24 November 1877: Black Beauty hits the shelves
The anti-animal-cruelty tale enthrals millions of readers
Anna Sewell was not a lucky woman. Born to Quaker parents in Norfolk in 1820, she spent her childhood following her father’s job as a salesman and then a banker. Initially educated at home by her mother, she started attending a school in Stoke Newington, London when she was about 12. But then one day, she was running home in the rain and slipped, badly injuring both her ankles.
In that instant, Sewell’s life changed forever. She never truly recovered from the accident: unable to walk without a crutch or stand for long, her mother wrote of her “life of constant frustration”. For the rest of her life Sewell lived with her parents, blighted by severe pain and troubled by religious doubt.
Her consolation was her love of animals. Due to her injury, Sewell relied on horses to get about, and she became a passionate opponent of cruelty to animals. In 1871, she decided to write a book “to induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses”. The innovation, though, was that Sewell wrote from the horse’s perspective.
The result, published in November 1877 by Jarrold & Sons, was Black Beauty: His Grooms and Companions, The Autobiography of a Horse. Supposedly “translated from the original equine”, it was a colossal hit, selling tens of millions of copies worldwide.
Sewell died five months after publication, just long enough to see Black Beauty become a success. One scholar calls it “the most influential anti-cruelty novel of all time”.
Julian Humphrys rounds up smaller anniversaries…
24 November 1632
Philosopher Baruch Spinoza is born in Amsterdam.
24 November 1688
British soldier John Churchill, the future Duke of Marlborough, deserts King James II’s army at Salisbury and joins the forces of William of Orange.
24 November 1849
Birth in Manchester of Frances Eliza Hodgson. As Frances Hodgson Burnett, she wrote over 20 novels for adults but is best-known for her childrens’ fiction, notably the books Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Little Princess and The Secret Garden.
24 November 1971
A hijacker known as Dan Cooper parachuted out of a Boeing 727 plane near Mount St Helens, Washington with $200,000 in 20 dollar bills. He was never seen again.
24 November 1950
Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls premiered at Broadway’s 46th Street Theatre. The musical ran for 1,200 performances and collected five Tony Awards in 1951, including Best Musical.