In September of 1893, at 26 years of age, Beatrix Potter sent the following illustrated letter to Noel, the five-year-old son of her friend and former governess, Annie Moore. The letter contained a tale of four rabbits, and in fact featured the first ever appearance of Peter Rabbit; however it wasn't until 1901, eight years later, that Potter decided to revisit her letter to Noel and develop the idea.
The resulting story, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was published in 1902 by Frederick Warne & Co, and has since become one of the most popular children's books of all time.
(Source: A History of the Writings of Beatrix Potter; Image of Beatrix Potter via the BBC.)
Sep 4th 93
My dear Noel,
I don't know what to write to you, so I shall tell you a story about four little rabbits whose names were – Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter.
They lived with their mother in a sand bank under the root of a big fir tree.
"Now my dears," said old Mrs Bunny "you may go into the field or down the lane, but don't go into Mr McGregor's garden."
Flopsy, Mopsy & Cottontail, who were good little rabbits went down the lane to gather blackberries, but Peter, who was very naughty ran straight away to Mr McGregor's garden and squeezed underneath the gate.
First he ate some lettuce, and some broad beans, then some radishes, and then, feeling rather sick, he went to look for some parsley; but round the end of a cucumber frame whom should he meet but Mr McGregor!
Mr McGregor was planting out young cabbages but he jumped up & ran after Peter waving a rake & calling out "Stop thief"!
Peter was most dreadfully frightened & rushed all over the garden, for he had forgotten the way back to the gate. He lost one of his shoes among the cabbages and the other shoe amongst the potatoes. After losing them he ran on four legs & went faster, so that I think he would have got away altogether, if he had not unfortunately run into a gooseberry net and got caught fast by the large buttons on his jacket. It was a blue jacket with brass buttons, quite new.
Mr McGregor came up with a basket which he intended to pop on the top of Peter, but Peter wriggled out just in time, leaving his jacket behind, and this time he found the gate, slipped underneath and ran home safely.
Mr McGregor hung up the little jacket & shoes for a scarecrow, to frighten the blackbirds.
Peter was ill during the evening, in consequence of overeating himself. His mother put him to bed and gave him a dose of camomile tea, but Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail had bread and milk and blackberries for supper.
I am coming back to London next Thursday, so I hope I shall see you soon, and the new baby.
I remain, dear Noel, yours affectionately