When We Were Very Young
by E. P. Dutton and Company. 1924. 12mo. xiv + 100 pp. $2.00.. New York:
THIS collection of lyrical ballads, like the celebrated prototype, has its preface. But Mr, Milne, unlike Mr. Wordsworth, is confronted in his verses with a condition, not a theory. ‘Moo rhymes with Pooh! Surely there is a bit of poetry to be got out of that?’ says Mr. Milne, and then goes on to acknowledge that nevertheless the poem came out quite differently from what he had intended. We cannot imagine Mr. Wordsworth’s poems running away with him in that fashion; but it is only fair to add that, though Mr. Milne’s preface neither instructs nor theorizes, it does edify.
When We Were Very Young is one of those international ties that will bind when protocols rend asunder and Leagues of Nations are undone, for although Christopher Robin and James James Morrison Morrison Weatherby George Dupree and Mary Jane and Emmeline and the others are English children and free of Buckingham Palace and acquainted with dormice and kings, their outlook on life, their relation to their own little minds and souls and to the spirit of their universe, is at one with the outlook and the inlook of Everychild.
The American child, he who looks four on Monday and is ‘really twenty-eight on Saturday,’greets this little book with acclaim, chants its contagious refrains and capers to its lilts, feeling the very rhythm of childhood singing in his blood. Here are the pets that warm the child’s heart. Read ‘Puppy and I’; read about the little boy who wanted to buy ‘a little baby rabbit,’ and was offered saucepans and fresh mackerel instead. Read about the three little foxes who kept their handkerchiefs in cardboard boxes, and the temperamental cow who almost spoiled the King’s breakfast. Read that disturbing line: ‘Has anybody seen my mouse?’ Consider, too, the dormouse, that Wonderland beastie, here revealed as a flesh-and-blood creature sleeping in chrysanthemum beds and furnished forth with a tail that is ‘e-nor-mouse.’ Consider the bears, especially the tubby one who slept in the ottoman. Of bears, we find, Christopher Robin still has something to learn. For the sake of scientific accuracy we hope that some American child has written Mr. Milne that the Teddy Bear, genus Americanus, derives from Theodore, not from Edward.
The perfection of all this lyrical nonsense is found perhaps in the delightful controversy between the King and the cow, in ‘The King’s Breakfast’; but when one begins to choose, how many claim first place! — ‘Halfway Down the Stairs,’ ‘James James,’ ‘Market Square.’ And always with the little poem is the little penpicture dancing to the little individual tune. One cannot think of the poems without the pictures, so companionably has Ernest L. Shepard interpreted the poet’s moods and whimsies. Among children’s classics, When We Were Very Young will surely and swiftly take high place. Stevenson’s cow and the King’s are sisters of one herd. Blake’s little lamb will lie down with the lion whose name was Leonard.