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He follows this vainly palliated statement of unnatural and most criminal neglect, by remarking, that it is always dangerous to place our duties and interests in opposition, and says, by way of complete apology and excuse, that a person, when so circumstanced, "devient injuste et méchant dans le fait, sans avoir cessé d'être juste et bon dans l'âme."
I know no instance throughout these painful volumes, in which his own faults are thus gently treated. But if his indulgence towards this very unnatural father, whose negligence was unquestionably the primal source of all his faults and misfortunes, is carried to an absurd excess, the reiterated expressions of admiration and esteem for Madame de Warens, which he evidently makes it a point of duty to repeat on every possible occasion throughout his life, appears to me to savour of absolute madness. As far as my reading and my memory enable me to judge, the character and conduct of this woman is as detestable as any on record. She was not, indeed, guilty of any crimes of violence, her temper not being of the quality which inclined her to it; but it is scarcely unfair to say that had this accident in her organization been different, her conduct, in this respect, would have been different also; for assuredly she has left us no reason to suppose that principle would have restrained her. Had the wretched boy who found, in her detestable blandishments, such a contrast to the ill usage of his brutal master as bewildered his judgment for life—had he, throughout the whole of his melancholy record, persevered in painting her as amiable, despite the hateful qualities which his perverted judgment overlooked, or excused his ceaseless protestations of unbounded and most exalted esteem, though not likely to produce more sympathy, would at least have created less astonishment. But when we find him relating anecdotes of her depravity, of which he was himself the victim, and acknowledge ing that he was so, his persevering praise looks like the morbid timidity of a conscience that finds relief both in unmeasured self-reprobation, and equally unmeasured charity, for kindred sins in others ; and while admiring the majestic strength of his indignation against those whose faults have very decidedly no analogy with his own, it is difficult not to remember that men have been known to fancy that they might atone,
for faults they are inclined to,
By damning those they have no mind to. Yet it is scarcely fair perhaps to say this, after reading the passage in which he reproaches himself, with such evidently deep sincerity, for not having devoted himself to this utterly depraved woman during the latter years of her life. He did, as it seems, implore her most earnestly to take up her abode with him in Paris, when she had so involved her affairs as to have scarcely the means of existence left ; but this she refused, probably preferring the life she was leading at home. But it was upon seeing her when she was between fifty and sixty years of age, upon occasion of his making a visit to Geneva, that he committed the unpardonable crime, as he appears to consider it, of not remaining with her.
He says of this meeting, “ Je la revis; dans quel état, mon Dieu ! Quel avilissement! Que lui restait-il de sa vertu première ?" So that no delusion seems at that moment to have bewildered his judgment concerning her. Yet notwithstanding her acknowledged avilissement, he perseveres in declaring her to have been altogether the most admirable person in the world. He exclaims, à propos of this state of avilissement, “Ah! c'était alors le moment d'acquitter ma dette" (his debt !!!) “Il fallait tout quitter pour la suivre, m'attacher à elle jusqu'à sa dernière heure, et partager son sort, quel qu'il fut. Je n'en fit rien. Je gémis sur elle, et ne la suivis pas. De tous les remords que j'ai sentis de ma vie, voila le plus vif, et le plus permanent.”
Now considering that this woman had thrown him off, in the most unfeeling manner, about fifteen years before, when he was perfectly destitute, and most devotedly attached to her, and this for the sake of a young hairdresser whom she had somehow or other picked up during a short absence of Rousseau from her farm (the management of which appears to have been his ostensible employment)--considering that such was the cause and manner of their separation, those poignant regrets for not having devoted his life to her when they (almost accidentally) met again, really looks either like hypocrisy or madness. Nobody, I conceive, can believe it to be the first, who has read his true, his terribly true autobiography; and it would be equally impossible to charge seriously with madness, the most powerful and eloquent writer of his day. But it is easier to reject both madness and hypocrisy, as ihe causes of this strangely perverted judgment of an abandoned woman, concerning whose actions he was in no degree deceived,'than to assign any other.
The only theory on the subject that I can suggest is, that from almost his earliest infancy, his moral sense was confused, bewildered, and depraved. What with his romances, his homme de plaisir for his père excellent, and Madame de Warens for his instructress, from the age of fifteen to five-and-twenty, he literally and honestly ceased to know right from wrong on many points; and having an extremely warm, gentle, and affectionate heart, he was unable to resist the slightest appearance of kindness; so that it was quite sufficient, in order to secure his unbounded esteem, that either men or women should persuade him of their affection for himself.
There was probably a strong mixture of vanity, as well as of tenderness, in this weakness; and his constitutional shyness, which rendered all demonstration of partiality more than commonly precious to his sensitive and timid self-love, left him totally incapable of passing a sane judgment on the real worth of any one who appeared to like or love him. Had this extraordinary man been fortunate enough to have received, in his youth, juster notions of virtue and of vice, he would have been one of the greatest writers that ever lived. With his marvellous power of kindling, and giving life to, the dormant thoughts of others, by the seemingly simple, but exquisitely skilful expression of his own, he must, had he always felt and thought rightly, have been a most powerful agent for good.
So much has been said upon the more important point, of what Rousseau was, instead of what he might have been, that I see no great use in adding to it; but I heartily wish that some one could be found bold enough to give to the world a volume extracted from his confessions, his promenades solilaires, his “ Emile," and his letters, from which no eye need turn in alarm, which the purest and most fastidious taste might
be permitted to admire, and with which the most innocent heart might sympathize.
But such an attempt would, indeed, require boldness; for on the one hand, it would be met with indignant reprehension by many, who would see in it nothing but a criminal effort to familiarize the innocent with the name and the genius of one whom, not to know, is to ensure the hearing that “ your state is the more gracious—it is a vice to know him ;" while, on the other, a host would not be wanting, ready to ridicule the enterprise, and inclined to exclaim, like the Italian language master who was shown an Ariosto castigato by the mother of one of his pupils,
“Oh, miladi! Dey have left out de mosti besti parts !"
Nevertheless, I cannot but think that the extraordinary writer who, in these latter days, has been thought the most nearly to approach, by the magic skill of style, to the hitherto inimitable Jean-Jacques-I cannot but think that Madame George Sand would have done better had she prefixed the admirable essay she has just published, as a preface to "the confessions,” to such a compendium as I have mentioned. She, it seems, has thought otherwise; but surely she must, in sitting down to her editorial task, have breathed some such prayer as is put into the mouth of Lady Macbeth, and very earnestly and effectually have petitioned the gods to unsex her, in order to prepare for it.
To read this masterly preface without admiration, is impossible ; but it is equally so to see such a work put forth under the anspices of a woman, without deep regret. This regret is certainly not lessened by the admirable manner in which the character of Jean-Jacques is sketched, in this short, but rich little essay. She makes the same admirable distinction, which, if I mistake not, Channing has, in some degree, made before, between les grands hommes, et les hommes forts; . by which latter class, she does not mean to distinguish the hero of the field, but les hommes d'action, who have distinguished themselves from their fellow-men, by the successful activity of their faculties in any of the busy paths of life. As an illustration of her meaning, she says,
* Jean-Jacques, d'une part, Jean-Jacques le penseur, l'homme de génie et de méditation, le grand homme, misérable, injust, et désespéré; de l'autre, Voltaire, Diderot, et les Holbachiens, les hommes du jour-désorganisant le société, sans songer sérieusement au lendemain; pensant, dénigrant et philosophant avec le multitude ; hommes puissants, hommes forts. On les appelait philosophes parce que c'était la mode : tout ce que n'était pas catholique ou protestant s'appelait philosophe. Les forts déblayent le chemin, brisent les rochers, percent les forêts; ce sont les sapeurs de l'ambulante phalange humaine. Les autres (les grands) tracent les plans, projettent des lignes au loins, et lancent des ponts sur l'abime de l'inconnu; ce sont les ingénieurs et les guides. Aux uns la force de l'esprit, et du caractère, aux autres la grandeur et l'élévation du génie."
Jean-Jacques on one side, Jean-Jacques, the thinker, the man of genius and of meditation, the great man-miserable, unjust, and despairing ; on the other, Voltaire, Diderot, and the Holbachiens, men of the day-disorganizing society without giving a serious thought to the morrow; thinking, fault-finding, and philosophiz
That between Rousseau, and the bold dashing encyclopedists, there was, on all points of speculation, an immensely wide difference, as to motive and sincerity of conviction, it is impossible to doubt; and for this, if for nothing else, we must perhaps, in justice, permit Rousseau to remain in the niche assigned to him by George Sand, among the great. He was, as another great writer* truly says, “ in earnest;' which is assuredly one most essential material of greatness.
Yet for all this, I cannot join the epithet great to the name of Rousseau, without being checked by a feeling that it is inappropriate. Carlyle says of him,
“He is not what I call a strong man,” in which all the world, and George Sand among the rest, must agree: but when he adds (and most acutely too) that he is “a morbid, excitable, spasmodic man; at best intense rather than strong," how can we declare him great?
Nevertheless, with a disagreeable vacillation of mind which attends all one's speculations upon Jean-Jacques, one no sooner denies his right to it, than a multitude of splendid passages rise up to the memory, and argue, trumpet-tongued, against the injustice. Perhaps it
this very uncertainty as to the judgment we can conscientiously pass upon him, which still continues to give us so lively an interest in all that concerns him.
The spirit, like an honest judge, wishes for more evidence, before the final sentence is pronounced, and cannot therefore pass by with indifference any object that relates to him. This may be one reason why 50 many pilgrims still yearly climb the steep path which leads to Les CHARMETTES, and still linger along the mountain paths which tradition points out as having been the most constantly' frequented by him. This may be one reason. Another may be found in the pleasure which is always felt in verifying the accuracy of a portrait, whether of a landscape or a face. And who ever sketched like Rousseau ? But few, probably, have ever felt as he did the deeply mysterious charm which a happy combination of natural objects is capable of producing on the spirits.
There is scarcely any point on which human beings differ more essentially from each other, than in their susceptibility to the influence of this charm. It appears to be as innate in some individuals
, and as completely absent in others, as is the power of appreciating harmony, or the want of it; and though education may, in both cases, outwardly supply the deficiency, I doubt if all the teaching in the world, can make a man feel and enjoy the beauty of the landscape, if the sense be not born with him, any more than a defective ear can be taught to detect
That Jean-Jacques was gifted with this innate appreciation of the
a false note.
ing with the multitude; powerful men, and strong. They were called philosophers, because it was the fashion. Every one who was neither catholic nor protestant, called himself a philosoper. The strong men clear the way, excavate the rocks, pierce through forests, and are the sappers and miners of
the restless human phalanx. The others (the great men) draw the plans, lay down the distant course, and throw bridges over the abyss of ignorance. These are the engineers and the guides. To the one belong firmness of character and strength of mind, to the other the grandeur and elevation of genius.
beautiful, is a fact that, I presume, no one will venture to dispute, although his descriptions of scenery never in any single instance assume that tone of high descriptive eloquence for which many writers, both in prose and verse, are celebrated
No language in the world, not even that of a child or a peasant, can be more perfect in its simplicity, than that which is constantly ein. ployed by Rousseau, when describing the scenes he loves ; and yet there will result from it so lively a picture, that it leaves a sensation of knowing the place described, more deeply impressed on the reader's mind, than is produced by the written pictures of any other author with whose writings I am acquainted. It is the recollection of these slightly traced, but animated sketches, which yearly sends so many travellers to visit the humble liuile dwelling calleu Les Charmettes.
Of the multitudes of English who visit Italy, I should conceive that about three-fourths were people of fortune, or people of fashion, or people laying claim 10 both, who take the long journey, either because it is bon ton to take it, or because they are tired of England, or because their sons and daughters have particular reasons for wishing to meet the sons and daughters of some other bon ton-ists who are gone thither before them. Of all these, no single individual, I imagine, will be found, who has condescended to make the historic and picturesque little capital of Savoy their gite for a night or two, for the purpose of wandering where Jean-Jacques wandered, and for the sake of indulging a litile melancholy meditation, within the walls where he sometimes fancied himself so happy, and sometimes knew himself to be so deplorably the reverse.
What recks it them? What need they? They are sped. They know that my Lord This and my Lady That are at Rome, and to Rome they must of course go too, as fast as bad posters and goodly mountains will let them. Les Charmettes ! What on earth can they have to do at Les Charmettes ? Sleep two nights at Chambéry! Why should they sleep two nights at Chambéry?-On, courier, on.-Depend upon it they are right-they could not by possibility gain any thing by the delay, and they might par l'impossible lose their temper.
But, of the other fraction of British wanderers, the objects are very different, and it is doing them a real kindness to draw their attention, whenever an opportunity occurs ; to every object that may awaken the imagination, or touch the heart. All such will find their account in paying a visit to Les Charmettes, despite all the faults and weaknesses of the man of genius who once made it his home.
I by no means, however, intend to recommend an étude suivie of the works of Jean-Jacques, to all who compose this fourth part of English travellers; on the contrary, I will frankly and honestly tell them all that I think they had much better let it alone. But without this étude suivie, they may all venture to know enough of what this “ melancholy Jacques" has done to make his name endure as it has done, to render the sight of the dwelling he inhabited, and the scenery he described, profoundly interesting.
And truly, unless the pilgrims to Les Charmettes do know something about the poor philosopher who followed, with such affecting earnestness, his almost avoided studies beneath the roof of that triste-looking little