Bookish Birthday: Beatrix Potter

27th Jul 2012

Helen Beatrix Potter, born 28th July 1866, is one of the everlasting British legends of literature. Her children’s tales and illustrations have thrilled the world’s children and adults since they were first published privately in 1901.


Beatrix Potter was born in to a highly privileged Unitarian family, and as her parents were extremely artistic themselves, she began her work at an early age.

Privately educated until the age of eighteen, Beatrix Potter was able to develop her studies of languages, literature, history and science which aided her studies that made her into the classic author she is remembered as today.

While she received art lessons, Beatrix Potter preferred to adapt her own style favouring water colours wherever possible, and this form provided the iconic images of such characters as Peter Rabbit and Tom Kitten.

Just as her love of studies began at an early age, so did her adoration of nature, particularly of animals and the Lake District. Beatrix Potter and her younger brother Walter Bertram were surrounded by animals and with great passion they would study and draw endlessly.

Prior to her great literary career, Potter’s artistic study of insects, fossils, artefacts and fungi sparked great interest in the scientific community due to their accuracy and minute detail.

She also gained some small success from illustrating booklets and greetings cards before she set out with possibly her most well known story The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Once she received the proceeds of her publication alongside a legacy from her aunt, Beatrix Potter was able to purchase Hill Top Farm in 1905, which remains to be amongst the most popular British tourist attractions to this day, boasting over three million visitors to date.

Hill Top sparked further inspiration for her work with such stories as The Tale of Samuel Whiskers and The Tale of Tom Kitten being illustrated with watercolours depicting the surrounding areas of Hill Top Farm.

Alongside her flourishing literary career, Beatrix Potter actively engaged in country life and the conservation of the Lake District. She won prizes for her breeding of Herdwick sheep and she was a successful farmer for many years, expanding her property by purchasing the surrounding farm land.

She supported the National Trust for many years, and had such passion for the organisation that she bequeathed Hill Top Farm and the surrounding land to the Trust in her will.

Beatrix Potter continued to write and illustrate until her eyesight and health made it impossible for her to continue, and so spent her later years managing and preserving her land.

She died 22nd December 1943 at the age of 77 in her home after a life spent entrancing the masses and ensuring the beautiful country she adored remained untouched and cherished.

While it must be acknowledged that children’s taste in stories and illustrations change and alter over the generations, there is a reason why Beatrix Potter still remains one of the most popular British authors today. Her delicate illustrations which gained her such recognition from artists and scientists alike show a talent that few can claim to posses.

The stories she wrote entertain children and adults alike because the combine the innocent with the real, without ever seemingly preaching morality to its reader.

Of course, there is a nostalgia element for anyone that re-reads the books as they are taken back to a childhood of fields, hedgehogs and naughty rabbits, but they are also still stories that can entertain new readers.

I have a complete hardback collection of all of Potter’s twenty three books with full colour illustrations. I’m going to dig it out of my children’s and YA bookshelf and spend an afternoon soaking in the beauty of both the illustrations and the accompanying tales. Since it’s her birthday, I suggest you do the same.

Which of Beatrix Potter’s classic tales are your favourite?