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Hermesianax Pratt

Illustrated By Albert Robida

In February of 1880 Puck ran a serial entitled Hermesianax Pratt. His Variegated Adventures In All The Countries Of The Globe, Including Some Unknown To Jules Verne. Extracted From The Original, Expressly For Puck. With Illustrations By A. Robida. Albert Robida (1848-1926) was born in Compiègne, France in 1848. He started as solicitor but soon joint Journal Amusant as illustrator. He worked in several magazines before founding his own, La Caricature, with Georges Decaux. Robida was considered a prophet for anticipating the pay phone, aerial and chemical warfare and other future discoveries that he anticipated in his illustrations.
One author wrote ; "A prodigious worker, he wrote and illustrated eighty books on subjects ranging from travel, to histories of France, to children's stories. He even found time to illustrate 169 books by other authors."
This leads me to suspect that the author of the humorous Hermesianax Pratt may have been Albert Robida himself. Puck did publish articles by English Bohemians Edmund Yates and James Payn from Belgravia Magazine..
Chapter I. of Hermesianax Pratt is called The Foundling of the Seas. It opens with a scene on the Pacific Ocean of a debris drifting on the water, a mast, a tomato can, and ... a cradle.
"A cradle !
A cradle !
With an infant in it!
An infant who slumbered peacefully and sweetly, unconscious of the fury of the elements, or anything else.
Believe this kind reader. Accept it as positive proof. It is nothing to what you will have to believe before you get through with this story."
A wave deposits him on the shore of a desert isle in Polynesia.
"When the baby in the cradle ceased to be rocked by the billowy flood, he cried, which is a nasty way that babies have. He said "Ga, Ga!"
This was not intellectual; but it attracted the attention of a highly respectable family of monkeys, who were utilizing the balmy evening hour (it was the balmy evening hour) for a little constitutional."
A male, female, four little ones and a babe in arms comprise this little family. The head of the family, observing the cradle, expresses his astonishment "by turning three somersaults in rapid succession."
"The parent monkey scratched his nose and bit the end of his tail in a reflective manner. then he walked two or three times around the cradle; and finally, coming to the conclusion that the strange object was not really dangerous, he beckoned his wife to his side, and together they inspected the castaway.
The estimable lady, after turning the infant over and over with the tip of her long fore-nail, signified by various gestures, including a backspring eloquent of contempt, that she considered this strange creature terribly inferior, in point of plastic beauty, to the members of her own beauteous race."
His baptismal certificate is found in a leather pouch in the cradle and states that he is a citizen of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, U. S. A.
"After long deliberation, the simian papa came to a fixed determination. He expressed by a series of variegated gymnastics, his opinion that where there was enough for five there was enough for six; and thereupon the foundling was formally adopted."
Sounds a bit like the work of a Chicago native with the initials ERB does it not?
One problem, though... Edgar Rice Burroughs was born on September 1, 1875, which would have made him a little over four years old in February of 1880. His father could have read the story to young Edgar, or he may have read an old issue of Puck when he had learned to read. When I was a sprout in the 50’s we still had plenty of comics from the forties around to read. Or he may have just seen the pictures by Albert Robida. If you examine the scans I have attached you will see how closely they resemble Tarzan of the Apes. So it is just possible that Hermesianax Pratt was the genesis of Tarzan of the Apes!
If this sounds farfetched consider the letter written by Burroughs to Professor Rudolph Altrocchi on March 31, 1937, who had questioned him on the genesis of the Apeman. Burroughs says; "... I wish I could answer definitely. I have tried to search my memory for some clue to the suggestions that gave me the idea, and as close as I can come to it I believe that it may have originated in my interest in Mythology, and the story of Romulus and Remus." This sounds like he hadn’t a clue. Wish, believe, may have. He goes on to say he read a story of a shipwrecked sailor, and Kipling’s Jungle Book. He was "sorry that I cannot tell a more interesting story.."
I have always thought that the connection between Kipling and Tarzan was pretty tenuous. Romulus and Remus and Mowgli were raised by wolves, and there were numerous tales of feral children.
Hermesianax Pratt was raised by monkeys, and the father is described at one point as an orangutan. What really makes me think this was an influence on Tarzan is the pictures by Albert Robida. Even a four year old can be strongly affected by pictures, I still remember at that age, in my grandmas Edwardian house, being strongly affected by a reproduction in an illustrated magazine of Davy Crockett at the Alamo, swinging his long rifle over his head, while Mexican bayonets are aiming at his innards. I couldn’t read at the time but I "read" the pictures, and I remember it clearly still.
Of course we’ll never know, unless somehow it could be established that Burroughs family "took in" Puck magazine regularly, but it is a very interesting proposition. Robida may have influenced the invention of Tarzan of the Apes.