Lonely life of a dreamer who longed to remain in
Aboy’s will is the wind’s will,/ And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.” So goes the refrain of Henry Wandsworth Longfellow’s poem My Lost Youth. When Kenneth Grahame was still a sapling of a boy, his father recited these lines on walks along the banks of Loch Fyne. Grahame’s thoughts of youth remained for the rest of his life. The Wind In The Willows author was forever being drawn back to what Robert Louis Stevenson called “cloudland”, that colourful panorama of imaginative clarity and innerabsorption that entrances children’s minds. As Matthew Dennison points out in his fine new biography, Grahame “dismissed as inanities, delusions and ‘pale phantasms’ adult preoccupations like politics and society”.
Rather, he thought the magic and hallucinatory majesty of life could be found in the world of boyhood stories and nature.
It is strange that Grahame was so enchanted with visions of youth. His own childhood was no idyll. Although he was born to a wealthy Edinburgh family, his mother died when he was five. His father, an inveterate alcoholic, was unable to look after his children, and remained estranged from them for most of his life.
Kenneth and his siblings were sent from Inveraray to live in Berkshire with their maternal grandmother, a traditional Scottish Calvinist who wouldn’t seem out of place in a Willa Muir novel. When Kenneth left school, his uncle secured him a job as a clerk at the Bank of England.
The research here draws on a wealth of Grahame’s writings. Dennison also writes with atmospheric detail about the late Victorian and Edwardian bohemian sets that Grahame tentatively embraced when he wasn’t desk-bound. Like many classic children’s books, The Wind In The Willows – published in 1908 to