Beatrix Potter: Hop, Hop, Hopping Along

Beatrix Potter

Helen Beatrix Potter was born in 1866 to extremely wealthy parents in England. Her youth was filled with privileges and servants working as governesses to meet her every need. Still, she was lonely much of the time and rarely if ever had the company of other children to fill her days. Instead, she enjoyed her pets; in particular her ferret, rabbits, frogs and newts. It is even told that she had a pet bat which she cared for diligently. She also had an appreciative passion for the scenic outdoors, experienced through her extravagant travels across the world. Her favorite place was the Lake District in Scotland. As a teenager and young adult, she would spend hours painting and studying mycology.

While her brothers were sent away to boarding schools across the globe, Beatrix was discouraged from developing her intellect. Instead, she was appointed as the family housekeeper at the age of 15 and forced to supervise the running of the household. During this time, she wrote in a journal every day using a specialized code so that no one could read her thoughts. It was not until 20 years after her death that historians were able to decode her diary for the world.

Despite her lack of education, Beatrix Potter was extremely knowledgeable about algae and fungi. She used her artistic talents to paint her findings in the microscope and became a highly respected mycologist. She wrote various academic papers in the field, but was rarely credited because she was a woman. Because she was robbed of credit for her work in mycology, she was issued a posthumous official apology by the Linnean Society. Her technical work was also published under a surname by the Royal Society.

Her most famous children's book was The Tale of Peter Rabbit. As an artist she had illustrated several books for other authors. She was fascinated with Aesop's Fables as a child and had a deep love for animals. During her youth she was constantly rescuing animals from the wild and domesticating them secretly as her pets. Many of the stories in The Tale of Peter Rabbit are drawn from her own observations and experiences with animals.

Her literary career came from unexpected means. While writing letters in story form to a 5-year old friend of the family, she concocted her tall tales of animal characters as a way to entertain the young child. She never realized the gift of her writing skills. Instead, it was the mother of this child, Beatrix's last governess, who realized the commercial value of her stories and illustrations and emphatically encouraged Potter to publish.

Surprisingly, her first attempts to publish Peter Rabbit were unsuccessful. In 1901, after being turned down by many publishers she decided to self publish and color illustrate her own books. By 1902, The Tale of Peter Rabbit was released and an amazing 28,000 copies were sold. In 1903, the character Peter Rabbit from Potter's books was patented and was sold as a soft or plush toy. Today, Peter Rabbit is the oldest licensed character.

With the success of Peter Rabbit, Potter began writing more children's books. The next book was titled The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. She wrote 23 other children's book, the last being written in 1930. This one was called The Tale of Little Pig Robinson. Her success is a combination of her writing talent and her artistic talent. All of her books depict animals in their natural habitat and character. Her drawings in full color (still seen in the books today) indicate what an accomplished artist she was as well.

Beatrix Potter stopped writing due to an eye disease shortly after 1930. She moved back to the Lake District in her retirement and past away in 1943 leaving her entire estate to a trust. Today, her homestead and the surrounding acreage are maintained with the money she raised and monuments and museums are erected in her honor.