L’Enfant sauvage emerged from the French woods in 1797. Victor Aveyron was displayed for sometime in the village of Saint-Sernin-sur-Rance, France before running away.
He reappeared on his own in 1800 and became an instant object of study. Without language and apparently accustomed to exposure, it was speculated that he had lived on his own since his fourth or fifth year.
Parents who lost children during the Revolution came forward hoping to claim him. There were also rumours that he was the child of French royalty, abandoned for being mute. Educated estimates had him aged at about twelve, which meant he spent at least seven years alone in the woods.
Victor was never able to learn language, and during the hotbed of debate over Enlightenment, his case attracted attention and was held up as an example of the importance of life-long learning.
Victor died in 1828, in the keeping of a housekeeper.
Contemporary diagnosis suggests Victor may have been autistic. Also, because of scars on Victor’s body at the time he was discovered, it has also been speculated that he was a victim of abuse.
Feral children were not a new phenomena when Victor first came from the woods. This blog as a wonderfully thorough overview of various cases of “wild” children throughout history: http://shmiwa.blogspot.com/2006/01/wild-child-brief-overview-of-feral.html.
Many cases of “feral children” have been proven to, in fact, be deliberate and unintentional hoaxes. Many of the children in question had mental or physical impairments which suggest that they were abandoned as children. Others appear to be victims of severe physical and mental abuse.
However, when Victor first made his appearance the imagination of the world was captured.