What is it that fascinates people about feral children? As far back as the 1700s men and women went crazy over the idea of an individual who was raised in the wild and then drops in to civilization only later in life.
A mute, naked adolescent was discovered by a party of hunters in the German forest in 1726 – near Hamelin, of Pied Piper legend — and Wild Peter soon became the talk of Europe. His background was unknown. King George I brought him from Hanover to his court in London, where the child liked to play with acorns and grew excited over hearing a clock strike. King George himself hailed from Germany and spoke little English; perhaps that explains his sense of kinship with the boy.
Anthropology had lately come in vogue, with people bringing back accounts from foreign lands about monsters, Hottentots, unfamiliar animals. Was Peter truly human or was he more along the lines of an orangutang? He walked on all fours, after all. The press went wild, commenting on his primitive demeanor, wondering at his forest upbringing, marveling that he had become a kind of court pet.
This mysterious creature inspired satiric commentary by Swift and a pamphlet by Daniel Defoe, who proclaimed him the only truly sensible person alive. The painter William Kent included Peter in a mural of the royal court that even today hangs beside a staircase at Kensington Palace, with the wild child modeling a civilized green coat, grasping a bunch of oak leaves and acorns. His likeness also graced a celebrated wax museum. Wild Peter never spoke, but he became an expert pick-pocket.