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Art. I. - JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU.
By, James Freeman basta Rousseau et les Génevois. Par M. J. GABEREL, ancien pasteur.
Genève : Joel Cherbulier, 1858. Paris : Même Maison, Rue de la
Monnaie, 10. This book, published some years since, contains interesting matter for any new biography of the great, sad prose-poet of France in the eighteenth century. It contains reminiscences concerning him from simple, honest, Christian men, - his fellow-townsmen, who knew him and loved him. They do not think of him as the great philosopher and marvellous writer, who first set the French language on fire, and turned its cold phrases into burning eloquence. They think of him only as one whom they could not quite understand, or quite approve of; but whom they could not help loving. It contains contributions from many citizens of Geneva and the neigliboring towns, and shows us Rousseau when his unquiet heart and sensitive nature found peace for a time among his simple fellow-citizens. The period, perhaps, has hardly yet arrived for writing the biography of this great soul; but, when it comes, this unpretending volume will be one of its “ Memoires pour servir." It informs us, too, that there is a collection of nearly two thousand inedited letters of Rousseau in the Library of Neufchâtel, classified by the librarian, M. Bovet. It also
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mentions, that M. le docteur Coindet, grand-nephew of Rousseau's friend of that name, has a voluminous collection of notes and letters, addressed to his uncle by the philosopher. It has many interesting anecdotes, all tending to show, that, in the opinion of these good men, who knew Rousseau in his private life, he was a sincerely religious man; a truth-seek. ing, truth-loving man; and one who desired human love and sympathy more than fame.
Perhaps the present century may be able to do justice to Rousseau, and we have long desired to utter at least one protest against the wide-spread opinion, in the Christian public, of his infidelity in opinion and his immorality of character. The common view of Rousseau is wholly unjust to his belief and his life. Unfortunate and unhappy in a thousand ways, he is not that ogre of evil which his name represents to so
Rousseau was a phenomenon, unintelligible to his own time, and not yet understood by ours. To his contemporaries, he was the object of immense admiration and enormous odium; and, to our age, he stands as a misty representative of sophistry and unbelief. He is classified with Hume and Voltaire, though radically opposed to them in all his ideas, and antipathetic in all the tendencies of his nature. When his works first appeared, they electrified France and Europe. Hume writes from Paris in 1765,"It is impossible to express or imagine the enthusiasm of this nation in his favor: no person ever so much engaged their attention as Rousseau. Voltaire and everybody else are quite eclipsed by him." When “La Nouvelle Héloïse " appeared, the libraries could not answer the calls made for it from all classes. The book was let by the day and by the hour. But this universal and immense admiration was attended or immediately followed by a terrible hatred and persecution. Banished from Paris for the publication of “Emile," a work which contains the germs of our modern improvements in education, he went to Geneva; threatened with imprisonment there, he fled to Neufchâtel; driven from that place, he went and lived on an island in the Lake of Bienne, from which he was again expelled by the
Canton of Berne. Longing for repose, he was a perpetual wanderer; thirsting for sympathy, he was in constant warfare. The only literary man of his time who was sincerely religious, he passed then, and has passed ever since, as an example of unbelief. A singular character certainly, and well deserving our study. Lord Holland tells us that Napoleon said of Rousseau, that " without him there would have been no French Revolution." The historian Schlosser speaks of his “bringing forward an entirely new system of absolute democracy.” Von Raumer, in his history of education, gives Rousseau a high place as the founder and inspirer of this modern science. Sismondi says, “ Rousseau, in his writings, went to the foundations of human society.” Buckle remarks, that he has not found a single instance of an attack on Christianity in all Rousseau's writings; and that in this respect he was entirely distinguished from the other writers of his day. Louis Blanc declares that Rousseau alone withstood the movement headed by Voltaire and all the philosophers, resisting by himself the whole spirit of his time. “The age exalted reason; he preached sentiment. Among the prophets of individualism, he alone taught the Christian doctrine of brotherhood. The mission of Jean Jacques, in a society which was in a state of disintegration, was to oppose to the exaggerated worship of reason the worship of sentiment." M. Villemain, one of the most respectable among the historians of French literature, considers him “the successor of Montesquieu in political science," " the sincere friend of morality and justice," "magical in his talent," " with a soul of fire;” and agrees with those who ascribe to his genius an immense influence over the future. He was, says he," the Bible of his time; and there was not an act in the French Revolution in which you do not find his good or evil influence." But, as regards religion, Villemain declares, that,“ at a period when the old religious beliefs had faded away from the public mind, no better and no more useful book than Emile' could have been offered to it.” Rousseau, he adds, “ was the religious teacher of his time, inspiring a faith in God, in the Soul, in Goodness here and Immortality hereafter,