by Jean-Marc Gaspard Itard
translated by George Humphry
In the late 1700's, a young boy was seen running naked in the forest near a French village. He was captured and given into the care of a widow, then escaped and survived the winter alone in the forest before being caught a second time. The villagers reported having seen a naked child in the woods some five years earlier, so many of them believed the boy had been living in the wild all that time. Some physicians from Paris examined him and decided he was not really a feral child, but simply mentally handicapped. Itard, a young medical doctor, undertook to "civilize" Victor and educate him. The Wild Boy of Aveyron is Itard's firsthand account of his attempts. It details all the painstaking methods Itard invented to try and help Victor. Most of it appears to have failed- Victor never learned to speak more than a few words, and even as an adult still behaved in many ways more like an animal than a human being. Yet Itard's work was a breakthrough in terms of how mentally handicapped children were treated, and some of his work became (as far as I understand) the foundation of modern sign language.
At the time of his discovery, people were fascinated by Victor because they thought by studying his case they could determine what divided humans from animals- what aspects were learned human behavior, or innate human nature. In the wake of The Wild Boy of Aveyron came many publications studying accounts of feral children thought to have been raised by wolves or other wild animals. The subject fascinated me, and I read half a dozen of them in 2004 (all to be featured here eventually).
Rating: 3/5 ........ 102 pages, 1894