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Significant Scots
Kenneth Grahame

THE charm that is Carroll and the charm that is Barrie—yes, but these charms are already taken for granted. But the charm that is Grahame is not, perhaps, so popularly known and acknowledged. For the satisfactory education of the very young child, at least three courses of child books should be introduced into the elementary classes in every school curriculum—nay, it should be made positively compulsory by Act of Parliament. Beginning with Edward Lear’s “Book of Nonsense,” there should follow a course of “Alice in Wonderland,” “Through the Looking-Glass,” and “Peter Pan,” and then a final course of the classics, Thackeray’s “The Rose and the Ring” and Stevenson’s "Child’s Garden of Verse.” It is inconceivable to think of a youngster passing through childhood entirely unfamiliar with these wonderful reflections of the child mind and the child’s way of looking at things, and not the least important channels for conveying these reflections are the works of Mr. Kenneth Grahame.

Mr. Kenneth Grahame was born in Edinburgh in 1859, the son of the late Mr. J. C. Grahame, advocate, and great-grandson of Archibald Grahame of Dalmarnock, Lanarkshire, and Drumquhassil, Stirlingshire, and Glasgow. After being educated at St. Edward’s School, Oxford, he was for some fifteen years acting secretary and secretary to the Bank of England, but abandoned London for a country life in 1908, and has lived mostly in Berkshire. It is interesting to note that he served seven years in the London Scottish.

Three years after his first published work, “The Headswoman,” a short satirical tale, there appeared a veritable harvest of a quiet mind in the essays called “Pagan Papers.” He leisurely scatters these fugitive essays on our lap with a freedom, an abandon, a health that might be the envy of the gipsy, the vagabond, or any open-air vagrant as well as of the assiduous bookman who knows his Nature from books. “The Rural Pan (An April Essay)” is superlatively beautiful in its conception and writing. A personal touch of humour increases interest in “Marginalia,” where the author records how, in a certain book, he once drew on one side of the page a number of negroes, “swart as sucked lead-pencil could limn them,” and how easy it was by a touch of the pen to change “battle” into “bottle” in a reference, in his Roman History, to the battle of Magnesia.

Suggestions of Elizabethan prose embroider the ideas embodied in “Deus Terminus” and “Of Smoking.” The Stevenson outlook is happily captured in “Loafing,” and the bloom of “The White Poppy” is as deeply tinged with pure prose poetry as is “The Fairy Wicket.” “An Autumn Encounter” with a scarecrow shows grotesque originality. A certain rude revelry in Pan and in things Pagan is contained in the jubilant essay of “Orion ” — it is the irresistible clarion call of the cloven-hoofed, the horned, the goat-like figure of Pan as symbolised in the star, Orion—the Hunter.

It was by his far-famed “The Golden Age,” however, that Mr. Kenneth Grahame’s powers rose to pre-eminence. It was hailed by Swinburne as “one of the few books which are well-nigh too praiseworthy for praise.” He remarked that “the fit reader finds himself a child again while reading it. Immortality should be the reward — but it must have been the birthright—of this happy genius. Praise would be as superfluous as analysis would be impertinent.” That criticism places Mr. Grahame very high indeed, but by no means too high. Any one who is capable of revelling in the music and beauty of the elements will readily understand how Swinburne would appreciate, for instance, “A Holiday,” with the magnificent rush and sweep in the opening description of “the masterful wind and awakening Nature.” It is in this first scene that Mr. Grahame introduces us to the little girl, Charlotte, one of the four children who form the character-group in both this book and the almost equally superb “Dream Days,” the other children being Edward, Harold, and Selina — not to speak of the unobtrusive part of brother played by the author himself in the first person singular. The idiosyncrasies of each child are clearly presented without any undue insistence on the part of the author. Who has not heard of the intolerable tyranny of the Olympians, the grown-ups? “Children heed no minor distinctions. To them the inhabited world is composed of the two main divisions—children and upgrown people; the latter in no way superior to the former—only hopelessly different.” The brother, in the first person singular, remarks to Edward, “I never can make out what people come here to tea for. They can have their own tea at home if they like—they’re not poor people—with jam and things, and drink out of their saucer, and suck their fingers, and enjoy themselves; but they come here from a long way off, and sit up straight with their feet off the bars of their chairs, and have one cup, and talk the same sort of stuff every time” ; to which Harold adds that society people come out into the garden, and pat his head—“I wish people wouldn’t do that” — and one of them asked him to pick her a flower. “The world, as known to me,” says the brother of the first person singular, addressing his readers, “was spread with food each several mid-day, and the particular table one sat at seemed a matter of no importance.” But Olympian tyranny o’erleapt itself when Harold “found himself shut up in the schoolroom after hours, merely for insisting that 7 times 7 amounted to 47. The injustice of it seemed so flagrant. Why not 47 as much as 49? One number was no prettier than the other to look at, and it was evidently only a matter of arbitrary taste and preference; and, anyhow, it had always been 47 to him, and would be to the end of time.”

In the pages of these two books we live over again our erstwhile manly attitude of revolt and our glad, precipitate escape to day dreams, for, “as a rule, indeed, grownup people are fairly correct on matters of fact; it is in the higher gift of imagination that they are so sadly to seek.” The cycle of the seasons forms an ever-present background to whatever incident takes place, whether it be when the evening church service is shorter than usual because “the vicar, as he ascended the pulpit steps,” dropped two pages out of his sermon-case; or whether it be when, in his made-up story to the new curate, on whose “spooning” with Aunt Maria he had been ordered, by Edward, to spy, Harold’s fictitious burglars are said to have “vanished silently into the laurels, with horrid implications!”

Then in “Dream Days” Mr. Kenneth Grahame takes us so near to the tender hearts and wondering minds, the adventurous spirits and whimsical humours of children that after we have read the last words of the book we feel we have to rub our fists against our eyelids or pinch ourselves at some part of our person to realize if we are really awake in a material world or if it be true that we are once more the children of fleeting days of glory. Who is not the richer spiritually for having read “Its Walls were as of Jasper,” “The Magic Ring,” and “The Reluctant Dragon” in “Dream Days”? Mr. Kenneth Grahame draws upon a furtive, insinuating winsomeness, and the tablets of his memory are deeply engraved with words and notes of sweet music that chime again and again the rose-winged hours of eternal childhood, be it in “Pagan Papers” or in “The Golden Age,” in “Dream Days” or in his latest book, “The Wind in the Willows.”

For the most part, Mr. Kenneth Grahame’s backgrounds are, first, a pastoral landscape that is replete with here a saturnalia of whirling leaves and there an orgy and riot of spring-blossom on the laughing hedgerows, and, secondly, a quiet pleasaunce with visions that lurk among the garden shadows, and dance upon the lush grass and round the mignonette or the meadowsweet — a homely, old-world seclusion at peace with ks sometimes noisy inhabitants. The muse that presides is a jealously-guarded Mistress of Ceremonies, and childish homage will brook no intrusion into her hallowed precincts by hopeless outsiders; but often after a day of sunshine the evening light announces a change, and banks of dark cloud loom in the distance and stealthily steal up from the horizon. Of course, there may always be the chance, in Mr. Kenneth Grahame’s books, that the Olympian “gulfs will wash us down,” but it is far more frequent that in children’s company “we touch the Happy Isles.” Even on a day of pitiless rain there are pranks enough and to spare to while away the time in forgetful mood, absorbed in make-believe argosies and pirate escapades, in visions of dream palaces, or in the quaint spectacle of Harold as a muffin-man “ringing an imaginary bell and offering airy muffins of his own make to a bustling, thronging crowd of his own creation.”

Mr Grahame’s humour is light and subtle, yet shining clear as a crystal. His prose combines in an exceptional way an unrivalled spontaneity of vision with a mature command of the most gracefully resilient style imaginable. Not only so; there is woven into the prose-texture innumerable tenderly poetic imageries and figures of speech that entrance and enthral to the utmost degree. Had one been unaware that he was one of the elect few who contributed to that famous illustrated quarterly of the eighteen-nineties, The Yellow Book, one might have guessed as much, for at that period he must somehow have caught the bright, happy lustre from that Yellow Book, the golden hue of sunshine that permeates all his work. In fine, the “bright-enamelled” pageantry of Nature when related so harmoniously and so intimately, so nearly and so humanly to child-life must ever ring a responsive echo in us—that is to say, if beneath our breasts a child’s heart beats out its exultations and its despairs, if in our minds a child’s imagination plays out its long games of delight and hides those sensitive, hidden sufferings that only children and the child-like among us experience in their journey, be it ever so rough, through the world towards the ultimate Hills of Joy. It is on the crest of these Hills that Mr. Kenneth Grahame has erected his triumphal arch, and upon its rich stonework are inscribed the indelible letters to be seen by all who come there to understand—The Triumph of the Innocents.

Wind in the Willows
Pagan Papers

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