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Another Side of Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter is famous for her children’s books featuring cute animals, many of whose names she garnered from the tombstones in Brompton cemetery. She based many of the stories and drawings on the pets that she kept – bats, newts, frogs, ferrets, and two rabbits that she took for walks on leads. She was a lonely child and the animals became her friends. She also wrote her diary in a code that she had devised. The code was not cracked until after she died.

She was an exceedingly intelligent woman with an inquiring mind – two assets that were not always appreciated in the late 19th century. What is not so well known is that on her walks around Scotland and the Lake District where her family spent the summer months, she developed an abiding interest in mycology – the study of fungi.

Although she remained an amateur, she had her first published work presented to the Linnean Society, (the world’s oldest, active biological society). It had to be read by her uncle as it was forbidden for women to address their meetings. A hundred years later they did have the good grace to issue a posthumous apology to her.

Her work on the theory that lichens were a mixture of algae and fungi was considered heretical by the biological community but was later confirmed. She used her artistic talent to produce some detailed drawing to back up her work.

If you are interested in facts like these on a wide range of topics, look no further than the series of The QI Book of General Ignorance, By Lloyd and Mitchinson. They make fascinating reading.

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