Rousseau Outcast



IT is remarkable that a book containing, as did Émile, so open an attack upon all but the fundamentals of Christianity should have passed the censor and been printed in France. But the censor was the tolerant and sympathetic Malesherbes. Before allowing publication he urged Rousseau to delete some passages that would almost certainly rouse the Church to active hostility. Rousseau refused. Other heretics had escaped personal prosecution by using pseudonyms, but Rousseau bravely stated his authorship on the title pages of his books.

While the philosophes denounced Émile as further treason to philosophy, the prelates of France and the magistrates of Paris and Geneva condemned it as apostasy from Christianity. The anti-Jansenist Archbishop of Paris prepared for August, 1762, a powerfulmandemant against the book. The pro-Jansenist Parlement of Paris was engaged in expelling the Jesuits; it wished, nevertheless, to display its zeal for Catholicism; the appearance of Émile offered an opportunity to strike a blow for the Church. The Council of State, at war with the Parlement, and unwilling to lag behind it in zeal for orthodoxy, proposed to arrest Rousseau. Getting wind of this, his aristocratic friends advised him to leave France at once. On June 8 Mme. de Créqui sent him an excited message: “It is only too true that an order has been issued for your arrest. In the name of God, go away! … The burning of your book will do no harm, but your person cannot stand imprisonment. Consult your neighbors.”1

The neighbors were the Maréchal and Maréchale de Luxembourg. They feared involvement if Rousseau were arrested;2 they and the Prince de Conti urged him to flee, and gave him funds and a carriage for the long ride across France to Switzerland. He yielded reluctantly. He commended Thérèse to the Maréchale’s care, and left Montmorency on June 9. On that day a decree was issued for Rousseau’s arrest, but it was executed with merciful tardiness, for many in the government were glad to let him escape. On that same day Maître Omer Joly de Fleury, brandishing a copy of Émile, told the Parlement of Paris

That this work appears to have been composed solely with the aim of reducing everything to natural religion, and of developing that criminal system in the author’s plan for the education of his pupil; . . .

That he regards all religions as equally good, and as all having their reasons in the climate, the government, and the character of the people; . . .

That in consequence he dares seek to destroy the truth of Sacred Scripture and the prophecies, the certitude of the miracles described in the Holy Books, the infallibility of revelation, and the authority of the Church. … He ridicules and blasphemes the Christian religion, which alone has God for its author. . . .

The author of this book, who has had the boldness to sign his name to it, should be arrested as soon as possible. It is important that … justice should make an example, with all severity, both of the author and of those who … have shared in printing or distributing such a work.

Thereupon the Parlement ordered that

the said book shall be torn and burned in the court of the Palace [of Justice], at the foot of the grand staircase, by the High Executioner; all those who have copies of the book shall deliver them to the Register, to be destroyed; no publisher shall print or sell or distribute this book; all sellers or distributors thereof shall be arrested and punished according to the rigor of the law; … and J.-J. Rousseau shall be apprehended and brought to the Conciergerie prison of the Palace.3

On June 11 Émile was “torn and burned” as ordered, but by June 11 Rousseau had reached Switzerland. “The moment I was in the territory of Bern I bade the postilion stop; I got out of my carriage, prostrated myself, kissed the ground, and exclaimed in a transport of joy: ‘Heaven, protector of virtue, be praised; I touch a land of liberty!’”4

He was not quite sure. He drove on to Yverdon, near the south end of the Lake of Neuchâtel, in the canton of Bern; there he stayed for a month with his old friend Roguin. Should he seek a home in Geneva? But on June 19 the Council of Twenty-five, ruling Geneva, condemned both Émile and The Social Contract as

impious, scandalous, bold, full of blasphemies and calumnies against religion. Under the appearance of doubts the author has assembled everything that could tend to sap, shake, and destroy the principal foundations of the revealed Christian religion. … These books are so much the more dangerous and reprehensible as they are written in French [not in esoteric Latin], in the most seductive style, and appear over the name of “Citizen of Geneva.”5

Accordingly the Council ordered both books to be burned, prohibited their sale, and decreed arrest for Rousseau should he ever enter the territory of the republic. The Genevan clergy made no protest against this repudiation of Geneva’s most famous living son; doubtless they feared that any sympathy shown by them to the author of “The Savoyard Vicar’s Profession of Faith” would confirm d’Alembert’s revelation of their secret Unitarian sentiments. Jacob Vernes, Rousseau’s friend of many years, turned against him and demanded a retraction. “If [Rousseau recalled] there was any rumor amongst the populace, it was unfavorable to me, and I was publicly treated by all the gossips and pedants like a pupil threatened with a flogging for not having recited his catechism rightly.”6

Voltaire was touched by the situation of his rival. He had read Émile; his comments can still be seen on his copy in the Bibliothèque de Genève. In a letter of June 15 he had written of the book: “It is a hodgepodge of a silly wet nurse in four volumes, with forty pages against Christianity, among the boldest ever known. … He says as many hurtful things against the philosophers as against Jesus Christ, but the philosophers will be more indulgent than the priests.”7 In any case he admired the “Profession of Faith”: “fifty good pages,” he called them, but added: “it is regrettable that they should have been written by … such a knave [coquin] .”8 To Mme. du Deffand he wrote: “I shall always love the author of the ‘Vicaire savoyard’ whatever he has done, and whatever he may do.”9When he heard that Jean-Jacques was homeless he cried out: “Let him come here [to Ferney]! He must come! I shall receive him with open arms. He shall be master here more than I. I shall treat him like my own son.”10 He sent this invitation to seven different addresses; it must have reached one address, for Rousseau later expressed regret that he had made no reply.11 In 1763 Voltaire renewed the invitation; Rousseau declined it, and accused Voltaire of having incited the Council of Twenty-five to condemnThe Social Contract and Émile. Voltaire denied this, apparently with truth.

Early in July, 1762, the Senate of Bern notified Rousseau that it could not tolerate his presence on Bernese soil; he must leave it within fifteen days or face imprisonment. Meanwhile he received a kindly note from d’Alembert advising him to seek domicile in the principality of Neuchâtel; this was under the jurisdiction of Frederick the Great, and was governed by Earl Marischal George Keith, who, said d’Alembert, “would receive and treat you as the patriarchs of the Old Testament received and treated persecuted virtue.”12Rousseau hesitated, for he had spoken critically of Frederick as a tyrant in philosophic disguise.13 Nevertheless, on July 10, 1762, he accepted the invitation of Roguin’s niece, Mme. de La Tour, to occupy a house belonging to her in Mótiers-Travers, fifteen miles southwest of the city of Neuchâtel, in what Boswell was to describe as “a beautiful wild valley surrounded by immense mountains.”14 About July 11 Jean-Jacques appealed to the governor, and, with characteristic humility and pride, wrote to


I have said a good deal that is bad about you; I shall probably say more such things; however, chased from France, from Geneva, from the canton of Bern, I have come to seek an asylum in your states. … Sir, I have not merited grace from you, and I do not ask any; but I have felt that I ought to declare to your Majesty that I am in your power, and that I have willed to be so. Your Majesty may dispose of me as you like.

At an uncertain date Frederick, still in the Seven Years’ War, wrote to Keith:

We must succor this poor unfortunate. His only offense is to have strange opinions which he thinks are good ones. I will send a hundred crowns, from which you will be kind enough to give him as much as he needs. I think he will accept them in kind more readily than in cash. If we were not at war, if we were not ruined, I would build him a hermitage with a garden, where he could live as I believe our first fathers did.... I think poor Rousseau has missed his vocation; he was obviously born to be a famous anchorite, a desert father, celebrated for his austerities and flagellations.... I conclude that the morals of your savage are as pure as his mind is illogical.15

The Marischal, whom Rousseau speaks of as a gaunt, aged, absent-minded saint, sent him provisions, coal, and wood, and proposed to “build me a little house.” Jean-Jacques interpreted this offer as coming from Frederick, and refused it, but “from that moment I became so sincerely attached to him that I interested myself as much in his glory as until then I had thought his successes unjust.”16 On November I, as the war was nearing its end, he wrote to Frederick prescribing the tasks of peace:


You are my protector and my benefactor, and I have a heart made for gratitude; I want to acquit myself with you if I can.

You want to give me bread; is there none of your subjects who lacks it?

Take away from before my eyes that sword that flashes and wounds me. … The career of kings of your mettle is great, and you are still far from your time. But time is pressing; there is not a moment left you to lose. … Can you resolve to die without having been the greatest of men?

Could I ever be permitted to see Frederick the Just and Feared cover his states at last with a happy people whose father he would be, then Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the enemy of kings, would go to die of joy at the foot of his throne.17

Frederick made no known answer, but when Keith went to Berlin the King told him he had received a “scolding” from Rousseau.18

Apparently assured of a home, Jean-Jacques sent for Thérèse to join him. He was not certain that she would come, for he “had long perceived her affection to grow colder.” He ascribed this to his having ceased to have sexual relations with her, since “a connection with women was prejudicial to my health.”19 Perhaps now she would prefer Paris to Switzerland. But she came. They had a tearful reunion, and looked forward at last to some years of peace.

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