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Are nothing: at the time, they were
A VISIT TO ROUSSEAU'S FAVOURITE RESIDENCE,
BY MRS. TROLLOPE.
Le nom d'un écrivain qui exalta si vivement les ames est réclamé par l'histoire. En s'occupant de Rousseau, elle perd son impossibilité; et tour à tour elle l'admire ou le plaint, le bénit ou l'accuse. -LACRETELLE le jeune.
Those who drive post through Chambéry, ventre à terre, commit an injustice towards Savoy, and great unkindness towards themselves, provided, that is to say, they are furnished with an average portion of the power of deriving enjoyment from fine scenery, which is providentially bestowed upon morials, in order to render agreeable their wanderings over the craggy globe, assigned to them as the locale of of their mortal pilgrimage. To all such, the neighbourhood of Chambéry is calculated to afford great delight; and for the happy few who have the power at will of devoting the months of summer to rambling, I think it would be difficult to find a more judicious spot for their head quarters. Nay, such as are not mere summer ramblers, but who set off from their homes with the important object of a long journey before them, “ un voyage à faire, et Naples au bout," would do well to pause among the mountains and lakes of Savoy, for they will find nothing of the same tone amidst the sunny glories of Italy. I give this counsel with the more confidence, because I have practised what I preach, and that so recently, as to have all the benefits derived from it fresh upon my memory.
Being en route for Italy, and having an idle week or two of certain fine weather to spare, we devoted the brightest days of last September to wandering among the Alps of Savoy, leaving Chambéry for a day or two at a time, and returning to it again and again, as the centre from which every excursion could most conveniently be made. And for many of these there was no need to leave our comfortable hotel at Chambéry at all, for there are many which by means of early rising may be brought within the compass of a day, and others—by no means the least interesting-which may be achieved in an hour or two.
Among these last, a visit to Les Charmettes must of course rank first; for there are few persons, I think, who could fail to feel an interest in visiting the spot on which Jean-Jacques declares himself to have passed the happiest portion of his generally unhappy existence.
Perhaps no man ever died, leaving so much that was immortal behind him for the examination and judgment of mankind, on whom sentence has been passed so variously. In the course of my life I have listened to opinions respecting Rousseau, which have graduated from the deepest execration, to admirationthe most enthusiastic ; and not admiration only, for that is a feeling not unfrequently elicited by beings we detest; but I have heard many, and good men too, declare that there were qualities of heart and soul in Rousseau, which could not be contemplated without reverence and love; while others—and these others, certainly good men also-shudder as they hear his name, and seem truly and honestly to believe that if there be a case on record in which that most beneficent command, “JUDGE NOT," may be set aside with impunity, it is his ; and that the consigning him to everlasting condemnation, must of necessity be considered as an act of piety in the consigner.
That there are a multitude of human beings, both in times present and times past, whose characters are, and have been, more easily mistaken than understood, is very certain, and is a fact too potent to require or permit of discussion.
But that a voluminous writer-and one, too, who has laid himself and his actions bare, with a degree of unshrinking and unscrupulous audacity that no other individual ever approached that such a one should so completely have set man's judgment at fault in attempting to understand him, is strange. The solution of the enigma must be sought, and may, as I think, be found, at the same source from which arises its intricacy.
The critic from his chair of authority, and the general reader from his lounging sofa, have both been accustomed to look at men, through their writings, with a sort of habitual allowance for any little egotistical flights in which they may have represented themselves too much en beau, but are quite unused to the process necessary for detecting egotistical exaggeration in an opposite direction.
But to judge Rousseau fairly this must be done. It is quite evident that the genius of this celebrated man, though of a nature to elevate him perpetually into the very highest regions of intellectual sublimity, was accompanied by a weakness of character, which, displayed as it is, by way of self-discipline and atonement, in the pages of his confessions, places him often as much below the ordinary dignity of human nature, as many of his speculations lead us to place him above it. Those on whom these speculations produce a deeper effect than do his penitential anecdotes, are perhaps somewhat too apt to forget altogether the latter; and of such is composed the by no means small troop of his admirers; while, on the other hand, those whose memory retains more vividly the anecdotes than the speculations, naturally fall into the other extreme, and consider him almost as a monster.
As this latter judgment cannot be uttered but in a tone of indignant and outraged morality,- for which Heaven knows the unhappy philosopher gave frightful cause,-it has naturally followed that a very large proportion of such as have deemed him more weak than wicked, have shrunk from saying so, lest such a judgment should be mistaken for a proof of lax morality in themselves : and thus the suffrages of those who have really made themselves acquainted with his works, have perhaps never yet been fairly counted.
It has often been said, and at the first glance, indeed, very plausibly, that the character of a man may be more fairly judged by a history of his actions, than by a history of his thoughts. But without examining the possible failacy of this, in many instances, it must be evident to those who will study, with a little care, the portrait of himself, which this great writer has left us, that in his case, at least, such fallacy is undeniable. All that was great and good in the heart and soul of Rousseau, was indigenous, in nate, born with him, and formed the real and essential material of his character; while all that was bad, degraded, and vile
Jan.- VOL. LXX. NO. CCLXXVII.
arose from the miserable associations into which he was unhappily thrown, at the most important moment of his existence.
When, before he had reached the age of sixteen, Jean-Jacques ran away from his native town, in order to escape the savage treatment which he knew he should receive from the hands of his brutal master (for having made a Sunday evening ramble into the country so long, as to render it impossible for him and his joyous companions to return till half an hour after the gates of the town were shut)—when he thus rushed upon the world, leaving every thing like safety and protection behind him, he carried with him as innocent and affectionate a heart as nature ever gave; and had he then been so blessed by chance as to have fallen into virtuous hands, there is every reason to believe that his career would have been as happy and respectable, as it was lamentably the reverse.
It would be difficult, I think, to find in any autobiography extant, a passage of more pathos, or of more self-evident truth, than that in which the unhappy man laments the circumstances which made him what he was, and which tore him from what he might have been. After speaking of the position he should have probably held as an engraver in his native town, he goes on to say,
“Si j'étais tombé dans les mains d'un meilleur maître, j'aurais passé, dans le sein de ma religion, de ma patrie, de ma famille, et de mes amis, une vie paisible et douce, telle qu'il la faillait à mon caractère, dans l'uniformité d'un travail de mon goût, et d'une société selon mon J'aurais été bon chrétien, bon citoyen, bon père de famille, bon ami, bon ouvrier, bon homme en toute chose. J'aurais aimé mon état, je l'aurais honoré peut-être; et après avoir passé une vie obscure et simple, mais égale et douce, je serais mort paisiblement, dans le sein des miens. Au lieu du cela quel tableau vais-je faire ?"*
It would be difficult, I think, to read this without prejudice, and not to mourn over the faults of the writer, rather than execrate them. The passage, however, is not without its moral use ; it was written after the author had enjoyed all the gratification that an enormous literary fame could bring him, in Paris and in London, personally amongst the most distinguished individuals in both, and throughout Europe by the scarcely less gratifying sensation produced among all orders of reading men by his works; a gratification not likely to be much lessened by the fact, that among the multitudes who read his theories, no small number thought themselves called upon to abuse him for them. Jean-Jacques, with all his fantastical attachment to his own notions, whether right or wrong, would probably have been extremely mortified had no one thought his
* If I had fallen into the hands of a better master I should have passed a peaceful and gentle life, such as my character required, in the bosom of my religion, of my country, of my family, and my friends, in the routine of an employment which suited my taste, and of a society which suited my heart. I should have been a good Christian, a good citizen, a good father, a good friend, a good workman, a good man in every way.
I should have loved my profession, and might perhaps have done honour to it; and after having passed a life obscure and simple, but tranquil and serene, I should have died peacefully in the bosom of my own people. Instead of this-what is the picture I am about to trace ?
startling speculations of sufficient importance to provoke hostility from those against whose systems they were aimed. But it is evident from the passage above cited, written towards the close of his melancholy life, that not all the fame which had succeeded to the obscurity of his early years, had sufficed to atone to his spirit, for having lost, in the tumult of his passions, the precious treasure of his own esteem. There is the essence of many an excellent sermon in this. Nor is this the only valuable lesson to be extracted from the study of Rousseau. Whatever were his faults, that of accusing others, in order to excul pate himself, is not among them. On the contrary, he falls so violently into the other extreme, that it requires all the intuitive and irresistible conviction of his sincerity, which all his disclosures carry with them, to enable one to believe that he is in earnest when he calls his negligent father un père excellent, and that detestable source of all his deepest moral corruption, Madame de Warens, la meilleure des femmes. Now it must be evident, I think, to any one who reads the early part of the confessions, that had this père excellent done his duty by his motherless boy, that boy would never have had such confessions to make. In the first place he tells us, that when he was seven years old he used to keep him up reading romances, aloud and alternately, till entendant le matin les hirondelles, he sent him to bed, saying, “allons nous coucherje suis plus enfant que toi.” Of the nature of these romances it is not difficult to judge, as Rousseau says, “ J'acquis par cette dangereuse méthode une intelligence unique à mon âge sur les passions."
They had read through the collection which his mother, who died at his birth, had left behind her, in 1719. Jean-Jacques was born 1712, and the lasting mischief produced by these baby studies may be traced almost through every page of these strange volumes-strange, and often disgusting, despite the unequalled beauty of the style, and the still more captivating freshness of original thought, and occasional good feeling, which may be found scattered through their pages. When the unhappy boy ran from Geneva, to escape the anticipated anger of the master engraver to whom he had been bound apprentice, it seems that his father rode after him, but did not overtake him. They reached the house of Madame de Warens, however, but not till the poor boy had been sent on to Turin, for the purpose of being converted to the Roman Catholic faith. Notwithstanding his unceasing protestations that his father was one of the best of men, he permits himself to say, when speaking of this tardy pursuit by this good father, and the friend who accompanied him, “ Ils se contentèrent de pleurer mon sort avec Madame de Warens, au lieu de me suivre et de m'atteindre, comme ils l'auraient pu facilement, étant à cheval et moi à pied ; il'm'aimait très tendrement, mais il aimait aussi ses plaisirs."
Moreover, considering that this “ tender father" bad married a second wife, and kept possession of the little fortune which Jean-Jacques inherited from his mother, it is difficult to give him credit for the probité sure which his son attributes to him. The idea of remaining in possession of the poor destitute wanderer's little fortune during his absence, says Jean-Jacques, “ne s'offrait pas à lui directement; mais elle agissait sourdement, sans qu'il s'en aperçât lui-inème.
Voila, je crois,” he adds, “ pourquoi, venu à Annecy sur mes traces, il ne me suivit pas jusqu'à Chambéri, où il était moralement sûr de m'atteindre."