A close look at any Beatrix Potter biography notes the love of nature evident in her written works, but a closer look reveals that she did much more to preserve the flora and fauna of England's Lake District than create children's stories about them.
Beatrix Potter was born on July 28, 1866 to Rupert and Helen Potter in London. Her parents encouraged her creativity and young Beatrix developed her talents in painting and drawing. At an early age, she began to keep a journal of stories and developed a love for animals. Beatrix had frail health for most of her life.
Beatrix spent the summers in England's Lake District, where she and her brother, Bertram, enjoyed nature. She produced numerous sketches, watercolors and stories about the plants and animals of those areas. Beatrix was not very social and was schooled at home by a governess, but she had numerous pets in her youth, including dogs, rabbits, frogs, ferrets and cats. These were the inspiration for many of her later works, as was the lush British countryside, full of quaint gardens and little villages of her youthful summers.
Writing and Illustrating
Beatrix wrote a series of stories for some local children, which eventually became "The Tale of Peter Rabbit." It was quite successful and she soon wrote many other children's books and accompanied them with her fanciful watercolor illustrations. Her personal life took a tragic turn when her fiancé, a publisher, died before they could marry.
Among the most beloved of the 23 children's books she wrote and illustrated are "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" (1901), "The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin" (1903), "The Tale of Benjamin Bunny" (1904), "The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle" (1905), and "The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher" (1906). Beatrix was also an amateur botanist and wrote and illustrated several academic papers on life sciences.
With the earnings from her popular books, Beatrix Potter purchased property in the Lake District she so loved. Hill Top Farm featured prominently in her books and illustrations and she spent many years purchasing more property in and around the village of Sawrey. She was interested in raising sheep and spent many hours working with local farmers and sheepherders. In her late 40s, Beatrix married William Heelis, the village solicitor.
The final years of her life were not just spent writing and illustrating, but in ensuring that many of the land and farms around Sawrey were preserved. She died in Sawrey in 1943 and her ashes were scattered across the countryside. Upon her death, more than 4,000 acres of farms, land and cottages were left to a trust structured to keep the land unspoiled and pastoral farming intact.