"THOSE WHO SAW HER FIRST, RUN AWAY, CRYING OUT, 'THERE IS THE DEVIL'": VERY SCARCE CONTEMPORARY ENGLISH EDITION OF HISTORY OF A SAVAGE GIRL, CIRCA 1760
[LE BLANC, Marie-Angelique Memmie] [HECQUET, Marie-Catherine Homassel]. The History of a Savage Girl, Caught Wild in the Woods of Champagne. London: Sold by R. Davidson, circa 1760. Small octavo (4 by 7 inches), contemporary full brown sheep rebacked, raised bands, elaborately gilt-decorated spine, black morocco spine label. $3800.
Scarce London edition, likely the first edition in English of the life of "a savage girl," Marie-Angélique Memmie Leblanc, reportedly published barely a decade after the French first edition, a fascinating contemporary account of her mysterious appearance in the forests of France in 1731, a work that "marks out a new direction in the history of the feral child. In part, this is due to the particular nature of her case… a mirror-image of Robinson Crusoe a savage shipwrecked in the midst of civilization."
Legends of wild children fascinated Europe during the 18th century. One of the most famous was the mysterious story of a young girl, later named Marie-Angélique Memmie Leblanc, found roaming the forests of France in the early 1730s. This very scarce contemporary account of her life, anonymously published in London circa 1760, is very possibly the first edition in English of the life of Leblanc, who came to embody the unresolved origin of the human race. The fascination with her “place of origin and hence with her racial identity marks out a new direction in the history of the feral child. In part, this is due to the particular nature of her case and the fact that she was effectively a castaway in populous France, a mirror-image of Robinson Crusoe, a savage shipwrecked in the midst of civilization… [Like] Shakespeare's Miranda, Leblanc comes upon a Europe that appears to her as a brave new world.” Her importance was heightened by the publication of Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origins of Inequality (1755): "Leblanc appeared in France just at that moment in which Rousseau revolutionized our understanding of the 'savage'" (Newton, Savage Girls and Wild Boys, 114-15). After centuries of speculation, in which Leblanc was variously believed to be from Scandinavia, the Arctic, the Caribbean or the American West, or was seen as a representative of the missing link, "the American scholar Julia Douthwaite and the French surgeon Serge Aroles unearthed hundreds of documents on Marie-Angelique" that confirmed certain key aspects her life (Stanley, Medical Marvels , 26).
"Research suggests that she may have been born a Sioux from the Wisconsin region, bought by a French woman, and transported with her to Labrador then France. In September 1731 the girl was sighted in an orchard near the village of Songi… The villagers set a bulldog on her, which she killed with one blow before scaling the tree and swinging, branch to branch, back into the woods. The village nobleman, Monsieur d'Epinay, ordered that she be caught… the girl (who appeared to be anywhere from 10 to 18 years old, depending on sources) amazed her captors by skinning and eating a rabbit uncooked and devouring a chicken in the same way. After several washings, her skin became white. Her huge thumbs and long, tough fingernails were a source of astonishment, as were her sharp, piercing cries… To avoid further escapades, d'Epinay… placed the wild girl in the municipal Hopital St.-Maur in October 1731… Called the 'shepherd's beast' on the d'Epinay estate, she was henceforth named Marie-Angélique Memmie Leblanc… her once-robust health, weakened by the diet of cooked food and the sedentary lifestyle at the Hopital (and later at convents in Chalons and Paris) was permanently damaged…. Once she became fluent enough to answer questions, her interrogators were able to piece together part of her past. She apparently had been seen roaming the Champenois countryside in the company of another girl… After a dispute over a trinket (some claim it was a rosary), Marie-Angélique wounded her companion with her club. She ran off to fend for herself when she was discovered in the apple orchard near Songi. Thanks to articles in the Mercure de France… word of this prodigy quickly spread to the capital and beyond—to England, Scotland, even Sweden… The powerful duc d'Orleans took Marie-Angélique permanently under his protection in 1744… She then moved to the capital and began preparations for taking the veil… Mystery continued to shroud Leblanc's legacy into the next century and continues still today” (Douthwaite, 29-33).
Anonymously issued in France in 1755 as L'Histoire d'une jeune fille sauvage: authorship attributed to French writer Marie-Catherine Homassel Hecquet or French scientist Charles-Marie de la Condamine. Library of Congress contains a copy of this 116-page edition published in London by R. Davidson: assigning it a date of "about 1755" (LOC IV:152). ESTC lists two London editions, each with no publication date, each assigned a possible publication date of 1760. The imprint (London: sold by R. Dursley, T. Davison, T. Manson, C. Bland, and P. Jones) of the 155-page London edition is believed “probably false. Most of these names appear with varying initials in other false imprints" (ESTC T12460). This preferred 116-page London edition contains the imprint, “London: sold by R. Davidson": with no bibliographic caution on the imprint's reliability (ESTC N51560). ESTC, LOC, OCLC list no edition in English with a publication date, approximate or otherwise, earlier than this edition’s suggested publication dates of 1755, 1760. Title page with: "Newly Translated from the French of Madam H——T." ESTC N51560. LOC IV:152. Bookseller ticket.
Text fresh, only light embrowning to preliminaries, mild edge-wear to boards. An extremely good copy, scarce in contemporary boards.