Rhapsody on a Pig

A dream of my pure and aspiring boyhood has been realised in the following paragraph, which I quote exactly as it stands —

A complaint by the Epping Rural District Council against a spinster keeping a pig in her house has evoked the following reply: “I received your letter, and felt very much cut up, as I am laying in the pig’s room.  I have not been able to stand up or get on my legs; when I can, I will get him in his own room, that was built for him.  As to getting him off the premises, I shall do no such thing, as he is no nuisance to anyone.  We have had to be in the pig’s room now for three years.  I am not going to get rid of my pet.  We must all live together.  I will move him as soon as God gives me strength to do so.”

The Rev. T.C. Spurgin observed: “The lady will require a good deal of strength to move her pet, which weighs forty stone.”

It appears to me that the Rev. T.C. Spurgin ought, as a matter of chivalry, to assist the lady to move the pig, if it is indeed too heavy for her strength; no gentleman should permit a lady, who is already very much cut up, to lift forty stone of still animated and recalcitrant pork; he should himself escort the animal downstairs.  It is an unusual situation, I admit.  In the normal life of humanity the gentleman gives his arm to the lady, and not to the pig; and it is the pig who is very much cut up.  But the situation seems to be exceptional in every way.  It is all very well for the lady to say that the pig is no nuisance to anyone: as it seems that she has established herself in the pig’s private suite of apartments, the question rather is whether she is a nuisance to the pig.  But indeed I do not think that this poor woman’s fad is an inch more fantastic than many such oddities indulged in by rich and reputable people; and, as I say, I have from my boyhood entertained the dream.  I never could imagine why pigs should not be kept as pets.  To begin with, pigs are very beautiful animals.  Those who think otherwise are those who do not look at anything with their own eyes, but only through other people’s eyeglasses.  The actual lines of a pig (I mean of a really fat pig) are among the loveliest and most luxuriant in nature; the pig has the same great curves, swift and yet heavy, which we see in the rushing water or in rolling cloud.  Compared to him, the horse, for instance, is a bony, angular, and abrupt animal.  I remember that Mr. H.G. Wells, in arguing for the relativity of things (a subject over which even the Greek philosophers went to sleep until Christianity woke them up), pointed out that, while a horse is commonly beautiful if seen in profile, he is excessively ugly if seen from the top of a dog-cart, having a long, lean neck, and a body like a fiddle.  Now, there is no point of view from which a really corpulent pig is not full of sumptuous and satisfying curves.  You can look down on a pig from the top of the most unnaturally lofty dog-cart; and I suppose a dog-cart has as much to do with pigs as it has with dogs.  You can examine the pig from the top of an omnibus, from the top of the Monument, from a balloon, or an air-ship; and as long as he is visible he will be beautiful.  In short, he has that fuller, subtler, and more universal kind of shapeliness which the unthinking (gazing at pigs and distinguished journalists) mistake for a mere absence of shape.  For fatness really is a valuable quality.  While it creates admiration in the onlookers, it creates modesty in the possessor.  If there is anything on which I differ from the monastic institutions of the past, it is that they sometimes sought to achieve humility by means of emaciation.  It may be that the thin monks were holy, but I am sure it was the fat monks who were humble.  Falstaff said that to be fat is not to be hated; but it certainly is to be laughed at, and that is a more wholesome experience for the soul of man.

I do not urge that it is effective upon the soul of a pig, who, indeed, seems somewhat indifferent to public opinion on this point.  Nor do I mean that mere fatness is the only beauty of the pig.  The beauty of the best pigs lies in a certain sleepy perfection of contour which links them especially to the smooth strength of our south English land in which they live.  There are two other things in which one can see this perfect and piggish quality: one is in the silent and smooth swell of the Sussex downs, so enormous and yet so innocent.  The other is in the sleek, strong limbs of those beech-trees that grow so thick in their valleys.  These three holy symbols, the pig, the beech-tree, and the chalk down, stand forever as expressing the one thing that England as England has to say — that power is not inconsistent with kindness.  Tears of regret come into my eyes when I remember that three lions or leopards, or whatever they are, sprawl in a fantastic and foreign way across the arms of England.  We ought to have three pigs passant, gardiant, or on gules.  It breaks my heart to think that four commonplace lions are couched around the base of the Nelson Column.  There ought to be four colossal Hampshire hogs to keep watch over so national a spot.  Perhaps some of our sculptors will attack the conception; perhaps the lady’s pig, which weighs forty stone and seems to be something of a domestic problem, might begin to earn its living as an artist’s model.

Again, we do not know what fascinating variations might happen in the pig if once the pig were a pet.  The dog has been domesticated — that is, destroyed.  Nobody now in London can form the faintest idea of what a dog would look like.  You know a Daschund in the street; you know a St. Bernard in the street.  But if you saw a Dog in the street you would run from him screaming.  For hundreds, if not thousands, of years no one has looked at the horrible hairy original thing called Dog.  Why, then, should we be hopeless about the substantial and satisfying thing called Pig?  Types of Pig may also be differentiated; delicate shades of Pig may also be produced.  A monstrous pig as big as a pony may perambulate the streets like a St. Bernard without attracting attention.  An elegant and unnaturally attenuated pig may have all the appearance of a greyhound.  There may be little, little pathetic pigs like King Charles spaniels.  Artificial breeding might reproduce the awful original pig, tusks and all, the terror of the forests — something bigger, more mysterious, and more bloody than the bloodhound.  Those interested in hairdressing might amuse themselves by arranging the bristles like those of a poodle.  Those fascinated by the Celtic mystery of the Western Highlands might see if they could train the bristles to be a veil or curtain for the eye, like those of a Skye terrier; that sensitive and invisible Celtic spirit.  With elaborate training one might have a sheep-pig instead of a sheep-dog, a lap-pig instead of a lap-dog.

What is it that makes you look so incredulous?  Why do you still feel slightly superior to the poor lady who would not be parted from her pig?  Why do you not at once take the hog to your heart?  Reason suggests his evident beauty.  Evolution suggests his probable improvement.  Is it, perhaps, some instinct, some tradition. . .?  Well, apply that to women, children, and animals, and we will argue again.

The Illustrated London News, 8 May 1909.

Published in: on October 21, 2009 at 6:24 am  Comments (1)  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://chesterton.wordpress.com/2009/10/21/rhapsody-on-a-pig/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

One CommentLeave a comment

  1. […] Rhapsody on a Pig […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: