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Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) Prof.

Bill Long 11/20/06 Reveries of a Solitary Walker (1782) No thinker from the 18th century casts a larger shadow over subsequent political theory than this French-speaker who was originally from Geneva. Rather than looking "straight" at his political philosophy, however, I propose we come to know him through consideration of his last work, published posthumously, which is not very-well known but opens up Rousseau's life for us in alluring relief. This and the next essay will deal only with the so-called "Fifth Promenade," or fifth of his supposed "walks" he recorded in this "tenwalk" Reveries of a Solitary Walker. Significant about this "Fifth Promenade" is that it took place a decade earlier (1768) than the real time of the book (1778), and it relived the experience of what appeared to him in 1778 as the most pleasant two months of his life. Before getting to Reveries and the Fifth Promenade, however, a few words about Rousseau's biography are appropriate. Isolation Rousseau, never a gregarious man, became well-known after winning a 1750 writing contest on whether the progress in art had been an unqualified cultural boon (he argued that it was not). The acme of his literary production happened a decade later, however. Within four months in 1762 Rousseau released his blockbuster title on educational theory, Emile, and his widely- influential Social Contract. He was living in Paris at the time and expected broad renown and adulation after the publication of these books. Instead, his attitudes toward the religion of nature in each offended deeply his Catholic hosts in Paris and the Calvinist forces of his native Geneva, and he was forced into wandering exile for several years. Incensed and hurt by this rejection, Rousseau nurtured his wound for the next 15 years, speculating on an ever-growing conspiracy to "get him" that was led by former friends. This paranoia about conspiracy reached its fever pitch in a 80-page Feb. 22, 1770 letter described by Rousseau biographer Lester Crocker as "a remarkable psychological document which reveals how far his psychic disturbance had progressed beyond the comparable letter of accusation written to Hume on July 10, 1766" (Jean-Jacques Rousseau: The Prophetic Voice, 1758-78, 317f.). For the last decade of his life Rousseau went back and forth on the question of whether he should try to vindicate his ideas or whether he should just stay silent so that his accusers/enemies would have no reason to attack him again. While he was in the former mood, in the late 1760s, he penned his unforgettableConfessions, as much more probing of the inner recesses of his psyche than Augustine's Confessions was of its predecessors. Then, while the hurt was still fresh and bitterly felt, he wrote a several hundred-page mock dialogue between a Frenchman and "Rousseau" on the quality and signficance of his work. Thus, he could act as an "omnipotent" judge of his own work while giving the impression that its value was being impartially debated and weighed by the two protagonists in the dialogue.

The Reveries of the Solitary Walker The ten essays, styled as ten walks or "Promenades," are the last essays written by Rousseau. In this work he talks about his recent ability to "get beyond" the bitterness and anger at those he felt had wronged him and focus exclusively on the simple pleasures of ordinary living, of observing nature and making notes on botanical and natural subjects. Whereas the Confessions, completed in 1769 (first half) and 1770/71 (the rest), helped inaugurate the modern genre of autobiographical writing, theReveries launched a different kind of writing--what one might call a "nature narrative," or the experience a person has upon being struck by the beauty, calm, and inviting nature of the natural world. I would like to devote the rest of this and the next essay to his "Fifth Promenade" ("Fifth"), in which the language of longing and personal introspection is so overwhelmingly powerful. Though he writes these essays in the last year or two of his life, the "Fifth" hearkens back to a time a decade previously, in 1768, when Rousseau fled to the island of St. Peter in the middle of the Lake of Bienne after his home had been stoned by people he assumed wanted to injure him. He left all his goods behind (his wife joined him a month into his two-month sojourn), and so had only his own wits as well as the congenial company of the owner of the only home on the island, a man named Engel, to give him his bearings. Yet, as he tells the story of this two-month sojourn in theReveries, he recalls this time as the richest and most significant time of his life. Like Thoreau a century later, he went to the woods and learned how to live deliberately. Like Whitman in the 19th century, he learned on the island how to "loaf and invite his [my] soul." Conclusion Let me close this essay by repeating Rousseau's romantic way of describing this small island. "The shores of the Lake of Bienne are wilder and more romantic than those of the Lake of Geneva, because the rocks and the woods surround the water more closely; but they are not less smiling. If there is less cultivation of fields and vines, fewer houses and woods, there are also more natural greenery, more meadows, more haunts shaded with coppices, more frequent contrasts and undulations of ground close (the island) is interesting for those solitary contemplatives who love to intoxicate themselves at leisure with the charms of nature, and to meditate in a silence disturbed by no sound except the cry of the eagles, the occasional twittering of birds, and the rolling down of torrents which fall from the mountain," Reveries of a Solitary Walker, 103-104.

The "Fifth Promenade" in the Reveries

After describing the remote, yet idyllic, little island of St. Peter, Rousseau goes on to recount his feelings about the place. "I found the sojourn (Sept.-Nov. 1768) so charming, I carried on a life so suitable to my humor, that resolved to finish my days there, I had no other disquiet except that I might not be allowed to carry out this plan... He could easily have lengthened the two month stay into a longer one: "I could have passed there two years, two centuries, and the whole of eternity, without being weary one moment, although I had not, with my wife, other society than that of the receiver, of his wife and of his servants...I count these two months as the happiest time of my life, and so happy, that it would have sufficed me throughout life, without for a single moment allowing in my soul the desire for a different state." Activity on "Fantasy" Island So, what did Rousseau do? Well, he didn't read his books. "Transported there suddenly, alone and unprovided for, I sent successively for my wife, my books and my little luggage, which I had the pleasure of not unlocking, leaving my chests and my trunks as they had arrived... One of my greatest delights was above all to leave my books well boxed up, and not to have a writing desk." What did this allow him time to do? "A delicious idleness was the first and principal enjoyment that I wished to taste in all its sweetness; and all that I did during my stay was nothing but the charming and necessary occupation of a man who is vowed to idleness," (p. 106). He hit upon a plan for using his time: "Since I did not wish to work any more at writing, there was necessary for me an amusement which pleased me, and which gave me no more trouble than that which a lazy man cares to give. I undertook to make the Flora of St. Peter's Island, and to describe all the plants there, without omitting one, in sufficient detail to occupy me for the rest of my days." Since he heard that a German scholar wrote an entire book about a lemon peel, Rousseau was emboldened to think that he could write an entire one on each grain in the field, "on each lichen which carpets the rocks.." He decided to divide the island into squares, go out each morning with his magnifying glass and Linneaus' System of Nature (Hm...I thought all his books were back in the trunk..) and observe to his heart's content. "Nothing is more singular than the ravishments, the ecstasies which I felt at each observation I had made upon the structure and the vegetable organization, and upon

the play of the sexual parts in the fructification, of which the system was then altogether new to me. Real Loafing So he would return each day, arms laden with exemplars of the field. In the afternon he would dine with the host and his family and then, when lunch was over, throw himself "alone into a boat which I rowed into the midst of the lake, when the water was calm," (pp. 108-109). What did he do out there? "Stretching myself out at full length in the boat, my eyes turned towards heaven, I let myself go and wander about slowly at the will of the water, sometimes during many hours, plunged into a thousand confused but delicious reveries, which, without having any well-determined object, nor constancy, did not fail to be in my opinion a hundred times preferable to all that I have found sweetest in what are called the pleasures of life. And then, what about evenings? "When the evening approached, I descended from the summits of the island, and I went gladly to sit down on the border of the lake, on the shore, in some hidden nook; there, the sound of the waves and the agitation of the water, fixing my sense and driving every other agitation from my soul, plunged it into a delicious reverie, where the night often surprised me without my having perceived it. The flux and reflux of this water, its continuous sound, swelling at intervals, struck ceaselessly my ears and my eyes, responding to the internal movements which reverie extinguished in me, and sufficed to make me feel my existence with pleasure, without taking the trouble to think," 111. Conclusion One thing that Rousseau doesn't tell us about this experience is whether he felt these things in 1768, when he had experienced them, or only in 1778, when he could peacefully reflect on them. I would think that the latter is more probable; sometimes with distance things seem more attractive. In any case, Rousseau has given us the story of pure enjoyment, of sensual pleasure, of simply letting the feelings of the moment overwhelm and define the contours of one's thoughts and feelings.He felt his existence without taking the trouble to think. Only a person very confident in the power of his creative genius could get away with such a statement near the end of his life. Such was Rousseau. Let me take you on one more "walk" now. Jean-Jacques Rousseau III

Prof. Bill Long 11/21/06 One More Reverie--Promenade One Though much more could be said about Rousseau's Reveries of a Solitary Walker, the last work he wrote in his life (1776-78; he died in 1778), I will conclude by arguing here that his First Promenade is a transparent, and only partially successful, attempt to lay aside the bitterness and paranoia that had stalked him ever since Emile and Social Contract were condemned fifteen years previously. He is able to achieve some kind of equanimity here not because he has achieved a kind of "peace" with the universe or because he has "risen above" the anger that he previously felt, but because he felt that the only source for his personal vindication, the Prince de Conti, has died and now he must resignedly accept his fate of being a permanent outsider. Thus, his attempt to assume a Stoic-type of ataraxia in the First Promenade is not as noble as it seems. Yet, Rousseau is what I call a "genius of the heart," and thus he is able to salvage the tattered remains of his life by arguing that his last days present him an unparalleled opportunity for self-discovery. All Hope At An End He begins the essay with barely concealed, but unforgettable, self-righteousness. "Here am I, then, alone upon the earth, having no brother, or neighbor, or friend, or society but myself. The most sociable and loving of human beings has been proscribed by unanimous agreement," 31. Go a little lighter on the "poor-me," Jean-Jacques, please! He had successively alienated people in several countries, both men and women, scholars and lovers, and now plaintively states that the whole world is, unjustifiably, against him. Like the parent who has "no idea" why a child hasn't spoken to her in twenty-five years, Rousseau claims to be completely ignorant of the sources of people's displeasure in him. But I will not long tarry here by indulging his spirit. I will quote the crucial passage, however, regarding his resolve to accept his fate. Here are the words: "Two months have not gone by since full calm was re-established in my heart. For a long time I had ceased to fear anything, but I still hoped; and this hope, now cherished, now broken, was a snare by which a thousand diverse passions did not cease to agitate me. An event as sad as unforseen came finally to efface from my heart this feeble ray of hope, and make me see my destiny fixed forever without change here below. From thence, I have resigned myself without reserve and I have rediscovered peace," 35. Professor Lester Crocker, in his magnificent two-volume biography of Rousseau, argues as follows: "what was this event, 'as sad as it was unforseen'? In all likelihood, it was the death of the Prince de Conti, on August 2 (1776)," Jean-Jacques Rousseau, vol. 2,

344.Crocker goes on to show how it was this man whom Rousseau thought was the only man alive who could have reversed the condemnatory decrees against his work from 1762. Now that Conti has died, Rousseau has completely lost hope. But rather than looking at this hopeless situation as an opportunity for complete despair or possible suicide, he lets it bring him a "larger measure of peace than he had known for years." One may quibble that this resignation and the peace that flows from it is not a "genuine" peace, driven as it is by a sense of hopelessness, but that is a mere quibble. Let us grant to Rousseau that he was able, finally, to "let go" of the deeper currents of vitriol poisoning him when he realized that all human possibilities of vindication had evaporated. Because of Rousseau's extreme narcissism, however, he often looks at this abandoned state as a "Christ-like" condition.He, like Christ, was abandoned and betrayed by all. He, like Christ, will be vindicated in the end. What To Do Thus, he becomes like a person who has lost all of his earthly goods in a fire but realizes that his life and health are still intact. He can look at his new condition as a sort of new beginning, a re-birth, and consecrate himself to the topic that interests him more than anything in the world--himself. "I shall consecrate my last days to the study of myself, and to preparing in advance the account which I shall not be slow to give of myself. Let me devote myself entirely to the sweetness of speaking with my own soul, because that is the only thing of which men cannot rob me. If, by force of reflecting upon my inward propensities, I succeed in putting these in order and correcting the evil that may remain there, my meditations will not be entirely useless," 38. And then, lest you think that Rousseau has surmounted himself to consider the beauties of nature or the problems of the injustice of the world, he says again: "These leaves will not be, properly speaking, anything but a formless journal of my reveries. There will be much concerning myself, because a solitary who reflects occupies himself necessarily much with himself. For the rest, all the strange ideas which pass through my head in walking about will equally find a place. I shall say that which I have thought exactly as it has come to me, and also with as little linking together as the ideas of yesterday ordinarily have with those of the day following," 39. There you have it. The narcissistic genius of Rousseau. The one who relentlessly sought to enjoy and examine his own feelings in the moment, to describe the way the emotions were touched by little things in his environment and thoughts, and record them for us. This is the man who is the father of our political philosophy. And, more and more, he seems to be the father of our spiritual quests.

I ought to elucidate the title of my blog. Of course it echoes The Reveries Of The Solitary Walker, the last great work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) which was published in 1782 after his death. It contains 10 "walks" which are really meditations on "Life, The Universe and Everything" Though self-absorbed and at times pessimistic, Rousseau had good reason to be so - exiled by the French Church and State, isolated by society, he fled to Switzerland where he found comfort in solitude and the natural world. History has proved him to be one of the very greatest thinkers and philosophers of the Enlightenment. Here's the first paragraph from his Ninth Walk:Happiness is a permanent condition which does not seem to be made for man here-below. Everything on earth is in constant flux, which permits nothing to take on constant form. Everthing around us changes. We ourselves change, and no one can be assured he will like tomorrow what he likes today. Thus, all our plans for felicity in life are idle fancies. Let us take advantage of mental contentment when it comes; let us keep from driving it away by our own fault. But let us not make any plans to chain it up, for those plans are pure follies. I have seldom seen happy men, perhaps not at all. But I have often seen contented hearts; and of all the objects which have struck me, that is the one which has made me most content. I believe this is a natural consequence of the power my sensations have over my internal feelings. Happiness has no exterior sign; to recognize it, it would be to see into the heart of the happy man. But contentment is read in the eyes, in the bearing, in the lilt of the voice, in the manner of walking, and seems to be transmitted to the one who perceives it. Is there a sweeter enjoyment than to see a whole people give itself up to joy on a holiday and every heart expand in the broad rays of pleasure which pass rapidly, but intensely, through the clouds of life? I think that Rousseau's "contentment" can be seen much of the time in the faces and attitudes of many of the remote walkers one meets and passes... I thought I'd start the New Year with an explanation of my blog's title, The Solitary Walker. I've done this before at the time I began blogging - but I've more readers now, and some of you may have missed it. The Reveries Of The Solitary Walker was the last, posthumously published work by the great French political philospher Jean-Jacques Rousseau(1712-1778). I suppose Rousseau's most celebrated work is The Social Contract, which contains the famous quotation: Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains. With his highly personal Confessions and Reveries, Rousseau is regarded as the founder of modern autobiography. Rousseau himself considered mile, his book about education, his best book. But after its publication in 1762 the Parliament of Paris issued a warrant for his

arrest due to its revolutionary nature. He escaped from France into Switzerland in the nick of time. And it was during this period of exile in Switzerland that he wrote The Reveries Of The Solitary Walker. The book contains 10 meditative "walks". This short paragraph comes from his Seventh Walk: I have sometimes thought rather deeply, but rarely with pleasure; almost always against my liking, and as though by force. Reverie relaxes and amuses me; reflection tires and saddens me; thinking always was a painful and charmless occupation for me. Sometimes my reveries end in meditation, but more often my meditations end in reverie; and during these wanderings, my soul rambles and glides through the universe on the wings of imagination, in ecstasies which surpass every other enjoyment. This from one of the greatest philosophers of the European Enlightenment! Rousseau's Solitary Walker Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1788) is one of the more original thinks of Enlightenment France, associated with the idea of the social contract, the nature of power and government, and the primacy of nature and sentiment against what Frederick Copleston calls "arid rationalism, materialism and religious scepticism." But Rousseau was proscribed and exiled by church and state for his radical writings advocating a freedom and individual autonomy untenable at the time. Because of both his writings and his temperament, he unwittingly collected many enemies among the elite of France and Switzerland until he was literally fleeing for his life. Out of the experience of persecution and exile came the interesting collection of essays called Reveries of a Solitary Walker (Les reveries du promeneur solitaire). The work is of special value to anyone interested in solitude as a way of life. The Reveries are sketchy essays Rousseau composed not for publication but for his own perusal as he grew older (he was already in his seventies). The Reveries continue his Confessions but no longer as public apologetics. He is still keenly sensitive about past wrongs, but Rousseau is here consciously striving for an equanimity that only comes with solitude. Rather than analyze each "walk" or essay as scholar or critic, we shall walk with Rousseau and consider his frame of mind and insights as a "solitary walker." WALK 1 "I am now alone on earth, no longer having any brother, neighbor, friend, or society other than myself." So begins Rousseau's Reveries, and Walk 1 briefly reviews what has brought him to this point. Everything is finished for me on earth. People can no longer do good or evil to me here. I have nothing more to hope for or to fear in this world; and here I am, tranquil at the bottom of the abyss, a poor unfortunate mortal, but unperturbed, like God Himself.

WALK 2 Rousseau describes how solitary walks and reveries are the fruitful solace of his present days: These hours of solitude and meditation are the only ones in the day during which I am fully myself and for myself, without diversion, without obstacle, and during which I can truly claim to be what nature willed. WALK 3 This walk opens with a quotation from Solon on the wisdom of age. But Rousseau notes the irony in his own case: "Adversity is undoubtedly a great teacher, but it charges dearly for its lessons." The gregarious extrovert, who relished social mingling and innocuous banter and debate with friends and acquaintances finds that they have all abandoned him when trouble began. It is too late to see the lessons in this bitter experience, he admits. But Rousseau understands how truly one must give up all vain strivings at death, and learn how to die. Secluded meditation, the study of nature, and contemplation of the universe force a solitary person to search with tender concern for the purpose in everything he sees and the cause of everything he feels. WALK 4 Rousseau's favorite reading was Plutarch, the standard text of the educated classes for social and political ethics, a manual for virtuous elites. Plutarch taught generations of discontented well-to-do how to conform to their world through a sense of Stoic duty. In this walk, Rousseau examines lying, his own and that of his associates, elaborating on lying and truth-telling as philosophical and practical issues. WALK 5 This fine section describes Rousseau's life of exile on St. Peter's Island in Lake Brenne, Switzerland. His two months living quietly with the help of the local tax collector, his wife, and their servants, were for Rousseau "the happiest time of my life, so happy that it would have contented me for my whole existence without the desire for another state arising for a single instant in my soul." The source of happiness was what Rousseau calls in Italian far niente or doing nothing. (Is this not what Taoism calls wu wei?) Rousseau had left his his books and effects boxed and unavailable, so that now he lived each moment fruitfully, in heartfelt conversation with his hosts, in hours of walks in forest and field, happily reviving an interest in botany and flowers, drifting in a boat on the lake or perched on the lake bank in reverie. (The lake bank reminds one of Chuang-tzu's famous justification as a scholar-official in reclusion.) There is an excellent passage here on the search for happiness and the desire to make a moment "last forever, beyond the flux of time and change, yet not in stagnation or lethargy, for "an absolute silence leads to sadness." Glimpses or reveries of this quality were the fruit of life on this "fertile and solitary island." Rousseau's description of dreaminess, imagination, the blur of fiction and reality, and the influence of an idyllic environment, are all wonderfully described.

WALK 6 An excursion into thought versus feeling, on giving and receiving, indebtedness and friendship. Rousseau tells us that his sense of justice and virtue is too strong to bring him to hate others (the insolent, the scheming, the cruel) and so he would rather just flee them. He imagines that that if he had the power to have anything he wished, he would use it to bring about "public felicity." He concludes: I have never been truly suited for civil society, where everything is annoyance, obligation, and duty, ... my naturally independent temperament always made me incapable of the subjection necessary to anyone who wants to live among men. This sentiment accords with Rousseau's philosophical beliefs, for, as he puts it: I have never believed that man's freedom consisted in doing what he wants, but rather in never doing what he does not want to do. WALK 7 This section combines Rousseau's interest in nature with descriptions of his method of reveries. This is not an irrelevant combination because contemplation of nature (as opposed to cerebral and social pursuits) is the only source of simple comfort to him. "Brilliant flowers, diverse colors of the meadows, fresh shady spots, brooks, thickets, greenery," all serve to "purify my imagination." Rousseau has deadened his soul to manmade things and is now only open to nature as a source of sensation, pleasure, and happiness. He puts it bluntly: Seeking refuge in mother nature, I sought in her arms to escape the attacks of her children. I have become solitary, or, as they say, unsociable and misanthropic, because to me the most desolate solitude seems preferable to the society of wicked men which is nourished only in betrayals and hatred. WALK 8 Rousseau reflects again on what happened to bring him to his present state. He ascribes to his fate neither "direction, intention, or moral cause," for otherwise the soul is left embittered and peace is impossible. Although his reason acknowledged this logic, his heart still grumbled, and the cause of it was self-love. By renouncing the demands and external connections of self-love, Rousseau tells us, peace is possible, making self-love weak and unpersuasive if not banished altogether. WALKS 9-10 Most of these sections are given over to reminiscences offering Rousseau a mix of pleasant and unpleasant, contentment versus happiness, and reflections on the repayment of the fruits of good deeds. They continue some incidents of his Confessions, but theses sections are thinner that any others.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau: The Reveries of the Solitary Walker; translated, with preface, notes, and an Interpretative Essay, by Charles E. Butterworth. New York: New York University Press, 1979.