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.