J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, August 04, 2012

Pig in the City

Publishers Weekly offers an interview with the title “How Do You Write a Book Narrated by a Pig?”:
Pyg: The Memoirs of Toby, the Learned Pig is Russell Potter’s wildly imaginative new novel told from the perspective of a pig in eighteenth-century England that begins in a sideshow and ends up in Oxford and Edinburgh, where Toby studies. Along the way, he meets the likes of Samuel Johnson, Robert Burns, and William Blake. How did Potter write such an clever, charming novel? We talked with him to find out.

Who was the real “learned pig” who formed the basis of the novel?

The original pig, named (as were nearly all his successors) Toby, first appeared in England in 1783, spelling out answers to audience questions using letters printed on cards. By 1785, he had made his way from the provinces to London, where he quickly became a subject of considerable interest, inspiring political cartoons and satirical poems, as well as a slew of rival pigs. In 1787, he made a Scottish tour, ending his days in Edinburgh, while a series of latter-day “sapient pigs” kept the act going in Britain and the United States well into the nineteenth century.
The book has its own blog, which stated this week:
In 1798, a “Learned Pig” first arrived in America under the proprietorship of a certain Mr. William Frederick Pinchbeck. Much as had his British forebears, Pinchbeck’s pig read and spelled words, told the time of day by consulting a watch, and answered questions freely from the audience on arithmetic and any other matters. 
Pinchbeck eventually published instructions on raising a learned pig, which that blog quoted here, in case anyone wants to reenact this element of eighteenth-century life. (Maybe a 4-H project?)

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