Imagens da página
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

Years after, when Saint Preux has returned and is settled in the household, she even tries to persuade him to imitate her example, and find contentment in marriage with her cousin. The earnestness with which she presses the point, the very sensible but not very delicate references to the hygienic drawbacks of celibacy, and the fact that the cousin whom she would fain have him marry, had complaisantly assisted them in their past loves, naturally drew the fire of Rousseau's critical enemies.

Such matters did not affect the general enthusiasm. When people are weary of a certain way of surveying life, and have their faces eagerly set in some new direction, they read in a book what it pleases them to read; they assimilate as much as falls in with their dominant mood, and the rest passes away unseen. The French public were bewitched by Julie, and were no more capable of criticising her than Julie was capable of criticising Saint Preux in the height of her passion for him. When we say that Rousseau was the author of this movement, all we mean is that his book and its chief personage awoke emotion to selfconsciousness, gave it a dialect, communicated an impulse in favour of social order, and then very calamitously at the same moment divorced it from the fundamental conditions of progress, by divorcing it from disciplined intelligence and scientific reason.

Apart from the general tendency of the New Heloisa in numberless indirect ways to bring the manners of the great into contempt, by the presenta

VOL. II.

E

[ocr errors]

tion of the happiness of a simple and worthy life, thrifty, self-sufficing, and homely, there is one direct protest of singular eloquence and gravity. Julie's father is deeply revolted at the bare notion of marrying his daughter to a teacher. Rousseau puts his vigorous remonstrance against pride of birth into the mouth of an English nobleman. This is perhaps an infelicitous piece of prosopopeia, but it is interesting as illustrative of the idea of England in the eighteenth century as the home of stout-hearted freedom. We may quote one piece from the numerous bits of very straightforward speaking in which our representative expressed his mind as to the significance of birth. “My friend has nobility,” cried Lord Edward, “not written in ink on mouldering parchments, but graven in his heart in characters that can never be effaced. For my own part, by God, I should be sorry to have no other proof of my merit but that of a man who has been in his grave these five hundred years. If you know the English nobility, you know that it is the most enlightened, the best informed, the wisest, the bravest in Europe. That being so, I don't care to ask whether it is the oldest or not.

We are not, it is true, the slaves of the prince, but his friends; nor the tyrants of the people, but their leaders. We hold the balance true between people and monarch. Our first duty is towards the nation, our second towards him who governs; it is not his will but his right that we consider. . . . We suffer no one in the land to say God and my sword, nor more than this, God and my right."1 All this was only putting Montesquieu into heroics, it is true, but a great many people read the romance who were not likely to read the graver book. And there was a wide difference between the calm statement of a number of political propositions about government, and their transformation into dramatic invective against the arrogance of all social inequality that does not correspond with inequalities of worth.

There is no contradiction between this and the social quietism of other parts of the book. Moral considerations and the paramount place that they hold in Rousseau's way of thinking, explain at once his contempt for the artificial privileges and assumptions of high rank, and his contempt for anything like discontent with the conditions of humble rank. Simplicity of life was his ideal. He wishes us to despise both those who have departed from it, and those who would depart from it if they could. So Julie does her best to make the lot of the peasants as happy as it is capable of being made, without ever helping them to change it for another. She teaches them to respect their natural condition in respecting themselves. Her prime maxim is to discourage change of station and calling, but above all to dissuade the villager, whose life is the happiest of all, from leaving the true pleasures of his natural career for the fever and corruption of towns. Presently a recollection of the sombre things that he had seen in his rambles

2

1 1. lxii.

2 V. ii.

scenes.

[ocr errors]

through France crossed Rousseau's pastoral visions, and he admitted that there were some lands in which the publican devours the fruits of the earth; where the misery that covers the fields, the bitter greed of some grasping farmer, the inflexible rigour of an inhuman master, take something from the charm of his rural

“Worn-out horses ready to expire under the blows they receive, wretched peasants attenuated by hunger, broken by weariness, clad in rags, hamlets all in ruins—these things offer a mournful spectacle to the eye: one is almost sorry to be a man, as we think of the unhappy creatures on whose blood we have to feed.1

Yet there is no hint in the New Heloïsa of the socialism which Morelly and Mably flung themselves upon, as the remedy for all these desperate horrors. Property, in every page of the New Heloïsa, is held in full respect; the master has the honourable burden of patriarchal duty; the servant the not less honourable burden of industry and faithfulness; disobedience or vice is promptly punished with paternal rigour and more than paternal inflexibility. The insurrectionary quality and effect of Rousseau's work lay in no direct preaching or vehement denunciation of the abuses that filled France with cruelty on the one hand and sodden misery on the other. It lay in pictures of a social state in which abuses and cruelty cannot exist, nor any miseries save those which are inseparable from humanity. The contrast between the sober, cheerful, prosperous scenes of romance, and the dreariness of the reality of the field life of France,—this was the element that filled generous souls with an intoxicating transport.

1 V. vii. 141.

Rousseau's way of dealing with the portentous questions that lay about that tragic scene of deserted fields, ruined hamlets, tottering brutes, and hungerstricken men, may be gathered from one of the many traits in Julie which endeared her to that generation, and might endear her even to our own if it only knew her. Wolmar's house was near a great high-road, and so was daily haunted by beggars. Not one of these was allowed to go empty away. And Julie had as many excellent reasons to give for her charity, as if she had been one of the philosophers of whom she thought so surpassingly ill. If you look at mendicancy merely as a trade, what is the harm of a calling whose end is to nourish feelings of humanity and brotherly love! From the point of view of talent, why should I not pay the eloquence of a beggar who stirs my pity, as highly as that of a player who makes me shed tears over imaginary sorrows? If the great number of beggars is burdensome to the state, of how many other professions that people encourage, may you not say

the same? How can I be sure that the man to whom I give alms is not an honest soul, whom I may save from perishing? In short, whatever we may think of the poor wretches, if we owe nothing to the beggar, at least we owe it to ourselves to pay honour to suffering humanity or to its image. Nothing

1 V. ii. 31-33.

« AnteriorContinuar »