Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Horse is a Horse

[Here's the latest contribution from our SoCal Correspondent, Audrey Bilger, a fascinating essay about Anna Sewell, author of Black Beauty; & please keep Audrey & her partner Cheryl & all the folks in the LA area in your hearts as they deal with the threats posed from the horrific wildfire....]

Anna Sewell, author of the beloved children’s classic Black Beauty, was taught by her Quaker parents to show respect for all living creatures. At the age of 14, she suffered ankle injuries from a serious fall, and came to depend upon horses for her mobility outside the home, a dependence that no doubt heightened her empathy toward them and toward the powerless
in general.

Anna was born in Y
armouth, Norfolk, England, and her family moved frequently. Her mother, Mary Sewell, achieved popularity as a writer of books and ballads designed to instruct the poor, and as a young woman, Anna drove her pony cart, un-chaperoned (except by the pony!), to teach reading, writing, and Bible lessons to workers. She followed her mother’s model of “Sixpenny Charity,” an idea of giving small sums to poor people on a regular basis and encouraging them to learn about budgets and savings. She lived with her parents her entire life.

In 1871, whe
n she was 50 years old, she fell ill and remained housebound for the seven years that preceded her death. During this time, on scraps of paper and in dictation to her mother, while confined to bed and the couch, she wrote her only novel, Black Beauty: His Grooms and Companions: The Autobiography of a Horse (Translated from the Original Equine). As the extended title makes clear, she took the then-unusual step of writing from the point of view of a horse!

At a time w
hen horses were essential to local transportation and a highly visible part of daily life, they were also, in Anna’s view, a mistreated class of God’s creatures. By bringing to life the consciousness of Black Beauty, Anna created a memorable and believable character and challenged the widespread notion that horses were merely tools with no thoughts or feelings. She also brought attention to the hard lot of cab drivers during her time. Her book has influenced generations of young readers, selling tens of millions of copies and remaining in print to this day.

Here are some quotes from Ms Sewell’s work:

“[W]e have no right to distress any of God’s creatures without a very good reason; we call them dumb animals, and so they are, for they cannot tell us how they feel, but they do not suffer less because they have no words.”
Anna Sewell, Black Beauty (1877)

“[T]here is no religion without love, and people may talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to man and beast, it is all a sham…and it won’t stand when things come to be turned inside out and put down for what they are.”
Anna Sewell, Black Beauty (1877)

“[I]t is a downright pleasure to handle an animal like this, well-bred, well-mannered, well-cared for; bless ye! I can tell how a horse is treated. Give me the handling of a horse for twenty minutes, and I’ll tell you what sort of a groom he has had; look at this one, pleasant, quiet, turns about just as you want him, holds up his feet to be cleaned out, or anything else you please to wish; then you’ll find another, fidgety, fretty, won’t move the right way, or starts across the stall, tosses up his head as soon as you come near him, lays his ears, and seems afraid of you; or else squares about at you with his heels. Poor things! I know what sort of treatment they have had….Bless you! they are like children, train ‘em up in the way they should go, as the good book says, and when they are old they will not depart from it.”
Anna Sewell, Black Beauty (1877)

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  1. Interesting. I know less than I should about this but it is an issue which persists into the present day - especially in parts of the world where animals are used to the extent they were used in Victorian England (and earlier), and there are organisations which address it.

  2. Thanks, Dominic--glad you enjoyed this.

  3. I always learn something new on my visit to RFB. This is no exception. Instructive and enjoyable - not an easy mix to achieve.

  4. Intersting post,John,as usual I knew nothing about the author and was amazed to learn this was here only book written in her final short years.Thanks.

  5. Hi Alan & TFE:

    Alan: Thanks--your support & readership here is very much appreciated!

    TFE: I didn't know she only wrote one book either! Audrey & Eberle know the women writers extremely well, & both write about them very well too.

  6. Gosh, this brings back memories! I must have been ten or so when I read Black Beauty and fell in love with the idea of horses. Then I rode a wildish one and was thrown. That was the end of that love affair! But it was not the end of my love for that gentle book. Thanks for hte reminder.

  7. Hi Karen:

    So glad this brought back good memories for you!


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