"Poor Percy Bishe!!" Charles Lamb's "A Dissertation on Roast Pig" in Context

By Monsman, Gerald | Nineteenth-Century Prose, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

"Poor Percy Bishe!!" Charles Lamb's "A Dissertation on Roast Pig" in Context


Monsman, Gerald, Nineteenth-Century Prose


Abstract

Lamb's "Dissertation on Roast Pig" is an anti-vegetarian satire targeting EB. Shelley's "Vindication of Natural Diet." The disclosure in 1821 of Shelley's authorship of the "Vindication," the appearance in July 1822 of a burlesque by Peacock or Hogg on his vegetarianism, and the unexpected news in August of Shelley's death the previous month, created a context for Lamb's essay as a satire on the vegetarian vogue. Both Charles and Mary Lamb's struggle with mental instability predisposed them to be acutely offended by Shelley's application of Godwinian perfectibility, his refusal to admit the irremediable imperfection of the human condition, and his proposal of a quixotic panacea. A revised date for Lamb's return from France, just before news of Shelley's drowning reached England, shows that he had a typical interval to compose his essay; moreover, hints on roast pig in earlier issues of the London Magazine (including an anti-vegetarian parody of a line from "Queen Mab") supported the currency of Lamb's topic. The tale of Chinese cookery came to Lamb, directly or indirectly, from Joseph Ritson's Abstinence from Animal Food (1802), a classic vegetarian work that was a source also for Shelley's essay. Ritson's tale allowed Lamb to turn the vegetarian's horror of cooked meat into his personals obsessive gluttony, thereby burlesquing Shelley's belief in an innocent and pure golden age of vegetable health.

**********

Although Charles Lamb's "A Dissertation on Roast Pig" (September 1822) seems to display little more than the author's particular love of suckling pigs, it resembles those Ella essays that reach beyond personally-felt events (often bereavement) to confront the moral or social urgencies of Lamb's time and place. Apart from the whimsical tale of Chinese cookery ostensibly derived from Thomas Manning, and a letter to S.T. Coleridge in praise of roast pig, readers have not realized how this essay is contextualized by Charles and Mary's health, travel, and literary affinities. Essentially, "Roast Pig" is an anti-vegetarian satire, triggered by "poor Percy Bishe" Shelley's dreadful death, a burlesque targeting particularly his "Vindication of Natural Diet." Although Shelley's vegetarian tract had appeared some nine years previously--originally in pamphlet form and, a month or so later, annexed to the notes in "Queen Mab" (1813)--both tract and poem had a limited and nominally anonymous circulation until the pirated publication in 1821 when reviewers seized upon it as Shelley's work. (1)

The internal evidence in "Roast Pig" shows Lamb took offense at Shelley's utopian and reductive pronouncements that agonizing mental illness is both caused by and cured by diet. When Shelley's tract first appeared, Mary's mental health had been marked by periodically recurring attacks of manic depression; and Lamb's work had been characterized in The Quarterly Review as the "blasphemies of a poor maniac." Lamb, once incarcerated himself and now caring for his unstable sister, was labeled an "unfortunate creature" for whom "every feeling mind will find an apology in his calamitous situation." Then, as reviews of Shelley's pirated edition were appearing, William Gifford quoted extensively from Lamb's "Confessions of a Drunkard" and asserted that it was "a true tale." (2) But to maintain his personas amiability--Ella has not been publicly humiliated, nor has he experienced a tragedy belittled by a glib panacea--Lamb explicitly cites neither Shelley nor his cure-all of "natural diet" in "Roast Pig." Moreover, the Lambs were very fond of the poet's widow, Mary, and would not wish to offend her. (Although Mary Shelley herself was not a vegetarian, her most famous character, the creature of Victor Frankenstein, certainly began as one!)

In the months leading up to "Roast Pig," Lamb was fast approaching serious depression. After the death of his brother John, Lamb complained in a long letter to Wordsworth of "a certain deadness to every thing, which I think I may date from poor John's Loss. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

"Poor Percy Bishe!!" Charles Lamb's "A Dissertation on Roast Pig" in Context
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.