Beatrix Potter: Teenage Celebrity Spotter

I love stumbling across little anecdotes and insights into the life of Oscar Wilde. Sometimes their source is extraordinary. Take for instance two entries in the journal of Beatrix Potter (1866-1943), author, illustrator, natural scientist, and conservationist. I included them in Wilde’s Women.

Beatrix Potter

Young Beatrix Potter (Hulton Archive, Getty Images)

Potter’s father, Rupert Potter, a lawyer and a keen amateur photographer, was a close friend of the painter Sir John Everett Millais. Beatrix was just seventeen-years-old when she recorded the following in her journal of 1884. Oscar and Constance had been married for less than two months by then:

Saturday, July 12th. Papa and mama went to a ball at the Millais’ a week or two since. There was an extraordinary mixture of actors, rich Jews, nobility, literary, etc. [Cartoonist George] Du Maurier had been to the ball the week before, and Carrie Millais said they thought they had seen him taking sketches on the sly. Oscar Wilde was there. I thought he was a long, lanky melancholy man, but he is fat and merry. His only peculiarity was a black choker instead of a shirt-collar, and his hair in a mop. He was not wearing a lily in his buttonhole, but, to make up for it, his wife had her front covered with great water-lilies

Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt, by Rupert Potter, July 1886 - NPG  - © National Portrait Gallery, London

Sir John Everett Millais by Rupert Potter

In 1885, when Beatrix recorded the following, Constance would have been six months pregnant with Cyril:

Sunday March 15th. Saw Oscar Wilde and his wife just going into the Fine Arts to see the Holman Hunt. He is not peculiar as far as I noticed, rather a fine looking gentleman, but inclined to stoutness. The lady was strangely dressed, but I did not know her in time to see well.

Source: Beatrix Potter & Glen Cavaliero (Ed.), Beatrix Potter’s Journal (Harmondsworth, Warne, 1986). A fascinating book full of remarkable observations!

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