Ward's Book of Days.

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What happened on this day in history.

APRIL 25th  

On this day in history in 1878, died Anna Sewell.

Sewell was a literary editor and animal welfare campaigner who wrote the classic masterpiece Black Beauty.  

Anna Sewell was born on March 30th 1820, at Great Yarmouth, into a Quaker family. When aged fourteen she suffered a fall whilst walking home from school and damaged both ankles. This injury, or the maltreatment of it, left her lame for the rest of her life. She was unable to walk for any distance but could manipulate a horse drawn carriage, in which she took her father daily to the station, and was able to assist her mother in the routine editing of her didactic children’s storybooks. She augmented her normal school education, with discourses in the company of writers, artists and philosophers, including Alfred Lord Tennyson, whom she met at convalescent spas.  

Sewell’s concern for the humane treatment of horses led her to compose her own work, in the edifying style of her mother, in which the central character is a gentle highbred horse who undergoes a series of vicissitudes and whose character undergoes a transformation as the pages of the novel unfold. The eponymous Black Beauty is the first person narrator and although the text is somewhat sentimental and borrows heavily on the technique of Dickens and other Victorian authors, the composition achieves it aim, as Sewell wrote, ‘to induce kindness, sympathy and an understanding treatment of horses’.

Sewell wrote the text in the last seven years of her life, while her state of health often made her bedridden and on occasions unable to lift a pen. Much of the work was dictated to her mother, who transcribed it in manuscript form. In 1877, the book was published by Jarrold and Sons, when the first edition sold out almost immediately. Subsequent sales have raised it to the sixth best seller in the English language.  

Sewell died on 25th April 1878 and was buried in the Quaker cemetery at Lamas. [Quaker Burial-ground, The Street, Lamas, Norfolk, NR10 5AF]. Her birthplace in Great Yarmouth is now a museum. [25, Church Plain, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, NR30 1NE]

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