III. MUCH ADO

A new crisis developed when, in October, 1757, Mme. d’Épinay decided to visit Geneva. This is Rousseau’s story:

“My friend,” she said to me, “I am immediately going to set out for Geneva; my chest is in a bad state, and my health so deranged, that I must go and consult Tronchin.” I was the more astonished at this resolution so suddenly taken, and at the beginning of the bad season of the year. … I asked her whom she would take with her. She said her son and [his tutor] M. de Linant; and then she carelessly added: “And you, dear, will not you go also?” As I did not think she spoke seriously, knowing that at this season I was scarcely able to go to my chamber [i.e., to travel between La Chevrette and the Hermitage], I joked upon the utility of one sick person to another. She herself had not seemed to make the proposition seriously, and there the matter dropped.34

He had excellent reasons for not wishing to accompany Madame; his ailments forbade it, and how could he leave Thérèse? Moreover, gossip whispered that his hostess was pregnant, presumably by Grimm; Rousseau for a time believed the tale, and complimented himself on escaping from a ridiculous situation. The poor woman was telling the truth: she was suffering from tuberculosis; she seems to have sincerely desired Rousseau to accompany her; and why should he not be glad to revisit, at her expense, the city of which he was so proudly Citoyen? Aware of her feelings, Diderot wrote to Rousseau urging him to take her request seriously and accede to it, if only as some return for her benefactions. He replied in his characteristic style:

I perceive that the opinion you give comes not from yourself. Besides my being but little disposed to suffer myself to be led by the nose under your name by any third or fourth person, I observe in this secondary advice a certain underhand dealing which ill agrees with your candor, and from which you will, on your account as well as mine, do well in future to abstain.35

On October 22 he took Diderot’s letter and his own reply to La Chevrette and read them “in a loud, clear voice” to Grimm and Mme. d’Épinay. On the twenty-fifth she left for Paris; Rousseau went to bid her an awkward goodbye; “fortunately,” he tells us, “she set out in the morning, and I still had time to go and dine with her sister-in-law” at Eaubonne.36 On the twenty-ninth (according to Mme. d’Épinay’s Memoirs) he wrote to Grimm:

Tell me, Grimm, why do all my friends declare that I ought to accompany Mme. d’Épinay? Am I wrong, or are they all bewitched? … Mme. d’Épinay starts in a nice postchaise, accompanied by her husband, her son’s tutor, and five or six servants. … Should I be able to endure a postchaise? Can I hope to accomplish so long a journey so speedily without a mishap? Shall I have it stopped every moment that I may get down, or shall I accelerate my torments and my last hours by being obliged to put restraint upon myself? … My devoted friends … [seem] intent upon worrying me to death.37

On October 30 Mme. d’Épinay left Paris for Geneva. On November 5 Grimm (according to the Memoirs) replied to Rousseau:

I have done my utmost to avoid replying definitely to the horrible apology which you have addressed to me. You press me to do so. … I never thought that you ought to have accompanied Mme. d’Épinay to Geneva. Even if your first impulse had been to offer her your company, it would have been her duty to refuse your offer, and to remind you of what you owe to your position, your health, and the women whom you have dragged into your retreat; that is my opinion. . . .

You dare to speak to me of your slavery, to me who, for more than two years, have been the daily witness of all the proofs of the most tender and generous friendship which this woman has given you. If I were able to pardon you, I should think myself unworthy to have a friend. I will never see you again in my life, and I shall think myself happy if I can banish from my mind the memory of your behavior. I ask you to forget me, and not to disturb me any more.38

From Geneva Mme. d’Épinay wrote to Grimm: “I have received the thanks of the Republic for the way in which I have treated Rousseau, and a formal deputation of watchmakers on the same subject. The people here hold me in veneration on his account.”39Tronchin warned her that she would have to remain under his care for a year. She was a frequent visitor at Voltaire’s homes in Geneva and Lausanne. After some delay Grimm joined her, and they had eight months of happiness.*

On November 23, 1757, Rousseau (he tells us) wrote to her as follows:

Were it possible to die of grief I should not now be alive. … Friendship, madame, is extinguished between us, but that which no longer exists still has its rights, and I respect them. I have not forgotten your goodness to me, and you may expect from me as much gratitude as it is possible to have toward a person I can no longer love. . . .

I wished to quit the Hermitage, and I ought to have done it. My friends pretend I must stay there till spring; and since my friends desire it I will remain there till then if you will consent.40

Early in December Diderot came to see Rousseau, and found him in wrath and tears at the “tyranny” which his friends exercised over him. Diderot’s report of this visit appears in his letter of December 5 to Grimm:

The man is a madman (forcené). I have seen him; I reproached him, with all the force given me by honesty, for the enormity of his conduct. He put into his defense of himself an angry passion which afflicted me. … This man comes between me and my work, and troubles my mind; it is as though I had one of the damned near me. … Oh, what a spectacle it is—that of a wicked and ferocious man! Let me never see him again; he would make me believe in devils and hell.41

Rousseau received an answer from Mme. d’Épinay on December 10. Apparently Grimm had told her of Rousseau’s comments on his “slavery” at the Hermitage, for she wrote with unusual bitterness:

After having for several years given you every possible mark of friendship, all I can now do is to pity you. You are very unhappy. . . .

Since you are determined to quit the Hermitage, and are persuaded that you ought to, I am astonished that your friends have prevailed upon you to stay there. For my part I never consult mine on my duty, and I have nothing further to say to you on your own.42

On December 15, though winter was closing in, Rousseau left the Hermitage with Thérèse and all their belongings. Her mother he sent to live in Paris with the other daughters, but he promised to contribute to her support. He moved to a cottage in Montmorency, leased to him by an agent of Louis-François de Bourbon, Prince de Conti. There, turning his back upon his former friends, he produced in five years three of the most influential books of the century.

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