Saturday, November 17, 2012

Toby in Turkish

Toby's progress around the world takes a new and delightful turn this week with his appearance in a Turkish translation published by Ithaki, which debuts today at the Istanbul Book Fair. I feel honored to be in the company of many of the authors whose works have been translated and published in Turkey by Ithaki; it includes literary lights from Orwell to Woolf, and fantasists from Verne to Bradbury to Tolkien. The translator of PYGİnci Katırcı, has also translated Daniel Willingham's Why Children Don't Like School and Jonathan Santlofer's Anatomy of Fear. They've done a great job with the cover as well, even providing Toby with a miniature academic mortarboard, along with a gown that has his name embroidered on the lower part!  

Ithaki is also a very brave and persevering publisher; modern-day Turkey does not always enjoy the same breadth of press freedoms as are found in the United States and the EU, and its offices have been raided in search of manuscripts that the government and the police wanted to suppress, an action condemned by the Turkish Writers Union.  I am enormously pleased that they've become Toby's publishers, and wish their new edition all the best.

And Toby's journey is not over yet -- next year, he'll be appearing in Italian courtesy of Einaudi -- I can't wait to see how they translate and design the book! -- they are also the publishers of Sam Savage's tale of a book-devouring rat, Firmin (or Firmino as he is known there), so I feel confident they'll do a great job of bringing PYG to Italian readers.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Learned Pig on Stage

Almost from the start, the exploits of the Learned Pig were annexed to the stage, both in song and deed.  One of the very first Pigs, possibly our Toby himself, was so lauded for his act at Charing Cross that he became the subject of a popular tune, shown here illustrated with a woodcut, singing his praises:

In this wonderful Age 
Such strange subjects arise.
To call our Attention, amuse and surprise !

A few years later, in 1795, another comic song -- or, possibly the same one -- was sung at a Boston theatre, following the plays "The Wonder" and "The Farmer," featuring Mr. Jones as "Jeremy Jumps, in which character he will introduce the satirical song of the LEARNED PIG," following which, costumed as a wingèd Mercury, he would "fly from the back of the stage to the extremity of the gallery, and back again." One wonders if the pig flew with him.

And today, I'm happy to note, the Learned Pig is making a sort of theatrical comeback.  It began with Daniel Freedman's 2011 musical "The Incredible Adventures of Toby the Learned Pig," which débuted at the Wonderland One Act Festival on 42nd Street in New York; songs for this play included "London Town" "Swine," and "The Cat's Opera," and all can be heard and downloaded from Mr. Freedman's MySpace page. And, in 2013, it will continue when the Fittings company of Manchester presents "Edmund, the Learned Pig" at the Royal Exchange Theatre, with music by the Tiger Lillies' Martyn Jacques and a script by Mike Kenny, best known for his stage adaptations of Edith Nesbit's Railway Children. It's to be based on the Tiger Lilies' song, which in turn was inspired by the late Edward Gorey; you can hear the original version here. It only seems fitting that, as Toby himself was born in Salford, that the return to stage of pig who can spell should take place in Manchester.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Learned Pigs in Alexandria

Having understood, through the kindness of the proprietors of Gadsby's Tavern and Museum, that there was a tradition of there having been a learned Pig at their establishment, I set in to searching the newspapers of the 1790's and early 1800's for any evidence I could find. And, although I have not yet located a Pig of these talents at Gadsby's, I have found one who appeared at Charles McKnight's Eagle Tavern, at the corner of King and Royal streets, on Febuary 24th 1801. The language is much that that in Mr. Pinchbeck's notices, but his name is not mentioned. Among Mr. McKnight's other entertainments over the years was one "infant Roscius" (buzz buzz!) who "will deliver in character a great variety of pieces from the British classics."

There is a second, much longer notice, also in the Alexandria Advertiser, from June 27th of that same year, but this seems to be just a reprint of an account from Hudson, New York. The next local notice is for "The Learned Pig -- Now grown to be the Wonderful Hog," who appeared at Mr. John Bogan's, Spring-Garden, on December 11th 1806.  And yet, alas, nothing for Mr. Gadsby; his only animal-related notices are from a series of 1797 ones for stray animals: "THREE COWS, Strayed or Stolen, marked as follows ... whoever will bring the above Cows to the City Tavern, Alexandria, shall receive eight dollars Reward, and all reasonable charges."  All of which is not to say that Mr GADSBY did not possess a Learned Pig, only that if he did, he does not appear to have placed a notice in the Advertiser.  Never the less, the list of Sapient Pigs displayed up and down the eastern coasts from Savannah to Newburyport between 1797 and 1806 is enormous; I've given some account of them in this post on Mr. J.L. Bell's excellent Boston 1775 blog, and I plan to survey the subject at far greater length in my Lecture to be given on the 20th inst. at the Gadsby Tavern and Museum in Alexandria, to which I would warmly invite any who are Curious as to these particular Pigs --or others -- to attend.

Monday, October 8, 2012

On the naming of Pigs

Reading a recent item in the New York Times about the use of gestation crates for pigs in factory farms.  The crates themselves are bad enough, of course -- but what struck me was the reference to "Sow 44733." Such a name, and the inference that 44,732 sows must have come before it (and any imaginable number after it), called immediately to mind a passage from PYG:
"With some animals—horses, mostly—it has been the habit of Men to name, and keep some account of, a creature’s dam and sire, if only to make a sort of Mathematics of success; a good dam might be joined with a famous sire to make another Champion to win the garland at the next St. Leger stakes. But when it comes to Pigs, men have long felt that there was little sense in naming them, as their only moment of Note was most commonly their being served for Supper, and found more flavourful or delicate than their predecessor—every one of them nameless save by such Ephemeral sobriquets as Loin or Roast. in such a realm of infinite and infinitely replaceable Parts, a row of dinners one after another, the idea of naming any one such meal appeared as absurd as naming a toenail-clipping, or a Fart." 
When we peruse various cuts of ham and bacon at the supermarket, I doubt that any of us really grasps the enormity, the industrial vastness, that the factory farming of pigs constitutes. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that in 2002 that there were more than 939 million pigs on the planet, with 59 million in the United States alone, the majority in large factory farms. Whatever their conditions -- and it's hard to imagine how such large operations could possibly be very "humane" in the broader sense -- that's an enormous number.  But of course, by the time the products of this industry have reached our tables, they've been conveniently slaughtered, smoked, shrink-wrapped, and refrigerated, such that they seem more a thing than a creature. And that, alas, is simply a modern, streamlined version of the version of the exact same state of affairs described by Toby, two hundred and thirty years ago.

I don't necessarily endorse any one response to these issues, but I'd direct anyone concerned about them to organizations such as Pig Business (UK), Farm Sanctuary (US) or the Humane Society -- or, if the charms of pork prove irresistible, to the Certified Humane or Sustainable Table sites.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

William Bentley and the Learned Pig

The Reverend William Bentley of Salem, Massachusetts, was much loved by his parishioners for his kindly disposition, his emphasis of good works over theological conformity, and his enthusiasm for education. A graduate of Harvard, he was a lively lifelong learner and teacher; it was said that he spoke 21 languages,  seven of them fluently, and his personal library was one of the finest in New England.  At the same time, he lived quite humbly, residing for nearly his entire career in rented rooms at what's now known as the Crowninshield-Bentley House in Salem for most of his ministry, which has just recently been restored by the Peabody-Essex Museum, and opened for historical tours).

He was also a diarist, called by some an "American Pepys," and with good reason: his daily journal eventually filled 32 volumes.  And it's there, in a series of entries from 1798, that we learn of his encounter with the Learned Pig.  Visiting Boston in March of that year, he went to see the sapient swine in its rooms below Bowen's Museum, and he seems to have formed a favorable impression:

I went to Boston to attend a Committee of the Grand Lodge. Upon my arrival & for a moment's amusement I visited the Learned Pig & the exhibition greatly exceeded my expectations. It was taught to discover the cards, to assort the letters of words, & to bring numbers for any purpose. I afterwards visited Bowen's Museum & tho' the arrangement by no means met my wishes, yet I could select many things to give me pleasure. The wax work is extensive, but I can pronounce nothing. The tapestry obliged my attention. The painting "Death of Lewis," from which the wax work of the same event is taken, was good, but the resignation of Washington interested me. There are many portraits which are interesting. The musical clocks discover ingenious mechanisms but the notes of the clock discribing the Organ & Claronets were captivating. In the menagery was a bear sleeping & slumbering with an insolent contempt of every visitor. A Babboon, more fond of entertaining his guests, an affronted porcupine, & two owls who gave us no share of their notice.
And, as it happens, not long after the Rev. Bentley's return to Salem, this pig -- who was in fact William Pinchbeck's original "Pig of Knowledge"-- followed him there.  The good reverend did not, so far as his diary indicates, pay it another visit, but shortly after its arrival in May noted that "The Learned Pig does not find great encouragement to stay in Town."  This, apparently, was due to the appearance of a "Learned Dog" which performed many of the same tricks, to the great detriment of Pinchbeck's business.* A few weeks later, on May 25th, Bentley noted laconically that "The Pig of Knowledge has left the Town. The Dog went before him."

There is no further mention of the Pig in the published Diaries -- though as they represent only a tiny fraction of the whole, one never knows. But that Bentley -- by any measure one of the most learned men of his day (he once turned down an invitation to oversee the University of Virginia) left such a favorable encomium of our learned pig, speaks greatly in his favor.

*Customs and Fashions of New England (1894) describes this learned pup thusly: "In 1798, Salem had the pleasure of viewing a "Sapient Dog" who could light lamps, spell, read print or writing, tell the time of day, or day of the month. He could distinguish colors, was a good arithmetician, could discharge a loaded cannon, tell a hidden card in a pack, and jump through a hoop, all for twenty-five cents."

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Toby's Posts: The Education of a Pig

Despite the many Testimonials offered for the veracity of my own Account of my Life, there are those who are still possessed by Doubt -- either that, no matter how persistent or energetic the Training, a Pig could come to any real Knowledge of Letters -- or, and this is perhaps worse, that the ability to employ them in answering Questions, is any any way a reflection of Intelligence. To these latter doubters, who -- no matter how plain the Proofs -- will say that a pig is doing nothing more than responding to invisible Cues from its Master, I can make no other or better Reply than my own Narrative, which is now published and speaks, I believe, for itself. To that other class of doubters, however, I do have a Rejoinder, and indeed it has pleased me to Discover that, among the Natural Scientists of the Twentieth and Twenty-first century, there are many whose estimate of the Capacities of a Pig bear out, in every way, my own Life.

Education -- the word comes from the Latin phrase ex ductere, meaning "to lead forth" -- is commonly understood to consist of two Stages: the first being Rote learning, which requires chiefly repetition and Memorization, and the second being Rhetorical learning, which involves the development and utterance of one's own Opinions, and the analysis of those of others. It is fairly easy to grant that a Pig could, as well as any Human child, manage the first of these branches of Education -- and indeed, as my Life testifies, no Violence is required (although some Schoolmasters, such as Dr Johnson's, applied it all the same). It is the second which most Skepticks would point to in doubting that a Pig such as myself could compose his own sentences.

The Difference, I should say, between my experience and that of other pigs whose training never got beyond the first stage, was due entirely to my Benefactor Mr Nicholson, in his shewing me how to read on my own from Books. For, when one reads them, one is inevitably imbued, by slow degrees, with the pattern and variety of Sentences within, and it is from these Patterns that new ones must be constructed. All humans enjoy the conceit that their Utterances are Novel, for so they seem to Them, but the Lumber-yard from which their words are drawn, as well as the many old Saws which are employed to shape it, are indeed the Commonest of things, and any one who speaks the Language knows them. Had I not read such volumes as Johnson's Rasselas or Smollett's Peregrine Pickle, I should hardly have been able to write my own, at least not in a way that would meet my Readers' understanding of what a Narrative should be. Aha! cry the Skepticks -- you are naught but an Imitator! Indeed I am, but so is any one who has ever Written. The seeming novelty of most books derives, not from their utter departure from what has been said before, but by the placing of the elements of earlier tales in new and surprising Arrangements.

And so it was with me. A Writer must be first a Reader, and that there are not, on every shelf, a Plethora of Porcine autobiographies, I can attribute to the simple fact that no Pig besides myself was ever given a book of its own.
-- TOBY

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Turkeys in the Straw

Although he earned his greatest fame as the exhibitor of the Learned Pig, Mr. Silas Bisset had a whole menagerie of trained animals, including a Cat Orchestra, dancing dogs, a hare who beat upon a drum, and a group of turkeys who executed a "country dance" on command.  This last act, as Toby himself notes, did Mr. Bisset the least credit:
The only group of Animals that had no training as such was the Turkeys, and here I must confess that Mr Bisset hit upon an expedient that did him little Justice, and would have greatly dimmed the applause had anyone Known of it: he simply placed them in a small wire enclosure, the floor of which was heated to the point where it became uncomfortable to Stand, and the efforts of these poor Birds to avoid scalding their Feet produced the ‘Country dance’ advertised.
 Mr Bisset was apparently not the first to resort to this cruel trick; 18th-century sources gave credit to an "Eastern" method by which camels were similarly made to dance. All the same, Bisset popularized the act considerably, and a very similar one has persisted well into the twentieth century as a sideshow at country fairs, often accompanied by a recording of "Turkey in the Straw" -- Elvis Presley's later manager "Colonel" Tom Parker once ran such a show -- and also in the form of an arcade amusement, where a bird is placed in a tiny chamber, decorated with a miniature jukebox, with a hot plate concealed under a metal disc on the floor. Inserting a quarter into the slot heated the disc, causing the bird -- usually a chicken -- to perform the same unhappy involuntary routine.

Booths with such an exhibit are mentioned in a number of personal reminiscences online, but there was one of these attractions which, perhaps inadvertently, earned an immortal place in the history of cinema, when footage of the bird was chosen by Werner Herzog for the final scene of his film Stroszek (1977). Without going into the grim backstory, it's worth noting that, according to some accounts, the crew felt uncomfortable with the scene, so Herzog shot it himself.  The location was an amusement parlor in Cherokee, North Carolina; the machine is long gone, although a similar one -- in which a chicken in a cage plays tic-tac-toe against its human opponents -- was a fixture at New York's Chinatown fair until about ten years ago; according to this article in the New York Times, those nostalgic for the experience can still find one at a casino in Monticello, New York. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Learned Goose

Of the career of the Learned Pig, as can be seen on this blog, a great deal is known, but what of his erstwhile companion, the Learned Goose? As it happens, the Goose was the very first of all educated animals to appear on the public stage in the wake of Toby's success; this early handbill, reproduced from one in the collection of Harry Houdini, dates to 1789, just a few years after the Learned Pig's London appearances. As was said of Toby, our cultivated Quacker has "lately arrived from abroad, and -- this is most Singular -- also spelled out answers to questions from the audience using letters printed on paste-board cards!  It further mimicked Toby's act by telling time by watches, distinguishing colors, and reading minds, even while blind-folded.

Houdini used the history of this goose to partly discredit the mind-reading act of Robert Houdin, arguing that it was simply by employing a variety of signals, and trained habits, that anyone -- or any animal -- could succeed in deceiving an audience into believing that minds had been read. No doubt that's an accurate judgment. But what of our friend Goose himself?  What are his particulars, whence went his career, and might not he also have left behind some kind of memoir?


The handbill here seems to the be first, with the goose at Mr. Becket's, Trunk-Makers, at No. 31 Hay-Market.  A second bill, reproduced in Christopher Milbourne's Magic: A Picture History, has the goose at No. 5 in the Pantechnicon Arcade, Belgrave Square (Milbourne suggests this show was in fact earlier, though he also dates it to 1789).  And then, also in his book, we have a handbill for Sieur Rea and his "Curious Birds" -- "called Minous, alive from Botany Bay" --  at the Town Hall in Weymouth in 1810, with a woodcut that shows them manipulating playing cards! It seems clear that the same kind of public fascination audiences felt for learned pigs could very easily be transferred to learned birds, with much the same act and many quite similar rhetorical flourishes.


There is even, in the pages of an issue of the Sportsman's Magazine in 1815, a conjoined petition, offered together by the Learned Pig and the Learned Goose:



PETITIONS OF THE LEARNED GOOSE AND LEARNED PIG.
OBSERVING that you have recently admitted a plea in behalf of animals in the person of a Post Horse, two of us, some of whose species have borne the appellation of learned, have made choice of your publication as a medium of conveyance of our respective claims upon the world at large.
The Learned Pig. 
The Learned Goose. 
In the way of petition, your petitioner Goose, to avoid the customary destruction of his kind at Michaelmas, as well as that of his co-partner, Pig, all the year round, humbly proposes the throwing open of all the different professions among men to your petitioners.Your petitioner, Goose, therefore humbly presumes, that no objection can lie against his being admitted to the study of the law, and, in time, becoming Attorney or Solicitor-General, seeing there are learned geese of every flock and drove, who have feathered their nests by hatches, not an egg more rational than your petitioners might be ... 
Your petitioner, Pig, confessing' that it is with difficulty he hath hitherto saved his bacon, cannot help expressing a wish in common with the four-footed fraternity,, that his grey hairs, or rather every bristle that has grown grey in the public service, may, at last, repose in an honoured grave ...
What the outcome of this petition may have been the Sportsman's Magazine gives, alas, no indication.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Early American Learned Pigs

The photograph at left shows the Black Bear Inn on Market Street in Philadelphia, where, in 1799, was shown "a curiosity in which the Public will not be disappointed, The Learned Pig. The extraordinary sagacity of this animal is too well known to need a vain, puffing allusive advertisement." This was, I believe, another appearance by William Pinchbeck and his Pig of Knowledge, who had exhibited the year before in Salem, Newburyport, Boston, and Providence, as the language  of the advertisement is quite similar.

And yet, remarkably enough, a newspaper account describing a Learned Pig's appearance at the Centre House in Philadelphia in 1803 mentions that "within the past four years, four learned pigs have been exhibited." This is a remarkable claim, and led me to look again through all the early colonial-era newspapers and histories of that city I could find. Pinchbeck's 1799 pig seems to have been the first of these "learned grunters," followed in 1801 by a second sapient swine that "astonished the visitors at the Rising Sun Hotel in Philadelphia, by telling the time of day, distinguishing colors, counting the company present." About the 1803 pig I have found nothing but the brief reference that started my search.


I have found one further candidate from the period, a southerly pig who went by the name of "Dick." Dick was unusual in that his advertisements were "penned" in the first person, as in this notice in the Charleston City Gazette:

The Learned Pig Returned. Dick begs leave to acquaint the Ladies and Gentlemen of Charleston, that he once more Intends (during the Races only, at his old Apartment, in Jessop's Hotel, Broad-Street) to contribute to their amusement, and hopes for a continuance of that Patronage his formerly so fully experienced. Dick flatters himself, that his merits are so fully known in Charleston, that any Eulogium on that subject would be perfectly unnecessary.
I haven't yet found any evidence of any earlier appearance by "Dick," but a pig is mentioned again in 1804, once more associated with the Washington Race Track (1792-1882), one of the earliest establishments for horse-racing in the United States:
The Learned Pig. To be seen at the Tent, on the Race Ground, every Day this week, and every evening at the City Hotel, Bay Street, Charleston. Admittance, 50 cents -- Children under 10 years, half-price.
It's not clear whether this was, in fact, the identical pig of previous years, nor is there any evidence that either was shown in other cities.  All the same, it's now clear that, within a year of when Pinchbeck's pig concluded its tour, at least four other pigs were making their claims to Sagacity in cities up and down the eastern seaboard!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Intelligent Pig

We've long been aware that humans are far from the only intelligent animal. Our close cousins the chimpanzee and gorilla have been much studied, and some have attained the ability to communicate with sign language, even putting together signs to make a sentence. The chimp Washoe, seeing a doll in one of her drinking mugs, famously signed "baby in my cup." Other animals noted for their capacities include dolphins (and cetaceans generally, a group that includes dolphins and whales), although no mutually convenient means of communication has yet been found, and parrots are often noted for their mimicry of human speech, which sometimes seems to evince novel utterances. The dog, of course, has long been a companionate animal, and in one case -- a border collie named Chaser -- has been shown to have a vocabulary of more than 1,000 words, though here we're talking about recognition rather than the ability to produce them.

But the pig has long been known to be highly intelligent, with some owners of domestic pigs claiming that they are far more so than dogs. Recent studies have begun to document this capacity, with one -- led by Donald Broom of Cambridge University -- showing that pigs, once accustomed to them, were capable of using mirrors to find food, although they did not go in for staring at themselves. Mirror self-recognition has been documented in chimps, and some hold it a benchmark of sentience (personally I think this simply means pigs are less vain). Pigs are capable of learning all kinds of behaviors, and, according to Suzanne Held of the University of Bristol, once they learn a task, they remember it -- in fact it's difficult for them to unlearn it.

Perhaps all this should come as no surprise -- pigs are, science has found, somewhat closer to us genetically than we'd realized; Dr. Lawrence Schook of the University of Illinois, who sequenced a rough draft of the pig genome, was quoted in the New York Times as saying it "compares favorably with the human genome." Large sections of it are, in fact, nearly identical, which correlates with various observed similarities, such as pigs' teeth and hearts. Pigs are not nearly so close to us as chimps (who share 96% of our genome), but they are cousins of the cetaceans, and perhaps this correlates with their similar intelligence.

Further studies may tell us more -- and I can't help but wonder what might happen if, just as was the case with Toby, a pig were given the chance to manipulate letters or other signs, and use these to establish a means of communication.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Toby's Posts: The Peripatetic Pig

During the early years of my Career, my Travels carried me throughout the length and breadth of England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, journeys which included many Features which are still extant today, as well as some others -- such as my birth-place -- which have gone to ruin, or been obscured by new buildings and works. Man is a very restless Animal, and especially in his Towns and Cities seems to think nothing of pulling down one building and putting up another, such that, in the end, his Settlements appear mere Haphazard collections of structures, with little Rhyme or Reason.

Never the less, there are a number of Sights which I beheld in my day which may still be seen at Present, and I thought it might interest my readers to mention a few of these. One of my very first venues was the fair city of Liverpool, the town hall of which at that time boasted of fine Roman columns but had only a flat Roof; a lovely round Tower has since been placed atop it, and thus it stands to this day. I appeared there at the Ranelagh Gardens, which unfortunately have since gone; the site is now occupied by the Adelphi Hotel. In Dublin's fair city, I performed at Astley's Ampitheatre in Peter street -- this establishment closed a few years later, and the premises were taken by a School for Blind Females, who converted the Ampitheatre into a circular Chapel. Today, I am informed, it is merely a block of flats.

It would seem that all is changed -- but a few of my familiar places are yet remarkably intact. In the town of Chester, where I made my final appearance under the guidance of Mr. Bisset, the Inn where we resided -- the Blue Bell -- still stands, as it has since it was first built in the 1400's, its distinctive shape deriving from the joining together of its two houses. It is no longer an Inn, but houses an Eatery known as the "East Glory Oriental Restaurant." My old chambers at Pembroke College in Oxford are much the same as they were in my time, though several new Buildings have been added. Of my journey North, a few ancient Piles that stood then stand there Still, among them Penrith Castle and Lancaster Castle, whose "Hanging Corner" may yet be seen, though thankfully without its Gallows. Indeed, I am informed that this most horrid of human Institutions has been entirely eliminated in Britain as a means of Punishment, which is gratifying news indeed.

As to Edinburgh, that fair City which at last became my Home, I am pleased to discover that very little has changed, at least in the older parts. The Grassmarket, host to my last and most Successful shows, remains a great Commons of human commerce, and my favoured place of resort there -- the Bee Hive Inn -- still offers Refreshment, although the present building dates to after my Time. And of course, my beloved Alma Mater, the University of Edinburgh, is still a mighty Beacon of Learning, and -- this I can only hope -- retains some portion of the affections for Me that I hold for It.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Pigs in Song

The humble pig, although not always admired by humans for his better qualities -- that is, the qualities he has other than in being eaten! -- has never the less been celebrated in song many times over the ages. One of the better ditties is that prefaced to the comical rendition of "General Guinness" as recorded by the Boys of the Lough:

'Twas the pig fair last September,
A day I well remember,
I was walking up and down in drunken pride.
When my knees began to flutter
I fell down in the gutter
And a pig came up and lay down by my side.

As I lay there in the gutter,
Thinking thoughts I dared not utter,
I thought I heard a passing lady say:
"You can tell a man who boozes,
By the company he chooses,"
And, with that, the pig got up walked away.

The song is known generally as "The Pig and the Inebriate," and there are many variants, including one -- "The Famous Pig Song" -- which goes on in later stanzas to include quite a few other animals.

Many people, of course, are familiar with George Harrison's "Little Piggies," although technically I would consider this a song about people, with an unkind comparison to pigs, rather than a song about pigs. Alas, the idea that pigs enjoy wallowing in filth is a difficult one to eradicate, as my novel's narrator Toby himself notes:
The belief that Pigs, simply because they appreciate the cooling properties of some lovely clean Mud, are therefore inured to any sort of Refuse, or even love to Gambol in Faeces or Garbage, has such wide circulation among Humans that we could scarce dissuade them from it if we Could speak.
At the same time, there are a few songs which make reference to piggish gambols without prejudice, and one of the best of these is part of a song cycle -- punningly referred to as an "Operina" -- by my old music professor, the late great Dennis Murphy, and entitled "A Perfect Day." In Murphy's vision, each of the stages of human life is represented by a different animal, with childhood, of course, given over to the pig:
We all begin our lives as little pigs
Though most of us grow out of it,
We're few of us so fortunate,
As ever to resume that happy state!
Then, to a background of sounds of "Oink oink oink," the chorus intones:
We are in a mood, to wallow in our food!
We are in a mood, to wallow in our food!
We are in a mood, to wallow in our food!

The piggy is a happy beast
He has a fault to say the least
He likes to roll in mud and goo
And yet he's just as nice as you (or even me).

However small, however big
There's nothing cuter than a pig!
I'm sure that Toby would forgive any mild imputations of bad character in so lighthearted a song, especially given its positive conclusion.

But perhaps one of the finest -- and the saddest -- songs about pigs is one which touches very nearly on Toby's story; this is the Tiger Lilies' mournful ditty, "The Learned Pig," with libretto by the brilliant Edward Gorey. This pig, born at "the turn of the last century," is exhibited at a fairground on a bucket and forced to answer "stupid questions in a profound manner." Surely something of Toby's original story is at work here, although alas this pig meets a much harsher, and sudden end, than did Toby.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Friends of Toby: Dr. Johnson

Some skeptics having cast doubt upon Toby's acquaintance with the literary greats of his era, your editor has thought it prudent to give a brief account of several of them, and put forth the plain evidence of their connexions. I thought it best to, as it were, start with the top, which without question is occupied by that splendid brainbox, Dr. Johnson.

Johnson had that particular alloy of irritability and genius which, though often imitated, remains extraordinarily rare. He began life as a poor man, so poor indeed that during his brief time as a student at Pembroke College, Oxford, he could not afford new shoes to replace the tattered and nearly useless ones he possessed. A kindly fellow, aware of this difficulty, quietly left a new pair by Johnson's door, but he refused to wear them. When his money ran out entirely, he left Pembroke rather than accept the charity of others. The rest of his storied life would scarce fit in these pages, but his success as a periodical writer, and his great work, the Dictionary, are too well-known to require rehearsal.

But what sort of man was Johnson? He was brusque, opinionated, and so rude on occasion that some latter-day diagnosticians believe he suffered from Tourette's Syndrome. He did not so much speak as blurt, and many of his exclamations have joined the list of immortal quotes: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a Scoundrel," "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money," and "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of Life," to name but a few. By the time he met Toby, he was in the last year of his life, and knew it; his visit to his old College was part of a final tour of familiar locations, which ended a few months later in London with his death.

Dr. Johnson's remarks about Toby are well-known, as they are quoted in Boswell's Life, and Toby's own narrative agrees with them almost verbatim, although they are part of a much more extended conversation. "Pig has not been wanting to Man, but Man to Pig" -- such might serve as an epigram for Toby's entire life story. Johnson's connection with Anna Seward -- a "jousting partner of the pen," is also warmly recalled by Toby, as it was by Boswell, although after Johnson's death many of Miss Seward's recollections were rejected by Boswell as uncharitable.

As the reader may have inferred from my introduction, my own picture of Johnson has been, for better or worse, indelibly stamped by Robbie Coltrane's portrayal of him in the Blackadder episode, "Ink and Incapability." The good Doctor's reaction as Blackadder peppers him with portmanteau words -- "interphastrically," "pericombobulations," and "extramuralisation" -- is priceless. And yet it may surprise many to learn that Johnson's own accent was anything but the posh pretentiousness of Coltrane's memorable performance; he had, in fact, a very thick and distinctive Staffordshire accent; according to Jeffrey Meyers' Samuel Johnson: The Struggle, he said "shuperior" for superior, "woonse" for once, and "poonsh" for "punch." I hadn't realized this myself, until on listening to the audiobook version of PYG, I heard Simon Callow's marvellous personation of Johnson's voice, which perfectly and richly evokes both the accent and the man.

I shall leave the last word on the Learned Doctor to Toby himself, in concluding his description of the Banquet given in Johnson's honor at Pembroke:

I was told later that it was at Dr Johnson’s personal insistence that we were brought, and given seats quite near his, seats that many of the Fellows had coveted, as they jostled against one another to gain Proximity to their learned Guest … For that one day at least, I felt that I had accomplished something so very Notable that it distinguished me for ever among all the Animals who have had the benefit of Lessons: I had been invited to dinner by Dr Johnson.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Why PYG?

Those who've heard about PYG will often ask about the "Y" in the title -- after all, why would the tale of a pig who spells out his thoughts with letters written on pasteboard cards misspell the name of his own species? There's a reason, though, and some readers have picked up on it: think PYGmalion. The idea that language, or "correct speech," once taught, confers upon its learner an entirely new sense of self, is as central to my novel as it is to Shaw's brilliant play, and its film and musical adaptations (my favorite is the 1938 version with Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller). After weeks of drill and training, Liza Doolittle is able to pass for a duchess in polite society, and yet having done so, she finds herself an exile from both her original world as a Cockney-speaking flower girl, and her new one as a "proper" lady. Like many who have "passed" over the boundaries of race and class, she is beset by a sort of double consciousness, feeling inauthentic -- though for opposite reasons -- in both worlds.

And so it is with Toby, the porcine protagonist of PYG. He of course cannot "pass" as a human, but having been given the seeming-gift of language, he can't withdraw from society either -- while, on the other side, his greatest dread is to be stripped of his difference and sorted with common pigs. In the human world, he's a "freak," a pig with a waistcoat who spells out his thoughts -- but in the pig world, things would be far worse; as he puts it:

Indeed, there was only one manner in which I could shuffle off my status as a Freak of Nature, and it was the one thing I dreaded most: to shed my singularity and return to the common multitude of pigs, sans education, sans waistcoat and—ultimately—sans self.

And so Toby remains 'to double business bound' -- and so, the title.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Toby's Posts: In a Pig's Eye

The old phrase "in a pig's eye" has usually been taken to mean either "from a low point of view" or else that a thing is Impossible. And yet, to those of us who possess pig's eyes as part of our Nature, neither meaning applies: that we are closer to the Ground than some other Animals, cannot be denied, but this Perspective has no correlation to our true Stature. Humans, indeed, though they may call someone "a giant of a man" or "a towering figure," do not confuse the metaphorical with the literal by imagining that the Tall are necessarily of greater importance than the Short -- and indeed, many who have loomed largest in history, such as Napoleon Buonoparte, were shorter than most. And, as for the phrase connoting a thing Impossible, I am sure that is just a confusion with the similar-sounding "when pigs fly" -- and let it be noted, that while such a thing was unheard of in my time, it is common enough nowadays that it ought elicit no Wonder.

For me, the far more pertinent Issue, is how loudly Humans object to reading the views of a Pig regarding their own Species. Were they, by their own kind, peeped out at Infamy, they would complain no less loudly, but somehow, when the Spy is of the Porcine Race, they are far more greatly Embarrassed. Humans have always loved to gawk at those they believe to be their Inferiors, which sight instills Laughter; where as to be stared at by those same creatures, seems to them to add Insult to the Injury, and seems the worst sort of Indignity.

I have, in my Memoirs, reflected at my many disappointments in the Human Race, among whom I came without either the ordinary preparations of childhood, or the usual expectations of future Preferment, that would have been natural to Man. And yet, although I could witness many of their Cruelties at closer quarters than most, and despite the fact that, on at least two Occasions, I came very close to losing my Life to them, I do not blame them for my Troubles. For one, in that my greatest Friend and Benefactor, Mr Samuel Nicholson, was of their kind -- and for two, that at every turn of my short Life, there were others -- Dr Adams, Mr Sheldon, and Dr Cullen -- who took my protection and education in hand, and guided me through the most difficult Obstacles. To them all, I shall always be grateful, and for their sake, although I know its faults in a way few others can, I do not condemn the Human race.
-- TOBY

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Words of a Pig

Many readers have commented on the language of Pyg, especially its evocation of the style of a late 18th-century novel. Of course it would be both foolish and impossible to actually try to recreate the precise diction of the period, but one can, with care, manage a sort of allusive modern take on this language, creating something that has all the antique feel but -- hopefully -- is eminently readable today, a language the novelist David Mitchell has dubbed "bygonese." And yet, along with the careful use of just the right admixture of the musty and the immediate, there was another challenge awaiting me: I did not want to use any words or phrases that were unknown as of the book's imagined publication date of 1809. Few people would have noticed, I suppose, but it seemed to me vital not to have any anachronistic words or phrases -- particularly Americanisms! -- in a novel meant to evoke a very particular period in British history.

In this task, I called upon the support of several allies. First and foremost was my copyeditor Hazel Orme, whose eye for detail was precise and observant. Second, I had the collective wisdom of the Oxford English Dictionary, certainly the best historical dictionary of its kind. All the same, I found that a third resource -- Google books -- was important as well. For all their wisdom, the editors of the OED had not the ability to scan at once through millions of pages of text; they had to rely on individual readers submitting slips. True, the resources exist today, but revising something as massive as the OED is a considerable task; Rome wasn't built in a day, and the OED won't fully benefit from older digitized books for some time to come yet. Thus, I was able at times to find a word in use during the period the novel is set, even though the OED showed only later examples.

Speaking of Rome, the adage which opens the novel -- "When in Rome, do as the Romans" -- was itself a bit of a "squeaker"; while the Latin form of this proverb dates back many centuries to St. Ambrose, and was famously Englished by Robert Burton, it did not take the exact form used in the novel until 1780 -- scarce a year before Toby's birth. And while we're on "squeak," though that verb was indeed attributed to pigs, along with "squeal," the word "oink" -- the one most readers would specifically associate with pigs -- turns out to be an American coinage dating back only to the 1930's. Among the many other Americanisms which had to go were "passel," the "leg" of a journey, "on the house" (in the sense of complimentary), and "a tad."

And yet there were a few hardy survivors as well: "sticking plaster," "autopsied," and "feel the taste" among them. Hazel thought that "sticking plaster" might be anachronistic, but Google Books turned up a recipe for it in John Quincy's Pharmacopoeia Officialis of 1782 (he recommended a mixture of "common plaster" and "yellow resin"). As for "autopsied," the OED gave 1839, but Google Books pushed the earliest reference to 1823, close enough I thought. Lastly, when Toby vows that he will never more "feel the taste of pasteboard in [his] mouth," I was able to find this synesthesiac phrase in an Edinburgh medical journal from 1771. Google books, indeed, is especially useful for phrases, for which comprehensive reference works are scarce.

I learned caution as well -- many Google books are inaccurately tagged by date -- a date on a bookplate or a call slip is often mistaken for a date of publication, and many books have generic dates such as "1800" which can be as much as 99 years off, or entirely inaccurate; one must use the date range restriction with care. And it certainly can't provide negative evidence as to the lack of a certain usage; the abundance of OCR errors in its searchable text precludes it. Nevertheless, it's a fabulous supplement to the OED, and an invaluable one for any historical novelist seeking to avoid the jangling sound of a word uncurrent to the novel's era.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Pig's Library

No Learned Pig -- and no Editor of such a Pig's memoirs -- could get far without having some books within reach. Toby himself mentions owning and a copy of Johnson's Rasselas, along with Samuel Croxall's edition of the Fables of Æsop, the ever-popular Ruddiman's Rudiments of the Latin Tongue, and Laurie and Whittle's New and Improved Atlas, Divided into Counties, the last of which he singles out as a worthy work of reference. He also tells us that he had a "standing order" from Creech's, the well-known Edinburgh bookseller, such that he could have a look at all their new titles, and purchase those that interested him. He mentions Swift, Smollett, and Pope as among his favourites, and he must have accumulated an impressive personal library; it is an immense shame that it no longer -- apparently -- survives.

As Toby's editor, I too had at hand a library of vital books, although the most useful references were those available online, through whose contents I could instantly search for just the information needed. The most invaluable of these, by far, was British History Online; with its project of scanning all the various county histories, it's possible to take a certain town on Toby's route -- such as High Wycombe -- and instantly discover its features as of the mid-1780's, complete with a little woodcut of the Guildhall he singled out for mention. For biographical details of many of the people Toby encountered, the online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography was inavluable; a subscription is required, and I'm fortunate that my college library has one. And, although it is sometimes criticized for issues of accuracy, I found the English Wikipedia to be generally quite reliable. Yet no online resource can provide the real feeling and texture of history; for that, I was fortunate to have at hand such texts as Richard Altick's magisterial The Shows of London, David Coke's delightful book Vauxhall Gardens (where, though Toby did not himself appear, so much of the variety of life and amusements characteristic of his time could be found), and Roy Porter's English Society in the Eighteenth Century. And of course, along with Toby, I too sojourned with a variety of characters from the tales of his time, from Humphry Clinker to Tom Jones. For it is from and within books that Toby's world truly comes to life; for him, his manner of relating adventures were modeled upon the stories he had read and enjoyed, and penned -- I am sure -- out of a desire to see his life represented on equal and common terms with them.