Children's author and pioneer psychologist Alan Alexander "A. A." Milne (18 January 1882 – 31 January 1956) was only seven when he was sent to board at Westminster School, rarely seeing his mother again; it is thought to be this shock which initiated his spectacular career. At Westminster Milne threw himself into his school work but found it hard to get along with his fellow pupils despite being admonished by staff on more than one occasion for parading naked around the dormitory shouting "Anybody want some of this?" Taking rejection hard, he became increasingly introspective until pioneering psychiatric help was summoned. Milne was diagnosed with sociopathic tendencies and "a leaning towards sexual delinquency", both of which resulted in him being awarded a mathematics scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge. He graduated with a first class degree but also a drinking habit said to be equal to three quarts of pink champagne nightly.
After graduation Milne entered the hard-drinking world of journalism, eventually becoming deputy editor of "Punch", a British humorous magazine best known for its wry observations on the laziness of "darkies", the dirtiness of the working classes and the "odour of garlic which pervades all lands south of Calais". Punch thrived under Milne’s stewardship but his drinking escalated until his career was interrupted in 1914 when, filled with patriotic fervour, hatred for the Germans and gin, Milne rushed to join the armed forces at the start of World War One. As he noted in his diary:
"The thought of the Hun polluting our green and pleasant land with their vile beastliness is too much to bear. But the thought of death hangs over me and I must admit my apprehensions mount daily. Let the buggers have Belgium, I say."
Consequently, Milne first volunteered for the British Space Expeditionary Force but, finding this full, was almost inevitably posted to the western front. Here he faced down German aggression with the pluck and comic accents of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment for nearly a month. Milne enjoyed the close company of his fellow men in the trenches but, after a debilitating illness later diagnosed as "fear", was transferred to the Royal Corps of Signals. Here he saw out the war, signalling his anger to the enemy from a safe distance with a combination of one and two fingered gestures. The balance of his mind was by now noticeably askew, and colleagues feared his nightly intake of a case of Absinthe was not helping. In love with the Green Fairy, Milne believed Harvey the Rabbit sat on the end of his bed playing patience. Luckily, the 1919 Armistice broke this drunken dreamworld and Milne returned to civilian life.
By 1924, it was clear that all was not well with Milne; the traumas of childhood abandonment and wartime horror overwhelmed him and his drinking reached problem proportions. When the July edition of Punch could not go to press due to Milne's consumption of the entire printshop's supply of ink, his editor sent him to see Dr Edward Hooke, the leading Harley Street psychologist. Hooke psychoanalysed Milne over four days and concluded that the source of the problem was Milne's marriage to French socialite Daphne de Sélincourt.
"When you're in love with a beautiful woman," Dr Hooke diagnosed. "It's hard."
Having identified the source of the problem, Hooke placed Milne on the road to recovery by instigating a simple two step programme with which he had been successfully treating alcoholics for several years.
Step One: Sit down and pour yourself a stiff Scotch.
Step Two: Pull yourself together, man!
Though Hooke’s treatment cured him of his gin habit, Milne felt that overcoming his addiction through the prescription of whisky was not a viable long-term solution. In the tradition of respectable Edwardian gentlemen, he decided to rid himself of the demon drink by self-prescribing opium. At the same time he began to think of what he might do for other gentlemen with similar issues and retired from journalism to live at Cotchford Farm, East Sussex, next to the soon to be famous "Hundred Acre Wood".
Founding the A.A.
With a small group of dipsomaniacal aristocrats and businessmen, Milne set out an expanded version of Hooke’s programme which focussed on alternative treatments to alcoholism that did not involve Scotch. The gentlemen met every morning to discuss their progress, to prepare their morning fix of opium and to recite the twelve steps of Milne's newly devised programme. Grudgingly, he agreed to name the organisation after himself and "Alan Alexander's Patent Curative Therapy for the Over-Imbibed" was born, soon to be abbreviated to the A.A by journalists still short of printers' ink due to Milne's own thirst.
Milne summarised his twelve steps as follows:
1. We admit we are powerless over alcohol.
2. We believe that narcotics can restore us to sanity.
3. We no longer believe that the trees are conspiring against us. Except the monkey-puzzle.
4. We acknowledge that the maid servants are sleeping with us for ulterior motives but also that these transitory pleasures help distract us from other temptations and bring us closer to sobriety.
5. We admit to our families and to God that vomiting in the goldfish bowl was neither big nor clever. And that, had He intended us to consume hamsters, He would have made them more easily spreadable on toast.
9. We acknowledge that a nice cup of tea need not contain brandy.
10. We realise that sobriety is no reason to believe that the footman is not stealing the silver.
11. We seek through prayer and narcotics to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understand Him, unless He turns out to be Jewish.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Twelve Steps, we will carry this message to other alcoholics, and show them how to tap a vein.
Literary CureBy the end of the year, while only four of Milne’s first patients had suffered fatal over-doses, six had been unable to stand up to the rigours of Milne's regime and had returned to their alcoholic lifestyle, four had declared themselves cured and eight more continued to live at Cotchford. These last few had been successfully rendered sober but suffered other problems Milne felt obliged to help them overcome.
The psychology of the day was unable to deal with their problems and, in some cases, opium only appeared to be making matters worse. It was clear that if they were to embrace sobriety permanently, Milne would first have to diagnose the source of their pain and then devise a method to treat it. Adding to his difficulties, Milne's son (Christopher Robin) had joined him at Cotchford following de Sélincourt's death of incurable ennui.
Christopher Robin was six at the time, but already an enthusiastic sadist and onanist. Faced with his disturbed son's need for attention and the contending needs of his remaining patients, Milne saw no option but to combine their treatment through the use of his writing skills. He began to publish short stories featuring the life and concerns of Christopher Robin but set in a world in which his other patients were represented as mere toys, though animated toys with all the worries and issues of his patients. At once Christopher Robin could be subtly educated in the consequences of continuing to indulge in inappropriate behaviour, and Milne's patients could see finely crafted representations of themselves and understand how their attitudes were affecting their judgement.
Christopher Robin himself is the only character who is not given an alias. Though he is sometimes a minor player in the adventures, he is clearly badly mentally ill. Later generations of psychologists have argued whether his "stuffed animal friends" are a figment of his own hallucination, or represent aspects of his own multiple personality disorder. Certainly, Christopher Robin is a strange boy without friends of his own age who believes that inanimate objects are talking to him and that he can talk to animals, a classic case of Schizophrenia in modern diagnosis. Added to these already disturbing mental health concerns are the few photographs of the era and the sketches of him by fellow Cotchford inmate, E.H.Shepard, which graced the printed edition of Milne's instructive tales. In these, Christopher Robin is seen to sport a haircut and clothes that suggest possible future gender identity issues. This may account for his close relationship with one of Milne's patients; Winston "Bronco" McStabber, a man 65 years his senior.
Winston was one of Milne's favourite but most worrisome charges. An American former General, McStabber had a number of difficult problems which seemed destined to lead to an untimely end. Homosexuality was illegal in Edwardian England but was not unknown in upper-crust society. Though it was impossible to confront the General on the issue even in private sessions, Milne felt sure that the General was suffering as a result of his repressed sexual urges, a suspicion only reaffirmed when Winston began to attend counselling sessions wearing his mother's wedding dress.
In addition to the transvestism, Winston had developed a bizarre eating disorder in which the General would consume nothing but molasses. This had led to what would now be thought of as morbid obesity and subsequent depression which, in turn, led to even greater consumption of molasses. But, as hard as Milne hard tried to explain this unending cycle to Winston, he seemed unable to understand the link between his diet, his size and his mood. Milne wrote that "Winston's cognitive functioning is borderline, possibly due to a vitamin deficiency brought about by his sugar-based diet."
Milne chose to represent Winston in his stories as "a bear of very little brain". A low sense of self-esteem sees the bear caught in a vicious circle in which he gorges on up to twenty jars of "hunny(sic)" at a time and follows this with hours of repetitive toe-touching in front of the mirror, counting obsessively as he exercises. He is clearly suffering from a serious manic-depressive episode.
In the stories that Milne wove around his son, Winston is referred to as "Winnie" in a very obvious nod to the General's cross-dressing and is, perhaps ironically for a senior military officer, easily led by almost all the other characters. Winnie is inclined to give up on even the simplest of tasks unless constantly reassured and is frequently seen wandering unpopulated woodland in the company of an unrelated young boy (Christopher Robin) in a manner that would today raise the concern of social services. Modern scholars have raised the issue of whether Milne was as attentive a parent as he might have been and have levelled accusations of neglect.
Winston/Winnie was also the first patient Milne labelled with the pioneering term ADHD based on his suggested treatment for their alcoholism - Avoid Drinking. Have Drugs. Over the years Milne would categorise most of his patients with ADHD, subdividing them into six groups named after the characters in his tales. The "Winnie-type" of ADHD sufferers are characterised as inattentive, easily distracted, sluggish and disorganised. Pleasant but hard to reach and appearing to live in a world of their own, Winnie/Winston was the classic daydreamer with brain fog.
Colonel Neddy D'Onquai was one of the most popular patients in Cotchford. From an ancient family of Norman aristocrats, D'Onquai, like McStabber, was a former military man given to perpetual dolefulness, in this case brought about by the loss of "body-parts" during fighting in the Khyber Pass region of British India. The missing parts are never specified in Milne's case-notes, leaving today's scholars to guess. Photographs show a fifty year old man who appears to be in good physical condition and has all his limbs intact. It has been suggested that D'Onquai had been emasculated by Pathan tribesmen whilst a prisoner and that this was the root of his drinking and mental health issues.
Milne believed that D'Onquai was the greatest puzzle of Cotchford; "His chronic dysthymia is beyond me and perhaps beyond help. His stubbornness is such that he simply will not talk about his captivity in Afghanistan and it is impossible to be certain whether his constant and abject despondency has been inherited endogenously or whether the trauma of his 'wound' has brought about acute negativism. After careful consideration, however, I feel sure that he is down in the dumps about something."
In Milne's morality tales, D'Onquai is represented as "Eeyore" a donkey in the grip of permanent, suicidal blues brought about by the frequent and inconvenient loss of his "tail". Nevertheless, Eeyore accepts the loss of this important appendage as inevitable and possibly a judgement on his own unworthiness. Eeyore is so convinced of his own worthlessness that he shuns the company of the others to live in a shelter he has made from sticks. Inevitably, this shelter leaks badly in the rain due to the poor standard of its construction, itself brought about by a lack of manual dexterity inherent in those with hooved feet. Unlike Winnie, Eeyore's depression is not punctuated by manic phases, but Milne saw him as another victim of ADHD - this time characterised by mere inattentiveness and chronic low grade depression. He believed that Eeyore/D'Onquai's problem was caused by an increase in activity deep in the limbic system but, without modern imaging equipment, was unable to prove it without dissection.
"Would that I could slice up what passes for D'Onquai's brain," Milne exclaims in his diary. "I suspect that, were I to suggest it, he would be more than happy to volunteer."
Tim "Porky" Bacon had been with Milne from the start. A large man with a domineering voice, in his past life Bacon had been Governor of the Bank of England and became the subject of one of the first clinical case-descriptions of agoraphobia to grace the pages of the British medical journal, "The Lancet". After the banking scares of the middle 1920s, Bacon had been forced to quit his job and the subsequent nervous breakdown left him unable to leave the house for eighteen months. While trapped in his home he had developed a fearsome drinking habit and a morbid fear of many every day activities. As a consequence, he had been forced to employ a "Man Friday" to shout at the butcher's boy and sexually harass the cook.
Milne represented Bacon as a tiny, almost voiceless piglet with a generalised anxiety disorder which crippled his ability to function in normal society. Piglet's Panphobia was tempered somewhat by the kind ministrations of his friend Winnie the Pooh, who, almost alone, could tempt him out of the house for a walk in the woods. However, even the kindly and seemingly simple-minded Winnie can only convince Piglet to brave the great outdoors to warn their mutual friends of the likelihood of invasion by the subjects of his paranoid delusions - the fearsome "Heffalumps". Almost instinctively, Winnie seems to know that Piglet's blushing, stammering and terrified panic attacks are linked to an emotional trauma. Instead of forcing his friend to confront his fears, he plays along with Piglet's irrational fear of the future, helping him to construct "Heffalump traps" - pits to protect Piglet from the monsters of his own Id.
"I am uncertain whether 'Winnie' has sympathetically picked-up on Piglet's need to get out in the fresh air and face his fears," Milne conceded to his diary. "Or whether the paucity of higher level thinking within his own troubled mind has simply convinced him that anything which terrifies 'Piglet' is something which he is required to protect himself from."
The Piglet form of ADHD Milne characterised as "prone to excessive worry, easily startled and, once fixated, has difficulty shifting attention on to other, more pressing matters." This is thought to be due to the mid-brain being so over-aroused that the sufferer is hypervigilant to the point of paralysis. That, or overconsumption of cannabis.
Heir to the Lyons Tea House fortune, Todd Lyons was another long-term resident of the house and became the thinly disguised inspiration for one of Hundred Acre Wood's most beloved characters, Tigger. Lyons suffered from acute ADHD and what has become recognised as Tourette's syndrome. Milne portrayed him as lovable but inclined to unintentionally injure those around him by over-enthusiastic "bouncing" behaviour. In reality, Lyons was given to unprovoked and unpredictable violence, both verbal and physical, that led to an estrangement from other patients. This is clearly shown in the books by Tigger's frequent absences.
Alcohol had been both a cause of and a treatment for Lyon's acute hyperactivity, but Milne's preferred prescription of Opium seemed to have only temporarily damped down his "episodes of inexplicable risk-taking". Subsequently, Tigger is portrayed as impulsively climbing tall trees without planning a method to return to ground, or inflating giant balloons which then cause him to be blown away on the wind. The sedative effect of opium having proved ineffective, Milne tried a mild stimulant - what we would today call cocaine. This, however, had the effect of making Lyons race around the Hundred Acre Wood manically, proclaiming to all who will listen that:
"The wonderful thing about Lyons - is Lyons are wonderful things!"
Unlike Piglet, Eeyore and Winnie, Tigger is far from short of confidence and as a consequence is easily taken advantage of by others. In one tale, Roo (see later) suggests that thistles would not be good to eat in the expectation that Tigger will inevitably proclaim them to be "Tiggers' favourite food". Roo's delight at the pain subsequently endured by Tigger is just one of many examples within Milne's morality tales of one patient taking advantage of the mental frailty of another.
Milne classified sufferers of Tigger's form of ADHD as "Friendly but intrusive into the personal space of others. Inattentive, impulsive, hyperactive, restless but, above all, bouncy." More recent developments have shown that modern-day fellow sufferers have an under-active Pre-frontal Cortex which can result in obsessive use of IT equipment.
Bunny Austin was a rising star of British Tennis but, unknown to fans of Wimbledon, had suffered from acute alcoholism from the age of nine. Bunny presented Milne with a number of other interesting and previously undescribed mental health issues that he reflected in his published children's books. In 1925, Milne became the first person to describe OCD, named for the exclamation he would shout at Bunny when he became distressed at his inability to walk across the tiled bathroom floor without touching the cracks - "Oi, Calm Down".
Milne believed that Bunny also suffered from ADHD, this time characterised by trouble shifting his attention beyond his vegetable patch, and his inflexible, argumentative nature. Inevitably, he portrayed the young man as a fussy Rabbit who insisted that only he knew how everything should be done. The other animals/patients went along with Rabbit's suggestions with often disastrous consequences, though all would invariably be well again by teatime. Milne showed through his simple stories that Bunny could not arrange the world to suit himself and that to try to do so would only lead to madness.
Another domineering character in the stories was Dean Pinscher. A similar age to Bunny , Dean was purported to be the off-spring of King Edward VII and an East End chorus girl. Certainly there was a mysterious source of money in his background, as he had received the finest and most expensive education that England had to offer - Charterhouse School followed by Oriel College, Oxford and Madame Catrina's Cat-house, Catford. He appears to have gained little from this but syphilis, however, and Milne's stories show him as an intellectually stunted Owl. Owl is so dyslexic that he is unable to spell even his own three-lettered name correctly and, in a possibly connected problem, appears to suffer from balance issues as he is portrayed as living in fear of his tree falling down.
Despite an IQ Milne calculated to be 67 (a level of intellect better suited for life as a goldfish) Pinscher/Owl still convinced his fellow residents that they should turn to him for advice in times of need. According to Milne's case-notes "He makes poignant attempts to cover up for his phonological deficits and appears to have convinced his fellow patients of his intellectual prowess. Perhaps my patients, like their literary counterparts, really do have cotton-wool for brains."
Kanga and Roo represented the Right Honourable Sir Danvers Breville-Toaster and the only female resident - his wife, Lady Jane. Breville-Toaster had enjoyed a successful military career across the Empire, machine-gunning a variety of scarcely armed natives on behalf of Queen and country. On returning to England in 1899, having been unable to adjust to the new tactics of the Boer War (blasting well-armed Dutch farmers with naval artillery), he seems to have surrendered his will to his wife almost completely. Milne portrayed the dysfunctional couple as a domineering mother Kangaroo (Kanga) unable to let go of her son, Roo. Roo, meanwhile, spends his days trying to escape her glare only to suffer from crippling separation anxiety when he does so. Interestingly, Roo's idolising of Tigger, a frankly unsuitable father-figure, is thought to subconsciously reflect Milne's own neglect of Christopher Robin, who periodically lent his admiration to Lyons, McStabber and various trees, depending on the success of his treatment for alcoholism.
Roo's narcissistic "mother", Kanga, appears oblivious to the corrupting influence of Tigger on her "child". She is content to have her pre-teen son wander off by himself to consort with mentally-handicapped talking animals, which seems to support theories that Lady Breville-Toaster was interested in her husband's welfare only in as far as it promoted her image of respectability with her peers. She is portrayed as the classic passive aggressive verbal abuser, constantly scolding her son for the absences she colludes in, and is shown to force-feed Roo "Strengthening potion" - an obvious nod to the 250 pound weight-gain Breville-Toaster ascribed to his wife's insistence on controlling his diet. Roo's character is clearly intended to show Breville-Toaster that breaking out from his wife's grasp may once again allow him the life of adventure he once led.
"The House at Pooh Corner"
Milne's first book, "The House At Pooh Corner," was published to great acclaim in 1928. It delighted young readers with its simple stories, but also caused a stir among psychologists with its subtle investigations into the effects of alcoholism and the neurobehavioral and developmental disorders it can cause. Milne made no mention of underlying genetic predispositions to mental instability and his peers railed against the implied suggestion that all mental health issues were the reaction to various forms of stress.
In 1932 Milne published "Winnie the Pooh and the Psychotic Episode of Doom" which sold less well but was still adapted by Disney into a popular feature film in 1968. "Piglet's Chronoceptive Adventure", however, was rejected by his publishers as they felt that the humour in Eeyore's suicide, and the cover illustration of his lifeless corpse hanging from a tree, would not be easily understood by younger readers.