The life and adventures of Toby, the Sapient Pig

May 26, 2009
Handbill advertising Toby, the Sapient Pig

Handbill advertising Toby, the Sapient Pig

Billed as ‘the greatest curiosity of the present day’, Toby the Sapient Pig trotted into the limelight around 1817. He made his London debut at the Royal Promenade Rooms, in the Spring Gardens, where he captivated audiences with his promises to ‘spell and read, cast accounts, play at cards; tell any person what o’clock it is to a minute by their own watch… tell the age of any one in company’, and, most remarkably, ‘discover a person’s thoughts’, a trick indeed ‘never heard of before to be exhibited by an animal of the swine race’. Unsurprisingly, his enterprising handler Mr. Hoare was a former magician, who had turned to training novel animal acts (he would later appear in company with a Learned Goose). 

An earlier sapient pig going through its tricks.

An earlier sapient pig going through its tricks.

There had been a previous wave of performing pigs in the late 18th century, but something about Toby appears to have particularly gripped the public imagination. Verses were written comparing him favourably to the greatest actors of the day, like Edmund Kean, and ‘Toby’ quickly became the generic name for all of his porcine competitors. His fame was such that, boasting he was ‘the first of my race that ever wielded the pen’ (an earlier literary pig had merely dictated its memoirs), Toby even wrote his own autobiography, The life and adventures of Toby, the sapient pig: with his opinions on men and manners. Written by himself (London, c. 1817). 

Embellished with a frontispiece showing ‘the author in deep study’—or Toby settled comfortably in a pigsty with his nose in a book—the work was full of playful conceits. Describing his father as an ‘independent gentleman, who roamed at large’, and his mother as a ‘spinster… of a prolific nature’, Toby mused on the idea that his unusual talents resulted from his mother’s love of books:  

My mother, in the early stages of her pregnancy, unwittingly entered a gentleman’s flower garden; where … she came obliquely to the entrance of his library…she entered, and in a short time cast her eye over the numerous volumes it contained; such was her haste, she disordered some, while others she minutely perused, nay absolutely bereived [sic] of their leaves, chewing and swallowing them, so great was her avidity’

Toby told of being talent-spotted at a young age by his trainer (who made him a special cart to ride around in), claimed to have been named for whether he might be famous or not in a pun on Hamlet’s soliloquy ‘To be, or not to be’, and described an upbringing to rival that of any clever schoolboy. He also talked at length about the performance advertised in this very handbill, and confessed that he felt nervous before his London debut, convinced it would ‘make me or mar me for ever’. Happily for Toby, he was apparently a raging success: 

‘…the house was crowded at an early hour by persons of the first rank and fashion: such an assemblage of beauty I had never before witnessed. My first appearance was greeted with loud and reiterated plaudits; from every part handkerchiefs waving—fans rapping—placards exhibited; in fact, the tumults of applause were greater than ever was known before.’ 

Priced at one shilling, Toby’s magnum opus was printed and sold—and, one suspects, also authored—by Nicholas Hoare, Toby’s canny trainer and manager. The autobiography was, of course, also a powerful advertisement for Toby’s performances, as suggested by the verse with which ‘Toby’ chose to conclude his tale. Supposedly written by a gentleman much moved by the sight of Toby spelling out his letters, it was carefully calculated to entice curious punters: 

His symptoms of sense, deep astonishment raise,

And elicit applause of wonder and praise…

Of the crowds who the Sapient Toby have seen,

Not one of them all disappointed have been;

But all to their friends have been proved to repeat,

That a visit to Toby, indeed is a treat.

But then, for a shilling, who wouldn’t queue up for a look at a mind-reading pig called Toby? – Amanda Flynn

Images:

Toby the Sapient Pig. John Johnson Shelfmark: Animals on Show 2 (70). ProQuest Durable URL

The wonderful pig of knowledge. John Johnson Shelfmark: Animals on Show 2 (74). ProQuest Durable URL 

Copyright © 2009 Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. Reproduced with the permission of ProQuest. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Comments are welcome for sharing with other users, but regrettably the editors of Curators’ Choice are not necessarily able to respond to enquiries.

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Evenden’s Digestive Ginger Candy for indigestion, spasms, flatulence, &c.

May 22, 2009

The majority of items that the conservators are repairing for the project are paper based. This particular item is a little more unusual in that the print on paper, with a decorative paper border, is adhered to a wooden board. It may possibly have been the lid to a box.

Before conservation

Before conservation

As can be seen in the first image, the board was found to be broken into two parts. To make it easier to handle during the scanning process and to preserve it for the future, the item was repaired.

First, the paper along the split edges was lifted 1cm away from the board using spatulas and a scalpel.

 Meanwhile, over a gentle heat, 2gsms of leaf gelatine was dissolved in 50 mls of reverse osmosis water.

 The gelatine was applied with a fine brush along the broken edges and the two parts brought together. It was then clamped and left to dry.

During conservation

During conservation

To make the joint stronger, small splints of parchment were placed along the joint on both sides of the object. The edges of the splints were pared so that they were unobtrusive and they were adhered to the wooden surface with gelatine. Parchment was selected because as the splints dried they tightened.

After the splints had dried, the lifted paper was pasted back down over the parchment splints using wheat starch paste as the adhesive.

After conservation

After conservation

This work was undertaken by a trained conservator. – Julia Bearman

Evenden’s Digestive Ginger Candy for indigestion, spasms, flatulence, &c.  John Johnson Shelfmark: Patent Medicines 3 (7)

Copyright  © 2009 Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. Reproduced with the permission of ProQuest. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Comments are welcome for sharing with other users, but regrettably the editors of Curators’ Choice are not necessarily able to respond to enquiries.


Adventure and Morality: The Boy’s Own

May 14, 2009

While other parts of the John Johnson Collection may certainly be prettier, the prospectuses of books and journals are the unsung heroes of the booktrade section. There is a wealth of information contained within their pages which illuminates the world of popular fiction and essay writing of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

In particular, prospectuses of children’s serial publications provide us with a glimpse into the function of journals in family life. The latter half of the nineteenth century saw an explosion of cheap publication and it is during this period that children’s serial literature was produced on a mass scale. The most well-known of these journals is perhaps the Boy’s Own Paper which was first published in 1879.  The Religious Tract Society created the journal in order to bring moral instruction to young boys through a heady mixture of adventure, sport, humour and suspense.

A prospectus of the Boy's Own Paper from 1895

A prospectus of the Boy's Own Paper from 1895

This prospectus from 1895 demonstrates the lively illustrations used in the Boy’s Own Paper, designed to capture the eye of booksellers and readers alike. The authors who are listed in this prospectus include popular writers such as George Manville-Fenn (1831-1909), who was prolific in his production of fiction for both children and adults.   

The heroic boy reading his Boy's Own in 1893

The heroic boy reading his Boy's Own in 1893

Adventure, health, courage, all seen as essential to the British character, were promoted alongside articles by the clergy which set these attributes in a religious context.  Famous writers such as Jules Verne and sporting heros, such as W. G. Grace, also contributed regularly to The Boy’s Own Paper, making it, perhaps, the most successful magazine of its kind.

Journals were also produced specifically for girls. While the boys were reading high adventure, valiant sporting prowess and wholesome humour, the girls were learning how to cultivate calm, helpful characters, as the image in this prospectus for The Child’s Companion and Juvenile Instructor from 1898 shows.

A girl reading her Child's Companion is 1898
A girl reading her Child’s Companion in 1898

These prospectuses give us a glimpse into the life of children in the late nineteenth century and the role some sectors of the book trade created for themselves as instructors of the next generation. – Elizabeth Brewster

Images:
Prospectus of The Boy’s Own Paper. John Johnson Shelfmark: Prospectuses of Journals 8 (12**d) ProQuest durable URL

Prospectus of The Boy’s Own Paper.  John Johnson Shelfmark: Prospectuses of Journals 8 (15) ProQuest durable URL

Prospectus of The Child’s Companion and Juvenile Instructor. John Johnson Shelfmark: Prospectuses of Journals 12 (52a) ProQuest durable URL

Copyright © 2009 Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. Reproduced with the permission of ProQuest. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Comments are welcome for sharing with other users, but regrettably the editors of Curators’ Choice are not necessarily able to respond to enquiries.


A lady of pictures: the connoisseur in caricature

May 11, 2009
A lady composed of pictures

A lady composed of pictures

This female connoisseur holds her lorgnette at the ready, poised to prove her aesthetic sensibility and fashionable taste. Yet her own body is composed of the very miniatures, prints and portraits upon which she would train her quizzical gaze. On her broad skirts hang an assortment of landscapes, cameo portraits, popular prints of romantic figures such as Byron and Napoleon, and animal paintings, while she is crowned with a number of intimate miniatures in place of a hat. Even her feet appear to have been replaced by prints.

The image plays light-heartedly with ideas of what it means to be an individual, and about the power of things to represent the self. Teasingly, the paintings bestow meaning and animation on the connoisseur even as she pretends to define their own worth. They make up her identity; without the art there would, quite literally, be no connoisseur.

A composite picture, ‘The connoisseur’ lies in the tradition of Giuseppe Arcimboldi (1527-1593), the Italian painter best known for his curious portraits composed entirely from fantastical arrangements of vegetables, fruit, fish and beasts. Designed by George Spratt, she belongs to a series of whimsical lithographs called ‘Twelve original designs’, published c. 1830 by Charles Tilt (1797-1861).  Her unusual companions include, amongst others, an ‘Antiquarian’, his body made up of medieval fragments and pieces of stained-glass window, a ‘Conchologist’ composed from her collection of rare and beautiful seashells, a ‘Mineralogist’ constructed from a selection of polished crystals, marbles and other minerals, and an ‘Entomologist’ with limbs formed from a living tangle of beetles, butterflies and grasshoppers. – Amanda Flynn

Image:

The connoisseur. John Johnson Shelfmark: Trade in Prints and Scraps 2 (1).  ProQuest durable URL

Copyright © 2009 Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. Reproduced with the permission of ProQuest. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Comments are welcome for sharing with other users, but regrettably the editors of Curators’ Choice are not necessarily able to respond to enquiries.


Bitter pills and blood-letting: 19th century medicine in satire

May 6, 2009
A patient undergoes bloodletting, or the euphemistically termed 'breathing a vein'.

A patient undergoes bloodletting, or the euphemistically termed 'breathing a vein'.

Medicine, in the early nineteenth-century, was not a pleasant experience for the patient. It was an age of “heroic” medicine that consisted of “copious bleeding and massive doses of drugs.” In 1804, James Gillray produced this series of satirical etchings that brilliantly charts the progress of disease in one unlucky patient…

In ‘Breathing a vein’ the patient stoically begins his treatment with a course of bloodletting, or phlebotomy. Beloved by both physicians and quacks in the early nineteenth-century, it was a standard medical practice (and, indeed, one of the oldest, dating from classical antiquity). It entailed drawing blood from one or more of the larger external veins, such as those in the forearm, in order to ‘cure’ a disease and restore the body’s natural balance —frequently physicians would take so much blood in one sitting that the patient would be left faint and swooning. Gillray plays with cruel wit upon the contrast between the title, ‘breathing a vein’, which suggests a light and pleasant experience, and the reality, as indicated by the fountain of blood gushing from the patient’s arm and his glum expression.

The patient awaits the effects of his purgative emetic...

The patient awaits the effects of his purgative emetic...

His condition not having improved, the patient is shown in the second print trying a ‘Gentle emetic’ instead—a dose intended to cause a bout of (anything but gentle) vomiting. The pale-looking patient sits beside a waiting bowl, while the physician holds his head in readiness. 

The patient swallows his bitter tasting medicines.

The patient swallows his bitter tasting medicines.

In the third of the series, ‘Taking physick’, the patient—looking ever more wretched—screws up his face against the sour taste of his medicine. Few effective drugs existed, and those that physicians did prescribe were sometimes more harmful than helpful—and the effects they produced were ripe for caricature. In this case the man is probably taking a laxative intended to purge the system of deletrious material. A labelled bottle is clutched in his hand, and two others stand waiting on the mantelpiece. Physicians would often prescribe drugs to be taken repeatedly, many times over in a day, and the patient’s unshaven, dishevelled state suggests that he has been subject to this treatment for some time. Indeed, Gillray’s sly depiction of the man’s unbuttoned trousers and trailing shirttails suggests that he has spent much of his treatment in close confinement with his chamber pot.

In celebration of his recovery, the patient joyfully tucks into dinner.

In celebration of his recovery, the patient joyfully tucks into dinner.

In the fourth print, ‘Charming well again’, the patient is finally recovered (probably despite rather than because of his treatment), and beams with delight. His relief seems due not just to feeling well again, but also to having exchanged his noxious doses for a hearty meal of roast chicken. Clearly, he hasn’t wasted a moment of his recovery on such trifling matters as changing out of his sick clothes and nightcap; having paused just long enough to tuck a napkin under his chin, he has launched straight into dinner.  – Amanda Flynn         

1Lois N. Manger, History of Medicine, New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc., 1992, p. 205.

Images:

Breathing a vein. John Johnson Shelfmark: Trade in Prints and Scraps 8 (64). ProQuest durable URL

Gentle emetic. John Johnson Shelfmark: Trade in Prints and Scraps 8 (70). ProQuest durable URL

Taking physick. John Johnson Shelfmark: Trade in Prints and Scraps 8 (73). ProQuest durable URL

Charming well again. John Johnson Shelfmark: Trade in Prints and Scraps 8 (67). ProQuest durable URL

Copyright © 2009 Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. Reproduced with the permission of ProQuest. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Comments are welcome for sharing with other users, but regrettably the editors of Curators’ Choice are not necessarily able to respond to enquiries.