Famous puddle-duck painter Beatrix Potter wrote her way to wealth when women just didn't, but The Tale of Peter Rabbit author was no suffragette. She felt voting should be left to men. Nor was she always a great businesswoman. She paid the owner of Hill Top Farm twice the price he'd paid a month earlier. And she was her publisher's largest creditor when one of the Warne brothers was sent to Wormwood Scrubs prison for forgery, leaving them facing bankruptcy.
But what's a talented author and writer to do when she comes of age in the 1880s except aspire to be a wife above all else? Here are a few photos, facts, and quotes to enjoy on the 147th birthday of the famous "Mrs. Heelis."
“I never have cared tuppence … for the modern child; they are pampered & spoilt with too many toys & books.” – Beatrix Potter (Quote from 5.29.19 ltr to Fruing Warne, Beatrix Potter’s Letters, p. 257)
Potter kept a journal … in a complicated code that wasn’t deciphered for years! As a teenager, she wrote almost 200,000 coded journal words.
Her first publication was not actually <em>Peter Rabbit</em>, but rather a few illustrations in an 1890 children’s book, <em>Happy Pair</em> by Frederic Weatherly.
Many of Potter’s books, including <em>The Tale of Peter Rabbit</em>, began as story letters to friends’ children. She borrowed them back from the recipients to turn the stories into books.
A decade after she wrote the picture letter, when a black and white version of <em>The Tale of Peter Rabbit</em> had been rejected by every publisher Potter sent it to, this E.L. Jamesian inspiration self-published 250 copies—which sold out within days of its December 1901 publication.
The 8,000-copy first printing of the color <em>Peter Rabbit</em>—with Peter’s blue jacket—sold out before its publication date in October of 1902. Still, Potter self-published <em>The Tailor of Gloucester </em>as well.
Potter wrote of her beloved Hill Top Farm, purchased with her publishing winnings, “The first thing I did when I arrived is go through the back kitchen ceiling, I don’t think I ran any risk, it went down wholesale so it was not scratchy to my stockings … The joiner & plasterer were much alarmed and hauled me out.”
“‘Where do you go every afternoon by yourself, Jemima Puddle-Duck?’” Potter—who used the Hill Top neighborhood as the backdrop for her stories—believed her neighbors saw her as similar to her famous character, Jemima Puddle-Duck, forever rushing noisily about and causing a fuss.
Potter used a microscope to draw details: Hairy spider legs. Beetles. Mushroom undersides. You cannot imagine how many Lake District mushrooms she drew. She even wrote a scientific paper about the symbiotic nature of lichens.
Potter often replied to children’s letters in her characters’ voices, writing funny things such as, “If there were a ‘Mrs. Jeremy Fisher’ she might object to snails.”
Beatrix Potter was mad for sheep. Her Herdwick ewes took top prizes at Lake District agricultural shows for decades. Her will specified that the breed be preserved.
Famous as Beatrix Potter, she lamented that, after her late-life marriage, people did not remember to call her “Mrs. Heelis.” She and William Heelis used to like spending evenings rowing on Moss Eccles Tarn.
In her later years, she wrote to Caroline Clark, “Thank God I have the seeing eye,’ that is to say as I lie in bed I can walk step by step on the fells and rough lands seeing every stone and flower and patch of bog and cotton grass where my old legs will never take me again.” She left 4,300 acres to the National Trust, ensuring much of the Lakelands would remain protected forever.
“Most people, after one success, are so cringingly afraid of doing less well that they rub all the edge off their subsequent work.” – Beatrix Potter [in a 7.14.12 letter to Harold Warne]
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