They arrived at London on January 13, 1766. Passers-by remarked Rousseau’s costume—fur cap, purple robe, and girdle; he explained to Hume that he had an infirmity which made breeches inconvenient for him.104 Hume persuaded his friend Conway to suggest a pension for the distinguished foreigner; George III agreed to one hundred pounds a year, and expressed a desire to get an informal glimpse of him. Garrick reserved for Rousseau and Hume a box at the Drury Lane Theatre opposite the royal box, for a night when the King and Queen were to attend. But when Hume called for Rousseau he had great difficulty in persuading him to leave his dog, whose howls at being locked up tore the exile’s heart. At last “I caught Rousseau in my arms, and … partly by force, I engaged him to proceed.”105 After the performance Garrick gave a supper for Rousseau, who complimented him on his acting: “Sir, you have made me shed tears at your tragedy, and smile at your comedy, though I scarce understood a word of your language.”

Altogether, Hume was thus far pleased with his guest. Soon after reaching London he wrote to Mme. de Brabantane:

You have asked me my opinion of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. After having watched him in every aspect, … I declare that I have never known a man more amiable and virtuous. He is gentle, modest, affectionate, disinterested, of exquisite sensitivity. Seeking faults in him, I find none but extreme impatience, and a disposition to nurse unjust suspicions against his best friends … As for me, I would pass my life in his company without a cloud arising between us. There is in his manners a remarkable simplicity. In ordinary affairs he is a veritable child. This makes it easy … for those who live with him to govern him.106

And again:

He has an excellent warm heart, and in conversation kindles often to a degree of heat which looks like inspiration. I love him much, and hope to have some share in his affections. … The philosophers of Paris foretold to me that I could not conduct him to Calais without a quarrel; but I think I could live with him all my life in mutual friendship and esteem. I believe one great source of our concord is that neither he nor I are disputatious, which is not the case with any of them. They are also displeased with him because they think he overabounds in religion; and it is indeed remarkable that the philosopher of this age who has been most persecuted is by far the most devout.107 … He has a hankering after the Bible, and is indeed little better than a Christian.108

But there were difficulties. As in Paris, so in London, lords, ladies, authors, commoners flocked to the house of Mrs. Adams, in Buckingham Street, where Rousseau had been lodged by Hume. Soon he wearied of these attentions, and begged Hume to find him a home away from London. An offer came to take care of him in a Welsh monastery; he wished to accept it, but Hume prevailed upon him to board with a grocer at Chiswick on the Thames, six miles from London. Thither Rousseau and Sultan moved on January 28. Now he sent for Thérèse, and troubled his host and Hume by insisting that she should be allowed to sit at table with him. Hume complained in a letter to Mme. de Boufflers:

M. de Luze … says that she passes for wicked and quarrelsome and tattling, and is thought to be the chief cause of his quitting Neuchâtel [Môtiers]. He himself owns her to be so dull that she never knows in what year of the Lord she is, nor in what month of the year, nor in what day of the month or week; and that she can never learn the different values of the pieces of money in any country. Yet she governs him as absolutely as a nurse does a child. In her absence his dog has acquired this ascendancy. His affection for that creature is beyond all expression or conception.109

Meanwhile Thérèse had come to Paris. Boswell met her there, and offered to escort her to England. On February 12 Hume wrote to Mme. de Boufflers: “A letter has come to me by which I learn that Mademoiselle sets out post in company with a friend of mine, a young gentleman, very good-humored, very agreeable, and very mad. … He has such a rage for literature that I dread some event fatal to our friend’s honor.”110 Boswell claimed to have justified this premonition. According to pages, now destroyed,111 in his diary, he shared the same bed with Thérèse at an inn on the second night out from Paris, and several nights thereafter. They reached Dover early on February 11. The diary proceeds: “Wednesday, 12 February: Yesterday morning had gone to bed very early, and had done it once; thirteen in all. Was really affectionate to her. At two [P.M.] set out on the fly.” That same evening he took Thérèse to Hume in London, and promised her “not [to] mention affaire till after her death, or that of the philosopher.” On the thirteenth he “delivered her over” to Rousseau. “Quanta oscula. He seemed so oldish and weak you [Boswell] had no longer your enthusiasm for him.”112 Naturally.

At Chiswick, as at Môtiers, Rousseau received more mail than he wished, and complained of the postage he had to pay. One day, when Hume brought him a “cargo” from London, he refused to take it, and bade him return it to the post office. Hume warned him that in that case the postal officials would open the rejected mail and learn his secrets. The patient Scot offered to open such of Rousseau’s correspondence as came to London, and to bring him only so much as seemed important. Jean-Jacques agreed, but soon suspected Hume of tampering with his mail.

Invitations to dinner, usually including Mlle. Levasseur, came from notables in London; Rousseau refused them on the score of ill health, but probably because he was loath to reveal Thérèse to elevated company. He repeatedly expressed a wish to retire farther into the country. Hearing of this from Garrick, Richard Davenport offered him a home at Wootton in Derbyshire, 150 miles from London. Rousseau accepted gladly. Davenport sent a coach to transport him and Thérèse; Rousseau complained that he was being treated like a beggar, and he added to Hume: “If this be really a contrivance of Davenport’s you are acquainted with it and consenting to it, and you could not possibly have done me a greater displeasure.” An hour later (according to Hume),

he sat suddenly on my knee, threw his hands about my neck, kissed me with the greatest warmth, and, bedewing all my face with tears, exclaimed: “Is it possible you can ever forgive me, dear friend? After all the testimonies of affection I have received from you, I reward you at last with this folly and ill behavior. But I have, notwithstanding, a heart worthy of your friendship; I love you, I esteem you; and not an instance of your kindness is thrown away upon me.” … I kissed him and embraced him twenty times, with a plentiful effusion of tears.113

The next day, March 22, Jean-Jacques and Thérèse set off for Wootton, and Hume never saw them again. Soon afterward Hume wrote to Hugh Blair a perceptive analysis of Rousseau’s condition and character:

He was desperately resolved to rush into this solitude, notwithstanding all my remonstrances; and I foresee that he will be unhappy in that situation, as he has indeed been always in all situations. He will be entirely without occupation, without company, and almost without amusements of any kind. He has read very little in the course of his life, and has now totally renounced all reading; he has seen very little, and has no manner of curiosity to see or remark; … he has not, indeed, much knowledge. He has only felt, during the whole course of his life; and in this respect his sensibility rises to a pitch beyond what I have seen any example of, but it still gives him a more acute feeling of pain than of pleasure. He is like a man who were stript not only of his clothes but of his skin, and turned out in that situation to combat with the rude and boisterous elements, such as perpetually disturb this lower world.114

Rousseau and Thérèse arrived at Wootton on March 29. At first he was well pleased with his new home. He described it in a letter to a friend in Neuchâtel: “A solitary house, … not very large but very suitable, built halfway up the side of a valley”; before it “the loveliest lawn in the universe,” and a landscape of “meadows, trees, or scattered farms,” and, nearby, pleasant walks along a brook. “In the worst weather in the world I go tranquilly botanizing.”115 The Davenports occupied part of the house on their infrequent stops there, and their servants remained to take care of the philosopher and his “housekeeper.” Rousseau insisted on paying Davenport thirty pounds a year for rent and service.

His happiness lasted a week. On April 3 a London journal, the St. James Chronicle, published in French and English the supposed letter of Frederick the Great to Rousseau, with no indication of the real author. Jean-Jacques was deeply hurt when he learned of this, and all the more when he found that the editor, William Strahan, had long been a friend of Hume. Moreover, the tone of the British press toward Rousseau had distinctly changed since his departure from Chiswick. Articles critical of the eccentric philosopher multiplied; some contained items which he thought only Hume knew and could have supplied; in any case, he felt, Hume should have written something in defense of his former guest. He heard that the Scot was living in London in the same house with François Tronchin, son of Jean-Jacques’ enemy in Geneva; presumably Hume was now plentifully informed of Rousseau’s faults.

On April 24 Rousseau wrote to the St. James Chronicle as follows:

You have offended, sir, against the respect which every private person owes to a sovereign, by publicly attributing to the King of Prussia a letter full of extravagance and spite, which consequently you should have known could not have had this author. You have even ventured to transcribe his signature, as though you have seen it written by his hand. I inform you, sir, that this letter was fabricated in Paris; and what grieves and tears my heart especially is that the impostor who wrote it has accomplices in England. You owe it to the King of Prussia, to the truth, and also to me, to print this letter, signed by me, in reparation of an error which no doubt you would reproach yourself for having committed, did you know of what a wicked design you have been made the instrument. I offer you my sincere salutation.


We can understand now why Rousseau thought there was a “conspiracy” against him. Who but his old foes, Voltaire, Diderot, Grimm, and other lanterns of the Enlightenment, could have engineered the sudden change of tone in the British press from one of welcome and honor to one of ridicule and belittlement? About this time Voltaire published, anonymously, a Letter to Dr. J.-J. Pansophe, reproducing the unfavorable references to the English people in Jean-Jacques’ writings—that they were not really free, they cared too much for money, they were not “naturally good.” The most damaging items in Voltaire’s pamphlet were reprinted in a London periodical, Lloyd’s Evening News .117

On May 9 Rousseau wrote to Conway asking that the pension offered him be withheld for the time being. Hume urged him to accept it; Rousseau replied that he could not accept any benefit obtained through Hume’s mediation. Hume demanded an explanation. Brooding in his isolation, Rousseau seems now to have passed into a frenzy of suspicion and resentment. On July 10 he sent Hume a letter of eighteen folio pages, too long for total quotation, but so pivotal to a famous quarrel that some central passages must be borne in mind:

I am ill, sir, and little disposed for writing; but as you ask for an explanation, it must be given you. . . .

I live outside the world, and I remain ignorant of much that goes on in it. … I only know what I feel. . . .

You ask me, confidently, who is your accuser? Your accuser, sir, is the one man in the whole world whom … I would believe: it is yourself. … Naming David Hume as a third person, I will make you the judge of what I ought to think of him.

Rousseau acknowledged at length Hume’s benefactions, but added:

As for the real good done me, these services are more apparent than weighty.... I was not so absolutely unknown that, had I arrived alone, I should have gone without help or counsel.... If Mr. Davenport has been good enough to give me this habitation, it was not to oblige Mr. Hume, whom he did not know. … All the good that has befallen me here would have befallen me in much the same way without him [Hume]. But the evil that has befallen me would not have happened. For why should I have any enemies in England? And how and why does it happen that these enemies are precisely Mr. Hume’s friends? . . .

I heard also that the son of the mountebank Tronchin, my most mortal enemy, was not only the friend but the protégé of Mr. Hume, and that they lodged together. . . .

All these facts together made an impression upon me which rendered me anxious.... At the same time the letters I wrote did not reach their destination; those I received had been opened; and all these had passed through Mr. Hume’s hands. . . .

But what became of me when 1 saw in the public press the pretended letter from the King of Prussia? … A ray of light revealed to me the secret cause of the astonishingly sudden change toward me in the disposition of the British public; and I saw in Paris the center of the plot which was being executed in London. … When this pretended letter was published in London Mr. Hume, who certainly knew that it was fictitious, said not one word, wrote to me nothing. . . .

There remains only one word for me to say to you. If you are guilty, do not write to me; it would be useless; be assured you would not deceive me. But if you are innocent deign to justify yourself.... If you are not—farewell forever.118

Hume replied briefly (July 22, 1766), not meeting the charges, for he had come to the conclusion that Rousseau was verging upon insanity. “If I may venture to give my advice,” he wrote to Davenport, “it is that you would continue the charitable work you have begun, till he be shut up altogether in Bedlam.”119 Hearing that Rousseau had denounced him in letters to Paris (e.g., to the Comtesse de Boufflers, April 9, 1766), he sent to Mme. de Boufflers a copy of Jean-Jacques’ long letter. She replied to Hume:

Rousseau’s letter is atrocious; it is to the last degree extravagant and inexcusable. … But do not believe him capable of any falsehood or artifice; nor imagine that he is either an impostor or a scoundrel. His anger has no just cause, but it is sincere; of that I feel no doubt.

Here is what I imagine to be the cause of it. I have heard it said, and he has perhaps been told, that one of the best phrases in Mr. Walpole’s letter was by you, and that you had said in jest, speaking in the name of the King of Prussia, “If you wish for persecutions, I am a king, and can procure them for you of any sort you like,” and that Mr. Walpole … had said you were its author. If this be true, and Rousseau knows of it, do you wonder that, sensitive, hotheaded, melancholy, and proud, … he has become enraged?120

On July 26 Walpole wrote to Hume taking full blame—not expressing any repentance—for the false letter, and condemning Rousseau’s “ungrateful and wicked heart”;121 but he did not deny that Hume had had a hand in the letter. Hume wrote to d’Holbach, “You are quite right; Rousseau is a monster,” and withdrew the kindly words he had formerly used of Rousseau’s character.122 When he learned from Davenport that Jean-Jacques was writing Confessions he assumed that Rousseau would air his side of the affair. Adam Smith, Turgot, and Marischal Keith advised Hume to bear the attack in silence, but the philosophes of Paris, led by d’Alembert, urged him to publish his own account of a cause already célèbre in two capitals. So he issued (October, 1766) an Exposé succinct de la contestation qui s’est élevée entre M. Hume et M. Rousseau, which had been put into French by d’Alembert and Suard; a month later it appeared in English. Grimm gave its essence wide circulation in his subscription letter of October 15, so that the quarrel resounded in Geneva, Amsterdam, Berlin, and St. Petersburg. A dozen pamphlets redoubled the bruit. Walpole printed his version of the dispute; Boswell attacked Walpole; Mme. de La Tour’s Précis sur M. Rousseau called Hume a traitor; Voltaire sent him additional material on Rousseau’s faults and crimes, on his frequentation of “places of ill fame,” and on his seditious activities in Switzerland.123 George III “followed the battle with intense curiosity.”124 Hume sent the pertinent documents to the British Museum.125

Amid all this furor Rousseau maintained a somber silence. But he resolved now to return to France at whatever risk and cost. The damp climate of England, the reserve of the English character, depressed him; the solitude he had sought was greater than he could bear. Having made no attempt to learn English, he found it difficult to get along with the servants. He could converse only with Thérèse—who daily pleaded with him to take her to France. To further her plans she assured him that the servants were planning to poison him. On April 30, 1767, he wrote to his absent landlord, Davenport:

Tomorrow, sir, I leave your house.... I am not unaware of the ambushes which are laid for me, nor of my inability to protect myself; but, sir, I have lived; it remains for me only to finish bravely a career passed with honor. … Farewell, sir. I shall always regret the dwelling which I leave now; but I shall regret even more having had in you so agreeable a host, and yet not having been able to make of him a friend.126

On May 1 he and Thérèse fled in haste and fear. They left their baggage behind, and money to pay for thirteen months’ lodging. Unfamiliar with English geography, they took various circuitous conveyances, traveled part of the way on foot, and for ten days were lost to the world. The newspapers advertised their disappearance. On May 11 they turned up at Spalding in Lincolnshire. Thence they found their way to Dover, and there, on May 22, they embarked for Calais, after sixteen months in England. Hume wrote to Turgot and other friends,127 asking them to help the outcast who, still technically under warrant of arrest, now returned desolate to France.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!