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Beatrix Potter Letter to Bertha Mahony Miller (December 13, 1934)

Castle Cottage
Sawrey
Nr. Ambleside

Dec 13. 34

Dear Mrs. Miller

I have just been reading again your most interesting letter of Jan 30 — never answered by me yet. I think time slips away faster and faster as one grows older — partly because this person when tired falls asleep, which is not conducive to writing letters, or any thing else. I have only done a Christmas card; the proceeds go towards maintaining 2 beds in a children’s hospital.

I do get The Hom Book regularly. I thought it must be sent to me from the Bookshop? I really ought to pay for it? There is the postage too. That feeling of indebtedness was the reason I did not cash a little cheque for a drawing; but it may have been a childish way of balancing accts. I wish I could think of something worth while writing for it. It is a splendid publication; the articles and critiques are so alive — and real criticism, speaking out. Here, the review of the new crop of children’s books is either indiscriminate, exaggerated praise or silence.

I think your mind is occupied with two delightful interests — books and old furniture. There is a periodical on this side, Country Life, which publishes views of old houses, indoors and exteriors and there have been several of Georgian houses in the states. We used to feel that rich Americans were carrying off too many treasures, but it seems as though you have Chippendale and Sheraton furniture of your own.

I think the new style furniture and architecture is hideous; it is a craze that will pass. But the old mahogany styles will always survive and be beautiful. I have a few good pieces — no complete big set of chairs, but a few very good 2’s and 3’s. We have got 2 chairs which were lying in a garret over my husband’s office 40 years ago, rather elaborately carved Chippendale. There were usually good mahogany chairs in lawyers’ offices. I have a Queen Anne style fiddle-back chair which had been painted green, in a farmhouse in Wales. The local furniture in this district was oak, rather out of fashion in the sale room now, but I collect any genuine pieces I can get hold of to put back into the farmhouses. The court cupboards with carved fronts are the most interesting as they are usually dated. It is a great shame to take them out of the old farmhouses for they really don’t look well in a modern room. There are a good many in cottages belonging to the National Trust which will be preserved safely. The oldest I know is 1639. I was in a farmhouse this morning looking at some good oak panelling which the young woman had uncovered under many coats of wall paper and whitewash. The country people are leaming to appreciate polished oak; they have discovered that tourists — American and British — are interested. There is a very fine old house, Yew Tree Farm, near Coniston, belonging to the Trust. We fitted up a tea room with good furniture and pictures. Unluckily the woman has been ill; it was a great success the first summer it was open.

I am “written out” for storybooks, and my eyes are tired for painting, but I can still take great and useful pleasure in old oak — and drains — and old roofs — and damp walls — oh the repairs! And the difficulty of reconciling ancient relics and modern sanitation? An old dame in one of the Trust’s cottages wants new window frames because only 2 little panes open. A date, March 1826, is scratched on an old pane.

Such are the problems that occupy my declining years! I am 68; we have both had colds; it rains and rains and rains and is nearly dark. Things might be worse.

I only hope things may not be worse. I am one of the sceptics who refused to sign the League of Nations manifesto. Your government has not sent troops to the Saar. It is a nightmare. If the Saar vote goes against Germany and the Germans advance, it is not our handful of troops and the League’s talking that can stop them; another retreat from Mons. It will be an anxious time.

If they will fight, let them exterminate each other and hope that England, the Colonies, and the States may survive to see — rule, really rule by power, not by preaching — a better world.

I wish you and your husband a happy Christmas, and success in two good works — providing wholesome, beautiful literature for children and continuing a fine tradition of furniture.

[P.S.] The photograph* is pretty, is it not? It was taken by my father and is not copyright. I don’t know what to think about it? I could have written a few words about the little girl who used to be me — the books she liked or the pets? Or would it be egotistical. I do hate anything like advertisement.
The original print is not dated. I might be 6 — 1872. I was born [in] 1866.

* We do not have a copy of this photo in our archives.

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