I loved this book when I first read it as a kid more than 50 years ago and I loved it even more when I read it once again recently. The timeless classic for young and old alike, “Black Beauty” by Anna Sewell has been re-published by Rupa Publications in 2018. This book which has remained a best seller over the decades was first published way back in 1877, over 140 years ago. It has always been a favourite amongst children. Interestingly, it was also the only book written by Anna Sewell!
This story of a horse called Black Beauty set in Victorian England is told in the first person by the horse himself. Of course, in the course of his life he was called by different names by his various owners. Staring from his youth till the present when he is about 14 or 15 , the story written in a simple yet elegant style is captivating. It takes you through the ups and downs that Black Beauty faces in the course of his life. By the way, a horse aged 13 is reckoned to be a middle-aged 43 in terms of human age.
Black Beauty came of a high pedigree, his grandfather having won races at Newmarket. His mother, Duchess, taught him to be a hard-working and obedient horse. He was “broken in” in a gentle yet effective way by his owner Farmer Grey. As a young colt, he was sold to Squire Gordon at Birtwick Park where he spent some of the happiest days of his life. Here he meets Ginger, a temperamental mare who had been ill-treated in the past which led her to become bad-tempered and prone to violence when provoked. From her he came to know of the harsh world outside the beautiful surroundings of Birtwick.
It’s not for me to recount all that followed in Black Beauty’s life but as you would expect he went through tough times when he passed from owner to owner coming across different kinds of people. Some like Jeremiah Barker for whom he drew a London cab, were extremely kind and large-hearted while others were not, like the haughty Countess of W_ and the cruel and self-centred Nicholas Skinner. Black Beauty never forgot his mother’s teachings and remained even-tempered and industrious despite his poor health and run down condition towards the end of the book.
Some parts of the book are memorable – like how he runs like the wind to call the doctor which saved the life of his mistress, Mrs Gordon; his escape from death when their stable caught fire in an inn due to a man’s negligence; the kindness with which Barker and his family treat him despite their own hardships; his seeing by chance, a dead Ginger being carried away; his fall when working for the cruel Skinner; and young Willie begging his grandfather to buy him at the horse sale. These are but a few which come readily to mind.
As luck would have it, perhaps because he deserved a break for all the troubles he had faced, Black Beauty ends up bought by two kind ladies. Black Beauty’s story has a happy end which you should read for yourself.
Anna Sewell’s book has made successive generations of readers all over the world appreciative of horses and sensitive to their needs. A heart warming story, if ever there was one. Highly recommended.