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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Rousseau no longer felt safe there


My

lord Marshal had left Neuchatel; Rousseau no longer felt safe there; he made up his mind to settle in the Island of St. Pierre, in the middle of the Lake of Bienne. Before long an order from the Bernese senate obliged, him to quit it "within four and twenty hours, and with a prohibition against ever returning, under the heaviest penalties." Rousseau went through Paris and took refuge in England, whither he was invited by the friendliness of the historian Hume. There it was that he began writing his _Confessions_.

Already the reason of the unhappy philosopher, clouded as it had sometimes been by the violence of his emotions, was beginning to be shaken at the foundations; he believed himself to be the victim of an immense conspiracy, at the head of which was his friend Hume. The latter flew into a rage; he wrote to Baron d'Holbach: "My dear Baron, Rousseau is a scoundrel." Rousseau was by this time mad.

He returned to France. The Prince of Conti, faithful to his philosophical affections, quartered him at the castle of Trye, near Gisors. Thence he returned to Paris, still persecuted, he said, by invisible enemies. Retiring, finally, to the pavilion of Ermenonville, which had been offered to him by M. de Girardin, he died there at the age of sixty-six, sinking even more beneath imaginary woes than under the real sorrows and bitter deceptions of his life. The disproportion between his intellect and his character,

between the boundless pride and the impassioned weakness of his spirit, had little by little estranged his friends and worn out the admiration of his contemporaries. By his writings Rousseau acted more powerfully upon posterity than upon his own times: his personality had ceased to do his genius injustice.

He belonged moreover and by anticipation to a new era; from the restless working of his mind, as well as from his moral and political tendencies, he was no longer of the eighteenth century properly speaking, though the majority of the philosophers outlived him; his work was not their work, their world was never his. He had attempted a noble reaction, but one which was fundamentally and in reality impossible. The impress of his early education had never been thoroughly effaced: he believed in God, he had been nurtured upon the Gospel in childhood, he admired the morality and the life of Jesus Christ; but he stopped at the boundaries of adoration and submission. "The spirit of Jean Jacques Rousseau inhabits the moral world, but not that other which is above," M. Joubert has said in his _Pensees_. The weapons were insufficient and the champion was too feeble for the contest; the spirit of the moral world was vanquished as a foregone conclusion. Against the systematic infidelity which was more and more creeping over the eighteenth century, the Christian faith alone, with all its forces, could fight and triumph. But the Christian faith was obscured and enfeebled, it clung to the vessel's rigging instead of defending its powerful hull; the flood was rising meanwhile, and the dikes were breaking one after, another. The religious belief of the Savoyard vicar, imperfect and inconsistent, such as it is set forth in _Emile,_ and that sincere love of nature which was recovered by Rousseau in his solitude, remained powerless to guide the soul and regulate life.

"What the eighteenth century lacked [M. Guizot, _Melanges biographiques_ (Madame la Comtesse de Rumford)], "what there was of superficiality


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