Monday, March 21, 2011

Wild boy diagnosed

This story in the weird news recalled so many earlier posts (Recent feral children, Diagnosing the canvas, Court dwarfs) that I decided it deserved more than a follow-up mention.

"Peter the Wild Boy" (see 18th c. mezzotint, 1st image) was found living on all fours in the wild near Hamelin in 1725. After seeing him in Germany, Britain's King George I (1660-1727) sent for Peter and tried to have him educated. He could not be taught to speak or behave, but did acquire a love of music. His contemporary, Swiss traveler César de Saussure (1705-1783), left a firsthand description of the royal court's "pet," in which he described his wild appearance, hairiness, and broken fingernails, writing: "He frightened me." The king gave his ward to his daughter-in-law and Princess of Wales, Caroline of Ansbach (1683-1737). After his patron's death, Peter lived out his life on a farm - from which he once escaped - and was buried in the churchyard of St. Mary's, Northchurch, where his grave (2nd image) can still be seen.

The news is that Peter the Wild Boy has been diagnosed more than 200 years after his death. The posthumous diagnosis was sought by British historian Lucy Worsley (3rd image, pictured in front of a painting from the 1720s), whose research indicated that Peter may have been autistic. "He was actually quite lucky that King George I heard about him, and summoned him to court, even though there he was treated like a performing dog rather than a damaged little boy." Based on Peter's physical characteristics and behavior, geneticist Phil Beale determined that the boy suffered from Pitt-Hopkins syndrome. Symptoms of the chromosomal disorder that can be seen in portraits include cupid's bow lips, short stature, coarse hair, and drooping eyelids. But other possible pointers include his 2 fused fingers, deformed palate, and developmental disabilities. "He was a famous figure in Georgian times and he hasn't been forgotten today, people still lay flowers on his grave. It's hugely satisfying to winkle another secret out of the painting, which I've been obsessed with for some years now."

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting, have you ever heard about the green children found in a cave? I cant remember the story but I believe they had been exposed to no light whatsoever and talked of a city in this cave. Fascinating.


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