Black Beauty is probably the best known horse book in the English speaking world.
It has been published in countless editions, and there can be few horse people who
have not read it. Anna Sewell wrote it as a blast across the bows of Victorian lack
of sensitivity to animals. Possibly as part of the view that man had been placed
by God in mastery over the creatures of the earth, and in some cases poverty so grinding
there was nothing to spare for anyone, let alone a horse, cruelty was commonplace.
Anna Sewell looked to enlighten people’s ignorance. If you were wealthy enough
to employ coachmen and grooms, it was perhaps easy to take no direct role in their
care, and to have no idea of how restrictive and cruel a tight bearing rein could
be, or to care only for fashion (is the fashion for toting small dogs round in clothes
by various celebrities part of the same thing, I wonder?) By allowing the horse
to tell its own story, Anna Sewell allows it to speak directly to its tormentors.
The book has, since its first publication gone through many, many editions. This
section of the website is not aiming to feature them all; just the most notable (and
yes, whatever else happens to swim across my ken!) For most notable equine illustrators,
doing Black Beauty was something of a rite of passage. Many of them have, including
Cecil Aldin and Lionel Edwards; perhaps most notably Lucy Kemp-Welch (the illustration
to the top right of this page) as well as more recent illustrators like Sheila Rose.
Black Beauty has reflected design fashions: I particularly like two I was given
recently, the 1899 printing which has a wonderful floral design absolutely nothing
whatsoever to do with the book, and the spare art deco lines of the Alice B Woodward
If you have any other printings you’d like to let me know about, please do. I’m
also looking for bibliographical information about other editions. I do have more
editions lurking on my shelves, and will add them at some point.
Adrienne Gavin: A Dark Horse - the Life of Anna Sewell (The History Press Ltd, 2004)
Susan Chitty: The Woman Who Wrote Black Beauty - a Life of Anna Sewell
Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1971
Lucy Kemp Welsh
Other editions I know about but don’t yet have pictures for
The following illustrators have tackled Black Beauty: