July 28, 1866: Helen Beatrix Potter is born. The English natural scientists and conservationist is best known as an author and illustrator of children’s book featuring animals. Her best known book is The Tale of Peter Rabbit. She and her younger brother grew up in an artistic family in the countryside. Both children had many small pets and drew pictures of them. Beatrix was educated by private governesses and she was presented with a wide variety of languages, literature, science, and history. She was a good student. She was given private art lessons and practiced with watercolors, her favorite medium, creating pictures of flora and fauna found in the country. She drew fungi and their spores and came to the attention of the scientific world for her study of fungus reproduction.
In the 1890s, Potter sent illustrated stories to the children of her former governess, Annie Moore. Moore suggested her former student make them into a book and was able to provide all the former correspondence so Potter could work on a book. In 1901 she privately published The Tale of Peter Rabbit based on a letter she had sent to then 5 year old Noel. The letter was too short to make a book, so Potter fleshed it out and added more illustrations. She passed out copies of this book and one finally came into the hands of Arthur Conan Doyle. The original run had been 250 copies and she had another 200 printed when those ran out with the second printing containing a note that her beloved pet rabbit had died.
She entered into a commercial contract to publish 5,000 copies and that was done after long negotiations and an agreement was reached in June 1902. She was able to work closely with the publishing house and made adjustments in both the text and illustrations. The book was to go on sale in October of that year and had sold out 8,000 copies prior to print. By the end of the year, 25,000 copies of the book were printed. The book was a hit and by the end of the next year, 56,470 books were in print. The publisher’s New York office failed to copyright the book in the US and unlicensed copies were printed there. Potter received no royalties from the US editions as well as future US merchandising ventures.
She went on to write over 20 books between 1902 and 1922. The stories of her beloved pets came to life for children around the world as her books were translated into many languages. She was engaged to her editor/publisher, something her parents were against as socially unsuitable. Her fiancé died only a month later from leukemia at the age of 37. Potter purchased a country home and William Heelis helped her run it. They married in 1913 again against her parents’ wishes since he was just a country solicitor. But the marriage suited Potter who settled into the large Heelis family. She continued to write for many years. She died of complications from heart disease and pneumonia in December 1943 at the age of 77.
All outward forms of religion are almost useless, and are the causes of endless strife. Believe there is a great power silently working all things for good, behave yourself and never mind the rest.
Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality.
It is said that the effect of eating too much lettuce is ‘soporific’.
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 land seeing every stone and flower and patch of bog and cotton pass where my old legs will never take me again. – all from Beatrix Potter
Also on this day: Dusting for Prints – In 1858, fingerprints were first used – sorta.
Motormouth – In 1958, Lord Jellico spoke for the first time in 19 years.
Plane Flies into Building in New York – In 1945, the Empire State Building was hit by a plane.
B-17 Flying Fortress – In 1935, a test flight for the WWII bomber was made.
In the Stars – In 1855, the USS Constellation was commissioned.