Memmie Le Blanc, Feral
Child of Champagne
The following feral child case is unusual in several aspects.
Though the child had obviously lived most of her life relatively isolated from
human contact, she was allegedly seen with a young companion from time to time. Another
strange characteristic of her case are the stories she told of her
origins, and the fact that she survived into adulthood, although by then she was extremely
poor, being forced to sell her memoirs in the street.
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. The villagers brought the news to Viscount
d'Epinoy at his chateau in Songi who, curious about the child, ordered them to try
and catch her. Knowing she was thirsty they left a pitcher of water
beneath the tree in which she was sleeping. As they thought, she came down and
drank from the water, but, before anyone could act, she had darted back to the
treetop. A woman with a child then 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
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.
The woman continued to try and coax the girl down and,
eventually, the plan was successful and she slid down from her place of safety
to get the food. As the girl approached the woman moved slowly away, and a group of men who'd been waiting behind some bushes
seized her and took her away. She was brought to the kitchen of the chateau
d'Epinoy, where the cook was preparing some fowls for the viscount's dinner.
Suddenly, the girl rushed at the dead birds, grabbed
one and began to devour it. When d'Epinoy arrived and saw the savage child, 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.
At first they thought she
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. On further examination
she was found to have unusually shaped hands, with enlarged fingers
and thumbs. This feature was later attributed to her swinging from one tree to
another, grabbing at the branches with her strong hands, and her using her thumbs to
dig up roots. Her feet were bare, but
she wore a tattered dress of rags and animal skins, and a gourd leaf on her hair
in place of a hat. The strange girl also wore a necklace, pendants, and a
pouch attached to a large animal skin wrapped around her body. Inside the pouch she
carried a club, and a knife inscribed with strange characters, which nobody could
decipher. There was much conjecture about her origin, Norway was
mentioned, but at the time somewhere in the West Indies was thought more likely.
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 (as with Kaspar Hauser).
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
with the shepherd at Songi or with Viscount d'Epinoy at his chateau. At first
terrified at even being touched, and she would shriek and become wild-eyed when
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.
'Memmie Le Blanc'
On 16 June, 1732, the girl was baptized with the name Marie-Angélique Memmie Le
Blanc. Unfortunately, despite the novel appeal of her case, captivity was
detrimental to Memmie's health and spirits. The Viscount d'Epinoy had been
careful to give her the raw meat and root vegetables she was used to, but the
increasing amount of time she spent at the hospital at St. Maur changed this. The
cooked meats, food preserved with salt, and wine provided for her at St. Maur
made her teeth and nails
drop out, and she was frequently in poor health. The bleedings directed by the doctors to
try and lessen her savageness only made her more ill, and in combination with
the new diet brought her close to death. Indeed her health was permanently ruined by this treatment.
Within a year of Memmie's capture, Viscount d'Epinoy died, and she
was put in the care of the Convent des régentes at Chalôns, where she learned
how to make artificial flowers and was forced to stop climbing trees and
swimming. Consequently her wildness soon began to fade, though not completely.
In 1737, the Queen of Poland, mother
to the French queen, heard about this strange girl when she was travelling through Champagne to take possession of the Duchy of
Lorraine. The queen decided to take her hunting, where Memmie still retained
enough of her wild nature that she ran fast enough to catch and kill rabbits.
Very little is known about the next ten years
of Memmie's life. In September 1747, now a young woman and fluent in French, she left
Chalôns for the convent at St. Menehold, in
Paris, perhaps hoping to avoid attention. Here she met a Msr. La Condamine, a middle-aged
aristocrat and renowned scientist. He had her moved to another Parisian convent
where she prepared to become a nun. But while there one of the windows collapsed
on her head and left her life in danger once again. She was taken to the house
of the Hospitalières, where she obtained the best possible medical help, paid
for by a rich patron, the Duke of Orléans. But circumstances were against her
once more, when the Duke died and she was left alone, sick and without financial support
of any kind. In this way she spent the next few years of her life.
Then, in November 1752, she met another
patron, her biographer Madame Hecquet. Her biography of Memmie was published in
1755. Madame Hecquet had much difficulty getting Memmie to remember her life
before the capture. The girl told her that she hadn't began to reflect on her life
until after being taken (as Hauser). She could remember no home or family, the
only particular memory was of seeing a large sea animal with a round head and
big eyes, that swum with two feet like a dog. Madame Hecquet thought it might be
a seal and wondered if Memmie was in fact an Eskimo. But Memmie did not look at
all like an Eskimo, she was fair-skinned and had softer European features.
In March 1765, still in Paris, Memmie met yet another patron,
James Burnett, the future Lord Monboddo. She was
unwell at the time and had tried to make a living, unsuccessfully as a
public curiosity. When she met Burnett
she was scraping an existence
by making artificial flowers and selling her memoirs.
Memmie Relates Her History
As told to Burnett, Memmie's story of her
life previous to
her capture at Songi is, if true, an incredible one. She thought she must have been
seven or eight
years old when she was carried off from her native land, the name or location of
which she couldn't remember. She said she was put on board a large ship and
taken on a voyage to a warm country, where she was sold into slavery. Before selling her,
however, her captors had painted her entire body black, in order to pass her off
as a black slave
and not give rise to any suspicions about her origins.
In the same country she was put on
board another ship, where the master made her do needlework, and beat her if she
didn't work. Her mistress, on the other hand, was more kind-hearted and would hide her
from the master. But disaster followed, the ship was wrecked and the crew took the life
leaving Memmie and a
black girl to look after themselves. They managed to swim from the sinking
ship, with the black girl, a weak swimmer, keeping herself from
drowning by clutching Memmie's foot.
Finally the two girls reached shore. They then journeyed a
across land, travelling only at night to avoid being seen. Sleeping through the day in the tops of
trees, they survived by eating roots dug out from
the ground, and when they managed to, catching wild animals which they ate
raw, like the beasts of the forest. Apparently Memmie learned to imitate birdsong, as
the only kind of music known in her country. The main difficulty the two girls had was that
they couldn't speak each other's language, so they only communicated by signs and wild shrieks, like those the frightened French
villagers had heard when they tried to catch Memmie.
A few days before her capture, Memmie came upon a
Rosary lying on the ground. Excited at the find, but also wary that her wild friend would pick it up,
reached down to take it first. But the other girl struck Memmie's hand as hard as she could with
her club. Her hand was hurt badly, but she was able to strike her opponent
a fierce blow on
her brow, at which the girl reeled over bleeding and screaming. At this Memmie
became touched with regret and rushed off to find some frogs.
Finding one, she cut off its skin and placed it over the girl's forehead to stem the
flow of blood from the wound, and tied the dressing in place with thread made from
tree bark. After this, Memmie said, the two companions separated. The wounded girl
going back towards the river, and Memmie taking the path
Apparently the young
black girl continued to be seen in the area, around the town of Cheppe, after Memmie's capture, but was never
caught, and no more was heard of her. Other reports say that Memmie actually killed the other girl
accidentally in the disagreement.
There is no record of what finally became of Memmie Le Blanc, but, as
with most feral
children, she probably died poor and forgotten. Madame
Hecquet seems to have disappeared, and what may have been vital clues to Memmie's
origin, the possessions she had when captured at Songi (especially the knife
with the strange inscriptions) were never found. Perhaps the truth was much more
prosaic than her biography, and she was a French peasant
child abandoned in the woods at an early age, and her later stories were false
memories. But what of her black companion?
The possibility that Memmie was an
unfortunate child caught up in the huge Atlantic slave trade
of the time, where slaves were known to be painted black for easier sale, cannot
be discounted; but where she came from originally will probably never be known.
Sources and Further Reading
Michell, J. & Rickard, B. Unexplained
London, Rough Guides Ltd, 2000, pp. 303-4.
Newton, M. Savage Girls and Wild
Boys. London, Faber and Faber, 2002.
Sieveking, P. 'Wild Things'. Fortean Times 161, August
© Copyright 2002
by Brian Haughton. All Rights Reserved.