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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Rousseau supported his thesis by a Lettre sur la Musique


The

emotions of the eighteenth century were vivid and easily roused; fastening upon everything without any earnest purpose, and without any great sense of responsibility, it grew as hot over a musical dispute as over the gravest questions of morality or philosophy. Grimm had attacked French music, Rousseau supported his thesis by a _Lettre sur la Musique_. It was the moment of the great quarrel between the Parliament and the clergy. "When my letter appeared, there was no more excitement save against me," says Rousseau; "it was such that the nation has never recovered from it. When people read that this pamphlet probably prevented a revolution in the state, they will fancy they must be dreaming." And Grimm adds in his correspondence: "The Italian actors who have been playing for the last ten months on the stage of the Opera de Paris and who are called here bouffons, have so absorbed the attention of Paris that the Parliament, in spite of all its measures and proceedings which should have earned it celebrity, could not but fall into complete oblivion. A wit has said that the arrival of Manelli saved us from a civil war; and Jean Jacques Rousseau of Geneva, whom his friends have dubbed the citizen of citizens (_le citoyen par excellence_), that eloquent and bilious foe of the sciences, has just set fire to the four corners of Paris with a _Lettre sur la Musique,_ in which he proves that it is impossible to set French words to music. . . . What is not easy to believe, and is
none the less true for all that, is that M. Rousseau was afraid of being banished for this pamphlet. It would have been odd to see Rousseau banished for having spoken ill of French music, after having with impunity dealt with the most delicate political matter."

Rousseau had just printed his _Discours sur l'Inegalite des conditions,_ a new and violent picture of the corruptions of human society. "Inequality being almost nil in a state of nature," he says, "it derives its force and increment from the development of our faculties and from the progress of the human mind . . . according to the poet it is gold and silver, but according to the philosopher it is iron and corn which have civilized men and ruined the human race."

The singularity of his paradox had worn off; Rousseau no longer astounded, he shocked the good sense as well as the aspirations, superficial or generous, of the eighteenth century. The _Discours sur l'Inegalite des conditions_ was not a success. "I have received, sir, your new book against the human race," wrote Voltaire; "I thank you for it. You will please men to whom you tell truths about them, and you will not make them any better. Never was so much good wit expended in the desire to make beasts of us; one feels disposed to walk on all fours when one reads your work. However, as it is more than sixty years since I lost the knack, I unfortunately find it impossible to recover it, and I leave that natural gait to those who are better fitted for it than you or I. No more can I embark upon a visit to the savages of Canada, first, because the illnesses to which I am subject render a European doctor necessary to me; secondly, because war has been introduced into that country, and because the examples of our nations have rendered the savages almost as wicked as ourselves. I shall confine myself to being a peaceable savage in the solitude I have selected hard by your own country, where you ought to be."


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