This is not a non sequitur. Rather, it is a speculation on whom Kenneth Grahame based his character of Mr. Toad.*
As a child, Wind in the Willows was a wonderful story. Perfectly acceptable that animals could be anthropomorphized, no five year old would ever question the origin of the characters. Rather, a child with an active imagination would just make up their own stories of local animals and look along creeks and streams for indications that there were similar characters in one’s own home area.
But ideas come from somewhere. I am not a believer in a cosmic pool of ideas that randomly and, for some special people frequently, strike them in the head with a demand to be set down or transmitted in some verbal format to others. It may not always be a conscious process, but it does take place in that wonderful and murky subconscious.
Where is all this going?
I am listening to another one of Tom Standage’s wonderful books. A Brief History of Motion tells literally the story (subtitle here) from the wheel, to the car, to what comes next. About a third of the way through the book, the connection to story snapped into focus. Yes the invention of the wheel for travel was interesting as well as the development of cars. I hadn’t really through about the development of railways increasing the use of horse drawn conveyances inside cities as people and goods moved more freely between cities. And, when you think about it, the problem of horse manure is obvious.
Most of us would not have framed the drive toward internal combustion engines as a response to solving transportation while reducing the impact of horses on cities. Seriously? But then most fiction doesn’t really describe the filth and smell of the average city street of the Victorian Era now does it?
The story of the early development of the motor car is fascinating and many of the names are familiar to all of us (Daimler, Benz, Maybeck, Peugeot). All of which leads to the stories of the first competitive races sponsored by various news papers for incredible distances of 75 miles. Or a round trip of 350 miles, completed in a bit over 48 hours. (If you need a reference, horses changed out regularly can average 10 miles an hour pulling a coach, a person is doing well to hike 4 miles/hr which is not sustainable over the long haul.
Anyway, as you can imagine, early cars were expensive to buy, maintain, and run which lead to the same issues as with all former wheeled inventions. Because you can own it, you can drive it wherever you want/can manage regardless of other vehicles, animals or pedestrians. (note, this particular problem has not disappeared, it has spread as there are now inconsiderate, idiot drivers world-wide). But, Standage speculates – one each Wm Vanderbilt II may have been the inspiration. I mean really, crashing that many cars, paying an inordinate number of fines, and ducking prison sentences? You really can’t make this stuff up.
I highly recommend the book as both educational and entertaining.
* If you want to read more, go to the Wiki article here which gives background, listing of editions, productions, and potential inspirations. Also of note – A. A. Milne wrote the first screenplay version of Toad of Toad Hall (and about the same time he started on the Pooh poems and stories).