In the right hands and the right context, letters can accomplish amazing things. For instance, communications between world leaders helped strengthen friendships or at least provided wise counsel at challenging times.
They can help establish stronger relationships between the senders, whether it’s something romantic that builds with each letter, or even reinforces friendship, especially among people who may have corresponded for years. Everyone likes receiving letters, and in the days before email, this was often all we had to hear how a friend or a loved one was doing.
Interestingly, author Beatrix Potter found that her letters of note to a friend’s children led to literary fame that’s still going strong today, nearly 100 years after her death.
If you recognize the name Beatrix Potter, she was the original creator of the “Peter Rabbit” books series along with other heartwarming stories about garden animals who can, plan, and, yes, get scared sometimes.
Her original books were small and accompanied by beautiful illustrations. They were perfect little stories to share with children or for young people to work their way through as they’re learning to read. They could stay on a child’s bookshelf or end table too, within easy reach for a bedtime story.
Although many people know Beatrix Potter created Peter Rabbit, Mr. McGregor, Jemimah Puddle-Duck and other timeless characters from books, movies, plush toys and other licensed products, not everyone know where they originated.
The answer was a series of letters of note that begun in fall of 1893. She was writing to Noel, the 5-year-old son of a former governess. She started the letter by saying she didn’t know what to say to him which could cheer him up since he had been ill. But then she thought about telling a story about a family of rabbits.
She later wrote similar stories to Noel’s brothers and sisters. His brother Eric had a letter written from Beatrix Potter about a clever frog, and their sister Norah received a tale about a friendly squirrel.
Even more precious was that she included careful, detailed sketches of the different animals she was writing about.
These actually were based on her careful observations of members of the animal kingdom. Although women were still prohibited from many science and academic professions, she still did whatever she could to study nature as closely as possible, including looking closely at plants and animals with magnifying glasses. So she had created plenty of drawings and sketches of wildlife and common foliage around her.
A few years later, her governess encouraged to publish some of her drawings and returned some of the letters of note Beatrix had written to her children.
She refined her stories of Mopsy, Flopsy, Cottontail and Peter in a collection called “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” and submitted it to various publishers. After six turned her down, she decided to try to publish it herself in 1901, complete with her own black-and-white drawings. She printed 250 copies which sold well.
One of the publishers which originally rejected her story later changed their mind and decided to print the stories. They added color to her illustrations, which she didn’t particularly care for but understood the commercial appeal.
The book continued to sell well, as did many of her other animal adventures. For much of her life, she expressed to friends in her letters how surprised she was with the popularity of her books worldwide, especially the ones involving rabbits.