This is a letter written by Beatrix Potter to her friend Mrs. Miller in 1940, 38 years after The Tale of Peter Rabbit was first published. This letter was taken from A History of the Writings of Beatrix Potter by Leslie Linder.
I have been asked to tell again how Peter Rabbit came to be written. It seems a long time ago, in another world. Though after all the world does not change much in the country, where the seasons follow their accustomed course – the green leaf and the sere – and where nature though never consciously wicked has always been ruthless. In towns there is change. People begin to burrow under ground like rabbits. The lame boy for who Peter was invented more than forty years ago is now an air warden in a bombed London parish.
I have never quite understood the secret of Peter’s perennial charm. Perhaps it is because he and his little friends keep on their way; busily absorbed in their own doings. They were always independent. Like Topsy – they just ‘grow’d’ – Their names especially seemed to be inevitable. I never knew a gardener named ‘Mr. McGregor.’ Several bearded horticulturalists have resented the nickname; but I do not know how it came about, nor why ‘Peter’ was called Peter. It is regrettable that a small boy in church once inquired audibly whether the Apostle was Peter Rabbit? There is difficulty in finding or inventing names entirely new, void of all possible embarrassment.
A few of the animals were harmless skits or caricatures, but Mr. McGregor was not one of them and the backgrounds in Peter Rabbit were a mixture of locality.
The earlier books (including the late printed Pig Robinson) were written in picture letters of scribbled pen and ink for real children; but I confess that afterwards I painted most of the little pictures mainly to please myself. The more spontaneous the pleasure, the more happy the result. I cannot work to order; and when I had nothing to say I had the sense to stop.
I do not remember a time when I did not Try to invent pictures and make fairy-tales – amongst the wild flowers, the animals, trees and mosses and fungi – all the thousand common objects of the country side; that pleasant unchanging world of realism and romance, which for us in our northern clime is stiffened by hard weather, a tough ancestry, and the strength that comes from the hills.