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Rousseau

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ROUSSEAU, Jean-Jacques, in point of in-, fluence the most striking figure in modern French philosophy and literature: b. Geneva, 28 June 1712; d. Ermenonville, 2 1778: His mother died at his birth, so that in his own characteristic phrase his birth was the first of his misfortunes. His father was of unstable disposition and in his attitude toward his son wavered between over-fondness and neglect. He taught the lad his letters out of Plutarch and the French 17th century romances in his shop, where the two remained reading at times all night until they saw the swallows flying low under the eaves. Such indulgence hardly contributed to stabilize a temperament essentially unbalanced and to the end Rousseau was to worship the heroic and the romantic. He received very little regular training and ideas of rigorous discipline remained foreign to his life and thought, and we need not expect to find them in his later treatise on education. His father came into conflict with the author ities, and later married a second time, and there followed a period when the lad seems to have been left to shift pretty much for him self. For a little while he, with a cousin, was sent to a school in the country, kept by a re tire• pastor, and later apprenticed to an en! graver where he was left largely to his ma.s. ter and his fate and where he learned the petty tricks and villainies of maltreated apprentices generally. On this whole period of his early life it is unwise to accept the our largest single source of information. Most of the facts there recounted are substantially correct and it is dangerous to assume, as has been done by Faguet and others, that he fre, quently misrepresented. It must be remembered that this eloquent autobiography was written half a century later when the author's mind had been unsettled by real or imaginary persecutions and when he believed himself in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes. For this reason, though recounts and excuses the sordid events of has early youth, he looked back upon his childhood as a refuge, the first asylum of his innocence, and idealized his relations to his city, his father and his relatives, and theirs to him. That his boyhood in Geneva was spent in rela tive isolation and unhappiness will be plain to the student who ponders the significance of that event which is usually emphasized as the tur• ing point of his life.

When 16 years old, he hurried back one Sunday from his walk in the country to see the city gates closed in his face. Up 'to this point there had been nothing in his story to indicate the rover or vagabond, nor any desire to used the world,'" nor any unusual chafing under the restraints of his apprenticeship. That,

however, there could not have been any bonds of affection to hold him to anything or anyone within the gates of his, native city is plain from his course. An untrained apprentice, absolutely without means, and as yet with no ulterior purpose or desire, he decides forthwith that he will not enter the home of his youth again, and he wanders about aimlessly in the environs. The parting caused no serious heart burnings, either to himself or to his father and relatives, and for the next quarter century he merely "stopped off)) at Geneva once or twice in a most casual way. The varied life of vagabond study, desultory occupations.and adventures of the next 20 years it is impossible to describe in brief or general terms. His two most im portant relationships were those formed with Mme. de Warens and with Diderot, toward the beginning and the end respectively of this long period in the maturing of his genius. The for mer, an over-generous woman of purse and per son, received him at her home where in the course of years he was in turn guest, protege, lover and intendant. From her he received perhaps his first lessons in gentility and while at her house developed an interest in music of which he was to become one of the great 18th century masters. There, too, especially at her, country home, Les Charmettes, near Chambery in Savoy, he began his first serious reading and study. In the intervals between his sojourns with Mme. de Warens and after his departure from her home he made many long trips, usually afoot, tried many desultory means of support, had many adventures and naturally saw much of the under side of 18th century society, which seems never to have seriously attracted him and against which he later sincerely if ostentatiously revolted. In 1743 he accompanied the French Ambassador to Venice and first came into close contact with political life and institutions. After his• return to Paris (1744), he became more intimate with Diderot, who probably quickened his interest in philo sophical and social problems, though Rousseau at this time was stillprimarily a composer, poet and musician. He lived with a dull and un attractive servant, Therese Le by whom he had five children whom he consigned to a foundling's asylum. One day in 1749 on his way to visit Diderot, who was at the time confined at Vincennes because of his (Letter on the Blind,) he had that strange experience which was to inaugurate his amazing career as man of letters and reformer and beget his first epoch-making work This contains in germ the ideas which he later softened and amplified and provides the best starting point for the study of his philosophy.

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