Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

inconsistent with perfect mental soundness is quite plain. But to say this with crude trenchancy, teaches us nothing. Instead of paying ourselves with phrases like monomania, it is more useful shortly to trace the conditions which prepared the way for mental derangement, because this is the only means of understanding either its nature, or the degree to which it extended. These conditions in Rousseau's case are perfectly simple and obvious to any one who recognises the principle, that the essential facts of such mental disorder as his must be sought not in the symptoms, but from the whole range of moral and intellectual constitution, acted on by physical states and acting on them in turn.

Rousseau was born with an organisation of extreme sensibility. This predisposition was further deepened by the application in early youth of mental influences specially calculated to heighten juvenile sensibility. Corrective discipline from circumstance and from formal instruction was wholly absent, and thus the particular excess in his temperament became ever more and more exaggerated, and encroached at a rate of geometrical progression upon all the rest of his impulses and faculties; these, if he had been happily placed under some of the many forms of wholesome They may have contributed in some small degree to depression of vital energies, though for that matter Rousseau's strength and power of endurance were remarkable to the end.

But they certainly did not produce a mental state in the least corresponding to that particular variety of insanity, which possesses definitely marked features.

social pressure, would then on the contrary have gradually reduced his sensibility to more normal proportion. When the vicious excess had decisively rooted itself in his character, he came to Paris, where it was irritated into further activity by the uncongeniality of all that surrounded him. Hence the growth of a marked unsociality, taking literary form in the Discourses, and practical form in his retirement from the town. The slow depravation of the affective life was hastened by solitude, by sensuous expansion, by the long musings of literary composition. Well does Goethe's Princess warn the hapless Tasso :

Dieser Pfad
Verleitet uns, durch einsames Gebüsch,
Durch stille Thäler fortzuwandern ; mehr
Und mehr verwöhnt sich das Gemüth und strebt
Die goldne Zeit, die ihm von aussen mangelt,
In seinem Innern wieder herzustellen,
So wenig der Versuch gelingen will.

Then came harsh and unjust treatment prolonged for many months, and this introduced a slight but genuinely misanthropic element of bitterness into what had hitherto been an excess of feeling about himself, rather than any positive feeling of hostility or suspicion about others. Finally and perhaps above all else, he was the victim of tormenting bodily pain, and of sleeplessness which resulted from it. The agitation and excitement of the journey to England, completed the sum of the conditions of disturbance, and as soon as ever he was settled at Wootton, and had leisure to brood over the incidents of the few weeks since his arrival in England, the disorder which had long been spreading through his impulses and affections, suddenly but by a most natural sequence extended to the faculties of his intelligence, and he became the prey of delusion, a delusion which was not yet fixed, but which ultimately became so.

“He has only felt during the whole course of his life," wrote Hume sympathetically; "and in this respect his sensibility rises to a pitch beyond what I have seen any example of; but it still gives him a more acute feeling of pain than of pleasure. He is like a man who was stripped not only of his clothes, but of his skin, and turned out in that situation to combat with the rude and boisterous elements.”1 A morbid affective state of this kind and of such a degree of intensity, was the sure antecedent of a morbid intellectual state, general or partial, depressed or exalted. One who is the prey of unsound feelings, if they are only marked enough and persistent enough, naturally ends by a correspondingly unsound arrangement of all or some of his ideas to match. The intelligence is seduced into finding supports in misconception of circumstances, for a misconception of human relation which had its root in disordered emotion. This completes the breach of correspondence between the man's nature and the external facts with which he has to deal, though the breach may not, and in Rousseau's case certainly did not, extend along

Burton, ii. 314.

1

the whole line of feeling and judgment. Rousseau's delusion about Hume's sinister feeling and designs, which was the first definite manifestation of positive unsoundness in the sphere of the intelligence, was a last result of the gradual development of an inherited predisposition to affective unsoundness, which unhappily for the man's history had never been counteracted either by a strenuous education, or by the wholesome urgencies of life.

We have only to remember that with him, as with the rest of us, there was entire unity of nature, without cataclysm or marvel or inexplicable rupture of mental continuity. All the facts came in an order that might have been foretold ; they all lay together, with their foundations down in physical temperament; the facts which made Rousseau's name renowned and his influence a great force, along with those which made his life a scandal to others and a misery to himself. The deepest root of moral disorder lies in an immoderate expectation of happiness, and this immoderate unlawful expectation was the mark both of his character and his work. The exaltation of emotion over intelligence was the secret of his most striking production; the same exaltation, by gaining increased mastery over his whole existence, at length passed the limit of sanity and wrecked him. The tendency of the dominant side of a character towards diseased exaggeration is a fact of daily observation. The ruin which the excess of strong religious imagination works in natures without the quality of energetic

objective reaction, was shown in the case of Rousseau's contemporary, Cowper. This gentle poet's delusions about the wrath of God were equally pitiable and equally a source of torment to their victim, with Rousseau's delusions about the malignity of his mysterious plotters among men. We must call such a condition unsound, but the important thing is to remember that insanity was only a modification of certain specially marked tendencies of the sufferer's sanity.

The desire to protect himself against the defamation of his enemies led him at this time to compose that account of his own life, which is probably the only one of his writings that continues to be generally read. He composed the first part of the Confessions at Wootton, during the autumn and winter of 1766, The idea of giving his memoirs to the public was an old one, originally suggested by one of his publishers. To write memoirs of one's own life was one of the fancies of the time, but like all else, it became in Rousseau's hand something more far-reaching and sincere than a passing fashion. Other people wrote polite histories of their outer lives, amply coloured with romantic decorations. Rousseau with unquailing veracity plunged into the inmost depths, hiding nothing that would be likely to make him either ridiculous or hateful in common opinion, and inventing nothing that could attract much sympathy or much admiration. Though, as has been pointed out already, the Confessions abound in small inaccuracies

« AnteriorContinuar »