The Inspirations of Burns and Beatrix

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Robert Burns was not just a great poet; he was also an avid reader. Remembered by many as a lad who loved his books so much he would read at the table, we have honoured this with an artwork by Su Blackwell that represents his favourite childhood book: The Life of Hannibal. Regarding this book, Burns was to say: ‘Hannibal gave my young ideas such a turn that I used to strut in raptures up and down after the recruiting drum and bagpipe.’

Hannibal’s Wars by Su Blackwell. On display in Burns Cottage

We all remember books like this that inspired us when we were children and which have special places in our hearts. To celebrate this, each Easter we focus on a specific children’s author. This year we have selected Beatrix Potter, whose books have become some of the earliest stories we are introduced to. However, we haven’t selected Potter merely due to her fame, but also due to her love of the countryside.

peter rabbit
The countryside is central to Beatrix Potter’s tales.

Both Burns and Potter were inspired by the Scottish countryside and by the people they met there. For Burns, the Ayrshire he grew up in became his muse, but for town-bred Beatrix, her family holidays in Perthshire were to be a revelation. Staying with her family at Dalguise House, a young Beatrix honed her artistic skills in hours of painting and sketching. This in adulthood would earn her good money – not only through her stories – but through commissions for scientific illustrations. While the Lake District was the place Potter was to ultimately make her home, it was Perthshire again which helped her make her mark. On holiday with her rabbit in a house owned by a Mr McGregor, Beatrix sent a ‘picture letter’ to a friend’s son with a story of four rabbits: Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-Tail, and Peter. Like Burns, Potter also creates characters for the animals and people that surround her. While Burns immortalised Souter Johnnie, Potter turns local washer woman, Kitty MacDonald, into Mrs Tiggy-Winkle –a mysterious washer of pocket handkins and pinnies.

mrs tiggy winkle
Mrs Tiggy-Winkle was inspired by Kitty Macdonald. Potter described her as ‘tiny body, brown as a berry, beady black eyes and much wrinkled, against an incongruously white frilled mutch. ‘

So come along to the museum from Friday 3rd to Monday the 6th of April, and see Burns Cottage transformed and alive with with inspiration from Peter Rabbit’s world. Take part in our Cadbury’s Peter Rabbit Easter Egg Trail and you’ll make the day even better with some delicious chocolate!

Find out more here!