Lonely life of a dreamer who longed to re­main in

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Front Page -

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

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