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The Eve of the French Revolution by Edward J. Lowell

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of aiming your cannon; from the infinitesimal to the infinite. Thank God
for having given birth in your kingdom to men who have thus served the
whole world. Other nations are obliged to buy the "Encyclopaedia," or to
imitate it. Take all I have, if you like, but give me back my

"`But they say,' rejoined the king, `that this necessary and admirable
work has many faults.'

"`Sir,' replied the Count of C----, `at your supper there were two
ragouts that were failures. We did not eat them, but we had a very good
supper. Would you have had the whole of it thrown out of the window on
account of those two ragouts?' The king felt the force of this
reasoning, each one took back his book, and it was a happy day.

"But Envy and Ignorance did not consider themselves beaten; those two
immortal sisters kept up their cries, their cabals, their persecutions.
Ignorance is very learned in that way.

"What happened? Foreigners bought out four editions of this French work
which was proscribed in France, and made about eighteen hundred thousand

"Frenchmen, try hereafter to understand your own interests."[Footnote:
This story is printed among "Faceties." Morley points out that Mme. de
Pompadour died before the volumes containing "Poudre" and "Rouge" were
published. Voltaire, xlviii. 57.]

We see by this anecdote, written probably to puff the book, that the
"Encyclopaedia" was recommended for the same advantages which have since
given value to scores of similar works. No other collection of general
information so large and so useful was then in existence. Elaborate
descriptions of mechanism abound in it, and are illustrated by beautiful
plates. We see before us the simple beginnings of the great
manufacturing movement of modern times. There are articles on looms, on
cabinet work, on jewelry, side by side with all that the science of that
day could teach of anatomy, medicine, and natural history. Nor were more
frivolous subjects forgotten. Nine plates are given to billiards and
tennis. Choregraphy, or the art of expressing the figures of the dance
on paper, occupies six pages of text and two of illustrations, with the
remark that it is one of the arts of which the ancients were ignorant,
or which they have not transmitted to us. There is a proposal for a new
and universal language, based of course on French; and we are reminded
by an article on Alcahest, a mysterious drug of the alchemists, to which
two columns and a half are devoted, that the eighteenth century was
nearer to the Middle Ages than the nineteenth. It was an idea of the
compilers of the "Encyclopaedia" that if ever civilization should be
destroyed mankind might turn to their volumes to learn to restore it.
[Footnote: History and geography are almost passed over in the
Encyclopaedia, while the arts and sciences are fully treated. The
contempt for history, as the tale of human errors, was common among the

Yet all this mere learning was not what came nearest to the heart of
Diderot and his fellow-workers. In a moment of excitement, when smarting
from the excisions of the publisher Le Breton, he was able to write that
the success of the book was owing in no degree to ordinary, sensible,
and common things; that perhaps there were not two men in the world who
had taken the trouble to read in it a line of history, geography,
mathematics, or even of the arts; and that what all sought in the
"Encyclopaedia" was the firm and bold philosophy of some of its writers.
[Footnote: When in a cooler mood Diderot boasts that there are people
who have read the book through. See the word _Encyclopédie_, vol.

This philosophy appears in the Preliminary Discourse by D'Alembert; it
comes up again time after time throughout the volumes. The metaphysics
are founded chiefly on those of Locke, who "may be said to have created
metaphysics as Newton created physics," by reducing them to "what in
fact they should be, the experimental physics of the soul." Beyond this
there is little unity of opinion, although much agreement of spirit. We
have articles on government and on taxation, liberally conceived, but
not agreeing as to actual measures. We have a prejudice in favor of
democracy, as the ideal form of government, and the worship of
theoretical equality, but contempt for the populace, "which discerns
nothing;" the reduction of religion to the sentiments of morality and
benevolence, and great dislike for its ministers and especially for the
members of monastic orders; the belief in the Legislator, in natural
laws and liberties, including the inalienable right of every man to
dispose of his own person and property and to do all things that the
laws allow; faith in the Philosopher, a man governed entirely by reason
as the Christian is governed by grace. To him, Truth is not a mistress
corrupting his imagination. He knows how to distinguish what is true,
what is false, what is doubtful, and he glories in being willing to
remain undetermined when he has not the material for judgment. The
Philosopher understands as well the doctrines that he rejects as those
that he adopts. His spirit brings everything to its true principles. The
nations will be happy when kings are Philosophers, or when Philosophers
are kings.

There was no uniformity of execution in the "Encyclopaedia." The editors
were not free to reject all that they did not approve. They had to
consider the feelings of their writers, and sometimes, no doubt, to
print a poor article by a valued hand. There were many long
dissertations where short articles would have been more to the purpose.
Diderot was not the man to repress the natural tendency of contributors
to wordiness. Then official censors and possible prosecutors had to be
considered. "Doubtless," says D'Alembert to Voltaire, in reply to the
latter's remonstrances, "doubtless we have bad articles on theology and
metaphysics; but with theological censors and a privilege, I defy you to
make them better. There are other articles less conspicuous where all is
repaired. Time will enable people to distinguish what we thought from
what we have said." ... "It is certain," he says in another place, "that
several of our workers have put in worthless things, and sometimes
declamation; but it is still more certain that I have not had it in my
power to alter this state of things. I flatter myself that the same
judgment will not be passed on what several of our authors and I myself
have furnished for this work, which apparently will go down to posterity
as a monument of what we would and what we could not do." On the whole
the chief of the Philosophers was satisfied. "Oh, how sorry I am," he
exclaims, "to see so much paste among your fine diamonds; but you shed
your lustre on the paste."[Footnote: Correspondence of Voltaire and
D'Alembert (A. to V., July 21, 1757; Jan. 11, 1758; V. to A., Dec. 29,
1757). Voltaire, lvii. 296, 444, 421.]



There are two books issuing so directly from what may be called the
orthodox school of Philosophers, and so closely connected with the
"Encyclopaedia" and its authors, that they should be noticed next to the
great compilation itself. One of them has already been mentioned. It
bears the untranslatable title "De l'Esprit," a word which in this
simple and unmodified form means exactly neither wit nor spirit, but
something between the two and different from either.

The author, Helvetius, was one of those clever men whose ambition it is
to shine. The son of a fashionable physician, he had made a fortune as a
farmer of the revenue. He had been addicted, in his youth, to the
pursuit of women and of literature, and had subsequently shown
moderation in leaving his lucrative office and the dissipations of the
town and retiring into the country with a charming wife. For eight
months in the year they lived at Vore, not unvisited by Philosophers;
for four they kept open house in Paris. Both were good natured,
charitable, and benevolent. Among the Philosophers Helvetius held the
place of the rich and clever worldling, so often found in literary

The treatise "De l'Esprit" has for its object the setting forth of the
doctrine of utility in its extreme form. As a preliminary argument all
the operations of the mind are reduced to sensation. "When by a
succession of my ideas, or by the vibration which certain sounds cause
in the organ of my ears, I recall the image of an oak, then my interior
organs must necessarily be nearly in the same situation as they were at
the sight of that oak. Now this situation of the organs must necessarily
produce a sensation; it is, therefore, evident that memory is sensation.

"Having stated this principle, I say further that it is in the capacity
which we have of perceiving the resemblances or the differences, the
agreement or the disagreement, which different objects have with each
other, that all the operations of the mind consist. Now this capacity is
nothing else than physical sensibility; therefore everything is reduced
to sensation."

Utility, according to Helvetius, is the foundation of all our moral
feelings. Each person praises as just in others only those actions which
are useful to himself; every nation or society praises what is useful to
it in its corporate capacity. "If a judge acquits a guilty man, if a
minister of state promotes an unworthy one, each is just, according to
the man protected. But if the judge punishes, or the minister refuses,
they will always be unjust in the eyes of the criminal and of the
unsuccessful."... "The Christians who justly spoke of the cruelties
practiced on them by the pagans as barbarity and crime, did they not
give the name of zeal to the cruelties which they, in their turn,
practiced on these same pagans?" As the physical world is subject to
laws of motion, so is the moral world to those of interest. All men
alike strive after their own happiness. It is the diversity of passions
and tastes, some of which are in accordance with the public interest and
others in opposition to it, which form our virtues and our vices. We
should, therefore, not despise the wicked, but pity them, and thank
heaven that it has given us none of those tastes and passions which
would have obliged us to seek our happiness in other people's
misfortunes. This opinion, although extravagantly stated, was, as we
have seen, but the caricature of the doctrine of utility, as taught by
Locke and held by his followers.

Helvetius took great pains to make the treatment of his theme
interesting. He labored long over every chapter. His pages overflow with
anecdotes, with sneers at monks, and with excuses for lust. They show
the belief in the omnipotence of legislation which was common in his
day. A large space is devoted to minimizing the natural inequality of
mankind, and attributing the differences observable among men to chance
or to education. If Galileo had not happened to be walking in a garden
in Florence where certain workmen asked him a question about a pump, he
would not, according to Helvetius, have discovered the weight of the
atmosphere. It was the fall of the apple which gave Newton his theory of
gravitation. Such puerilities as these disgust us in the book; yet the
theory that greatness is but the result of an inconsiderable accident,
was not unnatural in one who had probably hit on an idea which struck
him as telling, and believed that he had thereby achieved greatness.
[Footnote: Helvetius, i. 130, 183; ii. 7, and passim. For Helvetius, see
Nouvelle Biographie universelle. Morley, Diderot, ii. 141. Grimm, iv.
80. Morellet, i. 71, 140. Morellet represents himself as a tame cat in
Helvetius's house. Marmontel, ii. 115 (liv. vi.) an excellent
description. Compare Locke, i. 261, ii. 97. The doctrine of utility is
probably nearly as old as philosophy itself. It has been well suggested
that although not the ultimate motive of virtue, utility may be the test
of morals. It was, in a measure, Helvetius that inspired Bentham.
Morley, Diderot, ii. 154.]

Helvetius had endeavored to carry the doctrines of the French followers
of Locke to their last logical conclusions, but the successful
accomplishment of that task was reserved for a stronger and steadier
hand than his. Baron Holbach was an amiable and good man, the constant
friend of the Encyclopaedists. At his house they often met, so that it
came to be known among them as the Café de l'Europe, and its master as
the "maître d'hôtel" of Philosophy. But these nicknames were used in
good part. Holbach had none of the flippancy of Helvetius. His book, the
"System of Nature," is a solemn, earnest argument, proceeding from a
clear brain and a pure heart. Our nature may revolt at his theories, but
we cannot question his honesty or his benevolence. The book, published,
as the fashion was, under a false name, yet expresses the inmost
convictions of the writer.[Footnote: The name assumed was that of
Mirabaud, once secretary to the Academy, who had died before the book
appeared. See Morley, _Diderot_, ii. 173, as to the authorship of
the _System of Nature_. It has sometimes been attributed to
Diderot, but it seems clear from internal evidence that Diderot could
not have written it. The style and the thought are both too compact to
proceed from that diffuse thinker and writer. But Diderot, who had great
influence on many men, may have suggested some of the ideas.]

"Men," he says, "will always make mistakes, when they abandon experience
for systems born of the imagination." Man exists in nature and can
imagine nothing outside of nature. Let him, therefore, cease to seek
beyond the world he inhabits for beings which shall procure for him that
happiness which nature refuses to give him. "Man is a being purely
physical. Moral man is but that being considered from a certain point of
view, that is to say, relatively to some of his ways of acting, due to
his particular organization." All human actions, visible and invisible,
are the necessary consequences of man's mechanism, and of the impulsions
which it receives from surrounding entities.

The universe is made up of matter and motion, cause and effect. Nature
is the great whole, resulting from the assemblage of different matters,
combinations, and motions. By motion only do we know the existence and
properties of other beings and distinguish them from each other. There
is continual action and reaction in all things. Love and hate in men are
like attraction and repulsion in physics, with causes more obscure. All
beings, organic and inorganic, tend to self-preservation. This tendency
in man is called self-love.

There is in reality no order nor disorder, since all things are
necessary. It is only in our minds that there exists the model of what
we call order; like other abstract ideas, it corresponds to nothing
outside of ourselves. Order is no more than the faculty of coordinating
ourselves with the beings that surround us, or with the whole of which
we form a part. But if we wish to apply the word to nature, it may stand
for a succession of actions or motions which we suppose to contribute to
a given end. We call beings intelligent when they are organized like
ourselves, and can act toward an end which we understand.

No two beings are exactly alike; differences, whether called physical or
moral, being the result of their bodily qualities. These differences are
the cause and the support of human society. If all men were alike they
would not need each other. It is a mistake to complain of this
inequality, by which we are put under the fortunate necessity of
combining. In coming together men have made an explicit or implied
compact, by which they have bound themselves to render mutual services
and not to injure each other. But as each man's nature leads him to seek
to satisfy his own passions or caprices without regard to others, law
was established to bring him back to his duty. This law is the sum of
the wills of the society, united to fix the conduct of its members, or
to direct their actions towards the common aim of the association. For
convenience, certain citizens are made executors of the popular will,
and are called monarchs, magistrates, or representatives, according to
the form of the government. But that form may be changed, and all the
powers of all persons under it revoked, at the will of the society
itself, by which and for which all government is established. Laws, to
be just, must have for their invariable end the general interests of
society; they must procure for the greatest number of citizens the
advantages for which those citizens have combined. A society whose
chiefs and whose laws do not benefit its members loses all rights over
them. Chiefs who do harm to any society lose the right to command it. By
not applying these maxims the nations are made unhappy. By the
imprudence of nations, and by the craft of those to whom power had been
entrusted, sovereigns have become absolute masters. They have claimed to
hold their powers from Heaven and not to be responsible to any one on
earth. Hence politics have become corrupt and no more than a form of
brigandage. Man unrestrained soon turns to evil. Only by fear can
society control the passions of its rulers. It must, therefore, confer
but limited powers on any one of them, and divide those forces which, if
united, would necessarily crush it.[Footnote: Holbach is clearly
indebted both to Rousseau and to Montesquieu.]

Government influences alike, and necessarily, the physical and moral
welfare of nations. As its care produces labor, activity, abundance, and
health, its neglect and its injustice produce indolence, discouragement,
famine, contagion, vices, and crimes. It can bring to light, or can
smother talents, skill, and virtue. In fact the government, distributing
rank, wealth, rewards and punishments; master of the things in which men
have learned from childhood to place their happiness, acquires a
necessary influence on their conduct, inflames their passions, turns
them as it will, modifies and settles their manners and customs.
[Footnote: _Moeurs_, a word for which we have no exact equivalent.
It includes the idea of morals as well as that of customs.] These are,
in whole nations, as in individuals, but the conduct, or general system
of will and action which necessarily results from their education, their
government, their laws, their religious opinions, their wise or foolish
institutions. In short, manners and customs are the habits of nations;
good when they produce solid and true happiness for society, and
detestable in the eyes of reason, in spite of the sanction of laws,
usage, religion, public opinion or example, when they have the support
only of habit and prejudice, which seldom consult experience and good
sense. No action is so abominable that it is not, or has not been,
approved by some nation. Parricide, infanticide, theft, usurpation,
cruelty, intolerance, prostitution, have been allowed and even
considered meritorious by some of the peoples of the earth. Religion
especially has consecrated the most revolting and unreasonable customs.

The cause of the wickedness and corruption of men is that nowhere are
they governed according to their nature. Men are bad, not because they
are born bad, but because they are made so. The great and powerful
safely crush the poor and unfortunate, who try, at the risk of their
lives, to return the evil they have suffered. The poor attack openly, or
in secret, that unjust society which gives all to some of its children
and takes all from others.

The rights of a man over his fellows can be founded only on the
happiness which he procures for them, or for which he gives them cause
to hope. No mortal receives from nature the right to command. The
authority which the father exercises over his family is founded on the
advantages which he is supposed to bestow upon it. Ranks in political
society have their basis in real or imaginary utility. The rich man has
rights over the poor man solely by virtue of the well-being which he may
bestow upon him. Genius, talents, art, and skill have claims only on
account of the pleasant and useful things with which they furnish
society. To be virtuous is to make people happy.

A society enjoys all the happiness of which it is capable when the
greater number of its members is fed, clothed, and lodged; when most men
can, without excessive labor, satisfy the cravings of nature. Men's
imagination should be satisfied when they are sure that the fruits of
their labor cannot be taken from them, and that they are working for
themselves. Beyond this all is superfluity, and it is foolish that a
whole nation should sweat to give luxuries to a few persons who can
never be content because their imaginations have become boundless.

Religion is a delusion. The soul, born with the body, is childish in
children, adult in manhood, grows old with advancing years. It is vain
to suppose that the soul survives the body. To die is to think, to feel,
to enjoy, to suffer, no more. Let us reflect on death, not to encourage
fear and melancholy, but to accustom ourselves to look at it with
peaceful eyes, and to throw off the false terror with which the enemies
of our peace try to inspire us.

Utility is the touchstone of systems, opinions, and actions; it is the
measure of our very love of truth. The most useful truths are the most
admired; we call those truths great which most concern the human race;
those futile which concern only a few men whose ideas we do not share.

The doctrine of utility is combined with that of necessity. Most of the
French Philosophers were necessarians, but Holbach expressed the
doctrine in a more extreme form than the others. Will, according to him,
is a modification of the brain by which it is disposed, or prepared, to
set our other organs in motion. The will is necessarily determined by
the quality and pleasantness of the ideas which act upon it.
Deliberation is the oscillation of the will when moved in different
directions by opposing forces; determination is the final prevalence of
one force over the other. There is no difference between the man who
throws himself out of a window and the man who is thrown out, except
that the impulse on the latter comes from something outside of himself,
and that of the former from something within his own mechanism.
[Footnote: Chaudon, the Benedictine, probably the cleverest of the
clerical writers of the time, thus attacks the doctrine of necessity, as
set forth by Holbach. The author of the _System_ has certainly
given out very fine maxims of morality, very pathetic exhortations to
virtue; but with his principles this can be but a joke. It is an
absurdity, like that of a man who, recognizing that his watch was only a
machine, should not fail to exhort it every day to prevent its getting
out of order. Grosse, Diet. d'antiphilosophisme, 923. Holbach would
probably have replied that he was necessarily obliged to exhort, and
that Chaudon was fatally forced to answer.]

Nature has made men neither good nor bad; it has made them machines. Man
is virtuous only in obedience to the call of interest. Morals are
founded on our approbation of those actions which are advantageous to
the race. When good actions benefit others and not ourselves our
approbation of them is similar to the admiration we feel for a fine
picture belonging to some one else. The good man is he whose true ideas
have shown him that his happiness lies in a line of conduct which others
are forced by their own interests to like and approve. By virtue we
acquire the good will of our neighbors, and no man can be happy without
it. Our self-love becomes a hundred times more delightful when to it is
joined the love of others for us. Let us remember that the most
impracticable of all designs is that of being happy alone.

To this point in his argument Holbach had only repeated with strength,
clearness and consistency what the school of the Philosophers from
Voltaire to Helvetius had either affirmed or hinted. In his second
volume, however, he boldly cut loose from his predecessors and avowed
his disbelief in any God. Voltaire and Rousseau were theists, with
different sorts of faith, and the Philosophers, although treating all
churches, and especially all priests, with contempt, had retained, at
least in speech, some remnant of theism. But Holbach declared that God
was an illusion, devised by the fears and the ignorance of mankind. "The
idea of Divinity," he says, "always awakens afflicting ideas in our
minds. "By the word "God" men mean the most hidden or remote cause; they
use the word only when the chain of material and known causes ceases to
be visible to them. It is a vague name which they apply to a cause short
of which their indolence, or the limits of their knowledge, forces them
to stop. Men found nature deaf to their cries; they therefore imagined
an intelligent master over it, hoping that he would listen to them.

This theme is elaborated by Holbach throughout his second volume. Here
as elsewhere he writes with seriousness and conviction, although some of
his logical positions are assailable. Never before in France had
materialism, necessarianism and atheism been so clearly and forcibly
expounded. The very Philosophers were alarmed. Voltaire hastened to
write an article on God so unconvincing, that it can hardly have
convinced himself. It amounts to little more than an argument that God
is the most probable of hypotheses, and it admits that there may be two
or several gods as well as one. It is not unlikely that Voltaire thought
it necessary for his peace in the world to protest against so outspoken
a book as the "System of Nature."

The true answer to Holbach is to be found in a different order of ideas
from any that Voltaire was prepared to accept. Yet Locke might have
taught him that if there is no logical reason to believe in the
existence of mind, there is as little to believe in the existence of
matter. Experience might have shown him that men do not always seek the
thing which they believe most useful to themselves. The old and favorite
doctrine of utility labors under the disadvantage that it has never
shown, nor ever can show, an adequate reason why any man should care for
another or for the race. And as for the existence of God,--that can no
more be proved by argument than the existence of matter, mind, or the

Helvetius and Holbach had worked out the theories of the school to their
last philosophical conclusion. A younger writer in the last years of the
reign of Louis XV. was to furnish the complete application of them. The
Chevalier de Chastellux is well known in America by the book of travels
which he wrote when he accompanied the Marquis of Rochambeau in the
Revolutionary War. Chastellux was just then at the height of his
reputation. He had published in 1772 a book which, although now almost
forgotten, is still interesting as a link between the thought of the
last century and that of a large school of thinkers to-day. The title is
"Of Public Felicity, or considerations on the fate of men in the
different Epochs of History," and the motto is _Nil Desperandum_.
"So many people have written the history of men," says Chastellux; "will
not that of humanity be read with pleasure?" And again: "Several authors
have carefully examined if such a Nation were more religious, more
sober, more war-like than another; none has yet sought to discover which
was the happiest."

The object of inquiry being thus indicated, it becomes of the first
importance to consider what test of happiness Chastellux will propose.
He leaves us in no doubt on this point. "A happy nation is not one which
lives with little; the Goths and Vandals lived with little, and they
sought abundance in other regions. A happy nation is not one which is
hardened to trouble and labor; the Goths and Vandals were hardened to
labor, and they sought elsewhere for softness and rest. A happy nation
is not one which is strongest in battle; it fights only to obtain peace
and the commodities of life. A happy nation is one which enjoys ease and
liberty, which is attached to its possessions, and, above all things,
which does not desire to change its condition." And in another place he
asks, what are some of the indications, the symptoms of public felicity.
Two of them, he says, are naturally presented: agriculture and
population. "I name agriculture before population," he continues,
"because if it happens that a nation which is not numerous cultivates
carefully a great quantity of land, it will result that this nation
consumes much, and adds to the food necessary to life the ease and
commodity which make its happiness. If, on the other hand, the increase
of the people is in proportion to that of the agriculture, what can we
conclude except that this multiplication of the human race, as of all
other species, comes solely from its well-being. Agriculture is,
therefore, an indication of the happiness of the nations anterior and
preferable to population." The most certain indication of felicity is a
large proportional consumption of products; a high rate of living. The
marvelous and even the sublime are to be dreaded; but "all that
multiplies men in the nations, and harvests on the surface of the earth,
is good in itself, is good above all things, and preferable to all that
seems fine in the eyes of prejudice."[Footnote: Chastellux finds it
hard to stick quite close to his definition of felicity. Of the English
he says, "Such are the true advantages of this nation; which, joined to
the safety of its property and the inestimable privilege of depending
only on the law, would make it the happiest on earth, if its climate,
its ancient manners and customs, and its frequent revolutions had not
turned it toward discontent and melancholy. But these considerations do
not belong to our subject." ii. 144.]

And as material good is the only good, so it is in modern times and in
civilized countries that the highest point reached by humanity is to be
found. "If wisdom be the art of happy living; if philosophy be truly the
love of wisdom, as its name alone would give us to understand, the
Greeks were never philosophers."

To show that modern nations are increasing the ease and comfort of life
to a point unknown before is no difficult task. Chastellux enumerates
the discoveries of physical science, and touches on the achievements of
learning and the arts, then calls on his readers to look on all these
but as payments on account in the progress of our knowledge; as so much
of the road already passed in the vast course of the human mind. Here we
have the truly modern ideal of progress; the end of government the
greatest happiness of the greatest number, and happiness dependent
merely on material conditions. Morals under this system are but a branch
of medicine. Religion is an old-fashioned prejudice. Let us push on and
unite the world in one great, comfortable, well-fed family. Such is the
last practical advice of the French Philosophic school of the eighteenth
century and of its unconscious followers in this. If the conclusion does
not satisfy the highest aspirations of the human race, that is perhaps
because of some flaw in the premises.



In passing from the study of the Philosophers to that of Rousseau, we
turn from talent to genius, from system to impulse. The theories of the
great Genevan were drawn from his own strange nature, with little regard
for consistency. They belong together much as the features of a
distorted and changeful countenance may do; their unity is personal
rather than systematic. And while Rousseau was, from certain aspects and
chiefly in respect to his conduct, the most contemptible of the great
thinkers of his day, he surpassed most of the others in constant
literary sincerity, and in occasional elevation of thought and feeling.
Voltaire, although never swerving long from his own general
philosophical scheme, would lie without hesitation for any purpose.
Diderot would quote from non-existent books to establish his theories.
But no one can read Rousseau without being convinced that he believed
what he wrote, at least at the moment of writing it. Truthfulness of
this kind is quite consistent with inaccuracy, and it is probable that
some incidents in Rousseau's autobiographical writings have been wrongly
remembered, colored by prejudice, or embellished by vanity. Some of them
may even be completely fictitious; the author caring little for facts
except as the ornaments and illustrations of ideas. But what he thought
in the abstract Rousseau was quite ready to write down, caring little
for the feelings or the opinions of any sect or party; or even of that
great public whose thought was as law to the Philosophers. He deserved
to profit by his sincerity, and he has done so. His many and great
faults were well known to his contemporaries; they are told in his
posthumous "Confessions" in a way to show them more dark than any
contemporary could have imagined; yet such is the evident frankness of
those evil and repugnant volumes that many decent men have got from them
a sneaking kindness for Rousseau, and an inclination to take him at his
own estimate, as one no worse than other people.

This estimate of himself is never to be forgotten in reading his books.
"You see what I am," he seems to say at every turn; "now, I am a good
man." In the belief in his own comparative goodness he was firmly fixed.
His theories of life were largely founded on it. For Rousseau was an
introspective thinker, and thus in seeming opposition to the
intellectual tendency of his age. Voltaire and Diderot were interested
chiefly in the world around them. Locke had viewed his own mind
objectively; he had attempted the feat of getting outside of it, in
order to take a good look at it; and in so doing he had missed seeing
some important parts of it, because they were internal. Rousseau studied
himself and the world within himself. Thus while he was as immoral in
his actions as any of the Philosophers, he was more religious than any
of them. Voltaire's theism was little more than a remnant of early
habit, strengthened by a notion that some sort of religion was necessary
for purposes of police. To Rousseau, a world without a God would have
been truly empty. But as his religion was theistic, and not orthodox;
as, with characteristic meanness, he was ready to profess Catholicism or
Calvinism as he might find it convenient, he has been classed among
atheists by churchmen. In so far as this is mere vituperation it is
perhaps deserved, for Rousseau's life deserved almost any conceivable
vituperation; but as an historical fact, Rousseau's faith was quite as
living as that of many of his revilers.[Footnote: Rousseau looked on
Catholicism and Calvinism rather as civil systems than as ideas, and
accepted them in the same way in which a man may live under a foreign
government, of whose principles he does not approve.]

Every thinking human being has a philosophy and a theology,--a
metaphysical foundation for his beliefs, and an opinion concerning the
Deity. The only escape from having these is to think of nothing
outside of the daily routine of life. The attempt to be without them
on any other terms generally ends in having but crude and
contradictory opinions on the most important subjects of human
interest. The theology of Rousseau will be considered later.
Philosophical systems were his especial bugbear, and it is only
incidentally that he formulates his metaphysical ideas. His general
tendency of belief was toward intuition. Justice and virtue he
believed to be written in the hearts of men, disturbed rather than
elucidated by the observation of the learned and the reflection of the
ingenious. As to the ground of our actions he was less at one with
himself. Sometimes, in agreement with the prevalent philosophy of his
day, he assumed that men are moved only by their own interest. At
times, however, he recognized two principles of human action anterior
to reason; the first of which is care for our own well-being; the
second, a natural repugnance to see others suffer. In making this
distinction he separated from the school of thinkers to whom pity and
affection are but refined forms of self-love. This is characteristic
of Rousseau, who was free from that craving for system which is the
snare of those minds in which logic and pure reason prevail over
acuteness of self-observation.

The society of the eighteenth century had grown very rigid and
artificial. The struggle of the Philosophers was to bring men back in
one way and another to a life founded rationally on a few simple laws
derived from the nature of things. Of these laws the leaders themselves
had not always a true perception, nor did they always derive the right
rules from such laws as they perceived. But their struggle was ever for
reason, as they understood it, and generally for simplicity. In this
work Rousseau was a leader. He was constantly preaching the merits and
the charms of a simple life. In his denunciations of elaborateness, of
luxury, and even of civilization, he was often mistaken, sometimes
absurd. But his authority was great. He set a fashion of simplicity, and
he exerted an influence which went far beyond fashion, and has helped to
modify the world to this day.

There was another quality beside introspection in which Rousseau was the
precursor of the literary men of the nineteenth century, and that is the
love of nature. To say that he was the first great writer to enjoy and
describe natural scenery would be a gross exaggeration. But most of
Rousseau's predecessors valued the world out of doors principally for
its usefulness, and in proportion to its fertility. Rousseau is perhaps
the first great writer who fairly reveled in country life; for whom lake
and mountain, rock and cloud, tree and flower, had a constant joy and
meaning. The true enjoyment of natural scenery, generally affected
nowadays, is not given in a high degree to most people; in a very few it
may be as intense as the enjoyment of music is in many more; but most
people can get from scenery, as from other beautiful things, a
reasonable and modest enjoyment, if the object for their admiration be
well pointed out to them. Rousseau needed no such instruction. To some
extent he furnished it to the modern world. The genuineness of his love
of nature is partly shown by the fact that she was as dear to him in her
simpler as in her grander aspects. The grass filled him with delight as
truly as the mountain-peak; indeed, he felt contempt for those who look
afar for the beauty that is all about us, and his admiration was not
reserved for the unusual. Nor did he fill his pages with description. It
is in his autobiographical writings and in reference to its effect on
himself that he most often mentions natural scenery. Recognizing
instinctively that the principal subjects of language are thought and
action, as the chief interests of painting are form and color, this
writer so keenly alive to natural beauty is guiltless of word painting.

Jean Jacques Rousseau was born at Geneva on the 28th of June, 1712. His
mother, the daughter of a Protestant minister, died at his birth. His
father, a clockmaker by trade, a man of eccentric disposition, had
little real control over the boy, and, moreover, soon moved away from
the city on account of a quarrel with its government, leaving his son
behind him. Jean Jacques was first put under the care of a minister in a
neighboring village; then passed two or three years with an uncle in the
town. At the age of eleven he was sent to a notary's office, whence he
was dismissed for dullness and inaptitude. He was next apprenticed to an
engraver, a man of violent temper, who by his cruelty brought out the
meanness inherent in the boy's weak nature. Rousseau had not been
incapable of generosity; perhaps he never quite became so. But, with a
cowardly temperament, he especially needed firm kindness and judicious
reproof, and these he did not receive. He took to pilfering from his
master, who, in return, used to beat him. Rousseau's thefts were, in
fact, not very considerable,--apples from the larder, graving tools from
the closet. His worst offenses at this time were not such as would make
us condemn very harshly a lad of spirit. But Jean Jacques was not such a
lad. The last of his scrapes as an apprentice was important only from
its consequences. One afternoon he had gone with some comrades on an
expedition beyond the city gates. "Half a league from the town," say the
"Confessions," "I hear the retreat sounded, and hasten my steps; I hear
the drum beat, and run with all my might; I arrive out of breath, all in
a sweat; my heart beats; I see from a distance the soldiers at their
posts; I rush on; I cry with a failing voice. It was too late. When
twenty yards from the outpost I see the first drawbridge going up. I
tremble as I see in the air those terrible horns, sinister and fatal
augury of that terrible fate which was at that moment beginning for me.

"In the first violence of my grief I threw myself on the glacis and bit
the earth. My comrades laughed at their misfortune and made the best of
it at once. I also made up my mind, but in another way. On the very spot
I swore that I would never go back to my master, and on the morrow, when
the gates were opened and they returned to town, I bade them adieu

Thus did Rousseau become a wanderer at the age of sixteen. The duchy of
Savoy, into which he first passed, adjoined the republic of Geneva, and
was a country as fervently Catholic as the other was ardently
Calvinistic. The young runaway soon fell in with a proselytizing priest,
who gave him a good dinner and dispatched him, for the furtherance of
his conversion, to a singular lady, living not far off, at Annecy. This
lady, named Madame de Warens, about twelve years older than Rousseau,
was not long after to occupy a large place in his life. She belonged to
a Protestant family of Vevay, on the north side of the Lake of Geneva.
She, like him, had fled from her country, and apparently for no more
serious reason. In her flight she had left her husband and abjured her
religion. In morals she had a system of her own, and gave herself to
many men, without interested motives, but with little passion. She was a
sentimental, active-minded woman, of small judgment; pleasing rather
than beautiful, short of stature, thickset, but with a fine head and
arms. Madame de Warens received the boy kindly, and on this first
occasion of their meeting did little more than speed him on his way to
Turin, where he entered a monastery for the express purpose of being
converted to Catholicism. In nine days the farce was completed, and the
new Catholic turned out into the town, with about twenty francs of small
change in his pocket, charitably contributed by the witnesses of the
ceremony of his abjuration. It is needless to dwell on his adventures at
this time. He was a servant in two different families. After something
more than a year he left Turin on foot, and wandered back to Annecy and
to Madame de Warens.

The period of Rousseau's life in which that lady was the ruling
influence lasted ten or twelve years. The situation was one from which
any man of manly instincts would have shrunk, a condition of dependence
on a mistress, and on a mistress who made no pretense of fidelity. In a
desultory way Rousseau learned something of music at this time, and made
some long journeys on foot, one of them taking him as far as Paris. This
man, morally of soft fibre, was able to endure and enjoy moderate
physical hardship; and from early education felt most at home in simple
houses and amid rude surroundings. At last, disgusted with the
appearance of a new rival in Madame de Warens's changeable household,
Rousseau left that lady and drifted off to Lyons; then, after once
trying the experiment of returning to his mistress and finding it a
failure, to Paris.

For more than eight years after his final separation from Madame de
Warens, Rousseau did nothing to make any one suppose him to be a man of
genius. He obtained and threw up the position of secretary to the French
ambassador at Venice; he supported himself as a musician and as a
private secretary; he lived from hand to mouth, having as a companion
one Therese Levasseur, a grotesquely illiterate maid servant, picked up
at an inn. Their five children he successively took to the Foundling,
losing sight of them forever. To the mother he was faithful for the most
part, although not without some amorous wanderings, for many years.

Up to 1749, then, when Rousseau was thirty-seven years old, he had
published nothing of importance. He had, however, some acquaintance
with literary men, being known merely as one of those adventurers
without any settled means of existence, who may always be found in
cities, and with whom Paris at this time appears to have been
over-furnished. In features he was plain, in manners awkward; much
given to making compliments to women, but generally displeasing to
them, although at times interesting when roused to excitement. The
Swiss Jean Jacques had little of the sparkling wit which the Frenchmen
of his day rated very high, but he had much subtlety of observation
and many ideas. He constantly applauded himself in his writings on
being sensible rather than witty. In fact he was neither, but very
ingenious and eloquent. In character he was self-indulgent but not
luxurious, sensitive, vain, and sentimental. To this man,--if we may
believe his own account, and I think in the main we may do so,--there
came by a sudden flash an idea which altered his whole life, and which
has materially affected millions of lives since he died. The idea was
an evil seed, and it found an evil soil to grow in.

The summer of 1749 was a hot one. Diderot, just rising into notice as a
man of letters, had been imprisoned in the Castle of Vincennes, for his
"Letter on the Blind," and his friends were allowed to come and see him.
Rousseau used to visit him every other afternoon, walking the four or
five miles which lie between the centre of Paris and the castle. The
trees along the road were trimmed after the dreary French fashion, and
gave little shade. From time to time Rousseau would stop, lie down on
the grass and rest, and he had got into the habit of taking a book or a
newspaper in his pocket. It was in this way that his eye happened to
fall on a paragraph in the "Mercure de France," announcing that the
Academy of Dijon would give a prize the next year for the best essay on
the following subject: "Whether the Progress of the Arts and Sciences
has tended to corrupt or to improve Morals."

From that moment, according to Rousseau, a complete change came over
him. Struck with sudden giddiness, he was like a drunken man. His heart
palpitated and he could hardly walk or draw breath. Throwing himself at
the foot of a tree, he spent half an hour in such agitation that when he
arose he found the whole front of his waistcoat wet with tears, although
he had not known that he was shedding any. Thus did his great theory of
the degeneracy of man under civilization burst upon him.[Footnote:
Rousseau, xviii. 135 (Confessions, Part. ii. liv. viii); xix. 358
(Seconde Lettre à M. de Malesherbes). Exaggerated as the above story
probably is, we may reasonably believe that it comes nearer the truth
than that told by Diderot in after years, when he and Rousseau had
quarreled. In that version, Rousseau, desiring to compete for the prize,
consulted Diderot as to which side he should take, and was advised to
assume that which other people would avoid. Diderot, Oeuvres, xi. 148.
Rousseau's thoughts had been wandering into subjects akin to that of the
prize essay before he had seen the announcement in the Mercure de
France. Musset-Pathay, ii. 363. Moreover, if Rousseau was imaginative,
and not always to be believed about facts, Diderot was a tremendous

The very question asked by the academy suggests the possibility of an
answer unfavorable to civilization, but Rousseau's treatment of it was
such as to form the beginning of an epoch in the history of thought. It
is under the rough coat of the laborer, he says, and not under the
tinsel of the courtier, that strength and vigor of body will be found.
Before art had shaped our manners, they were rustic but natural, and
men's actions freely expressed their feelings. Human nature was no
better, at bottom, than now, but men were safer because they could more
easily read each other's minds, and thus they avoided many vices. The
advance of civilization brings increase of corruption. Constantinople,
where learning was preserved during the dark ages, was full of murder,
debauchery, and crime. Contrast with its inhabitants those primitive
nations which have been kept from the contagion of vain knowledge: the
early Persians, the Germans described by Tacitus, the modern Swiss, the
American Indians, whose simple institutions Montaigne prefers to all the
laws of Plato. These nations know well that in other lands idle men
spend their time in disputing about vice and virtue, but they have
considered the morals of these argumentative persons and have learned to
despise their doctrine.

"Astronomy is born of superstition; eloquence of ambition, hatred,
flattery, and lying; geometry of avarice; physics of a vain curiosity;
all, and morals themselves, of human pride. The arts and sciences,
therefore, owe their birth in our vices; we should have less doubt of
the advantage to be derived from them if they sprang from our virtues."
... "Answer me, illustrious philosophers, you from whom we know why
bodies attract each other in a vacuum; what are the relations of areas
traversed in equal times in the revolutions of the planets; what curves
have conjugate points, points of inflection and reflection; how man sees
all things in God; how the soul and body correspond without
communication, as two clocks would do; what stars maybe inhabited; what
insects reproduce their kind in extraordinary ways,--tell me, I say, you
to whom we owe so much sublime knowledge--if you had taught us none of
these things, should we be less numerous, less well-governed, less
redoubtable, less flourishing, or more perverse?"

This is the theme of the First Discourse, a theme most congenial to the
nature of Rousseau. His ill-health, his dreamy habit of mind, his
vanity, all made him long for a state of things as different as possible
from that about him.

"Among us," he says, "it is true that Socrates would not have drunk the
hemlock; but he would have drunk from a more bitter cup of insulting
mockery and of contempt a hundred times worse than death." Such
sensitiveness as this belongs to Rousseau himself. With what disdain
would the healthy-minded Socrates have laughed at the suggestion that he
was troubled by the contempt or the mockery of those about him. How
gayly would he have turned the weapons of the mockers on themselves.
Rousseau had neither the sense of humor nor the joy of living, which
added so much to the greatness of the Atheman. His theories are
especially pleasing to the disappointed and the weak, and therein lies
their danger; for they tend, not to manly effort, for the improvement of
individual circumstances or of mankind, but to vain dreaming of
impossible ideals. There is a luxury that softens, but there is also a
luxury that causes labor. A nation without astronomy, or geography, or
physics, is generally less numerous, less redoubtable, less flourishing,
and sometimes less well governed than a civilized nation. It is true
that in the arts and sciences, in the deeds and in the condition of men,
there is an admixture of what is base; but there is no baser nor more
dangerous habit of mind than that which for every action seeks out the
worst motive, for every state the most selfish reason.[Footnote: Long
after the publication of the First Discourse, Rousseau insisted that he
had never intended to plunge civilized states into barbarism, but only
to arrest the decay of primitive ones, and perhaps to retard that of the
more advanced, by changing their ideals. Oeuvres, xx. 275 (II.
Dialogue); xxi. 34 (III. Dialogue). Rousseau's writings generally must
be taken as expressions of feeling, quite as much as attempts to change
the world. They are growls or sighs, rather than sermons.]

While Rousseau's First Discourse is pernicious in its general teaching,
it is rich in eloquent passages, and it contains some of those sensible
remarks which we seldom fail to find in its author's works. At the time
of writing it, as later, he was interested in education,--the subject on
which his influence has been, on the whole, most useful.

"I see on every side," he says, "enormous establishments where youth is
brought up at great expense to learn everything but its duties. Your
children will be ignorant of their own language, but will speak others
which are not in use anywhere; they will know how to make verses which
they will hardly be able to understand themselves; without knowing how
to distinguish truth from falsehood, they will possess the art of
disguising both from others by specious arguments; but those words,
magnanimity, equity, temperance, humanity, courage, will be unknown to
them; that sweet name of country[Footnote: Patrie,--a word seemingly
necessary, but which the English language manages to do without.] will
never strike their ears; and if they hear of God, it will be less to
fear Him than to be afraid of Him. `I would as lief,' said a sage, `that
my schoolboy had spent his time in a tennis-court; at least his body
would be more active.' I know that children must be kept busy, and that
idleness is the danger most to be feared for them. What, then, should
they learn? A fine question surely! Let them learn what they must do
when they are men, and not what they must forget."[Footnote: Compare
Montaigne, i. 135 (liv. i. chap. xxv.).]

The First Discourse not only took the prize at Dijon, but attracted a
great deal of notice in Paris, and immediately gave Rousseau a
distinguished place among men of letters. Controversy was excited,
refutations attempted. In 1753 the Academy of Dijon again offered a
prize for an essay on a subject evidently connected with the former one:
"What is the Origin of Inequality among Men, and whether it is
authorized by Natural Law." Again Rousseau competed, and this time the
prize was given to some one else, but Rousseau's essay was published,
and takes rank among the important writings of its author and of its
time. In the Second Discourse we see the development of the ideas of the
First. Rousseau composed an imaginary history of mankind, starting from
that being of his own creation, the happy savage. He thinks that man in
the primitive condition, having no moral relations nor known duties,
could be neither good nor bad; unless these words are taken in a purely
physical sense, and those things are called vices in the individual
which may interfere with his own preservation, and those are called
virtues which may contribute to it. In this case, Rousseau believes that
he must be called the most virtuous who least resists the simple
impulses of nature; a mistake surely, for what natural impulses are more
simple than those which turn a man aside from all sustained exertion,
and what impulses tend more than these to the destruction of the
individual and of the species?

Rousseau's savage has but few desires, and those of the simplest, and he
is dependent on no one for their satisfaction. In him natural pity is
awake, although obscure, while in civilized man it is developed, but
weak. The Philosopher will not leave his bed although his fellow-beings
be slaughtered under his window, but will clap his hands to his ears and
quiet himself with arguments. The savage is not so tranquil, and gives
way to the first impulse. In street fights the populace assembles and
prudent folk get out of the way. It is the rabble and the fishwives who
separate the combatants, and prevent respectable people from cutting
each other's throats.[Footnote: Rousseau says in his Confessions
(Oeuvres, xviii. 205 n. Part. ii. liv. viii.), that this heartless
philosopher was suggested to him by Diderot, who abused his confidence,
and gave his writings at this time a hard tone and a black appearance.
The abuse of confidence is nonsense, but the comic picture of the
philosopher, with his hands on his ears, may well have come from
Diderot. Rousseau was always in deadly earnest.]

Love, he says, is physical and moral. The physical side is that general
desire which leads to the union of the sexes. The moral side is that
which fixes that desire on one exclusive object, or at least that which
gives the exclusive desire a greater energy. Now it is easy to see that
this moral side of love is a factitious feeling, born of the usage of
society, and vaunted by women with much skill and care in order to
establish their empire, and to give dominion to the sex which ought to
obey. This feeling is dull in the savage, who has no abstract ideas of
regularity or beauty; he is not troubled with imagination, which causes
so many woes to civilized man. "Let us conclude that the savage man,
wandering in forests, without manufactures, without language, without a
home, without war, and without connections, with no need of his kind,
and no desire to injure it, perhaps never recognizing one person
individually, subject to few passions, and sufficient to himself, had
only the feeling and the intelligence proper to his state; that he felt
only his real needs; he looked only at those things which he thought it
was for his interest to see, and his intelligence made no more progress
than his vanity. If, by chance, he made some discovery, he could not
communicate it, not recognizing even his own children. The art perished
with the inventor. There was neither education nor progress; the
generations multiplied uselessly; and, as all started from the same
point, the centuries went by with all the rudeness of the first age; the
species was already old, and man still remained a child."

Inequalities among savage men would be small. Those which are physical
are often caused by a hardening or an effeminate life; those of the
mind, by education, which not only divides men into the rude and the
cultivated, but increases the natural differences which nature has
allowed among the latter; for if a giant and a dwarf walk in the same
road, every step they take will separate them more widely. And if there
are no relations among men, their inequalities will trouble them very
little. Where there is no love, what is the use of beauty? What
advantage can people who do not speak derive from wit; or those who have
no dealings from craft? "I constantly hear it said," cries Rousseau,
"that the strong will oppress the weak. But explain to me what is meant
by the word "oppression." Some men will rule with violence, others will
groan in their service, obeying all their caprices. This is exactly what
I observe among us; but I do not see how it could be said of savage men,
who could hardly be made to understand the meaning of servitude and
domination. One man may well take away the fruit that another has
picked, the game he has killed, the cave that was his shelter; but how
will he ever succeed in making him obey? And what can be the chains of
dependence among men that possess nothing? If I am driven from one tree,
I need only go to another; if I am tormented in any place, who will
prevent my moving elsewhere? Is there a man so much stronger than I, and
moreover so depraved, so lazy, and so fierce as to compel me to provide
for his maintenance while he remains idle? He must make up his mind not
to lose sight of me for a single moment, to have me tied up with great
care while he is asleep, for fear I should escape or kill him; that is
to say, he is obliged to expose himself willingly to much greater
trouble than that which he wishes to avoid, and than that which he gives
me. And after all, if his vigilance is relaxed for a moment, if he turns
his head at a sudden noise, I take twenty steps through the forest, my
chains are broken, and he never sees me again as long as he lives."

Rousseau recognized that his state of nature was not like anything that
had existed on our planet.[Footnote: This concession probably took the
form it did, partly to satisfy the censor, or the Academy of Dijon,
jealous for Genesis. "Religion commands us to believe that God himself
having removed men from the state of nature, immediately after the
creation, they are unequal because he has willed that they should be
so." Such remarks as this are common in all the writings of the time,
although less so in those of Rousseau than in those of most of his
contemporaries. They are evidently intended to satisfy the authorities,
and to be simply over looked by the intelligent reader.] But that
consideration troubled him not at all. Let us begin, he says, by putting
aside all facts; they do not touch the question. This is the constant
practice of the philosophers of certain schools, but few of them
acknowledge it as frankly as Rousseau. Had the facts of human nature and
human history been seriously considered, we should have no Republic of
Plato, no Utopia of More; the world would be a very different place from
what it is; for these cloudy cities, the laws of whose architecture seem
contrary to all the teachings of physics, yet gild with their glory and
darken with their shadows the solid temples and streets beneath them.

In the second part of his essay, Rousseau follows the development of
human society. "The first man," he says, "who, having enclosed a piece
of ground, undertook to say, `This is mine,' and found people simple
enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society. How many
crimes, wars, murders, how much misery and horror would not he have
spared the human race, who, pulling up the stakes or filling the ditch,
should have cried to his fellows, `Beware of listening to that impostor.
You are lost if you forget that the fruits belong to all, and the land
to none.'"

But this benefactor did not make his appearance. Soon all the land was
divided among a certain number of occupiers. Those whose weakness or
indolence had prevented their getting a share were obliged to sink into
slavery, or to rob their richer neighbors. Then followed civil wars,
tumult and rapine. At last those who had the land conceived the most
deliberate plot that ever entered into the human mind. They persuaded
the poorer people to join with them in establishing an association which
should defend all its members and ensure to each one the peaceful
possession of his property. "Such was the origin of society and laws,
which gave new bonds to the weak, new strength to the rich, irrevocably
destroyed natural liberty, established forever the laws of property and
inequality, turned adroit usurpation into settled right, and, for the
profit of a few ambitious men, subjected thenceforth all the human race
to labor, servitude, and misery."

But on the whole the stage of development which seemed to Rousseau the
happiest was not the state of complete isolation. He supposes that at
one time mankind had assembled in herds, and had made some simple
inventions. A rude language had been formed, huts were built. Men had
become more fierce and cruel than at first. The condition was
intermediate between the indolence of the primitive state, and the
petulant activity of self-love now seen in the world. This, he thought,
was the stage reached by most savages known to Europeans; it was the
most desirable; and he remarks that no savage has yet adopted
civilization, whereas many Frenchmen have joined Indian tribes, and
taken up a savage mode of life.

In closing the Second Discourse, Rousseau thus sums up his conclusions.
"It follows from this exposition that inequality, being almost nothing
in the state of nature, draws its force and growth from the development
of our faculties and from the progress of the human spirit, and becomes
at last stable and legal by the establishment of property and the laws.
It follows also that moral inequality, authorized by positive law only,
is contrary to natural law whenever it does not coincide in the same
proportion with physical inequality; a distinction which shows
sufficiently what should be thought in this respect of the kind of
inequality which reigns among all civilized nations, since it is
manifestly contrary to the law of nature, however defined, that a child
should command an old man, a fool lead a wise man, and a handful of
people be glutted with superfluity, while the hungry multitude is in
want of necessaries."

The Discourse on Inequality was sent by Rousseau to Voltaire, and drew
forth a characteristic letter from the pontiff of the Philosophers. "I
have received, sir, your new book against the human race. I thank you
for it. You will please the men to whom you tell disagreeable truths,
but you will not correct them. It is impossible to paint in stronger
colors the horrors of human society, from which our ignorance and
weakness promise themselves so many consolations. No one ever spent so
much wit in trying to make us stupid; when we read your book we feel
like going on all fours. Nevertheless, as it is more than sixty years
since I lost the habit, I am conscious that it is impossible for me to
take it up again, and I leave this natural attitude to those who are
more worthy of it than you and I. Nor can I take ship to go out and join
the savages in Canada; first, because the diseases which bear me down
oblige me to stay near the greatest physician in Europe, and because I
should not find the same relief among the Missouris; secondly, because
there is war in those regions, and the example of our nations has made
the savages almost as cruel as we are." Voltaire then goes on to
complain of his own sufferings as an author, but to vaunt the influence
of letters. It is not Petrarch and Boccaccio, he says, that made the
wars of Italy; the pleasantries of Marot did not cause the massacre of
Saint Bartholomew's Day; nor the tragedy of the Cid produce the riots of
the Fronde. Great crimes have generally been committed by ignorant great
men. It is the insatiable cupidity, the indomitable pride of mankind,
which have made this world a vale of tears; from Thamas Kouli-Kan, who
could not read, to the custom-house clerk, who only knows how to cipher.
[Footnote: August 30,1755. Voltaire, lvi. 714.]

This letter is neither very complimentary nor very conclusive in its
treatment of Rousseau's position, but it may be said to mark his
official reception into the guild of literary men. He was presently
engaged in new work. He wrote an article on Political Economy for the
great "Encyclopaedia," in which, reversing the teaching of the Second
Discourse, he maintains that "it is certain that the right of property
is the most sacred of all the rights of citizens, and more important in
some respects than liberty itself; either because it more closely
concerns the preservation of life, or because, property being easier to
take away and harder to defend than persons, that should be most
respected which is most easily ravished; or again, because property is
the true foundation of civil society, and the true guarantee of the
engagements of the citizens; for if property did not answer for
persons, nothing would be so easy as to elude duties and to laugh at
the laws."[Footnote: Rousseau, _Oeuvres_, xii. 41.] And further
on, in the same article, he calls property the foundation of the social
compact, whose first condition is that every one be maintained in the
peaceful enjoyment of what belongs to him. We must not wonder at seeing
Rousseau thus change sides from day to day. A dreamer and not a
philosophic thinker, he perceived some truths and uttered many
sophistries, speaking always with the fire of conviction and a fatal

It is needless to enter into the detail of Rousseau's life at this
time, the time when his most remarkable work was done. Labor was
always painful and irritating to him, and it was perhaps the
irksomeness of his tasks that drove him into something not unlike
madness.[Footnote: There is little doubt that Rousseau was at one time
really insane, subject to the delusion that he was being persecuted.
His insanity did not become very marked until the time of the real
persecutions undergone after the publication of _Émile_. See his
Biographies and _Le Docteur Châtelain, La folie de J. J. Rousseau_,
Paris, 1890. He was, of course, always eccentric and ill balanced; and
was often rendered irritable by a painful disease, caused by a
malformation of the bladder. Morley, _Rousseau_, i. 277, etc.
_Oeuvres_, xviii. 155 (_Conf._ Part. ii. liv. viii.).]

Yet he kept on writing with enthusiasm. He speaks of himself as moved in
these years by the contemplation of great objects; ridiculously hoping
to bring about the triumph of reason and truth over prejudice and lies,
and to make men wiser by showing them their true interests. He learned
at this time, he says, to meditate profoundly, and for a moment
astonished Europe by productions in which vulgar souls saw only
eloquence and wit, but in which those persons who inhabit ethereal
regions joyfully recognized one of their own kind.[Footnote: Rousseau,
_Oeuvres_, xx. 275 (II. Dialogue).]

The best known and probably the most important of Rousseau's political
writings is the "Contrat Social," or "Social Compact," which followed
the Second Discourse after an interval of eight years, thus coming out
near the end of the period of its author's greatest literary activity.
In this essay, which is intended to be but a fragment of a larger work
on government, Rousseau lays down the conditions which should, as he
thinks, govern the lives of men united to form a true state. Indeed, he
believes that any government not founded on these principles is
illegitimate, resting merely on force and not on right. A nation thus
wrongly governed is but an aggregation, not an association. It is
without public weal or body politic.

There was nothing original with Rousseau in the idea of a social
compact. That idea may be traced in the writings of Plato, who speaks of
it as one already familiar. But it did not become a leading doctrine
with writers on politics until the publication of Hooker's
"Ecclesiastical Polity" in 1594. In that book it was contended that
there is no escape from the anarchy which exists before the
establishment of law, but by men "growing into composition and agreement
amongst themselves, by ordaining some kind of government public, and
yielding themselves subject thereunto." Through the seventeenth century
the theory grew and flourished. It was treated as the foundation of
absolute government by Hobbes, of free government by Locke; it was
recognized by Grotius. It received its embodiment in the cabin of the
Mayflower, when the Pilgrims did solemnly and mutually, in the presence
of God and one another, covenant and combine themselves together into a
civil body politic. By the time of Rousseau the social compact had
become one of the commonplaces of political thought.[Footnote: See a
history of the social compact in A. Lawrence Lowell, _Essays on
Government_. Plato, ii.229 (_The Republic_, Book ii.). Hooker,
i. 241. Hobbes, _Leviathan, passim._ Locke, v. 388 (_Of Civil
Government_, Section 87). Morion's _New England's Memorial_,
37.] Men recognized, more or less vaguely, that in the case of most
countries no definite solemn agreement could actually be shown to have
been made, but in their inability to find the record of such a contract
writers were willing to assume one, express or implied. What, then, were
the exact conditions of the compact? Rousseau put the question as
follows: "To find a form of association which shall protect with all the
common strength the person and property of each associate, and by which
each one, uniting himself to all, may yet obey only himself and remain
as free as before." And he undertook to solve the problem by proposing
"the total alienation of every associate, with all his rights, to the
whole community," which he supported by saying that, as every one gave
himself up entirely, the condition was equal for all; and that as the
condition was equal for all, no one was interested in making it onerous
for others.

It will be noticed that there is a variation between the thing sought
and the thing found. Rousseau, having promised that each man shall obey
only himself, presently puts us off with a condition equal for all. That
is to say, instead of liberty we are given equality. The difference is
one generally recognized by Anglo-Saxons and often invisible to
Continentals. It was seldom seen by Frenchmen in the eighteenth century.
This confusion of thought was a cause of many of the troubles of the
French Revolution. We shall see that Rousseau, who had been carried by
the love of liberty beyond the verge of the ridiculous in his
Discourses, was brought back, in his "Social Compact," by his love of
equality, so far as to become the advocate of an intolerable tyranny,
yet was quite unaware that he was inconsistent. He composed, in fact, a
description of liberty strangely compounded of truth and falsehood. He
reckoned that man to be free who was not under the control of any
person, but only of the law, and then he provided for the most arbitrary
and capricious kind of law-making.

The first task of Rousseau, after settling the conditions of his
compact, is to provide a sovereign power in the state. This he finds in
the association of the citizens united, as above described, in a body
politic. This sovereign cannot be bound by its own actions or resolves,
except in case of an agreement with strangers, for none can make a
contract with himself. By the original compact the action of the
individual citizens as independent agents was exhausted. They can act
henceforth only as parts of the whole. There is no contract possible
between one or several of them and the community of which they form a
part.[Footnote: In an epitome of the _Social Compact_, inserted by
Rousseau in the fifth book of _Émile_, he thus defines the terms of
that compact. "Each of us puts into a common stock his property, his
person, his life and all his power, under the supreme direction of the
general will, and we receive as a body each member as an indivisible
part of the whole." _Oeuvres_, v. 254.] The sovereign must not,
however, act directly on individuals, for in so doing it would represent
a part only of the community acting on another part, and it would thus
lose its moral right. It must act in general matters exclusively, by
means of general decrees, which only can properly be called laws. "Now
the sovereign, being made up only of the individuals which compose it,
has and can have no interest opposed to theirs; therefore the sovereign
power need not provide its subject with any guarantee, because it is
impossible that the body should wish to injure its members," and as the
nature of its action is general and not particular, it cannot injure one
individual without doing harm to all the others at the same time. "The
sovereign, by the very fact of its existence, is always what it ought to

The general will is always right and always tends to public utility,
says Rousseau, but it does not follow that the decisions of the people
are always equally correct. Man always wills his own good, but does not
always see it. The people is never corrupt, but often deceived, and in
the latter case only does it seem to will what is evil. If there were no
parties in the state, the people, if sufficiently informed, would always
vote rightly, for the little differences in private interests would
balance each other, and the resulting average would be the general will.
But through parties and associations this result is prevented. A nation
may change its laws when it pleases, even the best of them; for if it
likes to hurt itself, who has the right to say it nay?

Sovereignty is inalienable, for power is transmissible, but not will.
Sovereignty consists essentially in the general will, and the general
will cannot be represented. It is the same, or it is other; there is no
intermediate point. The deputies of the people cannot be its
representatives; they can only be its agents; they can conclude nothing
definitely. Any law that the people has not ratified in its assembly is
null; it is not a law. The English nation thinks itself free. It is much
mistaken. It is free only during the election of members of Parliament.
As soon as these are elected the nation is enslaved; it is nothing.
Sovereignty is indivisible, its powers being legislative only, and the
executive function of the state being but its emanation.

Such being the essential conditions of the social compact, what are the
states to which it may be applied? Although Rousseau gives many
directions for the government of larger countries, we see that his
system is truly applicable only to nations so small that the whole body
of voters can be united in one meeting. These popular assemblies, he
says, should be held frequently, at times fixed by law and independent
of any summons, and also at irregular times when needed. Let no one
object that such frequent meetings would take up too much time. He
answers that "as soon as the public service ceases to be the principal
business of the citizens, and they prefer to serve with their purses
rather than with their persons, the state is already near to ruin. If it
be necessary to march to battle, they pay soldiers and stay at home; if
it be necessary to attend the council, they choose deputies and stay at
home. By laziness and money they have at last got troops to enslave
their country and representatives to betray her."

The only law that requires unanimity is the social compact itself. When
that is once formed, each citizen consents to every law, even to those
which are passed in spite of him. When a law is proposed in the assembly
of the people, the question is not exactly whether the proposal is
approved or rejected, but whether it is in accordance with the general
will, which is the will of the people. Every man by his vote declares
his opinion on that point, and by counting the votes the declaration of
the general will is ascertained. When, therefore, the opinion which is
opposed to mine prevails, it proves nothing more than that I was
mistaken, and that what I took to be the general will was not so. If my
private opinion had carried the day against the general will, I should
have done what I did not wish; and then I should not have been free.

It has been said that the sovereign must not act in particular cases. To
do so would be to confound law and fact, and the body politic would soon
be a prey to violence. It is, therefore, necessary to institute an
executive branch, which Rousseau calls indifferently _government_
or _prince_, explaining that the latter word may be used
collectively. But, differing in this from older writers, he denies that
the establishment of an executive power gives rise to any contract
between the body of the people and the persons appointed to govern. He
considers these persons to be intermediate between the nation considered
as sovereign, and the people considered as subject, and to hold but a
delegated power. In this opinion, Rousseau has been followed by most
liberal governments instituted since his day. But he carries this theory
much farther than it is safe to do in practice. The sovereign, he says,
may at any moment revoke the powers of its agents, and the first act of
every public assembly should be to answer these two questions: first,
whether it pleases the sovereign to maintain the present form of
government; and second, whether it pleases the people to leave the
administration to those persons who now exercise it.

The chapters on the form of government are far less important than those
on sovereignty. Rousseau recognized democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy
as applicable respectively to small, middle-sized, and large states. He
says that democracy is the most difficult form to manage, requiring for
its perfect working a state so small that every citizen can know every
other personally, and also great simplicity of manners, great equality
of ranks and fortunes, and little luxury. This applies, of course, only
to democracy in its extreme form, in which the people exercises all the
functions of government without delegating any of them. Rousseau's
preference was for what he calls aristocracy, a government of the most
wise and experienced. The first societies, he says, were thus governed,
and the American Indians are so governed still. It is noticeable that
the Indians take in the works of Rousseau a place similar to that taken
by the Chinese in those of Voltaire; they are distant people, living in
an ideal condition. The freedom of the savage, the literary civilization
of the Oriental, were held up to admiration by these two writers,
diametrically opposed in their way of looking at life, but similar in
their utter want of comprehension of all that was not European and
contemporary. Next after the government of the sages and the elders
Rousseau placed elective government, which, in common with some other
abstract writers, he classes as aristocratic. An hereditary aristocracy
he calls the worst of all governments. He intimated that his remedy for
the weakness of small countries, as against foreign enemies, would be
found in federation, but he postponed the discussion of this subject to
a larger treatise, which was never written.[Footnote: Rousseau has
himself given two summaries of the Social Compact; one very short, in
the Sixth Letter from the Mountain (_Oeuvres_, vii. 378). This was
written after the condemnation of the book by the authorities of Geneva,
and he points out in his remonstrance that he has taken Geneva as the
model state, in the Social Compact. The other summary, much fuller, is
in the fifth book of _Émile_ (_Oeuvres_, v. 248). Here we find
the following growl at the whole social order: "Nous examinerons si l'on
n'a pas fait trop ou trop peu dans l'institution sociale. Si les
individus soumis aux loix et aux hommes, tandis que les societes gardent
entre elles l'independance de la nature, ne restent pas exposes aux maux
des deux états sans en avoir les avantages, et s'il ne vaudrait pas
mieux qu'il n'y eut point de societe civile au monde que d'y en avoir

Rousseau pointed out very forcibly the incompatibility with civil
government of a religion depending on a priesthood whose organization
extends beyond the territory of the country itself and forms a body
politic. Yet he did not propose to apply the only true remedy for this
condition of things, which is the complete separation of church and
state, combined with liberty of speech both for the clergy and the
laity. He recognized as possible only three sorts of religion, of which
the first, without temples, altars, or rites, confined inwardly to the
worship of God and externally to the moral duties, was, as he thought,
the pure and simple religion of the Gospels, the true theism, and might
be called the natural divine law. The next is a national religion,
belonging to one country. It has its gods, its rites, its altars, all
within its own land, outside of which everything is infidel, strange,
and barbarian. Man's duties extend no farther than the boundaries of his
own country. Such were the religions of the early nations. The third
kind gives to its votaries two systems of legislation, two chiefs, two
homes, makes them submit to contradictory duties, prevents their being
at once devout worshipers and good citizens. Such a religion is the
Roman Catholic.

The Roman clergy, he says, is united, not by its formal assemblies, but
by communion and excommunication, which are its social compact, and by
means of which it will always retain the mastery over kings and nations.
All the priests who are in communion are citizens, although at the ends
of the earth. This invention is a masterpiece of politics.

On some religion our author believes that the state has a right to
insist. There is a purely civil profession of faith, whose articles the
sovereign may fix, not exactly as dogmas of religion, but as principles
of sociability. These must be few, simple and clear, and announced
without explanation or commentary. The existence of a deity, powerful,
intelligent, beneficent, foreseeing, and providing; the life to come,
with the happiness of the good and the punishment of the wicked; the
sacredness of the Social Compact and of the laws,--these are the
positive dogmas. Of things forbidden there should be but one:
intolerance. Whosoever says that there is no salvation but in the church
should be driven from the state; for such teaching is dangerous to the
sovereign, except, indeed, in a theocracy. Any one who does not hold to
the simple creed above described may properly be banished, not as
impious but as unsociable, incapable of loving justice and the laws
sincerely, or of sacrificing his life to his duty. And if any one, after
having publicly accepted these dogmas, behaves as if he did not believe
them, let him be put to death; he has committed the greatest of crimes;
he has lied before the laws.

In the short essay on the Social Compact, Rousseau has brought
together, as we have seen, several of the most dangerous errors which
have afflicted modern society. The people, according to him, is not
only all powerful, but always righteous; sometimes deceived, but never
corrupt. Why the whole community should be better or wiser than the
best of the persons who compose it; why our errors should balance or
counteract each other and our virtues not do so, Rousseau probably
never asked himself; or if the question occurred to his mind, he
dismissed it with a merely specious answer. There is hardly a limit to
the tyranny which he allows to the multitude. The individual citizen
is made free from the interference of a single master only that he may
be the more dependent on that corporate despot who is to control his
every action and his very thoughts. Manners, customs, above all public
opinion, are declared to be the most important of laws. Individuality
is, therefore, to be absolutely banished. Nor is security provided
for. It is the advantage of a stationary system that a man may know
this year what the world will expect of him ten years hence and may
lay his plans accordingly. Human laws may sometimes be pardoned for
being as inflexible as the laws of physics if they are as surely to be
relied on. But Rousseau, while hoping that his state will change very
little, carefully reserves for his tyrant the right to be
capricious. And lest that right should ever be forgotten he takes care
that the whole form of government shall be brought in question at
every public meeting. What the multitude has to-day decided it may
reverse to-morrow. The unfortunate citizen is not left even the right
to protest. The general will, when once proved by the popular vote, is
his own will. The very desires of his heart must loyally follow the
changing caprices of his many-headed master.

Yet here as elsewhere Rousseau has joined a noble conception to a base
one. The law, once promulgated by the sovereign power, is to be
universal throughout the state and superior to all human rulers. The
idea was not novel, but it was well that it should again be distinctly

It is quite in accordance with the general spirit of the essay that
while intolerance is said to be the only religious crime, it is in fact
the foundation of the whole ecclesiastical system of the republic.
Whoever dares to say that there is no salvation outside of the church is
to be driven from the state. By this means Rousseau would have exiled
nearly every Christian of the eighteenth century. On the other hand,
whoever doubts the existence of God, His providence, and His rewards and
punishments, is to be treated in the same manner. Some of the
Philosophers of the age are thus excluded. Verily, few are the just that
remain, and Rousseau is quite right in his opinion that those who
distinguish between civil and theological intolerance are mistaken. In
his system, at least, the two are closely connected.



It was not alone by his political writings that Jean Jacques Rousseau
exercised a great influence over Europe. Of all his books, the two which
are perhaps most famous take the form of loose and disjointed fiction,
and deal not with government, but with life, passion, society, and
education. Yet the characters of "La Nouvelle Héloïse," and of "Émile,"
are not mere frames of scarecrows clothed with abstract qualities and
fine sentiments. Saint-Preux, Émile and the Tutor, Julie, Sophie,
Claire, and Lord Edward Bomston are live persons, whom the reader may
like or dislike. In the first three Rousseau would seem to have
incorporated himself, and the result is interesting, but repulsive. In
Julie we have Jean Jacques' ideal woman, a being of a noble nature,
tinged and defiled with something low and morbid; but Claire and Sophie
seem taken only from observation, not introspection, and although far
from faultless are often charming.

"La Nouvelle Héloïse" is a novel written in letters, a form of writing
more tedious than any other. But it should be remembered that in the
early days of fiction novels were so few that to occupy a long time in
the reading was not an impediment to the popularity of one of them. If
we may believe Rousseau, the "New Heloisa" produced a great sensation.
All Paris was impatient for its appearance. When at last it was
published, men of letters were divided in opinion, but society was
unanimous in its praise, and women were so much delighted with it that
there were few even of high rank whose conquest the author might not
have achieved had he chosen to undertake it. While making due
allowance for the morbid vanity of Jean Jacques, we may entirely
believe him when he says that the book captivated the reading
public. One lady, he tells us, had dressed after supper for the ball
at the Opera House, and sat down to read the new novel while waiting
for the time to go. At midnight she ordered her carriage, but did not
put down the book. The coach came to the door, but she kept on. At two
her servants warned her of the hour. She answered that there was no
hurry. At four she undressed, and continued to read for the rest of
the night. On the first appearance of the story the booksellers used
to let out copies at twelve sous the hour.[Footnote: Rousseau,
xix. 101 (_Confessions_, liv. xi.).] To-day its charm is gone. Few
indeed are the works of pure literature which are read a hundred years
after publication, except by the authors of literary histories and the
unfortunate pupils of injudicious school-mistresses (and the "New
Heloisa" will not form a part of any scheme of female education); but
a good style and a true enthusiasm may lighten the task even of these

It is a singular fact that in some matters of feeling no age seems so
far from our own as that of our great-grandfathers. The lovers of the
Middle Ages and of the sixteenth century appear to us natural and
healthy beings. Those of the eighteenth seem sentimental and foolish. In
the case of Rousseau's great novel this effect is increased by the
morbid strain of the author's mind. With him all passion tends to assume
unhealthy shapes, and the very breezes of Lake Leman come laden with
close and sickly odors.

It is not worth while to deal here with the story of the "New
Heloisa,"--a story of illicit passion in the first part; and in the
second, of the happy marriage of the heroine to a man who is not her
lover. The visit paid by that lover to his old mistress and her
husband in their home at Clarens, with all the trials of virtue which
it involves, is a disagreeable piece of sentimentality. The members of
the trio fall on each other's necks with unpleasant frequency and
fervor. But the picture of that home itself, with its well-ordered
housekeeping, its liberality and its plainness, is interesting and
attractive. "Since the masters of this house have taken it for their
dwelling, they have turned to their use all that served only for
ornament; it is no longer a house made to be seen, but to be lived
in. They have built up the long lines of doors by which rooms opened
one out of another, and made new doorways in convenient places; they
have cut up rooms that were too large, and improved the arrangement;
they have substituted simple and convenient furniture for what was old
and expensive. Everything is agreeable and smiling, everything
breathes abundance and cleanliness; nothing shows costliness or
luxury; there is no room where you do not feel yourself in the country
and where you do not find all the conveniences of town. The same
changes are noticeable outside; the poultry-yard has been enlarged at
the expense of the carriage-house. In the place of an old broken-down
billiard-table they have built a fine wine-press, and they have got
rid of some screeching peacocks to make room for a dairy. The kitchen
garden was too small for the kitchen; a second one has been made of
the parterre, but so neat and so well laid out that thus transformed
it is more pleasing to the eye than before. Good espaliers have been
substituted for the doleful yews that covered the wall. Instead of the
useless horse-chestnut tree, young black mulberries are beginning to
shade the courtyard, and two rows of walnut trees, running to the
road, have been planted in place of the old lindens which bordered the
avenue. Everywhere the useful has been substituted for the agreeable,
and almost everywhere the agreeable has gained by it." The description
is masterly, but we cannot quite forgive Rousseau for sacrificing the
horse-chestnut and the lindens.[Footnote: Rousseau, ix. 235
(Nouv. Hel. Part. iv. Let. x.).]

But not quite all the land is treated in this utilitarian manner. The
heroine has an "Elysium." This place is near the house, but separated
from the rest of the grounds by a thick hedge. It is full of native
plants forming a deep shade, yet the ground is covered with grass like
velvet, and flowers spring up on all sides. Vines climb from tree to
tree, rooted, it may be, in the trunks of the trees themselves. A stream
of clear water meanders through the place, sometimes divided into
several channels, sometimes united in one, rippling here over a bed of
gravel, there reflecting the trees and the sky. A colony of birds,
protected from all disturbance, charms the solitude with song. Nature is
here encouraged, not thwarted; little is left to the gardener; much to
the intelligent and loving care of the mistress.

The account of the garden covers many pages of the "New Heloisa," pages
at once eloquent and interesting. Artificial as are many of its details,
the letter is a plea for nature against artificiality. The readers in
the eighteenth century were charmed, and hastened to imitate Rousseau's
heroine. The straight gravel walks, the formal flower-beds, the clipped
hedges of old France, became tiresome in the eyes of their possessors. A
dreamer had told them that all these things made a very fine place,
where the owner would scarcely care to go, and they believed him. The
new fashion brought with it a new affectation, perhaps the most
offensive of all, the affectation of simplicity. The garden, as truly a
product of man's hand and brain as the house or the picture-gallery, was
made to mimic the forest, losing, in too many cases, its own peculiar
beauty, without gaining the true charm of wild nature. On the other
hand, the eyes of Rousseau's admirers were opened to many things not
noticed before. The real woods received their appropriate worship. The
novel of Jean Jacques combined with the exhortations of the economists
to turn the attention of the educated classes to rural matters.

The life led by the model couple in the "New Heloisa" is one of
humdrum, conscientious respectability. It is a country life, fairly
simple and without ostentation; but it is as far removed as possible
from all that can be connected with the noble savage. Julie and
Monsieur de Wolmar, her husband, rule their little world strictly and
kindly. They try to make life profitable and pleasant to their
children and their servants. To the poor they are patronizing and
benevolent. Apart from their overflowing sentimentality they are
honest, self-sufficient, commonplace people. Rousseau, born in the
middle class, had a middle-class, respectable ideal, lying beside many
very different ideals in his ill-ordered brain. And this novel which
begins with passion ends with something not far removed from

It is quite needless to discuss here how much Rousseau owed in his
"Émile" to the teachings of Locke, of Montaigne, or of others. His
ideas, wherever he may have got them, were always sufficiently colored
by his own personality. "Émile," which has even less structure of
fiction than the "New Heloisa," is a treatise on education, or rather on
the ideal education, for Rousseau distinctly disclaims the intention of
writing a handbook. It is on the whole the most agreeable and the most
useful of the works of its author; although not without deplorable marks
of his baseness. The book shows an amount of careful observation of
children not a little astonishing in a man who sent his own infants to
the Foundling lest they should disturb him; it contains remarks about
good women equally remarkable in one whose dealings in life were
principally with bad ones.

"All is good coming from the hands of the Author of things; everything
degenerates in the hands of man;" thus begins "Émile." "He makes one
land nourish the productions of another, one tree bear another's fruit;
he mixes and confounds the climates, the elements, the seasons; he
mutilates his dog, his horse, his slave; he overturns, he disfigures
everything; he loves deformity and monstrosities; he wants nothing such
as nature made it, not even man, who has to be trained for him like a
managed horse, trimmed to his fashion, like a tree of his garden."

Ignorance is harmless; error only is pernicious. Men do not go astray on
account of the things of which they are ignorant, but of those which
they think they know. The time which we spend in learning what others
have thought is lost for learning to think ourselves; we have more
information and less vigor of mind.

Let us seek out the kind of education proper for the formation of a
vigorous and, above all, of an independent man. We will call our pupil
Émile. The author himself shall be his tutor and shall devote himself
exclusively to the education of this single boy. A father, however, is
the best of tutors, for zeal is far more valuable in this place than
talent. But whoever it be that undertakes the education, he must be
always the same and always absolute. If a child ever gets the idea that
there are grown people that have no more reason than children, the
authority of age is lost, the education has failed.

The position of the tutor is one of the most curious and one of the most
mistaken things in "Émile." While in many respects the training
described in the book would tend to make a manly and independent boy,
the pervading presence of the tutor would perhaps undo all the good of
the system. It is true that absolute truth is recommended, that "a
single lie which the master was shown to have told the pupil would ruin
forever the fruit of the education." Yet the tutor is to interfere
openly or secretly in every part of Émile's life. "It is important that
the disciple shall do nothing without the master's knowing and willing
it, not even what is wrong; and it is a hundred times better that the
governor approve of a fault and be mistaken, than that he should be
deceived by his pupil and the fault committed without his knowledge."
Let the tutor, therefore, be the pupil's confidant, even; if necessary,
his companion in vice. You must be a man to speak strongly to the human
heart. The tutor is constantly deceiving Émile, and some of his tricks
are so transparent that it is wonderful that Rousseau could have
expected the simplest of boys to be taken in by them. Here is an

The object is to show Émile the origin of property, and to give him the
first idea of its obligations. "The child, living in the country, will
have got some notion of field-work; for that he will need only eyes and
leisure, and both of these he will have. It belongs to every age, and
especially to his, to wish to create, to imitate, to produce, to show
signs of power and activity. He will not twice have seen a garden dug,
vegetables sown, sprouting and growing, before he will want to be
gardening too.

"On the principles heretofore established, I do not oppose his desire;
on the contrary, I favor it, I share his taste, I work with him, not
for his pleasure, but for mine; at least he thinks so; I become his
under-gardener; as his arms are not strong yet, I dig the earth for
him; he takes possession of it by planting a bean; and surely that
possession is more sacred and worthy of respect than that which Nunes
Balbao took of South America, in the name of the king of Spain, by
planting his standard on the shores of the South Sea.

"We come every day to water the beans, we see them sprout with ecstasies
of joy. I increase that joy by telling him, `This belongs to you;' and
by explaining to him this term, `to belong,' I make him feel that he has
spent here his time, his labor, his pains, his very person; that in this
earth there is something of himself, which he can claim against every
one, as he could draw his arm from the hand of a man who should try to
hold it in spite of him.

"One fine day he comes out eagerly, with his watering-pot in his hand.
Oh horrible sight! Oh grief! All the beans are torn up, all the ground
is turned over; you could not recognize the very place. `Oh, what has
become of my labor, my work, the sweet fruit of my care and of my sweat?
Who has robbed me of my property? Who has taken my beans?' His young
heart rises; the first feeling of injustice comes to pour its sad
bitterness into it; tears flow in streams; the desolate child fills the
air with groans and cries. I share his pain, his indignation; we seek,
we inquire, we examine. At last we discover that the gardener has done
the deed; we summon him.

"But here we are very far out of our reckoning. The gardener, learning
of what we complain, begins to complain louder than we. `What!
gentlemen; it is you that have thus spoiled my work! I had sown in that
place some Maltese melons, whose seed had been given me as a treasure,
and which I hoped to serve up to you for a feast when they were ripe;
but now, to plant your miserable beans, you have destroyed my melons
after they had sprouted, and I can never replace them. You have done me
an irreparable injury, and you have deprived yourselves of the pleasure
of eating delicious melons.'

"Jean Jacques. Excuse us, my poor Robert. You had put there your labor
and your pains. I see that we were wrong to spoil your work; we will get
you some more Maltese seed, and we will dig no more in the ground,
without knowing if some one has not set his hand to it before us.

"Robert. Well, gentlemen, at that rate you may take your rest, for there
is very little wild land left. I work on what my father improved;
everybody does the same by his own, and all the land you see has long
been occupied.

"Émile. In that case, Robert, is melon seed often lost?

"Robert. I beg your pardon, my young sir; little gentlemen do not often
come along who are so thoughtless as you. No one touches his neighbor's
garden; each man respects the work of others, so that his own may be

"Émile. But I have no garden.

"Robert. What difference does that make to me? If you spoil mine, I will
no longer let you walk in it; for, you see, I do not want to lose my

"Jean Jacques. Could we not make an arrangement with our good Robert?
Let him grant my young friend and me a corner of his garden to
cultivate, on condition that he shall have half the produce.

"Robert. I grant it without conditions. But remember that I shall go and
dig up your beans if you touch my melons."

It is perhaps wrong to hold Rousseau in any part of his writings to any
approach to consistency. We have seen some of the mistakes in Émile's
education. Let us look at some of its strong points. Yet we shall find
the tares so thoroughly mixed with the wheat that to separate them
entirely may be impossible. Rousseau insists that from the earliest
infancy the child's body shall be free. The swaddling bands, common all
over the continent in the last century, in which the poor little being
was bound and bundled so that he could not move hand or foot, were to be
absolutely discontinued. The child, nursed if possible by its own
mother, was to have free limbs. It was to be brought up in the country,
and as it grew older was to run about bareheaded and barefoot. Too much
clothing, thought Rousseau, makes the body tender; and he seems to have
carried the theory unreasonably far.

Cleanliness and cold baths were recommended to a generation singularly
in need of them. Émile was brought up to enjoy fresh air, perhaps to be
almost a slave to the need of it. He was given plenty of sleep, but his
bed was hard, his food coarse. Everything was done to make him strong,
hardy, and active.

"The only habit which the child should be allowed to form is that of
forming none." He should not use one hand more than the other; he should
not be accustomed to want to eat or to sleep at the same hours every
day, nor should he fear to be alone. He should be gradually taught not
to be afraid of masks, to overcome his fright at firearms. He should be
helped in all that is really useful, but not encouraged to indulge vain
fancies. Children should be given as much real liberty as possible, and
as little dominion over others as may be. They should do as much as
possible by themselves, and ask as little as they can of others. "The
only person who does his own will is he who does not need, in doing it,
to put another's arms at the end of his own; whence it follows that the
first of all good things is not authority, but liberty."

Émile's desire to learn is to be excited. He is to see the reason for
the steps he takes. The talent of teaching is that of making the pupil
pleased with the instruction. Something must be left to the boy's own
mind and reflection. He is not to be given much to read. For a long
time, let "Robinson Crusoe" be his only book. But Émile shall learn a
trade, a good mechanical trade, which is always needed, in which there
is always employment. He shall also learn to draw; less for the art
itself than to make his eye accurate and his hand obedient; for in
general it is less important for him to know this or that than to
acquire the clearness of sense and the good habit of body which the
various studies give.

Having brought up Émile to manhood, it becomes necessary to provide him
with a wife. Here the tutor is still active, and prepares the meeting
with Sophie which Émile takes for accidental. It is needless to remark
again on the young man's gullibility. He is Rousseau's creature, and
fashioned as his maker pleases. Nothing is more disturbing than to
submit the dreams of such a man as Jean Jacques to the unsympathetic
rules of common sense. Our concern is with the effect they produced on
the minds of other people, who undertook in some measure to live them
out. Let us then pause over some of the considerations suggested by the
necessity of admitting into the scheme of education a being so
disturbing as a woman.

Rousseau saw more, I think, than most persons who have undertaken to
deal with the subject in a reforming spirit, what is the true and
proper relation between the sexes. While boys are to exercise the
manly trades that require physical strength, he would leave to women
the lighter employments, and more especially those connected with
dress and its materials. It is the usual mistake of those who in our
day set themselves up as champions of woman, to seek to make the sexes
not coordinate and mutually helpful, but identical and competing. "It
is perhaps one of the marvels of nature," says Rousseau, "to have made
two beings so similar while forming them so differently."[Footnote:
_Oeuvres_, v. 5 (_Émile_, liv. v.). Compare viii. 203 (_Nouv. Hél._
Letter). "A perfect man and a perfect woman should not resemble each
other any more in their souls than in their faces."]

On the whole, Sophie is a more attractive person than Émile; perhaps
because she has been brought up by her mother, and not given over in
her babyhood to the vigilance of Jean Jacques. The artistic quality of
the author's mind has obliged him to make his heroine more true to
nature than his theories have allowed him to make his hero. And his
theories about girls are quite as good and quite as different from the
fashionable practice of his day as those about boys. It is curious how
his ideas approach the American customs. A certain coquetry, he says,
is allowable in marriageable girls; amusement is their principal
business. Married women have the cares of home to occupy them, and
have no longer to seek husbands. Rousseau would let the girls appear
in public, would take them to balls, entertainments, the
theatre. Sophie is not only more vivacious than Émile, she has also
more self-control than he; who, in spite of his virile education, is
entirely overcome when the ever-meddling tutor insists on two years of
travel for his pupil, in order that the young people may grow older
and that Émile may learn to master his passions. The day of parting
arrives, and Émile, in true eighteenth century style, utters shrieks,
sheds torrents of tears on the hands of Sophie's father, of her
mother, of the heroine herself, embraces with sobs all the servants of
the family, and repeats the same things a thousand times with a
disorder which, even to Jean Jacques's rudimentary sense of humor,
would be laughable under circumstances less desperate. Sophie, on the
other hand is quiet, pale and sad, without tears, insensible to the
cries and caresses of her lover.

It is in "Émile" that Rousseau gives the most elaborate expression of
his religious opinions, putting them in the mouth of a poor curate in
Savoy.[Footnote: The passage is known as "Profession de Foi du Vicaire
savoyard" and is found in the fourth book of _Émile_, _Oeuvres_, iv.
136-254.] The pupil has been kept ignorant of all religion to the age
of eighteen, "for if he learns it earlier than he should, he runs the
risk of never knowing it." Without stopping to consider the dangers of
this course, let us see what answer Rousseau gives to the greatest
questions that perplex mankind. We may expect much sublime feeling,
some moral perversion, little logical thought.

The Roman Church, he says, by calling on us to believe too much, may
prevent our believing anything. We know not where to stop. But doubt on
matters so important to us is a state unbearable to the human mind. It
decides one way or another in spite of itself, and prefers to make a
mistake rather than to believe nothing.

Motion can originate only in will. "I believe, then, that a will moves
the universe and animates nature."... "How does a will produce a
physical and corporeal action? I do not know, but I feel within myself
that it does produce it. I will to act, and I act; I wish to move my
body, and my body moves; but that an inanimate body in repose should
move itself, or should produce motion, is incomprehensible and without
example."... "If matter moved shows me will, matter moved according to
certain laws shows me intelligence; this is my second article of faith."
We see that the universe has a plan, although we do not see to what it
tends. I cannot believe that dead matter has produced living and feeling
beings, that blind chance has produced intelligent beings, that what
does not think has produced what thinks. "Whether matter is eternal or
created, whether or not there is a passive principle, it is certain that
all is one and proclaims a single intelligence; for I see nothing which
is not ordered in the same system, and which does not concur to the same
end, namely, the preservation of the whole in the established order.
This Being who wills and who can, this Being active in Himself, this
Being, whatever he may be, who moves the universe and orders all things,
I call God. I attach to this name the ideas of intelligence, power and
will, which I have united to form the conception, and that of
goodness which is their necessary consequence; but I know no better the
Being to whom I have given it; He hides Himself alike from my senses and
my understanding; the more I think of it, the more I am confused; I know
very certainly that He exists and that He exists by himself; I know that
my existence is subordinated to His, and that all things that I know of
are in the same case. I perceive God everywhere in His works; I feel Him
in myself, I see Him about me; but as soon as I want to contemplate Him
in Himself, as soon as I want to seek where He is, what He is, what is
His substance, He escapes from me, and my troubled spirit perceives
nothing more."

Having considered the attributes of God, the Savoyard curate turns to
himself. He finds that he can observe and govern other creatures; whence
he infers that they may all be made for him. But mankind differs from
all other things in nature by being inharmonious, disorderly, and
miserable. Man has in himself two distinct principles, one of which
lifts him to the study of eternal truth, to the love of justice and
moral beauty; the other enslaves him under the rule of the senses, and
the passions which are their servants. "No! "cries the curate, "man is
not one; I will, and I will not; I feel myself at once enslaved, and
free; I see good, I love it, and I do evil; I am active when I listen to
reason, passive when my passions carry me away; my worst torture, when I
fail, is to feel that I could have resisted."

Man is free in his actions, and, therefore, animated by an immaterial
substance. This is the third article of the curate's faith. Conscience
is the voice of the soul; the passions are the voices of the body.
Immortality of the soul is a pleasing doctrine and there is nothing to
contradict it. "When, delivered from the illusions caused by the body
and the senses, we shall enjoy the contemplation of the Supreme Being,
and of the eternal truths whose source He is, when the beauty of order
shall strike all the powers of our soul, and we shall be solely occupied
in comparing what we have done with what we ought to have done, then
will the voice of conscience resume its force and its empire; then will
the pure bliss which is born of self-content, and the bitter regret for
self-debasement, distinguish by inexhaustible feelings the fate which
each man will have prepared for himself. Ask me not, O my good friend,
if there will be other sources of happiness and of misery; I do not
know, and the one I imagine is enough to console me for this life and to
make me hope for another. I do not say that the good will be rewarded;
for what other reward can await an excellent being than to live in
accordance with his nature; but I say that they will be happy, because
the Author of their being, the Author of all justice, having made them
to feel, has not made them to suffer; and because, not having abused
their liberty on the earth, they have not changed their destiny by their
own fault; yet they have suffered in this life, and so they will have it
made up to them in another. This feeling is less founded on the merit of
man than on the notion of goodness which seems to me inseparable from
the divine essence. I only suppose the laws of order to be observed, and
God consistent with Himself."[Footnote: "Non pas pour nous, non pas
pour nous, Seigneur, Mais pour ton nom, mais pour ton propre honneur, O
Dieu! fais nous revivre! Ps. 115." (Rousseau's note).]

"Neither ask me if the torments of the wicked will be eternal, and
whether it is consistent with the goodness of the Author of their being
to condemn them to suffer forever; I do not know that either, and have
not the vain curiosity to examine useless questions. What matters it to
me what becomes of the wicked? I take little interest in their fate.
Nevertheless I find it hard to believe that they are condemned to
endless torments. If Supreme Justice avenges itself, it avenges itself
in this life. You and your errors, O nations, are its ministers! It
employs the ills which you make to punish the crimes which brought them
about. It is in your insatiable hearts, gnawed with envy, avarice, and
ambition, that the avenging passions punish your crimes, in the midst of
your false prosperity. What need to seek hell in the other life? It is
already here, in the hearts of the wicked."

Revelation is unnecessary. Miracles need proof more than they give it.
As soon as the nations undertook to make God speak, each made Him speak
in its own way. If men had listened only to what He says in their
hearts, there had been but one religion upon earth. "I meditate on the
order of the universe, not to explain it by vain systems, but to admire
it unceasingly, to adore the wise Author who is felt in it. I converse
with Him, I let His divine essence penetrate all my faculties, I
tenderly remember His benefits, I bless Him for His gifts; but I do not
pray to Him. What should I ask Him? That He should change the course of
things on my account; that He should perform miracles in my favor? I,
who should love more than all things the order established by His
wisdom, and maintained by His Providence, should I wish to see that
order interfered with for me? No, that rash prayer would deserve to be
punished rather than to be answered. Nor do I ask Him for the power to
do good; why ask Him for what He has given me? Has He not given me a
conscience to love the good; reason, to know it; liberty, to choose it?
If I do evil, I have no excuse; I do it because I will; to ask him to
change my will is to ask of Him what He demands of me; it is wanting Him
to do my work, and let me take the reward; not to be content with my
state is to want to be a man no longer, it is to want things otherwise
than they are, it is to want disorder and evil. Source of justice and
truth, clement and kind God! in my trust in Thee the supreme wish of my
heart is that Thy will may be done. In uniting mine to it, I do what
thou doest, I acquiesce in Thy goodness; I seem to share beforehand the
supreme felicity which is its price."

This appears to have been Rousseau's deliberate opinion on the subject
of prayer. He has, however, expressed in the "New Heloisa" quite another
view, which is found in a letter from Julie to Saint-Preux, and is
inserted principally, perhaps, to give the latter an opportunity to
answer it. Yet Rousseau, as we have often seen, although unable to
understand that any one could honestly differ from himself, was quite
capable of holding conflicting opinions. And the value of any one of his
sayings is not much diminished by the fact that it is contradicted in
the next chapter. "You have religion," says Julie,[Footnote:
_Nouvelle Héloïse_, Part. vi. Let. vi. (_Oeuvres_, x. 261).]
"but I am afraid that you do not get from it all the advantage which it
offers in the conduct of life, and that philosophical pride may disdain
the simplicity of the Christian. I have seen you hold opinions on prayer
which are not to my taste. According to you, this act of humility is
fruitless for us; and God, having given us, in our consciences, all that
can lead us to good, afterwards leaves us to ourselves and allows our
liberty to act. That is not, as you know, the doctrine of Saint Paul,
nor that which is professed in our church. We are free, it is true, but
we are ignorant, weak, inclined to evil. And whence should light and
strength come to us, if not from Him who is their source? And why should
we obtain them, if we do not deign to ask for them? Beware, my friend,
lest to your sublime conceptions of the Great Being, human pride join
low ideas, which belong but to mankind; as if the means which relieve
our weakness were suitable to divine Power, and as if, like us, It
required art to generalize things, so as to treat them more easily! It
seems, to listen to you, that this Power would be embarrassed should It
watch over every individual; you fear that a divided and continual
attention might fatigue It, and you think it much finer that It should
do everything by general laws, doubtless because they cost It less care.
O great philosophers! How much God is obliged to you for your easy
methods and for sparing Him work."

Enough has been said of the theism of Rousseau to show its great
difference from that of Voltaire and of his followers. His attitude
toward them is not unlike that of Socrates toward the Sophists. Indeed,
Jean Jacques, by whomever inspired, is far more of a prophet than of a
philosopher. He speaks by an authority which he feels to be above
argument. In opposition to Locke and to all his school, he dares to
believe in innate ideas, although he calls them feelings.[Footnote:
"When, first occupied with the object, we think of ourselves only by
reflection, it is an idea; on the other hand, when the impression
received excites our first attention and we think only by reflection on
the object which causes it, it is a sensation." _Oeuvres_, iv. 195
_n_. (_Émile_, liv. iv.).] These innate ideas are love of
self, fear of pain, horror of death, the desire for well-being.
Conscience may well be one of them.

"My son," cries the Savoyard curate, "keep your soul always in a state
to desire that there may be a God, and you will never doubt it.
Moreover, whatever course you may adopt, consider that the true duties
of religion are independent of the institutions of men; that a just
heart is the true temple of Divinity; that in all countries and all
sects, to love God above all things, and your neighbor as yourself, is
the sum of the law; that no religion dispenses with the moral duties;
that these are the only duties really essential; that the inward worship
is the first of these duties, and that without faith no true virtue

"Flee from those who, under the pretense of explaining nature, sow
desolating doctrines in the hearts of men, and whose apparent skepticism
is a hundred times more affirmative and more dogmatic than the decided
tone of their adversaries."

At the time when "Émile" was written, Jean Jacques had quarreled
personally with most of his old associates of the Philosophic school.
Diderot, D'Alembert, Grimm, and their master, Voltaire,--Rousseau had
some real or fancied grievance against them all. But the difference
between him and them was intrinsic, not accidental. By nature and
training they belonged to the rather thin rationalism of the eighteenth
century; a rationalism which was so eager to believe nothing not
acquired through the senses that it preferred to leave half the
phenomena of life not only unaccounted for but unconsidered, because to
account for them by its own methods was difficult, if not impossible.
Rousseau, at least, contemplated the whole of human nature, its
affections, aspirations, and passions, as well as its observations and
reflections, and this was the secret of his influence over men.



The reign of Louis XVI. was a time of great and rapid change. The old
order was passing away, and the Revolution was taking place both in
manners and laws, for fifteen years before the assembling of the Estates
General. In the previous reigns the rich middle class had approached
social equality with the nobles; and the sons of great families had
consented to repair their broken fortunes by marrying the daughters of
financiers;--"manuring their land," they called it.

Next a new set of persons claimed a place in the social scale. The men
of letters were courted even by courtiers. The doctrines of the

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