Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Who is Jean-Jacques Rousseau ii

.. although lazy, I was industrious when I wished to be, and my indolence was not so much that of an idler as of an independent man, who only likes to work in his own time.

No, no, I have always felt that the profession of author is not and never could be an honourable and illustrious one except in so far as it is not a trade.

In 1756, the year of the birth of Mozart, Rousseau settled into a bespoke guest house with a staff of 4, on the estate of an indulgent patron, not 15 miles from Paris. Here he played out the myth of the autonomous artisan-savant to which these lines and others in the Confessions lend such seductive authority. But by then he was preposterously no example of an ordinary man; he was on terms of sufficient intimacy with the most notorious and blazing stars of the French Enlightenment, as to revel in his repudiation of their regard: As for Diderot, all my talks with him always tended, I do not know why, to make me more satirical and caustic than I was by nature ..

But what Rousseau asserted, human nature is loathe to put asunder. The man who gave Émile to the world, the first and still the most unrepentant demand for the rational education of youth, can not have been entirely wrong in his observation that the least self-interested writing is likely to be the best and most humane. Although Swiss, the world still sees Jean-Jacques Rousseau as the Kid Rossignol of his time, the sweetest lever ever against the persistence of the old régime. It is a joy and a luxuriance to read in his memoir, and a blast to re-call that he lived. 

That's a battle good enough for writing, which has to be engaged again. The great treasure in Rousseau is his faith in the sharing of human experience, and in this he strikes one as utter-ly right. I considered this in-direct method of teaching them these truths the best calculated to spare the pride of the citizens and to secure me forgiveness .. Rousseau's gift for teaching by sparing pride distinguishes even his disputes, and of course strains the soul. An education in morals is better left to example than to dogma; in this, he is our man.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau
The Confessions
op. cit.


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