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Rightly is they Called Pigs

The gate creaked shut and Rowley came through it, “the most venerable of the labourers on the farm—a tall, solid man, still unbent, with grey side-whiskers and a steep, dignified profile. Grave, weighty in manner, splendidly respectable, Rowley had the air of a great English statesman of the mid-nineteenth century. He halted on the outskirts of the group, and for a moment they all looked at the pigs in a silence that was only broken by the sound of grunting or the squelch of a sharp hoof in the mire. Rowley turned at last, slowly and ponderously and nobly, as he did everything, and addressed himself to Henry Wimbush.”

“‘Look at them, sir’, he said, with a motion of his hand towards the wallowing swine. ‘Rightly is they called pigs.’”

“‘Rightly indeed’, Mr Wimbush agreed.”

Now, is Rowley a realist or a nominalist? One might argue that it is out of the long experience of his yeoman forefathers that the whole semantic cluster surrounding pigs and piggishness has grown slowly up, that out of real smells and real mud and real grunting has gradually coalesced a sense, then a conception, then a term, and now a deep conviction, that pigs and piggishness are what they universally are. In which case he’s a realist.

The only problem is that word called—they are called pigs—with its tremor of linguistic self-consciousness and the tiresome possibility that Rowley’s mind is more interested in names and naming than in things; or that if you took a promising and ambitious example of porcus domesticus out of his sty and cleaned him up and put a ribbon round his neck and taught him how to behave in mixed company, his new particularity would make him something else—something requiring a new name for a new identity, names being arbitrary and conventional things—in which case he might be forced to say “wrongly is they called pigs.” And he’d be a nominalist.

Anyway this figure in Aldous Huxley’s novel Crome Yellow is a worthy man regardless. I wish Rowley well, with his grey side-whiskers and weighty manner and splendid respectability, and one is not surprised by Mr Scogan’s admiration:

“‘I am abashed by that man. What wisdom, what judgment, what a sense of values! ‘Rightly are they called swine.’ Yes. And I wish I could, with as much justice, say ‘Rightly are we called men.’”

Posted in Language, Notes.

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