Wednesday, 30 March 2016

A Debt to Black Beauty

The books that first got me reading - I mean really reading, and loving it - were a motley collection. I was nine or ten at the time and had spent my earlier years quite unaware of the powerful enchantment of books. Then along came the works that turned me into a reader: A Christmas Carol (which led me to Oliver Twist and beyond), a life of Albert Schweitzer (no idea who by, of if it was any good, but I read it repeatedly), My Family and Other Animals (I was a keen junior naturalist), In Memoriam (a precocious choice) and Black Beauty. I found Black Beauty gripping and at times almost unbearably moving, read it again and again (and was inspired to make many drawings of horses, which made me popular with horse-loving girls). Heaven knows what I would make of Black Beauty now - I'm pretty sure it's not one to reread - but I must always be grateful for any book that sparked such passion in me.
 Its author, Anna Sewell, was born on this day in 1820, into a Quaker family who later joined the evangelical wing of the Church of England. Like so many Victorian ladies, she spent much of her life as an invalid, a childhood accident having severely restricted her mobility. Black Beauty was her only published work, and she lived just long enough to witness its initial success - though she can hardly have dreamed that it would go on to become one of the best-selling books in publishing history.
 I remember enough of Black Beauty to know that it is an intensely moral book, concerning itself with how we treat our fellow humans as well as our fellow animals. 'There is no religion without love,' Sewell wrote in Black Beauty,' 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... and it won't stand when things come to be turned inside out and put down for what they are.'
 Does anyone else recall the books - good, bad or downright shameful - that made a reader of them? Come to that, has anyone reread Black Beauty?

17 comments:

  1. 'Emil and the Detectives', for fiction, when I was holed up in bed with mumps at aged seven and 'The Kings and Queens of England' for non-fiction - lavishly illustrated and a big fat book for a six year old.It was a bit like a junior version of Arthur Bryant's histories; all "England is best. Go hang the rest."

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    1. Wonderful Emil & the Detectives. I liked all Kastner's books

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  2. Bows Against the Barons by Geoffrey Trease. Unfortunately the book didn't lead me on to further reading - that happened much later. But at the age of about 10/11 I remember being totally gripped by the story of Dickon and his vivid adventures with Robin Hood and his anything-but-merry men. The slim volume eventually fell to bits through overuse as, like you with 'Beauty', I read it over and over again.

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    1. Geoffrey Trease was great - I'd forgotten. The one I loved was Cue for Treason

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  3. The only books my parents owned were the 24 volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (Rev. 14th Ed.), so ...

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  4. All good stirring stuff - with the possible exception of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Did you develop a profound knowledge of things beginning with A, Waldo?

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  5. Horses are notoriously tricky to draw. Can you still knock out a decent gee gee?

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  6. Long time since I tried Brit. I think I always started with the hunkers...

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  7. The hunkers? No wonder the girls were impressed.

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  8. Mine was "Little Women" which I read at eight. "Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents."
    Susan

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  9. Ah yes - I'm sure Little Women has been the making of many a reader...

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  10. I reread Black Beauty with my children. I what I had t not iced as a child is that there was a particular kind of rein or strap, designed to make the horse's neck arch but, according to Sewell very painful, whose abolition I think was the motivating force behind the book. That passage you quote brings tears to my eyes, as does just the thought of poor Ginger.

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  11. Books and authors to that got me reading:
    E Nesbit, Edward Eager (who was her acolyte, in a way), The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe. The Green Knowe series. Rosemary Sutcliff, Molesworth, PL Travers, Elisabeth Goudge, Puck of Pook's Hill, Richmal Crompton. The Chelsea Library, just off the King's Road in those days, was my second home

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  12. Excuse illiteracy of those comments - I have not mastered typing on a screen

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  13. Thanks zmkc. Sadly I only discovered E. Nesbit (and many others) through reading to my own children, but I do remember reading and enjoying Rosemary Sutcliff as a child - I had Warrior Scarlet, with very striking illustrations. Molesworth I adore to this day...

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    1. The Compleat (spelling? Compleet?) Molesworth is the book I would save if only one book in the world could be saved, which may seem a bit extreme but I love it so much

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  14. A tad late, however......
    Aged eight 'Chris in Canada' by GF Clarke, a small boy's story of emigrating to Canada and living on a small farm, bought another copy (from Abe) some years ago, it rests on the shelf, alone and unread. Treasure Island (The Heirloom Library,) signed 'Xmas 1952 Aunt Irene.' Tom Sawyer (The Heirloom Library) 1950 present. Robinson Crusoe (Rylee Classics) ditto. I still have all three. Then oodles of Biggles (racism for dummies.) Plus, soaring above all, The Wind in the Willows.

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