FERAL CHILDREN

The Wild Girl of Champagne

WHO IS SHE?

At first they thought the child was black, but after several hot baths which washed away the dirt - and possibly paint - they found her skin to be white. She had blue eyes and was thought to be about nine or ten years old.The wild girl of Champagne had probably learned to speak before her abandonment, for she is a rare example of a wild child learning to talk coherently. Her diet consisted of birds, frogs and fish, leaves, branches and roots. “Her fingers and in particular her thumbs, were extraordinarily large,” according to a contemporary witness, the famous scientist Charles Marie de la Condamine. She is said to have used her thumbs to dig out roots and swing from tree to tree like a monkey. She was a very fast runner and had phenomenally sharp eyesight. When the Queen of Poland, the mother of the French queen, passed through Champagne in 1737 to take possession of the Duchy of Lorraine, she heard about the girl and took her hunting, where she outran and killed rabbits.

HOW WAS SHE FOUND?

Memmie was first sighted around the village of Songi, near Chalôns, in the French district of Champagne, one September evening in 1731. She appeared from the woods armed with a club and in search of water. When one of the frightened villagers set a guard dog on her, she gave it a heavy blow on the head with her club, killing it instantly. Then, after jumping over the dead animal several times in ecstatic celebration, she climbed to the top of a tree and fell asleep..

A woman with a child approached the tree and stood at the bottom, hoping to make the strange girl feel less afraid. The woman smiled, acted in a friendly manner, and offered the girl vegetables and fish. But despite her obvious hunger, she only descended a part of the way, before becoming scared and scampering back to the top of the tree. Eventually, the plan was successful and the child slid down from her place of safety to get the food.

When d'Epinoy arrived and saw the savage child devouring a dead bird in his chateau kitchen, he told the cook to give her an unskinned rabbit, which the little girl immediately skinned and ate greedily. The villagers questioned the girl, but she couldn't understand any French; the only way she knew how to communicate was by shrieks and squeaks.

WHAT HAPPENED TO HER?

The Viscount put the wild girl in the care of a shepherd, but she frequently tried to escape, once being found in the top of a winter tree during a severe snow storm. The girl refused to sleep on a bed, preferring the floor instead, and would only eat bread and drink only water, cooked meat making her vomit.

Memmie ran and swam exceptionally well, had incredibly sharp eyesight, and caught and ate small animals and fish from the bottoms of rivers. On 30 October, 1731, she was put in the charge of the hospital general at St. Maur in nearby Chalôns, though she still seems to have spent time with the shepherd at Songi or with Viscount d'Epinoy at his chateau. At first she was terrified at even being touched, and she would shriek and become wild-eyed when it happened. But gradually she became tamer and more 'civilised', and also began to progress well at learning French, indicating not only that she was fairly intelligent, but that she had been able to speak before her abandonment. Her mother tongue, however, was completely lost.