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The Life of Miss Potter

To the Editors:

As the author of Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature (Allen Lane, Penguin; St Martin's Press, 2007), I write to bring to your attention Keith Stewart Thomson's failure to properly acknowledge my work as the major source for his essay, "Beatrix Potter, Conservationist" (Marginalia, May-June), and the editorial policy of allowing such work to be published. Not only did Dr. Thomson paraphrase much of my work in his essay without acknowledging or citing it, he never mentions it by name in the text, and merely lists it as one of three other general sources, none more recent than 1988. (He does, however, find space to specifically mention the movie Miss Potter and its star.)

Dr. Thomson appropriates my thesis throughout and in general treats my research as though it were his own. He closely paraphases my analysis of the response of the botanists at Kew and includes my theory that McIntosh was the model for Mr. McGregor, but without citation to my new evidence on which that premise is based. His final three paragraphs directly appropriate material from my book again without mention, as though he had discovered these facts for himself.

I note that your Marginalia column is not a "book review." Nonetheless, it should be held to the same standards of scholarship that are generally assumed for material published in American Scientist. Dr. Thomson's essay demonstrates a regrettable misappropriation of my work, a disappointing failure to acknowledge and properly attribute his source, and the use of outdated references which indicate his lack of currency in the field.

Linda Lear
George Washington University

Dr. Thomson responds:

I am sorry that Dr. Lear has taken offense with my Marginalia essay on Beatrix Potter. The problem may lie, I suspect, with the nature of these essays. They are not research articles (and use no endnotes), nor are they book reviews. The (very modest) art of writing these essays is to bring together information from a number of sources to create, in 1,500 words, a seamless story. No reader will have thought that it represented primary research on my part, although the viewpoint is completely personal and based on a long interest in the subject. The reader is pointed to my primary sources which, in addition to Dr. Lear's recent biography, include standard works on Beatrix Potter's art and the classic account of British moorland geography. None of these is mentioned by name, and I can understand that Dr. Lear might feel slighted thereby. Anyone interested in the subject will certainly find Dr. Lear's new book valuable.

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