PETER Rabbit is about to reach age 100, according to a sle...

Salmagundi

March 25, 1993

PETER Rabbit is about to reach age 100, according to a sle of retail advertisements. The younger-reader long-ears they honor is the British one, created by (Helen) Beatrix Potter (1866-1943), not the American Peter who came along about 10 years later, forming in the mind of Thornton Waldo Burgess (1874-1965).

What storyteller was the first anywhere to christen a rabbit Peter? All we know now is how various are the names to which a jolly rabbit gentleman responds, from Br'er to Uncle Wiggily to Bugs to Roger and beyond.

Potter's Peter is a scamp who gets into scrapes, disobediently going for instance into Mr. McGregor's garden.

Peter has relatives such as Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail, and Benjamin Bunny. A numerous world comes to life in those books -- Sammy Whiskers, Hunca Munca, Squirrel Nutkin, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, Appley-Dapply, Jemima Puddle-Duck. Beatrix Potter's water colors add much; so do her "dry north-country humor" and her willingness to stretch young minds by using an occasional big word.

As anthropomorphs go, American Peter is older and better-behaved. No other names are duplicated; rather, Burgess tells of Sammy Jay, Jimmy Skunk, Jerry Muskrat, Buster Bear, Reddy Fox, Lightfoot the Deer, Chatterer the Red Squirrel -- there in Green Meadow close by Laughing Brook, Smiling Pool and the Old Briar Patch. Harrison Cady was the best of Burgess's illustrators. Besides books, Burgess did daily "Bedtime Stories," syndicated to newspapers including this one. kindly Cape Codder and a good naturalist, he is also by today's standards more wordy, less sparkling.

Today's gift shops do not stock stuffed wildlife or ceramic figurines in the Burgess mold, and a parallel, future centennial note is in doubt. The beasts of Britain have accordingly triumphed over the animals of America? No, just the authors.

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