An Empirical Jean-Jacques Rousseau

"Man was wade of social earth."
—R.W. Emerson

Ever since Frederika MacDonald published her massive two-volume work, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: A New Study in Criticism (1905), scholars favorably disposed toward Rousseau have pursued the difficult task of rehabilitating him from the "audacious historical fraud" perpetuated by Frederic- Melchior Grimm, Denis Diderot, and Mme. d'Epinay. On the authority of Grimm's malicious Correspondance Littéraire (1812), and Mme. d'Epinay's deliberately doctored Memoirs (1818), during the entire 19th century and well into the 20th, the public image of Rousseau was that of an emotionally unstable and repulsive personality and a moral cretin. Voltaire's intense contempt for Rousseau, generally attributed to envy, together with harsh personal criticism by other philosophes, contributed to this wholly negative portrait of Rousseau. Also, even before the conspiracies to defame him became public, his Confessions provided much added credence among traditional conservatives to the common belief that his psyche was deranged. The long tradition, which stretched from Samuel Johnson and Edmund Burke to Irving Babbitt, confirmed the widely held conviction that there were reptiles swarming in Rousseau's Eden-like image of primitive, idyllic nature.


Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here