Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits —
and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail and Peter.
They lived with their Mother in a sand-bank, underneath the root of a very big fir-tree.
‘Now my dears,’ said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, ‘you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden: your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.’
So begins the story of Peter Rabbit, the most beloved bunny in children’s literature. It’s likely this charming tale will be enjoyed during family Easter celebrations on both sides of the pond this weekend.
Refreshments may include blackberries and milk, currant buns, lettuces, radishes, parsley and camomile tea. Other favorite Potter characters such as Benjamin Bunny, Tom Kitten, Jemima Puddle-duck, and Mrs. Tiggy-winkle may also get their fair share of attention, but what about Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley?
Well, it’s time you knew (if you don’t already). 🙂
Rawnsley wrote the “other” Tale of Peter Rabbit. Yes, there actually was another version. And it was written in verse!
Hardwicke Rawnsley was Beatrix’s friend and mentor. They first met on a family summer holiday in the Lake District when Beatrix was just sixteen, and they remained friends for years.
A clergyman, conservationist, author and poet, Rawnsley was impressed with Beatrix’s drawings and paintings, and encouraged her to write and illustrate her own book.
Since he was already a published author, he steered her towards several prospective publishers, all of whom turned down The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Mr. McGregor’s Garden. He then suggested she privately print the book with her own funds. While she self-published 250 copies, Rawnsley continued to seek a commercial publisher for Beatrix’s story.
Since his book Moral Rhymes for the Young was quite successful, he thought publishers might be more receptive to a rhyming Peter Rabbit. He wrote his own version and submitted it to Frederick Warne with part of Beatrix’s revised manuscript and her b&w drawings (Warne had rejected the book before).
There were four little bunnies
-no bunnies were sweeter
Mopsy and Cotton-tail
Flopsy and Peter
They lived in a sand-bank
as here you may see
At the foot of a fir
-a magnificent tree
Now my dears said the old
Mrs. Rabbit one day
You may run to the fields
or the lane for your play
But I warn you all four
to be sure not to go
To Mr. McGregor’s
who lives just below
Your father — and here Mrs.
Rabbit shed tears —
Had an accident once in that
Garden my dears
And his end — “mummy darling”
said Mopsy “don’t cry!”
Was this — he was baked
and served up in a pie.
How do you like it?
This time, Frederick Warne expressed an interest, but not because of Rawnsley’s text. They were impressed by the success of Beatrix’s first edition, and it just so happens small-format children’s books like Little Black Sambo had become wildly popular and they wanted to get in on the action. They requested the rest of Beatrix’s prose manuscript, and they wanted color illustrations.
So it happens that in 1902, Frederick Warne published the first trade edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. It has since sold 45 million copies worldwide and remains one of the best selling books of all time — about 4 books are sold every minute!
But back to our friend Hardwicke Rawnsley (he became Honorary Canon of Carlisle Cathedral in 1891). I’m guessing he didn’t much mind having his Peter Rabbit verse manuscript rejected. After all, he had lots to keep him busy, not the least of which was co-founding the National Trust (1893), and working tirelessly to protect the countryside of the Lake District, where he lived for over 30 years.
He was also active in politics, social reform and education, having taken part in establishing the first co-educational secondary school in England. When he wasn’t busy with clerical responsibilities, he managed to publish over 40 books, mostly nonfiction (many with a Lake District theme), and wrote vast amounts of verse.
Rawnsley had been passionate about poetry since boyhood, and is today considered “a minor Lake poet.” He retired to Grasmere, purchasing a home William Wordsworth had lived in for 6 years.
Though he accomplished a lot in his lifetime, few outside of the UK know about Hardwicke Rawnsley. If not for his support and encouragement, would The Tale of Peter Rabbit have been published as we now know it? As a teen, Beatrix was impressed by Rawnsley’s commitment to preserving places of natural beauty and historical significance. With her book proceeds she began purchasing Lake District properties and became the National Trust’s biggest benefactor, bequeathing 15 farms — 4000 acres of pristine countryside. Thank goodness for Potter and Rawnsley’s fortuitous meeting!
Oh, did I mention Rawnsley wrote some 30,000 sonnets? We think it only fitting to share one with you today, alongside a squirrel study by Beatrix. Good to have these two friends together again. 🙂
by Hardwicke D. Rawnsley
Light-hearted dweller in the voiceless wood,
Pricking thy tasselled ears in hope to tell
Where, under, in thy haste, the acorn fell:
Now, for excess of summer in thy blood,
Running through all thy tricksy change of mood,
Or vaulting upward to thy citadel
To seek the mossy nest, the miser-cell,
And chuckle o’er thy winter’s hoard of food.
Miser? I do thee wrong to call thee so,
For, from the swinging larch-plumes overhead,
In showers of whispering music thou dost shed
Gold, thick as dust, where’er thy light feet go:
Keep, busy Almoner, thy gifts of gold!
Be still! mine eyes ask only to behold.
☕️ A SIP AND A NOSH 🍋
We can tell from reading Beatrix’s stories that she was indeed interested in food. Who can forget The Roly-Poly Pudding, The Pie and the Patty-Pan, Benjamin Bunny’s penchant for lettuce, Appley Dapply’s fondness for pies? I’d love to shop at Ginger and Pickles’s store, purchase a bag of peppermints or toffees, join them for biscuits and haddock. Do you think Tabitha Twitchit would invite me to tea?
Most Potter fans know Beatrix was happiest for those three months of the year when she and her family were on summer holiday, either in Scotland or the English Lake District. She and her brother Bertram could roam the countryside and study plants and wildlife up close. Oh, the fresh air, the freedom!
When not on holiday, Beatrix especially loved visiting her grandmother at Camfield Place in Hertfordshire. This 10-bedroom mansion was set on 400 acres of farmland (and later became Barbara Cartland’s residence). It was here Beatrix got her first taste of fresh eggs, milk and homemade bread — foods she would enjoy all her life.
Because of her privileged, cloistered upbringing, Beatrix really had no cause or opportunity to learn how to cook. She really only began to experiment in the Castle Cottage kitchen after marrying William Heelis at age 47. They were quite self sufficient when it came to food, growing their own fruits and vegetables, raising sheep, cattle, pigs, ducks, turkeys, and chickens. “Willie was keen on shooting and fishing and Beatrix loved collecting wild plants, fruit and nuts from the surrounding countryside.”
Apparently during the early years of their marriage they ate a lot of bacon and plain potatoes. Combining their skills, they excelled in roasts and vegetables. For the Heelis’, traditional country cooking made with fresh produce was the order of the day.
Fancy a little tea time snack? Mr. Cornelius found a recipe for Lakeland Lemon Bread in Sara Paston-Williams’ Beatrix Potter’s Country Cooking (Frederick Warne, 1991).
Paston-Williams visited the area where Potter lived and talked to local chefs, innkeepers, home cooks and people who knew her, collecting recipes that truly represent typical Lakeland fare. Mr. Cornelius loved learning that Beatrix always ate a bowl of porridge for breakfast, that she loved her grandmother’s ‘very hard gingersnap biscuits’, and often enjoyed a good farmland tea.
Lakelanders are fond of cakes and many traditional kinds are still made and eaten in Cumbria. This moist lemon bread is one of them and must have been eaten many times by Beatrix and her husband. Traditionally, it is served very fresh, spread with lemon curd, but the loaf may be iced, if you wish, for a change.
Lakeland Lemon Bread
For the loaf:
- 3/4 cup (175 g) butter or margarine
- 1-1/4 cups (300 g) granulated (caster) sugar
- 4 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup (150 g) self-raising flour
- 1 cup (150 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (125 g) chopped walnuts or golden raisins
- grated rind and juice of 2 large lemons
For the Icing:
- 3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
- about 3 tablespoons lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Gradually mix in the lightly beaten eggs, then fold in both the flours, followed by the nuts. Finally, stir in the lemon rind and juice.
Spoon the mixture into a lined and greased 9″ x 5″ loaf tin and bake near the top of a moderate oven for about 1 hour, or until firm to the touch. Turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool. If you wish to ice the loaf, sieve the icing sugar into a bowl and mix with enough lemon juice to make a coating consistency. When the loaf is cold, spoon the icing over the top.
If not iced, serve sliced and buttered, with honey or lemon curd. The bread also freezes well.
~ adapted from Beatrix Potter’s Country Cooking by Sara Paston-Williams (Frederick Warne & Co., 1991), as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup
We opted for golden raisins instead of walnuts, and decided not to ice our loaf. This lemon bread was moist and yummy, and of course, perfect with a cup of tea. It would make a nice addition to an Easter brunch menu.
We hope you have a wonderful Easter weekend. If you read The Tale of Peter Rabbit, do raise your teacups not only in honor of Beatrix Potter, but also for her dear friend Hardwicke Rawnsley!
♥ Other Beatrix Potter Posts at Alphabet Soup ♥
- The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots by Beatrix Potter and Quentin Blake
- Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig by Deborah Hopkinson and Charlotte Voake
- Of Guinea Pigs, Nursery Rhymes and Cupcakes
- Happy Birthday, Beatrix, or, Cornelius Learns a Lesson
- Mrs. Tiggy-winkle Comes to Tea
🐰 HOPPY EASTER! 🐰
📕 BOOK GIVEAWAY WINNERS! 📒
Last week we had two picture book giveaways: one for Princess and the Peas by Rachel Himes, and the other for Fresh-Picked Poetry by Michelle Schaub and Amy Huntington.
Though the ever reliable Monsieur Random Integer Generator was busy organizing an Easter Egg Hunt at Highclere Castle, he airmailed a basket of eggs and treats with a tiny note that said, “Eggstraordinary Winners.”
The perky and perceptive chef, Le Lapin Rotund, sporting his handknit carrot ear warmers, knew right away to look for the winners’ names in the eggs. And here they are!
The winner of Princess and the Peas is Shaynie the Chicago Librarian!!
And the winner of Fresh-Picked Poetry is Matt Esenwine!
Congratulations to Shaynie and Matt!!
Please send your snail mail addresses to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com, and we’ll make sure you receive your books lickety split.
Thanks, everyone, for entering these giveaways. Stay tuned, as we’re having another giveaway the last week of April. 🙂
Doraine Bennett is hosting the Roundup at Dori Reads. Hop on over and check out the full menu of poetic goodies being served up in the blogosphere this week. Enjoy your weekend; hope the E.B. brings you a lot of tasty treats!
This post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your best aprons and bibs, and come join the fun!
Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.