This is the first edition of Black Beauty
The structure of this novel is staightforward and ingenious. Black Beauty tells his own life story, but meets and observes other horses; and he asks them about how their lives have been. This way we only get to hear about the very worst of the ill-treatment of horses since Black Beauty is a horse who is an observer and who is fortunate, having known kindness from the beginning as a colt, even though he is badly treated by several owners throughout the middle of his life. The novel, Black Beauty, ends happily, despite the many sad reports from the lives of other horses. Black Beauty himself is happy when he tells his story, leaving the reader with hope; as his very last owner is good and kind and has promised to never sell him.
One of the stories-within-a-story about other horses, is about the old war horse, Captain, who describes his time as a cavalry horse in the Crimean War. Here is part of Captain's story:
'I cannot tell all that happened on that day, but I will tell of the last charge that we made together. It was across a valley right in front of the enemy's cannon. By this time we were well used to the roar of heavy guns, the rattle of musket fire, and the flying of shots near us; but never had I been under such a fire as we rode through on that day. From the right, from the left. and from the front, shot and shell poured in upon us. Many a brave man went down, many a horse fell, flinging his rider to the earth; many a horse without a rider ran wildly out of the ranks, then, terrified at being alone, with no hand to guide him, came pressing in among his old campanions, to gallop with them to the charge.
'Fearful as it was, no one stopped, no one turned back. Every moment the ranks were thinned, but as our comrades fell, we closed in to keep together; and instead of being shaken or staggered in our pace, our gallop became faster and faster as we neared the cannon, all clouded in white smoke, while the red fire flashed through it.
'My master, my dear master, was cheering on his comrades with his right arm raised on high, when one of the balls, whizzing close to my head, struck him. I felt him stagger with the shock, though he uttered no cry; I tried to check my speed, but the sword dropped from his right hand, the rein fell loose from the left, and sinking backward from the saddle he fell to the earth; the other riders swept past us, and by the force of their charge I was driven from the spot where he fell.
'I wanted to keep my place by his side, and not leave him under that rush of horses' feet, but it was in vain; and now without a master or a friend, I was alone on that great slaughter ground; then fear took hold of me, and I trembled as I had never trembled before; and I too, as I had seen other horses do, tried to join in the ranks and gallop with them; but I was beaten off by the swords of the soldiers. Just then a soldier whose horse had been killed under him caught at my bridle and mounted me, and with this new master I was again going forward; but our gallant company was cruelly overpowered, and those who remained alive after the fierce fight for the guns came galloping back over the same ground. Some of the horses had been so badly wounded that they could scarcely move from the loss of blood; other noble creatures were trying on three legs to drag themelves along, others were struggling to rise on their forefeet, when their hind legs had been shattered by shot. Their groans were piteous to hear, and the beseeching look in their eyes as those who escaped passed by, and left them to their fate, I shall never forget. After the battle the wounded men were brought in, and the dead were burried."
'And what about the horses?' I said. 'Were they left to die?'
'No, the army farriers went over the field with their pistols and shot all that was ruined. Some that had only slight wounds were bought back and attended to, but the greater part of the noble, willing creatures that went out that morning never came back! In our stables there was only about on in four that returned.
'I never saw my dear master again. I believe he fell dead from the saddle. I never loved any other naster so well. I went into many other engagements but was only once wounded, and then not seriously; and when the war was over, I came back to England, as sound and strong as when I went out.'
I said, 'I have heard people talk about war as if it was a very fine thing."
'Ah!' said he, 'I should think they never saw it. No doubt it is very fine there is no enemy, when it is just exercise and parade, and sham fight. Yes, it is very fine then; but when thousands of good brave men and horses are killed, or crippled for life, it is a very different look.'
'Do you know what they fought about?' said I.
'No,' he said, 'that is more than a horse can understand, but the enemy must have been awfully wicked people, if it was right to go all that way over the sea on purpose to kill them.'
Does this sound familiar? The horse Captain lost his master in the Charge of the Light Brigade. Alfred, Lord Tennyson's well-known poem is about this battle, the Battle of Balaclava, that took place during the Crimean War on 25 October 1854. Anna Sewell has taken a poem about a battle where many, many soldiers die, and used its content in this chapter about a war horse who tells the same story from a horse's point of view. Take a look at the poem if you would like to hear it read aloud go to this page.
The Charge of the Light Brigade
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
'Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns' he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
This passage is taken from pp.123-125 of the unabridged Dover Juvenile Classics edition (1999) of Anna Sewell's novel, Black Beauty, that was published in 1877, one year before her death. This is a book that is probably available at most public and school libraries, and has been translated into many languages.