Thought of the Day 7.28.12 Beatrix Potter

“Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality.”*

-Beatrix Potter

English: A picture of Beatrix Potter

English: A picture of Beatrix Potter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Helen Beatrix Potter was born on this day  in South Kensington, London in 1866. Today is the 146th anniversary of her birth.

Beatrix and her younger brother (Walter) Bertram were raised in London, but enjoyed long holidays in rural Scotland and the English Lake District. According to the web site for the Beatrix Potter Society she was educated by a governess at home and loved languages and literature especially fairy tales and folk tales. Her early talent for drawling and as a water colorist was encouraged and she illustrated several popular fairy tales for her family’s entertainment. She wrote stories about the family pets . The children kept  “rabbits, a hedgehog, some mice and bats…” most of which would one day wind up in her stories.

She kept a journal — written in a code she invented herself (and which was not deciphered until 1958) — and a sketchbook. In her 20’s she “sold some of her artwork for greetings (sic) cards and illustrations” but she largely concerned herself with the study of natural  history, giving special focus to mycology — the study of fungi. She produced beautiful and technically accurate watercolors of mushrooms and became an adept scientific illustrator. She wrote a paper on the reproduction of fungi. On April 1, 1897 the paper was presented by a male scientist since women weren’t allowed to attend, much less present at, The Linnean Society (“the world’s oldest biological society” has since changed their  Men Only policy).

She also wrote delightful letters to children of her acquaintance that were wonderfully illustrated and told tales of little woodland creatures and pets. In 1901 she adapted some of those letters into The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Cover of the first, privatley printed edition ...

Cover of the first, privatley printed edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since she couldn’t get any commercial publishers to take on the book she self published the initial edition. But then Frederick Warne & Co.  agreed print Peter Rabbit and Potter converted the black and white illustrations to color.

Cover of the first edition, The Tale of Peter ...

Cover of the first edition, The Tale of Peter Rabbit (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Norman Warne, the youngest son of the publishing magnet was assigned as Potter’s editor and the two brought twenty Potter books to market, usually at a rate of 2 or 3 a year. Potter also marketed stuffed animals, paint books and wall paper based on the characters in her books.

In 1905 Norman Warne proposed to Beatrix Potter. Her parents vehemently against the match because Warne was socially inferior and “from Trade.” Beatrix found this ironic since her grand parents had been engaged in the cotton trade. But ultimately their pressure won out and she kept the engagement a secret. It didn’t matter. Norman had lymphatic leukemia — a disease that was hard to diagnose at the turn of the century — he died within a month. Potter was summoned to the sick bed, but she arrived too late.

Photo of Norman Warne ca 1900

Photo of Norman Warne ca 1900 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Beatrix bought Hill Top Farm in the Lake District  in Lancashire as a sanctuary. She wanted to paint, write and learn about  land management. Later she purchased Castle Farm across the road from Hill Top Farm. Her goal was to preserve land in the area from development.

English: Hill Top Farm, Near Sawrey, Cumbria. ...

English: Hill Top Farm, Near Sawrey, Cumbria. Home of children’s author, Beatrix Potter. As requested in her will, the interior has been “left as if she had just gone out to the post”: a fire burning in the hearth, cups and saucers on the table ready for a visitor! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1923 she bought and restored Troutbeck Park. The sheep at Troutbeck were disease-ridden and under her stewardship the Herdwick sheep were restored to health.  She became very involved in the local community and joined several committees to help improve rural live including the founding of  a nursing trust to improve local health care. In 1913 she married a local solicitor, William Heelis.In 1926 the semi-autobiographical The Fairy Caravan was published in the United States (it didn’t show up in England until after she passed away).

At her death Beatrix Potter Heelis left 4,000 acres, on 15 farms, in the Lake District to the National Trust.

Beatrix Potter and her husband William Heelis ...

Beatrix Potter and her husband William Heelis on their wedding day (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Beatrix Potter Society was founded in 1980 to promotes the appreciation of the life and works the author. Please see their web site and the excellent article by  Linda Lear for more information on Potter.

The relationship between Beatrix Potter and Norman Warne is basis of the film Ms. Potter starring Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor.


*Perhaps her teachers were forced to teach to the TEST!

AND Maggie would like you to know that Beatrix Potter is NOT Harry Potter’s Muggle cousin.

Harry Potter

NOT related to this guy. Also not a lego. Yet I love all three. Harry Potter (Photo credit: Profound Whatever)


About ritalovestowrite

Freelance writer, graphic designer, musician, foodie and Jane Austen enthusiast in Northern Baltimore County, Maryland. As a writer I enjoy both fiction and non fiction (food, travel and local interest stories.) As an advocate for the ARTS, one of my biggest passions is helping young people find a voice in all the performing arts. To that end it has been my honor to give one-on-one lessons to elementary, middle and high school students in graphic design and music. And as JANE-O I currently serve as the regional coordinator for JASNA Maryland and am working on a Regency/Federal cooking project. View all posts by ritalovestowrite

2 responses to “Thought of the Day 7.28.12 Beatrix Potter

  • Parhar

    Have you read The Tale of One Bad Rat by Bryan Talbot? It’s Beatrix Potter related and I think you might love it. I conefss I’ve yet to read any of Potter’s stories, but I do love the style of her art. I saw an exhibition of original artwork at the V&A museum last year and it was just charming.

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