So there'll always be an England, eh?

So they're rewriting Peter Rabbit, that's what they're doing in England.

And they're replacing the timeless Beatrix Potter watercolors with photographs of animal puppets.

Modern children, according to Ladybird Books, the publishers, are more comfortable with puppets because of television.

The language is wooden, too. Peter no longer goes "lippity-lippity," he just hops. Good strong verbs like "rushed" and "jumped" have turned into watery ones like "got" and "had." And Peter's father has been censored out. You will recall that "Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor."

Ladybird Managing Director Malcolm Kelly says those who don't approve of the new version have "a very snobbish attitude." Besides, he told the London press, "They don't know anything about children who don't have a great deal of money and who come from homes where there are very few books."

This is beginning to sound like class war.

That's how they explain everything in England. We are being asked to believe that only upper-crust kids read Beatrix Potter. That you have to be a little Christopher Robin with a nanny and button shoes and a house with a garden and one of those floppy white linen hats.

Over at Frederick Warne & Co., which holds the copyright, which indeed resuscitated the Potter illustrations just recently with photocopies of the originals, management thinks the new version is great.

"This is an attempt to appeal to the non-book-buying public," spokeswoman Sally Floyer told reporters.

She said only 5 percent -- listen to this -- only 5 percent of the population remembers the original Peter Rabbit anyway.

Five percent! That's fewer than came over on the Mayflower! In point of fact, is there a single blooming literate soul out there, anywhere in the American landscape, from punk to power baron, who hasn't heard of Peter Rabbit and Beatrix Potter?

And this isn't even England.

Which is just as well, because Ladybird is not selling its crypto-Rabbit here, so far. It is on sale (for $1.40) at chain stores in Britain only.

It is also being sold at the Beatrix Potter cottage, a national historic site in the Lakes District, in spite of the curator's comment that "these new books are perfectly horrid." The beloved author died in 1943 at 77 after writing 23 of the little tales.

What's next? "Squirrel Nutkin?" "Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle?"

Can you imagine what they will do to "The Tailor of Gloucester," with his cat Simpkin, one of the great cats of literature, who hides his mice under teacups and does the marketing for his master?

"This is passing extraordinary!" said the Tailor of Gloucester, and turned over another tea-cup, which was upside down. Out stepped a little gentleman mouse, and made a bow to the tailor ...

In the Potter painting, the little gentleman mouse is elegantly dressed in an 18th-century satin coat with ruffles, carrying a three-cornered hat. There he is, dapper but wary, ears up -- a sight, a memory to be carried through life by generations of children around the planet.

Wait till Ladybird Books gets its claws on him.

Come back, Beatrix. Your island is sinking