An Account of a Savage Girl, Caught Wild in the Woods of Champagne/Appendix V
REASONS which incline us to think that Madamoiselle le Blanc is of the nation of the Esquimaux, savages inhabiting the country of Labrador, lying to the North of Canada.
MAdame Duplessis de St. Helene, a native of Paris, but who has been now 46 years a nun in the Hotel Dieu of Quebec in Canada, and is an intimate acquaintance of mine, sent me a present which came to my hand in the year 1752. It consists of a variety of figures of the savages, with whom the French, and missionaries of New France, have any intercourse. These figures, several of which represent entire families, are differently drest, each in the fashion of its nation. For tho' they go almost wholly naked at home, yet they have some kind of cloaths or covering for holidays, and which they make use of when they come to traffic with the Europeans. Among the rest are the figures of an Esquimaux man, and his wife carrying her child. Along with these figures was transmitted me a circumstantial account of the manners of each nation.
The dress of skins used by these Esquimaux, together with the account transmitted to me of their country, appearance, and particular customs, bore so strong a resemblance in my opinion to that of Madamoiselle le Blanc, as delivered by herself and others, that I immediately suspected her to be of that nation. The more to satisfy myself on this head, I resolved to try the force of nature in her, and after telling her that there had been sent me from Canada several sorts of figures which I intended to shew her, I produced the box containing the savage puppets. Upon opening the box, I fix'd my eyes stedfastly upon her to observe her behaviour, and what should first attract her attention, Tho' several of the figures were more agreeable, and more ornamented than those of the Esquimaux, which exhibit hardly any vestige of the human figure, she instantly laid hold of the Esquimaux woman, and then of the man, which the attentively considered one after the other, without speaking; not as any thing new or extraordinary to her, but as something which she had seen before, tho' ignorant where, and which she defired to recollect. Perceiving her so attentive to these two figures, I ask'd her smiling, in order to make her speak, whether she discovered there any of her relations; I cannot tell, answered she, but I think I have seen that somewhere. How! said I, men and women of that shape? Pretty much so, answered she; but they had not that, (pointing to a sort of gloves which my figures have): We never had any thing on our hands, continued she, unless when we caught any large eels, or such like fishes; which we would skin, and then thrust our hands and arms into these skins, which reached up to our elbows. What a comical dress, replied I! Was that, of which you have an idea, no longer than this? (That of my figures reaches only to about the middle of the thigh.) I think not, answered she; but the hair was not on the outside, as here. I then took up some figures of my other savages, observing to her the strange fashion of their ear-rings. She hardly took her eye of the first, which she still held in her hand, and which had no ear-rings, to say, Oh! ours were neither like those in your hand, nor did they hang below the ear; but reached from the bottom of the ear down the back. As I could discover nothing about my figures, nor in the accounts sent me along with them, that could give me any idea of this difference, or which might have suggested it to her, I imagined that it had only occurred to her from the remembrance of something she had seen in her younger days, and of which she had but a confused idea. And, indeed, she immediately added herself, these ideas are so remote that they are little to be depended on.
It was not what she said upon this occasion that confirmed me in my opinion; but that instinct, or natural unaffected sentiment which attached her to these two figures alone, and rendered her indifferent to all the rest, as if nature had made her sensible that she was not so much concerned in the others as in these. Such, at least, was my reasoning on the distinction she made between them, and her saying so natural "We had nothing on our hands;" which the truth alone, tho' without her knowledge, made her utter.
Not content with these first trials, I caused produce a small canoe made of the bark of a tree, which was sent along with the savages, to show me what they made use of in place of our large ships, to traverse the sea and the lakes. It is a kind of little boat, very narrow and sharp at both ends, the better to cut the water indifferently with each; and the greater part of them are sufficient to contain only one person. On shewing her this, which was rather more than two feet long, I ask'd her whether she knew it: Oh yes, said she, I remember it pretty well; but I think they were not altogether like this; they were almost entirely covered over, and, I believe, they had only a hole in the middle, which reached to about the waist of those who sat in them, and they went thus, (making the motion of rowing on both sides at once) either backwards or forwards, at their pleasure. This description of the canoe agreeing exactly with that given me by Madame Duplessis of the Esquimaux canoe, of which Madamoiselle le Blanc was certainly ignorant, I had no further doubt of her being of that nation, and that the description of the covered canoe of the Esquimaux arose from her remembrance of the original. Whoever reads the extracts from the account transmitted me along with my figures, cannot fail to be of my opinion.