Story type: Essay
When the service of the public ceases to be the principal concern of the citizens, and they would rather discharge it by their purses than their persons, the State is already far on the way to ruin. When they should march to fight, they pay troops to fight for them and stay at home; when they should go to council, they send deputies and remain away; thus, in consequence of their indolence and wealth, they in the end employ soldiers to enslave their country, and representatives to sell it. So soon as a citizen says, What are State Affairs to me? the State may be given up for lost.
Who is the great man?
Listen, and I will tell you: He is great who feeds other minds. He is great who inspires others to think for themselves. He is great who tells you the things you already know, but which you did not know you knew until he told you. He is great who shocks you, irritates you, affronts you, so that you are jostled out of your wonted ways, pulled out of your mental ruts, lifted out of the mire of the commonplace.
That writer is great whom you alternately love and hate. That writer is great whom you can not forget.
Certainly, yes, the man in his private life may be proud, irritable, rude, crude, coarse, faulty, absurd, ignorant, immoral–grant it all, and yes be great. He is not great on account of these things, but in spite of them. The seeming inconsistencies and inequalities of his nature may contribute to his strength, as the mountains and valleys, the rocks and woods, make up the picturesqueness of the landscape.
He is great to whom writers, poets, painters, philosophers, preachers, and scientists go, each to fill his own little tin cup, dipper, calabash, vase, stein, pitcher, amphora, bucket, tub, barrel or cask. These men may hate him, refute him, despise him, reject him, insult him, as they probably will if they are much indebted to him; yet if he stirs the molecules in their minds to a point where they create caloric, he has benefited them and therefore he is a great man.
Jean Jacques Rousseau was a great man. We are still reading him–still talking about him–still trying to clap label upon him–still hunting for a pigeonhole in which to place him.
If a man were wholly crude, rude, ignorant and coarse, and if he did nothing but shock and irritate us, we would quickly cast him aside. But in addition to shocking us the great man fascinates us by his insight, his subtlety, his imagination, his sympathy, his tenderness, his love. Behind the act he sees the cause, and so he excuses and forgives. Knowing the present he is able to forecast the future, for he, of all men, knows that effect follows cause. He does what we dare not and says what we would like to if we had the mind. So in one sense the man is our vicarious self–“I am that man.” His very faultiness brings him near. His blunders make him to us akin.
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To answer the arguments of Jean Jacques by references to his private life were easy and obvious. He did not apologize for his life, and perhaps we would do well to follow his example.
The fact that with his own hands he carried five of his offspring to foundling asylums as they came into the world does not alter or change the fact that he was also the author of “Emile,” in which book, let it be remembered, the idea of substituting natural for pedantic methods in the training and developing of the physical, mental and moral faculties of the growing child first found expression.
The book furnished Froebel with the fund of ideas for his experiments with children which resulted in the Kindergarten, an institution that has profoundly influenced the educational methods of every enlightened country in the world.
Without a doubt this man who abandoned his own children became one of the great instructors of the age.
But a fair understanding of the situation demands that we should realize that things for which we blame him most occured before he was thirty-eight years old. And the writings of his that really influenced humanity were not written until after he was thirty-eight. To confound the reasoning of the mature man, by pointing to what he did at twenty-two, is, I submit, irrelevant, immaterial, inconsequent, unrelated and uncalled for. When a critic has nothing to say of a man’s work, but calls attention to the errors of the author’s youth, he is running short of material.
That Rousseau revised his mode of living and reformed his reasoning in his later years, viewing his early life with bitter regret, should be put forward to his credit and not be used for his condemnation. The facts, however, are all that his harshest critics state. But fact and truth are often totally different things. Untruth enters when we reason wrongly from our facts.
We have been told by both the friends and the enemies of Rousseau that to him the French Revolution traces a direct lineage. For this his friends give him credit, and his enemies blame. The truth is, that revolutions are things that require long time and many factors to evolve. A revolution is the culmination of a long train of evils. Rousseau saw the evils and called attention to them, but he did not exactly cause them–bless me! His little love-affairs with elderly ladies, and grateful, should not be confused with the atrocious cruelties and inhumanities that existed in France and had existed for a hundred years and more.
A wise man of the East was once eating his dinner of dried figs, and at the same time explaining to an admiring group the beauty and healthfulness of a purely vegetable diet.
“Look at your figs through this,” said a scientist present, handing the man a microscope. The pundit looked and saw his precious figs were covered with crawling microbes.
He handed the microscope back and said, “Friend, keep your glass–the bugs no longer exist.”
Jean Jacques handed the peasantry of France a reading-glass; Voltaire did as much for the nobility.
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Jean Jacques Rousseau was born in Switzerland, which land, as all folks know, has produced her full quota and more of reformers. The father of Jean Jacques, quite naturally, was a watchmaker, with mainspring ill-adjusted and dial askew, according to the report of the son, who claimed to be full-jeweled, but was not perfectly adjusted to position and temperature. Jean Jacques tells us that his first misfortune was his birth, and this cost his mother her life. He was adopted by Time and Chance and fed by Fate. When the lad was ten the father fled from Geneva to escape the penalty of a foolish brawl, and never again saw the son who was to rescue the family-name from oblivion.
Kinsmen of the mother gave the boy into the hands of a retired clergyman who levied polite blackmail on his former constituents by asking them to place children, their own and others, in his hands that they might be taught the way of life–and that the clergyman might live, which, according to Whistlerian philosophy, was unnecessary.
That the boy was clever, shrewd, quick to learn, secretive as castaway children ever are, can well be understood. He became a secretary, an engineer, a valet, a waiter, working life’s gamut backward, thus proving that in human service there is no high nor low degree, only this: he, at this time, knew nothing about human service–he was fighting for existence.
Knowledge comes through desire, but where desire comes from no man can say. It surely is not a matter of will.
Jean Jacques had a hunger for knowledge, and this, some wise men say, is the precious legacy of mother to son. He wanted to know!
And it was this desire that shaped his career.
He asked questions of priests all day long, because he was filled with the fallacy that priests knew the secrets of the unknowable and were on friendly terms with God.
To escape importunity a priest sent him to Madame De Warens. Now Madame was a widow, rich and volatile, filled with a holy religious zeal. Where religion begins and sex ends no man can say–the books are silent and revelation is dumb. Indeed, there be those who are so bold as to say that art, love and religion are one.
Leaving this to the specialists, let us simply say that the love of learning landed Jean Jacques, aged seventeen, poetic and philosophic vagabond, into the precious care of Madame De Warens, who kept a religious retreat for novitiates intent on the ideal life.
The religion of Mohammed made converts in numbers like unto the sands of the desert, because they were promised a Paradise peopled by dark- eyed houris. Orthodoxy got its hold by a promise of rest, idleness and freedom from responsibility. The heaven into which Jean Jacques slipped was a combination of all that Allah, Gabriel and the seductive dreams of Moody, Sankey and such could provide. Science founded on truth can never be popular until mankind further evolves, since it offers nothing better than toil and difficulty, and after each achievement increased work as a reward for work. This condition stands no show when compared with a heaven that gives harps that never require tuning, robes that need not be laundered, and mansions that demand no plumbing.
Jean Jacques lived an ideal existence; he was the guest, pupil, servant and lover of the Religious Lady who kept the Religious Retreat. Also, he was immune from responsibility. But Paradise has one serious objection–the serpent. This time the serpent was jealousy. Whenever the Religious Lady had guests of quality, the snake sank its fangs deep into the quivering flesh of her valet-lover. Thus does the Law of Compensation never rest.
“What is your favorite book?” asked Ralph Waldo Emerson of George Eliot.
And the answer was, “Rousseau’s ‘Confessions.’”
And Emerson’s counter-confession was, “So is it mine.”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning nibbled at the same cheese. But the belief now is that Rousseau’s “Confessions” is largely constructive truth, as differentiated from fact, and constructive truth is the thing which might have happened, but did not. Rousseau’s “Confessions” is a psychological study of hopes, desires, aspirations and hesitations, flavored with regrets. All literature is confession–vicarious confession. The gentle reader has the joy of doing the thing, and escaping the penalty.
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Rousseu’s first literary effort to attract attention was written in his thirty-ninth year. It was merely an exercise penned with intent to show that so-called civilization had really polluted mankind and done more harm than good.
The essay was a subtle indictment of the times, with the French Government in mind, all from the standpoint of a Swiss. And it convinced at least one man–the author–of the truth of its allegations.
At this time there were in France more than a hundred offenses punishable with death. In the coronation oath of the King was a clause promising that he would exterminate all heretics. Just how this was to be done, the King left to experts. The “lettre de cachet,” or secret arrest, was in full swing and very popular among princes and church officials high in authority. Any suspected man could be removed from family and friends as though the earth had swallowed him. He went out to drive, or to walk, or to work, and was seen no more. Search was vain and inquiry useless–aye, worse, it might involve the inquirer. The writ of habeas corpus was as yet a barren hypothesis.
Common people had no rights: they were merely granted privileges, one of which was the privilege to live until the order went out that the man should die.
Confessions were wrung from men and women by the use of the rack, twistings, blows, indignities, an exact description of which could not be printed. These details were left to priests, sanctimonious men who did their work with pious zeal and therefore were not accountable. Church and State were wedded. To doubt Scripture was to be in league against the State. Heresy and treason were one. To laugh at a priest might be death. To fail to attend mass and pay was to run a risk.
Lords and bishops held vast estates and paid no taxes. Grain was not allowed to flow from parish to parish, but was held in check by prohibitive tariffs. The King, himself, speculated in breadstuffs and banked on famine, for royalty was exempt from all tariff law. Thus was food made a monopoly. To petition was construed as an insult to the crown and was treated accordingly.
Most estates held serfs who were not allowed to leave the premises of their lord on penalty of death–they belonged to the land.
Officers in the army had the right to beat their soldiers, and if the soldier raised a hand to protect himself, he could be legally killed.
All skilled labor was in the hands of the guilds. These guilds got their charters from the crown. They fixed prices, regulated the number of apprentices, and decided who should work and who should not. To work at an art without a license from the guild was punishable by fine and imprisonment; to repeat the offense was death. Citizens could neither sell their labor nor buy the labor of their neighbors or families, without permission. The guild was master, and the guild got its authority by dividing profits with a corrupt court. Thus a few laborers received very high wages, but for the many there was no work. The guild made common cause with the priest and the peer. The collection of taxes was farmed out to the “farmers-general,” who kept half they got. When the yearly contract was signed, the Secretary of State was given a present called “The Bottle of Wine,” by the successful bidders. This present was in cash and varied anywhere from fifty to a hundred thousand francs. Where the custom began, no one knew; but it ended with Turgot, who turned in to the government treasury a perquisite that had been made him of seventy thousand francs, and issued an order that no official should accept a present of money from a government contractor.
Needless to say, Turgot was regarded as an unsafe person, and his official career was cut short.
Thomas E. Watson, in his most interesting book, “The Story of France,” says:
The Catholic church was a huge religious monopoly. Its hierarchy was entrenched in a power before which the king himself was a secondary potentate. Then followed those consequences which have always followed when too much power is granted to any set of men. The Catholic church absorbed much of the wealth of the land. The higher priesthood became an aristocracy, imitating in every respect the feudal aristocracy, which was rich, idle and licentious. Just as the State regarded the subject from the standpoint of taxpayer only; just as the State imposed upon the common people all the burdens of government while denying them the benefits; so the nobility of the Catholic church lived sumptuously, lazily, licentiously–shirking their duties, forgetting the responsibilities of their sacred calling, neglecting the flock committed to their care, allowing ignorance and superstition to take full possession of the minds of the common people.
In the records of the human race there can be found no evidence more damming to absolutism and the union of Church and State than is to be found in the degraded, besotted condition of the common people of France immediately proceeding the French Revolution.
All France was orthodox. The masses believed. With boundless credulity they knelt at the foot of the priest.
Yet what had the priest done for them? Had he introduced books among them? No. Liberal ideas? No. Schools? No. Information upon such matters as concerned their material welfare? No. Had the Church ever pleaded the peasant’s case at the bar of public opinion? No. Ever besought the king to lighten the weight of his heavy hand? No. Ever protested against feudal wrongs? No. Ever shown the least desire that the condition of the masses should be improved? No.
Royalist writers dwell scornfully upon the ignorance, brutality and prejudice of the lower orders in France at the time of the Revolution –let them write ever so scornfully, the lower they degrade the peasant, the higher mounts the evidence and the indignation against those who had been his keepers!
This government of France had been absolute. The State and the Church, the king and the priest, had had entire control. The people had no voice, no vote, no power. They had never been consulted. The entire responsibility had been assumed by the monarch and his privileged few –and here was the result. Theirs was the tree, theirs the fruit. “Whatsoever a man sow, that also shall he reap”; and the crimes, the ignorance, the brutality, the poverty, the misery of the masses of the French people in Seventeen Hundred Eighty-nine, stands as a permanent judgment of condemnation against the ruling classes, who were responsible for the material, mental and spiritual condition of a people who had so long been under their absolute control.
* * * * *
Rousseau, the subtly silent, the handsome, the bewitchingly melancholic, lived his subterranean life until he was forty-two. Then he was dogged out of Paris by the police, and soon after appeared in his native Geneva after an absence of twenty-five years. He was accompanied by his wife Therese, her mother, and his dog Duke.
This mating between Jean Jacques and Therese was a happy one. She could neither read nor write, nor did she care to. Yet she had an idolatrous regard for her liege, and every evening he read aloud to her and to his mother-in-law what he had written during the day. At every pause in the reading, the old lady, without understanding a word of it, would interject, “This is very fine!” And Therese would skilfully transform a yawn into a sigh of delight, roll her eyes in a transport of joy, and say nothing.
This was just what was required, and all that was required, save a chronic quarrel with influential friends, to keep Rousseau in good literary fighting form.
“A wife who is in competition with her husband, or who has just enough mind to detect his faults, is the extinguisher of genius,” said Goethe, who lived up to his blue china and referred to his wife as a convenient loaf of brown bread, which he declared was much more nourishing than cake, having tried both.
Just outside Geneva, at Les Delices, Voltaire had built his private theater, where he used to invite the favored children of Calvin to witness the drama. Voltaire being a playwright and without prejudice in the matter, had even suggested a municipal theater for Geneva. This brought forth from Jean Jacques a scorching pamphlet on the seductive deviltry of the drama, wherein it was pointed out that the downfall of every nation that had gone by the boards had begun its slide to Avernus in its love of the play. In this essay Rousseau expressed the view of orthodox Geneva, where the traditions of Calvin still survived. “The theater stands for luxury, idleness, sensuality and all that is feverish and base; private theaters are private bagnios,” wrote Rousseau. Probably Rousseau, when he began to write, did not care anything about the matter one way or the other. But Voltaire had neglected to invite him to a “first night,” and now he was getting even. As he wrote he convinced himself.
“He is like an oven that is too hot,” said Voltaire; “it burns everything that is put into it.” Then when Voltaire found that Rousseau’s pamphlet was really making a splash in the sea of books, he got mad and called Rousseau a “dog of Diogenes,” “that Punchinello of letters,” the “fanfaron of ink,” and other choice epithets.
Every knock being a boost, then as now, Rousseau found himself lifted into the domain of successful authorship. His income was less than a hundred pounds a year (Voltaire’s was two or three thousand pounds). but he had all he needed, and things were coming his way.
Voltaire represented the nobility–Rousseau stood for the people. And Geneva being but a big village–twenty-four thousand inhabitants–the battle of the giants was watched by the neighbors with interest.
Rousseau was a member of the Protestant Church; Voltaire called himself a Catholic–so little do labels count.
Voltaire lived in a palace and rode in a coach with outriders; Rousseau trudged on foot alone. Solitary, he would take his piece of dry bread and grape-leaf full of cherries, and wander to the woods or on the mountain-side, stopping and sitting on a boulder to write on his ever-faithful pad when the thought came. “I have to walk ten miles to get a thousand words,” he said.
In Geneva at this time lived Diderot and D’Alembert, literary refugees, busy at that first encyclopedia. They ran a kind of literary clearing-house, and gave piecework to everybody who could write and had two ideas to jingle against each other. Both Rousseau and Voltaire, whenever they were in the mood, wrote for the encyclopedia. Finally Voltaire started a dictionary of his own.
Geneva at this time must have been a very attractive place in which to live. There were men there who wrote like geniuses and quarreled like children. Father Taylor said that if Emerson were sent to hell, he would start emigration in that direction. The refugees from France made Geneva popular, and all the bickering added spice to existence and made exile tolerable.
Rousseau persistently flocked alone and made much dole because his friends forsook him. Then when they went to see him he complained because they would not leave him alone. Diderot accused him of insincerity because he changed the name of his dog from “Duke” to “Turk,” for fear of offending Madame d’Epinay, who gave him a cottage rent-free. “He is a dwarf, mounted on stilts,” said Baron Grimm.
And all the time Jean Jacques wandered on the mountain-side, ate his brown bread and cherries, talked to himself and wrote, and got back home in the twilight to present the day’s catch of ideas to Therese and the fat mother-in-law, who at the right time always said, “This is very fine!” And Rousseau, full-jeweled, but unreliable as a horologe, loved them both, second only to his dog, Turk, who lay at his feet and occasionally pounded his tail on the floor to prove that he was still awake and that the sentiments were his, and that he agreed with the old lady–“This is very fine!” The quarrels of Jean Jacques with all three were only a quarrel with himself.
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Having entertained Voltaire for a year, Frederick the Great shot this winged arrow, “If I had a province to punish, I would give it to a philosopher to govern.”
Rousseau is flowery and often over-sentimental. But it can be assumed that he himself always knew what he meant. Yet he has given rise to much loose thinking. His references to the “Book of Nature,” for instance, were worked overtime by zealous converts. It will be recalled how Chief Justice Marshall paralyzed a poetic attorney in mid-flight, who referred to the “Book of Nature,” by looking over his glasses and saying, “One moment, please, while I take down the page and paragraph of that passage in the volume to which counsel has just kindly referred us.”
It is the penalty of all original thinking that it inspires fools to unseemliness as well as wise men to action.
Napoleon Bonaparte said, “Had there been no Rousseau, there would have been no Revolution.”
And George Sand said, “To blame the ‘Social Contract’ for the Revolution is like blaming the Gospels for the massacre of Saint Bartholomew.”
George Sand is literary, but wrong, since Marat, Mirabeau, Robespierre, got their arguments directly from Rousseau, and no one I have ever heard made an appeal to Scripture as a defense for murdering thirty thousand men, women and children. Mirabeau quotes this from Rousseau in self-defense: “No true believer can be a persecutor. If I were a magistrate and the law inflicted death on an atheist, I should begin to put it into execution by burning the first man who should accuse or persecute another.”
Jefferson and Franklin both read the “Social Contract” in the original French, and quoted from it in giving reasons why it was not only right, but the duty, of the Colonies to separate from Great Britain. Rousseau fired the heart and inspired the brain of Thomas Paine to write the pamphlet, “Common-sense,” which, more than any other one influence, brought about the American Revolution.
Jefferson especially was fascinated by Rousseau, and in his library was a well-thumbed copy of the “Social Contract.” marked and re- marked on page and margin. Paine and Jefferson were the only men connected with the strenuous times of Seventeen Hundred Seventy-six who had a distinct literary style–who worked epigram and antithesis. And the style of each is identical with the other. That Paine wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence needs no argument for the literary connoisseur–he simply says, “Read it.” But while we know that both Paine and Jefferson fed on Rousseau for ten years, it is not so clear that they collaborated. They got their information from the same source–one in England and the other in America–and met with minds mature.
As Victor Hugo gave the key to the modern American stylists, so did the stylists–and precious few there were–of Seventeen Hundred Seventy-six trace to Jean Jacques. The man who wrote the “Junius Letters” had only one model.
That opening phrase of the Declaration, “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” is a literal translation from Jean Jacques.
The Reverend Joseph Parker once said to me, “I always begin strong and I end strong, for only your first phrase and your last will be remembered, if remembered at all, by the average listener.”
Jean Jacques begins strong. The first words of the “Social Contract” are, “Man is born free, but is everywhere enslaved.”
Does not that remind you of the not-to-be-forgotten opening words of “The Crisis”: “These are the times that try men’s souls”?
Rousseau says, “Every individual who opposes himself to the general will ought to be restrained by the whole body, which signifies nothing else than that they force him to be free.” That is, he is no longer fit to receive the benefits of the social contract since he refused to pay the price.
The argument of the “Social Contract” is that, in all and every form of government, the people enter into an agreement with the prince or ruler, agreeing to waive the mutual right of freedom in consideration of his seeing to it that laws shall be passed and enforced giving the greatest good to the greatest number.
And this led to that shibboleth of the Revolution, “Liberty, Fraternity, Equality.” Only when it was written by Jean Jacques twenty years before it ran thus, “Liberty, Fraternity, Equality–or Death.” The final word was too strong for even his fiery followers to digest. But once understood it means that if either prince or pauper refuses to sign the Social Contract and live for all, death then must be his portion. For and in consideration of this interest in the peace and welfare of all, the prince is given honors and is allowed to call himself “a ruler.” If, however, at any time the prince should so forget his sacred office as to work for private gain or for a favored few, then he is guilty of a breach of the contract, and the people owe to themselves the duty of deposition or revolution. Just as Nature, when a man’s body is no more fit for service, kills the man, so must we kill the office and begin anew.
And this was to cause Thomas Paine to say in the Chamber of Deputies, when the execution of Louis the Sixteenth was under discussion, “I vote to kill the kingly office, not the man.”
The following passages taken at random from Jean Jacques might safely be attributed to either Paine, Jefferson or “Junius”:
Wherever theological intolerance is admitted, it is impossible that it should not have some civil effect; and so soon as it has, the sovereign is no longer sovereign even in secular matters: the priests become the real masters, and kings are only their officers. Whoever dares to say, Beyond the Church there is no salvation, ought to be driven from the State.
I perceive God in all His works; I feel Him in myself; I see Him all around me; but as soon as I contemplate His nature, as soon as I try to find out where He is, what He is, what is His substance, He eludes my gaze; my imagination is overwhelmed. I do not therefore reason about Him, for it is more injurious to the Deity to think wrongly of Him than not to think of Him at all.
By equality we do not mean that all individuals shall have the same degree of wealth and power, but only, with respect to the former, that no citizen shall be rich enough to buy another, and that none shall be so poor as to be obliged to sell himself.
Almost everything conspires to deprive a man brought up to command others of the principles of reason and justice. Great pains are taken, it is said, to teach young princes the art of reigning; it does not, however, appear that they profit much by their education. The greatest monarchs are those who have never been trained to rule. It is a science of which those who know least succeed best; and it is acquired better by studying obedience than command.
Did there exist a nation of gods, their government would doubtless be democratic; it is too perfect for mankind.
The individual by giving himself up to all gives himself up to none; and there is no member over whom he does not acquire the same right as that which he gives up himself. He gains an equivalent for what he loses, and a still greater power to preserve what he has. If, therefore, we take from the social contract everything which is not essential to it, we shall find it reduced to the following terms: Each of us puts his person and his power under the superior direction of the general will of all, and, as a collective body, receives each member into that body as an indivisible part of the whole.
* * * * *
Rousseau was born in Seventeen Hundred Twelve, and died in Seventeen Hundred Seventy-eight. He wrote four books that are yet being read. These books are the “Confessions,” the “Social Contract,” “Emile,” and the “New Heloise.” I give the titles in order of popularity. It is easy to say that people read the “Confessions” for the same reason that they read “Peregrine Pickle” and “Tom Jones,” it being one of those peculiar books labeled by our French friends “risque.” But its salacious features are only incidental, and of themselves would not have kept it afloat upon the tide of the times. The author, dead over a hundred years, must have said something to keep men still reading and discussing him.
Rousseau dealt with the elemental impulses of men and women. His cry, “Back to Nature,” is still the shibboleth of a great many good men, from Parson Wagner to Theodore Roosevelt. Between the nobility and orthodox Christianity, Nature was in a bad way in Rousseau’s time. The nobles thought to improve on her, and the preachers told the people that what was natural was base. God was good, but Nature and the devil were playing a game and the stakes were the souls of men. There are many people still haunted with the hallucination that to trust your impulses is to be damned.
Rousseau described human nature, and being truthful, some of it he pictured as rude, crude and course. But on the other hand he showed much that was redeeming–traits of beauty, truth, gentleness, consideration, worth and aspirations that reached the skies. To trust humanity, he thought, was the only way humanity could be redeemed. He believed that blunders were sources of power, since by them we came to distinguish between right and wrong. He was the first man to say, “That country is governed best which is governed least.” He gave Horace Walpole the cue for the mot, “When the people of Paris speak of the Garden of Eden, they always think of Versailles.”
Rousseau is the first man of modern times to show us the beauty of Nature in her wild and uncultivated attire. And he, more than any other man who can be named, turned the attention of society towards nature-study as a refining force. Read this from “Emile”: “It was Summer; we arose at break of day. He led me outside the town to a high hill, below which the Po wound its way; in the distance the immense chains of the Alps crowned the landscape; the rays of the rising sun struck athwart the plains, and projected on the fields the long shadows of the trees, the slopes, the houses, enriching by a thousand accidents of light the loveliest prospect which the human eye could behold.” Rousseau is the spiritual ancestor of John Burroughs, Thompson-Seton, and all our scientific, unscientific and sentimental friends who flood us with Nature stories–fiction, fake or fact.
In his “Emile” he outlines our so-called pedagogic new-thought methods. Birds’ nests, bumblebees, hornets’ nests, leaves, buds, flowers, grasses, mosses, are schoolroom properties to which he often refers. To a great degree he replaced the ferule, cat-o’-nine-tails, dunce-cap, musty, dusty books, tear-stained slates, awful examples and punishments of a hundred lines of Vergil, by wholesome good-cheer and limpid forgetfulness of self in drawing pictures of spiders and noting the difference between a wasp and a bee, a butterfly and a moth, a frog and a toad, a mushroom and a toadstool. And so the reason Rousseau is read is because there is much in his work that is essentially modern. No thinker writes on political economy without quoting the “Social Contract,” either for the sake of bolstering his own argument, or to show the folly of Jean Jacques. And I submit that as long as we feel it necessary to refute an author, Andrew Lang may expect letters from him any time, for, although dead, he yet lives.
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