Rousseau, Jean Jacques
time madame life paris diderot confessions letters french influence literary
ROUSSEAU, JEAN JACQUES (1712-1778), was born at Geneva on the 28th June .1712. His family had established themselves in. that city at the time of the religious wars, but they were of pure French origin. Rousseau's father Isaac was a watchmaker ; his mother, Suzanne Bernard, was the daughter of a minister; she died in childbirth, and Rousseau, who was the second son, was brought up in a very haphazard. fashion, his father being a dissipated, violent-tempered, and foolish person. He, however, taught him to read early, and seems to have laid the foundation of the flighty. sentimentalism in morals and politics which_ Rousseau afterwards illustrated with his genius. When the boy- was ten years old his father got entangled in a disgraceful brawl and fled front Geneva, apparently without troubling himself about Jean Jacques. The father and son had little more to do with each other and rarely met. Rousseau was, however, taken charge of by his mother's relations and was in the first place committed by them to the tutorship of a M. Lambercier, pastor at Bossey. Of these times as of the greater part of his life there are ample details in the Confessions, but it may be as well to remark at once that this famous book, however charming as literature, is to be used as documentary evidence only with great reserve. In 1724 he was removed from this school and taken into the house of his uncle Bernard, by whom he was shortly afterwards apprenticed to a notary. His master, however, found or thought him quite incapable and sent him back. After a short time (April 25, 1725) he was apprenticed afresh, this time to an engraver. He did not dislike the work, but was or thought himself cruelly treated by his master. At last in 1728, when he was sixteen, he ran away, the truancy being by his own account unintentional in the first instance, and due to the fact of the city gates being shut earlier than usual. Then began a very extraordinary series of wanderings and adventures, for much of which there is no authority but his own. He first fell in with some proselytizers of the Roman faith at Confignon in Savoy, and by them lie was sent to Madame de Warens at Annecy, a young and pretty widow who was herself a convert. Her influence, however, which was to be so great, was not immediately exercised, and he was, so to speak, passed on to Turin, where there was an institution specially devoted to the reception of neophytes. His experiences here were (according to his own account, it must always be understood) sufficiently unsatisfactory, but he abjured duly and was rewarded by being presented with twenty francs and sent about his business. He wandered about in Turin for some time, and at last established himself as footman to a Madame de Vercellis. Hero occurred the famous incident of the theft of a ribbon, of which he accused a fellow servant - a girl too. But, though he kept his place by this piece of cowardice, Madame do Vercellis died not long afterwards and he was turned off. He found, however, another place with the Comte de Gouvon, but lost this also through coxcombry. Then he resolved to return to Madame de Warens at Annecy. The chronology of all these events is somewhat obscure, but they seem to have occupied about three years.
Even then Rousseau did not settle at once in the anomalous but to him charming position of domestic lover to this lady, who, nominally a converted Protestant, was in reality, as many women of her time were, a kind of deist, with a theory of noble sentiment and a practice of libertinism tempered by good nature. It used to be held that in her conjugal relations she was even more sinned against than sinning. But recent investigations seem to show that M. do Vuarrens (which is said to be the correct spelling of the name) was a very unfortunate husband, and was deserted and robbed by his wife. However, she welcomed Rousseau kindly, thought it necessary to complete his education, and he was sent to the seminarists of St Lazare to be improved in classics, and also to a music master. In one of his incomprehensible freaks he set off for Lyons, and, after abandoning his companion in an epileptic fit, returned to Annecy to find Madame do Warens gone no one knew whither. Then for some months he relapsed into the life of vagabondage, varied by improbable adventures, which (according to his own statement) he so often pursued. Hardly knowing anything of music, he attempted to give lessons and a concert at Lausanne ; and he actually taught at Neuchkel. Then he became or says he became secretary to a Greek archimandrite who was travelling in Switzerland to collect subscriptions for the rebuilding of the Holy Sepulchre; then he went to Paris, and, with recommendations from the French ambas sador at Soleure, saw something of good society ; then ho returned on foot through Lyons to Savoy, hearing that Madame de Warens was at Chambery. This was in 1732, and Rousseau, who for a time had unimportant employments in the service of the Sardinian crown, was shortly installed by Madame de Warens, whom he still called Taman, as arrant en titre in her singular household, wherein she diverted herself with him, with music, and with chemistry. In 1736 Madame de 1Varens, partly for Rousseau's health, took a country house, Les Charmettes, a short distance from Chambery. Here in summer, and in the town during winter, Rousseau led a delightful life, which he has delightfully described. In a desultory way he did a good deal of reading, but in 1738 his health again became bad, and he was recommended to go to Montpellier. By his own account this journey to Montpellier was in reality a voyage a Cythere in company with a certain Madame de Larnage. This being so, he could hardly complain when on returning ho found that his official position in Madame de Warens's household had been taken by a person named Vintzenried. He was, however, less likely than most men to endure the position of second in command, and in 1740 he became tutor at Lyons to the children of M. de Mably, not the well-known writer of that name, but his and Condillac's elder brother. But Rousseau did not like teaching and was a bad teacher, and after a visit to Les Charmettes, finding that his place there was finally occupied, he once more went to Paris in 1741. Ho was not without recommendations. But a new system of musical notation which he thought he had discovered was unfavourably received by the Academie des Sciences, where it was read in August 1742, and he was unable to obtain pupils. Madame Dupin, however, to whose house he had obtained the entry, procured him the honourable if not very lucrative post of secretary to M. de Montaigu, ambassador at Venice. With him he stayed for about eighteen months, and has as usual infinite complaints to make of his employer and some strange stories to tell. At length he threw up his situation and returned to Paris (1745).
Up to this time - that is to say, till his thirty-third year - Rousseau's life, though continuously described by himself, was of the kind called subterranean, and the account of it must be taken with considerable allowances. There are, to say the least, grave improbabilities in it ; there are some chronological difficulties ; and in one or two instances his accounts have been flatly denied by persons more or less entitled to be heard. He had written nothing, and if he was known at all it was as an eccentric vagabond. From this time, however, he is more or less in view; and, though at least two events of his life - his quarrel with Diderot and his death - are and are likely long to be subjects of dispute, its general history can be checked and followed with reasonable confidence. On his return to Paris he renewed his relations with the Dupin family and with the literary group of Diderot, to which he had already been introduced by M. do Mably's letters. He had an opera, Les Muses Galantes, privately represented ; he copied music for money, and received from Madame Dupin and her son-in-law M. de Francueil a small but regular salary as secretary. He lived at the Hotel St Quentin for a time, and once more arranged for himself an equivocal domestic establishment. His mistress, whom towards the close of his life ho married after a fashion, was Therese le Vasseur, a servant at the inn. She had little beauty, no education or understanding, and few charms of any kind that his friends could discover, besides which she had a detestable mother, who was the bane of Rousseau's life. But he made himself at any rate for a time quite happy with her, and (according to Rousseau's account, the accuracy of which has been questioned) five children were born to them, who were all consigned to the foundling hospital. This disregard of responsibility was partly punished by the use his critics made of it when he became celebrated as a writer on education and a• preacher of the domestic affections. Diderot, with whom he became more and more familiar, admitted him as a contributor to the Encyclopedie. He formed new musical projects, and he was introduced by degrees to many people of rank and influence, among whom his warmest patron for a time was Madame d'Epinay. It was not, however, till 1749 that Rousseau made his mark. The academy of Dijon offered a prize for an essay on the effect of the progress of civilization on morals. Rousseau took up the subject, developed his famous paradox of the superiority of the savage state, won the prize, and, publishing his essay next year, became famous. The anecdotage as to the origin of this famous essay is voluminous. It is agreed that the idea was suggested when Rousseau went to pay a visit to Diderot, who was in prison at Vincennes for his Lettre sur les Aveugles. Rousseau says he thought of the paradox on his way down ; Morellet and others say that he thought of treating the subject in the ordinary fashion and was laughed at by Diderot, who showed him the advantages of the less obvious treatment. Diderot himself, who in such matters is almost absolutely trustworthy, does not claim the suggestion, but uses words which imply that it was at least partly his. It is very like him. The essay, however, took the artificial and crotchety society of the day by storm. Francueil gave Rousseau a valuable post as cashier in the receiver general's office. But he resigned it either from conscientiousness, or crotchet, or nervousness at responsibility, or indolence, or more probably from a mixture of all four. He went back to his music copying, but the salons of the day were determined to have his society, and for a time they had it. In 1752 he brought out at Fontainebleau an operetta; the Devin du Village, which was very successful. He received a hundred louis for it, and he was ordered to come to court next day. This meant the certainty of a pension. But Rousseau's shyness or his perversity (as before, probably both) made him disobey the command. His comedy Narcisse, written long before, was also acted, but unsuccessfully. In the same year, however, a letter Sur la Musique Francaise again had a great vogue.' Finally, for this was an important year with him, the Dijon academy, which had founded his fame, announced the subject of "The Origin of Inequality," on which he wrote a • discourse which was unsuccessful, but at least equal to the former in merit. During a visit to Geneva in 1754 Rousseau saw his old friend and love Madame de Warens (now reduced in circumstances- and having lost all her charms), while after abjuring his abjuration of Protestantism he was enabled to take up his freedom as citizen of Geneva, to which his birth entitled him and of which he was proud. Some time afterwards, returning to Paris, he accepted a cottage near Montmorency (the celebrated Hermitage) which Madame d'Epinay had fitted up for him, and established himself there in April 1756. He spent little more than a year there, but it was a very important year. Here he wrote La Nouvelle Helase ; here he indulged in the passion which that novel partly represents, his love for Madame d'Houdetot, sister-in-law of Madame d'Epinay, a lady still young and extremely amiable but very plain, who had a husband and a lover (St Lambert), and whom Rousseau's burning devotion seems to have partly pleased and partly annoyed. Here too arose the incomprehensible triangular quarrel between Diderot, Rousseau, and Grimm which ended Rousseau's sojourn at the Hermitage. It is impossible to discuss this at length here. The supposition least favourable to Rousseau is that it was due to one of his numerous fits of half-insane petulance and indignation at the obligations which he was nevertheless always ready to incur. That most favourable to him is that he was expected to lend himself in a more or less complaisant manner to assist and cover Madame d'Epinay's adulterous affection for Grimm. It need only be said that Madame d'Epinay's morals and Rousseau's temper are equally indefensible by anyone who knows anything about either, but that the evidence as to the exact influence of both on this particular transaction is hopelessly inconclusive. Diderot seems to have been guilty of nothing but thoughtlessness (if of that) in lending himself to a scheme of the Le Vasseurs, mother and daughter, for getting Rousseau out of the solitude of the Hermitage. At any rate Rousseau quitted the Hermitage in the winter, and established himself at Montlouis in the neighbourhood.
Hitherto Rousseau's behaviour had frequently made him enemies, but his writings had for the most part made him friends. The quarrel with Madame d'Epinay, with Diderot, and through them with the philosophe party reversed this. In 1758 appeared his Lettre a d'Alembert contre les Spectacles, written in the winter of the previous year at Montlouis. This was at once an attack on Voltaire, who was giving theatrical representations at Les Nikes, on D'Alembert, who had condemned the prejudice against the stage in the Encyclopedie, and on one of the favourite amusements of the society of the day. Diderot personally would have been forgiving enough. But Voltaire's strong point was not forgiveness, and, though Rousseau no doubt exaggerated the efforts of his " enemies," he was certainly henceforward as obnoxious to the philosophe coterie as to the orthodox party. He still, however, had no lack of patrons - lie never had - though his unsurpassable perversity made him quarrel with all in turn. The amiable duke and duchess of Luxem- boar. g, who were his neighbours at Montlouis, made his acquaintance, or rather forced theirs upon him, and he was eagerly industrious in his literary work - indeed most of his best books were produced during his stay in the neighbourhood of Montmorency. A letter to Voltaire on his poem about the Lisbon earthquake embittered the dislike between the two, being surreptitiously published. La Nouvelle Haase appeared in the same year (1760), and it was immensely popular. In 1662 appeared the Contrat Social at Amsterdam, and Emile, which was published both in the Low Countries and at Paris. For the latter the author received. 6000 livres, for the Contrat 1000.
Julie, ou La Nouvelle Haase, is a novel written in letters describing the loves of a man of low position and a girl of rank, her subsequent marriage to a respectable freethinker of her own station, the mental agonies of her lover, and the partial appeasing of the distresses of the lovers by the influence of noble sentiment and the good offices of a philanthropic Englishman. It is too long, the sentiment is overstrained, and severe moralists have accused it of a certain complaisance in dealing with amatory errors ; but it is full of pathos and knowledge of the human heart. The Contrat Social, as its title implies, endeavours to base all government on the consent, direct or implied, of the governed, and indulges in much ingenious argument to get rid of the practical inconveniences of such a suggestion. Emile, the second title of which is De l'Education, is much more of a treatise than of a novel, though a certain amount of narrative interest is kept up throughout.
Rousseau's reputation was now higher than ever, but the term of the comparative prosperity which he had enjoyed fon nearly ten years was at hand. The Contrat Social was obviously anti-monarchic ; the Nouvelle Hildise was said to be immoral; the sentimental deism of the " Profession du vicaire Savoyard" in Emile irritated equally the philosophe party and the church. On June 11, 1662, Emile was condemned by the parlement of Paris, and two days previously Madame de Luxembourg and the Prince de Conti gave the author information that he would be arrested if he did not fly. They also furnished him with means of flight, and he made for Yverdun in the territory of Bern, whence he transferred himself to Motiers in Neuchatel, which then belonged to Prussia. Frederick IL was not indisposed to protect the persecuted when it cost him nothing and might bring him fame, and in Marshal Keith, the governor of Neuchatel, Rousseau found a true and firm friend. He was, however, unable to be quiet or to practise any of those more or less pious frauds which were customary at the time with the unorthodox.. The archbishop of Paris had published a pastoral against him, and Rousseau did not let the year pass without a Lettre c2 If. de Beaumont. The council of Geneva had joined in the condemnation of Emile, and Rousseau first solemnly renounced his citizenship, and then, in the Lettres de la Montague (1763), attacked the council and the Genevan constitution unsparingly. All this excited public opinion against him, and gradually he grew unpopular in his own neighbourhood. This unpopularity is said on very uncertain authority to have culminated in a nocturnal attack on his house, which reminds the reader remarkably of an incident in the life of the greatest French man of letters of the present century. At any rate he thought he was menaced if he was not, and migrated to the Ile St Pierre in the Lake of Bienne, where he once more for a short, and the last, time enjoyed that idyllic existence which ho loved. But the Bernese Government ordered him to quit its territory. He was for some time uncertain where to go, and thought of Corsica (to join Paoli) and Berlin. But finally David Hume offered him, late iu 1763, an asylum in England, and he accepted. He passed through Paris, where his presence was tolerated for a time, and landed in England on January 13, 1766. Therese travelled separately, and was entrusted to the charge of James Boswell, who had already made Rousseau's acquaintance. Here he had once more a chance of settling peaceably. Severe English moralists like Johnson thought but ill of him, but the public generally was not unwilling to testify against French intolerance, and regarded his sentimentalism with favour. He was lionized in London to his heart's content and discontent, for it may truly be said of Rousseau that he was equally indignant at neglect and intolerant of attention. When, after not a few displays of his strange humour, he professed himself tired of the capital, Hume procured him a country abode in the house of Mr Davenport at Wootton in Derbyshire. Here, though the place was bleak and lonely, he might have been happy enough, and he actually employed himself in writing the greater part of his Confessions. But his habit of self-tormenting and tormenting others never left him. His own caprices interposed some delay in the conferring of a pension which George III. was induced to grant him, and he took this as a crime of Hume's. The publication of a spiteful letter (really by Horace Walpole, one of whose worst deeds it was) in the name of the king of Prussia made Rousseau believe that plots of the most terrible kind were on foot against him. Finally he quarrelled with Hume because the latter would not acknowledge all his own friends and Rousseau's supposed enemies of the philosophe circle to be rascals. He remained, however, at Wootton during the year and through the winter. In May 1767 he fled to France, addressing letters to the lord chancellor and to General Conway, which can only be described as the letters of a lunatic. He was received in France by the Marquis de Mirabeau (father of the great Mirabeau), of whom he soon had enough, then by the Prince do Conti at Trye. From this place he again fled and wandered about for some time in a wretched fashion, still writing the Confessions, constantly receiving generous help, and always quarrelling with, or at least suspecting, the helpers. In the summer of 1770 he returned to Paris, resumed music copying, and was on the whole happier than he had been since he had to leave Montlouis. He had by this time married Therese le Vasseur, or had at least gone through some form of marriage with her.
Many of the best-known stories of Rousseau's life date from this last time, when he was tolerably accessible to visitors, though dearly half-insane. He finished his Confessions, wrote his Dialogues (the interest of which is not quite equal to the promise of their curious sub-title Rousseau five de Jean Jacques), and began his Reveries du Promeneur Solitaire, intended as a sequel and complement to the Confessions, and one of the best of all his books. It should be said that besides these, which complete the list of his principal works, he has left a very largo number of minor works and a considerable correspondence. During this time he lived in the Rue Platiere, which is now named after him. But his suspicions of secret enemies grew stronger rather than weaker, and at the beginning of 1778 he was glad to accept the offer of M. de Girardin, a rich financier, and occupy a cottage at Ermenonville. The country was beautiful ; but his old terrors revived, and his woes were complicated by the alleged inclination of Therese for one of M. de Girardin's stable boys. On July 2d he died in a manner which has been much discussed, susally during that fit seems most probable. He had always suffered from internal and constitutional ailments not unlikely to bring about such an end.
Rousseau's character, the history of his reputation, and the intrinsic value of his literary work are all subjects of much interest. There is little doubt that for the last ten or fifteen years of his life, if not from the time of his quarrel with Diderot and Madame d'Epinay, he was not wholly sane - the combined influence of late and unexpected literary fame and of constant solitude and discomfort acting upon his excitable temperament so as to overthrow the balance, never very stable, of his fine and acute but unrobust intellect. He was by no means the only man of letters of his time who:had to submit to something like persecution. Freron on the orthodox side had his share of it, as well as Voltaire, Helvetius, Diderot, and Montesquieu on that of the innovators. But Rousseau had not, like Montesquieu,.a position which guaranteed him from serious danger ; he was not wealthy like Helvetius ; he had not the wonderful suppleness and trickiness which even without his wealth would probably have defended Voltaire himself; and he lacked entirely the " bottom " of Freron and Diderot. When he was molested he could only shriek at his enemies and suspect his friends, and, being more given than any man whom historymeutions to this latter weakness, ho suffered intensely from it. His moral character was undoubtedly weak in other ways than this, but it is fair to remember that but for his astounding Confessions the more disgusting parts of it would not have been known, and that these Confessions were written, if not under hallucination, at any rate in circumstances entitling the self-condemned criminal to the benefit of very considerable doubt. If Rousseau had held his tongue, he might have stood lower as a man of letters ; he would pretty certainly have stood higher as a man. He was, moreover, really sinned against, if still more sinning. The conduct of Grimm to him was certainly very bad ; and, though Walpole was not his personal friend, a worse action than his famous letter, considering the well-known idiosyncrasy of the subject, would be difficult to find. It was his own fault that he saddled himself with the Le Vasseurs, but their conduct was probably if not certainly ungrateful in the extreme. Only excuses can be made for him ; but the excuses for a man horn, as Hume after the quarrel said of him, " without a skin" are numerous and strong.
It was to be expected that his peculiar reputation would increase rather than diminish after his death ; and it did so. During his life his personal peculiarities and the fact that his opinions were nearly as obnoxious to the one party as to the other worked against him, but it was not so after his death. The men of the Revolution regarded him with something like idolatry, and his literary merits conciliated many who were very far from idolizing him as a revolutionist. His style was taken up by Bernardin de Saint Pierre and by Chateaubriand. It was employed for purposes quite different from those to which he had himself applied it, and the reaction triumphed by the very arms which had been most powerful in the hands of the Revolution. Byron's fervid panegyric enlisted on his side all who admired Byron - that is to say, the majority of the younger men and women of Europe between 1820 and 1850 - and thus different sides of his tradition were continued for a full century after the publication of his chief books. His religious unorthodoxy was condoned because he never scoffed ; his political heresies, after their first effect was over, seemed harmless from the very want of logic and practical spirit in them, while part at least of his literary secret was the common property of almost everyone who attempted literature. At the present day persons as different as M. Renan and Mr Ruskin are children of Rousseau.
It is therefore important to characterize this influence which was and is so powerful, and there are three points of view - those of religion, politics, and literature - which it is necessary to take in doing this. In religion Rousseau was undoubtedly what he has been called above - a sentimental deist ; but no one who reads him with the smallest attention can fail to see that sentimentalism was the essence, deism the accident of his creed. In his time orthodoxy at once generous and intelligent hardly existed in France. There were ignorant persons who were sincerely orthodox; there were intelligent persons who pretended to be so. But between the time of Massillon and D'Aguesseau and the time of Lamennais and Joseph de Maistre the class of men of whom in England Berkeley, Butler, and Johnson were representatives simply did not exist in France. Little inclined by nature to any but the emotional side of religion, and utterly undisciplined in any other by education, course of life, or the general tendency of public opinion, Rousseau naturally took refuge in the nebulous kind of natural religion which was at once fashionable and convenient. If his practice fell very far short even of his own very arbitrary standard of morality as much may be said of persons far more dogmatically orthodox.
In politics, on the other hand, there is no doubt that Rousseau was a sincere and, as far as in him lay, a convinced republican. He had no great tincture of learning, he was by no means a profound logician, and he was impulsive and emotional in the extreme - characteristics which in political matters undoubtedly predispose the subject to the preference of equality above all political requisites. He saw that under the French monarchy the actual result was the greatest misery of the greatest number, and he did not look much further. The Contrat Social is for the political student one of the most curious and interestine.. books existing. Historically it is null ; logically it is full of gaping flaws ; practically its manipulations of the volonte de tous and the volonte generale are clearly insufficient to obviate anarchy. But its mixture of real eloquence and apparent cogency is exactly such as always carries a multitude with it, if only for a time. Moreover, in some minor branches of politics and economics Rousseau was a real reformer. Visionary as his educational schemes (chiefly promulgated in Emile) are in parts, they are admirable in others, and his protest against mothers refusing to nurse their children hit a blot in French life which is not removed yet, and has always been a. source of weakness to the nation.
But it is as a literary man pure and simple - that is to say, as an exponent rather than as an originator of ideas - that Rousseau is most noteworthy, and that he has exercised most influence. The first thing noticeable about him is that he defies all customary and mechanical classification. He is not a dramatist - his work as such is insignificant - nor a novelist, for, though his two chief works except the Confessions are called novels, Emile is one only in name, and La Nouvelle ileloise is as a story diffuse, prosy, and awkward to a degree. He was perfectly without command of poetic form, and he could only be called a philosopher in an age when the term was used with such meaningless laxity as was customary in the 18th century. If he must be classed, lie was before all things a describer - a describer of the passions of the human heart and of the beauties of nature. In the first part of his vocation the novelists of his own youth, such as Marivaux, Richardson, and Prevost, may be said to have shown him the way, though he improved greatly upon them ; in the second he was almost a creator. In combining the two and expressing the effect of nature on the feelings and of the feelings on the aspect of nature he was absolutely without a forerunner or a model. And, as literature since his time has been chiefly differentiated from literature before it by the colour and tone resulting from this combination, Rousseau may be said to hold, as an influence, a place almost unrivalled in literary history. The defects of all sentimental writing - occasional triviality and exaggeration of trivial things, diffuseness, overstrained emotion, false sentiment, disregard of the intellectual and the practical - are of course noticeable in him, but they are excused and palliated by his wonderful feeling, and by what may be called the passionate sincerity even of his insincere passages. Some cavils have been made against his French, but none of much weight or importance. And in such passages as the famous " Voile de la pervenche " of the Confessions, as the description of the isle of St Pierre in the Reveries, as some of the letters in the Nouvelle Heloise and others, he has achieved the greatest success possible - that of absolute perfection in doing what he intended to do. The reader, as it has been said, may think he might have done something else with advantage, but he can hardly think that he could have done this thing better.
The dates of most of Rousseau's works published during his lifetime have been given above. The Confessions and Rdneries, which, read in private, had given much umbrage to persons concerned, and which the author did not intend to be published until the end of the century, appeared at Geneva in 1782. In the same year and the following appeared a complete edition In forty-seven small volumes. There have been many since, the most important of them being that of MussetPathay (Paris, 1823). Some unpublished works, chiefly letters, were added by Bosscha (Paris, 1858) and Streckeisen Moulton (Paris, 1861). The most convenient edition is perhaps that of Didot in 4 vols. large 8vo, but a handsome and well-edited collection Is still something of a desideratum. 'Works on Rousseau are innumerable. The chief ale - in French that of Saint Marc Girardin (1874), in English the excellent book of Mr John Morley. (G. SA.)