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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Sunday, August 05, 2012

The Adams Family and the Wonderful Pig

The Pyg blog I quoted yesterday stated that Thomas Jefferson was among the Americans who saw William Frederick Pinchbeck’s learned pig in America after 1798. But it appears that the swine Jefferson paid a shilling to see was the original Toby, performing in London in the spring of 1786.

Toby had made his London debut the year before, as the Duchess of Devonshire’s blog relates. He was soon the talk of the town. Among the folks talking about him was the family of John Adams, then the American minister to the Court of St. James.

The younger Abigail Adams wrote to her brother John Quincy Adams on 11 Aug 1785:
…the People of our Country have a Wonderfull liking to those who can say, “I have been in St. Pauls Church. I have seen the Lions, Tigers, &c. in the Tower. I have seen the King, and what is more have had the extreme honour of being saluted by him. What the King? Yes by George the Third King of Great Britain France and Ireland, defender of the Faith &c. And I have seen the Dancing Dogs, Singing Duck, and little Hare which beats the Drum, and the Irish Infant, [blank] feet high, but not yet the Learned Pig.[”]

The Tumblers of Sadlers Wells, have made great objections that the Learned Pig, should be introduced upon the Stage and have I beleive left it.
As a novelty, and one who might not have left the stage in pristine state, Toby represented a threat to older acts.

On 3 Sept 1785 the older Abigail Adams wrote to her aunt Lucy Tufts:
I know Madam that you Live a Life so retired and are now so frequently seperated from your worthy companion that I flatter myself a few lines from me will not be unacceptable to you: tho I were to amuse you with what is the Ton of London, The learned pig, dancing dogs, and the little Hare that Beats the Drum. It is incredible what sums of Money are nightly lavishd upon these kinds of Amusements, many of them fit only to please children.
Neither Adams woman wrote about actually seeing the pig, however, and the elder Abigail clearly disapproved of paying to do so. Nonetheless, Jefferson took in the spectacle during his brief visit to Britain. And left no comment about it.

TOMORROW: Did John Adams ever see the learned pig? Any learned pig?

[The image above is Thomas Rowlandson’s print of Toby the learned pig in action.]

1 comment:

Russell Potter said...

Delighted to read your investigation of the historical particulars of the Learned Pig! It's not at all clear, I agree, that any of the Adamses saw the Learned Pig in London; their remarks are all disparaging and in one letter Abigail called such entertainments "fit only to please children." Jefferson did see the pig, as he recorded the expense of one shilling for admittance.

The claim that Adams had seen Pinchbeck's pig is in that gentleman's own advertisements, such as that in the Providence Gazette of Sept. 8 1798: "The public may rest assured that this Animal is the same that merited the Golden Collar in Europe, and exhibited before President Adams and family, with great Applause." The basis for this claim is not clear -- if the pig of Pinchbeck was indeed the same as shown at Sadler's Wells, then perhaps he alludes to a London showing -- or perhaps there was one in America which we otherwise know nothing of.

I'll look forward to your further posts!