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?