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Jul 28

Birthday of Beatrix Potter

Peter Rabbit
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Peter Rabbit
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“Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were - Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter. ” ~ The Tale of Pete Rabbit, Beatrix Potter, 1901

There really was a real Peter Rabbit! He was a Belgian buck rabbit named Peter Piper and the second rabbit that Beaatrix Potter kept as a pet - the first was named Benjamin Bouncer, who was the inspiration for Benjamin Bunny. The rabbits were part of a menagerie of animals that Potter and her brother adopted as children, which also included birds, lizards, mice, snakes, snails, guinea pigs, bats, dogs, cats, and even hedgehogs. Historians also believe that Potter derived the details for Peter Rabbit's infamous nemesis, the bad-tempered Scot Mr. McGregor from both her mycology mentor, Charles McIntosh, and her landlord, Atholl McGregor!

With strong affinities for Scotland, the author of the beloved Peter Rabbit books was born this day, July 28th in 1866, the only daughter of a family of wealth and privilege, who renounced their roots in trade for a place in London society.

 

The Potters' family activities centred around family and friends, visits to art galleries and leisurely holidays, first in the Scottish countryside and later in the Lake District. Beatrix's talent in drawing and painting was evident early.

Her Highland nurse had filled her young head with witches, fairies, rebellious wee folk which became early subjects.

Eventually, her artistic skills and keen eye for nature drew her to a fascination with fungi. Encouraged in her efforts at scientific illustration by a reclusive Scottish naturalist, Beatrix accurately painted hundreds of specimens, and drew many under the microscope. In advance of her time, she proposed a theory of germination in 1897 and argued for the existence of cellular symbiosis.

Determined to derive a measure of financial independence from her family through her art, Beatrix turned from the theoretical to the fanciful. She found a publisher for her tale of a naughty rabbit based upon a picture letter to a young Noel Moore when Norman Warne of Frederick Warne & Co. bravely risked publishing The Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1902. 

 

Against family opposition to someone in trade, Beatrix accepted a marriage proposal from her publisher, Norman Wayne.  But sadly, he died suddenly soon after their engagement.  Griefstricken, Beatrix fled to Near Sawrey, a tiny village in the Lake District, and to a farm called Hill Top.

Designed to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the publication of Peter Rabbit in 1902, this tartan uses the soft colours found in the book's illustration, particularly the blue of Peter's coat.

Peter Rabbit's jacket comes to prominence foe in the famous tale through the fearsome Scot Mr. McGregor, from whom Peter barely escapes after pillaging his garden. 

Mr. McGregor is an elderly gardener who makes his first appearance in The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902). He was originally intended to share title honours with Peter as "The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Mr. McGregor's Garden," but the title was shortened when Potter first privately published the book in 1901. 

In the reworking of the tale now well known, Peter's mother has forbidden her four children to enter McGregor's garden (their father met a sad end there and was made into a pie by Mrs. McGregor), but Peter disobeys once his mother leaves on an errand for the bakery.  

 

McGregor chases Peter about the garden but Peter escapes after losing his jacket and shoes. McGregor dresses a scarecrow with Peter's clothing as a future warning to bold and brazen young rabbits.


Literary historians have uncovered several possible real candidates who inspired villain of this famous piece.

For more on Peter Rabbit's ties to Dunkeld, Scotland, click the collage of Beatrix Potter characters to visit the Birnam Arts Centre Beatrix Potter Garden and Exhibition website.