Beatrix Helen Potter first came to Scotland in 1871 when she was 5 years old, staying with her family at Dalguise House by Dunkeld. For the next 12 years they came every summer and in this idyllic environment Beatrix’s fascination for wildlife and nature flourished. She was obviously delighted with her summers spent in Scotland referring to them in her diary as…..
“a very happy time…beautiful home sweet home” and, “everything was romantic in my imagination. The woods were peopled by the mysterious good folk. The Lords and Ladies of the last century walked with me along the overgrown paths and picked the old fashioned flowers among the box and rise hedges of the garden. Half believing the picturesque superstitions of the district, seeing my own fancies so clearly that they became true to me, I lived in a separate world”.
Her fascination was with bugs, insects, birds and animals as subject matter, rather than the landscapes which so enthralled her fathers friend the artist Sir John Everett Millais who was also a regular visitor to Perthshire. However, his words of encouragement to Beatrix as she developed her studies of both natural history and art were important;
“Plenty of people can draw, but you…have observation”.
Beatrix’s creativity continued to develop over the next few years and gradually her interest turned towards one particular subject – mycology, the study of fungi.
In the summer of 1892, 10 years after their last full summer holiday at Dalguise, the Potters returned to the Dunkeld area and it was during this visit that Beatrix, now 26 and a budding expert on fungi, was determined to meet Charles McIntosh of Inver, a well known local naturalist and member of the Perthshire Society of Natural Science. Charles was known to Beatrix’s father who had sent him a gift of books on British fungi in 1887.
A meeting was arranged between Beatrix and Charles that summer and they spent their time discussing their shared interest in mycology and, on parting, agreed to exchange specimens and drawings after Beatrix’s return to London.
The Potters returned to Dunkeld the following year, 1893, for the last time. They rented Eastwood from the then sitting tenant, Atholl McGregor and Beatrix spent a very productive summer studying and painting many different fungi species found both at Eastwood itself and beyond. She again met with Charles McIntosh and whilst she was not to return to Scotland again after this summer, she and Charles corresponded until 1897.
The family stayed at Eastwood for many weeks with Rupert photographing the house, the river and the many friends who visited them there including Millais with his great friend Lillie Langtry. On consecutive days early in September Beatrix wrote two picture letters to the children of her ex governess. These letters were highly significant for her future life; the first, the story of Peter Rabbit in Mr. McGregor’s garden, the second the story of Jeremy Fisher’s fishing trip.
Over the next few years Beatrix’s ambitions in the field of mycology were gradually eroded, thwarted by a male dominated world steeped in opposition and prejudice towards women. Most likely discouraged by the lukewarm reception of her paper to the Linnean Society in 1897 she moved away from this pursuit and turned towards the book writing endeavours that would ultimately make her the most famous children’s author.
Her first book, privately published in 1901, was the Tale of Peter Rabbit, an extended version of the picture letter created at Eastwood 8 years earlier.