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Beatrix Potter Letter to Bertha Mahony Miller (November 24, 1941)

Castle Cottage
Sawrey
Ambleside

Nov. 24 41

Dear Mrs. Bertha Miller,

The winter’s cold and bad weather is here again. I hope it has not brought any more bronchitis to you? I have only got a cold in my nose; and let us both make good resolutions that “a stitch in time saves nine.” With colds that are obstinate! stay in bed.

I happened to look through a packet of old letters from U.S.A., and I have reread some questions which you asked about the books. “Stymouth” was Sidmouth on the south coast of Devonshire. Other pictures were sketched at Lyme Regis; the steep street looking down hill into the sea, and some of the thatched cottages were near Lyme. The steep village near Lynton is called Clovelly. I have never seen it, though I know parts of the north Devon coast. Ilfracombe gave me the idea of the long flight of steps down to the harbour. Sidmouth harbour and Teignmouth harbour are not much below the level of the towns. The shipping — including a pig aboard ship — was sketched at Teignmouth, S. Devon. The tall wooden shed for drying nets is (or was?) a feature of Hastings, Sussex. So the illustrations are a comprehensive sample of our much battered coasts.

Old John Taylor was the Sawrey joiner and wheelwright; his wife, and later his stout elderly daughter “Agnes Anne,” kept the little general shop for years and years. After their deaths, a daughter-in-law took it on. In turn she became old and invalidish and made it over to a niece-in-law — who has closed the long chapter; Ginger and Pickles is no more. Multiple stores had about killed village shops before the war. We were very vexed; indeed, I would have put in a friend who was anxious to take it on. But the Taylor niece-in-law sat tight! She kept on the cottage, made the “shop” a parlour to let, and threw away the good will and connections because, being a young person, she would not be tied keeping shop. Agnes Anne was a big, fat woman with a loud voice, very genuine in her likes and dislikes, a good sort. Old John was a sweet, gentle old man, failed in his legs, so he kept his bed, but was head of the family and owned several cottages. He professed to be jealous because I had put his son John in a book as John Joiner. [censored] . . . John, who was very humourous and jokey, I asked him how could I put him — old John — in a book if he insisted on living in bed? So a week afterwards, enclosed with an acct., there came a scrap of paper, “John Taylor’s compliments and thinks he might pass for a dormouse.”

It really is too bad to have closed Ginger and Pickles. The village blacksmith’s is gone; turned into a bungalow for a Taylor daughter-in-law. And the village post office is gone [censored] 2 miles from Hawkshead P.O. And nearly all the older generation — all that were “old” when I was younger, are dead. To be dead is in the course of nature and war — but [censored] while we are alive seems to me to be generally for the worse, disagreeable.

I have heard lately of the death of an old cousin. She had been living in a country hotel since her London house was destroyed; she was 80 so it doesn’t matter; but can you wonder the Germans are hated? Her daughter writes me that a [censored] frightened her into a stroke, followed by pneumonia. “She was ill only 4 days, but the night she died there was another raid and guns and bombs going all the time. There is nothing I would not do to those murderers. She could not even die in peace.”

Another cousin of mine was killed in London last spring. The raids have been only small affairs for many months though more serious than might appear from the news reports, and evacuees have gone back to towns. Indeed there is as much in the country; but of course, less chance of being hit. One night there were 4 planes, on the way home, unloaded their sticks over [censored]; some sheep were killed. I had two farm horses in the next pasture to a bog where there is a line of small craters. The German would have flown into the fell side of the dark, if he had not tipped out his load; [censored] but only small ones. The horses were grazing quietly when daylight came. There were the saucer shaped holes, about 4 foot deep, and quantities of shining flecks like tinsel on the grass and rushes. The bombs probably weighed only about 50 pounds each. Thin, light bags of explosives.

A friend (evacuee) from a south Lancashire town tells us frightful tales — a shelter containing 300 people got a direct hit. Some bodies were got out and the rest sealed down with quick lime. Only 10 days ago she looked down into a chasm large enough to hold a lofty building. It had fallen on vacant ground; she found her friends in a nearby house undamaged, though a whole row had collapsed. The effects of blast are most peculiar; windows may be unbroken on one side of a street and everything gone on the opposite side. Everything literally. A young woman from a village went to Barrow to look for her sister last spring, and there was not a shred. It’s a pity the U.S.A. strikers cannot realize, by seeing and feeling, what it is. Destruction and beastly cruelty.

We have had a fine summer; enjoyable but for the overwork and anxiety.

I am too late posting for Christmas. I wonder whether Nancy will care for the stories? Of course, I wrote the introduction for my own pleasure — and it might appeal to Anne Carroll Moore because she knows the Lake district. I cannot judge my own work. Is not “Wag by the Wall” rather a pretty story, if divested of the “Jenny Ferret” rubbish? I thought of it years ago as a pendant to The Tailor of Gloucester — the old lonely man and the lonely old woman — but I never could finish it all; and after 9 months occasional nibblings, it seems likely to go into the post — unfinished yet!

What a pity you didn’t come to Sawrey! A.C.M. came and Miss Gould and Miss Davis and Mary Haugh and Mrs. Coolidge, all delightful. Why not Bertha Mahony?

I do not know of any treatise upon credit; ask Mr. Micawber of David Copperfield!

I think both Ginger and P and Pie and Patty are feeble in plot. The ovens are absurd, quite wrong.
My books are off the market — wails and lamentations from F. W. & Co. They have enough paper, but they cannot get book binders, so they have to refuse the whole Christmas market. It would hit me also, but farming has looked up; hard work but fair pay at last.

With kind regards yrs sincerely

Beatrix Heelis

Notes

questions The questions in this paragraph refer to The Tale of Little Pig Robinson (1930).
Old John Taylor Old John Taylor appears in Ginger and Pickles as Mr. John Dormouse whose family sells candles after Ginger and Pickles closes. “And when Mr. John Dormouse was complained to, he stayed in bed, and would say nothing but ‘very snug;’ which is not the way to carry on a retail business.” p. 54.
general shop, Ginger and Pickles Ginger and Pickles was a store owned by Ginger (a cat) and Pickles (a dog) in Ginger and Pickles (1909). Potter depicted the general store in Sawrey which is still standing (as of 2007), but, as Potter says, is no longer a store.
John Joiner John Joiner, a terrier, is the joiner (carpenter) in The Roly-Poly Pudding (1908), a.k.a. The Tale of Samuel Whiskers. He scares away the rats Samuel Whiskers and Anna Maria who had been preparing Tom Kitten in a roly-poly pudding (a sort of dumpling).
stories The stories are “The Solitary Mouse” and “Wag-by-Wall,” published in the Horn Book.
A.C.M. A.C.M. is Anne Carroll Moore, superintendant of children’s work, New York Public Library, from 1906–1941.
F.W. & Co. F. W. & Co. is Frederick Warne & Co., now a subsidiary of Penguin.

 About Beatrix Potter | Potter’s connections to the Horn Book

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