Beatrix Potter Biography

Biography of English author Beatrix Potter, the author and illustrator of the first children's picture book, Peter Cotton Tail. Her nursery stories remain popular today.

British artist and author Beatrix Potter wrote and illustrated many children's books throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They remain popular with young children today, and beloved by adults, with their endearing drawings of woodland creatures and their enchanting stories about them. Potter was also a real estate investor and a breeder of prize winning Herdwick sheep.

Beatrix Potter was born in London, on July 28, 1866 to wealthy parents. They hired a governess for her, and it was with the governess that young Beatrix spent most of her time. She had little contact with people than her parents and governess. She had a variety of pets, and she spent a lot of time drawing them.

When she was sixteen, her family rented Wray Castle as a vacation home in the Lake District of England. She loved it there. Wildlife abounded, and she took advantage of the opportunities to draw. The family of three continued to vacation in the area, although not always at Wray Castle, for the next 21 years. During these years she became a close friend of Vicar Hardwicke Rawnsley of the Wray Church who encouraged her art work. It was his encouragement that helped her to develop a life apart from her demanding parents. But his friendship could not protect her from "odious fits of ill spirits", which would today be called depression. She suffered from debilitating headaches and fainting spells throughout her twenties. In her late thirties Potter fell in love with a man named Norman Warne, but her family discouraged their marriage because he was beneath them socially. Sadly Warne died of leukemia soon after.

When she was twenty one, Potter made a discovery about the spores of molds. She was ignored by the scientific community. Although untrained in the sciences, she wrote a paper, persisted until she managed to have it read before the Linnean Society of London, and was ultimately proven correct in her assertions.

During the winter months when she was back in London, Potter made greeting cards from her drawings. She wrote her first book, "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" in a letter to a friend's children. After urging by Vicar Rawnsley to make it into a book, she self-published it in 1902 and it was a great success. It is believed to be the first picture story book for children. Her books, "Squirrel Nutkin" and "The Tale Of Benjamin Bunny" featured scenery from around the Lake District that she so loved.

Sales of The Tale Of Peter Rabbit had exceeded 50,000 copies by 1903, and Potter used the proceeds to purchase a field in Near Sawrey, close to her beloved part of Scotland. In 1905 she bought a small farm called Hill Top and spent the next eight years writing more books and visiting that farm. In 1909 she purchased another farm called Castle Farm, just across from Hill Top and that came to be where she stayed while in the area. Several of her books are set on these and other farms she purchased in subsequent years.

Potter married attorney William Heelis in 1913 when she was 47 years old. She devoted herself to being a gentlewoman farmer and real estate investor for the next thirty years. In 1923 she purchased Troutbeck Park Farm and bred prize winning Herdwick sheep. Potter became the first female president of the Herdwick Sheepbreeders' Association, an organization which is still active. In 1930 she bought the Monk Coniston Estate, a stretch of 4,000 acres.

Beatrix Potter died on December 22, 1943. She bequeathed fourteen farms, 4,000 acres of land and her Herdwick Sheep to the British National Trust. Descendants of her sheep are still housed in public trust in the farms she donated and on others owned by the trust. Heelis's office later became the National Trust's "Beatrix Potter Museum".

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