« PreviousContinue »
One day a boy was sent to the asylum ragged and bleeding. He "could not tell his name, so, as it was St. Clement's Day, they named him Clemens. When they asked him where he came from, he said “ from the other side of the water”; but his answers to other questions were mostly unintelligible. When his mind had been somewhat developed, he told what little he knew of his own history. He had been set to keep swine, and shut up with them at night. The peasant, his master, gave him scarcely food enough to sustain life, and he used to suck the milch sow, and eat herbage with the pigs. When he first came to Overdyke they had to keep him out of the salad-beds, as though he had been a pig himself; for he would go on all fours in the garden, and seize and eat the vegetables with his projecting teeth. He never lost his affection for pigs; and they were so tame with him, that they would let him ride about on their backs. His pleasantest recollections and his favourite stories were about his life with them in his childhood.
This boy was not actually an idiot, as his history shows; but he was probably of imperfect powers of mind from his birth. He is described as having a very narrow head, and low forehead. His eyes were heavy, and he could not be made to run quickly or walk in an orderly way, though he was not deformed. He was always inclined to laugh, was of a joyous disposition, insinuating, and sensible to kindness. But, on the other hand, he was subject to uncontrollable fits of passion; and once, on being reproved for uttering frightful curses (a habit which he had learnt in former times), he tried to murder his benefactor with the woodcutter's axe he had in his hand, and laughed heartily as he was being taken away to be put in confinement.
Another boy, who was taken into the same asylum, had learnt to live almost wild in the forest, only approaching villages for the pur. pose of stealing food. He climbed trees with wonderful agility to get eggs and birds, which he devoured raw; a habit of which he was never cured. This boy's knowledge of birds and their habits was extraordinary; and the published account of him states that he had given “ to every bird a distinctive, and often very appropriate name of his own, which they appeared to recognise as he whistled after them.” This means, I suppose, that he named each bird by imitating its cry.*
The picture of Germany after the French invasion forms an apt * Some account of these cases is given in Dusselthal Abbey. London : Nisbet, 1837. Details not mentioned there are from a MS. account sent to me by Count v. d. Recke.
parallel to the picture of Italy during the invasion of the Goths, in which the historian Procopius tells, as a startling instance of the horrors of the war, a story which belongs to the category before us, and is very likely true as matter of fact. An infant, left by its mother, was found by a she-goat which suckled and took care of it. When the survivors came back to their deserted homes they found the child living with its adopted mother, and called it Ægisthus. Procopius says that he was there, and saw the child himself.*
Within a few years there were wild men in the mountains of Tahiti, fugitives who had escaped from the general slaughter to which every man, woman, and child of a conquered tribe was doomed in Tahitian warfare. The missionaries saw two of these men who had been caught and brought down from the mountains at different times. One was quite naked, did not reply or seem to understand when spoken to, and showed horror at the sight of men. He refused the food and water which were offered to him, and escaped the second night after his capture. The other was of unsociable and wild aspect, but quiet. He seemed to take little interest in anything, and his general behaviour was that of a harmless lunatic.t
Few stories of wild men have made so much noise in the world as that of “ Peter the Wild Boy," who was found wandering about the country near Hameln, in Germany, in 1724, and was supposed to be a specimen of man in a state of nature. His case was written and talked about for years; and writers on innate ideas, the origin of mankind, and similar subjects, reasoned upon it with more or less discretion. But when Blumenbach, the naturalist, came to examine the facts of the case, he proved to demonstration that Peter was nothing but a wretched mal-formed idiot boy, who could hardly have strayed from home many days before, for there was a fragment of shirt still hanging about his neck when he was taken. And just as Highlanders know a Cockney sportsman in a kilt by the first glance at his knees, so Peter's legs betrayed him. The colour of the skin above and below the knee showed that he had been wearing breeches, but no stockings, till a short time before he was taken. Peter's parents were eventually found, and his whole history traced.
For thousands of years there have been stories going about the world of children being carried off and brought up by wild beasts, and several new ones have come up in modern times. Blumenbach was not content with demolishing Peter the Wild Boy's claim to be a real
De Bello Gothico, Lib. II, cap. xvii. + Ellis, Polynesian Researches, vol. ii., p. 504, &c.
wild man of the woods; he enumerated the other stories known to him of wild men, and children brought up by wild beasts, and after a severe criticism, tossed them all contemptuously aside; and since his time the whole subject seems to have fallen into discredit. Looking at the evidence which Blumenbach had before him, we cannot wonder at his coming to this conclusion.
Within the last few years, however, a statement has been published by Sir William Sleeman,* which makes it necessary to re-argue the question whether children have really ever been carried away and brought up by wild beasts or not. I shall first examine Sir W. Sleeman's statement, and then compare it with the older stories of beast-children.
It appears that wolves are very numerous among the ravines which run down to the banks of the Goomtee river, and they carry away many children even out of the towns and villages. The Hindoos dare not destroy them, from a superstitious fear that if a drop of wolf's blood falls within the confines of a village, that village is doomed to destruction. Only the lowest vagrant class have no such scruples; but though they know the wolves' dens and could exterminate them if they pleased, they scarcely ever kill one, and the reason of their forbearance appears to be this. In India, even very young children go about loaded with ornaments of gold and silver, and these vagrants are supposed to find it a more profitable trade to search for such ornaments at the entrance of the wolves' dens than to kill the wolves for head-money. This is all credible enough, but now comes the wonderful part of the story.
When Sir William Sleeman was at Sultanpoor, there was a boy there who was said to have been found running on all-fours in company with a she-wolf and three cubs. The whole family were seen coming down to the river to drink, and the boy was caught. He had at first to be tied to prevent his running into holes or dens. He tried to run away from grown people, but if children came near him he rushed at them and tried to bite them, snarling like a dog. Cooked meat he rejected with disgust, but a piece of raw meat he would put on the ground under his paws like a dog and eat it with pleasure, and he would allow a dog to share his food with him, but would not let a man come near him while he was eating.
The boy was sent to Captain Nicholetts, commanding 1st Regiment Oude Local Infantry. Here he became somewhat tamer, was inoffen
Journey through the Kingdom of Oude. London, 1855, vol. i, p. 206, &c.
sive unless teazed, when he would growl. He would eat whatever was thrown to him, but preferred raw flesh, which he devoured greedily. Eating was the only thing he seemed to care for, and he appeared indifferent to cold, heat, and rain. He would not wear clothing even in the coldest weather. They made him a quilt, stuffed with cotton; but he tore it up, and ate it bit by bit with his bread. He liked bones, especially when uncooked, and would gnaw them as easily as meat. He ate half a lamb at a time, without apparent effort, would drink a pitcher of butter. milk without drawing breath, and would pick up earth and small stones and eat them. He ran to his food on all fours; but at other times he occasionally walked up-right. His features were coarse, his countenance repulsive, his habits filthy. He liked dogs, jackals, and other small quadrupeds, and would let them feed with him ; and he had a pet, a paria dog, which he used to stroke and caress, and which ate out of his dish, till Captain Nicholetts, finding that the dog was depriving the boy of his food, shot it. The boy did not appear to care in the least about its death.
He did not become attached to any one, never played with children, and, indeed, shunned human beings, and would not remain near them, if he could help it.
During the three years this boy lived among men, till the last day of his life, he was never known to speak When he wanted anything he used signs, and very few of them, except when he was hungry, and then he pointed to his mouth. But in his last illness, a few minutes before his death, he put his hand to his head, and said it ached, then he asked for some water, drank it, and died.
This boy was recognized by his parents; but they found him so stupid that they left him, to be supported by charity, and, unfortunately, they quitted the neighbourhood before any one thought of asking them his age when he was lost, and recording it. When he was caught he seemed to be nine or ten years old, and he lived three years afterwards.
In 1843, a boy three years old was carried off by a wolf at Chupra, while his parents were at work in the fields. Six years afterwards he was caught while going down to the river with three wolf cubs, and identified by a birth-mark and the scar of a scald. The wolf had been seen to carry him off by the loins, and the marks of teeth were still visible on them. The boy was alive at the time of Sir W. Sleeman's visit, and had been tamed to about the same degree as the
one last mentioned. His body smelt offensively. He would follow his mother about for what he could get; but appeared to feel no affection for her. He learnt to eat bread, and would eat what was given him during the day; but went off at night to the jungle. He used to mutter, but could not articulate any word. His knees and elbows were hardened with going on all-fours; he would tear off clothes if put upon him, preferred raw to cooked flesh, and would eat carrion when he could get it. The village boys used to catch frogs and throw them to him, and he ate them. When a bullock died, and the skin was taken off, he would go and eat it like a village dog.
As to the first-mentioned of these two boys, there is no doubt that Captain Nicholetts kept him, that Sir William Sleeman saw him, and that the description of his brutal condition in mind and body is to be depended on. I have a slight unpublished account, given by an Englishman who saw him, which agrees, so far as it goes, with the published statement. It describes him as an idiot of the crétin class, loathsome and disgusting to look at, unable to articulate, but making a noise like bha-bha ! running at an extraordinary pace on his hands and feet when he liked. His ordinary gait was, however, erect. His speaking just before his death, if it really happened, may be accounted for as a reminiscence of his childhood, when some one may have taught him a few words, coming to him in the hour of death, a thing which often occurs. As to the second boy, I suppose that Sir W. Sleeman means to intimate that he saw him, as he was at Chupra at the time of his visit. The existence of the boys in an extraordinary state of brutalization may be taken as proved. But of their having been found living among wolves, we have no other evidence than that of natives, and it is pretty well known what Oriental evidence is worth as to such matters.
Sir W. Sleeman collected four more stories of wolf-children in the same district, and all the six are so curiously consistent with one another that it is possible to make a definition of the typical wolfchild, or rather wolf-boy, as we hear nothing of wolf-girls. He should be about ten years old, more or less, brutal and hideous in appearance, idiotic in mind, given to eating raw meat and garbage in preference to anything else, generally averse to wearing clothes, incapable, or almost incapable, of learning to speak, but able to understand and express himself by signs to some slight extent. I understand from Dr. Falconer, to whom I am indebted for information on