The little girl, born 151 years ago in London in July of 1866, had her Scottish nanny, her long view of the city and the gathered bits and snatches of a life she created for herself: leaves and insects, plants and flowers, rabbits and mice — her beloved drawing pads and pencils — and, above all, her books.
Beatrix Potter. Even her name carries a sense of enchantment and an underlying sensation of delight. From the age of 14 through 30 she kept a secret code journal that was impossibly difficult to decode, even after nine years of intense, dedicated labor on the part of Leslie Linder who, more than 20 years after her death, achieved the unexpected satisfaction of success as noted in “Beatrix Potters’ Journal.” (I’ve used her journal along with “The Tale of Beatrix Potter,” by Margaret Lane, published by in 1946, and Linda Lear’s “Beatrix Potter, a Life in Nature,” published by St. Martin’s Press in 2007, for the information about Beatrix’s life in this column.)
For most of the year, she was a solitary child, but she was not lonely. She had her pets, from field mice to rabbits to hedge hogs. When she was 5 years old, a brother, Bertram, was born, and grew to share many of the natural delights of small beasties and rare insects, and these things created a world of wonder for the two children that was constantly shifting and expanding.
This unique beginning blossomed into a precious way of life, enhanced by Scotland, the Lake District in England, visits to the old home of her grandmother, which she loved, her father’s interesting friends, such as the famous painter John Everett Millais, and the many London museums where a young girl, struggling with her shyness, might wander and dream.
What of Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and the others? The accident of circumstance that brought…