Black Beauty

Black Beauty Summary and Analysis of Part II, Chapters 27-31


In the aftermath of Beauty’s injuries, his master sends him to a meadow to recover. There he becomes quite lonely, having been used to company, until one day he looks up to find Ginger entering the meadow’s gate. However, their joy in meeting abated when Beauty learned why Ginger came; Lord George had severely injured her by driving her too hard. To push her to her limits had been his general practice, and one day he pushed her too far and her health deteriorated. So the two horses kept each other company in that meadow. They did not gallop around as they used to, yet still they enjoyed being with each other. This continued until the earl returned. The injuring of his two horses causes the earl much displeasure. He reluctantly decides to sell Beauty—because he cannot have discolored knees like that in his stables—and leave Ginger in the meadow for a year. Mr. York suggests selling him to a master of livery stables in Bath and so soon enough Beauty is on his way to a new home. There, Beauty finds a good, though not excellent, abode. His master treats him as well as he can afford and that is mostly enough for the horse.

The problem, however, is that now Beauty is at the whim of many masters, and not just the man who owns him. He is a job horse now, and when some customer needs a carriage or horse he comes and rents from this establishment. These customers, unlike Beauty’s previous riders, would too often not know how to ride or drive a horse properly. In narrating the difficulties of life as a job horse, Beauty lists three styles of riding which hurt the ridden. The first, he mentions, is the tight-rein drivers. These fellows do not give an inch of leeway when they hold the reins; instead, they insist on holding the reins so tight across the horse that the creature has no liberty to move its head at all and can barely function. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the loose-rein rider, who neglects to control the reins at all and instead leaves the horse completely to its own devices. These riders cannot help the horse at all if there is some problem in the road or the horse stumbles or so on. Apart from holding the rein-loosely, these men will also tend to be neglectful in caring for the horse. Thus Beauty narrates a story where one such loose-rein rider kept driving Beauty on even after a stone had lodged in the horse’s foot. When Beauty starts to slow because of the pain, the rider assumes he is just lame and whips him on. This sad spectacle goes on until a passing farmer notices the horse’s limping and takes a look at his foot. He takes out the stone and shows it to the rider, who excuses himself by saying he had no idea stones would lodge in horses’ feet. The farmer replied that they do, and if one was not aware of them they could quickly and permanently injure a horse. The rider then continues on his way, still driving Beauty on despite his pain.

The third time of harmful driver is the steam-engine type. These fellows, when they look at a horse, see only a steam engine. To them the horse should be able to drag as heavy a load along as steep a road for as long as any machine can. The horses should be non-stop, just like an engine. This type really wears a horse out. Finally, Beauty mentions the cockneys; they are the ones who like to dash out of the stables at full speed and race around corners as if they were race-jockeys. Their recklessness causes many an injury, as Beauty tells sadly. For example, one day Beauty and his partner horse, Rory, were enjoying a pleasant day driving their gentle master. They are continuing on their way, keeping to their side of the road when a cockney comes whipping around the corner and crashes right into the two horses. Beauty escapes uninjured but poor Rory is speared by the other carriage’s shaft. He nearly dies from the gruesome injury. Beauty in fact suggests it might have been better had he died there, for after that his owner sells him to a coal-mining business and he is left to drag coal carts up and down till he does die.

Beauty’s new partner is Peggy, a sweet-tempered horse with—as Beauty notices—a slightly anxious behavior and an odd pace of trotting. She would partly trot for a few paces then make a little jump then continue. When Black Beauty inquires about this strange gait, she replies that due to the shortness of her legs, she cannot trot as fast as other horses. This was not a problem for her first master, who treated her with mercy. But her later masters cared only about speed and would whip the poor horse until it went faster. To increase her speed then, Peggy had to invent this strange jump trot. Now she is here stuck with the same trot, just trying to escape the whip. Soon though, Beauty sees her fortunes turn for the better. Since she is such a gentle and easy-going horse, a few ladies take a liking to her and buy her. Later on Beauty sees her in the country, pulling her new masters along at a normal pace, happy as the happiest of horses.

Beauty mentions meeting briefly with a young, timid horse. Black Beauty, noticing his shyness, asks him for about its cause. The young horse replies that when he was younger, his master forced him to always wear blinkers, and whenever he would want to look at something along the road—something making noise or causing a disturbance—his master would whip him. This meant that the horse never was able to look at things on the road causing noises and so naturally when not able to see them and ascertain there is no harm in them, he instead became quite easily frightened and timid. One time an elderly man warned his master not to whip him thus, as it would only further confuse the horse, but his master would not listen to a word of that. So now here he was, a young strong horse afraid of little noises on the street.

All was not tragic though. Black Beauty had his share of good riders. Most significantly, he served once or twice a tall man with a gentle and experienced riding manner. The man—who did not use the harsh curb-rein and treated Beauty as the horse’s kind old masters used to—took a liking to the horse and convinced his friend Mr. Barry to buy the horse. Mr. Barry turns out to be a kind and caring bachelor. Beauty says he would very much have enjoyed his time under the ownership of Mr. Barry were it not for circumstances outside of the man’s control. The groom whom Mr. Barry hired—Mr. Filcher—was supposed to give Beauty the best of food and care, just as Mr. Barry ordered. This Mr. Filcher, as one might predict from his name, secretly stole from Beauty’s daily supply of corn and oats. This goes on for two months and by the end of it Beauty’s health is rapidly declining due to the poor quality of his nourishment. A friend of Barry’s notices the horse’s poor health and warns Mr. Barry that his groom might be messing with the horse’s food. The groom must be robbing this dumb beast of its food, he says. Beauty mentions that had he been able to speak, he would easily have told his master what was happening; every day the groom would come with a young boy carrying a basket. The boy would fill the basket with oats and then take off. Once Mr. Barry begins to suspect his groom, he tips off the police who catch the boy in the act of carrying off some oats. The police took both the boy and his father Mr. Filcher off to jail, where the father had to serve two months.

Soon enough Mr. Barry had replaced Filcher with Alfred Smirk, a tall handsome fellow who was unfortunately a complete humbug according to Beauty. The man always took great care to make Beauty presentable when the master wanted to ride him. So he would brush him and wash his coat and so on. But as for the less obvious parts of grooming—cleaning the bit, clearing the shoes, checking the saddle—these he would neglect. Instead Smirk would spend his time looking in a mirror, fixing his hair and adjusting his bow tie. In front of the master he was always showing great attention, and so everyone thought him to be a wonderful young groom. To Beauty though, he was just a conceited and lazy little fellow. The most glaring example of this was his neglecting to clean Beauty’s stables. Every time it got dirty he would take out some straw and throw on some clean straw, but he never would clean it out completely. This began to make Beauty quite ill. Soon enough Mr. Barry notices the bad smell and orders Smirk to clean it out completely. The boy says he can if needed, but it might make the horse catch a cold if he did. Instead he suggested that they have the bricklayer check the drains. So the bricklayer came, checked the drains, concluded there was nothing wrong with the drains at all, took his money and was on his way. For Beauty though the problem became worse than before, as now—after the bricklayer’s work—his stables were wet in addition to being filthy. Weeks in such conditions left Beauty’s hooves in a poor condition. His overall health continued to deteriorate as Smirk neglected to exercise him or feed him properly. Mr. Barry soon realizes this and takes Beauty to the farrier, who realizes that the horse’s stable must be in very filthy condition. He gives instructions to nurse Beauty back to health, and soon enough the horse regains his spirits. As for Mr. Barry though, he becomes furious after having been twice deceived by his grooms and gives up on keeping a horse. Beauty is sold yet again and thus begins the next phase of his life.


Sewell devotes much of this section to giving examples of cruel, inept or otherwise terrible horse caretakers. In the overall framework of the story, Sewell is continuing the trend of the previous section; having thoroughly built up good examples of masters in the earliest sections of the book, she is now building up negative examples. To that end, she introduces two clear examples of terrible grooms: Mr. Filcher and Alfred Smirk. As in several other cases in the story, she uses names that quite bluntly highlight that character’s nature. Filcher is, as it turns out, a thief and Smirk is a vain yes-man. This is a pedagogical tool through which she emphasizes the allegorical nature of the story so that readers understand that they are supposed to be deriving general lessons and universal principles from these stories. She attempts to instruct the reader about archetypes and thus it can safely be assumed that many if not all the characters of the book are archetypal figures. Not every character’s role is literally connected to his or her name, as in the case Mr. Filcher or Smirk, nor will they always have a Biblical connection as in the case of Samson or Job, but one can assume based on the general pedagogical bent of Sewell’s work that each character has some allegorical role.

As part of this pedagogical framework, Sewell also has Black Beauty explicitly mention different groups of people—the types of bad drivers--each having a specific fatal flaw. The common trend throughout is their ignorance. That they are ignorant when it comes to driving is clear, and Beauty’s collective condemnation of all the different types serves as another weapon in Sewell’s struggle against what she sees as ignorance. However, Sewell also brings to attention a unique moral flaw in each type, which acts as a multiplier to the harm that their ignorance causes. For the hard-rein drivers, this flaw is having an extremely domineering nature. Because they lack an education in the proper way to drive a horse, they tend to drive according to their nature, which is overbearing. If they were just ignorant and not domineering, they would not be so hard-handed with the animals. If they were domineering but not ignorant, they would realize being extremely heavy-handed over the horses actually harms both rider and mount and they would desist. It is the two traits acting in conjunction—ignorance and heavy-handedness—that cause so much harm. As for the loose-rein drivers, the unique flaw Sewell highlights is their weakness and lack of resolve. This type is a foil to the character of Joe Green, whose gentle disposition might otherwise have predisposed him to being like a loose-rein driver. Despite his soft-heartedness, when the time came for resolve he showed much resolve and confidence, as Beauty narrated earlier. So in the case of loose and heavy rein drivers Sewell condemns both extremes of the spectrum and suggests a more balanced, moderate approach. As for the steam-engine drivers, their flaw is a complete lack of empathy for the creatures under their care. The thought that these things are animals and they have senses and feel pain does not even cross their minds. In the case of the cockneys, the unique flaw is recklessness. This extreme, corrupted form of bravery acts as a foil to James’s bravery when he risks his life to save Beauty from the barn fire. Through these four types of drivers, Sewell demonstrates the ills that come when ignorance reacts with some other character flaw to cause harmful behavior.

In this section she also offers a short yet emotional of the end results of this ignorant driving. She writes of how Beauty—following his injury—is sent to a meadow to recover. Not only is he terribly lonely in the beginning, but even after Ginger comes and gives him good company, they both still face the bitter realization that they have been ruined by those who should have been looking after them. In fact, they are in such a state that they cannot even gallop about in this nice meadow as they used to; instead they stand under the oak tree and share memories of old. No doubt they still take pleasure in this rest, but they also recognize that their lives have irrevocably gone downhill. Through this image of the two broken horses, enjoying each other’s company and together facing the bitterness of being crippled before one’s time, Sewell elicits sympathy and sorrow from the reader. Beauty’s calm tone as he narrates this only adds to the pitiful nature of the story because this tone implies that he has in his life borne so many trials and cruelties that it seems to him that this painful incident is only a small thing compared to his other troubles.

In a different part of this section, Sewell uses the word “dumb” to shift the way readers think of horses. In chapter 30, when the farmer is explaining to Mr. Barry that his groom is stealing from the horse’s supply of corn, he uses the word dumb to describe the horse. Though neither he nor Mr. Barry gave much thought to this choice of words, Beauty immediately picks up on it and responds by saying that yes, he and horses in general are “dumb beasts” but were he able to speak he would tell them exactly when and how the groom was stealing every day. Through this little exchange—taking up no more than a few lines—Sewell attempts to shift how the reader thinks of horses. The word dumb in this case has two meanings. The first meaning—the one the farmer and Mr. Barry had in mind—is synonymous with lacking intelligence; this meaning is the dominant understanding of the word. Black Beauty, taking offence at this insult, immediately does a little word play and takes the word dumb with its second, less-common meaning: being unable to speak. Through this short exchange Sewell attempts to give an example of the general purpose of her book: pivoting the reader away from the common understanding and treatment of horses to a more—in her view—just and fair behavior towards animals.

To show the result such a shift in behavior could have, Sewell tells the story of Peggy. This horse faced great difficulty for most of her life. Her master was so abusive that Peggy forced herself to trot unnaturally in order to escape that abuse. This treatment did long-term damage to her psychological and physical health. Yet after all this harm, because of her gentle disposition a few ladies took a liking to her, bought her and then gave her far more care and attention than her previous masters had. She served them happily, presumably until her own death. By responding in such a positive way to her gentleness, these ladies gave Peggy a happy ending to her life story. That happy ending was not to become free of men or die in an escape attempt or anything; it was a happy ending under the existing structure of mastership and servitude between man and horse. Sewell thus is suggesting that through care and empathy, humans can provide horses with a happy ending while also maintaining the underlying status quo and benefiting from their servitude.