Helen Beatrix Potter was born on July 28, 1866, at 2 Bolton Gardens, West Brompton in Victorian London. She was the daughter of Rupert and Helen Beatrix Potter. To avoid confusion with her mother, the child was called Beatrix or quite often "B." Rupert and Helen were a well-to-do, middle-class couple, both having inherited Lancashire cotton fortunes from their parents and ancestors. At the time of her birth, Potter's parents were totally absorbed in their London lives. Rupert was a barrister-at-law, although he never practiced his profession. The Potters had little if any time to be bothered with the needs of an infant. Mrs. Potter visited the nursery only on rare occasions, and knew little of what went on in that area of her home.
A nurse, Miss McKenzie, from the Scottish Highlands, was engaged to care for Potter. A nursery was established on the third floor of Bolton Gardens. It was here that the nurse and her young charge began their separate life together. The two left the third floor only to walk in the park or when Miss McKenzie took Potter downstairs to see her parents on special occasions or to say goodnight. Miss McKenzie had sole responsibility for Potter, looking after her with strict and spartan attention. It was Miss McKenzie who first introduced Potter to witches and fairies, which Potter later claimed helped to inspire her writings.
Potter was six years old when her brother William Bertram Potter was born. In time the two children became close companions; Bertram was Beatrix's only friend. Not only did they play together, but as they grew older they shared a love for various aspects of natural history, and a love of art. Bertram later became an artist, and it was at his insistence that Potter embarked upon her own artistic career.
Potter's childhood was abnormally secluded and lonely. She knew none of the neighborhood children, and had no opportunity to get to know any. Even cousins, of which Potter had her fair share, though they occasionally came to Bolton Gardens with their parents, never became intimates. As a result of these years of seclusion Potter was exceedingly shy and was often tongue-tied when in the company of others.
Potter did not attend school as was the custom in Victorian England. She was instead educated by a governess, Miss Hammond. Potter developed an early interest in books, learning to read on the Waverly novels. She later admitted that the books she liked best were: 'trash, from the literary point of view--goody, goody, powder-in -the jam, from the modern standpoint!' I liked silly stories about other little girls' doings (Taylor, 1986, p.20). Miss Hammond happily allocated a generous portion of the educational timetable to art without neglecting the necessities of "reading, writing and arithmetic." It was Miss Hammond who first introduced Potter to the study of natural history, often taking Beatrix and Bertram to the National History Museum in South Kensington in London. The two Potter children kept quite a menagerie of pets, which they smuggled onto the third floor at Bolton Gardens. Among these pets were mice, rabbits, bats, frogs, snails and even a tame hedgehog. These animals lived long and sophisticated lives in the care of the Potter children.
The happiest times for the Potter children were the summer holidays, usually from the end of July until sometime in October, when the Potters rented large houses first in Scotland and later in the Lake Districrt of northwest England. It was during these holidays, at the age of five, that Beatrix had her first experience with the countryside, and she responded to it with a great passion. She studied and drew small animals, hedgerow flowers and fungi to her heart's content. Potter was joined in her love of natural history by Bertram. The two siblings spent hours dissecting dead mice, squirrels, birds and even a fox. Despite the differences in their ages, the siblings were fond of each other and passed many happy hours in the study of natural history.
The Potter's frequently spent the Easter holidays in England's West County. Many of the sketches Potter made at Falmouth and Sidmouth were later used as backgrounds for the illustrations in The Tale of Little Pig Robinson. This tale was one of Potter's earliest stories, but it was the last to be published.
As a small child Potter discovered she could draw, and used her pencil and paintbox to help her cope with her extreme loneliness. By the time Potter was eight her parents recognized that her drawings demonstrated unusual talent and began to encourage her artistic talents. Her earliest drawings were of birds and animals copied from plates in books on natural history. The earliest of Potter's drawings to have survived go back to the summer of 1875 when Beatrix was nine years old. When Potter was twelve, Miss Cameron was hired as her drawing teacher and remained for five years. While the pupil and teacher did not always get along, Beatrix credited Miss Cameron with teaching her freehand, model, perspective and a little water-color flower painting (Taylor, 1986, p.20). In late 1883, Potter took twelve expensive painting lessons with an unidentified 'Mrs. A' recommended to her parents by Lady Eastlake. The lessons were in oil and figure painting, and she disliked them for she said they were spoiling her for watercolors. Beatrix announced, "I don't want lessons, I want practice" (Hobbs, 1989, p.9). By the end of 1884, the painting question was dropped. From this time on, drawing was indulged and not always supervised. Potter once said, "thank goodness my education was neglected and the originality was not rubbed off" (Hobbs, 1989, p. 8).
At the age of fifteen, Potter attended a drawing course at the Science and Art Department of the Committee of Council on Education. For her efforts she received an Art Student's Certificate of Second Grade for Freehand Drawing, Practical Geometry, Linear Perspective and Model Drawing (National Book League, 1966, p.11).
The Potter family had connections in the world of contemporary art, and knew artists, among them J. E. Millas. Millas encouraged Potter in her drawing and frequently complimented her upon her "keen observations" (Journal, p.429). Her grandfather, Edmund Potter, was President of the Manchester School of Art. Both her uncle, Edmund, and her father were collectors of art, and men of taste. Helen Potter, Beatrix's mother, had also been an accomplished watercolorist in the fashionable manner when she was young. Her brother Bertram later became an artist, although he died at the age of forty-six.
Beatrix Potter claimed to have been influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites and by Randolph Caldecott and is known to have admired the drawings of Mrs. Blackburn and the woodcuts of Thomas Bewick. She was essentially an amateur artist who loved children and enlivened their books with animals that were still recognizably animalish (Hoafe, 1978, p.418).
From the time she was fourteen until she was thirty-one, Potter kept a journal, a secret journal written in a code of her own design. Towards the end of her life Potter wrote, 'when I was young I already had the itch to write without having any material to write about' (Beatrix, 1966, p.11). After starting the journal, she found plenty to write about, and in her quiet manner she developed her writing skills. She wanted to keep her journal from prying eyes, particularly those of her mother. Although the code was simple it remained undeciphered for eighty years until in 1958 Leslie Linder was able to break the code. Potter did admit that later in her life she had some difficulty in reading what she had written.
Beatrix Potter believed her inspiration to write came from three things. First, her matter-of-fact ancestors. They were hardheaded, obstinate folk, generations of yeomen and weavers of Lancashire, England. Second, the fact that she spent much of her childhood in the Scottish highlands, with a highland's nurse who believed in witches and fairies. And third, her remarkably good memory (Kunitz, 1935, p.301). In her early days of writing she composed or tried to compose ballads, imitating Isaac Watts or describing Scottish scenery. Her verses would not scan, and she felt she could not write, so for a long time she gave up trying.
Potter had numerous other interests: history, politics, literature, geology, natural history, botany and for a period of about ten years she engaged in an intensive study of fungi. During this time she collected and painted every variety of fungi she could find. This watercolor collection was left to the Armitt Library at Ambleside, Westmoreland, England. Potter hoped that her microscopically-detailed pictures of fungi would be published in a textbook, but this was not to be, for she was an untrained scientist. In 1967, long after Potter's death, her drawings were published in Wayside and Woodland Fungi.
In 1896 Beatrix Potter was working on the preparation of a paper 'On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae,' developing her own theories, which were well in advance of her time. The paper was read at a Meeting of the Linnean Society of London on April 1, 1987 (National Book League, 1966, p.11)
By 1890, Potter was still very much dependent upon her parents. It was at this time that she felt a little money of her own would give her at least an illusion of independence. For sometime she had been creating place cards, menu cards, and other trifles for special occasions at home, and it was these works that would put her life on the path to independence.
At the insistence of her brother, Potter sent some of her rabbit drawings to Hildesheimer and Faulkner, a greeting card publisher. To her surprise they sent her a check for six pounds and a requst for more drawings. The company made cards from some and used others as illustrations for a book of verses, A Happy Pair by Frederic E. Weatherly. At age twenty-four Beatrix Potter had begun her career.
At the age of twenty-seven Potter, still living with her authoritarian parents, began writing letters to entertain the child of a former governess. The child, Noel Moors, was recovering from scarlet fever and was confined to bed. The letters were illustrated with little drawings of rabbits, squirrels and other tiny creatures. It was in this fashion that Beatrix Potter first told her tales of Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, and the hedgehog Mrs. Tiggy Winkle. The letters gave such pleasure to the children that Beatrix decided to turn the story of Peter Rabbit into a book.
Beatrix asked that the children permit her to "borrow her letters" so that she might turn them into a book. In 1900, unable to find a publisher for Peter Rabbit, Beatrix had the book published privately. On December 16, 1901, The Tale of Peter Rabbit was ready, in an edition of two hundred and fifty copies, most of which the author gave away. At the age of thirty-five Beatrix Potter had at last launched her career as an author and illustrator of children's books.
In the meantime, through the help of a personal friend, Potter developed an association with a publishing company in London called Frederick Warne and Company. Not only was this a professional association, but a personal one as well. All of Potter's dealings at Frederick Warne and Company were with the youngest of the three brothers in the firm. It was with Norman that she discussed her contracts and to him that she sent her ideas. It was Norman who saw that her proofs were sent out on time and her instructions for alterations were carried out. This association with the Warne Company was to last a lifetime, and over the next thirty years Warne and Company would publish twenty-four little books for children.
Warne had at long last agreed to publish a colorized version of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, which was ready for distribution on October 2, 1902. All 8,000 copies were sold before the book was even published. While Potter was developing this association with Warne, she had also arranged to privately publish a second book, The Tailor of Glouster. Her decision to privately publish this story stemmed from the fact that it contained many of the rhymes she loved so much, and she feared that Frederick Warne would cut out these rhymes. In December, 1902 she had five hundred copies of this title printed and then distributed them herself, sending a copy to her publisher Norman Warne on December 17,1902.
The Warne edition of The Tailor of Gloucester was a shortened version, for Norman Warne thought the original was too long and had too many rhymes. The book was published in 1903 just in time for Christmas. Just two months later a third title was published, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin.
It was unfortunate that Warne did not copyright The Tale of Peter Rabbit in America when it was first published. The result was that in 1904 a pirated edition appeared, published by Henry Altemus and Company. It was the same format as the Warne edition, and the text and pictures were copied from the fourth printing of 1903. There was nothing Warne could do about it, and in time more pirated editions of Peter Rabbit appeared.
From 1901 to 1905, Beatrix Potter and Norman Warne exchanged letters almost daily. Norman had, in his own way, begun to court Potter and in 1905 asked her to marry him. Despite her parents objections, Potter became engaged to Norman Warne at the age of thirty-nine. Her parents at last consented to permit her to wear Norman's ring, although they refused to announce her engagement. The marriage between Beatrix and Norman would never take place, because Norman very suddenly died a few months later to the great relief of her parents. Potter used this occasion to escape from her overbearing and authoritative parents. Using the earnings from her "little books" she purchased a small farm, Hill Top, at New Sawrey in the Lake District of northwest England.
Beginning with the purchase of Hill Top farm in 1905, Potter turned her interests to farming and sheep breeding. She later became a well-known breeder of Herdwick sheep. In the years to come she would purchase several more farms and parcels of land. At the time of her death she owned a considerable amount of land in and around the village of Sawrey.
The remainder of the books she wrote are packed with exquisite watercolor paintings of Sawrey and the north-country farming life. The places associated with many of her books can be found in the country-side surrounding Sawrey.
In 1909 Potter bought a second farm in Near Sawrey called Castle Farm. The cottage here offered a fine view of her holdings.
In all of her land dealings Potter sought the advice and help of William Heelis, a partner in a firm of local solicitors. William Heelis grew quite fond of this woman who shared his love of the country. In the summer of 1912 William Heelis asked Beatrix to marry him. Once again Potter was faced with her parents' objections to her pending marriage. Their primary concern about her upcoming marriage was that there would be no one to care for them in their old age. However, despite Rupert and Helen's objections, at the age of forty-six Potter married William Heelis on October 14, 1913 at St. Mary Abbot's in Kensington. Beatrix and William were to enjoy thirty years of happily married life.
The war years were just as depressing for everyone in Sawrey as in London. Potter was becoming anxious about her publishers, since they were using the war as an excuse for not paying her the royalties due her. In April 1917, Potter's worst fears were realized; she learned of Frederick Warne's near bankruptcy. As one of the Warne Company's more important authors she was asked to help save the company. The publication of Appley Dapply's Nursery Rhymes and two painting books helped to set Frederick Warne on its feet again. In 1919 Potter received part of the money owed her in the form of Warne shares, which tied her even more closely to her publisher.
Only a few more books were published after her marriage, and most of these were largely based on fragments of left-overs from earlier writings. By the age of fifty-six Potter's creative period was over, and she devoted most of her energies to sheep farming, becoming a successful breeder and landowner. Frederick Warne was not happy that she was no longer producing new Beatrix Potter books, so in 1921 they began to offer German and French translations of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny.
Until 1921 Potter had refused to meet with fans, discouraging any type of personal publicity. Anne Carroll Moore, Superintendent of Children's Work in the New York Public Library, was so enamored with Potter's work that she asked to meet the author while in Europe on other business. Potter herself was interested in Moore's work, so a meeting was set. It was a stimulating time for both women and the start of a friendship that would last for the rest of Potter's life. Anne Carroll Moore even persuaded Potter not to keep her young readers waiting for a new book and thus Cecily Parsley's Nursery Rhymes was ready for publication in 1922.
In 1929, Alexander McKay of David McKay Company in Philadelphia persuaded Potter to allow him to publish a long short story she had been writing for years about a guinea pig. Potter had great difficulty in finishing the drawings for The Fairy Caravan, her eyesight not being what it had once been. Frederick Warne and Company were less than happy about the American publication of a Potter book, for they felt it should have been given to them to publish. A year later, in 1930, David McKay again published a Potter book entitled Little Pig Robinson. This time Potter also gave publishing rights to Warne, but she was disappointed when Warne cut out twelve of her illustrations. While these two books did little to add to Potter's already brilliant literary career, the monies from her increasing list of books allowed her to buy further land.
Sister Anne, published by David McKay in 1932, was the last of Potter's books to be printed during her lifetime. Two additional titles, Wag-by Wall and The Tale of the Faithful Dove were published posthumously. It was in the late 1930's that Beatrix Potter's health began to fail. By 1940 she admitted that she was beginning to feel old and was often seen leaning heavily on a walking stick. Despite ill health she still regularly supervised work on her farms. Potter had long suffered bouts of bronchitis, and in the September, 1943 it struck with a vengenance. She died on December 22, 1943.
In her will Potter left nearly everything to William for his lifetime, but the royalties and rights in her books were to go to Norman Warne's nephew, Frederick Warne Stephens. (Norman Warne had been her publisher and personal friend at Warne and Company.) She gave her farm and property of four thousand acres to the National Trust, which still maintains her farmhouse, Hill Top, as it was when she lived in it.
Beatrix Potter: 1866-1943-Centenary Catalogue. London: National Book League, 1966.
Hoafe, Simon. The Dictionary of British Cook Illustrators and Caricaturists: 1800-1914. Woodbridge, Suffolk, England: Banon Publishing, 1978.
Hobbs, Anne Stevenson. Beatrix Potter's Art: Paintings and Drawings. London: Frederick Warne, 1989.
Taylor, Judy, et.al. Beatrix Potter, 1866-1943: The Artist and Her World. London: Frederick Warne, 1987.
Beatrix Potter: 1866-1943-Centenary Catalogue. London: National Book League, 1966.
Early Children's Books and Their Illustrations. New York: David R. Godine, 1975.
Green, Roger Lancelyn. Tellers of Tales. New York: Franklin Watts, 1946.
Grenstein, Alexander, M.D. The Remarkable Beatrix Potter. Madison, Wisconsin: International Universities Press, 1995.
Hoafe, Simon. The Dictionary of British Book Illustrators and Caricaturists: 1800-1914. Woodbridge, Suffolk, England: Banon Publishing, 1978.
Hobbs, Anne Stevenson. Beatrix Potter's Art: Paintings and Drawings. London: Frederick Warne, 1989.
Johnson, Edna, et.al. Anthology of Children's Literature. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977.
Kunitz, Stanley and Howard Haycraft, eds. Junior Book of Authors. New York: H.W.Wilson, 1931.
Lane, Margaret. The Magic Years of Beatrix Potter. London: Frederick Warne, 1978.
Lane, Margaret. The Tale of Beatrix Potter. London: Frederick Warne, 1946.
Linder, Leslie. A History of the Writings of Beatrix Potter: Including Unpublished Work. London: Frederick Warne, 1971.
Peppin, Brigid and Lucy Micklethwail. Book of Illustrators and Caricaturists: 1800-1914. New York: Arco Publishing, 1981.
Taylor, Judy, et.al. Beatrix Potter, 1866-1943: The Artist and Her World.London: Frederick Warne, 1987.
NOTE: This bibliography does not include reprints, translations, compilations, serial illustrations, non-book items for home decoration such as wallpaper and tiles, or the picture books -- mostly unpublished. In addition, books to which Potter contributed but did not illustrate entirely are not included.
Items held by the University of Pittsburgh are followed by the item's location number.
(Published in English by F. Warne & Co. Ltd, unless otherwise stated)
Peter Rabbit's Painting Book from the Original Designs by Beatrix Potter. London and New York : Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd., n.d.
The Peter Pop-up Book from 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit' by Beatrix Potter. Designed by Dick Dudley ; ass. illustrator Colin Twin ; paper engineer Keith Moseley. London : Frederick Warne Ltd, 1983.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. Appley Dapply's Nursery Rhymes. New York : F. Warne, 1917.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Art of Beatrix Potter. New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1955.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. Cecily Parsley's Nursery Rhymes. (smaller format), New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1922.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Fairy Caravan. (privately printed, 100 copies), 1929.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Fairy Caravan. Philadelphia : David McKay, 1929. First English edition, July 1952
Potter, Helen Beatrix. Ginger and Pickles. (first published in the larger format), New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1909, renewed 1937.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The History of the Tale of Peter Rabbit. New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1976.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. Jemima Puddle-Duck's Painting Book. New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1925.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Journal of Beatrix Potter, 1881-1897. (transcribed from her code-written manuscript), New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1966.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. Peter Rabbit's Painting Book. New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1911.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. Peter Rabbit's Almanac for 1929. New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1928.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Pie and the Patty-pan. (first published in the larger format) New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1905, renewed 1933.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Roly-poly Pudding. (first published in the larger format). Later renamed The tale of Samuel Whiskers, New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1908, renewed 1936.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. Sister Anne. Philadelphia : David McKay, 1932.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Sly Old Cat. New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1971.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Story of Miss Moppet. (panoramic form) New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1906.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit. (panoramic form) New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1906.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tailor of Gloucester. (privately printed, 500 copies) 1902. ENR - Diminutive Collection
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tailor of Gloucester. New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1903, renewed 1931.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tailor of Gloucester -a facsimile of the original manuscript and illustrations. (limited edition, 1500 copies), New York : F. Warne & Co. Inc., 1968.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tailor of Gloucester - From the Original Manuscript. New York : F. Warne & Co. Inc., 1968.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tailor of Gloucester-from the original manuscript. (the English edition) 1969.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tale of Benjamin Bunny. New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1904.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck. New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1908.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse. New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1918, renewed 1946.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tale of Little Pig Robinson. Philadelphia : David McKay, 1930.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tale of Little Pig Robinson. (larger format), New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1930, renewed 1958.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher. New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1906, renewed 1936.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle. New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1905.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse. New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1910, renewed 1938.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tale of Mr. Tod. New York: F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1912, renewed 1939.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tale of Peter Rabbit (Privately printed, first edition, flat back), 250 copies, December, 1901, followed by a second edition (round back, 200 copies, February, 1902.)
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tale of Peter Rabbit. New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1902.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tale of Pigling Bland. New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1913, renewed 1941.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1903, renewed 1931.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tale of the Faithful Dove. (limited edition, 100 copies), New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1955.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tale of the Faithful Dove. New York : F. Warne & Co. Inc., 1956.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tale of the Faithful Dove -with illustrations by Marie Angel. New York : F. Warne & Co Inc., 1970.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tale of the Faithful Dove -with illustrations by Marie Angel. (English edition), New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1971.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies. New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1909, renewed 1937.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes. New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1911.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tale of Tom Kitten. New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1907, renewed 1932.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tale of Tuppenny-with illustrations by Marie Angel . New York : F. Warne & Co. Inc., 1973
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The Tale of Two Bad Mice. New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1904, renewed 1932.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. Tom Kitten's Painting Book. New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1917.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. Wag-by-wall. (limited edition, 100 copies), New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1944.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. Wag-by-wall. Boston : The Horn Book, 1944.
Potter, Helen Beatrix. The writings of Beatrix Potter- A History of, Including Unpublished Work. New York : F. Warne & Co. Ltd, 1971.
Six of the tales have been printed in braille by the Royal Institute for the Blind. Fifteen of the Tales have been translated into French and Japanese, thirteen into Dutch, twelve into Africaans, ten into Swedish, nine into Norwegian, eight into Danish and German, five into Welsh, two into Latin, and one into Italian and Spanish.
Formatting updated by David Frank and Laurren Kresge, July 2009.
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