Ninety years ago today, John Vine Milne died. He was the father of Alan Alexander Milne, the writer of “Winnie the Pooh”.
John Vine Milne was the son of a Presbyterian minister (William Milne, 1815-1874), married to a missionary, who was with him in Jamaica (Harriet Newell Barrett). They had quite a few children, but much less money, so that John Vine Milne (the eldest) had to go to work at an early age to earn an income to feed all his little brothers and sisters.
He had all kinds of jobs, but in the evening he studied to get his B.A. He succeeded about the same time as his father died and started a private school in London (something his father had done also, when he had retired from the ministry).
In London he married a girl called Sarah Maria Heginbotham, who kept a School for Young Ladies. Henley House School was soon prospering. Milne’s father wanted to prove his “progressive” inclinations by accepting in his school a teacher of working-class origins. This was SF-authorH.G.Wells who undoubtedly was an inspiration to the young A.A. to have a go at a professional writing career.
The Milne family had three children, three boys. Barry, the eldest (1879-1942), had a reputation of being a “bad boy”, so that Alan mentions him scarcely in his autobiography (it goes back to an unrepaid loan, but A.A.’s main objection was that Barry, being a sollicitor, was able to force their father’s hand in changing his will at his deathbed). The second one, Kenneth John (1880-1929), however, was inseparable from Alan (the autobiography is dedicated to him).
In this educational atmosphere, it is obvious that Alan was brought early into contact with literature. Being three years old, he already read “Reynard the Fox” and “The Pilgrim’s Progress”. When he was eight he “published” his first essay, the description of a walk, in “The Henley House School Magazine”. And together with his brothers he dramatized threepenny novels, as the sisters Brontë had done before them (Barry joined this, because he was allowed to play the part of the lover).
Meanwhile the family had moved to Westgate-on-Sea (the description is strikingly the same as that of Little Malling, the place where Reginald Wellard, the main character of Milne’s novel “Two people”, lives; his farm is even called Westaways) and it was there in the Christmas holidays of 1899 that Milne discovered “the itch for writing”. During that time two boys and two girls of Anglo-Indian descent stayed with the Milne family. One of the girls tried to write a verse-letter to Ken, but did not succeed. Alan helped her out, but Ken saw it through. So they decided to write light verse together (as A.K.M.). Gradually Ken stopped his contributions, so that the initials A.K.M. Changed to A.A.M., which became a trade-mark for later readers. Ken would remain Alan’s closest friend up until his death in 1929.
On the other hand Alan’s relationship with Barry would worsen. Alan watched as Barry’s wife 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.
Ronny De Schepper