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THERE never yet existed an author beauty, they led, as they must always who so completely divided the suffrages lead, from sophistry to doubt, from of the literary world as Rousseau. doubt to despair, from despair to utBy one party he has been cried up as an ter, irretrievable desolation. angel ; by another, he has been writ From his earliest infancy, Rousseau, ten down as a dæmon. One class says who inherited from nature the utmost he is above all praise ; another, be- fragility of constitution—which, by neath all contempt. This reader finds the way, is one of the strongest fosin his ethics the very perfection of na- terers of intellect-was, by the force ture ; that, the utmost plausibility of of circumstances, thrown upon himart. Meanwhile, all agree in this one self for his amusements. At an early point-namely, that, whether justly or age, he was apprenticed to a clockunjustly, he has exercised a despotic maker at Geneva, whom he describes, influence over his age; taught the in his Confessions, as a man just sufmost indifferent to feel, the shallowest ficiently intellectual for his occupato think, the most abject to stickle for tion, but nothing more. With this perfreedom of thought and action. Un- son he could of course hold no commulike Voltaire-who disseminated his nion-no interchange of thought or most pestilent doctrines, and broke sentiment; his extreme delicacy of down the barriers of truth, reason, frame, nervous to a degree bordering and moral and religious rectitude, by at times upon madness, equally fordint of searching irony–Rousseau en- bade his engaging in the usual sports forces his opinions by the most win- of childhood, and he was consequentning and specious sensibility. He ly thrown upon books for his recreareaches the reason through the heart, tion; which books, had they been or as he himself says, in his mistaken supplied to him by some sound, wellcharacter of Lord Edouard, “C'est ordered, and enlightened individual, le chemin des passions qui m'a con- might, in due course of time, have duit à la philosophie.” We do not, given a philosopher instead of a 80in the following cursory sketch, intend phist to the world. Unluckily, they to be the apologists of this extraordi were all, with one or two exceptions, nary writer—to palliate his glaring of a chivalrous and romantic cast, obliquities of thought, his insidious there was little or no equipoise to sentiments, distorted truisms : counteract their effect; and it may these sufficiently condemn themselves readily be conceived what impression without our aid; all that we here profess such works, fascinating at any period to do is to account for their origin, to of life, must have made upon the untrace their progress, and to show how, formed mind of a youth, who had nenotwithstanding their apparent moral ver known the salutary restraints
46 ATHENEUM, vol. 1, 3d series.
of scholastic discipline, had never otherwise acute mind of Rousseau. been taught to bridle his passion, Circumstances, or as he himself would to tame his enthusiasm, or square his call it, destiny, threw him, some years imagination agreeably to the dictates afterwards, when a youth of one or two of a healthy judgment. Of course, and twenty, for the second time, into the the first effect produced by such books hands of this lady. But, alas ! at this was a disgust for his mechanical occu- period his acquaintance was not without pation. We do not remember the dishonor. By degrees be secured for precise way in which this aversion himself an interest in her heart, which, showed itself, or whether Rousseau's however, in the headlong infatuation father were living at the time; but of the moment, he was content to we distinctly recollect that the em- share with another. From this hour, bryo sophist ran away from his em- his mind received a warp; from this ployer, and pursued his course, un- hour, he learned to become sophistical, accompanied, except by a bounding in order to justify his own excesses, heart, and a slight-a very slight- and opinions insincere at first, acquirstock of money, over the heaths and ed by long habit, and by being perpetumountains of his native land. In one ally brooded over, an air of decided of these excursions, he chanced to truth. --The daily romance of his light upon two young ladies whom he life-for Rousseau now lived wholly assisted over a running stream, and at with Madame de Warrens, unoccupiwhose house si ritè audita recor- ed, except in rambling about his subdamur”-he spent one or two delight- lime neighborhood, where he familiarful days. This incident, though tri- ized himself with the loftiest forms fling and scarcely worth mention in it- of natural beauty, and fed and self, is important as it regards Rous- strengthened a strong but diseased mind
His ever-creative mind, fasci- -confirmed these opinions ; until, at nated by the courtesy of these fair length, all that was sound and sterling Unknowns, at once robed them in in thought gave place to art and sodrapery selected from the wardrobe of phistry. This meditative and impasa well-filled fancy; and, as the reali- sioned mode of life, which, while it ty of their appearance wore off, it laid strengthens the sensibility, wholly the foundation of that beautiful ideal- unfits it for society, was pursued by ism, which Madame de Warrens Rousseau for many years. Occasionstrengthened, Madame de Houdetot ally, indeed, he visited Paris, where confirmed, and which afterwards shone his exquisite relish for music, and the forth, to the admiration and regret of circumstance of his having composed thousands, in the unequalled character a successful opera, procured bir adof Eloise.
mittance into the highest circles; but It was some time after this rencon- his mind could not adapt itself to the tre, that, fatigued with walking, hun- etiquette of a court, -his pride, too, gry, penniless, and dispirited-the sorbade all approach to friendship, and past wretched, the future a blank- he lived a hermit even within the atmosthe young Rousseau knocked for cha- phere of Versailles. Before this, we rity at the gate of a good-natured should observe, he had, from some widow lady, named De Warrens, who cause or other, separated himself from at once, with all the generous inconsi- Madame de Warrens, and now lodged derateness of a woman, listened to his in the house of a Swiss family, with petition, gave him good advice, sup- one member of which, a girl named plied him with food and money, and Theresa, about nineteen years of sent him home. To this acquaintance age, he carried on a dishonorable in-thus strangely commenced—must be tercourse. As if this in itself were traced much, indeed the greater part, not sufficiently degrading, he rendered of those singular obliquities in judg- it still more so, by sending the poor ment and feeling which deformed the offsprings of his guilt to the Foundling
Hospital at Paris, upon some plausi- proach. This evinced itself in the ble plea, which he had the insufferable most petty and humiliating manner. audacity to defend in conversation, If they ever invited him to the château, and also at considerable length it was, he said, to make a butt of him; in bis “Confessions.” Meanwhile, if they respected his infirmities and to satisfy his notions of independence, his olitude, they treated him, he and secure what he called “ freedom would add, with contempt: either of thought and action,” he employed way, they were sure to be wrong, and himself in copying music, by which himself the injured party. Such drudgery he contrived to earn a decent feelings--which, though carried to the subsistence up to the moment when he extreme in Rousseau, are by no was taken under the especial protec- means restricted to him—are the netion of the august family of Montmo- cessary results of an ill-balanced renci. Shortly after his introduction temperament. While youth lasts, to this family, at their express de- they are in some degree kept under by sire, conveyed to him in the most the generous buoyancy, and freedom fattering terms, Rousseau quitted from distrust, of that age ; but as Paris, and went to reside with them at years roll on, and the simplicity of a small cottage, built for him near life becomes discolored with the taint their own mansion ; where, partly to of the world, the counteracting power beguile leisure, partly to put forth his is lost, and the mind compelled to peculiar notions on all subjects where drift headlong at the mercy of a wild, the heart is concerned, he engaged in capricious, and jaundiced disposition. the composition of Eloise, which, Rousseau's invariable defect was the when.published one or two years af- substitution of feeling for principle. terwards, turned the hearts and heads He had few speculative opinions indeof France, and rendered its author an pendently of sentiment: this with him object of universal attraction. was everything ; it made him the
It was about this period that the leading writer of bis age, and it made fatal warp in judgment, of which we him a wretch. He seemed altogether have before spoken, put forth in to throw overboard the notion that Rousseau's mind all its most diseased man is as much a creature of reason and humiliating eccentricities. Nurs- as of sensibility; he objected to ed in solitude, he had formed notions Hume that he was dispassionate, and of friendship which reality was sure to Voltaire that he was a wit-as if to disappoint. He had expected to such peculiarities were not strictly meet in life with the “faultless mon within the province of nature, as sters” of fancy. Every fresh ac- much, and even more so, than his own quaintance was accordingly hailed at forced and heated fancy. But he first with the utmost enthusiasm, which, paid the penalty-and a dreadful penhowever, soon subsided ; disgust en- alty it was—of this infirm quality of sued, then suspicion, then alienation, mind. After hurrying from place to and, finally, invincible aversion. It place—from Geneva to the Hermiwas in this way that his connexion tage, from the Hermitage to the Bowith Diderot, D'Alembert, Voltaire, romean islands ; after being driven Saint Lambert, Grimm (to whose from one country with contempt, and gossiping memoirs we owe so much received in another with enthusiasm ; delightful scandal), and a hundred after wandering for years over Euothers, began : in this way, too, it ter- rope, and even venturing into the exminated. Even the noble family of treme recesses of Wales——this poor, the High Constable-to whom Rous- wretched misanthrope-alone, forlorn, seau was indebted for almost every deserted in his age, owning kindred comfort his hypochrondriacal temper- with none, rejecting pity with scorn, ament would permit him to enjoy- and repaying kindness with distrust; were not secure in his inind from re a pensioner, yet professing indepen