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Chambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) online

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intruder's throat; but one violent and dexterously -dealt blow
from the cudgel laid the beast dead on the spot. The wild crea -
ture then turned, crossed the fields at a rapid pace, and, darting
into the forest whence it had at first emerged, climbed a tree
with the activity of a squirrel. The villagers were too fright-
ened to follow it, and all traces of the alarming visitor were
lost for several days.

Meanwhile the proprietor, or seigneur, of the estate of which
Soigny formed a part, having heard of the adventure, caused
search to be made in every part of the wood ; but without effect.
In about a week, however, one of his servants perceived in the
orchard of the chateau during the night a strange-looking figure
mounted on a well-laden apple tree. The domestic, having more
courage than the villagers, approached the tree stealthily ; but
ere he could reach it, the creature sprang into another, and passing
from branch to branch, and from tree to tree, at length escaped
from the orchard, and fled to the summit of a high tree in a neigh-
bouring grove. The servant awoke his master, who instantly
arose, ordered up all his household, and sent one to the village to
desire the assistance of some of the peasants. They all assembled
at the foot of the tree, determined to prevent the escape of this
singular being, who made every effort to conceal itself amidst the
foliag-e, though without being able wholly to escape observation.

The villagers at once recognised it as the " evil spirit" who
had killed their dog, while the Seigneur de Soigny was able
to distinguish that the creature resembled a young girl, and ex-
plained, to quiet the fears of the peasants, that she was in all
probability some unhappy maniac who had escaped from confine-
ment, and whom thirst (for the weather was oppressively warm)
had driven from her haunts in the forests.

They continued to watch all that night and part of the follow-


ing- day, when Madame de Soigny proposed that a pail of water
should be placed at the foot of the tree, and that the people
should retire, so as to induce the maniac to descend. The strata-
gem succeeded. After some hesitation the creature came down,
and eag-erly approached the pail to drink, which she did like a
horse — plung-ing- her face into the water. The bystanders im-
mediately rushed forward to secure her; but did not without
much difficulty. Both her fing-ers and toes were armed with
long" and sharp nails, and she used them with great address and
perseverance against her assailants : but after some trouble, they
captured and conveyed her to the chateau.

She was taken into the kitchen. It happened that the cook was
preparing some fowls for the spit ; and on seeing them, the girl
broke away from her captors, seized, and, though raw, devoured
them with avidity. It was evident, from the quantity she ate
and the eagerness with which she swallowed it, that she had not
tasted food for a long time. Her appetite once satisjfied, she
looked around, and without betraying any lively signs of curio-
sity at the surrounding objects, evinced by her actions and coun-
tenance that they were quite strange to her. She appeared to be
from twelve to thirteen years of age, and the blackness of her
skin arose partly from constant exposure, and partly from dirt.
She uttered no articulate sounds, but occasionally made a loud
and unpleasant noise with her throat.

Monsieur de Soigny and his wife were for some time at a loss
to know what to do with their extraordinary guest. During the
rest of the day, she manifested the utmost impatience at the
restraint she was placed under, and showed every desire to escape
to the forest. At night, she refused to eat the food which was
offered her, because, probably, it had been cooked ; and could not
by any inducement be persuaded to lie on a bed. All attempts to
clothe her were equally useless.

By dint of management, however, and constant attention from
Madame de Soigny and her household, the young- wild girl
became gradually reconciled to her new state. Her repugnance
to clothing and to dressed food was gradually overcome, and
after the lapse of a month, it was found practicable to allow her
to range about the chateau unattended ; for her desire to escape
appeared to have left her. In a little time long-er, it was thought
advisable to take her out of doors ; for the sudden and complete
change in her mode of life was injuring' her health. This was
rather a hazardous experiment, and her host took care to be well
attended while accompanying her. The moment she got into
the fields, she set off, running with a speed which was truly
astonishing, and not one of the party could keep up with her on
foot ; but De Soigny being on horseback, managed to keep her
within sight. After a time, she came to the brink of a small lake.
Here she stopped, and, divesting herself of her clothes, plunged
into the water. Her host began to dread she had endeavoured



to escape from him by self-destruction ; but on arriving' at the
pond, he was gratified to find her swimming* about with the
greatest ease and dexterity. Soon, however, his fears were
ag-ain awakened, for she dived and remained under water so
long", that he gave her up for lost. He was in the act of pre-
paring" himself for an attempt to save her, when to his relief she
again appeared on the surface, gi'acefuUy shaking the water from
her long hair. As she approached the shore, something was
perceived in her mouth which glistened in the sun ; and on
coming out of the water, De Soigny was astonished to find that,
during her long dive, she had employed herself in catching a
fish, which she devoured on the shore. Having resumed her
apparel, she returned home peaceably with the domestics, whom
they met on their way back.

It was long before the girl could be taught to make articu-
late sounds, which was the more singular, as there was scarcely
any of the noises peculiar to a forest which she could not imitate.
She occasionally amused her new companions by copying the
cries of wild animals and of birds so exactly, that there was no
difficulty in recognising the beast or bird she was imitating.
The song of the nighting-ale, however, was beyond her powers,
for she never attempted to imitate that. From all these facts, it
was concluded that she was not, as at first conjectured, an
escaped maniac, but some unfortunate being who had been
abandoned in infancy, and had manag'ed to subsist in the woods
in a perfect state of nature.

Great pains were taken to teach her to speak, and after mucli
perseverance, they were crowned with success. It was noticed
that, as she improved in sjDeaking, the feelings and ideas belonging
to her early habits left her ; and it was unfortunate that, in pro-
portion as her ability to communicate her early history increased,
new feelings and new mental resources impaired her memory of
her old way of life. Still some of the most important facts con-
nected with her former existence she retained ; the most striking
and interesting of them being the one which led to her capture.

All that she could remember, when able to speak well enough
to be understood, was, that she had lived in the woods as long as
her memory could trace, with, up to a very recent period, a com-
panion about her own age, supposed to have been a sister. Of
her parents, her recollections were extremely indistinct. The
idea she communicated regarding them was something like
this : — That they lived near the sea-shore, and collected sea-weed
for manure. In the winter, she and her companion covered
themselves with the skin of some animal they had previously
slain for food ; but in the summer, they had no other covering
than a girdle. To this she suspended the only weapon she ever
possessed — the short strong cudgel with which she so promptly
slew the village watch-dog. In speaking of this cudgel, she inva-
riably applied to it the word wMch signifies a wild boai-'s snout



(boutoir), to which in shape it had some remote resemblance. It
was to her an important weapon, for with it she killed such wild
animals as afforded her sustenance. One remarkable but not
very pleasing trait in her past history was her fondness for
blood, and particularly that of hares. Whenever she caught a
hare, she did not kill it at once, but opening a vein with her
sharp nails, sucked the blood and threw away the carcass. This
fondness for hares' blood did not wholly leave her in after life.

Of her companion she remembered nothing except her death.
They were swimming together, as near as could be understood,
in the river Marne (which gives the name to the department
in which the wood of Soigny is situated), when a shot from
the gun of a sportsman — who perhaps mistook them for water-
fowl — passed close to them. They instantly dived, and hav-
ing swam for some distance under water, escaped into a part
of the forest which was supposed to have been near to some
village. Here they happened to find something (whether a
chaplet or string of beads, could not be sufficiently made out),
which each wished to possess. In the struggle 'that ensued,
the sister inflicted a sharp blow on the wild girl's arm, which
was returned on the head with a stroke from the " boutoir," with
so much violence, that she became, in the words of the narrator,
" all red." This excited her sorrow, and she ran off to seek some
remedy. It was difficult to make out the nature of the intended
remedy ; still it was clear that some curative means was known
to the young savage ; but whether gum, obtained from a tree,
or the skin of a frog bound to the wound with strips of bark,
could not, from the confused nature of the recital, be ascertained.
Be that as it may, on her return to the spot where she had left
her sister weltering in blood, she could nowhere find her. Her
grief was now redoubled, and she sought every part of the
wood in vain ; nor did she relax her search till coming suddenly
upon the villagers at Soigny, whither she had wandered in the
hope of quenching her thirst. The rest of her story is known.
Her companion was never heard of more ; and it was thought
that she must have been dragged away by a wolf to his den, and
there devoured. The accident happened, as near as could be
computed, about three days before the capture of the survivor
near the chateau.

In a very few months the fame of Monsieur de Soigny'a
strange inmate spread to Chalons, and thence to Paris. De
Choiseul, bishop of that diocese, went expressly to Soigny to see
her, and inquire into every particular concerning her. The
result was, that he caused her to be removed into a convent. It
must be owned that the inhabitants of the chateau were not dis-
pleased at the change. The Avild girl, despite her improvement,
cost them much fear and anxiety. Her temper was ungovern-
able, and easily roused, especially when within sight of or when
spoken to by any of the male species, for whom she from the


first entertained a decided aversion. This was the chief reason
for the bishop recommending her to be transferred to a convent^
where none of the male sex would cross her path to vex her.

Once within the walls of her new abode, the wild girl was im-
mediately baptised, but by what Christian name, we have not
been able to ascertain, the only title given to her from that period
having been Mademoiselle Leblanc. The secluded nature of the
place had no effect in taming her wild temper, so that low diet
and frequent bleedings were resorted to. This treatment not only
had a most prejudicial effect upon her health, but renewed hev
desire to return to the woods. Indeed, it was remarked that the
more she was subjected to privation and restraint, the more
forcibly her savage propensities returned. On one occasion, she
showed that her thirst for living animals had not wholly left her.
A young lady, of a very blooming and sanguine complexion, who
resided at Chalons, had a great curiosity to see her, and was
seated at dinner when she was introduced. There happened ta
be a chicken at table, and Mademoiselle Leblanc's eyes appearing
wild and excited, the young lady offered her a wing ; but the
girl refused it, and trembling- with excitement, said with savage
simplicity, " No, no, it is not that ; it is you I want." As she
said these words, she appeared so very much inclined to seize the
young lady, that her attendant removed her by force.

During the confinement of the wild girl in the convent, the
queen of Poland passed through Chalons on her way from
Paris, on purpose to see her. Her majesty had the bad taste
to order a sort of exhibition, in which the girl performed all her
savage tricks : she was made to howl as she was wont in the
forest, and a live hare was actually brought her to suck to death.
This exhibition had nearly terminated fatally, on account of her
invincible dislike to men. One of the queen's officers was silly
enough to make some jesting approach to her. In an instant
she seized him by the throat, and would assuredly have strangled
him, but for the interference of the bystanders.

After having remained some years in the convent, she became
an object of such great curiosity to the Parisians, that M. de la
Condamaine, the celebrated member of the Academy of Sciences,
was commissioned to make a journey to Chalons to inquire into
the particulars of the wild girl's life. On seeing her, and hearing
her story, he determined to remove her to Paris for the purpose
of placing her in some religious house in that city. On arriving,
however, it was found that her health was so severely impaired,
that the discipline of a monastic institution would be far from
beneficial. Condamaine, therefore, having succeeded in raising by
subscription a fund for her support, provided an asylum for her
near Paris, and proper persons to attend her. Towards the
latter portion of her existence, few traces of the savage state in
which she was found in Soigny remained ; at all events, if any
existed, the ill health in which she spent the latter days of her



life prevented her from manifesting- them. She died at Paris in
the year 1780, forty-nine years after her capture by Monsieur de
Soig-ny, and in about the sixty-second year of her age.


Towards the end of the year 1798, a child who appeared to be
about eleven or twelve years of ag-e, and who had several times
before been seen in the woods of Caune, in France, seeking acorns
and roots, on which he subsisted, was caught by three sportsmen,
who seized him at the moment he was climbing a tree to avoid
them. They carried him to a neighbouring village, where he
was placed under the care of an old woman, from whom he,
however, found means to escape before the end of the week, and
fled to the mountains, where he wandered about during the
winter, which was uncommonly severe, without any clothing
but a ragged shirt. At night he retired to solitary places, but
in the day approached nearer the houses and villages. He thus
passed a roving life, till at length he voluntarily took refuge in
a house in the canton of St Sernin. After being kept there
two or three days, he was sent to the hospital of St Afi'ique,
whence he was removed to Rhodez, where he remained several
months. During his abode in these different places, he always
seemed to be wild, impatient of restraint, and capricious, and
constantly intent on getting away.

How he was originally abandoned, no one ever discovered;
but, from certain scars on various ]3arts of his body, he was
thought to have escaped from the terrors of the Revolution,
during which so many cruelties were perpetrated. From the tes-
timony of the country people who lived near the woods in which
he was found, he must have passed in absolute solitude seven
years out of the twelve, which was supposed to be his age when
caught in the woods of Caune. When he was first taken into
society he lived on acorns, potatoes, and raw chestnuts, eating
husks and all. In spite of the utmost vigilance, he was fre-
quently near escaping, and at first exhibited great unwillingness
to lie in a bed. His eyes were without steadiness and expression,
wandering from one object to another; and his voice was imper-
fect, for he could utter only a guttural and monotonous sound.
He seemed to be alike indifferent to the smell of the most deli-
cious perfumes and the most fetid exhalations ; and his sense of
feeling was limited to those mechanical functions occasioned by
the dread of objects that might be in his way.

But despite all these disadvantages, the young savage was by
no means destitute of intelligence. During an intercourse of six
weeks with society, he had learned to prepare his food with a
great degree of care and attention. M. Bonaterre informs us
that, during his stay at Rhodez, his employment was shelling



kidney-beans, and that greater discernment could not have been
shown by a person the most accustomed to the employment.
As soon as the pods were brought him, he fetched a kettle, and
arranged his materials in the middle of the apartment in the
most commodious manner possible, placing the kettle on his
right hand, and the beans on his left. The shells he opened,
one after the other, with admirable dexterity, putting the good
grains into the kettle, and throwing away the bad ; and if any
grain happened to escape him, he took it up and placed it with
the others. He formed a separate heap of the empty shells ; and
■when his work was finished, he filled the kettle with water, and
placed it on the fire, on which he threw the empty husks, to in-
crease the heat.

In the year 1799 he was removed to Paris, and placed in the
deaf and dumb institution, under the care of Madame Guerin
and the superintendence of M. Itard, physician to the asylum.
Beneficial results, from M. Itard's judicious treatment in ex-
citing the dormant faculties of the strange patient, showed them-
selves in three months' time. The touch by that time appeared
sensible to the impression of all bodies, whether warm or cold,
smooth or rough, soft or hard. The sense of smell was improved
in a similar way ; and the least irritation now excited sneezing.
From the horror with which he was seized the first time this
happened, it was presumed that it was a thing altogether new to
him. The sense of taste was improved in a still greater degree.
The articles of food on which he subsisted for some time after his
arrival in Paris were excessively disgusting: he dragged them
about his room, and ate them out of his hand, besmeared with
filth. So great was the change which had taken place in this
respect, that he now threw away the contents of his plate if any
particle of dust or dirt had fallen upon it; and after he had
broken his walnuts with his foot, he cleaned them in the most
careful manner.

His new habits, and the tenderness that was shown him, at
length began to inspire the youth with a fondness for his new
situation. He likewise conceived a lively attachment for his gover-
ness, which he would sometimes testify in the most affectionate
manner. He could never leave her without evident uneasiness,
nor meet her again without expressing his satisfaction. Once
after he had slipped from her in the streets, on again seeing her
he burst into tears. For several hours he appeared much de-
jected, and Madame Guerin having then gently reproached him,
his eyes again overflowed with tears. As in all similar cases,
the endeavours to excite the faculty of speech were almost futile,
and never advanced him beyond the capability of uttering a few
exclamations and unimportant words. Neither did his sense of
hearing' improve much.

Some traits this boy exhibited were amusing. " When fatigued,"
says a contemporary account, " with the length of the visits of



inquisitive strangers, he dismisses them with more frankness than
politeness, presenting- to each, but without an air of contempt,
their cane, g-loves, and hat, then pushing them gently towards
the door, which he shuts after them with great violence. This
kind of language Victor understands, when employed by others,
with the same facility as he uses it himself; and his readiness
in this respect is truly astonishing, for it requires no previous
instruction to make him comprehend the meaning of signs which
he has never seen before."

So far as we can learn, Victor remained in the same institution,
but whether he be there now, or indeed is still alive, we have not
been able to ascertain.


Of all the cases of abandoned children, none ever created a
greater sensation than that of a youth who was left at the gate
of the city of Nuremberg, in Germany, so recently as 1828.

On the Whit-Monday, which happened in that year on the
26th May, a citizen who lived at Unschlitt Place, near the little
frequented Haller gate of Nuremberg', was loitering before his
door between four and five o'clock in the afternoon, when he
remarked at a little distance a young man in a peasant's dress.
He was standing in the singular posture of a person endeavour-
ing to move forward, without being fully able either to stand
upright or to govern the movement of his legs. On approach-
ing*, this singular stranger held out a letter directed to the cap-
tain of the 4th squadron of the 6th regiment of Bavarian light
horse. As this person lived near to the new gate, the citizen
assisted the crippled youth to his house. On the door being
opened, and the servant inquiring the applicant's business, it
was evident that he did not comprehend the inquiry. His own
language was little else than unintelligible sounds, mixed with
tears and moans ; but, with difficulty, the following words were
made out : — " Reuta wahn, wie mei votta wiihn is" — (" I will be
a rider or trooper, as my father was.") He was taken for a kind
of savag'e ; and as the captain was from home, he was conducted
to the stable, where he stretched himself on the straw, and soon
fell into a profound sleep. Upon the return of the captain, it was
with great difficulty that he could be awakened. When fully
conscious, he gazed intently on the officer's glittering uniform,
which he seemed to regard with childish satisfaction, and in-
stantly groaned out, " Reuta," &c. The captain then read the
letter, which was from an unknown hand, wishing that the youth
should be received into the captain's troop of light horse. It was
written in German ; but enclosed was a memorandum in Latin,
which the writer of the letter declared he had received when the
boy, then a baby, was left at his house on the 7th of October
1812. The memorandum ran thus: — "The child is already



baptised. You must give him a surname yourself. You must
educate the child. His father was one of the lig'ht horse. When
he is seventeen years old, send him to Nuremberg- to the 6th
regiment of light horse, for there his father also was. I ask for
his education until he is seventeen years old. He was horn on
the 30th April 1812. I am a poor girl, and cannot support hinu
His father is dead."

Neither of the epistle nor the enclosure could the captain make
anything, and consequently handed his extraordinary visitor
over to the police, which was done by about eight o'clock in the
evening. When in the guard-room, in which were several in-
ferior magistrates and police soldiers, he betrayed neither fear,
confusion, nor astonishment. He continually cried, and pointed
to his tottering feet ; and this, joined to his childish demeanour,
excited the pity of the officials. A soldier brought him a piece
of meat and some beer, but he rejected them with abhorrence,
partaking- simply of bread and water, which he appeared to do
with a relish. The usual official questions of, What is your
name ? Whence came you ? Produce your passport ? were put to
the youth in vain. The magistrates began to suspect that he
was playing a part, and this suspicion was soon greatly con-
firmed. A bystander proposed trying* if he could write ; and
pen, ink, and paper, were placed before him, which appeared to
give him pleasure. He took the pen in his hand, by no means
awkwardly, and, to the astonishment of the spectators, began to
write ! He slowly and legibly traced the words " Kaspar Hauser."
All was doubt and uncertainty. It was doubtful whether he ought
to be treated as an idiot or an impostor. However, for the present
he was removed to the place appropriated to rogues and vaga-

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) → online text (page 28 of 59)