Poems & Short Stories: 4,435
Forum Members: 67,986
Forum Posts: 1,216,101
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
When the service of the public ceases to be the principal concern of
the citizens, and they would rather discharge it by their purses
than their persons, the State is already far on the way to ruin.
When they should march to fight, they pay troops to fight for them
and stay at home; when they should go to council, they send deputies
and remain away; thus, in consequence of their indolence and wealth,
they in the end employ soldiers to enslave their country, and
representatives to sell it. So soon as a citizen says, What are
State Affairs to me? the State may be given up for lost.
Who is the great man?
Listen, and I will tell you: He is great who feeds other minds. He is
great who inspires others to think for themselves. He is great who
tells you the things you already know, but which you did not know you
knew until he told you. He is great who shocks you, irritates you,
affronts you, so that you are jostled out of your wonted ways, pulled
out of your mental ruts, lifted out of the mire of the commonplace.
That writer is great whom you alternately love and hate. That writer
is great whom you can not forget.
Certainly, yes, the man in his private life may be proud, irritable,
rude, crude, coarse, faulty, absurd, ignorant, immoral--grant it all,
and yes be great. He is not great on account of these things, but in
spite of them. The seeming inconsistencies and inequalities of his
nature may contribute to his strength, as the mountains and valleys,
the rocks and woods, make up the picturesqueness of the landscape.
He is great to whom writers, poets, painters, philosophers, preachers,
and scientists go, each to fill his own little tin cup, dipper,
calabash, vase, stein, pitcher, amphora, bucket, tub, barrel or cask.
These men may hate him, refute him, despise him, reject him, insult
him, as they probably will if they are much indebted to him; yet if he
stirs the molecules in their minds to a point where they create
caloric, he has benefited them and therefore he is a great man.
Jean Jacques Rousseau was a great man. We are still reading him--still
talking about him--still trying to clap label upon him--still hunting
for a pigeonhole in which to place him.
If a man were wholly crude, rude, ignorant and coarse, and if he did
nothing but shock and irritate us, we would quickly cast him aside.
But in addition to shocking us the great man fascinates us by his
insight, his subtlety, his imagination, his sympathy, his tenderness,
his love. Behind the act he sees the cause, and so he excuses and
forgives. Knowing the present he is able to forecast the future, for
he, of all men, knows that effect follows cause. He does what we dare
not and says what we would like to if we had the mind. So in one sense
the man is our vicarious self--"I am that man." His very faultiness
brings him near. His blunders make him to us akin.
* * * * *
To answer the arguments of Jean Jacques by references to his private
life were easy and obvious. He did not apologize for his life, and
perhaps we would do well to follow his example.
The fact that with his own hands he carried five of his offspring to
foundling asylums as they came into the world does not alter or change
the fact that he was also the author of "Emile," in which book, let it
be remembered, the idea of substituting natural for pedantic methods
in the training and developing of the physical, mental and moral
faculties of the growing child first found expression.
The book furnished Froebel with the fund of ideas for his experiments
with children which resulted in the Kindergarten, an institution that
has profoundly influenced the educational methods of every
enlightened country in the world.
Without a doubt this man who abandoned his own children became one of
the great instructors of the age.
But a fair understanding of the situation demands that we should
realize that things for which we blame him most occured before he was
thirty-eight years old. And the writings of his that really
influenced humanity were not written until after he was thirty-eight.
To confound the reasoning of the mature man, by pointing to what he
did at twenty-two, is, I submit, irrelevant, immaterial, inconsequent,
unrelated and uncalled for. When a critic has nothing to say of a
man's work, but calls attention to the errors of the author's youth,
he is running short of material.
That Rousseau revised his mode of living and reformed his reasoning in
his later years, viewing his early life with bitter regret, should be
put forward to his credit and not be used for his condemnation. The
facts, however, are all that his harshest critics state. But fact and
truth are often totally different things. Untruth enters when we
reason wrongly from our facts.
We have been told by both the friends and the enemies of Rousseau that
to him the French Revolution traces a direct lineage. For this his
friends give him credit, and his enemies blame. The truth is, that
revolutions are things that require long time and many factors to
evolve. A revolution is the culmination of a long train of evils.
Rousseau saw the evils and called attention to them, but he did not
exactly cause them--bless me! His little love-affairs with elderly
ladies, and grateful, should not be confused with the atrocious
cruelties and inhumanities that existed in France and had existed for
a hundred years and more.
A wise man of the East was once eating his dinner of dried figs, and
at the same time explaining to an admiring group the beauty and
healthfulness of a purely vegetable diet.
"Look at your figs through this," said a scientist present, handing
the man a microscope. The pundit looked and saw his precious figs were
covered with crawling microbes.
He handed the microscope back and said, "Friend, keep your glass--the
bugs no longer exist."
Jean Jacques handed the peasantry of France a reading-glass; Voltaire
did as much for the nobility.
* * * * *
Jean Jacques Rousseau was born in Switzerland, which land, as all
folks know, has produced her full quota and more of reformers. The
father of Jean Jacques, quite naturally, was a watchmaker, with
mainspring ill-adjusted and dial askew, according to the report of the
son, who claimed to be full-jeweled, but was not perfectly adjusted to
position and temperature. Jean Jacques tells us that his first
misfortune was his birth, and this cost his mother her life. He was
adopted by Time and Chance and fed by Fate. When the lad was ten the
father fled from Geneva to escape the penalty of a foolish brawl, and
never again saw the son who was to rescue the family-name from
Kinsmen of the mother gave the boy into the hands of a retired
clergyman who levied polite blackmail on his former constituents by
asking them to place children, their own and others, in his hands that
they might be taught the way of life--and that the clergyman might
live, which, according to Whistlerian philosophy, was unnecessary.
That the boy was clever, shrewd, quick to learn, secretive as castaway
children ever are, can well be understood. He became a secretary, an
engineer, a valet, a waiter, working life's gamut backward, thus
proving that in human service there is no high nor low degree, only
this: he, at this time, knew nothing about human service--he was
fighting for existence.
Knowledge comes through desire, but where desire comes from no man can
say. It surely is not a matter of will.
Jean Jacques had a hunger for knowledge, and this, some wise men say,
is the precious legacy of mother to son. He wanted to know!
And it was this desire that shaped his career.
He asked questions of priests all day long, because he was filled with
the fallacy that priests knew the secrets of the unknowable and were
on friendly terms with God.
To escape importunity a priest sent him to Madame De Warens. Now
Madame was a widow, rich and volatile, filled with a holy religious
zeal. Where religion begins and sex ends no man can say--the books are
silent and revelation is dumb. Indeed, there be those who are so bold
as to say that art, love and religion are one.
Leaving this to the specialists, let us simply say that the love of
learning landed Jean Jacques, aged seventeen, poetic and philosophic
vagabond, into the precious care of Madame De Warens, who kept a
religious retreat for novitiates intent on the ideal life.
The religion of Mohammed made converts in numbers like unto the sands
of the desert, because they were promised a Paradise peopled by dark-
eyed houris. Orthodoxy got its hold by a promise of rest, idleness and
freedom from responsibility. The heaven into which Jean Jacques
slipped was a combination of all that Allah, Gabriel and the seductive
dreams of Moody, Sankey and such could provide. Science founded on
truth can never be popular until mankind further evolves, since it
offers nothing better than toil and difficulty, and after each
achievement increased work as a reward for work. This condition stands
no show when compared with a heaven that gives harps that never
require tuning, robes that need not be laundered, and mansions that
demand no plumbing.
Jean Jacques lived an ideal existence; he was the guest, pupil,
servant and lover of the Religious Lady who kept the Religious
Retreat. Also, he was immune from responsibility. But Paradise has one
serious objection--the serpent. This time the serpent was jealousy.
Whenever the Religious Lady had guests of quality, the snake sank its
fangs deep into the quivering flesh of her valet-lover. Thus does the
Law of Compensation never rest.
"What is your favorite book?" asked Ralph Waldo Emerson of George
And the answer was, "Rousseau's 'Confessions.'"
And Emerson's counter-confession was, "So is it mine."
Elizabeth Barrett Browning nibbled at the same cheese. But the belief
now is that Rousseau's "Confessions" is largely constructive truth, as
differentiated from fact, and constructive truth is the thing which
might have happened, but did not. Rousseau's "Confessions" is a
psychological study of hopes, desires, aspirations and hesitations,
flavored with regrets. All literature is confession--vicarious
confession. The gentle reader has the joy of doing the thing, and
escaping the penalty.
* * * * *
Rousseu's first literary effort to attract attention was written in
his thirty-ninth year. It was merely an exercise penned with intent
to show that so-called civilization had really polluted mankind and
done more harm than good.
The essay was a subtle indictment of the times, with the French
Government in mind, all from the standpoint of a Swiss. And it
convinced at least one man--the author--of the truth of its
At this time there were in France more than a hundred offenses
punishable with death. In the coronation oath of the King was a clause
promising that he would exterminate all heretics. Just how this was to
be done, the King left to experts. The "lettre de cachet," or secret
arrest, was in full swing and very popular among princes and church
officials high in authority. Any suspected man could be removed from
family and friends as though the earth had swallowed him. He went out
to drive, or to walk, or to work, and was seen no more. Search was
vain and inquiry useless--aye, worse, it might involve the inquirer.
The writ of habeas corpus was as yet a barren hypothesis.
Common people had no rights: they were merely granted privileges, one
of which was the privilege to live until the order went out that the
man should die.
Confessions were wrung from men and women by the use of the rack,
twistings, blows, indignities, an exact description of which could not
be printed. These details were left to priests, sanctimonious men who
did their work with pious zeal and therefore were not accountable.
Church and State were wedded. To doubt Scripture was to be in league
against the State. Heresy and treason were one. To laugh at a priest
might be death. To fail to attend mass and pay was to run a risk.
Lords and bishops held vast estates and paid no taxes. Grain was not
allowed to flow from parish to parish, but was held in check by
prohibitive tariffs. The King, himself, speculated in breadstuffs and
banked on famine, for royalty was exempt from all tariff law. Thus was
food made a monopoly. To petition was construed as an insult to the
crown and was treated accordingly.
Most estates held serfs who were not allowed to leave the premises of
their lord on penalty of death--they belonged to the land.
Officers in the army had the right to beat their soldiers, and if the
soldier raised a hand to protect himself, he could be legally killed.
All skilled labor was in the hands of the guilds. These guilds got
their charters from the crown. They fixed prices, regulated the number
of apprentices, and decided who should work and who should not. To
work at an art without a license from the guild was punishable by fine
and imprisonment; to repeat the offense was death. Citizens could
neither sell their labor nor buy the labor of their neighbors or
families, without permission. The guild was master, and the guild got
its authority by dividing profits with a corrupt court. Thus a few
laborers received very high wages, but for the many there was no work.
The guild made common cause with the priest and the peer. The
collection of taxes was farmed out to the "farmers-general," who kept
half they got. When the yearly contract was signed, the Secretary of
State was given a present called "The Bottle of Wine," by the
successful bidders. This present was in cash and varied anywhere from
fifty to a hundred thousand francs. Where the custom began, no one
knew; but it ended with Turgot, who turned in to the government
treasury a perquisite that had been made him of seventy thousand
francs, and issued an order that no official should accept a present
of money from a government contractor.
Needless to say, Turgot was regarded as an unsafe person, and his
official career was cut short.
Thomas E. Watson, in his most interesting book, "The Story of France,"
The Catholic church was a huge religious monopoly. Its hierarchy was
entrenched in a power before which the king himself was a secondary
potentate. Then followed those consequences which have always
followed when too much power is granted to any set of men. The
Catholic church absorbed much of the wealth of the land. The higher
priesthood became an aristocracy, imitating in every respect the
feudal aristocracy, which was rich, idle and licentious. Just as the
State regarded the subject from the standpoint of taxpayer only;
just as the State imposed upon the common people all the burdens of
government while denying them the benefits; so the nobility of the
Catholic church lived sumptuously, lazily, licentiously--shirking
their duties, forgetting the responsibilities of their sacred
calling, neglecting the flock committed to their care, allowing
ignorance and superstition to take full possession of the minds of
the common people.
In the records of the human race there can be found no evidence more
damming to absolutism and the union of Church and State than is to be
found in the degraded, besotted condition of the common people of
France immediately proceeding the French Revolution.
All France was orthodox. The masses believed. With boundless credulity
they knelt at the foot of the priest.
Yet what had the priest done for them? Had he introduced books among
them? No. Liberal ideas? No. Schools? No. Information upon such
matters as concerned their material welfare? No. Had the Church ever
pleaded the peasant's case at the bar of public opinion? No. Ever
besought the king to lighten the weight of his heavy hand? No. Ever
protested against feudal wrongs? No. Ever shown the least desire that
the condition of the masses should be improved? No.
Royalist writers dwell scornfully upon the ignorance, brutality and
prejudice of the lower orders in France at the time of the Revolution
--let them write ever so scornfully, the lower they degrade the
peasant, the higher mounts the evidence and the indignation against
those who had been his keepers!
This government of France had been absolute. The State and the Church,
the king and the priest, had had entire control. The people had no
voice, no vote, no power. They had never been consulted. The entire
responsibility had been assumed by the monarch and his privileged few
--and here was the result. Theirs was the tree, theirs the fruit.
"Whatsoever a man sow, that also shall he reap"; and the crimes, the
ignorance, the brutality, the poverty, the misery of the masses of the
French people in Seventeen Hundred Eighty-nine, stands as a permanent
judgment of condemnation against the ruling classes, who were
responsible for the material, mental and spiritual condition of a
people who had so long been under their absolute control.
* * * * *
Rousseau, the subtly silent, the handsome, the bewitchingly
melancholic, lived his subterranean life until he was forty-two. Then
he was dogged out of Paris by the police, and soon after appeared in
his native Geneva after an absence of twenty-five years. He was
accompanied by his wife Therese, her mother, and his dog Duke.
This mating between Jean Jacques and Therese was a happy one. She
could neither read nor write, nor did she care to. Yet she had an
idolatrous regard for her liege, and every evening he read aloud to
her and to his mother-in-law what he had written during the day. At
every pause in the reading, the old lady, without understanding a word
of it, would interject, "This is very fine!" And Therese would
skilfully transform a yawn into a sigh of delight, roll her eyes in a
transport of joy, and say nothing.
This was just what was required, and all that was required, save a
chronic quarrel with influential friends, to keep Rousseau in good
literary fighting form.
"A wife who is in competition with her husband, or who has just enough
mind to detect his faults, is the extinguisher of genius," said
Goethe, who lived up to his blue china and referred to his wife as a
convenient loaf of brown bread, which he declared was much more
nourishing than cake, having tried both.
Just outside Geneva, at Les Delices, Voltaire had built his private
theater, where he used to invite the favored children of Calvin to
witness the drama. Voltaire being a playwright and without prejudice
in the matter, had even suggested a municipal theater for Geneva. This
brought forth from Jean Jacques a scorching pamphlet on the seductive
deviltry of the drama, wherein it was pointed out that the downfall of
every nation that had gone by the boards had begun its slide to
Avernus in its love of the play. In this essay Rousseau expressed the
view of orthodox Geneva, where the traditions of Calvin still
survived. "The theater stands for luxury, idleness, sensuality and all
that is feverish and base; private theaters are private bagnios,"
wrote Rousseau. Probably Rousseau, when he began to write, did not
care anything about the matter one way or the other. But Voltaire had
neglected to invite him to a "first night," and now he was getting
even. As he wrote he convinced himself.
"He is like an oven that is too hot," said Voltaire; "it burns
everything that is put into it." Then when Voltaire found that
Rousseau's pamphlet was really making a splash in the sea of books, he
got mad and called Rousseau a "dog of Diogenes," "that Punchinello of
letters," the "fanfaron of ink," and other choice epithets.
Every knock being a boost, then as now, Rousseau found himself lifted
into the domain of successful authorship. His income was less than a
hundred pounds a year (Voltaire's was two or three thousand pounds).
but he had all he needed, and things were coming his way.
Voltaire represented the nobility--Rousseau stood for the people. And
Geneva being but a big village--twenty-four thousand inhabitants--the
battle of the giants was watched by the neighbors with interest.
Rousseau was a member of the Protestant Church; Voltaire called
himself a Catholic--so little do labels count.
Voltaire lived in a palace and rode in a coach with outriders;
Rousseau trudged on foot alone. Solitary, he would take his piece of
dry bread and grape-leaf full of cherries, and wander to the woods or
on the mountain-side, stopping and sitting on a boulder to write on
his ever-faithful pad when the thought came. "I have to walk ten miles
to get a thousand words," he said.
In Geneva at this time lived Diderot and D'Alembert, literary
refugees, busy at that first encyclopedia. They ran a kind of
literary clearing-house, and gave piecework to everybody who could
write and had two ideas to jingle against each other. Both Rousseau
and Voltaire, whenever they were in the mood, wrote for the
encyclopedia. Finally Voltaire started a dictionary of his own.
Geneva at this time must have been a very attractive place in which to
live. There were men there who wrote like geniuses and quarreled like
children. Father Taylor said that if Emerson were sent to hell, he
would start emigration in that direction. The refugees from France
made Geneva popular, and all the bickering added spice to existence
and made exile tolerable.
Rousseau persistently flocked alone and made much dole because his
friends forsook him. Then when they went to see him he complained
because they would not leave him alone. Diderot accused him of
insincerity because he changed the name of his dog from "Duke" to
"Turk," for fear of offending Madame d'Epinay, who gave him a cottage
rent-free. "He is a dwarf, mounted on stilts," said Baron Grimm.
And all the time Jean Jacques wandered on the mountain-side, ate his
brown bread and cherries, talked to himself and wrote, and got back
home in the twilight to present the day's catch of ideas to Therese
and the fat mother-in-law, who at the right time always said, "This is
very fine!" And Rousseau, full-jeweled, but unreliable as a horologe,
loved them both, second only to his dog, Turk, who lay at his feet and
occasionally pounded his tail on the floor to prove that he was still
awake and that the sentiments were his, and that he agreed with the
old lady--"This is very fine!" The quarrels of Jean Jacques with all
three were only a quarrel with himself.
* * * * *
Having entertained Voltaire for a year, Frederick the Great shot this
winged arrow, "If I had a province to punish, I would give it to a
philosopher to govern."
Rousseau is flowery and often over-sentimental. But it can be assumed
that he himself always knew what he meant. Yet he has given rise to
much loose thinking. His references to the "Book of Nature," for
instance, were worked overtime by zealous converts. It will be
recalled how Chief Justice Marshall paralyzed a poetic attorney in
mid-flight, who referred to the "Book of Nature," by looking over his
glasses and saying, "One moment, please, while I take down the page
and paragraph of that passage in the volume to which counsel has just
kindly referred us."
It is the penalty of all original thinking that it inspires fools to
unseemliness as well as wise men to action.
Napoleon Bonaparte said, "Had there been no Rousseau, there would have
been no Revolution."
And George Sand said, "To blame the 'Social Contract' for the
Revolution is like blaming the Gospels for the massacre of Saint
George Sand is literary, but wrong, since Marat, Mirabeau,
Robespierre, got their arguments directly from Rousseau, and no one I
have ever heard made an appeal to Scripture as a defense for murdering
thirty thousand men, women and children. Mirabeau quotes this from
Rousseau in self-defense: "No true believer can be a persecutor. If I
were a magistrate and the law inflicted death on an atheist, I should
begin to put it into execution by burning the first man who should
accuse or persecute another."
Jefferson and Franklin both read the "Social Contract" in the original
French, and quoted from it in giving reasons why it was not only
right, but the duty, of the Colonies to separate from Great Britain.
Rousseau fired the heart and inspired the brain of Thomas Paine to
write the pamphlet, "Common-sense," which, more than any other one
influence, brought about the American Revolution.
Jefferson especially was fascinated by Rousseau, and in his library
was a well-thumbed copy of the "Social Contract." marked and re-
marked on page and margin. Paine and Jefferson were the only men
connected with the strenuous times of Seventeen Hundred Seventy-six
who had a distinct literary style--who worked epigram and antithesis.
And the style of each is identical with the other. That Paine wrote
the first draft of the Declaration of Independence needs no argument
for the literary connoisseur--he simply says, "Read it." But while we
know that both Paine and Jefferson fed on Rousseau for ten years, it
is not so clear that they collaborated. They got their information
from the same source--one in England and the other in America--and met
with minds mature.
As Victor Hugo gave the key to the modern American stylists, so did
the stylists--and precious few there were--of Seventeen Hundred
Seventy-six trace to Jean Jacques. The man who wrote the "Junius
Letters" had only one model.
That opening phrase of the Declaration, "We hold these truths to be
self-evident." is a literal translation from Jean Jacques.
The Reverend Joseph Parker once said to me, "I always begin strong and
I end strong, for only your first phrase and your last will be
remembered, if remembered at all, by the average listener."
Jean Jacques begins strong. The first words of the "Social Contract"
are, "Man is born free, but is everywhere enslaved."
Does not that remind you of the not-to-be-forgotten opening words of
"The Crisis": "These are the times that try men's souls"?
Rousseau says, "Every individual who opposes himself to the general
will ought to be restrained by the whole body, which signifies nothing
else than that they force him to be free." That is, he is no longer
fit to receive the benefits of the social contract since he refused to
pay the price.
The argument of the "Social Contract" is that, in all and every form
of government, the people enter into an agreement with the prince or
ruler, agreeing to waive the mutual right of freedom in consideration
of his seeing to it that laws shall be passed and enforced giving the
greatest good to the greatest number.
And this led to that shibboleth of the Revolution, "Liberty,
Fraternity, Equality." Only when it was written by Jean Jacques twenty
years before it ran thus, "Liberty, Fraternity, Equality--or Death."
The final word was too strong for even his fiery followers to digest.
But once understood it means that if either prince or pauper refuses
to sign the Social Contract and live for all, death then must be his
portion. For and in consideration of this interest in the peace and
welfare of all, the prince is given honors and is allowed to call
himself "a ruler." If, however, at any time the prince should so
forget his sacred office as to work for private gain or for a favored
few, then he is guilty of a breach of the contract, and the people
owe to themselves the duty of deposition or revolution. Just as
Nature, when a man's body is no more fit for service, kills the man,
so must we kill the office and begin anew.
And this was to cause Thomas Paine to say in the Chamber of Deputies,
when the execution of Louis the Sixteenth was under discussion, "I
vote to kill the kingly office, not the man."
The following passages taken at random from Jean Jacques might safely
be attributed to either Paine, Jefferson or "Junius":
Wherever theological intolerance is admitted, it is impossible that
it should not have some civil effect; and so soon as it has, the
sovereign is no longer sovereign even in secular matters: the
priests become the real masters, and kings are only their officers.
Whoever dares to say, Beyond the Church there is no salvation, ought
to be driven from the State.
I perceive God in all His works; I feel Him in myself; I see Him all
around me; but as soon as I contemplate His nature, as soon as I try
to find out where He is, what He is, what is His substance, He
eludes my gaze; my imagination is overwhelmed. I do not therefore
reason about Him, for it is more injurious to the Deity to think
wrongly of Him than not to think of Him at all.
By equality we do not mean that all individuals shall have the same
degree of wealth and power, but only, with respect to the former,
that no citizen shall be rich enough to buy another, and that none
shall be so poor as to be obliged to sell himself.
Almost everything conspires to deprive a man brought up to command
others of the principles of reason and justice. Great pains are
taken, it is said, to teach young princes the art of reigning; it
does not, however, appear that they profit much by their education.
The greatest monarchs are those who have never been trained to rule.
It is a science of which those who know least succeed best; and it
is acquired better by studying obedience than command.
Did there exist a nation of gods, their government would doubtless
be democratic; it is too perfect for mankind.
The individual by giving himself up to all gives himself up to none;
and there is no member over whom he does not acquire the same right
as that which he gives up himself. He gains an equivalent for what
he loses, and a still greater power to preserve what he has. If,
therefore, we take from the social contract everything which is not
essential to it, we shall find it reduced to the following terms:
Each of us puts his person and his power under the superior
direction of the general will of all, and, as a collective body,
receives each member into that body as an indivisible part of the
* * * * *
Rousseau was born in Seventeen Hundred Twelve, and died in Seventeen
Hundred Seventy-eight. He wrote four books that are yet being read.
These books are the "Confessions," the "Social Contract," "Emile," and
the "New Heloise." I give the titles in order of popularity. It is
easy to say that people read the "Confessions" for the same reason
that they read "Peregrine Pickle" and "Tom Jones," it being one of
those peculiar books labeled by our French friends "risque." But its
salacious features are only incidental, and of themselves would not
have kept it afloat upon the tide of the times. The author, dead over
a hundred years, must have said something to keep men still reading
and discussing him.
Rousseau dealt with the elemental impulses of men and women. His cry,
"Back to Nature," is still the shibboleth of a great many good men,
from Parson Wagner to Theodore Roosevelt. Between the nobility and
orthodox Christianity, Nature was in a bad way in Rousseau's time. The
nobles thought to improve on her, and the preachers told the people
that what was natural was base. God was good, but Nature and the devil
were playing a game and the stakes were the souls of men. There are
many people still haunted with the hallucination that to trust your
impulses is to be damned.
Rousseau described human nature, and being truthful, some of it he
pictured as rude, crude and course. But on the other hand he showed
much that was redeeming--traits of beauty, truth, gentleness,
consideration, worth and aspirations that reached the skies. To trust
humanity, he thought, was the only way humanity could be redeemed. He
believed that blunders were sources of power, since by them we came to
distinguish between right and wrong. He was the first man to say,
"That country is governed best which is governed least." He gave
Horace Walpole the cue for the mot, "When the people of Paris speak of
the Garden of Eden, they always think of Versailles."
Rousseau is the first man of modern times to show us the beauty of
Nature in her wild and uncultivated attire. And he, more than any
other man who can be named, turned the attention of society towards
nature-study as a refining force. Read this from "Emile": "It was
Summer; we arose at break of day. He led me outside the town to a high
hill, below which the Po wound its way; in the distance the immense
chains of the Alps crowned the landscape; the rays of the rising sun
struck athwart the plains, and projected on the fields the long
shadows of the trees, the slopes, the houses, enriching by a thousand
accidents of light the loveliest prospect which the human eye could
behold." Rousseau is the spiritual ancestor of John Burroughs,
Thompson-Seton, and all our scientific, unscientific and sentimental
friends who flood us with Nature stories--fiction, fake or fact.
In his "Emile" he outlines our so-called pedagogic new-thought
methods. Birds' nests, bumblebees, hornets' nests, leaves, buds,
flowers, grasses, mosses, are schoolroom properties to which he often
refers. To a great degree he replaced the ferule, cat-o'-nine-tails,
dunce-cap, musty, dusty books, tear-stained slates, awful examples
and punishments of a hundred lines of Vergil, by wholesome good-cheer
and limpid forgetfulness of self in drawing pictures of spiders and
noting the difference between a wasp and a bee, a butterfly and a
moth, a frog and a toad, a mushroom and a toadstool. And so the reason
Rousseau is read is because there is much in his work that is
essentially modern. No thinker writes on political economy without
quoting the "Social Contract," either for the sake of bolstering his
own argument, or to show the folly of Jean Jacques. And I submit that
as long as we feel it necessary to refute an author, Andrew Lang may
expect letters from him any time, for, although dead, he yet lives.
* * * * * * *
SO HERE ENDETH "LITTLE JOURNEYS TO THE HOMES OF GREAT REFORMERS,"
BEING VOLUME NINE OF THE SERIES, AS WRITTEN BY ELBERT HUBBARD; EDITED
AND ARRANGED BY FRED BANN; BORDERS AND INITIALS BY ROYCROFT ARTISTS,
AND PRODUCED BY THE ROYCROFTERS, AT THEIR SHOPS, WHICH ARE IN EAST
AURORA, ERIE COUNTY, NEW YORK. MCMXXII
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.