Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library
  PREVIOUSNEXT  

CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · QUICK INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHIES
READER’S DIGEST · STUDENT’S COURSE · PORTRAITS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Rousseau at Montmorency
By John Morley (1838–1923)
 
From ‘Rousseau’

THE MANY conditions of intellectual productiveness are still hidden in such profound obscurity that we are as yet unable to explain why in certain natures a period of stormy moral agitation seems to be the indispensable antecedent of their highest creative effort. Byron is one instance, and Rousseau is another, in which the current of stimulating force made rapid way from the lower to the higher parts of character, only expending itself after having traversed the whole range of emotion and faculty, from their meanest, most realistic, most personal forms of exercise, up to the summit of what is lofty and ideal. No man was ever involved in such an odious complication of moral maladies as beset Rousseau in the winter of 1758. Within three years of this miserable epoch he had completed not only the ‘New Heloïsa,’ which is the monument of his fall, but the ‘Social Contract,’ which was the most influential, and ‘Emilius,’ which was perhaps the most elevated and spiritual of all the productions of the prolific genius of France in the eighteenth century. A poor light-hearted Marmontel thought that the secret of Rousseau’s success lay in the circumstance that he began to write late; and it is true that no other author so considerable as Rousseau waited until the age of fifty for the full vigor of his inspiration. No tale of years, however, could have ripened such fruit without native strength and incommunicable savor; nor can the splendid mechanical movement of those characters which keep the balance of the world even, impart to literature the peculiar quality, peculiar but not the finest, that comes from experience of the black and unlighted abysses of the soul.  1
  The period of actual production was externally calm. The ‘New Heloïsa’ was completed in 1759, and published in 1761. The ‘Social Contract’ was published in the spring of 1762, and ‘Emilius’ a few weeks later. Throughout this period Rousseau was, for the last time in his life, at peace with most of his fellows; that is to say, though he never relented from his antipathy to the Holbachians, for the time it slumbered, until a more real and serious persecution than any which he imputed to them transformed his antipathy into a gloomy frenzy.  2
  The new friends whom he made at Montmorency were among the greatest people in the kingdom. The Duke of Luxembourg (1702–64) was a marshal of France, and as intimate a friend of the King as the King was capable of having. The Maréchale de Luxembourg (1707–87) had been one of the most beautiful, and continued to be one of the most brilliant leaders of the last aristocratic generation that was destined to sport on the slopes of the volcano. The former seems to have been a loyal and homely soul; the latter, restless, imperious, penetrating, unamiable. Their dealings with Rousseau were marked by perfect sincerity and straightforward friendship. They gave him a convenient apartment in a small summer lodge in the park, to which he retreated when he cared for a change from his narrow cottage. He was a constant guest at their table, where he met the highest names in France. The marshal did not disdain to pay him visits, or to walk with him, or to discuss his private affairs. Unable as ever to shine in conversation, yet eager to show his great friends that they had to do with no common mortal, Rousseau bethought him of reading the ‘New Heloïsa’ aloud to them. At ten in the morning he used to wait upon the maréchale, and there by her bedside he read the story of the love, the sin, the repentance of Julie, the distraction of Saint Preux, the wisdom of Wolmar, and the sage friendship of Lord Edward, in tones which enchanted her both with his book and its author for all the rest of the day, as all the women in France were so soon to be enchanted. This, as he expected, amply reconciled her to the uncouthness and clumsiness of his conversation, which was at least as maladroit and as spiritless in the presence of a duchess as it was in presences less imposing.  3
  One side of character is obviously tested by the way in which a man bears himself in his relations with persons of greater consideration. Rousseau was taxed by some of his plebeian enemies with a most unheroic deference to his patrician friends. He had a dog whose name was Duc. When he came to sit at a duke’s table, he changed his dog’s name to Turc. Again, one day in a transport of tenderness he embraced the old marshal—the duchess embraced Rousseau ten times a day, for the age was effusive: “Ah, monsieur le maréchal, I used to hate the great before I knew you, and I hate them still more, since you make me feel so strongly how easy it would be for them to have themselves adored.” On another occasion he happened to be playing at chess with the Prince of Conti, who had come to visit him in his cottage. In spite of the signs and grimaces of the attendants, he insisted on beating the prince in a couple of games. Then he said with respectful gravity, “Monseigneur, I honor your Serene Highness too much not to beat you at chess always.” A few days after, the vanquished prince sent him a present of game, which Rousseau duly accepted. The present was repeated; but this time Rousseau wrote to Madame de Boufflers that he would receive no more, and that he loved the prince’s conversation better than his gifts. He admits that this was an ungracious proceeding; and that to refuse game “from a prince of the blood who throws so much good feeling into the present, is not so much the delicacy of a proud man bent on preserving his independence, as the rusticity of an unmannerly person who does not know his place.” Considering the extreme virulence with which Rousseau always resented gifts even of the most trifling kind from his friends, we find some inconsistency in this condemnation of a sort of conduct to which he tenaciously clung; unless the fact of the donor being a prince of the blood is allowed to modify the quality of the donation, and that would be a hardly defensible position in the austere citizen of Geneva. Madame de Boufflers, the intimate friend of our sage Hume, and the yet more intimate friend of the Prince of Conti, gave him a judicious warning when she bade him beware of laying himself open to a charge of affectation, lest it should obscure the brightness of his virtue, and so hinder its usefulness. “Fabius and Regulus would have accepted such marks of esteem without feeling in them any hurt to their disinterestedness and frugality.” Perhaps there is a flutter of self-consciousness that is not far removed from this affectation, in the pains which Rousseau takes to tell us that after dining at the castle, he used to return home gleefully to sup with a mason who was his neighbor and his friend. On the whole, however, and so far as we know, Rousseau conducted himself not unworthily with these high people. His letters to them are for the most part marked by self-respect and a moderate graciousness; though now and again he makes rather too much case of the difference of rank, and asserts his independence with something too much of protestation. Their relations with him are a curious sign of the interest which the members of the great world took in the men who were quietly preparing the destruction both of them and their world. The Maréchale de Luxembourg places this squalid dweller in a hovel on her estate in the place of honor at her table, and embraces his Theresa. The Prince of Conti pays visits of courtesy, and sends game to a man whom he employs at a few sous an hour to copy manuscript for him. The Countess of Boufflers, in sending him the money, insists that he is to count her his warmest friend. When his dog dies, the countess writes to sympathize with his chagrin, and the prince begs to be allowed to replace it. And when persecution and trouble and infinite confusion came upon him, they all stood as fast by him as their own comfort would allow. Do we not feel that there must have been in the unhappy man, besides all the recorded pettinesses and perversities which revolt us in him, a vein of something which touched men, and made women devoted to him, until he drove both men and women away? With Madame d’Epinay and Madame d’Houdetot, as with the dearer and humbler patroness of his youth, we have now parted company. But they are instantly succeeded by new devotees. And the lovers of Rousseau, in all degrees, were not silly women led captive by idle fancy. Madame de Boufflers was one of the most distinguished spirits of her time. Her friendship for him was such, that his sensuous vanity made Rousseau against all reason or probability confound it with a warmer form; and he plumes himself in a manner most displeasing on the victory which he won over his own feelings on the occasion. As a matter of fact he had no feelings to conquer, any more than the supposed object of them ever bore him any ill-will for his indifference, as in his mania of suspicion he afterwards believed.  4
  There was a calm about the too few years he passed at Montmorency, which leaves us in doubt whether this mania would ever have afflicted him, if his natural irritation had not been made intense and irresistible by the cruel distractions that followed the publication of ‘Emilius.’ He was tolerably content with his present friends. The simplicity of their way of dealing with him contrasted singularly, as he thought, with the never-ending solicitudes, as importunate as they were officious, of the patronizing friends whom he had just cast off. Perhaps, too, he was soothed by the companionship of persons whose rank may have flattered his vanity, while unlike Diderot and his old literary friends in Paris, they entered into no competition with him in the peculiar sphere of his own genius. Madame de Boufflers, indeed, wrote a tragedy; but he told her gruffly enough that it was a plagiarism from Southerne’s ‘Oroonoko.’ That Rousseau was thoroughly capable of this hateful emotion of sensitive literary jealousy is proved, if by nothing else, by his readiness to suspect that other authors were jealous of him. No one suspects others of a meanness of this kind, unless he is capable of it himself. The resounding success which followed the ‘New Heloïsa’ and ‘Emilius’ put an end to this apprehension, for it raised him to a pedestal in popular esteem as high as that on which Voltaire stood triumphant. This very success unfortunately brought troubles which destroyed Rousseau’s last chance of ending his days in full reasonableness.  5
  Meanwhile he enjoyed his last interval of moderate wholesomeness and peace. He felt his old healthy joy in the green earth. One of the letters commemorates his delight in the great scudding southwest winds of February, soft forerunners of the spring, so sweet to all who live with nature. At the end of his garden was a summer-house, and here even on wintry days he sat composing or copying. It was not music only that he copied. He took a curious pleasure in making transcripts of his romance, which he sold to the Duchess of Luxembourg and other ladies for some moderate fee. Sometimes he moved from his own lodging to the quarters in the park which his great friends had induced him to accept. “They were charmingly neat; the furniture was of white and blue. It was in this perfumed and delicious solitude, in the midst of woods and streams and choirs of birds of every kind, with the fragrance of the orange-flower poured round me, that I composed in a continual ecstasy the fifth book of ‘Emilius.’ With what eagerness did I hasten every morning at sunrise to breathe the balmy air! What good coffee I used to take under the porch in company with my Theresa! My cat and my dog made the rest of our party. That would have sufficed for all my life, and I should never have known weariness.” And so to the assurance, so often repeated under so many different circumstances, that here was a true heaven upon earth, where if fate had only allowed, he would have known unbroken innocence and lasting happiness.  6
 
 
CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY
READER’S DIGEST · STUDENT’S COURSE · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  PREVIOUSNEXT  
 

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.