“An unusually sensitive pig”

Digging into Alain de Botton’s book The Architecture of Happiness for a recent post, I came across this story:

“The fear of forgetting anything precious can trigger in us the wish to raise a structure, like a paperweight to hold down our memories. We might even follow the example of the Countess of Mount Edgcumbe, who in the late eighteenth century had a thirty-foot-high Neoclassical obelisk erected on a hill on the outskirts of Plymouth, in memory of an unusually sensitive pig called Cupid, whom she did not hesitate to call a true friend.”

The world has always been full of colorful eccentrics. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed meeting the Countess of Mount Edgcumbe, but I would certainly have liked to meet her pig.

Dig a little deeper into the story and you find more gold—and not just the gold of the casket in which she buried Cupid. It turns out that the Countess—her actual name was Emma Gilbert—was not the first eccentric Edgcumbe. Her husband’s relative the first Baron of Edgcumbe had a favorite dog. When the pooch died, the Baron mounted his skeleton in a special case and displayed it in the garden house of the estate.

But back to Emma and Cupid, who ate his meals at the family table (where, legend has it, he expired) and even accompanied his mistress when she traveled to London. One of the locals composed an ode to assuage—or perhaps to satirize—the Countess’ grief:

Oh dry those tears so round and big
Nor waste in sight your precious wind
Death only takes a little pig
Your Lord and Son are still behind.

Not exactly conventional rhymes—unless you pronounce “wind” like something you do to a ball of yarn. Then again, not exactly a conventional subject. After all, most people celebrate the death of a pig by stuffing an apple in its mouth and throwing a dinner party.

Sadly, the pig story may be apocryphal. (I know, I know—you’re shocked.) Here’s a photo of the obelisk and a very sensible explanation of its origins.

Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if the story of the “unusually sensitive pig” made it into one of my clients’ speeches one of these days.

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