Beatrix Potter, Kindred Spirit
I remember as a child being entranced as my mother read The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Would Peter ever make it back to the comfort of the sand-bank under the fir tree? Or would he be caught by Mr. McGregor in his garden?
The characters in Beatrix Potter’s other books may be lesser known, but are just as charming as the bunny in a blue jacket. Giving personable characteristics to squirrels, mice, and frogs was natural to Beatrix Potter because she saw them as friends.
As with most books I loved as a child, I had little interest in the authors until I was a bit older. More recently, Beatrix Potter has become an inspiration to me as I have delved into studying her life. Despite the century that separates us, we are kindred spirits. She loved nature and animals which led her to create something of immense goodness to share with others. Potter was raised in London with frequent visits to Scotland and the Lake District of England for summer holidays. Her pet rabbit, Benjamin Bouncer, joined family excursions on a leash and ate buttered toast alongside the family. She fell in love with botany and the artistry of plants, particularly mushrooms. She became rather adept, through the instruction of others at the Royal Botanical Gardens, in the art of scientific botany illustration. While she loved these pursuits it was her generosity, kindness, and perseverance that led her life and future successes and helped her through the downfalls.
Her natural playfulness led her to imagine charming stories that she wrote in her diary or in letters to friends. In 1902, after being rejected by nearly every publisher in London, Beatrix took the risk and decided to self-publish The Tale of Peter Rabbit, a story she had originally written in a letter to a friend’s son. I admire that she believed in the stories she had created and had the gumption to know the joy they could bring. The first run of 250 small books was an immediate success, and Frederick Warne & Co. reconsidered their hasty rejection and published the second edition with Miss Potter’s own watercolour illustrations.
As several more books followed in succession, Beatrix fell in love with her editor, Norman Warne. Despite opposition from her family, they were engaged, but he died weeks after their engagement from leukaemia.
With a broken heart, Beatrix Potter took herself away from the London lifestyle and purchased a small hilltop farm in the North of England, near Lake Windermere. To some degree, I think we can all relate; sometimes broken hearts are necessary to open them fully to others. It was here that the likes of Mrs. Tittlemouse, Jemima Puddle-Duck, and Pigling Bland found their voices on the pages of Beatrix Potter’s books. And as these characters found their voices, Beatrix Potter found her heart, in the countryside as a sheep breeder and with a country solicitor, William Heelis, whom she married and lived in a little farmhouse on top of a sheep-dotted hill.
Beatrix and William expanded their farm property. She valued the preservation and protection of the place she had come to call home, and she wanted to share it—a desire we have in common. When they died, Beatrix and William left the farms and expansive lands to the National Trust. The land Beatrix Potter gathered and created composes a large portion of what is now the Lake District and the characters she created continue to tell their tales.
This spring, I hope you get the chance to meet her characters and channel her loveliness by spending a bit of time outdoors; observe nature, make critter friends, and read books! Here are a few fun ways that we can offer a start to your collection and summer adventures. The Beatrix Potter Collection.