Collection in Focus: Beatrix Potter's Letters

The original ideas for many of Beatrix Potter's stories can be found in the manuscript picture letters she wrote to children of friends and family members. Perhaps the most famous example is The Tale of Peter Rabbit, which began as an eight-page letter to Noel Moore, the five-year-old son of her former governess, Annie Moore. With Annie Moore's encouragement Potter borrowed back the letter, copied it out, and revised it for publication. At least six publishers rejected the book, but it was a huge success when the first trade edition finally appeared in 1902. The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin (1903), The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher (1906), and other books in the Peter Rabbit series were based in whole or in part on her picture letters. In her opinion this was the secret of her success.

Listen to Philip Palmer, the Robert H. Taylor Curator and Department Head, Literary and Historical Manuscripts, share his insights on these letters.