Kenneth Grahame was born in Edinburgh in 1859, the son of a lawyer. His father was a heavy drinker and when his mother died of scarlet fever, he was sent to live with his grandmother in Cookham Dene, Berkshire. Her house, set in a large garden by the River Thames, is thought to be the background for The Wind in the Willows.
Grahame was educated at St Edward's School, Oxford, and in 1879 he entered the Bank of England. In his spare time, he began composing light non-fiction pieces for journals. His stories about a group of orphaned children were published in Pagan Papers in 1893, followed by collections of sketches, most notably The Reluctant Dragon, his most famous short story.
In 1899, Grahame married Elspeth Thomson. Their only child, a sickly boy named Alastair, was born in 1900. Grahame originally wrote parts of The Wind in the Willows in letter form to his son -- the adventures of Toad created to amuse the boy.
The book was first published in 1908 and Grahame's animal characterizations of Toad, Rat, Mole and Badger began to gain fame. In 1929, A.A. Milne dramatized the story for the stage as Toad of Toad Hall.
After the tragic death of his son -- Alastair commited suicide at the age of 18 -- Grahame became more reclusive. He died in Pangbourne, Berkshire, in 1932.
His cousin, author Anthony Hope (The Prisoner of Zenda) wrote his epitaph:
To the beautiful memory of Kenneth Grahame, husband of Elspeth and father of Alastair, who passed the River on the 6th July 1932, leaving childhood and literature through him the more blest for all time.