Friday, 18 January 2013

A A Milne: More than just a bear

A bear however hard he tries, 
Grows tubby without exercise,
Our Teddy Bear is short and fat
Which is not to be wondered at; 
He gets what exercise he can
By falling off the ottoman, 
But generally seems to lack
The energy to clamber back. 

These lines from 'Teddy Bear' by A.A. Milne (born on this day in 1882) were published in 1924 as part of the When We Were Very Young collection of verse. Milne was a successful playwright and journalist but it was the teddy bear mentioned for the first time in the verse above, who would define his career.

Winnie the Pooh, along with his friends Christopher Robin, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, Kanga, Roo, Rabbit and Owl were Milne's most beloved characters. If spin-off merchandise is a measure of success than Pooh was a triumph from the outset with everything from 1920s wallpaper (below) and to this day, a range of products available through the Disney store.

Sample of a nursery wallpaper frieze based on A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh characters, manufactured  by Sandersons & Sons Ltd., 1928, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (SW1C)

I can't but feel a little sorry for Milne. A great author and writer, perhaps he would have wanted to be known 
for more than the bear. In an effort to find out more about the man, I started researching Milne's involvement with Punch. He was prolific author for the British satirical magazine and in 1906 became assistant editor. MoDA holds various nineteenth century copies of Punch, and 1930s and 1940s almanack editions however none from the time of Milne's tenure.

Punch 1938 Almanack, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (MJ120) 

It was through Punch that Milne first connected with E.H. Shepard, the artist behind the Winnie the Pooh characters. Shepard had worked with another Punch writer, E.V. Lucas. One example of their collaboration is a book of children's verse, Playtime & Company which MoDA has in the collection. So the story goes, it was Lucas who recommended Shepard to Milne when he began looking for a suitable artist to illustrate When We Were Very Young.

Playtime & Company, E.V. Lucas with illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard, Methuen & Co Ltd, 1926
Milne wrote for Punch over three decades and many of his most famous poems, including the When We Were Very Young collection were first published in the magazine.  Milne's Punch connections were pivotal in shaping his life - not just his career! The editor Owen Seaman was responsible for introducing Milne to his future wife, Dorothy de Salincourt - Seaman's god daughter. It seems fitting therefore to end by presenting Milne through the eyes of another Punch illustrator, Harry Furniss.

A.A. Milne, Harry Furniss; pen and ink, circa 1915-circa 1925. (NPG 3494, © National Portrait Gallery, London)

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