Letter writing is a languishing art, but the thoughtful act of putting pen to paper has, through the years, produced volumes of literary treasures; it’s both nostalgic, and a bit voyeuristic, to pore over personal correspondences but there’s magic to be found in missives that might well have been lost to the ages. A new exhibition at New York’s Morgan Library highlights hand-drawn picture letters from British author, artist, and animal lover Beatrix Potter, showing them to be the basis of what would become some of the most beloved children’s books of all time—from these, the little blue-jacketed Peter Rabbit was born.
Potter spent her own youth in mid-19th-century London fascinated with flora and fauna, supporting her interest with a collection of pets—including lizards, mice, and snails—and channeling her curiosity into a burgeoning skill for drawing the natural world. A teenage trip to England’s Lake District further captured her imagination, and it was there that she would eventually make her home and hone her talents.
The heart of the show is a series of notes to Noel Moore, the oft-sickly son of her former governess. In these, Potter punctuates her words with small, sweet illustrations: "I have come a very long way in a puff-puff …" (next to a train), a straightforward, "Here are some rabbits throwing snow balls," and, of course, Peter’s debut in a special dispatch from 1893. She would go on to publish her first books independently in order to ensure that her vision wasn’t compromised—quite a feat for a woman at that time. Now, of course, her characters and stories are classics and learning about their origins only serves to enhance the strong sense of nostalgia that surrounds them, and really, really makes me want to send a little something through the mail.
Catch Beatrix Potter: The Picture Letters at the Morgan Library from November 2, 2012 through January 27, 2013.