Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Re-inventing the Inventors

It's been a while since I last added to the blog and during that time I've been reading some of Milne's earliest known stories.

Published in the Argonaut and around the spring of 1878 these early works help fill in some of the gaps as yet largely unaccounted for between Milne leaving Britain and his appearance at the 1874 San Francisco Inventor's Fare. As this could account for nearly a decade of his life any and all snippets pertaining to his life prior to becoming a writer are always useful.

A Reminiscence of Vasquez, In The Cow Countries and A Mexican Family on the Move mainly recall events from and around 1873 when Milne was still leading an itinerant lifestyle and working as a shepherd, cook and cow-hand. Although these were unlikely to be the careers of choice for a classics scholar, if Milne harbored any sense of regret for the direction his life had taken then it doesn't come across in what are lively, jolly recollections of a period that many people of his status might be tempted to play down or erase from their own personal history.  As was reiterated throughout a Eadweard Muybridge biography I read recently (Muybridge, who was living in San Francisco at the same time as Milne, conducted photographic motion studies which eventually played a part in the creation of cinema) California was at that time a place one could reinvent oneself- several times over if required, as Muybridge's 'creative' personal history demonstrated.
Eadweard Muybridge

This aspect of Milne's early years in America have long confused me, arriving as he did with such impeccable credentials; a descendant of Robert the Bruce, the son of a minister and a graduate (or at least a former student) of Oxford University he had a starting point which may have stretched credulity even for serial re-inventors like Muybridge. Perhaps though this was Milne's reasoning.It is quite possible that he thought no-one would actually believe him had he told them the truth- not that the stories of spring 1878 gave any clue as to how he actually presented himself to his prospective employers. Maybe, like some graduates today, he entirely played down his qualifications and credentials in order to obtain a post evidently beneath his considerable talents. A novel inversion of what was apparently the norm in 1870s California!

As with most of the biographical material I've thus far turned up about Milne anything approximating an answer only leads to a dozen new questions. The stories (which I'll go into in more depth in a later blog) give no clues as to how or why Milne initially emigrated or what happened between shepherding in the company of an infamous and dangerous outlaw in 1873 and his appearance at the Inventor's Fare the following year.