street scene with many people and animals including a flock of sheep and two pillared buildings

Black Beauty
by Anna Sewell

Like many “children’s classics”, Black Beauty was not originally written as a children’s book. So don’t hesitate to reread it right now, no matter how old you are. And then you can read it to the nearest passing child . . . assuming the child even knows what a horse is. You may need to make a detour into social history.

Black Beauty must have helped make things a little better for horses. But it’s worth noting that animal-cruelty laws were already on the books. The threat—and even the reality—of prosecution crops up several times in the story. So the book wasn’t presenting brand-new ideas that had never occurred to anyone before. Nor did the book lead to wide­spread prohibition of the bearing rein (also called the check rein). The style just went out of fashion, in the same way that “Look! She’s wearing a dead bird on her head!” took care of millinery fads.

Introduction and Contents

Part I   (Chapters I-XXI)

Part II   (Chapters XXII-XXXI)

Part III   (Chapters XXXII-XLV)

Part IV   (Chapters XLVI-XLIX)

About the Illustrations


The text of this ebook is based on the Jarrold 19th edition, probably from 1894. Don’t be fooled by the numbers, though; this is essentially a line-for-line and page-for-page reprint of the first edition. One or two—but not all—typographical errors were corrected, while several new ones were added.

The full title: The first edition of Black Beauty had two subtitles: “His Grooms and Companions“ and “The Autobio­graphy of a Horse”, one after the other, with a supple­mentary “Trans­lated from the Original Equine”. The various later editions may use either subtitle, singly or in combi­nation. Sometimes, especially in American editions, they throw in the descriptor “The ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ of the Horse”.

Humans: The author is fond of Meaningful Names; it saves character delineation. So we have Black Beauty’s first master, the admirable Mr. Manly, and Ginger’s first master, Mr. Ryder; Mr. Sawyer the builder; Mr. Clay the brick­maker; the stingy cab-owner Mr. Skinner; and finally “my benefactor” Mr. Thoroughgood.

Is it just me, or . . . is the narrator’s style strikingly reminiscent of the submitters to Not Always Right?


Judging by appearances, the original publishers of Black Beauty had no idea what a sensation they had on their hands. The first edition, from late 1877, was decidedly low-budget. There was only one illustration, “The moon had just risen”, used as the frontispiece. By the time the 19th edition came around, a new frontispiece had been added, “The squire stood there”, along with the pair of Bearing Rein drawings. The original frontispiece was shifted to its natural place in the text, around page 120.

But that’s the “Popular” edition, a word that here obviously meant “cheap”. There are many illustrated British editions—and, thanks to the lack of international copyright, still more illustrated American editions. At least one American edition brazenly copies the pictures from the Jarrold 5th edition. For details, see the list of illustrations.


Unless otherwise noted, spelling and punctuation are as in the original. Typographical errors are marked with mouse-hover popups and are listed again at the end of each Part. The word “invisible” means that the letter or punctu­ation mark is missing, but there is an appropriately sized blank space.

Hyphenization is inconsistent. At first I assumed this was an artifact of the book’s success: every time it was reprinted, the typesetter looked at the previous edition and had to make his best guess about words that were found at line break. On the computer it’s trivial to pull up all examples of, say, “high-?bred” and look for patterns; in a physical book it’s much more labor-intensive. But as it turns out, the 19th edition is almost a letter-for-letter reprint of the first edition. So the inconsis­tencies were there from the beginning.

Some specifics:

lady in riding habit talking to horse