Beatrix Potter wrote fantasy stories for children that were grounded in her scientific understanding of real animals and plants. The National Trust, her chief heir, is now promoting stories to children that are intended to give them a warped understanding of the geological history of the Earth. Does this make sense to you? It’s confusing me.
Peter Rabbit and Squirrel Nutkin, Benjamin Bunny and Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, Jemima Puddle-Duck and and Mr Jeremy Fisher, Mr Tod and Tom Kitten, the Flopsy Bunnies and the Tailor of Gloucester: the people of the floppy ears and bushy tails, the hedgehog who takes in washing, the frog who fishes with a rod and line, the rabbit with a nice new blue jacket, and the cat who hid the cherry-coloured twist. There never was a rabbit in a blue jacket or a hedgehog that took in washing, but they are real beasts in the pictures she drew.
The books and toys – written, illustrated, designed, licenced by Beatrix Potter from the age of 36, bought her freedom from the duties of being, as the unmarried daughter, her parents’ unpaid housekeeper. But before she became a writer of fantasy stories for children, an illustrator and a toy designer, she was a scientist:
At the age of 26, Potter began corresponding with a rural postman and enthusiastic naturalist named Charles McIntosh, who was interested in fungi. He promised to send Potter samples of new species he discovered by mail, so she could draw them. Throughout their long partnership, Potter drew detailed, accurate pictures of 350 fungi, mosses and spores, mailing one copy to McIntosh, and keeping one for her own records.
With drawings she made from her observations of lichen, Potter believed she had evidence that the organism consisted of a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and a photosynthetic partner, algae. Continue reading