Kenneth Grahame was born in Edinburgh in 1859 and attended St Edward’s School, Oxford, where he excelled both academically and on the sports field. He longed to attend the University of Oxford but, to his lifelong regret, his desires were frustrated by his uncle, who refused to pay for him. Grahame pursued instead a successful career in the world of finance, rising to become Secretary of the Bank of England. Just as his professional career flourished, so his reputation as a writer grew strongly: his collection of stories, The Golden Age, was published in 1895 to great critical acclaim.
In 1899 Grahame married Elspeth Thomson and on 12 May 1900 their only child, Alastair (or ‘Mouse’) was born. Grahame resigned from the Bank in June 1908, having written little since Dream Days (1899), a collection of stories about childhood. His literary reputation was already strong, but it was the publication in October 1908 of The Wind in the Willows that made him world famous - much to the surprise of many literary critics, who disliked the book.
Grahame would never repeat such success again and henceforth only dabbled in literary affairs. He died on the 6 July 1932 and lies buried in Oxford’s Holywell Cemetery, where his headstone reads: ‘To the beautiful memory of Kenneth Grahame, husband of Elspeth and father of Alastair, who passed the River on 6 July 1932, leaving childhood and literature through him more blest for all time.’
Kenneth Grahame bequeathed all the royalties in his works to ‘the University of Oxford for the benefit of the Bodleian Library’, an act of generosity that has enabled the Library to purchase many important books and manuscripts over the years. Elspeth Grahame was a great supporter of the Friends of the Bodleian, and made important gifts to the Library through donation and bequest.
Pictured: Kenneth Grahame: charcoal drawing by John Singer Sargent, 1912 (Bequest of Elspeth Grahame, 1947)