The black beauty

Black Beauty - Stories about animals have long been children’s favorites. One of the all-time most popular such books is “black Beauty”, unusual in that the story is written in first person, that is, in the “voice” of the hero, a horse named Black Beauty.

First published in 1877, “black Beauty” was written by Anna Sewell, a woman who was crippled since childhood and who had great compassion for both people and animals. Anna’s mother was a popular writer of many children’s books, which Anna helped to edit. Oddly, “black Beauty” was the only book Anna wrote and was written in the year before she died. Published just months before her death, she did live long enough to see her book succeed.

Her focus on the plight of the 19th century horse grew, in part, out of her experiences as a child, driving her father’s carriage as he went to and from work in London. There she saw how cruelly treated and mishandled were the some 20,000 horses hitched to hansom cabs, as well as coal carts and other types of wagon transport. Unlike today, not much attention was given to animals who were treated poorly by their owners.

In the 1800’s, it was considered fashionable for carriage and hansom drivers to use harsh bits that cut and hurt the horses mouths, as well as reins known as “bearing reins” which forced the horses’ head back and up in a painful position. Many drivers and owners didn’t care much about their horses and simply wore them out with hard work, long hours and inadequate care.

These practices so distressed Anna that she determined to tell the story of the life of a horse of the times, in hopes of raising public awareness. In her own words, Anna said, "i am writing the life of a horse... to induce kindness, sympathy and an understanding of the treatment of horses.” Thus was the tale of “black Beauty” born.

Black Beauty is the hero, a fine, good-natured stallion, who in the course of his life experiences situations and owners both good and bad. The two other main characters are Ginger, a chestnut mare who is teamed with Black Beauty as a cart horse, and their friend Merrylegs, a sweet pony with a good and kind owner.

The three tell their stories, with the ups and downs of life. Black Beauty sees many sides of life, from his birth on a horse farm with kind owners, eventually becoming a riding horse, a carriage horse for a wealthy owner and then a period as the overworked and ill-treated cart horse.

Although Anna Sewell did not intend “black Beauty” to be a children’s story, this classic book has sold over 30 million copies, with three movies eventually made, based on the only book written by this crippled woman with a passion for the plight of the 19th century horse.

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