Sometimes a book shines a light, waking us from our blind sleep, and changes not only one generation, but generations to come. Enter Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. 

Born in Norfolk, England, in 1820, the daughter of Quakers, Anna lived by the rule of kindness toward all living things. Aware that horses are sensitive creatures capable of deep emotional feeling and appalled by the rampant cruelty and ignorance imposed by their owners, Anna spent six years crafting the story, aided with editing by her mother, a children’s novelist whose stories have not stood the test time but were popular in their day.

Anna Sewell’s Birthplace, 1820
Norfolk, England


Surprisingly, Anna wrote Black Beauty not for children, but for caretakers of horses so they would develop ‘kindness, sympathy and an understanding treatment of horses’, and accounts differ as to whether she witnessed much of its’ success. Ultimately, it became a children’s classic, selling over 60 million copies by 2008. Best of all, the book made such a profound social impact that it can be directly traced to legislation abolishing the bearing rein in both England and the United States. The bearing rein was a fashionable strap that forced horses’ necks into an elegant position. It looked nice but it was painful for the horse and lead to permanent respiratory problems.

First Edition 1877, Credit to Bauman Rare Books

Black Beauty was the only book Anna ever wrote and she sold the the full rights for a mere twenty British Pounds. Her death came early, at age 57, of either tuberculosis or hepatitis, but she did manage to live more than four years longer than the doctors had given her, thus gracing her the time to finish the story. Imagine her joy had she seen her manuscript, which had slowly come to life from the depths of her huge heart, blossom into the world-wide phenomenon it continues to be today.

Anna’s last home, where she wrote Black Beauty.

It is inspiring to think how one book opened so many hearts and minds. If Hector Goes to the Circus, a story about the love of a pig, helps even a few young hearts grow bigger, I will jump like a colt, right over the moon.

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