This Day In Writing History
On March 30th, 1820, the famous British children's book writer Anna Sewell was born in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England. She was born into a devoutly religious Quaker family. She had one sibling, a younger brother named Philip.
As a young girl, Anna Sewell was mostly educated at home by her mother, who established a strict regime of schooling heavily influenced by her religious beliefs. When Anna was twelve, her family moved to Stoke Newington, where she began her formal education. For the first time, she was able to study subjects new to her, such as mathematics and foreign languages.
Two years later, at the age of fourteen, Anna took a nasty fall while walking home from school. She severely injured both her ankles, and since medicine in 1834 was primitive, she never received proper treatment. As a result, she would remain practically lame for the rest of her life, unable to stand without a crutch or walk more than a few steps.
In 1836, Anna's father took a job in Brighton, partly because he hoped the climate there would strengthen his daughter's health. Meanwhile, Anna used horse-drawn carriages to get around, which led her to develop a love of horses and a strong belief in the humane treatment of animals.
Anna Sewell's first introduction to professional writing was through her mother, who was a children's book writer. Mary Wright Sewell had written a series of evangelical children's books that was quite popular during its time. Another of her books, a poetry collection called Mother's Last Words, sold millions of copies. Anna would often help edit her mother's manuscripts.
Later, when she was a grown woman, Anna met many writers, artists, and philosophers as she traveled throughout Europe, visiting spas in an attempt to improve her health. Unfortunately, her health would continue to deteriorate.
Anna would return to England and settle in Old Catton, a village outside of Norwich in Norfolk. She contracted tuberculosis, and her health would decline to the point that she was often bedridden. In 1871, at the age of 51, she began work on a novel - partly to pass the time, partly to inspire those who worked with horses to be kind to the animals. At the time, horses were often beaten by their owners and forced to pull wagons and carriages that were overloaded. As a result, many horses died on their feet from exhaustion - still wearing their harnesses.
To make carriage horses look attractive, some cruel fashions were employed, such as docking, where a horse's tail would be cut short, causing the animal great pain and leaving it vulnerable to insect bites and stings. Another cruel fashion was the bearing rein, which held the horse's head toward its chest. This gave the horse's neck a graceful arc, but it also left the animal unable to breathe properly, which resulted in respiratory problems. The bearing rein also caused horses to suffer from very poor vision and loss of balance.
Anna Sewell completed her novel six years later, in 1877. She struggled to write it, but was determined to finish it. When she was too weak to write, she dictated to her mother. When the novel was completed, Anna sold it to a publisher, Jarrolds, for £40. Although she never intended it to be a children's book, Black Beauty would rightfully be considered one of the greatest works of children's literature ever written.
Black Beauty is a novel in the form of a memoir - the autobiography of a black stallion named Black Beauty. Beginning with his carefree childhood as a colt on an English farm, he tells the story of his life. Most poignant are his recollections of his hard life in London, where he pulled taxicabs for a living. Black Beauty tells many tales of cruelty and kindness as he chronicles his life, ending his story on a bright note as he retires to a happy life in the country.
Anna Sewell's eye for detail - specifically, her extensive and accurate descriptions of the behavior of horses - gives the novel a great sense of realism, despite the fact that it's a story narrated by a horse. Her descriptions of the hard life of working horses led to reforms benefiting horse-drawn taxi drivers so they wouldn't have to work the animals so hard to make a decent living.
The initial sales of Black Beauty would break current publishing records. The novel would go on to sell over 30,000,000 copies. Sadly, Anna Sewell wouldn't live to see the runaway success of her novel. She died of tuberculosis five months after it was published, in 1878, at the age of 58. Black Beauty would be adapted several times for the screen and television.
Quote Of The Day
"There 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." - Anna Sewell
Today's video features a reading of the first chapter of Anna Sewell's classic children's novel, Black Beauty. Enjoy!