« AnteriorContinuar »
over them a grave of simple turf; for he said, " Let our pillow be the earth where He has trodden, and let His light shine upon us by day and His dew come down upon our breast at night."
There is a palm-tree at the head of the heap, and a little well at the foot, and one white rose of Sharon that blossoms very sweet over the brink, and sheds the incense of the earth over their breasts who sleep below. At evening the gazelle comes to feed upon the green turf, and the bulbul sings on the bough over his flower, and the palmer at noon takes his branch from the tree, and a blossom from the bush, and sits in the shade, and drinks out of the well, and says,
"Illuminat Duminui faciem mum super te
JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU.
We have hitherto considered the character and fortunes of Rousseau as they regarded himself alone; the next, and now succeeding objects of consideration, however, are the views he took of the society into which he was thrown, the opinions he promulgated respecting the evils which infected it, and the remedies he proposed for the disease he fancied he had discovered. When these have been discussed, and the bearing they have on the opinions of the present day pointed out, the task we proposed to ourselves respecting Rousseau will have been accomplished.
Though endowed with quick sensibilities for himself, Jean Jacques yet extended his sympathies to his race. The injustice practised towards the poor made him the apostle of humanity; the misery inflicted on children kindled those lively feelings which led to the production of Emile, the most important work on education that ever appeared: the vices of social life induced him to compose, for the instruction of every coming generation, his remarkable romance " La Nouvelle Heloise," in the hope of being able to build up some moral code in the place of that which he saw was utterly destroyed; while the reigning ignorance on the science of government induced him to compose his Contrat Social, for the purpose of establishing some definite principles of political science. In all these various works he endeavoured, as he himself observes, to re-construct the fabric of opinions, and to rescue men from the floating uncertainty then prevalent on'most of the important subjects of thought; an uncertainty which, in any other than highly-cultivated minds, is but too apt to lead to carelessness respecting truth itself, and indifference to the well-being or misery of our fellows. Speaking of himself, as a third person, he says,
In this age, in which philosophy is employed only to destroy, I saw this author alone attempting solidly to reconstruct opinions. In the books of all others I detected the passion which had dictated them, and the personal object the writer had in view. Jean Jacques alone seemed to me to seek truth with rectitude of purpose, and simplicity of heart. He alone appeared to me to point out to men the path of true happiness, by teaching them to distinguish between reality and appearance— between the man of nature and that fictitious, fantastic man which has been put in his place, by our prejudices and our institutions.
The system he framed, (almost entirely the result of his own meditations,) like every first attempt in science, was a compound of truth and error. Still, although the errors he enunciated were of startling extra vagance, the truths he eloquently established were of the highest import; and, while he left much to be performed by succeeding inquirers, he himself made a great advance in the science he was endeavouring to form.
His system, which has been egregiously misunderstood and misrepresented, was framed with constant reference to the existing state of society.* This state he saw was one of vice and misery: and the first great inquiry suggested to his mind, by this circumstance, was, whether men were doomed necessarily to be thus vicious and thus unhappy. In order to answer this question, he was led to inquire into the nature of man, and to tfissect the constitution of society. The result of his investigations may be summed up in the following propositions: 1st, That men are, by nature, prone to good rather than to evil, and that they are capable of happiriess.t 2d, That the chief misery that men suffer is the result of a mischievous social system. 3d, That the system which would confer on them the highest degree of enjoyment, is that which would bring them back to their original or natural state. 4th, That, since to do this completely and at once is impossible, the best that can now be effected, would be to modify the existing system, keeping in mind the natural state of man, and, in as far as it is possible, correcting, by that model, the present mischievous regulations of society. 5th, That since these regulations have reference to our social and our political state, the latter resulting from the former, and the former resulting from our education, we must, if we desire to modify our condition, politically or socially, to any great or material extent, make a revolution previously in our system of education. The individuals who compose society must be changed before we can hope for any fundamental change in society itself.
In this series of propositions, that which is peculiar to Rousseau, that which brought down on him the ridicule of the philosopher, and which was the ground-work of his whole plan of regeneration, is the 3d, viz., "Th.it the system which would confer on men the greatest degree of enjoyment, is that which would bring them back to their original or natural state." The meaning, however, which Rousseau attached to this proposition was either misunderstood or wilfuljy misrepresented by his contemporaries. The spirit in which it was uttered was completely mistaken. The evils to which it pointed, and the remedies which it suggested, were alike misconceived by the critics of the day, and by the
• It may safely be assumed, that the small wits, who, on authority, sneer at the extravagance of Rousseau, have not been aware that he ever penned such a passage as the following:
"Here is found, as it appears to me, the ordinary fault of the AM>6 St. Pieri-e; which is, the never suiting his schemes to existing men, times, and circumstances; and the bringing forward, as means to facilitate the execution of a project, the very things that act as obstacles to it. In his present plan, he wished to modify a government declining through age, by means altogether foreign to In present nature; he wished to give it that general vigour which (if we may use such an expression) puts the whole person in action. This was, as if he had said to a decrepit and gouty old man, Walk, and labour; use your hands and your legs, for exercise is good for your health." (Jugement sur la Polysynodie.)
•f- This proposition brought down on him the anger and anathemas of the priesthood. If the reader be desirous of knowing the evils that fell on poor Rousseau, for his enunciation of this proposition, let him read the eloquent letter of Jean Jacques to the Archbishop of Paris, M. de Beaumont
little wits who, since that period, have never ceased to laugh at Rousseau for what they have chosen to call his Savage System.* They could neither understand the reform he suggested, nor perceive the evils which he described as now inhering in society.
Driven by his own condition, and that of the millions who constitute the poor of every country, to contemplate the existing state of society, he could not but quickly perceive, that individual merit had little to do with the well-being of any individual. He saw that the rules of civilized life were so framed, that a blind necessity for the most part determined the situation of every one; that the rules which governed society were expressly framed, not to be influenced by the circumstances of any particular case:—that their supposed virtue consisted in their undeviating certainty. This certainty cannot be attained without striking out of consideration individual differences. Any rule which is drawn with reference to the peculiar qualities of individuals must of necessity vary; but varying, it creates uncertainty; and uncertainty is the evil dreaded. The rule, therefore, has been based upon circumstances foreign to the individual himself, and not liable to doubt or uncertainty. Thus grew up the law of property, the law of condition,—thus arose the relative situation of governor and governed, of subject and master, poor and rich, noble and plebeian. Thus originated the vices of our social condition,—the evils of government,—the misery of millions apparently for the well-being of a few.
The regulations of civilized life were said to be necessary to the happiness of society. The happiness of society is made up of the happiness of the individuals who compose it. But of the individuals who compose society, a very small, if any portion do enjoy any happiness. And if this be so, then the regulations have not attained the end for which they were established, and consequently are at best unnecessary.+ But it is true that no portion of society enjoys any thing like happiness. The poor by all are allowed to be in a situation of horrible destitution and misery. The rich, with all their means of enjoyment, are, by their education, an education arising out of their condition, rendered incapable of making a useful application of those means. The poor drag out a miserable existence, with all their capabilities of happiness destroyed, because deprived of the means. The rich waste their lives in " strenuous idleness;" seeking for pleasure, ever to be disappointed. No wise man will say that the feverish excitement, or the listless indolence of a rich man is happiness.
• Voltaire even mistook the meaning of Rousseau: and was witty at his expense. The exquisite style and wit of that wonderful man sometimes successfully hid want of knowledge and research. Great men—and none can be found greater than Voltaire—ought, however, to recollect, that their errors arc oftentimes the texts of fools. The herd who never examine for themselves must have an authority and a leader. The fools who have sneered at Rousseau shield themselves under the name of Voltaire. The origin of many a sarcasm may be found in the following sentence of a letter from Voltaire to Rousseau :—
"J'ai recu, Monsieur, votre nouveau livre, contre le genre humain; je vous en remercie. Vous plaisez aux hommes a qui vous dites leur verites, ct vous ne le6 oorrigerez pas. On ne peut peindre avec des couleurs plus fortes leB horrcurs de la societe humaine, dont notre ignorance et notre foiblesse se promettent tant de douceurs. On n'a jamais employe tant d'esprit a vouloir nous rendre betes. II prend envie de marcher a quatre pattes, quand on lit votre ouvrage." &c.
■f- It must be remembered, that we are following Rousseau's reasoning, not coinciding with it.
The regulations of society, then, do not fulfil the conditions on which they were established. But what are the conditions required to make the society happy? A previous inquiry is,—What are the conditions required to make the individuals happy? These are of two descriptions, physical and moral, A man's frame should be robust and healthy; and his mind should be so constituted that it lead him to seek for enjoyments, unalloyed with mischievous consequences either to himself or others, and to enjoy to the utmost such pleasures, as while mischievous to no one, are easily obtained. Unless his physical state be one of health and comfort, neither the mind nor the body can he at ease. Unless the mind be framed for happiness, no physical comfort will produce it. But, to the production of a healthy and robust frame, a pure and simple life, exercise, sufficiency, frugal and sober habits, are necessary. To the production of a sane and healthy mind, a state must be found in which there should be no temptation to acquire mischievous desires; the interest of the individual being never opposed to virtuous inclinations and conduct. Rousseau himself thus expresses it:—Speaking of his father's conduct, he says,
This conduct, in a father, whose tenderness and virtue I so well knew, led me to make reflections on myself, which have not a little contributed to keep my mind virtuous. I drew from It this great maxim of morality, the only one, perhaps, which is of use in practice, viz. to shun those situations which place our duties in opposition to our interests, and which make us see that our own happiness is dependent on that which is mischievous to another; being certain, that, in such situations, however sincere may be the love of virtue we bring to them, sooner or later it becomes weak, without our perceiving it; and we are unjust and wicked, in fact, without ceasing to be just and good in our minds. (Confessions, I... 11.)
Thus far he would find many to agree with him. At the next step this coincidence of opinion would cease. In what state is this condition, physical and moral, most likely to be created? His answer was, The state not civilized; the state' in which men's minds are not corrupted by false science, nor their bodies enervated by luxurious and profligate habits.
This answer is startling, and thus stated is undoubtedly incorrect. But the accusations brought by Rousseau against civilized life as he saw it, were true, were deserving of serious attention, and led to measures of education in the highest degree conducive to our well-being. He opposed the civilized state of which he was an eye-witness, to the state not civilized, which his imagination created; and making the comparison, he could not but prefer the latter. But this latter never existed; it was a fancy founded on the declarations of former writers, and the incorrect statements of travellers. Thus, though the conclusion of Rousseau was erroneous in point of fact, it led to exceedingly judicious plans of reformation. He saw what others were not inclined to admit, viz. the imperfections of the existing society. He in a great measure traced these imperfections to their right sources. He acknowledged that his beau ideal could not be attained, but he believed that an approach might be made to it. This approach is, in reality, all that is required. The modified plans of amelioration, plans modified by the existing state of society, are for the most part what the most consummate and far-sighted wisdom would have suggested.
Rousseau hastily and unwarily took upon trust the opinions of almost all preceding writers respecting the virtue and simplicity of a barbaric etate.* But more consistent than they, he carried these opinions to their legitimate conclusion, and endeavoured to bring back society to the position he admired. If virtue, he said, exist in this barbaric life, and since we see that in our own it is not to be found, why do we not endeavour to attain that more virtuous state?
The evils of civilized life he faithfully and acutely pointed out, and exposed many truths which the vanity of a self-styled scientific world refused to receive. He asserted, and with great truth, that much which men call knowledge, much of what they seek after and esteem, is wholly useless; that much is absolutely mischievous, consisting either of a mere idle recollection of useless facts or words, or of sophistical reasonings, useful only as a means to justify and create vicious habits. Socrates before him had said nearly the same thing, and his assertions were received in the same way. In the language of Cicero,—" Socrates mihi videtur primus a rebus occultis, et ab ipsa natura involutis, in quibus omnes ante eum philosophi occupati fuerunt, avocavisse philosophiam, et ad vitam communem adduxisse, ut de virtutibus et vitiis, omninoque de bonis rebus et malis quaereret; coelestia autem vel procul esse a nostra cognitione censeret, vel, si maxime cognita essent, nihil tamen ad bene vivendum."+ To Rousseau who lived among the dissolute aristocracy of France, it was evident, that the knowledge they had acquired had been turned to mischievous purposes: That they learned only to justify vice, and to be profligate without shame and without remorse. He saw that they were without the virtues which their fathers were supposed to have possessed; and he ascribed this altered state to the knowledge which they had acquired. Confining his view to this one fact, and to this one class, he hastily drew a conclusion inimical to art and science generally. He saw rightly that the vices of his time were incompatible with a rustic state; he therefore eagerly turned his wishes towards the
• " Procopius," says Gibbon, " does ample and willing justice to the merit of Tolila. The Roman historians from Sallust and Tacitus were happy to forget the vices of their countrymen, in the contemplation of barbaric virtue." (Decline and Fall, c43, vol. vii. p. 358.) Rousseau himself says in his discourse, in answer to the Academy of Dijon—" Let us compare with this description, viz. civilized states, that of the manners of a small number of people, who, preserved from this contagion of vain knowledge, have, by their virtue, formed their own happiness, and served as a model to other nations; such were the first Persians, a singular nation, amongst whom virtue was taught as science is now, who subjugated Asia with so much facility, and who alone have had the glory of having their institutions deemed a romance of philosophy. Such were the Scythians, of whom we have received eulogies so magnificent. Such were the Germans ; in describing whose virtue, simplicity and innocence, an historian, tired of tracing the crimes of an opulent, instructed, and voluptuous people, has soothed and refreshed his spirit. Such was Rome in the time of her poverty and ignorance. Such has been in our days that rustic nation, so admired for a courage which no adversity could conquer, for a fidelity which example even could not corrupt." He speaks of his own people. Goldsmith viewed Switzerland with the eye of a philosopher. See the Traveller, the lines commencing—
My soul, turn from them : turn we to survey.
j Acadcm. 1. i. c. 18. See the remaining portion of the chapter. The second School of the Academy said much the same thing—SeeCic. de Nat. Deomni. "If a perfectly just man were to appear among you," said Socrates, "you would crucify him." Rousseau found that truth cannot be always spoken with impunity.
The reader will find Rousseau's opinions respecting false knowledge in some measure explained in the tenth letter of " La Nouvelle Helo'isc."