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Literature Study GuidesBlack BeautyPart 2 Chapters 25 27 Summary

Black Beauty | Study Guide

Anna Sewell

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Black Beauty | Part 2, Chapters 25–27 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 25: Reuben Smith

Sometimes Reuben Smith is left in charge of the earl's stable. When sober, Smith is an excellent groom—kind, knowledgeable, and responsible—and could have been in charge of his own stable. When drunk, however, he is prone to violent and highly irresponsible behavior, thus hindering his career. He was dismissed from employment with the Earl of W— because of a drunken episode, but York persuaded the earl to take him back on the promise of no further drinking. For a while Smith kept his promise and was useful to York.

While out with Black Beauty driving Colonel Blantyre to the station, Smith stops for a meal at an inn. Beauty has a loose nail in one shoe, and the inn's ostler mentions the problem to Smith. Smith loudly dismisses it, saying he has met some friends and will be staying longer. Beauty is surprised because Smith is generally attentive to the horses' needs. When he finally leaves the inn, Smith is drunk and ignores Beauty's painful foot. He rides Beauty hard, insensitive to the horse's unusual gait, until Beauty loses his shoe and hurts his foot. Beauty trips and falls on the rough road, throwing Smith. Beauty's knees are badly injured, and Smith lies motionless.

Chapter 26: How It Ended

Hours later the earl's men discover Beauty and Smith. Smith is dead, but the men figure out what happened. The next day a farrier—a maker of horseshoes who also, in this era, worked as something of a lay veterinarian—examines Beauty. He says Beauty will recover but will bear permanent scars on his knees. An inquest about Smith's death proves he was drunk and clears Beauty of all blame. But Beauty is still injured, and Smith's wife and children are left to mourn the loss of a husband and father.

Chapter 27: Ruined and Going Downhill

Beauty is put in a pasture to heal. He likes the freedom but is lonely, until one day Ginger joins him. She is not well. Her rider—Lord George, the earl's son—pushed her too hard in hunting and racing, and her lungs and back are permanently damaged. Ginger says, "Here we are—ruined in the prime of our youth and strength, you by a drunkard, and I by a fool." They enjoy their time together, but they cannot run and play as they once did. Though Beauty recovers, he is sold because the earl, concerned with fashion and appearance, "could not have knees like these" in his stables. Beauty goes to a livery stable, where people who do not own horses may rent them for riding or driving. It is ostensibly a good home, but not what Beauty is used to.

Analysis

This is the first, but not the last, time Anna Sewell expresses herself strongly on the subject of alcohol. The temperance movement was strong in Victorian England, usually targeting lower- or middle-class individuals like Reuben Smith. Alcoholism was not recognized as a disease but viewed as a moral failing to be overcome. Sewell paints a Dickensian portrait of the suffering widow and children, left behind because of Smith's problems with drink. She goes to great lengths to establish Smith's abilities, making alcohol solely responsible for his and Beauty's injuries.

A sober and responsible groom would not ignore a loose horseshoe. Horseshoes are designed to protect the horse's delicate feet. Running on hard surfaces can damage or even split a hoof, just as a human splits a fingernail. Horseshoes do come off, but a good groom would work the horse carefully until it could be fixed. Yet Smith dismisses the warning and rides Beauty hard. On some level, he gets what he deserves, yet Beauty (and Smith's family) will suffer the consequences.

A modern reader may wonder why a valuable horse like Beauty is seen by a farrier, not a veterinarian. In England, nonlicensed people were legally permitted to do veterinary surgery up until 1948. This practice was so commonplace Sewell does not even think to question it. However, no farrier or veterinary surgeon could save Ginger from the ill effects of a thoughtless rider. She may have been fed and watered, but no one gave any real thought to her health or contentment. These horses are merely property to the earl, to be disposed of when they no longer meet his standards.

Unlike Ginger, Beauty shows no long-term health effects from his injury. He can still be ridden and driven. The earl gets rid of him solely because of his scarred knees, which function well enough but detract somewhat from his appearance. The modern equivalent might be selling a car because its bumper was dented—and couldn't be fixed.

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