Thursday, July 28, 2011

Today is Beatrix Potter's Birthday

On this day in 1866 Helen Beatrix Potter was born
in South Kensington, London, England.

She had always been an animal lover.
It is reported that she would hide little rabbits, frogs, kittens,
hedgehogs, and mice in secret places of her home.
She and brother Bertram
also kept several "legal" creatures in the schoolroom,
such as birds, lizards, and snakes.

She was stricken with rheumatic fever as a girl
which would affect her health for the remainder of her life.

Her parents and governess observed in her a creativity
 and taught her to paint and draw.

Beatrix Potter's childhood sketches

The Lake District of England

Beatrix Potter's nature illustrations

The Potter family spent summers in the Scottish Highlands
and the Lake District of England.
She became familiar with the natural world,
Observing and recording the flora and fauna around her.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit was first written in 1893
as a picture letter for her governess' ailing son.

Beatrix Potter's picture letter

Once in print, starting just in time for Christmas 1901,
the were a smashing success.
In fact, this book has never been out of print.

She published 22 little books in 28 years.

She spent her later years preserving the ecology and beauty
of the Lake District.
She became a farmer and bred Herdwick sheep.

Peter Rabbit is the oldest licensed character,
Miss Potter patented him in 1903.

Potter with Kep

Kep, the farm collie, saves the day

Wily Mr. Todd lures the naive and
 trusting Mrs. Puddle-Duck from safety

Considering the antiquity of these charming diminutive tales,
 I’m convinced that a very young Mrs. Ripkey
 once found herself as delighted as I was the day she introduced me.

I became incurably enchanted with her books when I was in the fourth grade.
 We were being introduced to the school library.
 I’ll never forget the librarian’s name.
 It was Mrs. Ripkey.
 A perfect picture, with sweeping gray hair
 and small, chained glasses invariably resting upon her nose.
 She demonstrated this to us by holding up
 a large key-shaped construction paper cutout with her name written on it.
 Then she ripped it in half while holding it up
 for all us small students to see.
 She must’ve understood the mind of a child because
 all the kids knew that the school librarian’s name was Mrs. Ripkey.

She showed us several popular books of the day.
 My young mind must not have been impressed as I do not recall a single one.
 Except for the little green ones.

I don’t remember of which I read first.
 The Tale of Tom Kitten was my favorite
 because it reminded me of the stories my daddy would tell
of his family’s tom cats and their endless naughty adventures.
 I felt like I knew his cats.
 And Tom Kitten presented that familiar mischievousness in darling illustration.
 I was hooked for a lifetime.

Mama, Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit with one of her three naughty kittens, Tom

There may have been a dozen of her 23 little stories in that library.
 I read every one, drinking in the gentle lines and the soft, rich colors.
 Her work is innocent tenderness, never overdone.
 It would be decades before I would discover the others.
 Longer before I would regard darling Peter with the same aversion as did Mr. McGregor.

Mr. McGregor chases Peter out of the garden.

I’ve read these stories to my own children,
 and together we’ve found new favorites.
The impertinent Squirrel Nutkin, the Tale about a tail.

Squirrel Nutkin teases Old Brown

 He unabashedly teases Old Brown with riddles and dances.
 This is an Owl with prime real estate.
 It is autumn and the little red squirrels must fill their cache for wintertime.
 Nutkin’s brother and cousins dutifully offer surety
 to the swift-winged predator in exchange for clemency.
 However, Old Brown’s patience is tested
 over and over by Squirrel Nutkin,
 making him a dangerous liability to his family.

Mr. Jeremy Fisher, a recent favorite in our home,
 was read to our fifth child many nights.

Mr. Jeremy Fisher fishing for his dinner.

 Now this is a gentleman frog
 who sets about planning a dinner with a couple of his buddies.
 He will offer fresh fish, of course.
 (However, one, a Mr. Alderman Ptolemy Tortoise, eats salad.)
 This fishing expedition starts off as a normal day,
 but, after lunchtime, turns rather too adventurous.
 Poor Mr. Jeremy Fisher is pestered by a water-beetle, a rat,
 a spiny stickleback fish, and then swallowed by a trout,
 who, thankfully, dislikes the taste if raincoat.
 The friends dined together that evening on roasted grasshopper
 with lady-bird sauce, and salad.

Sir Isaac Newton with Mr. Jeremy Fisher

The story of Peter Rabbit and his cousin, Benjamin Bunny
continue in The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies.
Ben & cousin Flopsy marry and have six hungry little bunnies to care for.
Still raiding poor Mr. McGregor's faithful garden for their own survival,
the bunnies are caught by the farmer
who then intends to sell them for tobacco.   

Cousins Peter and Benjamin Bunny

Mama, Mrs. Josephine Rabbit with her bunnies, Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter

Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail Rabbit Beswick figurines

The soporific Flopsy Bunnies

The beautiful porcelain figurines
 of the beloved Beatrix Potter characters, made by
 Beswick of the Royal Doulton Company,
have become highly sought after collectibles.

These figurines capture the gentle colors
and the innocent expressions of Potter's characters
like no other brand.

Hunca Munca and her children

Timmy Tiptoes with his wife, Goody

Much was drawn from Potter's life,
like the loyal farm collie, Kep
as well as the pesky nature of rabbits in the garden.
Also, she preferred to avoid tragic endings, knowing
the difficulty that children have coming to terms with them.

For instance, Jemima Puddle-Duck was saved
in the end, and Peter only needed a rest
and chamomile tea.
That makes for a good bedtime story.
That makes for a classic.

1 comment:

  1. This is very nice, I just wish the art she did had a name something


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As long as I'm on this journey, rambling through life's exhilarating highs and trudging heavily amongst it's incapacitating lows, I might as well share whatever may be gleaned from my little bits of wisdom and my many missteps. No room for judgment from this broken mama. I'm writing from my heart: raw, open, messy, but saved. And I'm still thanking God!