A remarkable instance of a cat’s affection

Beatrix Potter in 1892
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1881, two decades before publication of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, 15-year-old Beatrix Potter began to keep a written record of her daily life in a journal that would ultimately run to more than 200,000 words. However, when this bundle of papers and notebooks was posthumously discovered by a relative in 1952, it was unclear what was actually in front of them, for Potter had written the entire journal in a new language, using an alternative alphabet she had created as a teenager. It would be another six years before the code was cracked by a Beatrix Potter scholar named Leslie Linder, and it took another seven for him to fully decode and transcribe this priceless document with her family’s blessing. It was finally published in 1966. This particular entry was penned in January of 1884, when Potter was 17.

A small section of Beatrix Potter’s coded journal
The Diary Entry

Sunday, January 27th.

A little snow. A remarkable instance of a cat’s affection for her young offered at the burning of a Music Hall lately. A tabby cat had four kittens in a basket behind the stage. When the fire began she was seen rushing wildly about, and at last forced her way down a smoky corridor and returned with a kitten in her mouth. This she did three times and then eluding those who attempted to stop her, she went for the fourth and was not seen again, but her burnt body was found beside her kitten.

There was another story in the paper a week or so since. A gentleman had a favourite cat whom he taught to sit at the dinner-table where it behaved very well. He was in the habit of putting any scraps he left on to the cat’s plate. One day puss did not take his place punctually, but presently appeared with two mice, one of which it placed on its master’s plate, the other on its own.

Further Reading

Beatrix Potter’s early journals, decoded by Leslie Linder, were first published by Frederick Warne Ltd in 1966; an updated edition, with previously unseen entries, came in 1989 bearing the same title: The Journal of Beatrix Potter 1881-1897. Three years before that, in 1986, an abridged edition also popped up, this time edited by Glen Cavaliero. And if you’re curious about the life of Leslie Linder, there exists a biography of him titled Beatrix Potter’s Secret Code Breaker, written by Andrew P. Witshire.

Part of a journal entry dated 27th January 1884, from The Journal of Beatrix Potter 1881-1897, transcribed from her code writings by Leslie Linder © Frederick Warne & Co., 1966, 1989. Used with permission.

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