While so many books have inspired and influenced me over the years, the children's classic The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame, is by far the one that most touched me as a child and later, as a writer. For that reason Grahame is the focus of Champions of Creativity today.
(I know that Mole, Ratty, Mr. Toad, and Badger would be pleased that their creator is being remembered so close to his birthday!)
Kenneth Grahame was born on March 8, 1859 in Edinburgh Scotland. He, his parents, and siblings lived in Inveraray near the shore of Loch Fyne in the Scottish Highlands. When Kenneth was five his mother died due to complications in childbirth. It was at that time that the boy's alcoholic father sent the children to live with their maternal grandmother in Cookham Berkshire in England.
The setting was idyllic with the nearby River Thames and Quarry Woods, and was to become the inspiration for Mr. Grahame's most famous children's book: The Wind in the Willows. Kenneth spent much of his childhood exploring the grounds and fishing with his uncle, David Ingles, thus learning about boating, as well as the animal life in the river. He attended St. Edward's School in Oxford, where he had the freedom to not only explore the quaint city, but also its countryside.
Kenneth longed to attend Oxford University, but due to lack of funds was unable to do so. He went to work at the Bank of England in 1879. He met Elspeth Thomson and was married in 1899; they had a son, Alistair, the following year. While still working at the bank, he wrote several light stories, one of which was The Reluctant Dragon. It was while Alistair was a young boy that Mr. Grahame told his son the story that was to later become a children's classic. Mr. Grahame retired from the bank as its Secretary and returned to the countryside of Cookham, Berkshire where he finally wrote down The Wind in the Willows. His son, Alistair, later attended Oxford University, and while he was an undergraduate committed suicide just before his twentieth birthday.
Kenneth Grahame died on July 6, 1932 in his beloved Berkshire.
His epitaph reads: "To the beautiful memory of Kenneth Grahame, husband of Elspeth and father of Alastair, who passed the river on the 6th of July, 1932, leaving childhood and literature through him the more blest for all time."
The life of Kenneth Grahame is extremely inspiring to me. The fact that he was able to become a successful writer without ever attending a university, and while working at the Bank of England, seems to reflect his perseverance to pursue his passion. Millions of readers around the world - of all ages - are fortunate that Grahame put pen & ink to paper.