Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Tuesday Tidbit: Anna Sewell and Black Beauty

Everyone has a favorite childhood book (or two or three…), and for some reason mine seem to revolve around horses. Misty of Chincoteague, My Friend Flicka, and Black Beauty. I was a teenager before I had an opportunity to ride a horse, and the day ended when the animal ran under a tree and swept me off her back. But that’s a story for another day.

In researching this post, I was stunned to discover that the book was published in 1877, almost one hundred years prior to my falling in love with the story. Published shortly before her death, Black Beauty is the only book Anna Sewell wrote. With fifty million copies sold, Black Beauty is considered one of the top ten children’s books, and is the first English novel to be told from the perspective of an animal. Written over the course of six years, Anna became ill before completing the manuscript and dictated much of the text to her mother.

Born March 20, 1820, Anna Sewell was born into a devout Quaker family. Her mother was a successful children’s book author who homeschooled Anna and her brother Philip. Her father owned a small shop that failed, and as a result, the family moved quite a bit in his search for employment. Anna’s maternal grandparents often took care of her and Philip.

When she was a teenager, Anna fell and injured her ankles that never healed properly. She was unable to walk without a crutch or stand for long periods of time. Over the years, she traveled to health spas in Germany and Spain to get relief and healing. However, she was unsuccessful, remaining an invalid for the rest of her life.

As an effort to give herself mobility, she used a horse-drawn chaise to get around. The regular use of the horse combined with living in a society dependent upon horsepower gave Anna pause to think about the humane treatment of animals. She intended the book as an instruction piece for those who worked with horses and other service animals, not as a children’s book.

Anna received one payment of £40 from her publisher, and the book was released on November 24, 1877. She passed away five months later on April 25, 1878.


Linda Shenton Matchett writes about ordinary people who did extraordinary things in days gone by. A volunteer docent and archivist for the Wright Museum of WWII, Linda is also a trustee for her local public library. She is a native of Baltimore, Maryland and was born a stone’s throw from Fort McHenry. Linda has lived in historic places all her life, and is now located in central New Hampshire where her favorite activities include exploring historic sites and immersing herself in the imaginary worlds created by other authors. Learn more about Linda and her book on her website or connect with her online: http://www.LindaShentonMatchett.com

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