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of date, hardly to be avoided by an oldish man in reference to the facts of his boyhood, whether a Rousseau or a Goethe, and though one or two of the incidents are too deeply coloured with the hues of sentimental reminiscence, and one or two of them are downright impossible, yet when all these deductions have been made, the substantial truthfulness of what remains is made more evident with every addition to our materials for testing them. When all the circumstances of Rousseau's life are weighed, and when full account has been taken of his proved delinquencies, we yet perceive that he was at bottom a character as essentially sincere, truthful, careful of fact and reality, as is consistent with the general empire of sensation over untrained intelligence. As for the egotism of the Confessions, it is hard to see how a man is to tell the story of his own life without egotism. And it may be worth adding that the self-feeling which comes to the surface and asserts itself, is in a great many cases far less vicious and debilitating than the same feeling nursed internally with a troglodytish shy
But Rousseau's egotism manifested itself perversely. This is true to a certain small extent, and one or two of the disclosures in the Confessions are in very nauseous matter, and are made moreover in a very nauseous manner. There are some vices whose grotesqueness stirs us more deeply than downright
1 For an instructive and, as it appears to me, a thoroughly trustworthy account of the temper in which the Confessions were written, see the 4th of the Rêveries.
atrocities, and we read of certain puerilities avowed by Rousseau, with a livelier impatience than old Benvenuto Cellini quickens in us, when he confesses to a horrible assassination. This morbid form of selffeeling is only less disgusting than the allied form which clothes itself in the phrases of religious exaltation. And there is not much of it. Blot out half a dozen pages from the Confessions, and the egotism is no more perverted than in the confessions of Augustine or of Cardan.
These remarks are not made to extenuate Rousseau's faults, or to raise the popular estimate of his character, but simply in the interests of a greater precision of criticism. In England criticism has nearly always been of the most vulgar superficiality in respect to Rousseau, from the time of Horace Walpole downwards. The Confessions in their least agreeable parts, or rather especially in those parts, are the expression on a new side and in a peculiar way of the same notion of the essential goodness of nature and the importance of understanding nature and restoring its reign, which inspired the Discourses and Emilius. “I would fain show to my fellows,” he began, “a man in all the truth of nature," and he cannot be charged with any failure to keep his word. He despised opinion, and hence was careless to observe whether or no this revelation of human nakedness was likely to add to the popular respect for nature and the natural man. After all, considering that literature is for the most part a hollow and pretentious
phantasmagoria of mimic figures posing in breeches and peruke, we may try to forgive certain cruel blows to the dignified assumptions, solemn words, and high heels of convention, in one who would not lie, nor dissemble kinship with the four-footed. Intense subjective preoccupations in markedly emotional natures all tend to come to the same end. The distance from Rousseau's odious erotics to the glorified ecstasies of many a poor female saint is not far. In any case, let us know the facts about human nature, and the pathological facts no less than the others. These are the first thing, and the second, and the third also.
The exaltation of the opening page of the Confessions is shocking. No monk nor saint ever wrote anything more revolting in its blasphemous self-feeling. But the exaltation almost instantly became calm, when the course of the story necessarily drew the writer into dealings with objective facts, even muffled as they were by memory and imagination. The broodings over old reminiscence soothed him, the labour of composition occupied him, and he forgot, as the modern reader would never know from internal evidence, that he was preparing a vindication of his life and character against the infamies with which Hume and others were supposed to be industriously blackening them. While he was writing this famous composition, severed by so vast a gulf from the modes of English provincial life, he was on good terms with one or two of the great people in his neighbourhood, and kept up a gracious and social correspondence
with them. He was greatly pleased by a compliment that was paid to him by the government, apparently through the interest of General Conway. The duty that had been paid upon certain boxes forwarded to Rousseau from Switzerland was recouped by the treasury, and the arrangements for the annual pension of one hundred pounds were concluded and accepted by him, after he had duly satisfied himself that Hume was not the indirect author of the benefaction. The weather was the worst possible, but whenever it allowed him to go out of doors, he found delight in climbing the heights around him in search of curious mosses; for he had now come to think the discovery of a single new plant a hundred times more useful than to have the whole human race listening to your sermons for half a century.' " This indolent and contemplative life that you do not approve," he wrote to the elder Mirabeau, “and for which I pretend to make no excuses, becomes every day more delicious to me: to wander alone among the trees and rocks that surround my dwelling; to muse or rather to extravagate at my ease, and as you say to stand gaping in the air; when my brain gets too hot, to calm it by dissecting some moss or fern ; in short, to surrender myself without restraint to my phantasies, which, heaven be thanked, are all under my own con
1 Letter to the Duke of Grafton, Feb. 27, 1767. Corr., v. 98: also 118.
2 Ib. v. 133; also to General Conway (March 26), p. 137, etc.
3 Corr., v. 37. VOL II
trol,—all that is for me the height of enjoyment, to which I can imagine nothing superior in this world for a man of my age and in my condition.”l
This contentment did not last long. The snow kept him indoors. The excitement of composition abated. Theresa harassed him by ignoble quarrels with the women in the kitchen. His delusions returned with greater force than before. He believed that the whole English nation was in a plot against him, that all his letters were opened before reaching London and before leaving it, that all his movements were closely watched, and that he was surrounded by unseen guards to prevent any attempt at escape. At length these delusions got such complete mastery over him, that in a paroxysm of terror he fled away from Wootton, leaving money, papers, and all else behind him. Nothing was heard of him for a fortnight, when Mr. Davenport received a letter from him dated at Spalding in Lincolnshire. Mr. Davenport's conduct throughout was marked by a humanity and patience that do him the highest honour. He confesses himself “quite moved to read poor Rousseau's mournful epistle.” “You shall see his letter," he writes to Hume, “ the first opportunity; but God help him, I can't for pity give a copy; and 'tis so much mixed with his own poor little private concerns, that it would not be right in me to do
1 Corr., v. 88.
2 See the letters to Du Peyrou, of the 2d and 4th of April 1767. Corr., v. 140-147.