If the name Beatrix Potter doesn't quite ring a bell, the name Peter Rabbit surely does. The fictional rabbit who spawned a series of books about talking animals and became a household name is the brain-bunny of Potter, born in 1866 in Kensington, England. As a young child, Beatrix Potter loved animals and spent much of her time drawing and painting pictures of everything from hedgehogs to frogs. She named her first pet rabbit Benjamin Bouncer, and he traveled on vacation with the Potter family to Scotland. Potter's second rabbit Peter Piper was a trickster and her constant companion, and these bunnies laid the foundation for the future Beatrix Potter books.
Potter taught herself biology and mycology, creating detailed sketches and studies of the natural world around her, and even attempted to publish an academic paper when she was 20. But in the days long before women were respected and included in academic circles, Potter's work was rejected. Instead, she eventually found her niche in a burgeoning book genre: children's literature. Her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was published in 1902 based on an illustrated letter she'd written to a sick child. Much like her American contemporary Laura Ingalls Wilder, Potter's main loves were a simple life and observing small things around her. She kept writing until 1930, and then she focused much of her time on farming. Upon her death in 1943, she left 15 farms and more than 4,000 acres of land to the British National Trust.
The Peter Rabbit Franchise Got Its Start With A Letter To A Boy With Scarlet Fever
In 1893, Potter wrote a letter to a five-year-old boy named Noel Moore, who was one the son of her governess friend Annie Moore. The boy had scarlet fever, and Potter was attempting to cheer him up during his recovery. She accompanied the letter with pictures and watercolors she'd sketched. She wrote, "I don't know what to write to you, so I shall tell you story about four little rabbits, whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter."
The boy's mother, Potter's friend, was so impressed she pressured Potter to turn the letters into a book. In 1900, Potter followed Annie's advice and borrowed back her original letter to Noel to use as a model for her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
She Wanted Her Books To Be Small So Children Could Hold Them Easily
Potter chose to make her books small so a child's tiny hands could easily hold on to them and advocated for including black-and-white illustrations on every page to retain children's interest. Six publishers turned her down, preferring a larger, costlier format with color illustrations. After the multiple rejections Potter decided to publish the books herself in black and white because she wanted her stories to be affordable. Her printing sold out and became so popular that one of the publishers who had previously rejected her decided to give her books another go, this time on Potter's terms. Frederick Warne & Co began publishing her books in 1902 — the same Warne who later became Potter's fiance.
She Owned 15 Different Farms Throughout Her Lifetime
Potter bought and owned 15 different farms throughout the course of her lifetime, and she actively cared for them, eventually quitting writing to become a full-time farmer. She specialized in sheep farming, and as a shepherdess, she reportedly fully pitched in hands-on with hay-making, mud-mucking, and other farmstead activities. She wrote that she was in her happy place whenever she was among her animals on her farm.
She Wrote A Journal In A Secret Code
Potter started writing in a journal when she was a teenager using a secret code that wasn't decoded until 1966. Potter wrote about her parents' controlling nature and her struggle in dealing with them as she lived with them into her 20s. She mentioned being depressed at times and having some health problems. However, she was determined to stay positive, and noted: "I must draw, however poor the result... I will do something sooner or later."