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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 “Encyclopaedia.”‘

“`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 dollars.

“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 Philosophers.]

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. v.]

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 circles.

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 _non-ego_.

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 forever.”

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 liar.]

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 eloquence.

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 be.”

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 plusieurs.”]

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 formulated.

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 sufferers.

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 priggishness.

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 instance.

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 safe.

“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 labor.

“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 exists.

“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