‘Genus Porcus Sophisticus’

The Learned Pig and the Theatrics of National Identity in Late Eighteenth-Century London
  • Monica Mattfeld


Pigs were ‘creatures of the threshold’ and objects of both ‘fear and fascination’ for much of the eighteenth century. They were hybrid, at once fully animal but also disturbingly human. On the one hand, they were valued members of the household economy and cherished for their company; on the other, they were considered hideous creatures associated with untamed desires, ‘unclean souls’, base morals and sin (Stallybrass and White, 1986, p. 47; Mizelle, 2011, p. 36). Pigs’ ambiguous human-animal nature, frequently articulated along class lines and always political, resulted in ‘typical pig imagery [that] scourges immorality and critiques departures from social norms as leading to potential disorder and social instability’ (Fisher, 2000, p. 304). Samuel Johnson, for example, considered them creatures ‘remarkable for stupidity and nastiness’, Alexander Pope equated them with the ‘dirty’ and mindless mob, and Edmund Burke famously used their imagery to drive home his views of the labouring classes as the ‘swinish multitude’ (qtd. in Fisher, p. 303–5). Pigs and the people associated with them were often cause for concern, and this widespread association of the animals with social upheaval, intellectual deficiency and lax morals are the focus of this chapter. Looking specifically to the exceptional career of one pig in particular, the famous Learned Pig, this chapter examines the influence and role of live animals in understandings of animality and the performance of national identity alongside embodiments of ‘human’ and ‘animal’ at the end of the eighteenth century.


Eighteenth Century National Identity British Museum Public Display British Library 
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Copyright information

© Monica Mattfeld 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Monica Mattfeld
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Northern British ColumbiaCanada

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