Benjamin Bouncer and the tale of Beatrix Pot-ter

Share this article

BEATRIX POTTER, who created the classic Peter Rabbit character, fed her own pet rabbit Benjamin Bouncer pot, according to a new book about her Scottish inspiration.

The Victorian children's author recorded in her diary in 1890 how she gave the bunny drugs as a reward after her sketches of the pet were sold to a publisher for 6.

The rabbit was so intoxicated that when the 24-year-old Potter tried to draw him again the following morning, he was "wholly unmanageable".

She wrote: "What an investment that rabbit has been, in spite of the hutches. My first act was to give Bounce a cup of hemp seeds.

"The consequence being that when I wanted to draw him next morning he was intoxicated and wholly unmanageable."

The incident is revealed in a journal extract published in a new book, Beatrix Potter's Scotland, revealing the importance of Perthshire as an inspiration for Potter's famous stories and illustrations.

As a child growing up in London, Potter took great delight in nature and animals.

But it was on her trips to Scotland - to Birnham and Dunkeld in Perthshire - that she was able to develop the enthusiasm for nature that eventually reveal itself in the characters, such as Mr Jeremy Fisher and Peter Rabbit, that made her famous.

The book's author Lynne McGeachie, of the Beatrix Potter Society, said of the hemp incident: "After several rejections by other publishers, the firm of Hildesheimer & Faulkner had accepted drawings Beatrix had submitted to them as possible Christmas cards, and had paid her 6.

"Beatrix was delighted and celebrated. It was the first of her work to be published."

Banjamin Bouncer was an inspiration to Beatrix Potter.

But Mrs McGeachie also reveals in the book how the bunny was so spoiled with "sweeties" while on holidays to Perthshire that in 1892 the pet suffered a serious bout of toothache and a swollen face.

She said: "Looking after her beloved pets, especially her rabbit Benjamin Bouncer, was always a priority. Safe from Miss Hutton's cat on his leather lead Benjamin loved his walks in the garden with Beatrix where he could sniff the fresh air and nibble assorted greenery.

"Benjamin also loved the peppermints and other 'sweeties' given to him by Beatrix's father and (local gamekeeper] McDougall and soon developed toothache and a swollen face as a consequence.

"Beatrix found an examination of his tiny mouth quite difficult, but concluded that none of his teeth seemed broken.

"She wrote in exasperation in her journal, 'This comes of peppermints and comfits.

INSPIRED IN SCOTLAND

ALTHOUGH she is forever associated with the Lake District - where she would eventually live - it was in Scotland that Beatrix Potter first learned to love nature.

The author and illustrator was only five years old when her father decided to rent Dalguise House in Perthshire.

And for the next 11 years the family would decamp from their home in South Kensington to Scotland and the beloved home in the woods. Beatrix Potter's father, Rupert, who was a barrister, would fish for salmon along the banks of the Tay.

It was from Perthshire in 1893 that Beatrix wrote the illustrated picture letter which was to become The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Both Mrs Tiggywinkle and Jeremy Fisher were said to have been inspired by characters she met on holiday in Scotland. I have been quite indignant with papa and McDougall, for Benjamin has not the sense to suck the minties when obtained'."

Despite his sweet tooth, Benjamin was capable of giving a nasty bite.

During the 12 hour train journey from London to Perth in summer 1892, Potter took Benjamin out of his travelling basket to check that all was well, and despite being a seasoned traveller the rabbit took fright and ‘bit the family'.

l Beatrix Potter's Scotland, is published on 1 September by Luath Press, priced 12.99.