Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

Reviewed by Robin L. Smith

From lush green pastures, to high society, to the dark and crowded streets of London, Black Beauty is an "autobiographical" tale of one horse's life in 19th century England. Written to "induce kindness, sympathy and an understanding treatment of horses," it is a moving story of cruelty and compassion, ignorance and greed, love and kindness.

From birth, Black Beauty serves a wide variety of masters. Some, such as first owner Farmer Grey, wealthy landowner Squire Gordon, coachman John Manley and London cabdriver Jerry Barker, treat him with gentleness and respect. Others, such as fashion-conscious Lady W, alcoholic under-coachman Reuben Smith and hard-hearted cab owner Nicholas Skinner, neglect and overwork him.

Beauty puzzles at the ill-treatment that befalls his kind - whether it is the bearing rein that breaks Ginger's will, the careless whipping of little Merrylegs or the docking of Sir Oliver's tail. But regardless of how he is treated, Beauty serves without complaint, adhering to his mother's childhood advice: "Do your work with a will, lift your feet up well when you trot, and never bite or kick, even in play."

Written by Anna Sewell and published in 1877 by Jarrold & Sons, Black Beauty has been hugely successful on several levels. Spawning a torrent of public criticism against the inhumane treatment of animals, it is credited with triggering the demise of the cruel bearing rein and with being "the greatest single influence in promoting the humane treatment of horses."

To date, Black Beauty has been adapted for film, LP, television and stage. And with over fifty million copies in print, it has proven to be, not only a best seller, but a timeless classic for both children and adults.

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