How the Book, ‘Black Beauty’ Inspired a Movement
“Do you know why this world is as bad as it is?… It is because people think only about their own business, and won’t trouble themselves to stand up for the oppressed, nor bring the wrong-doers to light… My doctrine is this, that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt.”
― Anna Sewell, Black Beauty
Do you remember reading the book, “Black Beauty” by Anna Sewell when you were a child?
It was the powerful story of a horse’s life told from his own point of view and depicting the joys and sorrows of being owned by both men of kindness and men of cruelty.
Published in 1877 as the only book the author ever wrote, and one of the best selling books of all time, it spoke to the heart about the importance of compassion towards both man and beast.
She didn’t actually write the novel for children but said that her purpose in writing the novel was “to induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses” inspired by “Essay on Animals” by Horace Bushnell, an American Minister and theologian.
Sewell’s novel broke literary ground by being the first to describe the world through the eyes of a horse, and her heart wrenching depiction of what it meant to be a working equine in Victorian England caused an enormous outpouring of concern for the welfare of the mistreated creatures.
Her voice as Black Beauty had an authority and an urgency that resonated with my young heart so many years ago –and still does.
I think of her as one of the first true animal rights activists, speaking for those who can’t speak for themselves, giving a voice to the abused innocents.
“We call them dumb animals”, she said, “and so they are, for they cannot tell us how they feel, but they do not suffer less because they have no words.”
I wish I could tell her what it meant to read her powerful words on behalf of animals and how it helped me see that I wasn’t alone in my early concern for the suffering of all creatures.
I have no doubt that her inspiration gave me the strength to truly look into how we treat animals in our society, including the ones we use for food.
She was willing to tell the truth, to see with eyes of mercy, to stand up to the “norms” of the day, to speak out on behalf of the horses she loved and cared about.
In fact, her book was instrumental in the abolition of the cruel practice of using the “bearing rein”, a strap used to keep horses’ heads high, fashionable in Victorian England but painful and damaging to a horse’s neck.
Thanks to Sewell, the depiction of the bearing rein in Black Beauty spurred so much outrage and empathy from readers that its use was not only abolished in Victorian England, but public interest in anti-cruelty legislation in the United States also grew significantly and inspired laws that would condemn such abusive behaviors towards animals.
She reminds me that words are powerful and that if we truly want to see changes, we must be willing to stand up and speak out.
I will always be grateful to her for her incredible example of being a powerful voice for the voiceless.
“He said cruelty was the devil’s own trade-mark, and if we saw any one who took pleasure in cruelty we might know who he belonged to, for the devil was a murderer from the beginning, and a tormentor to the end. On the other hand, where we saw people who loved their neighbors, and were kind to man and beast, we might know that was God’s mark.”
―Anna Sewell, Black Beauty
“Only ignorance! only ignorance! how can you talk about only ignorance? Don’t you know that it is the worst thing in the world, next to wickedness? — and which does the most mischief heaven only knows. If people can say, `Oh! I did not know, I did not mean any harm,’ they think it is all right.”
― Anna Sewell, Black Beauty