Most people know her work through the Peter Rabbit stories, the best-selling children’s books of all time. Beatrix Potter was also a skilled botanical artist and a tireless conservationist — and the subject of a sweet biographical movie last year, Miss Potter. I have admired her work since I was a child poking through the dusty stacks of the English bookseller, Asia Books, in Bangkok. And so, when a 1903 first edition of The Tailor of Gloucester (Beatrix once told an interviewer it was her favorite among all the books she had written) appeared on eBay recently, my little garden-and-booklover’s heart leaped. One thing led to another, and yesterday the little box arrived in the mail.
Here it is: neatly covered in green paper, the tidy volume is surprisingly fresh to be 104 years old. The handset type has that imperfect beauty and character so evident in printing done before the advent of current technology: the kerning not quite even, the spacing not quite uniform. It’s beautiful!
But best of all are the illustrations. What this particular story lacks in botanical subject matter (it’s a city tale) it makes up in beautiful cozy English interiors and the vivid personalities of Simpkin the cat and the kindhearted troop of mice who save the day. More than a century after it was written, Potter’s story is simply charming. I can’t wait to read it to my grandchildren!