Paying homage to her memory, Historic Newspapers has a trio of Peter Rabbit books to honour author, Beatrix Potter. Featuring the Personalised Peter Rabbit Book: Little Guide to Harmony, Little Guide to Virtue, and Little Guide to Life, Peter Rabbit and friends share their wise words of wisdom from original Potter stories.
The trio of guides were released with the specially commisioned Beatrix Potter Gift Set, containing one of 250 Royal Mint 150th Anniversary Beatrix Potter 50p Coins to celebrate the life of this gifted author.
Beatrix Potter was a woman blessed with creativity in her core. From a young age, she was encouraged to broaden her many talents, beginning with sketching. As a future botanist and conservationist, Beatrix found inspiration from her surroundings as a child, captivated by nature and its incandescent beauty.
Along with her younger brother, Walter Bertram, they filled their childhood with muses of the natural world, befriending rabbits, snakes, mice, lizards and frogs. They served not only as loving pets, but inspiration to bring her future characters to life.
Contrary to growing up in London in the 19th century, Potter fell in love with the countryside, holidaying with her family in the Lake District, Troutbeck Park, and Dalguise; many of which are part of The National Trust to whom Potter and her husband, William Heelis were long-time benefactors. Of the farms the Heelis owned, 15 of them and over 4,000 acres were donated to the National Trust when Potter passed in 1943, preserving not only treasured parts of the Lake District, but also the memory of this loved children’s author.
Sheltered from children other than her brother, Potter was schooled by Mrs. Cameron, Annie Moore and several governesses’. It was a custom to be privately educated at home, shared by many families of her social class. Potter proved to be a truly gifted student – bright, industrious and forward thinking towards her writing, and foremost her art. Though this affection wasn’t strongly encouraged by her parents, Potter’s talent for the arts was a skill she would rightfully recognise to market and ensure her own future independence.
Observation was key to Beatrix Potter’s unparalleled world. By observing nature in all forms, she furthered her mediums to produce resplendent works of art, enchanting our hearts and minds. At the tender age of 15, Potter began a journal that lasted well into her mature years. Aiding her on her travels as a sketchbook and diary, Potter's journal fast-tracked the development of her creative voice.
Inside the pages of her journal, Beatrix developed a secret code. She recorded her feelings towards society, art and current events; providing history with a defining view of upper middle-class life during the Victorian era of Britain, once deciphered by Leslie Linder in 1958. Her journal was her inner consciousness, where she wrote stories, wrote about the social order and beautifully illustrated her creations.
Within her stories, we are warmed by the humorous antics of her anthropomorphic animals; there are elements of danger, almost the demise of all her characters, yet they all have satisfying ends. Teachers regard Potter’s stories not only as works of art but valuable teaching tools. They teach a child the simplest of morals, providing so much to learn from a tiny pocket book.
Under the Beatrix Potter Collection of Peter Rabbit, Potter wrote 24 original tales that are regarded as childhood favourites of the young and old alike, as well as writing many other notable works of fiction and non-fiction. As other writers before and after, Potter imagined her stories from experience, complimenting her authentic illustrations with an imagination that mirrored her sheer pleasure of writing stories for children, like The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
Originally published as a letter to Beatrix’s friend, Noel Moore, this tale was expanded into a short story by Potter for publication. It was accompanied by black and white illustrations, all of which Potter recreated into warm colourful tones for the book’s debut. Refused by many publishers, Potter took the matter into her own hands and had 250 copies of the book made, given to her friends and family.
It was Frederick Warne, one of the previous publishers to turn down the book, who quickly picked up on the favourable reception of the story and agreed to publish it. Valuable and insightful, Potter taught us all an important lesson through the words of Peter Rabbit’s wise mother, “...don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden: your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor”.
Even when reading this passage as a child you can head the warning and curiosity of those words. Naturally, like an infant who is told to obey words of caution, Peter Rabbit goes head first into McGregor’s field and nearly suffers an end like his poor old pops. We’re taught from a young age that temptation leads to the lessons we learn in life.
Like Peter Rabbit, Squirrel Nutkin was written as a letter to Norah Moore, Noel Moore’s sister, describing a squirrel she befriended on her holiday in Derwent Water. It’s a tale about a tail, where an ill-mannered little squirrel learns his lesson thanks to Old Brown Owl.
In the London Mercury newspaper in 1933, the renowned author, Graham Greene, wrote an essay on Beatrix Potter. In his findings after reading Potter’s tales in childhood, Greene deemed a period of distress had inflicted Potter between her early and later works, after 1907, claiming she “must have passed through an emotional ordeal” that shifted the tone of the books subsequent.
But Potter was not one for literary criticism. She had a keen eye for marketing her work and wrote for pure enjoyment. They were enjoyable stories for children and reading them again as adults, it’s easy to see they are meant for kids; written in a dated language, boasting beautiful illustrations, almost filled with nonsense and prolonging the innocence masked by adulthood.
Whilst working on Squirrel Nutkin in 1903, Potter created The Tailor of Gloucester and gave it as a gift to another of Annie Moore’s children, Freda Moore. Regarded as Potter’s favourite of her own creations, The Tailor of Gloucester reminds us very much of The Elves and the Shoemaker.
It was based on a true story about John Pritchard, a Gloucester tailor who was commissioned to make an outfit for the mayor of the town. His assistants finished the suit, bar one buttonhole missing as they’d run out of twist. Pritchard claimed the act magical and word spread into a local legend. Only as an adult can we reflect on the story and the characters that’ve resonated in our impressionable childhood-selves.
The Tailor is the epitome of diligence, hard work and kindness as he releases the mice captive to Simpkin. Angered at first, Simpkin hides the twist he is sent to fetch by the Tailor, but, when the Tailor falls ill and the mice help him, Simpkin’s selfishness quickly melts away. In return, he gives back the twill to complete the waistcoat.
Though Potter created many notable works in and found after her lifetime, of the three discussed above, they all share the common trait of being dedicated to children close to her age when she began to uncover her love of nature. Children are happy to read the Tales of Beatrix Potter and not have to worry about the morality of it, or the teachings, or entering a Freudian state of critique to remove the pure enjoyment of reading.
Though there are those who would argue to a greater sense that her stories were written for more than enjoyment, perhaps, to reflect a capitalist society in her characters, or express inner anguish and turbulent times (like most writers do). But, maybe that’s just an adult’s view, ideologically driven and taking away from the simple pleasure of a book. Beatrix Potter’s absolute love for her work reminds us, to never truly grow up, and hold on to our childhood imagination. As Edna St. Vincent Millay once said, “Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies/ Nobody that matters, that is.", just like Beatrix Potter's teachings live on in her children's books.
Beatrix Potter's classic books are greatly cherished by old and young generations and we’re proud to showcase our newest Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit Books, all personalised for the reader. There’s three charming editions to collect, exploring life, virtue and harmony partnered with vintage Peter Rabbit illustrations and devilishly-charming humour. They'll make incredible keepsakes for hard-core Potter fans and give new readers a great source of enjoyment.