Sunday, May 17, 2015
Jean Jacques Rousseau
Rousseau's novel Emile, or On Education is a treatise on the education of the whole person for citizenship. His sentimental novel Julie, or the New Heloise was of importance to the development of pre-romanticism and romanticism in fiction. Rousseau's autobiographical writings — his Confessions, which initiated the modern autobiography, and his Reveries of a Solitary Walker — exemplified the late 18th-century movement known as the Age of Sensibility, and featured an increased focus on subjectivity and introspection that later characterized modern writing. His Discourse on Inequality and The Social Contract are cornerstones in modern political and social thought.
Rousseau was a successful composer of music, who wrote seven operas as well as music in other forms, and made contributions to music as a theorist. As a composer, his music was a blend of the late Baroque style and the emergent Classical fashion, and he belongs to the same generation of transitional composers as Christoph Willibald Gluck and C.P.E. Bach. One of his more well-known works is the one-act opera Le devin du village, containing the duet "Non, Colette n'est point trompeuse" which was later rearranged as a standalone song by Beethoven.
During the period of the French Revolution, Rousseau was the most popular of the philosophes among members of the Jacobin Club. Rousseau was interred as a national hero in the Panthéon in Paris, in 1794, 16 years after his death.
Rousseau was born in Geneva, which was at the time a city-state and a Protestant associate of the Swiss Confederacy. Since 1536, Geneva had been a Huguenot republic and the seat of Calvinism. Five generations before Rousseau, his ancestor Didier, a bookseller who may have published Protestant tracts, had escaped persecution from French Catholics by fleeing to Geneva in 1549, where he became a wine merchant.
Rousseau was proud that his family, of the moyen order (or middle-class), had voting rights in the city. Throughout his life, he generally signed his books "Jean Jacques Rousseau, Citizen of Geneva".
Geneva, in theory, was governed democratically by its male voting "citizens". The citizens were a minority of the population when compared to the immigrants, referred to as "inhabitants", whose descendants were called "natives" and continued to lack suffrage. In fact, rather than being run by vote of the "citizens", the city was ruled by a small number of wealthy families that made up the "Council of Two Hundred"; these delegated their power to a twenty-five member executive group from among them called the "Little Council".
There was much political debate within Geneva, extending down to the tradespeople. Much discussion was over the idea of the sovereignty of the people, of which the ruling class oligarchy was making a mockery. In 1707, a democratic reformer named Pierre Fatio protested this situation, saying "A sovereign that never performs an act of sovereignty is an imaginary being." He was shot by order of the Little Council. Jean-Jacques Rousseau's father, Isaac, was not in the city at this time, but Jean-Jacques's grandfather supported Fatio and was penalized for it.
The trade of watchmaking had become a family tradition by the time of Rousseau's father, Isaac Rousseau. Isaac followed his grandfather, father and brothers into the business, except for a short stint teaching dance as a dance master. Isaac, notwithstanding his artisan status, was well educated and a lover of music. "A Genevan watchmaker," Rousseau wrote, "is a man who can be introduced anywhere; a Parisian watchmaker is only fit to talk about watches." In 1699, Isaac ran into political difficulty by entering a quarrel with visiting English officers, who in response drew their swords and threatened him. After local officials stepped in, it was Isaac who was punished, as Geneva was concerned with maintaining its ties to foreign powers.
Rousseau's mother, Suzanne Bernard Rousseau, was from an upper-class family who was raised by her uncle Samuel Bernard, a Calvinist preacher. He cared for Suzanne after her father Jacques (who had run into trouble with the legal/religious authorities for fornication and having a mistress) died in his early thirties. In 1695, Suzanne had to answer charges that she had attended a street theater disguised as a peasant woman so she could gaze upon M. Vincent Sarrasin, whom she fancied despite his continuing marriage. After a hearing, she was ordered by the Genevan Consistory to never interact with him again. She married Rousseau's father at the age of 31. Isaac's sister had married Suzanne's brother eight years earlier, after she had become pregnant and they had been chastised by the Consistory. (The child died at birth.) Later, the young Rousseau was told a romantic fairy-tale about the situation by the adults in his family—a tale where young love was denied by a disapproving patriarch but that prevailed by sibling loyalty that, in the story, resulted in love conquering all and two marriages uniting the families on the same day. Rousseau never learnt the truth.
Rousseau was born on 28 June 1712, and he would later relate: "I was born almost dying, they had little hope of saving me." He was baptized on 4 July 1712, in the great cathedral. His mother died of puerperal fever nine days after his birth, which he later described as "the first of my misfortunes."
He and his older brother François were brought up by their father and a paternal aunt, also named Suzanne. When Rousseau was five, his father sold the house that the family had received from his mother's relatives. While the idea was that his sons would inherit the principal when grown up and he would live off the interest in the meantime, in the end the father took most of the substantial proceeds. With the selling of the house, the Rousseau family moved out of the upper-class neighborhood and moved into an apartment house in a neighborhood of craftsmen—silversmiths, engravers, and other watchmakers. Growing up around craftsmen, Rousseau would later contrast them favorably to those who produced more aesthetic works, writing "those important persons who are called artists rather than artisans, work solely for the idle and rich, and put an arbitrary price on their baubles." Rousseau was also exposed to class politics in this environment, as the artisans often agitated in a campaign of resistance against the privileged class running Geneva.
Rousseau had no recollection of learning to read, but he remembered how when he was 5 or 6 his father encouraged his love of reading:
Every night, after supper, we read some part of a small collection of romances , which had been my mother's. My father's design was only to improve me in reading, and he thought these entertaining works were calculated to give me a fondness for it; but we soon found ourselves so interested in the adventures they contained, that we alternately read whole nights together and could not bear to give over until at the conclusion of a volume. Sometimes, in the morning, on hearing the swallows at our window, my father, quite ashamed of this weakness, would cry, "Come, come, let us go to bed; I am more a child than thou art." (Confessions, Book 1)
Rousseau's reading of escapist stories (such as L'Astrée by Honoré d'Urfé) had an effect on him; he later wrote that they "gave me bizarre and romantic notions of human life, which experience and reflection have never been able to cure me of." After they had finished reading the novels, they began to read a collection of ancient and modern classics left by his mother's uncle. Of these, his favorite was Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, which he would read to his father while he made watches. Rousseau saw Plutarch's work as another kind of novel—the noble actions of heroes—and he would act out the deeds of the characters he was reading about.
Witnessing the local townsfolk participate in militias made a big impression on Rousseau. Throughout his life, he would recall one scene where, after the volunteer militia had finished its manoeuvres, they began to dance around a fountain and most of the people from neighboring buildings came out to join them, including him and his father. Rousseau would always see militias as the embodiment of popular spirit in opposition to the armies of the rulers, whom he saw as disgraceful mercenaries.
When Rousseau was 10, his father, an avid hunter, got into a legal quarrel with a wealthy landowner on whose lands he had been caught trespassing. To avoid certain defeat in the courts, he moved away to Nyon in the territory of Bern, taking Rousseau's aunt Suzanne with him. He remarried, and from that point Jean-Jacques saw little of him. Jean-Jacques was left with his maternal uncle, who packed him, along with his own son, Abraham Bernard, away to board for two years with a Calvinist minister in a hamlet outside Geneva. Here, the boys picked up the elements of mathematics and drawing. Rousseau, who was always deeply moved by religious services, for a time even dreamed of becoming a Protestant minister.
Virtually all our information about Rousseau's youth has come from his posthumously published Confessions, in which the chronology is somewhat confused, though recent scholars have combed the archives for confirming evidence to fill in the blanks. At age 13, Rousseau was apprenticed first to a notary and then to an engraver who beat him. At 15, he ran away from Geneva (on 14 March 1728) after returning to the city and finding the city gates locked due to the curfew.
In adjoining Savoy he took shelter with a Roman Catholic priest, who introduced him to Françoise-Louise de Warens, age 29. She was a noblewoman of Protestant background who was separated from her husband. As professional lay proselytizer, she was paid by the King of Piedmont to help bring Protestants to Catholicism. They sent the boy to Turin, the capital of Savoy (which included Piedmont, in what is now Italy), to complete his conversion. This resulted in his having to give up his Genevan citizenship, although he would later revert to Calvinism in order to regain it.
In converting to Catholicism, both De Warens and Rousseau were likely reacting to Calvinism's insistence on the total depravity of man. Leo Damrosch writes, "an eighteenth-century Genevan liturgy still required believers to declare ‘that we are miserable sinners, born in corruption, inclined to evil, incapable by ourselves of doing good'." De Warens, a deist by inclination, was attracted to Catholicism's doctrine of forgiveness of sins.
Finding himself on his own, since his father and uncle had more or less disowned him, the teenage Rousseau supported himself for a time as a servant, secretary, and tutor, wandering in Italy (Piedmont and Savoy) and France. During this time, he lived on and off with De Warens, whom he idolized and called his "maman". Flattered by his devotion, De Warens tried to get him started in a profession, and arranged formal music lessons for him. At one point, he briefly attended a seminary with the idea of becoming a priest.
When Rousseau reached 20, De Warens took him as her lover, while intimate also with the steward of her house. The sexual aspect of their relationship (in fact a ménage à trois) confused Rousseau and made him uncomfortable, but he always considered De Warens the greatest love of his life. A rather profligate spender, she had a large library and loved to entertain and listen to music. She and her circle, comprising educated members of the Catholic clergy, introduced Rousseau to the world of letters and ideas.
Rousseau had been an indifferent student, but during his 20s, which were marked by long bouts of hypochondria, he applied himself in earnest to the study of philosophy, mathematics, and music. At 25, he came into a small inheritance from his mother and used a portion of it to repay De Warens for her financial support of him. At 27, he took a job as a tutor in Lyon.
In 1742, Rousseau moved to Paris in order to present the Académie des Sciences with a new system of numbered musical notation he believed would make his fortune. His system, intended to be compatible with typography, is based on a single line, displaying numbers representing intervals between notes and dots and commas indicating rhythmic values. Believing the system was impractical, the Academy rejected it, though they praised his mastery of the subject, and urged him to try again.
From 1743 to 1744, Rousseau had an honorable but ill-paying post as a secretary to the Comte de Montaigue, the French ambassador to Venice. This awoke in him a lifelong love for Italian music, particularly opera:
I had brought with me from Paris the prejudice of that city against Italian music; but I had also received from nature a sensibility and niceness of distinction which prejudice cannot withstand. I soon contracted that passion for Italian music with which it inspires all those who are capable of feeling its excellence. In listening to barcaroles, I found I had not yet known what singing was... —Confessions
Rousseau's employer routinely received his stipend as much as a year late and paid his staff irregularly. After 11 months, Rousseau quit, taking from the experience a profound distrust of government bureaucracy.
Returning to Paris, the penniless Rousseau befriended and became the lover of Thérèse Levasseur, a seamstress who was the sole support of her mother and numerous ne'er-do-well siblings. At first, they did not live together, though later Rousseau took Thérèse and her mother in to live with him as his servants, and himself assumed the burden of supporting her large family. According to his Confessions, before she moved in with him, Thérèse bore him a son and as many as four other children (there is no independent verification for this number).
Rousseau wrote that he persuaded Thérèse to give each of the newborns up to a foundling hospital, for the sake of her "honor". "Her mother, who feared the inconvenience of a brat, came to my aid, and she allowed herself to be overcome" (Confessions). In his letter to Madame de Francueil in 1751, he first pretended that he wasn't rich enough to raise his children but in book IX of the confessions, he gave the true reasons of his choice : "I trembled at the thought of intrusting them to a family ill brought up, to be still worse educated. The risk of the education of the foundling hospital was much less."
Ten years later, Rousseau made inquiries about the fate of his son, but no record could be found. When Rousseau subsequently became celebrated as a theorist of education and child-rearing, his abandonment of his children was used by his critics, including Voltaire and Edmund Burke, as the basis for ad hominem attacks.
While in Paris, Rousseau became a close friend of French philosopher Diderot and, beginning with some articles on music in 1749, contributed numerous articles to Diderot and D'Alembert's great Encyclopédie, the most famous of which was an article on political economy written in 1755.
Rousseau's ideas were the result of an almost obsessive dialogue with writers of the past, filtered in many cases through conversations with Diderot. In 1749, Rousseau was paying daily visits to Diderot, who had been thrown into the fortress of Vincennes under a lettre de cachet for opinions in his "Lettre sur les aveugles", that hinted at materialism, a belief in atoms, and natural selection.
Rousseau had read about an essay competition sponsored by the Académie de Dijon to be published in the Mercure de France on the theme of whether the development of the arts and sciences had been morally beneficial. He wrote that while walking to Vincennes (about three miles from Paris), he had a revelation that the arts and sciences were responsible for the moral degeneration of mankind, who were basically good by nature. Rousseau's 1750 Discourse on the Arts and Sciences was awarded the first prize and gained him significant fame.
Rousseau continued his interest in music. He wrote both the words and music of his opera Le Devin du Village (The Village Soothsayer), which was performed for King Louis XV in 1752. The king was so pleased by the work that he offered Rousseau a lifelong pension. To the exasperation of his friends, Rousseau turned down the great honor, bringing him notoriety as "the man who had refused a king's pension." He also turned down several other advantageous offers, sometimes with a brusqueness bordering on truculence that gave offense and caused him problems. The same year, the visit of a troupe of Italian musicians to Paris, and their performance of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi's La Serva Padrona, prompted the Querelle des Bouffons, which pitted protagonists of French music against supporters of the Italian style. Rousseau as noted above, was an enthusiastic supporter of the Italians against Jean-Philippe Rameau and others, making an important contribution with his Letter on French Music.
On returning to Geneva in 1754, Rousseau reconverted to Calvinism and regained his official Genevan citizenship. In 1755, Rousseau completed his second major work, the Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men (the Discourse on Inequality), which elaborated on the arguments of the Discourse on the Arts and Sciences.
He also pursued an unconsummated romantic attachment with the 25-year-old Sophie d'Houdetot, which partly inspired his epistolary novel, Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse (also based on memories of his idyllic youthful relationship with Mme de Warens). Sophie was the cousin and houseguest of Rousseau's patroness and landlady Madame d'Epinay, whom he treated rather highhandedly. He resented being at Mme d'Epinay's beck and call and detested the insincere conversation and shallow atheism of the Encyclopedistes whom he met at her table. Wounded feelings gave rise to a bitter three-way quarrel between Rousseau and Madame d'Epinay; her lover, the journalist Grimm; and their mutual friend, Diderot, who took their side against Rousseau. Diderot later described Rousseau as being "false, vain as Satan, ungrateful, cruel, hypocritical, and wicked ... He sucked ideas from me, used them himself, and then affected to despise me".
Rousseau's break with the Encyclopedistes coincided with the composition of his three major works, in all of which he emphasized his fervent belief in a spiritual origin of man's soul and the universe, in contradistinction to the materialism of Diderot, La Mettrie, and d'Holbach. During this period, Rousseau enjoyed the support and patronage of Charles François Frédéric de Montmorency-Luxembourg, and the Prince de Conti, two of the richest and most powerful nobles in France. These men truly liked Rousseau and enjoyed his ability to converse on any subject, but they also used him as a way of getting back at Louis XV and the political faction surrounding his mistress, Mme de Pompadour. Even with them, however, Rousseau went too far, courting rejection when he criticized the practice of tax farming, in which some of them engaged.
Rousseau's 800-page novel of sentiment, Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse, was published in 1761 to immense success. The book's rhapsodic descriptions of the natural beauty of the Swiss countryside struck a chord in the public and may have helped spark the subsequent nineteenth-century craze for Alpine scenery. In 1762, Rousseau published Du Contrat Social, Principes du droit politique (in English, literally Of the Social Contract, Principles of Political Right) in April. Even his friend Antoine-Jacques Roustan felt impelled to write a polite rebuttal of the chapter on Civil Religion in the Social Contract, which implied that the concept of a Christian Republic was paradoxical since Christianity taught submission rather than participation in public affairs. Rousseau even helped Roustan find a publisher for the rebuttal.
Rousseau published Emile: or, On Education in May. A famous section of Émile, "The Profession of Faith of a Savoyard Vicar", was intended to be a defense of religious belief. Rousseau's choice of a Catholic vicar of humble peasant background (plausibly based on a kindly prelate he had met as a teenager) as a spokesman for the defense of religion was in itself a daring innovation for the time. The vicar's creed was that of Socinianism (or Unitarianism as it is called today). Because it rejected original sin and divine Revelation, both Protestant and Catholic authorities took offense.
Moreover, Rousseau advocated the opinion that, insofar as they lead people to virtue, all religions are equally worthy, and that people should therefore conform to the religion in which they have been brought up. This religious indifferentism caused Rousseau and his books to be banned from France and Geneva. He was condemned from the pulpit by the Archbishop of Paris, his books were burned, and warrants were issued for his arrest. Former friends such as Jacob Vernes of Geneva could not accept his views, and wrote violent rebuttals.
A sympathetic observer, Scottish philosopher David Hume, "professed no surprise when he learned that Rousseau's books were banned in Geneva and elsewhere". Rousseau, he wrote, "has not had the precaution to throw any veil over his sentiments; and, as he scorns to dissemble his contempt for established opinions, he could not wonder that all the zealots were in arms against him. The liberty of the press is not so secured in any country ... as not to render such an open attack on popular prejudice somewhat dangerous.'"
Rousseau, who intended to defend religion, was despondent. While he may have hoped otherwise, Rousseau knew his words would be inflammatory and that they faced censorship. Forced to flee arrest, he made his way, with the help of the Duc of Luxembourg and Prince de Conti, to Neuchâtel, a Canton of the Swiss Confederation that was a protectorate of the Prussian crown. His powerful protectors discreetly assisted him in his flight, and they helped to get his banned books (published in Holland by Marc-Michel Rey) distributed in France disguised as other works, using false covers and title pages. In the town of Môtiers, he sought and found protection under Lord Keith, who was the local representative of Frederick the Great of Prussia a proponent of enlightened absolutism. While in Môtiers, Rousseau wrote the Constitutional Project for Corsica (Projet de Constitution pour la Corse, 1765).
After his house in Môtiers was stoned on the night of 6 September 1765, Rousseau took refuge in Great Britain with Hume, who found lodgings for him at a friend's country estate in Wootton in Staffordshire. Neither Thérèse nor Rousseau was able to learn English or make friends. Isolated, Rousseau, never very emotionally stable, suffered a serious decline in his mental health and began to experience paranoid fantasies about plots against him involving Hume and others. "He is plainly mad, after having long been maddish", Hume wrote to a friend. Rousseau's letter to Hume, in which he articulates the perceived misconduct, sparked an exchange which was published in Paris and received with great interest at the time.
Although officially banned from entering France before 1770, Rousseau returned in 1767 under a false name. In 1768, he went through a marriage of sorts to Thérèse (marriages between Catholics and Protestants were illegal), whom he had always hitherto referred to as his "housekeeper". Though she was illiterate, she had become a remarkably good cook, a hobby her husband shared.
In 1770, they were allowed to return to Paris. As a condition of his return, he was not allowed to publish any books, but after completing his Confessions, Rousseau began private readings in 1771. At the request of Madame d'Epinay, who was anxious to protect her privacy, however, the police ordered him to stop, and the Confessions was only partially published in 1782, four years after his death. All his subsequent works were to appear posthumously.
In 1772, Rousseau was invited to present recommendations for a new constitution for the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, resulting in the Considerations on the Government of Poland, which was to be his last major political work. In 1776, he completed Dialogues: Rousseau Judge of Jean-Jacques and began work on the Reveries of the Solitary Walker. In order to support himself, he returned to copying music, spending his leisure time in the study of botany.
Although Rousseau was a celebrity, his mental health did not permit him to enjoy his fame. His final years were largely spent in deliberate withdrawal. However, he did respond favorably to an approach from the composer Christoph Willibald Gluck, whom he met in 1774. Gluck admired Rousseau as "a pioneer of the expressive natural style" in music. One of Rousseau's last pieces of writing was a critical yet enthusiastic analysis of Gluck's opera Alceste. While taking a morning walk on the estate of the marquis René Louis de Girardin at Ermenonville (28 miles northeast of Paris), Rousseau suffered a hemorrhage and died, aged 66.
Rousseau was initially buried at Ermenonville on the Ile des Peupliers, which became a place of pilgrimage for his many admirers. Sixteen years after his death, his remains were moved to the Panthéon in Paris in 1794, where they are located directly across from those of his contemporary, Voltaire. His tomb, in the shape of a rustic temple, on which in bas relief an arm reaches out, bearing the torch of liberty, evokes Rousseau's deep love of nature and of classical antiquity.
In 1834, the Genevan government somewhat reluctantly erected a statue in his honor on the tiny Île Rousseau in Lake Geneva. Today, he is proudly claimed as their most celebrated native son. In 2002, the Espace Rousseau was established at 40 Grand-Rue, Geneva, Rousseau's birthplace.
Rousseau was said to be married to Thérèse Levasseur, a seamstress who was at the same time his longtime partner. Rousseau took Thérèse and her mother in to live with him. They had five children and all of them were handed over to orphanages. Nigel Rodgers and Mel Thompson's book Philosophers Behaving Badly has found all of them died due to their ill treatment at the orphanage, which was very common at the time.