk with Owen Seaman. Seaman told Alan that they were quite pleased with Milne's replacement as assistant editor while he had been away and told Alan that perhaps he should spend more time concentrating on his plays. Apparently, some members of the Punch table were not too pleased that Alan had spent his free time from the army working on plays instead of articles for Punch. At first a bit sad over the exchange, Alan soon came to realize that this was exactly what his career needed. He preferred to work on his own schedule instead of having to turn in an article every week. Also, Alan liked the intricacy of writing plays; it wasn't always dependent on the writer, but also depended on the actors.
There are too many plays written by Milne to mention them all, but he had several successes, both in London and in New York. His first big hit was Mr Pim Passes By. It opened in London on January 5, 1920, and ran for 246 performances in London. It also had a successful run in New York, opening on February 28, 1921. Within the next year, Milne had another four plays running in London. Other notable plays include Belinda, The Lucky One, The Romantic Age, The Dover Road, and The Truth About Bladys. (On a side note, it should be mentioned that Milne's greatest flop was a play entitled Success.) W. A. Darlington, a theatre critic, considered that Milne had invented a "new fresh form of humour" and a new kind of dialogue that was inconsequent, graceful, fluid, and funny. (Thwaite, A. A. Milne, 114) It worked. At one time, A. A. Milne was England's most successful, prolific, and best-known playwright.
Becoming more popular also meant that Alan and Daphne had more public lives. Increasingly, Alan was being interviewed by reporters. Apparently, he never quite got it down, because most people recalled that while he would be witty at times, it was difficult to feel close with him. It always mattered to Milne that journalists should have read his books before coming to talk with him in order to get a sense of the type of person he was ahead of time. Any reporter that hadn't read his works instantly started off badly. Several reporters (and even friends of his) commented that he didn't take criticism well, even when said in jest. This is somewhat humorous, as Milne was, for a six-week period, himself a dramatic critic. He quit it after coming to the realization that it was nearly impossible to give a bad review to a manager's play, then expect that manager to accept his own plays to produce.
It was also during this period that Milne wrote his first two novels: an adaptation of Mr Pim Passes By, and a mystery book, The Red House Mystery, which has been his most successful book other than his four children's books.
Back to the top.
Billy Moon and His Toys
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 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 ever since. (Autobiography, 278)
Milne would always call his son Billy in his correspondence to friends and family. The Moon part came about as Christopher's own pronounciation of his last name as a young child. It stuck with him.
Alan had written "Vespers" after watching Billy say his evening prayers one night, and gave it to Daphne as a present. He told her that she could keep any money she could get for publishing it. It turned out to be the most expensive gift he ever gave her. Daphne sent it to Vanity Fair in New York. It was printed in January 1923, for which Daphne earned $50. The big pay-off came when it was included in When We Were Very Young, and Daphne earned a fraction of the royalties from the book.
"Vespers" became instantly popular, and Milne was asked to provide another children's verse for a new children's magazine entitled The Merry-Go-Round. That poem was "The Dormouse and the Doctor", and also became quickly famous. Alan toyed with the idea of writing a whole book of children's verse, and the result was When We Were Very Young, published in 1924. To illustrate the book, Milne enlisted the aid of Punch illustrator, Ernest Shepard. The combination of Milne's poetry and Shepard's drawings proved to be a winner, as the book sold over 50.000 copies within eight weeks of its first publication. (It had only been available for six weeks in the U.S.)
The next book would be of short stories concerning Billy's nursery toys. It was entitled Winnie-the-Pooh, and once again, huge amounts of books were sold quickly. Alan had recognized the importance Shepard's illustrations had played in WWWVY, and decided that instead of a flat rate, Shepard deserved a share of the royalties. An extremely unusual concept at the time, Alan set the split at 80/20. So much did Alan respect Shepard, that one copy of Winnie-the-Pooh bore the inscription:
When I am gone
Alan often gave to charities, among them the Royal Literary Fund, the Society of Authors Fund, and the Children's Country Holiday Fund. He also made sure to set aside enough money for the future of his family and of Ken's.
Ken had been diagnosed with tuberculosis, and in the spring of 1924 became so ill that he resigned from his job at the Ministry of Pensions and moved to the country. Alan wrote him and told him told him that he would help pay for the expenses. He also offered to pay £100 per child per year for the education of Ken's four children. With the success of WWWVY and the subsequent three books, Alan helped out even more with Ken's medical expenses and his nieces and nephews educations. Alan also convinced Ken to do some writing for Punch and helped him to get a job at Methuen (his British publisher) reviewing books.
With the publication of The House at Pooh Corner, Milne announced that it was the last Christopher Robin book he would write. Most critics praised the last installment. However, Dorothy Parker, known at Constant Reader in her reviews, scorned the book. In his autobiography, Milne responded to her:
When, for instance, Dorothy Parker, as "Constant Reader" in The New Yorker, delights the sophisticated by announcing that at page 5 of The House at Pooh Corner "Tonstant Weader fwowed up" (sic, if I may), she leaves the book, oddly enough, much where it was. However greatly indebted to Mrs Parker, no Alderney, at the approach of a milkmaid, thinks "I hope this lot will turn out to be gin", no writer of children's books says gaily to his publisher, "Don't bother about the children, Mrs Parker will love it." (Autobiography, 283)
The public apparently ignored Mrs Parker's complaints, because the book sold even faster than Winnie-the-Pooh had when it first came out.
Back to the top.
After the Bear
For awhile, the Milne's were the center of a large publicity storm. Photographers wanted images of Christopher Robin, newspapers wanted interviews with the famous A. A. Milne. Alan was able to take a break for a bit and play lots of golf. It wasn't long, though, before he got back to doing what he was best at: writing.
In 1929, "Toad of Toad Hall" was produced. Alan had actually written this play (based on Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows) back in 1921, but it hadn't yet been produced. Alan had always been a fan of The Wind in the Willows, and labored to adapt it to the stage. Kenneth Grahame invited Alan to share his booth at the opening, and was pleased at the result. The play was a success, and quickly became a Christmas tradition to see the play with family. Today, it remains the only Milne play still regularly produced.
Milne continued to write plays, and was somewhat upset at the reaction he was getting from fans who wished to see more verse and children's stories come from him. After the children's books, Alan's plays never were quite as successful in London, though he had a few successes in New York. One such play was "The Ivory Door". Although it had only twenty performances in London, it enjoyed a long run in America. Alan's last big success on the stage was "Michael and Mary", produced in 1931 and dedicated to his brother Ken, who had passed away in 1929.
Ken's death was hard on Alan. He had lost his closest friend in life. More and more so, he would spend time with Ken's widow, Maud, and her family. Throughout the '30s, Maud, and Barry's wife Connie, would be the most important women in his life, as Daphne and Alan began to drift apart. Alan and Daphne had made a visit to America in 1931, and Daphne fell in love with New York. She would take long vacations each year apart from Alan. That suited him just fine, because he could spend time alone with Billy, who was beginning to be a replacement for Ken. Alan and Billy would join Maud and her family for the four summers from 1934 to 1937 to vacation on the Dorset coast.
And then, quite naturally, quite unself-consciously, we slipped back through the years to our schooldays. I would put our age at around twelve. Five twelve-year-olds playing happily together. I don't for a moment think that this was done deliberately in order to level out our assorted ages. Nor do I think that it was my father who led us back. I think it just happened because we were all Milnes and this is a thing that Milnes can do... For us, to whom our childhood has meant so much, the journey back is short, the coming and going easy. (The Enchanted Places, 161)
Alan paid for everything. Occasionally, other people would join them. One such person was Anne Darlington, still a close friend to both Alan and Christopher, who joined in two summers.
Alan completed a novel, Four Days Wonder, in 1933. It did reasonably well for an adult novel. It would be thirteen years later before he would publish his next and last novel, Chloe Marr, which was published in 1946, but started five years earlier.
Milne finished a play called Sarah Simple in 1937. He decided to make this play completely on the basis of entertainment, instead of trying to hide some meaning within it. The London Times wrote, "When there is nothing whatever to say, no one knows better than Mr Milne how to say it." Drama said that the play was an agreeable example of Milne's "act of making something out of nothing." (Thwaite, 415) Alan's last full-length play, "Gentleman Unknown", was produced in November 1938 for a short run.
Alan had also been busy with another book in 1938, having begun his autobiography. It was published in 1939 as It's Too Late Now in England. Dutton, disliking the title, simply called the book Autobiography in the United States.
Back to the top.
War loomed on the horizon once again in 1934, with Hitler beginning his reign in Germany and Mussolini gaining power in Italy. A pacifist since his days from World War I, Alan wrote a book entitled Peace With Honour which was published in September 1934. Many people hailed it as a great book, but it also had many critics, among them T.S. Eliot. Eliot asserted that some things were worth fighting for, but at the time, Alan could not think of anything worth repeating the Somme for. He would later change his mind and would write a pamphlet called War With Honour, in which he explained his changed views.
If anyone reads Peace With Honour now, he must read it with that one word HITLER scrawled across every page. One man's fanaticism has cancelled rational argument. (Thwaite, 432)
The war brought about some changes in the Milne family. The Milnes left London permanently in 1940, moving in to Cotchford. Now forced to spend time together due to the war, Alan and Daphne became much closer than they had been in the '30s. Moving to Cotchford was actually somewhat of a dangerous choice. If an army landed to invade London, Cotchford would be directly in their path. German planes flew overhead on their way to bombing runs in London, and occasionally would drop bombs near the house.
Christopher wished to help in the wartime effort, and tried to join the Royal Engineers, a.k.a. the Sappers. Originally failing to pass the physical, he eventually got in (with some help from his father pulling a few strings) and joined the second training battalion of the Royal Engineers in February 1941. He was commissioned in July 1942. He then sailed to the Middle East. Christopher was away for about three years, and during that time, began to lose his dependence on his father.
Back to the top.
The Final Years
During the war, demand for Milne's children's books was so high that Methuen was having trouble getting enough paper to keep them in print. After the war, sales continued to increase. Alan was resenting having written the books at all. He was continuing to write. Chloe Marr came out in 1946, his first novel in fifteen years, and the last he would write. It received good reviews, and several critics praised Milne for once again creating his special humor. A number of Milne's plays were continuing to be produced by repertory companies. In 1948, thirteen different Milne plays were produced.
Christopher continued to distance himself from his parents. He had begun to resent his father and hated the books that made his name famous. In February 1948, he met his cousin Lesley de Selincourt and married her in July. Alan and Daphne were somewhat dismayed at the marriage, having hoped that Christopher and Anne Darlington might one day be married. Also, Daphne disliked her brother, and was upset that Christopher should be marrying her niece. In 1951, Christopher and Lesley left the area to move to Dartmouth, 200 miles away, to start a bookshop.
Alan published his last book Year In, Year Out in 1952. Also that year, he seemed to to get over his resentment of his Pooh books, writing in a response to a fan:
There was an intermediate period when any reference to [Pooh] was infuriating; but now such a "nice comfortable feeling" envelops him that I can almost regard him impersonally as the creation of one of my favourite authors. (Thwaite, 479)
In October 1952, Milne had a stroke which left him an invalid for his remaining years. Though not expected to live more than six weeks, Alan would remain alive for a little over three years. During this time, Christopher seldom returned home to visit his father. A. A. Milne died on January 31, 1956. A memorial service was held for him on February 10 at All Hallows-by-the-Tower in London. This service would be the last time Christopher would ever see his mother, even though Daphne lived for another fifteen years.
In 1961, Daphne sold the film rights of the books to Walt Disney, who created animated features of the stories. Christopher Milne eventually came to terms with his father, and eventually turned to writing himself, authoring The Enchanted Places and The Path Through the Trees. Today, Milne's children's books continue to be best sellers, and his play, Toad of Toad Hall, continues to be a Christmas favorite.