The Tale of Beatrix Potterby Beth Carswell
As you all know, Beatrix Potter (1866-1943), was an English children’s book author and illustrator, primarily. She was also a farmer, a conservationist, and a natural explorer fascinated by science and the wonders of the natural world around her, be they flora or fauna.
From a very early age, Potter took to the outdoor world like a fish to water, rambling the countryside, woods and waterways near her home whenever she could. She was a lonely child. Her younger brother Bertram was sent away to boarding school, and Potter had few friends. As well, the lion’s share of her upbringing was seen to by various servants, nannies and governesses. Most days, Potter would only see her parents at bedtime, though they spent time together as a family on special occasions.
Perhaps it was this loneliness and isolation that was the catalyst for Potter’s imagination and devotion to nature. Necessity is the mother of invention, and Potter’s few social interactions resulted in her creating an imaginary world of friends inside herself, for amusement and to keep herself company. Her most iconic character, Peter Rabbit (more famous than his siblings Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail) was named for a real-life beloved pet that Potter used to bring along for adventures on a leash. This sense of isolation and longing to belong may also contribute to the enormous popularity with children of Potter's stories - the wonder, delight and magic in the tales are accompanied by a real understanding of the wistfulness and loneliness that color the experience of being little.
As an adult, Potter’s fascination with nature and science led her to attempt a career in mycology – the study of fungus. But her lack of official credentials - and mostly, her gender – kept her from being able to pursue the field.
The spark for The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Potter’s first and arguably most famous story, was ignited in 1893 when Potter wrote a letter to Noel Moore, the ill child of her former governess. To entertain the boy, Potter wrote a letter about four bunny rabbits – Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter, and their mother. She illustrated the letter with sketches. The little boy was delighted, and wanted more stories.
The first adult to actively encourage Potter’s drawing hobby was Anglican vicar Hardwicke Rawnsley, who her family met on summer holidays to Scotland and the Lake District. Besides being a vicar, Rawnsley was also a poet and co-founder of the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty, and he recognized Potter’s talent and flair for art.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit was officially published in 1902, and was an instant winner. The next two books Potter put out – The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin and The Tailor of Gloucester – had also begun as illustrated letters to Noel Moore and his siblings.
While writing and illustration continued to be important parts of Potter’s life, as her adulthood progressed, her love of nature and animals took over. Once she had a comfortable nest-egg from her books, Potter bought Hill Top, a farm in Sawrey, Cumbria in North West England in 1903 with income from her first published books.
She married, farmed, and lived happily ever after until 1943, when she passed away at age 77.
Some Books by Beatrix
Some Books about Beatrix
Beatrix Potter: At Home in the Lake District
by Susan Denyer
The Tale of Mrs. William Heelis: Beatrix Potter
by John Heelis
The Tale of Beatrix Potter: A Biography
by Margaret Lane
Beatrix Potter, 1866-1943: The Artist and Her World
by Judy Taylor
10 Most Expensive Beatrix Potter Books Sold on AbeBooks
1. A Christmas card - $3,953
A Christmas card inscribed from Beatrix Potter to a friend in 1932 depicting animals from Potter’s tales dancing around the Christmas Tree.
2. British Wild Flowers by John E. Sowerby - $3,944
Inscribed to Potter by her grandmother Jessie Potter (Crompton), dated 12 October 1884, when Potter was 18 years old. "To Beatrix Potter from her loving Grandmother J Potter." This copy presumably contributed directly to her development as a writer and illustrator. 90 hand-colored plates by John E. Sowerby.
3. The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck - $2,881
Later edition, signed by Potter with a letter confirming signature authentication from the President of the Beatrix Potter Society.
4. The Tale of Peter Rabbit - $2,495
First edition, fifth printing. The first edition with Beatrix Potter's famous color endpapers, Figure 1 (White Cat) appearing four times, book ends on page 85, (Linder) blue paper boards.
5. The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes - $1,626
With numerous color illustrations and decorated endpapers by Potter. Inscribed on the half-title ‘Beatrix Potter Dec 15. 42’.
6. Sister Anne - $1,395
First edition. A very good copy in original blue cloth boards with gilt title to front board. The illustrations are by Katharine Sturges. A fairy tale set in Lancashire. The last of Beatrix Potter’s stories to be published in her lifetime.
7. The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit - $1,379
An excellent copy. First edition, first issue (printed November 1906), with "London & New York" on the back and with mottled rose endpapers.
8. The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter - $926
Full Leather. First edition thus. Contains the original 23 Peter Rabbit books. Newly bound by Bayntun-Riviere in full blue morocco, with gilt block of Squirrel Nutkin on lower right hand corner, spine lettered in gilt, with squirrel block in sixth panel, hand-marbled endleaves.
9. Original Pencil Drawing - $703
The drawing is a still life study of a spinning-top beside a pair of scissors, signed 'Helen Beatrix Potter'. Not dated, but believed to be from around 1876 when Beatrix Potter was nine years old.
10. The Roly-Poly Pudding - $590
First edition, first issue. Colored frontispiece, pictorial title and plates. Inscribed in pencil on front free endpaper "Zorah M G Godden from Caroline & Mary Hutton". Caroline and Mary Hutton were Beatrix Potter's cousins.
- Her middle name was Helen.
- At age 15, Potter kept a diary written in a secret language and code of her own imagination. It was so secret, in fact, that adult Beatrix had trouble deciphering the code in later years.
- Beyond the real Peter Rabbit, other Potter pets included
a tortoise, two lizards, some water newts, a snake and a green frog.
- While Potter seemed very fond of children – writing them letters, drawing them pictures and the like – she never had any of her own.
- Potter's art was not limited to children's illustrations - she also had a gift for botanical art, particularly fungus and lichen, with great scientifically accurate detail.
- Potter’s first engagement, to her editor Norman Warne in 1905, ended tragically when he died suddenly of pernicious anemia.
- In the last decades of her life, Potter became a Lakeland farmer, winning awards for her prize Herdwick sheep.
- Hill Top was the second farm Potter purchased. Several of her books, including The Tale of Tom Kitten, take place at Hill Top.
- At the time of her death in 1943, Potter owned 14 farms, over 4,000 acres of land, and substantial numbers of the aforementioned Herdwick sheep, all of which she bequeathed to the National Trust so that others might enjoy the same country living she had after her death.
- Potter’s illustrations, stories and contributions to children have left such a mark on the world that there are attractions in her memory, including "The World of Beatrix Potter" attraction in Cumbria, as well as her home at Hill Top and a Beatrix Potter gallery.