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My Life: Beatrix Potter

beatrix-potter

Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter, a name that conjures up many memories for children everywhere, many of us have grown up in our early years, introduced to her books.

Helen Beatrix Potter, was born on 28th July 1866, in South Kensington.  Her father Rupert William Potter (1832-1914) was a barrister, and her mother Helen Leech (1839-1932) was the daughter of a cotton merchant and ship builder.  The family were extremely wealthy by the 1890’s, thanks to her father’s keen investments in the stock market.

The family were English Unitarians, a dissenting Protestant sect.  Her grandfather Edmund Potter served as a Member of Parliament.

Annie Moore, her last governess, was to become her life-long friend.

In their school room, Beatrix and her brother Walter kept a variety of small animals, which they studied and drew.

Her first fifteen years of life, she spent her summer at Dalguise Estate in Scotland.  There she sketched and explored an area that nourished her imagination and observation, and became an adept student of Natural History.

In 1887, whilst holidaying at Wray Castle in the Lake District, came into contact with Hardwicke Rawnsley, vicar at Wray, and later founding secretary of the National Trust.

At the age of fourteen, she started a diary written in her own personal code, describing her maturing and intellectual interests and her ability to observe and describe nature.

As was common to the Victorian era, women of her class were privately educated and rarely attended college.

Beatrix Potter, became interested in natural science’s and her knowledge in Botany, would help her in later years, but she did not know this…

She took on the establishment by disagreeing with the theory symbiosis, as put forward by Simon Schwendener, and put forward an independent process of reproduction.  She was rebuffed by the then director of Kew; William Thiselton-Dyer based on her gender and amateur status.

She submitted a paper on Germination Spores of the Agaricineae to the Linnean Society in 1897, based solely on her gender, was not allowed to attend the proceedings.  It was not until 1997, one-hundred years later, they apologised for their handling of her research.

Beatrix Potter, gave her mycological drawing to the Armitt Museum and Library.  Her fungi paintings to the Perth Museum and Art Gallery.

In 1967, Mycologist WPK Findlay included some of Potter’s fungi drawings in his Wayside and Woodland Fungi book.

Beatrix Potter’s artistic and literary interests were deeply influenced by fairies, fairy tales and fantasy.

In her teenage years, Potter became a regular visitor of London art galleries, which brought out her sophisticated side as a critic, with influence by Sir John Everett Millias (Artist), who was aware of her artistic trends.

In the 1890’s with her brother’s help, she designed Christmas and special occasion cards of mice and rabbits.

Hildesheimer and Faulkner purchased rabbit drawings from Potter, to illustrate verses by Frederick Weatherly.

Whenever Potter went on holiday to the Lake District or Scotland, she sent letters to young friends illustrated with sketches.  Many of these letters were destined to the children of her former governess Annie Carter Moore, particularly for Noel who was often ill.

In September 1893, whilst holidaying in Dunkeld, Perthshire she sent Noel a story about four little rabbits; Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter, and it became one of her most famous children’s stories written.

In 1900, she revised her tale of the four rabbits, and published it in 1901, for friends and family at her expense.  Later published by Frederick Warne & Co in full colour.

The tale of Peter Rabbit was published in 1902, and followed up in 1903 with Tale of Squirrel Nutkin and The Tailor of Gloucester, originally written as picture letters to the Moore children.  A total of 23 books were published.

The immense popularity of her books, was based on her illustrations, depicting rural countryside, and the quality she put on her animal characters.

In 1903, she patented and released merchandise, linked to her characters.

In 1905, Potter and Norman Warne became unofficially engaged, but her parents objected.  Within a month Warne died of Leukemia aged 37.

In 1905, Potter purchased Hill Top Farm in the Lake District.

With the assistance of local solicitors, she bought neighbouring farms and land.  By 1912 William Heelis her solicitor and friend had proposed marriage.  They were married on 15th October 1913 in Kensington.

They resided at Castle Cottage, with her studio and workshop at Hill Top Cottage, close by.

After the death of her father in 1914, she continued writing, even though she was now a very wealthy woman.

She established a Nursing Trust for local villages.

Her interest in breeding sheep, saw her expand this side of the business, raising Hardwick Sheep.  By the late 1920’s, her farm manager had made a prize-winning name for the Hardwick flock.

In 1942, she was named President-elect of the Hardwick Sheepbreeders Association.

Beatrix Potter had been a disciple of the land conservation and preservation ideals of her long-time friend and mentor, Hardwicke Rawnsley; the first secretary and founding member of the National Trust.

Potter continued to write stories and to draw, mainly for her own pleasure, and became patron of the Girl Guides.

Beatrix Potter and William Heelis enjoyed thirty years of marriage, although childless.  William had a large family, and Beatrix particularly enjoyed her relationships with several nieces whom she helped educate.

Beatrix Potter died from pneumonia and heart disease on 22nd December 1943, leaving the majority of her estate to the National Trust.  William Heelis, her husband died in August 1945, leaving the remainder to the National Trust.

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