Monday, September 29, 2008

"Darling, Should We Call on the Pig Today?"


With the wind-down of the Westminster Elections of 1784 there was not enough supply for the gossip-demand. The quack doctor spectacle seemed to be simmering down, and you could only make fun of Perdita for so long. Luckily enough for the people of England, a pig came to their rescue. There was once again fun news to talk about!

A learned pig was put on display and wowed audiences with its ability to arrange cards with numbers or letters on them. The pig could probably count but it was also advertised in The Daily Universal Register (today, The Times) as being able to tell time, cast accounts, and read ladies minds. That's some pig! Well, this naturally drew much attention and the pig was the talk of the town.

Rev James Woodeforde recorded that he paid a shilling to see the pig and praised its sagacity, stating that it arranged its cards to spell and do arithmetic.


The poet, William Cowper joked in a letter that, "I have a competitor for fame...in the Learned Pig! Alas! what is an author's popularity worth, in a world that can suffer a prostitute on one side and a pig on the other, to eclipse his brightest glories?"


Even Samuel Johnson was mesmerized by the pig, "The pigs are a race unjustly calumniated," rather than killing a piglet, we should "allow time for his education."

Thomas Rowlandson illustrated the beau monde's interest in the pig with the above satirical print. Which, if he hadn't documented it, it would more easily have been forgotten. The truth be told, Rowlandson was just catering to the gossip and fads of the time as he usually did in order to make his money, I'm sure he thought the whole spectacle was ridiculous. The pampered pig is depicted with a ruffled collar to differentiate it from normie pigs. On the wall the poster reads, "The surprising PIG well versed in all Languages. Perfect Arethmatician Mathematician & Composer of Musick."

But I suspect not much has changed considering I was watching this show, Hog Genius, a few weeks ago. Johnson was right, pigs kind of rock.

3 comments:

Polonaise said...

Haha! Oh, how droll! I remember reading a scene referring to a Learned Pig in a Georgette Heyer novel. I thought she pulled it out of thin air. Given her reputation for accurate detail, I should have known better. And I'm such a sucker, and so easily entertained, I would have gone myself.
And the Rowlandson print is very different from the ones shown in the books I have, which are mainly political or perhaps about current fashions/celebrities. Nice to see something else.

Heather Carroll said...

"And I'm such a sucker, and so easily entertained, I would have gone myself."

Did you not see the part where I wrote about the show, Hog Genius that I watched a few weeks ago? That program was an hour long. I watched the whole thing. I'd be right there with you....in the front row. And I'm a dog person!

Russell Potter said...

Delighted to see this ... as you might have heard, the Learned Pig's memoirs have finally seen the light of day -- now available from Penguin Books is "PYG: The Memoirs of Toby, the Learned Pig."

I hadn't known about the one in Georgette Heyer, though -- many thanks!