The Rebellion of the Beasts: Or, The Ass Is Dead! Long Live the Ass!!!
About the Book
First published in 1825, this wicked, clever satire predates Orwell's Animal Farm by 120 years. The Rebellion of the Beasts is attributed to the poet and journalist Leigh Hunt, among whose friends were Keats, Shelley, Hazlitt and Lamb. In 1812, Hunt and his brother John, who co-edited the radical journal The Examiner, were arrested for criticizing the Prince Regent and remained in prison for two years. This experience of oppression was the apparent motivation for this novel which, like Animal Farm, involves a revolution in which the beasts take over from corrupt mankind. The setting is Cambridge, where John Sprat, the narrator, finds himself a misfit at this staid English university. It seems that he can do nothing right until one night he breaks into a college library and pillages the ancient stacks. He discovers De Bestiss, an obscure manuscript by Cornelius Agrippa. "Beast can speak," asserts Agrippa, "and he that doubteth the fact may read this booke." And read it Sprat does, chapter and verse, even going so far as to concoct a recipe from it for a magic potion that allows him to converse with animals. In this way, he learns from various animals he encounterswho view him as a great wizardthat the beasts of the world are preparing a rebellion. Sprat acts as the reader's eyewitness to the overthrow of mankind. Their grand rebellion complete, the beasts go on to model themselves on their oppressors and create an animal kingdom with the Ass established as Supreme Monarch. The ultimate twist is that the animals, once in power, are just as corrupt as their human counterparts. The Rebellion of the Beasts is an obvious precursor of George Orwell's Animal Farm, with its Swiftian satire directed against the monarchy instead of against socialism. More biting than Orwell, this book should take its place beside Gulliver's Travels in every misanthrope's library. It will delight not only the devotees of Swift and Orwell, but also those of Bierce, Twain and Mencken.
". . . this lively satire on revolution, reform, and reaction offers us a welcome glimpse into the political views of the Hunt circle in the mid-1820s."Jeffrey N. Cox, Univ. of Colorado, Boulder
"Clever, savage, funny and poignant."Marilyn Gaull, Editor, The Wordsworth Circle
"Hunt's sagacious, slyly funny, and courageous indictment of those who abuse power is as relevant now as then and bound to elicit much curiosity and discussion."Booklist