According to Wikipedia, Anna Sewell was born in March 1820. After a tragic accident at the age of 12 years, she was unable to walk for the rest of her life without the aid of crutches. Confined to bed due to a decline in health, Anna wrote the classic novel Black Beauty between the years 1871-1877 and it is credited with having the greatest impact on the treatment of animals. She sold the original manuscript to a local publisher Jarrolds for the sum of £40 and died shortly in 1878, after the book was published in 1877.
Black Beauty, the story of a young black horse, was given to me as a child and I loved it. I remember finding it very difficult to put down once I started reading.
Black Beauty is the story teller, relating his life, from being a young colt and following the advice his mother gave him on how to behave. He tells how he is first sold to the Gordon family where he meets new friends – Merrylegs, a young pony belonging to the Gordon and Blomfield children, Ginger, a bad tempered horse as a result of ill treatment, and Sir Oliver, whose tail had been cropped to fit in with the fashion trend of the time.
The book follows their happy and sometimes tragic stories, realistically exploring the theme of cruelty to animals as they are sold on to successive ignorant owners who mistreat and put them to cruel work and the positive results of kindness, as Black Beauty finally finds a happy ending after all his mistreatments.
I’ve shared this book with my ‘horse-mad’ daughter (who is now sharing it with her daughter) and older children I’ve child-minded. We’ve used it to explore feelings and develop various projects, e.g. looking at other countries’ attitudes to animals, and the way they are worked and cared for today.
Although the book was written at the time for people who worked with horses, I think it teaches a valuable lesson for today that we should treat people and animals with respect and kindness. This is a book for horse lovers, being both funny and sad, but well worth reading.
Sewell, Anna (first published 1877) Black Beauty
Jarrold and Sons, London; current publisher Penguin