« AnteriorContinuar »
Things did not continue to go thus smoothly. One day St. Pierre went to see him, and was received without a word, and with stiff and gloomy mien. He tried to talk, but only got monosyllables; he took up a book, and this drew a sarcasm which sent him forth from the room. For more than two months they did not meet. At length they had an accidental encounter at a street corner. Rousseau accosted St. Pierre, and with a gradually warming sensibility proceeded thus : “There are days when I want to be alone and crave privacy. I come back from my solitary expeditions so calm and contented. There I have not been wanting to anybody, nor has anybody been wanting to me," and so on. He expressed this humour more pointedly on some other occasion, when he said that there were times in which he fled from the eyes of men as from Parthian arrows. As one said who knew from experience, the fate of his most intimate friend depended on a word or a gesture. Another of them declared that he knew Rousseau's style of discarding a friend by letter so thoroughly, that he felt confident he could supply Rousseau's place in case of illness or absence.3 In much of this we suspect that the quarrel was perfectly justified. Sociality meant a futile display before unworthy and condescending curiosity. “It is not I whom they care
i St. Pierre, xii. 81-83.
2 Dusaulx, p. 81. For his quarrel with Rousseau, see pp. 130, etc.
3 Rulhières in Dusaulx, p. 179. For a strange interview between Rulhières and Rousseau, see pp. 185-186.
for,” he very truly said, “but public opinion and talk about me, without a thought of what real worth I may have.” Hence his steadfast refusal to go out to dine or sup. The mere impertinence of the desire to see him was illustrated by some coxcombs who insisted with a famous actress of his acquaintance, that she should invite the strange philosopher to meet them. She was aware that no known force would persuade Rousseau to come, so she dressed up her tailor as philosopher, bade him keep a silent tongue, and vanish suddenly without a word of farewell. The tailor was long philosophically silent, and by the time that wine had loosened his tongue, the rest of the company were too far gone to perceive that the supposed Rousseau was chattering vulgar nonsense. We can believe that with admirers of this stamp Rousseau was well pleased to let tailors or others stand in his place. There were some, however, of a different sort, who flitted across his sight and then either vanished of their own accord, or were silently dismissed, from Madame de Genlis up to Grétry and Gluck. With Gluck he seems to have quarrelled for setting his music to French words, when he must have known that Italian was the only tongue fit for music. Yet it was remarked that no one ever heard him speak ill of others. His enemies, the figures of his delusion, were vaguely denounced in many dronings, but they remained in dark shadow and were unnamed. When Voltaire paid his famous last visit
1 Musset-Pathay, i. 181.
to the capital (1778), some one thought of paying court to Rousseau by making a mock of the triumphal reception of the old warrior, but Rousseau harshly checked the detractor. It is true that in 1770-71 he gave to some few of his acquaintances one or more readings of the Confessions, although they contained much painful matter for many people still living, among the rest for Madame d'Epinay. She wrote justifiably enough to the lieutenant of police, praying that all such readings might be prohibited, and it is believed that they were so prohibited.
In 1769, when Polish anarchy was at its height, as if to show at once how profound the anarchy was, and how profound the faith among many minds in the power of the new French theories, an application was made to Mably to draw up a scheme for the renovation of distracted Poland. Mably's notions won little esteem from the persons who had sought for them, and in 1771 a similar application was made to Rousseau in his Parisian garret. He replied in the Considerations on the Government of Poland, which are written with a good deal of vigour of expression, but contain nothing that needs further discussion. He hinted to the Poles with some shrewdness that a curtailment of their territory by their neighbours was not far off, and the prediction was rapidly fulfilled by the first partition of Poland in the following year.
1 Musset-Pathay, i. 209. Rousseau gave a copy of the Confessions to Moultou, but forbade the publication before the year 1800. Notwithstanding this, printers procured copies surreptitiously, perhaps through Theresa, ever in need of money ; the first part was published four years, and the second part with many suppressions eleven years, after his death, in 1782 and 1789 respectively. See Musset-Pathay, ii. 464.
He was asked one day of what nation he had the highest opinion. He answered, the Spanish. The Spanish nation, he said, has a character; if it is not rich, it still preserves all its pride and self-respect in the midst of its poverty; and it is animated by a single spirit, for it has not been scourged by the conflicting opinions of philosophy.2
He was extremely poor for these last eight years of his life. He seems to have drawn the pension which George III. had settled on him, for not more than one year.
We do not know why he refused to receive it afterwards. A well-meaning friend, when the arrears amounted to between six and seven thousand francs, applied for it on his behalf, and a draft for the money was sent. Rousseau gave the offender a vigorous rebuke for meddling in affairs that did not concern him, and the draft was destroyed. Other attempts to induce him to draw this money failed equally. Yet he had only about fifty pounds
1 Ch. v.
Such a curtailment, he says,
" would no doubt be a great evil for the parts dismembered, but it would be a great advantage for the body of the nation.” He urged federation as the condition of any solid improvement in their affairs.
2 Bernardin de St. Pierre, xii. 37. Comte had a similar admiration for Spain and for the same reason. 3 Corancez, quoted in Musset-Pathay, i. 239.
Also Corr., vi. 295.
a year to live on, together with the modest amount which he earned by copying music.
The sting of indigence began to make itself felt towards 1777. His health became worse and he could not work. Theresa was waxing old, and could no longer attend to the small cares of the household. More than one person offered them shelter and provision, and the old distractions as to a home in which to end his days began once again. At length M. Girardin prevailed upon him to come and live at Ermenonville, one of his estates some twenty miles from Paris. A dense cloud of obscure misery hangs over the last months of this forlorn existence. No tragedy had ever a fifth act so squalid. Theresa's character seems to have developed into something truly bestial. Rousseau's terrors of the designs of his enemies returned with great violence. He thought he was imprisoned, and he knew that he had no means of escape. One day (July 2, 1778), suddenly and without a single warning symptom, all drew to an end; the sensations which had been the ruling part of his life were affected by pleasure and pain no more, the dusky phantoms all vanished into space. The surgeons reported that the cause of his death was apoplexy, but a suspicion has haunted the world ever since, that he destroyed himself by a pistol-shot. We cannot tell. There is no inherent improbability
1 Corr., vi. 303.
? Robespierre, then a youth, is said to have invited him here. See Hamel's Robespierre, i. 22.