15 Things You Might Not Know About Beatrix Potter

Getty Images
Getty Images

Even today, 75 years after her death on December 22, 1943, celebrated children’s author Beatrix Potter's beautifully illustrated tales—featuring animals and landscapes inspired by her beloved home in England’s Lake District—are still hugely popular. Below are 15 fascinating facts about the influential writer.

1. Beatrix wasn't her real first name.

Potter was born in London on July 28, 1866 and was actually christened Helen after her mother, but was known by her more unusual middle name: Beatrix.

2. The Tale of Peter Rabbit was inspired by a letter.

The first edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
Aleph-bet books via Wikimedia // Public Domain

Potter’s most famous book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was inspired by an illustrated letter Potter wrote to Noel, the son of her former governess, Annie, in 1893. She later asked to borrow the letter back and copied the pictures and story, which she then adapted to create the much-loved tale.

3. Peter was based on a real rabbit.

Peter was modeled on Potter’s own pet rabbit, Benjamin Bouncer, a cherished rabbit that she sometimes took for walks on a leash. On one notable occasion Potter gave the rabbit some hemp seeds as a treat, and the next morning the rabbit was still so intoxicated that she was unable to sketch him.

4. Potter’s house was basically a menagerie.


Riversdale Estate, Flickr // Public Domain

Potter kept a whole host of pets in her schoolroom at home—rabbits, hedgehogs, frogs, and mice. She would capture wild mice and let them run loose. When she needed to recapture them she would shake a handkerchief until the wild mice would emerge to fight the imagined foe and promptly be scooped up and caged. When her brother Bertram went off to boarding school he left a pair of long-eared pet bats behind. The animals proved difficult to care for so Potter set one free, but the other, a rarer specimen, she dispatched with chloroform then set about stuffing for her collection.

5. Peter Rabbit wasn’t an immediate success.

Potter self-published the Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1901, funding the print run of 250 herself after being turned down by several commercial publishers. In 1902 the book was republished by Frederick Warne & Co after Potter agreed to redo her black-and-white illustrations in color. By the end of its first year in print, it was in so much demand it had to be reprinted six times.

6. She understood merchandising.

In 1903 Potter, recognizing the merchandising opportunities offered by her success, made her own Peter Rabbit doll, which she registered at the Patent Office. A Peter Rabbit board game and wallpaper were also produced in her lifetime.

7. She was a naturalist at a time when women usually weren’t.

Potter was fascinated by nature and was constantly recording the world around her in her drawings. Potter was especially interested in fungi and became an accomplished scientific illustrator, going on to write a paper, “On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae, proposing her own theory for how fungi spores reproduced. The paper was presented on Potter’s behalf by the Assistant Director of Kew Gardens at a meeting of the Linnean Society on April 1, 1897, which Potter was unable to attend because at that time women were not allowed at meetings of the all-male Linnean Society—even if their work was deemed good enough to be presented.

8. She sometimes wrote in secret code.

Between 1881 and 1897 Potter kept a journal in which she jotted down her private thoughts in a secret code. This code was so fiendishly difficult it was not cracked and translated until 1958.

9. She disappointed her mom.


Wikimedia // Public Domain

Despite her huge success, Potter was something of a disappointment to her mother, who had wanted a daughter to accompany her on social calls and make an advantageous marriage. In 1905 Potter accepted the marriage proposal of her publisher Norman Warne. However, her parents were very against the match as they did not consider him good enough for their daughter, and refused to allow the engagement to be made public. Unfortunately, Warne died of leukemia just a few weeks after the engagement. Potter did eventually marry, at age 47, to a solicitor and kindred spirit, William Heelis.

10. She wrote much more than you. (Probably.)

Potter was a prolific writer, producing between two and three stories every year, ultimately writing 28 books in total, including The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, The Tale of Mrs Tiggy Winkle, and The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher. Potter’s stories have been translated into 35 different languages and sold over 100 million copies combined.

11. She didn’t want one of her books to be published in England.

In 1926 Potter published a longer work, The Fairy Caravan. It was at first only published in America because Potter felt it was too autobiographical to be published in England during her lifetime. (She also told her English publishers that it wasn’t as good as her other work and felt it wouldn’t be well-received). Nine years after her death in 1943, the book was finally released in the UK.

12. Her later books had to be cobbled together from early drawings.

As her eyesight diminished it became harder and harder for Potter to produce the beautiful drawings that characterized her work. As a result many of her later books were pieced together from earlier drawings in her vast collection of sketchbooks. The Tale of Little Pig Robinson was Potter’s last picture book, published in 1930.

13. A lost work of hers was recently discovered.

A lost Potter story, “The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots,” was rediscovered in 2013 and published in summer 2016. Publisher Jo Hanks found references to the story in an out-of-print biography of Potter and so went searching through the writer’s archive at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Hanks discovered a sketch of the kitty in question, plus a rough layout of the unedited manuscript. The story will be published with supplementary illustrations by Quentin Blake.

14. She farmed sheep.

Potter was an award-winning sheep farmer and in 1943 was the first woman elected President of the Herdwick’s Sheepbreeder’s Association.

15. You can visit her house.


Strobilomyces, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0 

When Potter died in 1943 at the age of 77, she left 14 farms and 4000 acres of land in the Lake District to Britain’s National Trust, ensuring the beloved landscape that inspired her work would be preserved. The Trust opened her house, Hill Top, which she bought in 1905, to the public in 1946.

This article originally ran in 2016.

11 Easy Ways to Be Greener on Earth Day

iStock/yacobchuk
iStock/yacobchuk

Kermit got it all wrong: It is easy being green. Committing to go green doesn’t have to mean a 10-mile walk to work or abiding by "if it’s yellow, let it mellow"—you can make a difference by making small adjustments that add up to big change. Here are 11 ideas to get you started for Earth Day.

1. Use your dishwasher to go green.

It may seem counterintuitive, but your dishwasher is way more energy- and water-efficient at washing dishes than you are, as long as you’re running a full dishwasher. According to one German study, dishwashers use half of the energy and a sixth of the water, not to mention less soap. So, don’t feel guilty about skipping the sink of sudsy water, or about not pre-rinsing before loading up the machine—you’re actually doing the environment a favor by firing up your dishwasher.

2. Switch to online bill paying and use less paper.

Not only is it convenient to pay all of your bills with a click or two, it’s also an easy way to go green. One study found that the average U.S. household receives 19 bills and statements from credit card companies, banks, and utilities every month. By switching to online statements and online bill pay, each American household could save 6.6 pounds of paper per year, save 0.08 trees, and not produce 171 pounds of greenhouse gases. Not bad for simply clicking a few "receive online statements" boxes.

3. Opt out of junk mail and catalogs.

While you’re paring down the amount of stuff that arrives daily in your mailbox, visit Catalog Choice to opt out of various mailers you don’t want to receive. So far, the nonprofit organization says they have saved more than 500,000 trees, over 1 billion pounds of greenhouse gas, more than 400 million pounds of solid waste, and approximately 3.5 billion gallons of water.

4. Plant a tree so Earth Day is Every Day.

Planting trees is obviously great for the environment, but if you’re strategic about it, it can help you reduce your energy costs and use less fossil fuel. According to ArborDay.org, planting large deciduous trees on the east, west, and northwest sides of your house can shade and cool your home during the warmer months, even slashing your air conditioning costs by up to 35 percent.

5. Turn off the tap while you're standing at the sink.

If you leave the tap running while you tend to your pearly whites, you’re wasting approximately 200 gallons of water a month. Just turn the tap on when you need to wet your brush or rinse, instead of letting H20 pour uselessly down the drain. The same goes for anyone who shaves with the water running.

6. Go thrifting for clothes and housewares.

Take some advice from your old pal Macklemore and hit up some thrift shops—and that goes for whether you’re getting rid of clutter or adding more to your home. Buying and donating to thrift stores and second-hand shops means you’re recycling, supporting your local economy, and saving money. In fact, by some estimates, every item of clothing donated reduces 27 pounds of carbon emissions.

7. Get a houseplant to clear the air.

And grab a little guy for your desk at work, too. House plants and desk plants have been proven to improve your mood and raise productivity, but they also purify the air by removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in homes and offices. They also absorb carbon dioxide and increase the humidity. Low-maintenance plants include pothos, spider plants, jade, various succulents, and peace lilies.

8. Get scrappy with Art and crafts.

Cut up paper that has only been used on one side and use it to scribble reminders, notes, grocery lists, etc. Or flip it over for any kids you know to color on. (You can color on it, too, if you want.)

9. Put your caffeine fix to work for the Earth.

Your coffee likely traveled thousands of miles to arrive in your pantry, so get good use out of it. Use your grounds to mulch plants that love acidic soil, like roses, evergreens, and rhododendrons. If your garden problems tend to be less about the dirt and more about the things that live in it, certain garden denizens hate coffee—namely ants, slugs, and snails. Sprinkle grounds in problem areas to deter them.

10. Enlighten yourself to Energy Savings.

Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs—the spiral light bulbs) may cost more upfront, but they’ll save up to $57 over the life of the bulb. More importantly, they use 70 percent less energy than traditional bulbs and installing them is as easy as screwing in a light bulb. (Insert joke here.)

11. Make tracks instead of short car trips.

You don't have to cut out your daily driving entirely, but when you only have a few blocks, or perhaps just a mile or two to travel and don't need to transport anything bulky, consider walking or hopping on your bike. Walking on those short trips generates less than a quarter of the greenhouse gasses that are emitted by driving the same distance.

20 Black-and-White Facts About Penguins

iStock/fieldwork
iStock/fieldwork

Who is a penguin's favorite family member? Aunt Arctica! 

We kid! But seven of the 17 species of penguins can be found on the southernmost continent. Here are 20 more fun facts about these adorable tuxedoed birds. 

1. All 17 species of penguins are found exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere.

A group of penguins on an iceberg.
iStock/axily

2. Emperor Penguins are the tallest species, standing nearly 4 feet tall. The smallest is the Little Blue Penguin, which is only about 16 inches.

Three emperor penguins
iStock/Fabiano_Teixeira

3. The fastest species is the Gentoo Penguin, which can reach swimming speeds up to 22 mph.

A gentoo penguin swimming underwater
iStock/chameleonseye

4. A penguin's striking coloring is a matter of camouflage; from above, its black back blends into the murky depths of the ocean. From below, its white belly is hidden against the bright surface.

Penguins swimming in the ocean
iStock/USO

5. Fossils place the earliest penguin relative at some 60 million years ago, meaning an ancestor of the birds we see today survived the mass extinction of the dinosaurs.

Emperor penguins with chicks
iStock/vladsilver

6. Penguins ingest a lot of seawater while hunting for fish, but a special gland behind their eyes—the supraorbital gland—filters out the saltwater from their blood stream. Penguins excrete it through their beaks, or by sneezing.

Penguin swimming in the ocean
iStock/Musat

7. Unlike most birds—which lose and replace a few feathers at a time—penguins molt all at once, spending two or three weeks land-bound as they undergo what is called the catastrophic molt.

Gentoo penguin chick molting
iStock/ChristianWilkinson

8. All but two species of penguins breed in large colonies of up to one thousand birds.

A colony of king penguins
iStock/DurkTalsma

9. It varies by species, but many penguins will mate with the same member of the opposite sex season after season.

Two chinstrap penguins
iStock/Legacy-Images

10. Similarly, most species are also loyal to their exact nesting site, often returning to the same rookery in which they were born.

Magellanic penguin nesting in the ground
iStock/JeremyRichards

11. Some species create nests for their eggs out of pebbles and loose feathers. Emperor Penguins are an exception: They incubate a single egg each breeding season on the top of their feet. Under a loose fold of skin is a featherless area with a concentration of blood vessels that keeps the egg warm.

Penguin eggs
iStock/Buenaventuramariano

12. In some species, it is the male penguin which incubates the eggs while females leave to hunt for weeks at a time. Because of this, pudgy males—with enough fat storage to survive weeks without eating—are most desirable.

A group of emperor penguins and chick
iStock/vladsilver

13. Penguin parents—both male and female—care for their young for several months until the chicks are strong enough to hunt for food on their own.

Penguin chick and parent on a nest
iStock/golnyk

14. If a female Emperor Penguin's baby dies, she will often "kidnap" an unrelated chick.

Three emperor penguin chicks
iStock/AntAntarctic

15. Despite their lack of visible ears, penguins have excellent hearing and rely on distinct calls to identify their mates when returning to the crowded breeding grounds.

Gentoo penguins
iStock/Goddard_Photography

16. The first published account of penguins comes from Antonio Pigafetta, who was aboard Ferdinand Magellan's first circumnavigation of the globe in 1520. They spotted the animals near what was probably Punta Tombo in Argentina. (He called them "strange geese.")

A group of magellanic penguins on the seacoast
iStock/encrier

17. An earlier, anonymous diary entry from Vasco da Gama's 1497 voyage around the Cape of Good Hope makes mention of flightless birds as large as ducks.

A cape penguin in South Africa
iStock/ziggy_mars

18. Because they aren't used to danger from animals on solid ground, wild penguins exhibit no particular fear of human tourists.

Man videotaping a penguin in Antarctica
iStock/Bkamprath

19. Unlike most sea mammals—which rely on blubber to stay warm—penguins survive because their feathers trap a layer of warm air next to the skin that serves as insulation, especially when they start generating muscular heat by swimming around.

Penguin swimming in the ocean
iStock/Musat

20. In the 16th century, the word penguin actually referred to great auks (scientific name: Pinguinus impennis), a now-extinct species that inhabited the seas around eastern Canada. When explorers traveled to the Southern Hemisphere, they saw black and white birds that resembled auks, and called them penguins.

This story was first published in 2017.

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