Victor, the Savage of Aveyron

Description: 

A young, nude boy is depicted against a dark background in a bust medallion. Two cornucopias entwine above his head, spilling forth fruit and foliage as a border around the frame. Below is a smaller scene in which a teacher and pupil sit at a round table for a lesson in literacy. This smaller panel is flanked by a snake on the left and a badminton racket and birdie on the right. Between the primary and secondary images are pasteboard alphabet cards, a book, and a stylus with paper.

Primary Works: 

The Eccentric Mirror (1806-07)

Accession Number: 

Thordarson T 2645

Height (in centimeters): 

15

Width (in centimeters): 

10

Printing Context: 

This image was printed in The eccentric mirror: reflecting a faithful and interesting delineation of male and female characters, ancient and modern, who have been particularly distinguished by extraordinary qualifications, talents, and propensities, natural or acquired, comprehending singular instances of longevity, conformation, bulk, stature, powers of mind and of body, wonderful exploits, adventures, habits, propensities, enterprising pursuits, &c., &c., &c. with a faithful narration of every instance of singularity, manifested in the lives and conduct of characters who have rendered themselves eminenty conspicuous by their eccentricities : the whole exhibiting an interesting and wonderful display of human action in the grand theatre of the world. / collected and re-collected, from the most authentic sources, by G.H. Wilson (London, 1806-07).

Associated Events: 

The French Revolution (1789-1799)


The author concludes that Victor is “a victim of that revolution, which occasioned the shedding of such torrents of innocent blood,” and which seems to have left the young boy in a scarred and orphaned state (Wilson 2).

Associated Places: 

Aveyron, France. Caune, France. Hospital of St. Afrique. Rhodez, France.

Associated Texts: 

The Eccentric Mirror (1806-07)


One of many narratives concerning the (re)education and civilization of a “wild child,” G. H. Wilson relates the story of Victor, a young boy found in the forest:
Towards the end of the year 1789, a child, apparently about eleven or twelve years of age, 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. (Wilson 1)

Subject: 

The attempted domestication of Victor, the "wild child," or white European boy found living in the wilderness, speaks to the presumed correlation between stasis, education and civility and presents his previous mobility as an affront to these values.

Theme: 

Education. Savage.

Significance: 

The wild child, or white European boy found living in the wilderness, presents a unique challenge to the Romantic understanding of savagery as culturally or biologically determined. Victor, a boy of French parentage, is seemingly a savage, though it is assumed that his savagery is a product of his environment and lack of education rather than an inherent or racial difference. He is brought to Paris in the hope that he will throw “some new light on the moral philosophy of man” (Wilson 4). As with other wandering figures, the wild child serves as another means by which the English can differentiate themselves from the French. Victor is both the presumed product of the French Revolution, becoming an embodiment of the anarchy it spawned, and the ideal of an untouched, natural intuition, which is unmoved by the “formal regularity” of French landscaping (Wilson 13). He can simultaneously signify both the failure of revolution—the son defeats the father, but is left an orphan without language or history—and the promise of rebirth through a return to nature, or preferably, a “natural” English garden.

Function: 

Encyclopedic volumes of eccentric or notable characters, such as Wilson's, were produced to entertain and educate, but also worked to establish visual and behavioral categories of normalcy and deviance.

Bibliography: 

Wilson, G.H. The Eccentric Mirror. Vol. 1. London: James Cundee, 1806. Print.

Long Title: 

"Victor, the Savage of Aveyron" 1807


Artist Unknown


Stippled Engraving


In The eccentric mirror: reflecting a faithful and interesting delineation of male and female characters, ancient and modern, who have been particularly distinguished by extraordinary qualifications, talents, and propensities, natural or acquired, comprehending singular instances of longevity, conformation, bulk, stature, powers of mind and of body, wonderful exploits, adventures, habits, propensities, enterprising pursuits, &c., &c., &c. with a faithful narration of every instance of singularity, manifested in the lives and conduct of characters who have rendered themselves eminenty conspicuous by their eccentricities : the whole exhibiting an interesting and wonderful display of human action in the grand theatre of the world. / collected and re-collected, from the most authentic sources. G.H. Wilson (London, 1806).