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BEATRIX POTTER, GENTLEWOMAN AND CONSIDERABLY MORE PART 2

YESTERDAY, WE ENCOUNTERED Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter’s pal who has delighted children (and their parents) since 1902. Today in Part 2, Beatrix confronts resistance from her own parents, but thrives in art, conservation, and mycology.

Beatrix and her pal Benjamin Bouncer. The rabbit accompanied the Potter family on vacation trips. This and other images from Remarkable Diaries, Journals, Notebooks, and Letters.

Wikipedia notes, “The immense popularity of Potter’s books was based on the lively quality of her illustrations, the non-didactic nature of her stories, the depiction of the rural countryside, and the imaginative qualities she lent to her animal characters.”

A Potter illustration from The Tale of  Peter Rabbit, 1904.

Marrying Beneath Her? In 1905, Beatrix became unofficially engaged to Norman Warne, son of her publisher. Wikipedia says, “Potter’s parents objected to the match because Warne was ‘in trade’ and thus not socially suitable.” The engagement lasted only one month: Warne died of pernicious anaemia at age 37.

The two had planned to buy Top Hill Farm, in the Lake District, as a holiday getaway from London. Potter went ahead with the deal and took to learning the farm ken of a country gentlewoman.

Local solicitor William Heelis helped her in this activity and, in 1912, they fell in love. This time, Beatrix initially kept matters to herself, as her parents considered Heelis to be “only a country solicitor.” William and Beatrix were married on October 15, 1913. Wikipedia observes they “enjoyed a happy marriage of thirty years.” 

Beatrix, the Mycologist. Wikipedia notes that Beatrix “was interested in every branch of natural science save astronomy. Botany was a passion for most Victorians and nature study was a popular enthusiasm…. By the 1890s,  her scientific interests centred on mycology.” She was drawn to fungi because of their colors and evanescence and her delight in painting them.

The reproductive system of Hygrocybe coccinea, from On the Germination of the Spores of the Agaricineae, 1897, by Beatrix Potter. Image from the Armitt Museum and Library.

Potter studied microscopic samples of fungus spores and, in 1895, developed a theory about their germination. Not only did this theory run against prevailing thought on the matter. But, gads!, it was proposed by an amateur mycologist—and a woman at that. 

Wikipedia notes, “Her paper has only recently been rediscovered, along with the rich, artistic illustrations and drawings that accompanied it. Her work is only now being properly evaluated.” 

Beatrix, the Painter and Conservationist. Remarkable Diaries observes that Potter thrived at Top Hill Farm. “She loved the hills close to her home and often painted them….”

A Lakeland landscape by Beatrix Potter.

Wikipedia notes that in her later life, Potter “continued to write stories and to draw, although mostly for her own pleasure…. Potter was a generous patron of the Girl Guides whose troupes she allowed to make their summer encampments on her land, and whose company she enjoyed as an older woman.”  

When Potter died, age 77, in 1943, she left her farms and land to the National Trust. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021  

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