“Caspar Hauser” (from Parley’s Magazine, Saturday, March 30, 1833; pp. 29-30)
Caspar Hauser was a German boy, who from his infancy to his seventeenth year was confined in a small, low room, which was kept entirely dark. In this apartment, he never heard a sound, nor obtained a glimpse of the skies. He knew no difference between day and night. The room in which he was confined, was little better than a cage. It was so low, that he had always been obliged to sit on the ground, with bare feet. He was clothed only with a shirt and pantaloons.
Whenever Caspar awoke from sleep, he found a loaf of bread and a pitcher of water by his side. He never saw the face of the man who brought him his meagre food.
My young readers, perhaps, can hardly believe, that any person could have been so wicked as to treat an unoffending child in this cruel manner. Such a crime is, indeed, as rare as it is atrocious. The authors of it have not yet been found, and the cause of its commission remains a mystery.
Poor Caspar was finally released from his prison. He was first publicly notied in the town of Nuremburg, in Germany, in 1828. He was observed standing in a very singular posture, and, apparently unable to walk. On being properly clothed and taken care of, he rapidly improved. For a long time his only amusement was in playing with little wooden horses. He used to believe that they were alive, and would try to feed them with crumbs of bread, and with water.
Having once fallen asleep on a rocking horse, he fell down and squeezed his finger; upon which he complained that the horse had bitten him. At another time he was quite inconsolable, because a man drove a nail into one of his horses.
He thought that a tree showed itself alive, by moving its leaves and branches. He expressed his indignation against a boy, who struck a tree with a small stick, for giving the tree so much pain. Seeing a gray cat, he asked, why she did not wash herself that she might become white. When he saw oxen lying down on the pavement of the street, he wondered why they did not go home and lie down there.
Once when the snow had fallen, and covered the ground, he expressed great joy that the streets, the roofs of the houses, and the trees had been so well painted. He went down into the yard, to fetch some of the white paint, as he called it, but he soon came back crying, “that the white paint had bit his hand.”
It was in the month of August, 1830, when on a fine summer evening, his instructor showed him for the first time the starry heavens. Poor Caspar was overcome with amazement and delight at the view. “That,” he exclaimed, “is indeed the most beautiful sight I have ever yet seen in the world. But who has placed all these numerous beautiful candles there? who lights them? who puts them out?”
When he was told, that like the sun, the stars always continued to give light, he asked again: “who placed them there above, that they may always continue to give light?”
At length, standing still, with his head bowed down, and his eyes staring, he began to think deeply and seriously. He became very sad. He sank trembling upon a chair, and asked, why that wicked man had kept him always locked up, and had never shown him any of these beautiful things. He then broke out into a fit of crying, which lasted for a long time; and he could not easily be
soothed. He had never before shown any anger against the man who had kept him confined; but he now said that he should like to have that man shut up for a few days, that he might know how hard it was to be treated so.
Caspar Hauser has learned to read and write, and converse properly, since his release from confinement. But the sports, the delights of childhood, have never been his. How thankful to their Maker, should those children be, who live in the enjoyment of parental care and affection! “I was just thinking,” said Caspar, one day, “I was just thinking, how many beautiful things there are in the world, and how hard it is for me to have lived so long, and to have seen nothing of them; and how happy children are, who have been able to see all these things from their earliest infancy, and can still look at them. I am already so old, that I am obliged to learn what children knew long ago.”
This story is a true one, which I have been telling to you, about Caspar Hauser. You should learn from it, not to be less thankful for the beautiful sights around, because you see them every day. The more you study the great works of nature, the more cause will you find for wonder and gratitude.