Throughout the 18th Century I have come across stories of people suddenly appearing in a remote village, and no one can work out where they came from or why. Perhaps it is an indication of how little the population moved around, that strangers stood out in this way. There are echoes perhaps in the modern era with stories of children emerging from a forest claiming to have amnesia and uttering nothing but grunting sounds. You can bet that the red-tops will run with stories of ‘feral children being raised by wolves’ or whatever. They are generally found to be fakes…
Here then is a variation on that theme – as evidenced in a letter which my ancestor Richard Hall received some time in the 1780s. It is undated, so I cannot be more specific, but it appears to be in response to a query by Richard for information. Presumably he had gleaned some facts, and was intrigued to know the full story.
Complete with 18th Century spelling it reads:
Your desire I comply with in sending you the extraordinary intelligence which my Brother sent me from Leicestershire, the following is the whole of it. As I know you will love to hear anything entertaining from Leicestershire, I therefore send you the following account, which altho it may seem strange, yet you may depend on it being true.
Last July there came a Stranger one night to Mr Samuel Horton’s of Mowsley in a miserable condition. Miserable indeed! Barefooted and bareheaded, and without breeches or coat, in a lamenting and pitiful manner, crying with all his strength, a poor creature well he might, being in such a forlorn condition. You must think that they would be much alarmed at a Fellow’s coming in that manner – alarmed! Not only they but the whole neighbourhood was alarmed too, and poor Mrs Horton who you may know is in common a timmerous Woman was so dreadfully affected by the manner of his coming that she almost fainted away – took her bed and was extreamly ill – yea, did not overget it for several weeks. However her husband (as you know) is a very affectionate kind Man, took compassion on the Stranger, and treated him more like a familiar than an Enemy or Stranger, and indeed if he had not compassion on him he must have died, for he was so weak that he could not possibly go to another Town. His Wife too was as willing as himself that the poor creature should be harbourd and care taken of him, which you will say was very commendable in her, as she had sufferd so much by him. You will say that this was very commendable indeed. Well this poor creature has been entertain’d by them, yea by them clothed from top to toe – generous treatment you will say to one they never saw before, but what could they do, for altho the Neighbours shewed compassion &tc by word, yet not one of them bought so much as an Old Hat, or Breeches to put on him, however it is very commendable in them, they let him want for nothing.
You will want to know what sort of fellow this is, where he came from, and what made him come there in such a manner.
Well, take the following account such as it is, tho a better perhaps you could not have even from himself, he is so odd. Odd, you’ll say, why he is some fool or Madman. No he is neither, tho if you saw him in some of his fits and Whims (and he has strange ones at times) you would think that he has not much sense, or at least doth not make much use of it. However, you’ll judge by the following. After things were settled a little and he had been warm’d, Cloth’d and Refresh’d several Persons talk’d to him
There then follows an odd passage about trying to ascertain the man’s religion – something which nowadays would be of supreme indifference to the story, rather like questioning him about which football team he supported. But to the writer, the fact that he was not in favour of “infant sprinkling” ( i.e. infant baptism) nor “dipping” (adult baptism) was important. The letter shows that the man was no papist, It continues “You will think he is a Quaker, answer no, for he has no notion of their Light within, nor Enthusiastical Spirits…neither is he an Atheist.”
The letter gives this description of his appearance:
“As to his person he is of an engaging countenance, very fair, his Eyes Blue.; light coloured hair, like Flax as if very young, but then he has never a tooth in his Head, as if very Old. Yet his having no teeth does not at all affect his Speech but is as fluent and as much an Orator as I think you ever heard in your Life, of his Age, and he never speaks but with the utmost regard to propriety.”
The letter ends with a suggestion that Richard is most welcome to travel to Leicestershire to see the man for himself, adding “He is like Travellers that have been used to all kinds of Company, never dasht nor bashfull and he is such a Master of language that he can converse freely in Latin, Greek, or Hebrew, as easily as he can speak to you in the plainest English, which is his Mother Tongue”
The letter was found in a horse-hair chest amongst other papers of my ancestor, and tantalisingly there is no follow-up or explanation. So if anyone out there knows the story behind ‘the wild man of Leicestershire’ I will be interested to hear!