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They sailed away
for a year and a day,
To the Land where the
Bong Tree grows
And there in a wood
A piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of
his nose, his nose
With a ring at the end of his nose!
Potter adored Edward Lear's nonsense rhymes and particularly this prime example, which she first saw at age four and a half in a copy of Lear's Nonsense Songs, a Christmas present from her father. She retold the story of the Owl and the Pussy-Cat with her own illustrations in two letters to Noel Moore—this one and another in the collection of the Cotsen Children's Library at Princeton University. They contain an abridged version of Lear's text but a larger selection of pictures, some based on Lear, others invented by Potter.
It was during a holiday visit to Falmouth harbor that Potter glimpsed a pig on board a ship and wondered what its fate might be on a sea voyage ("when the sailors get hungry they eat it"). In the picture letter in the Cotsen Collection she imagined how it might escape in the ship's dinghy and go off to live on an island like Robinson Crusoe. Even better, she succeeded in linking one children's classic with another by supposing that the escapee might row off to safety in the island "where the Bong-tree grows" and become the "Piggy-wig" who assisted in the nuptials of the Owl and the Pussy-Cat.
Potter would later turn the pig-on-board theme into a book, The Tale of Little Pig Robinson (1930).
Beatrix Potter (1866–1943)
Autograph letter signed, London, to Noel Moore, February 27, 1897
Gift of Colonel David McC. McKell, 1959; MA 2009.9