BEATRIX POTTER (1866-1943)
The first living things Beatrix Potter wrote about were fungi.
Once upon a time there were four little rabbits, And their names were - Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail and Peter.
Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) was an English author, illustrator, fungi expert and conservationist. She was educated by governesses and grew up without much contact with other children. She had lots of pets like a bat, newts, ferrets, frogs and two rabbits (Benjamin and Peter) which she took around with her on a lead. She spent her holidays in Scotland and the Lake District.
From the age of fifteen to past thirty she recorded her life in journals, using a secret code. During her summers in Scotland and the Lake District she loved to observe nature. She became an expert in fungi (a mycologist) and studied spore germination and the life cycles of fungi.
She came up with the idea that lichens were a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae and painted a series of pictures to explain the idea (at the time the only way of recording microscopic images was by drawing them by hand).
The first writing she offered to the public was On the Germination of Spores of Agaricineae which her uncle presented for her at the Linnean society in 1897 because at the time women were not allowed to meetings. They issued an apology 100 years later. Kew Gardens also rejected her as a member as she was a woman, and the Royal Society also refused to publish at least one of her papers. She did lecture at the London School of Economics, though, and established a reputation as an illustrator of scientific papers, which she went on to develop into a career as an illustrator of children’s books.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit was Beatrix Potter's first story for children, written in 1893 in a letter to a young boy named Noel Moore whose mother was Potter’s former governess. The governess loved the story and persuaded Potter to publish it. Peter Rabbit was made in to a soft toy in 1903 making him the world’s oldest licensed character.
Peter Rabbit was inspired by a pet rabbit named Peter Piper bought for the young Beatrix Potter for 4 shillings and sixpence in Shepherd’s Bush. He was trained to ‘jump through a hoop, and ring a bell, and play the tambourine.’ In later life, Potter despaired at the success of her rabbit books, writing that ‘The public must be fond of rabbits! What an appalling quantity of Peter’.
It is thought Beatrix Potter got the names for many of her characters from tombstones in Brompton Cemetery, London. Peter Rabbett, Jeremiah Fisher, Mr Nutkins, Mr Brock and Mr McGregor have all been found on stones at Brompton Cemetery, West London, near where Miss Potter lived from 1863 to 1913.
When she died, Beatrix Potter left 4,000 acres to the National Trust.