For those of you who have read Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, it certainly won’t surprise you that she wrote the book to “induce kindness, sympathy and an understanding of the treatment of horses.” And while it is considered a classic children’s novel, it really should [also] be required reading for individuals over the age of 18. Particularly those who have forgotten basic lessons learned in childhood, such as kindness, sympathy, and an understanding of humane, righteous treatment of others.
Although Anna Sewell’s upbringing was quite religious and mine was not, I found the more explicitly religious passages in Black Beauty the most profound. For example:
“…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–all a sham, James, and it won’t stand when things come to be turned inside out.”
In my few experiences with people touting their religious beliefs to me, most of the time their preaching is hollow (if you’re offended by this read that again – most of the time); they talk about being guided by God and accepting of their neighbors and God’s subjects, then act in a condescending way towards others who don’t look like them or others who may not indulge their selfishness. In Black Beauty, Anna Sewell makes it quite clear that religious guidance is not a shield to hide behind when dealing with humans or beasts, and while following a God is not in my interest, love and kindness are, and I know both should be extended without conditional restraints.
If there was only one novel I could recommend to anyone, an if-you-only-read-one-book-in-your-lifetime sort of recommendation, it would be Black Beauty. Although there is little romance in the specific sense of courtship and falling in love (which I enjoy), Anna Sewell has a romantic way of describing both virtue and vice that satisfies that need.
Lastly, I want to briefly talk about the edition of Black Beauty I have. Its simple red cover is tightly cloth bound, and features a detailed outline of a horse as well as a font I wish I knew the name of. This edition was published by The Goldsmith Publishing Company of Chicago, a publisher of hardback children’s books. The Company was only in business from 1931-1939, which is only one of the two points of reference I have about when this edition was published. The second is an inscription on the first [blank] page after the cover: my paternal grandfather’s name is scrawled there, above “Xmas 1940” – which came soon after his 11th birthday. Finishing this book on Christmas gave me extra feelings of sentimentality. And sadness. I lost my grandfather on the first day of spring this year, and I wish I had opened this edition even just a year earlier, when I had the chance to talk to him about it.
Ugh, those could have, would have, should haves hit hard and fast, don’t they? I wasn’t planning on ending this post with such heavy sadness, but in light of the turmoil I’ve felt all year, the anxiety that has mounted in my mind, and the cynicism that has crept into my soul, it feels right to end this way, if only because all of that adult detritus has reminded me to turn to books and the written word to find comfort and reassurance that love, kindness, and empathy are always in the right. Just because I learned the latter far before the former showed up – that is to say, I learned the latter in childhood before the terribleness of adulthood and adults bared its fangs at me – does not mean I abandon that knowledge for the ease of hatred and harm. It may now require more work to think first rather than act, and to intervene rather than ignore, but that doesn’t make it less right.
Our friend stood still for a moment, and throwing his head a little back, “Do you know why this world is as bad as it is?”
“No,” said the other.
“Then I’ll tell you. It is because people only think about their own business, and won’t trouble themselves to stand up for the oppressed, nor bring the wrongdoers to light. I never see a wicked thing like this without doing what I can, and many a master has thanked me for letting him know how his horses have been used.”
“I wish there were more gentlemen like you, sir,” said Jerry, “for they are wanted badly enough in this city.”
After this we continued our journey, and as they got out of the cab our friend was saying, “My doctrine is this, that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves the sharers in the guilt.”