ONE OF the greatest events in the history of children's book publishing," says the blurb in the Frederick Warne & Co. catalog. The claim may be a teence exaggerated but, hey, modesty has never been the long suit of publishers. The subject at hand is what the catalog calls with marvelous disregard for the English language "the re-origination of the Peter Rabbit Books."

Since Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit first appeared in 1902, it has been reprinted 240 times. The publisher claims it is the world's most widely read children's book. Potter followed Peter Rabbit with another 22 volumes in the "little book" series, including such well-known titles as The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy Winkle and The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies. Her last was Cecily Parsley's Nursery Rhymes, published in 1922. In 1983, her publisher, Frederick Warne, was sold to Penguin Books in Britain, and in America became an imprint of Viking-Penguin. Two years ago, in answer to grumblings that the illustrations in the series were looking pale and muddy, Frederick Warne commissioned photographer Derrick Witty to shoot the original Potter watercolors for all 23 little books anew. Because the paintings had grown fragile, they could not be moved and the photographer had to travel to the four locations where they are stored -- the Lake District National Trust (a Potter charity), the British Museum, the Tate Gallery and the Warne archives. After that, extensive retouching of the photos was necessary to counteract the darkening of the paper Potter used for her paintings.

The final results of the process can be seen when all 23 books are re-published again here in September. Thus Frederick Warne's claim of "re-origination." No less a figure than children's book illustrator Maurice Sendak seems pleased with the work. "What a pleasure it is to see the pictures reappear," says Sendak, "all the dull flatness gone and all the vivid fresh color delighting the eye. Potter is, after all, a superb, a great artist."

To mark the appearance of the renewed illustrations, Frederick Warne is publishing "That Naughty Rabbit": Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit by Judy Taylor, which contains a capsule account of Potter's life and a publishing history of her books as well as an account of the problems involved in Derrick Witty's photography project.

On the Trail of Broch

IT'S BEEN a busy couple of years for Ernestine Schlant. As a leading expert on the Austrian writer Hermann Broch (1886-1951), she was immersed in celebrations surrounding the centenary of his birth. She updated her 1978 book on Broch for reissue in paperback by the University of Chicago Press last year. She also delivered papers at major symposia on Broch in Germany and at Yale, all the while continuing her teaching load at Montclair State University in Montclair, N.J., where she gives courses in comparative and German literature.

During the first part of 1987, she worked on getting her papers on Broch into publishable form to be part of a forthcoming critical volume from the well-known German firm of Suhrkamp, which has issued all of Broch's work. This summer, she says, "I have been trying to recover -- I drained myself."

Born in Germany, Schlant attended the University of Munich for a year before enrolling in the late 1950s at Emory University in Atlanta, where she took her bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees. Her early studies were in the romance languages -- "primarily French and a little Spanish" -- but she later moved into German literature and wrote her dissertation on "The Unity of Thought in the Novels and Essays of Hermann Broch," tying together the writer's fiction with his philosophical ideas. A modernist in the tradition of James Joyce, Broch is best known here for a fictional trilogy translated into English in 1932 as The Sleepwalkers and for The Death of Virgil (both available from North Point Press). Another of his books, Hofmannsthal and His Times, published by the University of California Press, is a study of the Austrian dramatist and poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal but also contains much autobiographical material by Broch on growing up in Vienna around the turn of the century. "It's a very good sociological study," says Schlant. It remains one of Schlant's goals to persuade some publisher to issue Broch's lesser-known philosophical works in English translation.

The Broch centenary and its fallout behind her, Schlant will be returning in the fall to Montclair State. Her favorite course there is one in comparative literature called "German Expressionism." "I love it," she says, "because it mixes everything -- film, literature, music, politics. It's a course I learn from myself." At the same time, she will be resuming work on her other scholarly interests -- somewhat shunted aside during the Broch anniversary -- topics in 20th-century German literature, particularly Franz Kafka and the treatment of Adolf Hitler by younger German writers.

In private life, Schlant is Mrs. Bill Bradley, wife of the senator from New Jersey.

Big Brit

WHAT is the largest British-owned publisher? It is a conglomerate called Reed International, and it became No. 1 through its recent acquisition of the Octopus Publishing Group. Octopus has always sounded to me like the name of some evil corporation out of a B movie, which was probably the intention. Octopus Chairman Paul Hamlyn asked Reed International to acquire his company to prevent it becoming the target of an unfriendly takeover bid from some other quarter.

Reed has worldwide interests. In the United States, it owns Cahners magazines, which include Publishers Weekly, the industry bible. The Octopus group brings to Reed such illustrious names as Heinemann, Secker & Warburg, Ginn and Mitchell Beazley as well as half-ownership in the giant paperback firm, Pan. These houses have strong backlist sellers such as D.H. Lawrence, George Orwell and Somerset Maugham as well as successful contemporary novelists like J.M. Coetzee, Catherine Cookson and Patricia Highsmith.

Hamlyn, now 61, who has a great reputation as a shrewd businessman, will remain boss of the Octopus group within Reed. In 1957, he started Hamlyn Publishing with a kitty of

350 and sold it in the mid-'60s for the then-large sum of

2.3 million. He started Octopus in 1972. In the new deal, Reed reportedly paid

535 million for Octopus.

But will the swallower become the swallowed? There are rumors that Reed itself may become the subject of an acquisition by our own Harcourt Brace Jovanovich or by British Printing & Communication Corporation, owned by Robert Maxwell.

Writers' Bookstore

THERE IS an interesting bookstore in Berkeley, Calif., that specializes in stuff for writers, editors and would-be publishers. It is called mehitabel s. You'll remember that archy and mehitabel were a cockroach and a cat who were the chief characters in a newspaper column written by Don Marquis that started in 1916. The cockroach archy, a poet, was the ostensible author of the free verse that made up the column. He wrote by jumping on the typewriter keys. Since he could hit only a single key at a time, his verse had no capital letters and no punctuation that required the shift key, such as the apostrophe. Thus the store name -- mehitabel s.

At any rate, the store carries books dealing with such questions as desktop publishing, self-publishing, the art and business of writing, the history of journalism, scriptwriting, the craft of editing, bookbinding, calligraphy, paper making and book collecting. Founded in 1977, the store has just issued its first catalog, 40 pages with 650 books listed. Among the books offered, incidentally, are archy and mehitabel and the lives and times of archy and mehitabel, two collections of Don Marquis columns. For a copy of the catalog, write mehitabel s, 3501 Adeline Street, Berkeley, Calif. 94703.

In the Margin

POCKET BOOKS, the big paperback arm of Simon and Schuster, will add hardcover books to its line beginning late next year. The move follows by several years the entry of Pocket Books' rival, Bantam, into the hardback arena where it scored notable successes with books by authors such as Lee Iacocca, Chuck Yeager and Louis L'Amour.

Irwyn Applebaum, who joined Pocket Books in February 1985 from Bantam, where his brother Stuart remains a vice president and leading light, has been promoted to president. He will report to the person who originally launched Bantam's hardback operation, Jack Romanos, who has been named president of mass-market publishing for S&S. Romanos arrived at S&S in March 1985.