8 October 1908: The Wind in the Willows is first published

After being rejected at first, the popular children's classic The Wind in the Willows was first published on this day in 1908.

If you ever need proof that central bankers aren't all completely useless, look to Kenneth Grahame. The author of The Wind in the Willows – one of the most beloved of children's stories – spent almost 30 years toiling away at the Bank of England.

After joining the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street in 1879, Grahame rose up through the ranks to retire in 1908 in the senior position of company secretary. And he could count himself fortunate to do so. Back in 1903, a gunman had entered the Bank looking for the governor. As luck would have it, the governor was out, and the would-be assassin made do with Grahame. Miraculously, Grahame escaped unhurt and would live to see his riverbank tale of Ratty, Mole, Badger and Toad published.

Losing no time after leaving the Bank of England (which it has been said he did under a bit of a cloud), Grahame turned his thoughts to happier times spent messing about by the banks of the River Thames in Berkshire as a child.

It's likely these fond childhood memories stood out all the more, considering Grahame had been sent away to live with his grandmother. His father in Scotland was a lapsed alcoholic, while his mother had succumbed to scarlet fever. But down by the riverbank, the young Kenneth Grahame found happiness. Later, as an adult, Grahame drew on these same memories to invent bedtime stories for his sickly young son, Alastair.

These stories evolved into The Wind in the Willows. Considering how popular the story is today, it's hard to imagine that nobody at first wanted to publish the book. But Methuen and Co took a chance, and on 8 October 1908, The Wind in the Willows was first published, in the year of Grahame's retirement from the Bank.

It was widely panned from the outset. One critic wrote that it would “win no credence from the best authorities on biology”, completely missing the point of Grahame's anthropomorphic characters. But Grahame did receive one piece of fan mail from an admirer who carried an awful lot of weight – Theodore Roosevelt. The US president said he had read and re-read the book until the riverside residents were like “old friends”. He even popped over to Britain for a visit. The book soon became a huge success – so much so, in fact, that it's never been out of print.

And if you do have an old, first edition knocking about, it could be worth something. In 2010, a first edition dedicated to Foy Felicia Quiller Couch, the daughter of one of Grahame's friends, thought to be the inspiration for Ratty, sold for £32,400 at Bonhams. Time to check the attic.

Recommended

22 January 1924: Ramsay MacDonald becomes prime minister
This day in history

22 January 1924: Ramsay MacDonald becomes prime minister

Ramsay MacDonald was one of the founder members of the Labour party, which he took to power on this day in 1924.
22 Jan 2021
22 January 1979: Public sector strike cripples Britain
This day in history

22 January 1979: Public sector strike cripples Britain

On this day in 1979, thousands of public sector workers downed tools over the Labour government's unpopular policy to tackle inflation.
22 Jan 2021
21 January 1976: Concorde’s first commercial flight
This day in history

21 January 1976: Concorde’s first commercial flight

Almost seven years after its maiden flight, and at a total cost of £1.3bn, Concorde finally entered commercial service on this day in 1976.
21 Jan 2021
20 January 1841: Britain takes possession of Hong Kong
This day in history

20 January 1841: Britain takes possession of Hong Kong

On this day in 1841, Hong Kong island was ceded to Britain following the Chuenpi Convention, along with a resumption of the opium trade.
20 Jan 2021

Most Popular

Why we won’t see a house-price crash in 2021
House prices

Why we won’t see a house-price crash in 2021

Lockdown sent house prices berserk as cooped up home-workers fled for bigger properties in the country. And while they won’t rise quite as much this y…
18 Jan 2021
Prepare for the end of the epic bubble in US stocks
US stockmarkets

Prepare for the end of the epic bubble in US stocks

US stocks are as expensive as they’ve ever been. How can you prepare your portfolio for a bubble bursting?
18 Jan 2021
The best investment trusts to buy for 2021
Investment trusts

The best investment trusts to buy for 2021

Sectors ranging from emerging markets to student accommodation look poised to do well this year, says David Stevenson, as he picks the best investment…
19 Jan 2021