Louis Michel, photographed in 1878.

The first public manifestation of the strangeness of young Louis Michel occurs one Autumn day in 1828, at Lorgues College, in the Var.  On this particular morning, Monsieur Ricord, a French teacher, is doing his course on Athalie.  He has arrived at Act II, and the famous speech where Athalie recounts to Mathan the horrible dream that had troubled his night…  Mr Ricord is confidant that all of his pupils are capable of reciting the sixteen lines which, according to him, are among the most beautiful in French literature.  He invites Louis Michel to recite them for the class.

Louis, who is around twelve, rises and begins, in a strong Provencal accent:

“C’etait pendant l’horreur…”

Then he stops.  Mr Ricord encourages him to continue.  As the young boy remains mute, the teacher starts to become impatient.  He remarks that he does not want to believe that “Monsieur Michel” can have forgotten the second hemistiche of this universally known line.

Then, another pupil raises his hand and explains that Louis is asleep.

Young Louis Michel has, in fact, suddenly gone to sleep in the middle of a line from Racine and remains standing, his eyes closed, swaying slightly between his desk and his bench.

Mr Ricord shouts his name.  But the pupil continues his nap with a peaceful air, in spite of his neighbours who are pulling his sleeve, and calling to him to wake up.

Finally, the teacher, his eyes smouldering behind his glasses, descends from the estrade and comes to plant himself in front of the guilty boy.  He demands that he immediately cease this ridiculous joke…

Louis Michel then lets out a gentle snore, which makes the whole class roar with laughter.  The teacher gives him a mighty slap which makes the boy fall seated onto his bench, with his head hanging.

There is a silence.  All the pupils are fearfully asking themselves if their fellow pupil isn’t dead.  A second snore reassures them.

Then, Mr Ricord, finally understanding that this isn’t a joke, but an incomprehensible phenomenon, considers the sleeper with a stupid air.

Louis Michel will awake only one hour later.

This strange scene was to be followed by many more just as inexplicable.  Louis Honore, who consecrated an important study to this curious person, writes:

“The slightest lecture, the simple gaze of one of the other pupils, the arrival of a ray of sunshine into the classroom, were sufficient to plunge Louis Michel into an irresistible sleep.”

Who is this bizarre adolescent?  He is born on 26 January 1816 at Figanieres, a village situated a few kilometres from Draguignan, into a problem-free family.  His father, Antoine Michel, is a small landowner who lives peacefully from the revenue of his vines, tormented only by the arrival of a cloud of hail, or by the Spring frosts.  His mother is a simple soul who is never troubled by the great mysteries of life, and whose relations with the supernatural are limited to the sign of the cross on stormy days.

Placed first of all in the Figanieres Communal School, young Louis Michel quickly gets himself noticed by the teacher for his total indifference toward the subjects being taught.  Nothing appears to extract him from a sort of torpor, into which he settles, his eyes half-closed, as soon as he sits down on his bench.  His parents enter him as a boarder in the Lorgues College, where his teachers, with superhuman efforts, manage to teach him the “rudiments”.  He is considered by everyone, at this time, as a not-very-bright pupil, transparent and completely denuded of interest, until that morning in Autumn 1828 when, in Mr  Ricord’s class, he shows one aspect of his bizarreness, for the first time.

He will later reveal others.

One day, as he is strolling, solitary and thoughtful, in the College’s little courtyard (he has not been out of the College for the last two months), he approaches one of his fellow pupils named Pradel, from Claviers (Var), and abruptly says to him :

“Listen, I have some good news for you.  Your father is coming tomorrow to see you in the parlor.  He will arrive at eleven o’clock, and will bring you half a kilo of roast pork, the same in caillettes and the same in dried figs.”

Pradel shrugs his shoulders and replies that his father will not be coming for another week.  Louis insists that he will be there the next day.  Pradel wants to know who told him.  Louis replies:

“No-one.  But I know it.  I saw him come tomorrow…”

Pradel tells him that he’s mad, then runs to tell the other pupils what Louis Michel has just said.  Immediately, they all surround Louis, jeering and calling him crazy.

They don’t laugh at all when, the next day, at exactly eleven o’clock, Monsieur Pradel, coming from Claviers, arrives carrying all the announced food…

During the following months, ten times, fifty times, the young Michel, emerging from his habitual sleepiness, announces events which then happen.

People start to become rather worried about this college boy, who not only falls into a deep sleep, without any warning, but can also give stupefying information about the future.

At fifteen, he leaves College and returns to Figanieres.  He doesn’t remain there long.  His parents send him to Draguignan to learn the trade of chair- and cabinet-maker.  His biographer tells us:

“Very serious, timid, loving solitude and silence, he never goes out in the evening with his workshop companions.  He remains in his room, rented in common, and goes to bed early.  Asleep very quickly, he often dreams aloud, sometimes adding incomprehensible or significant gestures to his words.  On their return, his companions, disturbed by him, try to wake him.  It isn’t possible.  Then they talk to him.  What interests them the most is to know if Michel knew where they had spent the evening.  To their questions, his answers are so circumstanced and so precise that they are disconcerted by it.  Soon, word spreads around the villages that Michel is somnambulist and clairvoyant.”

To be continued.