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agony.

" Hush, hush, sir. This morning at half-past four."

" As they did my father, upon the guillotine — as they did my
father?"

And as the tears of the man prevented his reply, the pooi»
child went on — " She so good, so good ! Oh, my God, have pity
on me ! But of what did they accuse her ? — what could they lay
to her charge ? She who did nothing but good to every one.
Mother! mother!"

" They condemned her partly upon your testimony, sir ; upon
what you told of her."

" I — I — accuse my mother ! — I who would lay down my life
sooner than a hair of her head should be touched. Believe me,
sir, you are mistaken."

" Calm yourself, and listen to me," replied the stranger.
" Some members of your family yet remain, and you may
ruin them as you did your mother; nay, you may destroy
yourself. Doubtless some insidious questions have been an-
swered by you imprudently ; and upon words uttered by you,
it may be at random, they have founded a charge against the
queen of having plotted with some of the municipal officers
against the constitution, and of carrying on a correspondence
with foreign states. On this charge she was condemned,
sir."

The young king, who had almost held his breath as if the
more distinctly to hear these killing words, now said, in a tone
which despair rendered calm, " I am a wretch ; I have murdered
my mother. Never again shall a single word pass these g'uilty
lips." So saying, he seated himself in his usual place at the
little table under the window, and from that time till the end
of eighteen months, and then only a few hours before his death,
opened not his lips to utter a word.

28



THE LITTLE CAPTIVE KING.

X.

FATE OF THE REMAINING MEMBERS OF THE FAMILY.

When Marie Antoinette had been conducted from the Temple
to the Conciergerie, she left in that prison, beside her son, her
sister-in-law Madame Elizabeth, and her daughter Marie
Therese. Before proceeding- farther with the history of the little
captive king', let us say a few words of these ladies his relations.

Madame Elizabeth, whose whole life was an example of the
tenderest affection, gentleness, and female dignity, remained in a
cell in the Temple till the 9th of May 1794. On the evening of
that day she was transferred to the Conciergerie, charged w^ith
the oifence of corresponding with her brothers. The next even-
ing* she was carried before the revolutionary tribunal, and when
asked her name and rank, she replied with dignity, " I am
Elizabeth of France, and the aunt of your king." This bold
answer filled the judges with astonishment, and interrupted the
trial. Twenty-four other victims were sentenced with her ; but
she was reduced to the horrible necessity of witnessing the
execution of all her companions. She met death with calmness
and submission ; not a complaint escaped her against her judges
and executioners. AVithout being handsome, Elizabeth was
pleasing and lively. Her hair was of a chestnut colour, her
blue eyes bore a trace of melancholy, her mouth was delicate,
her teeth beautiful, and her complexion of a dazzling" whiteness.
She was modest, and almost timid in the midst of splendour and
greatness, but courageous in adversity, pious and virtuous, and
her character was spotless.

The fate of INIarie The'rese, the daughter of Louis XVI., was
less cruel than that of her parents, her aunt, or her brother. She
remained in confinement in the Temple till December 1795 ; never,
however, being allowed to share the sorrows of poor Louis-Charles,
and remaining in a state of constant apprehension. Undeter-
mined what to do with the princess, the revolutionary government
at length, at the above period, consented to exchange her for
certain deputies whom General Dumouriez had surrendered to
the Austrians. She was accordingly sent out of France, and was
carried to Vienna, where she resided with her uncle (afterwards
Louis XVIII,), by whom she was married to the Duke d'Angou-
leme. She lived to return to France at the restoration.

The revolutionary tribunals, which destroyed every one claim-
ing relationship with royalty that fell within their grasp, did
not even refrain from taking the lives of servants and instructors
of roj^al personages. Among* the number of blameless and de-
fenceless women who perished in this dreadful storm, was Madame
de Soulanges, the abbess of Royal Lieu, who had been an in-
structress to the aunts of Louis XVI. This excellent woman

29



THE LITTLE CAPTIVE KING.

and her numerous sisterhood were led to the scaffold on the
same day. While leaving the prison, they all chanted a hymn
upon the fatal car. When they arrived at the place of execution,
they did not interrupt their strains. One head fell, and ceased
to join its voice with the celestial chorus ; but the strain conti-
nued. The abbess suffered last ; and her single voice, with in-
creased tone, still raised the devout versicle. It ceased at once
— it was the silence of death !

XL

EFFECTS OF PROLONGED CAPTIVITY.

From some cause not recorded in the history of the revolution,
Simon was dismissed by the municipal authorities from his office
of tutor to the young- king- ; but the change does not seem to
have led to any improved treatment of the little prisoner. Hebert,
likewise, was no more seen in the Temple : he had, like most of
the revolutionary leaders, taken his turn under the guillotine, and
received the punishment due to his manifold outrages on society.

About thirteen months after the visit of the Savoyard, three
persons presented themselves at the Temple prison, as visitors'
from the committee of public health, to verify statements which
the municipal officers had deemed it their duty to make to it of
the rapid progress of the disease of Louis XVll. The boy was
in his usual place at his usual employment of building- card-
houses, his once expressive countenance now one dull blank.
Even the heavy tread of the gentlemen as they approached him
did not seem to excite his attention ; nor did the sight of such un-
usual visitors arouse him from his apathy. Monsieur Harmand,
advancing before his companions, approached the prisoner. " Sir,"
said he, taking off his hat as he stood before the innocent victim,
" the government, informed of the bad state of your health, of
your refusal to take exercise, to use any remedies, or receive the
visits of a physician, and to answer any questions, nay, even to
speak, has commissioned us to ascertain whether this is really
the case. In the name of the government, we now renew the
offer of a physician. We are authorised to permit your extend-
ing your walks, to allow you any amusement or relaxation you
desire. Allow me to press upon you the acceptance of these in-
dulgences. I await respectfully your reply."

At the commencement of this address the unhappy child raised
his eyes to the speaker, and seemed to listen with great attention ;
but this was all — Monsieur Harmand did not obtain a single
word in reply.

" Perhaps I have not sufficiently explained myself, sir ; have
not made myself understood by you 1 I have the honour of ask-
ing you if you would like playthings of any description — birds,
a dog, a horse, one or two companions of your own age, to be
first submitted to 3^ou for approval ? Perhaps you would like to

3D



THE LITTLE CAPTIVE KING.

go now and then into the garden or on the ramparts? Do yot»
care to have sweetmeats or cakes, a new dress, a watch and
chain ? You have only to say what you wish."

The enumeration of all these things, usually the objects of
childish desii'e, did not excite the slightest sensation. The
prince's countenance wore a look of utter indifference to all that
was offered, and when the speaker ceased, there succeeded an
expression of such sad, such melancholy resignation, that Mon-
sieur Harmand turned away to hide his emotion.

" I believe, sir," said one of the jailers, " that it is useless for
you to talk to the child. I have now been nearly thirteen
months here, and I have not yet heard him utter a word. Simon
the cobbler, whose place I took, told me that he had never spoken
since he made him sign some paper against his mother."

This account, so simple yet so touching, went to the very
hearts of the deputies of the commune. A child not yet nine
years old forming* and keeping a resolution of never again
speaking, because a word of his had given a pretext to the
murderers of his mother ! At this moment the young prince's
dinner was broug'ht up, and on its appearance the visitors could
scarcely repress an exclamation of indignant surprise. For the
delicately-reared son of Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette, for
the child of royalty, the heir of France, was served up for dinner
—"A brown earthenware porringer, containing a black broth
covered with lentiles ; a dish of the same ware, with a small piece
of black coarse salt beef ; and a second dish, on which were six
half-burned chestnuts; one plate and no knife completed the-
dinner-service."

Involuntarily they turned to look at the child ; his face ex-
pressed " What matters it ! Take your victim." Was this resig-
nation, or was it utter hopelessness ? How could he have hoped
for anything from the murderers of his mother ? Alas ! had he
hoped for anything at their hands, he would have been disap-
pointed. The representations of the visitors were disregarded.
His allowance of fresh air was diminished, his window was nar-
rowed, the iron bars were made closer, and washing', both of his
person and his clothes, was thrown altogether upon himself. The
door of his prison was, as it were, sealed, and it was throug'h a
narrow wicket that the pitcher of water, too heavy for his weak
arms, was handed to him, with the sordid provision barely suffi-
cient for the day. Not having strength enough to move his bed,
having no one to look after his sheets and blankets, now nearly
in rags, he at length was reduced to the extreme of wretchedness.

Condemned to solitude — for though two guards kept watch
at the door, yet they never spoke to him — his intellect was at
last impaired, and his body bent as if under the burden of life ;
aU moral sense became obtuse, and so rapidly did his disorder
now gain ground, that the tardy aid of two physicians, sent by
the municipal authorities, was utterly ineffectual to arrest its

31



THE LITTLE CAPTIVE KING.

progress. One of them could not restrain his indignation when
he saw the state of the poor victim, and as he was audibly and
in no measured terms giving" vent to it, the prince beckoned him
to approach his bed. " Speak low, sir," said he, breaking a silence
which he had persevered in for eighteen months ; " I pray, speak
low, lest my sister should hear you, and I should be so sorry that
she should know I am ill, it would g-rieve her so much."



XII.

DEATH OF THE LITTLE CAPTIVE KING.

We have been telling' no imag-inary tale. The sufferings of
Louis XVII. in his foul prison require no picturesque embellish-
ment. Yet the mind of the compassionate reader may well be
excused for doubting' the truthfulness of these melancholy details,
and will naturally inquire if no effort was made to rescue the
unfortunate prisoner from his oppressors — if no humane hand
interfered to point out his condition to the people. Nothing of
this kind appears to have been done. A nation assuming itself
to be the greatest, the most civilised, and the most polite, quailed
under the despotism of a set of wretches elevated to a power
which they disg-raced. As M. Thiers forcibly observes, " People
dared no longer express any opinion. A hundred thousand
arrests and some hundreds of condemnations rendered imprison-
ment and the scaffold ever present to the minds of twenty-five
millions of French." And thus the fate of poor Louis-Charles,
if it did not escajDe notice, at least encountered no censure.

The visit of the physician, to which we have alluded, took
place only after the reign of terror had subsided, and the nation
had resumed something like its senses. But this resumption of
order came too late to save the little captive king. The physi-
cian, on seeing his deplorable condition, had him instantly
removed into an apartment, the windows of which opened on the
garden ; and observing" that the free current of air seemed to
revive him for the moment, he said in a cheerful tone, "You
will soon be able to walk and play about the garden."

" I ! " said the prince, raising his head a little ; " I shall never
go anywhere but to ray mother, and she is not on earth."

" You must hope the best, sir," said the physician soothingly.

The child's only answer was a smile ; but what a tale of withered
hopes, of buried joys, of protracted suffering*, was in that smile!

On the 8th of ju^e 1795, about two o'clock, he made sig-ns
to those about him to open the window. They obeyed, and with
a last effort he raised his eyes to heaven, as if seeking" some one
there, softly whispered " Mother ! " and died.

Thus expired Louis XVII. at the early age of ten years and
two months. A more gentle soul never ascended to the bosom
-of its Creator.

32




CHILDREN OF THE WILDS.



)^^J^ NSTANCES of children having been left by accident
'T^^/ivv ^^ ^y "uJiJia^'Ui'al parents to perish in solitary places,
^^/M^ are unhappily to be met with in various eras of social
f^MiS history. Sometimes the infants thus exposed have, by
^ ' some extraordinary means, been preserved, and have lived
in a savage condition till found by chance and brought
within the pale of ci"vilisatiou. It has occasionally happened
V that beasts usually remarkable for ferocity have nurtured
them until strong' enough to subsist upon roots, berries, and other
fruits. Children found under such circumstances have always
been regarded with interest. Though painful to the last degree
to behold a human being possessing all the characteristics of a
wild beast, yet it has been pleasing' and instructive to watch the
gradual development of their faculties, and the growth of their
moral sentiments. It is our purpose in this tract to record some
of the most prominent of these cases, detailing the more interest-
ing at length. Many accounts of wild children — for example,
that of Valentine and Orson — are doubtless fabulous : it has been
our care, however, to select such as are well authenticated.

There is no instance on record which excited more curiosity,
especially in England, than that of a child who was known as



PETER THE AYILD BOY.



At the beginning of the last century, a great sensation was
created by the accidental finding of a wild boy in a German.
No. 48. 1



CHILDREN OF THE WILDS.

forest, to whom the above name was afterwards given. The
earliest account of him is to be found in a letter from the Hano-
verian correspondent of the St James's Evening- Post, published
December 14, 1725. "The intendant of the house of correction
at Zell," says the writer, " has brought a boy to Hanover, sup-
posed to be about fifteen years of age, who was found some time
ago in a wood near Hamelin, some twenty miles hence. He
was walking on his hands and feet, climbing up trees like a
squirrel, and feeding upon grass and moss of trees." The young
savage was brought to George I., who was at that time re-
siding in Hanover. The king was at dinner, and some food
was offered the youth, which he rejected. His majesty then
ordered him such meat as he liked best ; and raw food having
been brought, he devoured it with a relish. As he was un-
able to speak, it was impossible to leam how he was first aban-
doned in the woods, and by what means he existed. Great care
was taken of the boy by order of the king; but, despite the
vigilance of those who had charge of him, he escaped in less
than a month to the woods. Every species of restraint had been
evidently irksome to him, and he availed himself of the first
opportunity of freedom that occurred. The woods in the neigh-
bourhood of Hanover were diligently searched, and at length he
was discovered hiding in a tree. The boldest of his pursuers
were unable to reach him, for as fast as they attempted to
climb, he pushed them down, so great was his strength. As a
last resource, they sawed down the tree ; luckily, it fell without
hurting its occupant, and he was once more captured.

Early in the following year (1726) George I. returned to
England, and Peter was brought over also. His appearance in
London excited intense curiosity. The public papers teemed
with notices of his conduct and appearance. On arriving at the
palace, a suit of blue clothes was prepared for him ; but he seemed
very uneasy at wearing apparel of any sort, and it was only
restraint that would induce him to wear it. Various colours
and descriptions of costume were meantime provided, and at
length his taste appeared to be gratified by a strange dress,
thus described by a correspondent to an Edinburgh newspaper,
April 12, 1726 : — " The wild youth is dressed in green, lined with
red, and has scarlet stockings." By the same account, we find
that he had been taught to abandon the use of his hands in
walking, and to move about in an erect posture. " He walks
upright," says the same authority, " and has begun to sit for his
picture." On his first arrival, no inducements could persuade
him to lie in a bed, and he would only sleep in a corner of a
room.

When in presence of the court, Peter always took most notice
of the king, and of the princess his daughter. The scene was so
novel to him, and he so strange an object to those who saw him,
that many ludicrous scenes took place, which are humorously



CHILDREN OF THE WILDS.

related by Dean Swift in his amusing account " of the wonderful
wild man that was nursed in the woods of Germany by a wild
beast, hunted, and taken in toils ; how he behaved himself like a
dumb creature, and is a Christian like one of us, being called
Peter ; and how he was brought to court all in green, to the great
astonishment of the quality and gentry, 1726." From the droll
character of the dean, he may be suspected of having overdrawn
his account of the wild boy ; but we have carefully compared it
with the current newspapers of the time, and find that in the
main particulars he is correct.

It appears that, after residing many months within the pale of
civilisation, the boy was unable to articulate words. He expressed
pleasure by neighing like a horse, and imitated other animal
sounds. The king" placed him under the tuition of the celebrated
physician of that day, Dr Arbuthnot, by whose instructions, it was
hoped, the boy would, after a time, be enabled to express himself
in words. On the 5th July 1726 he was baptised, at the doctor's
house in Burlington Gardens, by the name of " Peter."

All attempts to teach this boy to speak were unavailing ; and
it was several years before his habits were at all conformable to
civilised society. Finding this impracticable, the king caused a
contract to be made with a farmer in Hertfordshire, with whom
he was sent to reside, and who put him to school ; but without
any visible improvement. Instead of eating the food provided at
the farm table, he preferred raw vegetables, particularly cabbage
leaves ; though he was not long in acquiring- a taste for wine
and spirits. His habits were far from steady : he was constantly
rxmning away from home, and cost his protector some trouble
in reclaiming him. On one of these excursions, he was arrested
on suspicion of being a spy from the Scottish Pretender, whose
army was then invading England. As he was unable to
speak, the people supposed him obstinate, and thi'eatened him
with punishment for his contumacy ; but a lady who had seen
him in London acquainted them with the character of their
prisoner, and directed them where to send him. In these excur-
sions he used to live on raw herbage, berries, and yoimg tender
roots of trees. He took great delight in climbing trees, and in
being in the open air when the weather was fine ; but in winter,
seldom stirred from before the fii'e.

After twelve years' residence in Hertfordshire, Peter was re-
moved to the care of another farmer in Norfolk, where he resided
during the rest of his life. In the beginning of June 17&2, Lord
Monboddo, the author of "Ancient Metaphysics," visited the
half-reclaimed " boy," for by that title he was designated even in
his old age. He then resided at a farmhouse called Broadway,
within about a mile of Berkhamstead. The pension which
George I. had granted was continued by his successors, George
II. and George III. " He is," says his lordship, " low of stature,
not exceeding five feet three inches j and though he must now be

3



CHILDREN OF THE WILDS.

about seventy years of age, he has a fresh healthy look. He
wears his beard. His face is not at all ug-ly or disagreeable ; and
he has a look that may be called sensible orsag-acious for a savage.
About twenty years ago he used to elope, and once, as I was told,
he wandered as far as Norfolk ; but of late he has become quite
tame, and either keeps the house, or saunters about the farm. He
was never mischievous, but had that gentleness of manners
which is characteristic of our nature, at least till we become car-
nivorous, and hunters or warriors."

Peter had always been remarkable for his personal strength ;
and even in his old age, the stoutest young countrymen were
afraid to contend with him in athletic exercises. To the last, his
passion for finery continued ; and anything* smooth or shining in
the dress of a visitor instantly attracted his attention. " He is,"
remarked a correspondent of Lord Monboddo, " very fond of fire,
and often brings in fuel, which he would heap up as high as the
fireplace would contain it, were he not prevented by his master.
He will sit in the chimney corner, even in summer, while they
are brewing with a very large fire, sufficient to make another
person faint who sits there long. He will often amuse himself
by setting five or six chairs before the fire, and seating himself
on each of them by turns, as the love of variety prompts him to
change his place. He is extremely good-tempered, excepting in
cold and gloomy weather ; for he is very sensible of the change of
the atmosphere. He is not easily provoked; but when made
angry by any person, he would run after him, making a strange
noise, with his teeth fixed into the back of his hand. I could not
find that he ever did any violence in the house, excepting when
he first came over, he would sometimes tear his bedclothes, to
which it was long before he was reconciled. He has never, at
least since his present master has known him, shown any atten-
tion to women, and I am informed that he never did. Of the
people who are about him, he is particularly attached to his
master. He will often go out into the field with him and his
men, and seems pleased to be employed in anything that can
assist them ; but he must always have some person to direct his
actions, as you may judge from the following circumstance.
Peter was one day engaged with his master in filling a dung-
cart : the latter had occasion to go into the house, and left Peter
to finish the work, which he soon accomplished. But as Peter
must be emjDloyed, he saw no reason why he should not be as
usefully occupied in emptying the cart as he had before been in
filling it. On his master's return, he found the cart nearly emptied
again, and learned a lesson by it which he never afterwards
neglected."

Nothing further can be gleaned respecting " Peter the wild
boy," except that he did not long survive the visits of Lord
Monboddo and his friend. He died at Broadway farm in February
1786, at the supposed age of seventy-three.

4



CHILDREN OP THE WILDS.

More interesting' than the history of Peter the wild hoy, is
that of

MADEMOISELLE LEBLANC.

One evening in the autumn of 1731, the villagers of Soigny,
near Chalons, in the north-east of France, were engaged in a
little festival, or ducasse, when their merriment was interrupted
by the sudden appearance of a wild animal in human form. Its
hair was long, and floated over its shoulders. The rest of the
form was black, and nearly naked, and in the hand was wielded
a short thick club. The terrified peasants mistook it for an evil
spirit, and, not daring to attack it themselves, let loose a huge
dog, having a collar surrounded with iron spikes, which they
kept for the protection of the village against marauders. The
strange figure, so far from flying, stood at bay, and awaited
the attack of its assailant without a sign of fear. The dog,
furiously set on by the peasants, made a sudden spring at the



Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) → online text (page 27 of 59)