Page images
PDF
EPUB

lady of fashion had her amant as a matter of course, and the more sentimental considered a breach of faith with that happy personage as a crime, while the infidelity to the husband was nothing at all. To the time of marriage, the girls were mere puppets, the most innocent freedom was denied them: but the marriage ceremony was the proclamation of full licence, and that once performed, restraint was broken, and the most extreme liberty began. This state of things, which so completely destroyed all domestic life, was viewed with just abhorrence by Rousseau. In his • Heloïse,' he attempted to demonstrate a principle the reverse of that which regulated society, and to show that a breach of chastity before marriage was no such great crime, but that conjugal infidelity was atrocious. His Julie,' who is seduced by her tutor, becomes a perfect model of a wife, when she afterwards marries a respectable old gentleman. The problem to be worked was a simple one: but Rousseau carrying on his book without a complicated story-of which he boasts—has recourse to a needless complication of sentiments: and this it is which leads him into his besetting sins of over-colouring, distortion, and moral sophistry, Not only does his erring fair one recover her chastity; but her old husband, who knows of her transgression, insists on the former lover residing in their house, and takes a kind of philosophical pleasure in watching the emotions of that gentleman and his wife. By overstraining his sentiment, the author has destroyed its effect, and presented us with a number of shadowy caricatures, instead of real individuals. It is always his fault that he cannot be quite true.

The disagreeable life he led at the Hermitage caused him to leave that retreat, and take up his abode at the château of the Marechale de Luxembourg, who had kindly offered him a residence. His 'Heloïse' had at this time raised him to the zenith of his popularity: the ladies were all delighted with it. If he had attacked the principles on which their empire was founded, he had done so in a way to fascinate them; his artificial picture of the natural was admirably adapted to artificial readers; the ‘operatic lght thrown on the scene rendered it more acceptable than if it had been illumined by a bold glaring sunlight. Impassioned as were some of the letters, sound as were some of the reflections, it had nevertheless some affinity to the pastoral life of a ballet. It must have been a pleasant occupation to Jean Jacques to read aloud his “Heloïse to Madame la Marechale. He tells us she talked of nothing but him—her head was full of nothing but him-she uttered douceurs all day long, and was constantly embracing him. Great lords wished to sit by her at table—but no !-she told them that was the place destined for

1

The Attack on Theatres.

27

Rousseau, and made them sit elsewhere. With great naïveté Jean Jacques exclaims, after the enumeration of these delights, 'It is easy to judge of the impression which these charming manners made

upon me, whom the least marks of affection subdue. He was for a while in an atmosphere of positive enjoyment; he was admired as he liked to be admired; he haddesired his 'Heloïse to be the pet of the ladies, and he had succeeded. The little warning in the preface, that any unmarried woman who read one page would be unavoidably ruined, is a charming instance of the puff indirect.

It was at Montmorenci that he wrote his well-known letter to D'Alembert on the subject of theatres. In the article Geneva? in the · Encyclopédie, D'Alembert had proposed the erection of a theatre in that city, and Rousseau in his letter, consistently with his former attack on the arts and sciences, violently opposed the proposition. The vulgar prejudices against the profession of an actor he fostered with great ardour: indeed it was his constant tendency to repose upon popular prejudices, when they suited his purpose: he made use of the ordinary commonplaces against theatres generally, and he brought forward several financial and other considerations to oppose the erection of a Genevese theatre in particular. The inhabitants of Geneva were poor, and being hard-worked, they had but little spare time on their hands, and therefore theatres, which might serve to keep an idle population like that of Paris out of mischief, could only exist among them as an expensive hinderance to busi

The theatre too, he thought, might interfere with sundry little pleasant parties called cercles, where the male citizens of Geneva were wont to congregate together, to drink hard, to smoke, and to indulge in jokes, not of the most savoury character. These merry réunions, where the liquor passed freely, and the coarse jest caused a roar, found a vehement champion in Jean Jacques. The whole morality of Geneva seemed to rest on this basis, and a revolution that would have converted the Genevese from low sots into the spectators of Molière's comedies, was contemplated with positive horror by their fellow-citizen. Still advocating the rude at the expense of the polished, Rousseau while censuring theatres, now stood up the professed defender of the pipe and pot. It appears that the battle he fought was hardly worth the trouble it cost. Voltaire, who by his theatre in the vicinity of the city had attracted many of the residents, had hoped to found one in the city itself, and D'Alembert's article in thê' Encyclopédie, written under his dictation, had been intended as a 'feeler. Rousseau's letter operated so far that it destroyed these hopes, and involved him in a quarrel with the philosophe

ness.

go so far

of Ferney; but when afterwards theatricals were actually introduced in Geneva, it was found that the citizens had so little taste for them, that a permanent existence could not be secured. Thus Rousseau in his letter was fighting against a supposed evil, which left to itself would have perished naturally.

Whether it was from a feeling of patriotism, or whether it was from feeling himself not a strong man, Rousseau always tried to have a numerous party on his side: it had been his constant aim to flatter the republic of Geneva. The adulation was dealt out in a most liberal measure in the dedication of the · Discourse on Inequality,'—the moral worth of the Genevese was valued at a high rate, when he expressed such dread at their corruption by the introduction of a theatre,—he puffed the pipe of peace with his compatriots while eulogising the cercles,-and if he did as to admit that the Genevese women, when assembled in a knot together, talked scandal about their own husbands, he added that it was much better to do so, than to indulge in the same vein when

any

of the male sex were in the room. Pastors, citizens, ladies, pipe, pot, and scandal, all was virtuous at Geneva. Nay, more virtuous was it to get drunk, and talk ribaldry at Geneva, then to keep sober, and study mathematics at Paris. Unfortunately, this love for his country (let us believe it really was love) was not returned in a spirit of kindness; and the little amiable prejudices which he had been at such pains to exalt, re-acted against their defender in a frightful manner.

In the present times, the anniversary of Rousseau's birthday is a great occasion at Geneva; but it was a very different matter when he was alive. We all know how the seven cities, through which the living Homer begged his bread, contended, after his decease, for the honour of his birth. Rousseau's case was still harder, for he was obliged to endure a severe persecution: no longer a shadowy, unreal persecution, invented by himself in his morbid moments, but a substantial storm, which beat him about from point to point most relentlessly. By the publication of his · Emile,' this storm was occasioned.

· Emile' is unquestionably the greatest of all Rousseau's works. The thoughts which lie scattered elsewhere, the opinions which he has previously uttered in a crude form, are here carefully digested, and arranged into a systematic work. For the weaknesses and vanities of Rousseau, we must turn to his early essays, to his Confessions,' to his · Heloise:' but for his theoretic views, for those utterances that have weight in themselves, and are not merely curious, as expositions of a character, we must go to the • Contrât Sociale' and Emile.' The former contains the theory of the citizen—the rights belonging to the free member

[blocks in formation]

of a free state, subject to nought but that universal will of the state, in which he himself has a share: the rights which are inherent in him because he is a man, and which he has himself limited by becoming a party to a social compact. The latter contains the theory of the manthe natural man, apart from his connexion with any state whatever. Rousseau gives himself an imaginary pupil, whom he calls · Emile,' and educates him from the moment of his birth to the time when he is married and

may

be supposed to acquire a political existence. The savage life which Rousseau eulogized at the expense even of the most perfect republic, finds its representative in the young Emile: only it is much softened down since first it was so violently advocated. Then the inhabitant of the woods and mountains, born under no government, having no property, and conscious of no law, was the object of admiration: now it is to the 'man, born under a modern government, but at the period of his life when he also has no property, and is conscious of no law, that Rousseau directs his attention. The book · Emile' is a system of education: but what is that system? It is the system of letting nature perform the greatest part of the work, and as the savage is instructed by her voice, so causing the child to be instructed also. Only the plan is modified to a certain extent, because Emile is to be educated into complications which the savage can never know, and hence, though his path is originally that of nature, he has—such is the world--to be led to civilization as a goal: a civilization, which, be it understood, does not make him so completely blend with his fellows as to lose his identity, but allows him still to retain a substance of his own which can exist apart from society. It is by feeling wants, that the savage learns the use of his several faculties, but his wants are few and simple: it is by surrounding Emile with wants of a more artificial kind, that his training is accomplished. The preceptor's entire occupation is to watch over this Emile; his influence is unfelt by his pupil, as he teaches him no precept, sets him no task; but he is constantly preparing such an atmosphere, that the pupil must infallibly guide himself to the desired point. So far is the education natural, that the pupil is merely led on by the desire of supplying his own wants; so far is it artificial, that these wants are artificially awakened. What is called learning is deferred to an age comparatively mature,

when the boy can be made to feel uneasy at the want of it; but all crowding of a child's mind with words, the notions attached to which he cannot possibly understand, are expressly prohibited. Precocious displays of erudition, such as the knowledge of geography and history, long recitations of poetry by children, Rousseau treats with the most utter contempt; fables, in which beasts and birds hold converse, he opposes strenuously as means of conveying instruction in childhood, protesting that they only serve to give false impressions, and that La Fontaine, in his time the favourite author for children, is neither adapted to them by his language, nor by his moral. Our own Cowper, in a fit of small wit, chose to ridicule this notion of Rousseau's, and wrote a miserable fable himself to show his contempt for the doctrine, but he simply showed that he did not understand the man whom he condemned. As it was Rousseau's principle of education to inspire a series of wants, and to communicate nothing that the child himself did not desire, it was necessary that words

corresponding to no notions at all should be prohibited: and more necessary to exclude those to which wrong notions were attached. A word in a child's mouth should only, in this system, serve to mention something he cared about; and therefore he could have no use for words, the meanings of which were out of his mental reach, nor for figurative expressions, which could only tend to confuse his view of the relation between names and things. •Emile' is a well-weighed, carefully written book; the remarks on the disposition of children are founded on the acutest observation; and he who heedlessly attacks an isolated part, is likely to find he has chosen an adversary, his superior in strength.* The plan of hindering Emile from learning when a child, and confining his earliest years to bodily exercises, and a few rude notions of

the laws of property, is not, however, merely adapted to prevent him from being a precocious savant. He is not to be a savant at any period of

his life, for Rousseau, still adhering to the side he took years before, continues to hold that character in contempt. In due time the pupil learns something of the classics, and of modern languages, but he is to consider these as mere trivial accomplishments, and is early taught to think that the mechanic who pursues an useful calling is higher than a philosopher or a poet. Though supposed to be rich, he is nevertheless to be independent of the freaks of fortune; and he learns the trade of a joiner, is regularly bound apprentice, that in all circumstances he may obtain a livelihood. Thus he becomes Rousseau's ideal of a man: a man depending on no society, but capable of mixing in any: the man believed in at the time of the Revolution, which Rousseau foresaw, and which so shortly followed: and whatever we may think of the means adopted to cultivate this ideal, certainly the thought itself was a great one. By the side of Emile,' the ideal man, strong of limb, firm in his independence, stamped with all the nobility of nature, is placed

* From these commendations we except, as a separate work, the Professions of the Vicaire of Savoy.'

« PreviousContinue »