The Wonderful World of Beatrix Potter
Beatrix Potter was born into the world on the 28th July 1866. Her first name wasn't actually Beatrix but Helen, but this was dropped when she wrote her first book. Beatrix's family originally came from Manchester England, and Beatrix grew up in a privileged lifestyle. She had a younger brother with the name of Walter Bertram, and because they had many relatives, Beatrix and Walter kept to themselves and made few friends on the outside. They were both animal lovers, and between them kept numerous pets which they adored, often watching them or drawing their pictures.
Her parents were rather unconventional, being part of a Dissenting Protestant sect, and so Beatrix was socially discriminated against. This made her more determined to succeed as she grew older. Her grandfather was a Member of Parliament, and her father was a barrister. The family had an apartment in Kensington London, and this is where Beatrix was born. It seems that her mother was the one who came from the wealthy side, being a daughter of a wealthy cotton merchant and ship builder.
When they were both small children, they often went to Scotland and the Lake District in England, and this is where she developed her love of nature. Often sitting sketching or painting the animals that she so adored.
She never went to school, but had a succession of governess's throughout her younger years. For a girl of the 19th Century, she was well read in science, literature and languages. Most girls in those days never had the chance to go to school, and reading and writing was a luxury many children missed out on. Beatrix was also taught art, but preferred to develop at her own pace, and chose her own styles of painting.
The one thing that Beatrix was really interested in was archaeology, and along with fossils, she drew lots of sketches and watercolours. All aspects of nature drew her, and she became really fascinated by fungi spores, which drew the attention of the scientific establishment. It seems that Beatrix Potter was on the way to being well known as a scientifically minded woman, which was an incredible thing to be at this time.
Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit
It seems obvious that from an early age, Beatrix had a love of sketching and painting. Her talent had began to show when she was just 14 years old. She started a Diary and began to take notes and sketches of the world around her. The books she read, and the paintings that she adored always had a Fairy theme, and anything fantastical. She also a a great interest in the art of book illustrating, and after discovering the work of Randolph Caldecott an illustrator her father admired, this gave her the incentive to go on to experiment with her own ideas. At first she started drawing pictures of The Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella, and many other fairy tales. But she always came back to the animals that she loved. All her beloved pets, guinea pigs, mice, rabbits and kittens.
In the 1890s, as a way of earning money, Beatrix and her brother began to make Christmas Cards, and these were always illustrated with mice and rabbits. She became quite successful at selling her pieces, and went on to sell several of her drawings of her rabbit with the name of Benjamin bunny. Along with a book of rhymes, and a series of frog illustrations, this gave Beatrix the determination to write and illustrate her own books.
Nothing was to small to record. But it was when she went on holiday to The Lake District that the pictures and stories that we know so well today got started. Beatrix used to send her friends and relatives back in London, letters with their own illustrations on them, showing the world around her, the grasses and fields, little mice and rabbits, and all the other animals that we know her for today.
In September 1893, Beatrix was on holiday in Scotland, and knowing that Noel, the son of her former Governess, was ill, she started sending him letters. But soon she realised that she didn't have much to say, so she decided to write him a story with illustrations. Hence the story of 'four little rabbits, with the names Flopsy, Mopsy Cottontail and Peter' was born.
In 1901, Beatrix published her own book about Peter Rabbit, and this was seen by a commercial publisher by the name of Frederick Warne & Co. He asked her to re-draw the illustrations in color compared to the original in black and white. In 1902 the book became a success. The following year Beatrix Potter published The tale of Squirrel Nutkin and the Tailor of Gloucester, these had all been original letters that she had sent to her family.
Over the next few years, Beatrix put all her energy into producing twenty three books, but after World War 1 she decided to put her books aside and concentrate on her farming and sheep breeding, along with conservation.
The Beautiful Royal Ballet Film of The Tales of Beatrix Potter
Beatrix Potter the Business Woman
In 1903, Beatrix produced her first Peter Rabbit doll. It was quickly followed by painting books, board games, even wallpaper with all her illustrations on them. She knew what she was doing, this was a new type of marketing and Beatrix took the country by storm. Soon she was making figurines and baby blankets, china tea sets and many other little collectables. All of these things were licensed by Frederick Warne, and in 1905, Beatrix and Frederick became engaged. Because he was 'in Trade' her family found him totally unsuitable, and sadly the marriage was not to be. Frederick died at the age of 37.
That same year, Beatrix used part of her inheritance and income to buy Hilltop Farm in Near Sawrey Lancashire, which is now a part of Cumbria. This area is in the English Lake District. She moved in and continued to write her stories.
She continued to write and draw, but by this time it was mainly for her own pleasure. Hill Top Farm, was a working farm and with so much work to be done, she hired the services of W.H Heelis & Son. In 1912, Beatrix became engaged to William Heelis and they married on 15 October 1913. They enjoyed a happy marriage that lasted 30 years, and even though they never had children, Beatrix became very close to Williams family, and especially to several nieces who she took under her wing and helped to educate.
Beatrix died in 1943 at the age of 77, from pneumonia and heart disease. She left nearly all her wealth and property to the National Trust. Hers was the largets gift of money ever given to them, and this great amount helped the preservation of the lands now known as the Lake District. Her husband died in 1945, and once again he gave the rest of the property to the National Trust.
The Legacy of Beatrix Potter
Beatrix Potter left most of her work to the National Trust. But she also donated the Copyright of her stories and merchandise to her publisher Frederick Warne and Company which is now a part of the Penguin Group, books for children. Her folios of mycological drawings went to The Armitt Library in Ambleside. The Tate Gallery and the British museum also own part of her work. Her letters that contained the wonderful stories and pictures can now be seen at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and in the United States of America, in the Special Collections of The Free library of Philadelphia, and the Lloyd Cotsen Children's Library at Princeton University.
And I believe most importantly, children can read her wonderful books all over the world. I am sure that when Beatrix Potter sent that first letter to her Governess, and her son, little did she realise the impact that she would make on the world.
Copyright Nell Rose
Beatrix Potter Glossary of Children's Books
The Tale of Peter Rabbit 1902,The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin 1903,The Tailor of Gloucester 1903,The Tale of Benjamin Bunny 1904,The Tale of Two Bad Mice 1904,The Tale of Mrs Tiggy Winkle 1905,The Tale of the Pie and the Patty-Pan 1905,The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher 1906,The Story of A Fierce Bad Rabbit 1906,The Story of Miss Moppet 1906,The Tale of Tom Kitten 1907,The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck 1908,The Tale of Samual Whiskers or The Roly Poly Pudding 1908,The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies 1909,The Tale of Ginger and Pickles 1909,The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse 1910,The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes 1911,The Tale of Mr. Tod 1912,The Tale of Pigling Bland 1913,Appley Dapply's Nursery Rhymes 1917,The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse 1918,Cecily Parsley's Nursery Rhymes 1922,The Tale of Little Pig Robinson 1930
Beatrix Potter's Tom Kitten
Beatrix Potter Books at Amazon
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