« AnteriorContinuar »
dence; a slave, yet a braggart of his heads after the rain, revived the lanfreedom-returned once again to Pa- guid spirits of the invalid.
For a ris, from which, after a brief, restless few minutes he remained absorbed in stay, he finally set out for one of the thought, in which state he was found adjacent provinces, there to close his by a neighbor who had accidentally eyes and die.
called in to pay him a visit. “See," The manner of his death has been said Rousseau, as he approached, variously related. Some say that he “how beautifully the sun is setting ! committed suicide ; others, that he I know not why it is, but a presentiwas attacked with a fit of epilepsy; ment has just come over me, that I others, that he fell a victim to that am not doomed to survive it. Yet I unconquerable dejection which for should scarcely like to go before it years had been preying on and wither- has set, for it will be a satisfaction to ing the energies of his mind and body. me—strange, perhaps, as it may seem In this state of doubt we shall, as a to you—that we should both leave the matter of course, incline to the cha- world together." His friend (it is ritable side, and take as our guide a he himself that relates the story) was slight memoir penned a few days after struck by the singular melancholy of his decease, and widely circulated this remark, more especially as the throughout Paris. According to this philosopher's countenance bore but narrative, Rousseau had been ailing too evident an impress of its probable for some weeks ; but it was not until truth. Accordingly, he strove with within a day or two of his death that officious kindness to divert the stream he anticipated the slightest danger. of Rousseau's thoughts : he talked to His love of nature—and this, be it him of indifferent matters, hoping said to his honor, was an enthusiastic thereby that he would regain his passion that neither age nor infirmity cheerfulness, but was concerned to could quench-remained with him to find that every attempt was vain. the last. He rambled daily to a sum- Rousseau, at all times an egotist, was mer-house situated at the bottom of now solely occupied in the contemplahis garden, and there, seated with tion of himself and his approaching some favorite book in his hand, would change. His thoughts were immovasend his thoughts abroad into eternity, bly fixed on death : he felt, he reon whose threshold he was even then peatedly exclaimed, that he was fast unconsciously standing. A few declining; and, every now and then, friends who lived near bim, and who, after closing his eyes for a minute or by respecting his infirmities, had, so, would languidly open them again, somehow or other, contrived to pre as if for the purpose of remarking serve his good opinion, occasionally what progress the sun had made tocalled in to see him; and to them only wards the west. He remained in was his approaching change apparent : this state of stupor for a considerable he himself was alternately sanguine time, when suddenly he shook it off, and desponding to the last. On the gazed about him with nearly all his morning of his dissolution, he had wonted animation, and after bursting risen sooner than usual, and after into a feeble rhapsody about his unpassing the earlier parts of the day in wearied love for nature, turned full pain, grew considerably better towards towards the sun, with the devotional evening, and requested to be wheeled aspect of a Parsee. By this time, out in a low garden-chair towards his the evening had far advanced, and his favorite summer-house. The day friend endeavored to persuade him to until twelve o'clock had been clouded, return into the house. But no ; his but it cleared up at noon, and the last moments, he was resolved, should freshness of the air, the bum of the be spent in the open air. And they insects, and the fragrant perfume of were so. Scarcely had the sun set, the flowers as they lifted up their when the eyes of Rousseau began al
so to close ; his breath grew thicker, self and fortunes to an atheist. By and was drawn at longer intervals ;' he this person she has a large family'; but, strove to speak, but finding the effort though guiltless of infidelity towards vain, turned towards the friend at his him, her mind has received a taint: elbow, and pointed with his hand in she is, in fact, a speculative adultress, the direction of the red orb, which from whose impassioned soul the wise just at that moment dropped behind is unable to root out the mistress. the horizon. This was his last feeble Her very last letter that affecting movement : an instant longer, and composition which it is scarcely posRousseau had ceased to live.
sible to read without tears—though We stop not to detail the particu- dated from a death-bed, breathes the lars of the sensation that his death spirit of guilty and incurable infatuaoccasioned throughout France; but, tion. To make matters worse, the contenting ourselves with this brief object of this infatuation returns, afand meagre, but impartial memoir, ter a long absence, from abroad; and, come at once to the consideration of notwithstanding that his
presence his character an author. And must be a perpetual memento of the here, if we could forget the insidious past, replete with danger, Madame de principles that every where pervade Wolmar (the married name of Eloise) his works, and lurk like thorns be- receives him with unfeigned ecstacy, neath the flowers of his intellect, our and not only insists on his taking up task would be one of unmixed praise. his abode exclusively with her, but But we cannot do so; a regard to the (grateful, no doubt, for the valuable decencies of life compels us to re- moral principles which he had instilled member that the writings of Rousseau into her own mind) is indiscreet-not teem with the most pestilential doc- to say mad-enough to propose him as trines, couched in language so beauti- a tutor to her children. As if her ful, so eloquent, that the fancy is flat- own invitation were not sufficient, her tered, while the judgment is wheedled husband is persuaded to add his enon to its destruction. The Eloise treaties, even though that husband has that unequalled model of style and been previously made acquainted with grace-is full of a certain captivating the circumstance of Saint Preux's simplicity that seems the inspiration former intimacy with his wife. Now of an unsophisticated nature. But it all this, we roundly assert, is monsets out on wrong principles; it re- strous, and has no prototype in nature. quires the reader to grant that female When we say no prototype, we would modesty and virtue consistent be understood to mean that it has newith immoral indulgences, that vice ver been, and never will be, found is only vice when detected, and that connected with that refined sensibithe heart is the best and most correct lity and exquisite sense of decorum moral guide through life. This last with which Rousseau bas invested is an extravagant Utopian doctrine, at these inconsistent creations of his fancy. variance with principle, at variance A wife anxious for her children's mowith all that has made society what it rals, proud of her husband, and pasis, and still contributes to preserve its sionately devoted to the pure and simdecorum. Yet it is the key to un- ple enjoyments of home, would never lock the mysteries of Eloise. The peril her own reputation, or that of heroine is there represented as her family, by encouraging an atyoung lady full of superlative sensi- tachment framed in guilt, and at vability, without judgment, without riance with the most obvious duties. principle, though eternally boasting of If, however, she did encourage such both.
Attached enthusiastically to attachment, she would not rest satisSaint Preux, the friend and instructer fied, as Eloise—and herein lies an adof her youth, she is yet compelled, by ditional violation of nature—is reprethe force of circumstances, to link her- sented to have been, with the mere
theoretical enjoyments of guilt: she pitied, and monopolizes the tears due would at once reduce speculation to to her celestial adversary. Who, expractice. In like manner, a husband cept by the determined efforts of al described as being endowed with an strong mind, can bear for an instant to almost romantic sense of honor, and condemn Madame de Wolmar-the even with a sceptical turn of mind that beautiful-the sensitive-the confidhad its origin in principle, would ne- ing? Who can forget the highver, consistently with these qualities, wrought, impassioned youth, her exlook with indifference on the hazard- ceeding love of nature, of art, of all, ous condition of a wife who trod daily in short, that contributes to the grace, on a precipice enwreathed with flow- the ornament, and the simplicity of ers : he would either snatch her from existence ? Even up to the present the brink, or perish with her. But, moment, though years have elapsed, supposing he relied on her virtuous fashions have changed, and literature self-possession for her safety, he has diverged into new channels, she is would then show himself utterly un ever visibly before us. The rocks of acquainted with the human heart ; so Meillerie breathe of her-Clarens is that, in either sense, whether viewed eloquent of her name-Vevay whisas a man of the world, or a man of pers it through all her woods—and the honor, (and Rousseau invests him evening breeze, as it sighs over the with both qualities in the extreme,) blue waters of Geneva, repeats the Monsieur de Wolmar must be set last parting that rent the souls of herdown as a picturesque but ludicrous self and her unforgotten lover. She anomaly.
has a distinct—a separate-an undiAs the characters of the Eloise are vided existence in our memories : for unnatural, so also are the sentiments the Eloise, be it observed, is not a -those, at least, which profess to book to be laid aside with childhood; adapt themselves to reality. They it grows with our growth, and strengthare couched, as we before observed, ens with our strength; we abjure its in sweet and honied language, yet in- principles, but, despite ourselves, we culcate the most pernicious morals. hug its sensibility to our hearts; and They bubble up with apparent even when we repudiate it as the true artlessness from a good and benevo- Liber Amoris, or Book of Love, it lent heart, yet are tainted all over with puts forth new claims to our admiramiasma. Vice is taught to lisp the tion by its exuberant fulness of ideas, sentiments of a generous wisdom : the its ingenious sophistry, and faultless language of the Cecropian Pallas is style. We own throughout its pages mouthed by the Cyprian Venus; the presence of a powerful and anaEloise prates of chastity, St. Preux lytical mind, that bas studied-deeply of reason, and both, of the charms of studied—the origin and progress of patriarchal innocence and simplicity. even its slightest emotions, and noted It was upon a principle pretty similar them down, fresh as they rose, to this, and at least with equal since- after the other, from patient and acute rity, that the Gracchi complained of investigation, with all the overwhelm. sedition. It has been the object with ing earnestness of sincerity. many undoubted moral authors, to The “ Confessions,” like the paint the fascinations of vice in the “ Eloise," abounds in impassioned most alluring colors, in order to con- sentiment, but possesses in parts a trast it afterwards with the penalties vein of indignant sarcasm, of which it must pay perforce to virtue, and the other is devoid. It is the history thus to work out a more obvious and -and a mournful one it is—of Rousimpressive homily. This is not the seau's own mind; of his progress case with Rousseau. Vice, through- from childhood to age, from first enout his Eloise, robed in the garb of thusiasm to final despair. It is full inodesty, is triumphant ; she is even of detailed accounts of his connexion
with Madame de Warrens, Theresa, deference even from so headlong a reand his unrequited fondness for former as Rousseau-which has left it Madame de Houdetot, the plain but on the records of a thousand volumes faithful mistress of Saint Lambert. that the unreasonable indulgence of It is, in fact, the autobiography of an solitude is a factitious feeling, engenardent, self-willed mind, at one time dered by a diseased, and confirmed by capable of the loftiest flights of vir- an unsocial intellect.
Amid passages, tue; at another, equal to the most however, of such doubtful (to say the contemptible misdeeds. What can be least of them) sensibility, it is demore inconsistent than the candor lightful to catch now and then glimpses that could afford to acknowledge that, of another and a nobler nature. It is in order to avoid punishment, it false- like the bursting in of sudden sunly accused a poor, unfriended maiden shine upon November's gloom. Of of theft, and the meanness that could such a redeeming character is Rousstoop to act so? But, from first to seau's account of the periwinkle, last, Rousseau was the child of ca- which by accident he picked up in one price: his actions were all impulses of his Alpine botanical excursions. they could never be relied on. His simple exclamation of delight at
With regard to the literary excel- the recognition, “ Ah, voilà la perlence of his Confessions, it is lavish venche !" goes deeper to the heart and splendid in the extreme. Each than a thousand elaborate homilies. chapter abounds (as suits occasion) It was not the mere flower itself, but the in passages of unaffected simplicity, associations thereby engendered, that of glowing declamation, of energetic filled the philosopher's eyes with scorn, and sweet descriptive beauty. tears, as be pressed it with fervor to In proof of this, we may adduce his lips. Eight and thirty years beRousseau's account of his first intro- fore, while rambling with Madame de duction to Madame de Houdetot—of Warrens through the same neighborhis solitary walk every morning, to hood, he had gathered that very flowsteal one kiss from this idol of his en Time had nearly effaced the cirthusiasm-of his proud expectations cumstance from bis mind—age had -unwearied attachment, which nei- crept over him—the object of his un. ther absence on his own part, nor in- ceasing attachment had been long since difference on that of his mistress, consigned to earth; but here was could extinguish—and of his subse a talisman to recal the past; this little quently blighted hopes. Nor is that simple mountain-plant bore about passage to be forgotten wherein he with it a magic power that could roll describes his ecstatic feeling of enjoy- back the wheels of time, and array a ment, while sailing about at evening haggard soul in the same sweet freshin his boat, far away from the sight of ness which it wore in the morning of the human countenance, and surround- existence. As regards the pervading ed only by the grandest forms of na- spirit of the Confessions, it is a work ture-the towering mountain-the which sets out in a pensive vein of shrubless crag, the soft, luxuriant reflection, and terminates in the darkmeadow, through whose daisied herb- est, the fiercest misanthropy. Yet, age wound a hundred silver rivulets, whether for good or evil-whether to sparkling in the red sunset, and laps- sear with scorn, or melt with tendering on their course in music and in ness—the spirit of a mighty genius happiness. Yet the whole passage moves along each page, free, undisbeautiful as it undoubtedly is, and guised, and unchartered as the wind. conceived in the rapt fervor of poetic Indeed, had Rousseau shown but half inspiration—is false to nature, and as much talent in palliating misery as equivocal in sentiment. It is in di- he has shown in forestalling and agrect contradiction to the experience gravating it, he would have been the of ages-surely entitled to some little greatest man that ever existed. But
baneful as is the character of his pro- for vice, that it adapts itself to the ductions, they inculcate-the Confes- taste of the day ; nevertheless, every sions more especially—an impressive, man is more or less fashioned by the but unconscious moral. They con-age in which he lives—few having, vince the unformed, wavering mind, like our dirine, unsullied Milton, the that true happiness is only to be found fortitude to precede it ;-and if the where it holds in respect the social gross immoralities of Beaumont and and the moral duties; that sensibility, Fletcher, and still worse, of Conwithout principle, is like the tower greve, Vánburgh, and Farquhar, are built by the fool upon the sands, excused from consideration of the pewhich the very first wave swept into riod in which they flourished, sureannihilation; and that every depar- ly the same extenuating principle ture from reason is a departure from may with justice be applied to enjoyment, even though companioned Rousseau ? In addition to this, it by supreme abilities.
must not be forgotten that his sentiHaving thus discussed impartially ments, bowever revolting they may the character of Rousseau's chief appear to Englishmen, were, literally works, it remains, as some slight apo- speaking, the received opinions of his logy for their obliquities, to say a few country. They grew out of a courtwords respecting the age in which he ly system of fashion which visited only flourished. He wrote at a period with condemnation an uncouth person, when the French mind, drugged with bad address, churlish temper, or a long course of anodyne literature, clownish dialect. At such a demoralmade up from prescriptions unchanged ized period—the necessary precursor through a tedious succession of ages, of a revolution which should clear the was eagerly prepared to receive any polluted atmosphere-a man of first alterative that might exhilarate its in- rate ability, a pander to the elegant tellectual constitution. Previous to sensuality of the age (which, accordhis time, France was trammelled by ing to Burke, lost “ half its danger in Aristotelian regulations, which, whe- losing all its grossness”), and an unther for the drama, the closet, or the flinching philosopher of the new senate, prescribed one uniform style school, was not likely to pass unnoticof composition-correct, but cold- ed. Rousseau felt this, wrote acpolished, but insipid ; founded essen- cordingly, and rendered himself imtially on the imitative, and deprecat- mortal and a wretch. The secret of ing—as was the case with the Augus- his success he has himself explained tan age in England, which derived its in a published conversation with mental character from the French Burke, wherein he observes, that court-any departure from the old es- finding the old vehicle of literature was tablished classics of Greece and crazy and worn out, he took upon himRome as downright unadulterated he- self the task of renewing the springs, resy. Voltaire was the first to break repainting the panels, and gilding the through the ice of this formality : he whole machine afresh. In other threw a vivifying power into litera- words, he resolved to extend the pature, which sparkled with a thousand thetic, deepen the unsocial, and percoruscations, and drew forth the dor- vert what little was left, of moral and mant energies of others. Rousseau religious sensibility among his counwas one of the master-spirits thus trymen. In this he too happily sucwarmed into life : his predecessor, by ceeded; but what were the penalties his novel and brilliant paradoxes, had he paid for such success! The antriumphantly led the way; France swer is tremendous ! A shipwrecked was henceforth prepared to be aston- character-a broken heart-a brilliant ished-overwhelmed-electrified; and but unenviable immortality. Rousseau answered every expectation. One word more. Rousseau bas This, perhaps, is but a poor apology been frequently styled the champion,