Published by Bath Treasury
Published on August 8th 2019 (24 November 1877)
Source: My home library
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Black Beauty spends his youth in a loving home, surrounded by friends and cared for by his owners. But when circumstances change, he learns that not all humans are so kind. Passed from hand to hand, Black Beauty witnesses love and cruelty, wealth and poverty, friendship and hardship . . . Will the handsome horse ever find a happy and lasting home?
Anna Sewell's classic paints a clear picture of turn-of-the-century London, its message universal and timeless: animals will serve humans well if they are treated with consideration and kindness.
This is the third copy of Black Beauty I own.
Black Beauty is an incredibly special book to me. Not only was it the first non-picture book I ever read all by myself at age 5 or 6, and when I finished it I immediately started it all over again: it taught me an incredibly important life lesson I have lived by my entire life: do not be cruel to animals under any circumstances.
It probably also contributed to my insatiable love of horses. When I was a child, I used to ask my mother every so often, “If we move to the country, can I have a horse?”
To which she always answered, “No.”
Not understanding that the whole prospect was contingent on that ‘if’, and that I knew we were never moving to the country (suburb-dwellers for life!). My mother believed I was incapable of looking after a horse: in fact, she delights in telling people that I allegedly changed my mind on wanting my own horse after she asked my primary school teacher to make me do an assignment on how to look after a horse, and apparently I found out it would be too much work to get up at 5am every day, groom, exercise, and cool down a horse, muck out its stall, clean its hooves, and generally have an amazing time every single day with my best friend in the whole world.
She was wrong. No teacher ever asked me to do that kind of assignment. All of my learnings about horses was self-led. I even taught myself how to ride purely by research. How, you may ask, did I know that I was any good at riding ‘just’ from reading about it? I read a lot, practised on some stools, and then when my dreams finally came true and I mounted my first ever horse, the girl who was to lead me was surprised I was keeping my back straight, my heels down, being gentle on the reins and squeezing with my calves rather than kicking.
Now, I’m not claiming I was a great rider, because I was like 7, but I certainly knew the basics enough that a stranger thought I was an experienced rider.
Why am I telling you these stories?
Because I love horses so much, and I’m pretty sure Black Beauty was the thing that branded me a horse lover.
This book is incredible. It was first published in November 1877, and was the first novel ever to be written from the first person point of view of an animal, let alone a working animal, and be a novel where the animals engaged each other in dialogue. It tells an amazing story of the life of a high-bred horse as he changes masters over the course of his lifetime and experiences everything, from the love of a gentle and experienced master, to the horror of the bearing rein, the cruelty of ignorant or wicked humans who treat him like a machine and hurt his body and are responsible for his injuries over and over, until he is finally sold at a horse market and comes full circle back to the hands of someone he knew and loved in his earlier life.
I have loved this book for a long time, and I’m aware that some people call it preachy or say that it doesn’t appear to have been written for children when compared with other children’s books at the time, for which it is modernly marketed: but the context of the novel also has to be taken into account. The author, Anna Sewell, was a great horse lover, and wrote the book to open people’s eyes to the cruelty against the working animals back in 1887, and to encourage kindness and empathy towards all living creatures. It was not intended to be a children’s book, though I do believe that engaging with it early in life will help to encourage kindness to animals, and I believe it should be on mandatory reading lists.
As a direct result of the popularity of this book, the bearing rein, a purely fashionable and intolerably cruel accessory which forces a horse’s head up high when they are drawing a carriage, and means they cannot put their heads down, which is important when they are going up a hill for example, and also contributes to pressure in other parts of the body and can impair their breathing, fell out of fashion.
Unfortunately, Anna Sewell, who was physically disabled, died not six months after the publication of this incredible, ground-breaking, and personally significant novel.
This book is also in the public domain and therefore free on Amazon Kindle.