Literary Birthday: Anna Sewell

When Anna Sewell (born today in 1820) was 14 years old, she injured her ankle and never quite recovered full mobility. Spending most of her life crippled, she was still able to get around via horse-drawn carriage. It always pained her to see how most horses were treated in Victorian England. Several decades later, she began to write a novel about a horse who suffered under several cruel owners.

Written from the horse’s perspective (“The first place that I can well remember was a large pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it.”) Black Beauty (1877) was mostly written while the author was confined to her sofa. Published just months before Sewell’s death, the book that she hoped would convince people to treat their horses with greater compassion proved to be a turning point in the history of animal rights activism.

Writer’s Desk: Find a Safe Space

BlackBeautyCoverFirstEd1877.jpegThe life of a writer is usually a precarious one, for those of us who make their living solely on their wits and their pen. The lucky ones do not have to hustle all day and night from one assignment and check to the next, but are actually employed to write as part of their job. Whether or not that writing is what they want to do (and if not, there’s always the weekend and mornings to work on the novel), it’s always a relief to be employed to do what one loves.

The great journalist A. J. Liebling—who found his base of operations at the New Yorker—once compared his fellow ink-stained wretches to a certain famous fictitious horse:

The pattern of a newspaperman’s life is like the plot of Black Beauty. Sometimes he finds a kind master who gives him a dry stall and an occasional bran mash in the form of a Christmas bonus, sometimes he falls into the hands of a mean owner who drives him in spite of spavins and expects him to live on potato peelings…

Sometimes this can mean swallowing one’s pride. But if the stall is nice, frequently mucked out, and comes replete with fresh hay and the occasional apple, that comfort can leave more time for doing what you are meant to do: Write.