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    I have a box handy that contains books I have previously read, many from years and years ago. I picked up this one that I knew I had as a child. When I opened it, I saw the inscription that reminded me it was given to me by our friends in Canada whom we visited every summer. It was a birthday gift for my ninth birthday, and I know I read it back then, but not since. Over 50 years have passed, and obviously I did not remember much about it except that it was about a horse and it was sad.
    Well, I remembered only partially correctly. It was actually "written" by the horse; from the horse's viewpoint, and it's not all sad. In fact, it is one of the most heartwarming stories I have read in a long, long while and, given the state of evil and hatred our world is in presently, I would recommend reading this immediately. It will help us all remember what it means to be human and to operate with kindness and compassion toward all creatures.
    This was the only novel written by Anna Sewell, and that is unfortunate, because the lady had a gift for writing profound and thought-provoking stories. Also unfortunate is the fact that it was written towards the end of her life, in 1877, and she died five months after its publication. According to Wikipedia, it is the "sixth-best-seller in the English language."
    Sewell was born in England in 1820. At age fourteen, she slipped and fell, and severely injured both her ankles. She remained a cripple for the rest of her life and relied on horse-drawn carriages to get around, which fostered her love for such beautiful creatures. It also made her aware of the often brutal treatment horses suffered at the hands of their owners or handlers. By the time Sewell began this book, she was already severely ill. She often dictated to her mother, or "wrote on slips of paper which her mother transcribed." Sewell died in 1878 of tuberculosis or hepatitis.
    Not only has this become a children's classic (and it is wonderful for adults, too!), it was one of the most influential books on animal welfare and cruelty, and triggered anti-cruelty legislation in Victorian England and the U.S.. Wikipedia compares it to Uncle Tom's Cabin as one of the most important social protest novels. Animal-rights activists also distributed it to horse-drivers and stable workers, sort of as a training manual on the correct treatment of horses and all creatures. In addition, it changed the cruel and oppressive laws regarding taxicab drivers in London. One should never underestimate the effect one can have on world behavior. Amazing!!
    The story, narrated by Black Beauty, begins when he is a colt named Darkie, living with his mother, Duchess, a horse of excellent breeding. She teaches him to be a good horse and to always obey his master. The farmer who owns them is very kind and loving toward his animals. During his early life, he witnesses horses and men on a hunt after a rabbit and sees a horse fall, both killing himself and his rider, the only son of Squire Gordon. He later learns the horse, Rob Roy, was his brother. Farmer Grey trains Darkie to prepare him for sale, then sells him to another kindly owner, the same Squire Gordon.
    There he also has a wonderful life, growing to love his master and both his groom, John Manly, and his assistant James Howard. He also meets other horses with whom he bonds: Ginger who is temperamental because she has been abused at other stables, and Merrylegs, a good-natured pony. Here he is named Black Beauty and eventually breaks through Ginger's surliness and they develop o close friendship. Beauty also encourages her to trust humans and she becomes a much better horse.
    After a period of immense happiness, Beauty's dream life comes to an end. The mistress of the house becomes seriously ill, and John wakes Beauty and tells him they must fly to fetch the doctor. After a long and exhausting trip, the doctor rides Beauty back home, while John walks the eight miles. John's assistant, James, had left the residence for a higher position, and young Joe was in training at the time. He did not know how to properly care for Beauty after his grueling flight, and Beauty almost dies. But he does eventually recover.
    The mistress, however, does not, and Squire Gordon is forced o move to a different climate that could be healthier for his wife. Sadly, the horses are sold, both Beauty and Ginger to an Earl, and there Beauty has his first taste of cruelty. Merrylegs is given to the Vicar with the understanding that he could never be sold and would be shot and buried in his old age.
    The Earl and his handlers are not cruel, but his wife insists on using the bearing reins, which hold the horses' heads high, making them ache and putting a terrible strain on them, especially if they have to pull a heavy load or go uphill. It was one of the things of which Ginger had warned Beauty, whose name is now Black Auster. Finally at one point, when the reins are tightened beyond tolerance level, Ginger rebels. The Earl, upon learning what had happened, did not punish her, but was angry with his wife instead. The use of the bearing rein was one of the things banned in England after the publication of this story.
    Beauty's life ends here after a terrible incident. York, the regular stableman had to go to London and left Reuben Smith in charge of the stables. Reuben was an excellent man, and kind with horses, except when he drank, which was not all the time. On one occasion, however, when bringing the party home from a ball, he could not even hold the reins. He was fired, and his poor wife and children were turned out of the cottage. He promised to never drink again, and kept his promise, so York got him hired back.
    When Colonel Blantyre was due to return to his regiment, Smith drives him to town in the carriage, then he rides Beauty home. On the way he stops at an inn and gets drunk, then rides the poor horse home in an abusive fury. Beauty loses one of his shoes, and, riding over the rough stones, his hoof splits and he is in terrible pain. He stumbles, throwing Smith and killing him and nearly killing himself. When they are discovered, it is obvious that Smith was drunk, so Beauty is not blamed for the accident, but he is now maimed to the point where he is no longer useful to the rich people.
    From there his life goes downhill, and he understands what it means to be an old, abused, worn-out horse. However, there is one bright spot that happens afterwards. A London cabbie named Jerry Barker buys him. He is rather poor, but very kind and loving, and very religious also. He has a wife, son and daughter, and they are equally loving and respectful to each other and to animals. Though the work is difficult, Beauty, now named Jack and his horse-partner, Captain are treated with utmost care. Great love once again surrounds Beauty.
    Jerry also refuses to work on Sundays, making one regular client in particular very angry. But as a family, they all agree that no money is worth having to work seven days a week, wear out the horses, and keep the family from spending a day together. And Jerry, no matter how much he needs the money, will not compromise the welfare of his horses to please a customer's demands, except for the final incident, which was out of Jerry's control and nearly killed him.
    Of all the segments of Beauty's life, this one speaks the most on morals, not only for the treatment of animals, but for the correct behavior of humans to each other. After Jerry nearly dies because of a customer's thoughtlessness, he is forced to give up cab work. Beauty goes through a couple more terrible experiences, but eventually has a surprising and very happy ending. That, I won't tell you about, so you have to read the book yourself. Very highly recommended reading for both children and adults!


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