Imagens da página
[blocks in formation]

The many conditions of intellectual productiveness are still hidden in such profound obscurity that we are unable to explain why a period of stormy moral agitation seems to be in certain natures the indispensable antecedent of their highest creative effort. Byron is one instance, and Rousseau is another, in which the current of stimulating force made this rapid way from the lower to the higher parts of character, and only expended itself after having traversed the whole range of emotion and faculty, from their meanest, most realistic, most personal forms of exercise, up to the summit of what is lofty and ideal. No man was ever involved in such an odious complication of moral maladies as beset Rousseau in the winter of 1758. Yet within three

years this miserable epoch he had completed not only the New Heloïsa, which is the monument of his fall, but the Social Contract, which was the most influential, VOL. II.



and Emilius, which was perhaps the most elevated and spiritual, of all the productions of the prolific genius of France in the eighteenth century. A poor light-hearted Marmontel thought that the secret of Rousseau's success lay in the circumstance that he began to write late, and it is true that no other author, so considerable as Rousseau, waited until the age of fifty for the full vigour of his inspiration. No tale of years, however, could have ripened such fruit without native strength and incommunicable savour. Nor can the mechanical movement of those better ordered characters which keep the balance of the world even, impart to literature that peculiar quality, peculiar but not the finest, that comes from experience of the black unlighted abysses of the soul.

The period of actual production was externally calm. The New Heloïsa was completed in 1759, and published in 1761. The Social Contract was published in the spring of 1762, and Emilius a few weeks later. Throughout this period Rousseau was, for the last time in his life, at peace with most of his fellows. Though he never relented from his antipathy to the Holbachians, for the time it slumbered, until a more real and serious persecution than any which he imputed to them, transformed his antipathy into a gloomy frenzy.

The new friends whom he made at Montmorency were among the greatest people in the kingdom. The Duke of Luxembourg (1702-64) was a marshal of France, and as intimate a friend of the king as the king was capable of having. The Maréchale de


Luxembourg (1707-87) had been one of the most beautiful, and continued to be one of the most brilliant leaders of the last aristocratic generation that was destined to sport on the slopes of the volcano. The former seems to have been a loyal and homely soul; the latter, restless, imperious, penetrating, unamiable. Their dealings with Rousseau

, were marked by perfect sincerity and straightforward friendship. They gave him a convenient apartment in a small summer lodge in the park, to which he retreated when he cared for a change from his narrow cottage. He was a constant guest at their table, where he met the highest personages in France. The marshal did not disdain to pay him visits, or to walk with him, or to discuss his private affairs. Unable as ever to shine in conversation, yet eager to show his great friends that they had to do with no common mortal, Rousseau bethought him of reading the New Heloïsa aloud to them. At ten in the morning he used to wait upon the maréchale, and there by her bedside he read the story of the love, the sin, the repentance of Julie, the distraction of Saint Preux, the wisdom of Wolmar, and the sage friendship of Lord Edward, in tones which enchanted her both with his book and its author for all the rest of the day, as all the women in France were so soon to be enchanted. This, as he expected, amply reconciled her to the uncouthness and clumsiness of his conversation, which was at least as maladroit and as spirit

1 Conf., x. 62.

« AnteriorContinuar »