His closest friends now were Grimm, Diderot, and Mme. d’Épinay. Grimm was born at Ratisbon in 1723, and was therefore eleven years younger than Rousseau. He was educated at Leipzig in the closing decade of Bach’s life, and received from Johann August Ernesti a solid grounding in the languages and literature of ancient Greece and Rome. Coming to Paris in 1749, he learned French with German thoroughness, and was soon writing articles for Le Mercure. In 1750 he became private secretary to Count von Friesen. His love of music attached him to Rousseau, while a deeper hunger brought him to the feet of Mlle. Fel, a singer at the opera. When she preferred M. Cahusac, Grimm, says Rousseau,
took this so much to heart that the appearances of his affliction became tragical. … He passed days and nights in a continued lethargy. He lay with his eyes open, … without speaking, eating, or stirring. … The Abbé Raynal and I watched over him; the Abbé, more robust than I, and in better health than I was, by night, and I by day, without ever both being absent at one time.141
Von Friesen summoned a doctor, who refused to prescribe anything except time. “At length, one morning, Grimm rose, dressed himself, and returned to his regular way of life, without either then or later mentioning … this irregular lethargy.”142
Rousseau introduced Grimm to Diderot, and the three dreamed of going to Italy together. Grimm absorbed avidly the stream of ideas spouting from the cornucopia of Diderot’s mind; he learned the language of the irreverent philosophes, wrote an agnosticCatéchisme pour les enfants, and advised von Friesen to take three mistresses at one time “in memory of the Holy Trinity.”143 Rousseau was irked by the growing intimacy between Grimm, whom Sainte-Beuve was to call “the most French of Germans,” and Diderot, “the most German of Frenchmen.”144 “Grimm,” Jean-Jacques complained, “you neglect me, and I forgive you for it.” Grimm took him at his word. “He said I was right, … and shook off all restraint; so that I saw no more of him except in company with our common friends.”145
In 1747 the Abbé Raynal had begun to send to French and foreign subscribers a fortnightly newsletter, Nouvelles littéraires, reporting events in the French world of letters, science, philosophy, and art. In 1753 he turned the enterprise over to Grimm, who, with help from Diderot and others, carried it on till 1790. Under Grimm the letters had many distinguished subscribers, including Queen Louisa Ulrika of Sweden, former King Stanislas Leszczyński of Poland, Catherine II of Russia, the Princess of Saxe-Gotha, the Prince and Princess of Hesse-Darmstadt, the Duchess of Saxe-Coburg, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Duke Karl August of Saxe-Weimar. Frederick the Great held back for a time, having several correspondents in France; finally he consented to receive the letters, but he never paid. Grimm’s first number (May, 1753) announced his plan:
In the sheets which are requested of us we shall not spend time over the brochures with which Paris is daily inundated; … rather we shall seek to give an exact account, a logical analysis (critique raisonnée) of the books which deserve to hold the attention of the public. The drama, which constitutes so brilliant a part of French literature, will be a considerable part of our report. In general we shall let nothing escape us which is worthy of the curiosity of other peoples.146
This famous Correspondance littéraire is now a chief and precious record for the intellectual history of France in the second half of the eighteenth century. Grimm could be forthright in his critiques, since these were not known to the French public or to the author discussed. He was usually fair, except, later, to Rousseau. He made many judicious judgments, but misjudged Candide as “unable to bear serious criticism”; this, however, was without prejudice, for he described Voltaire as “the most fascinating, the most agreeable, and the most famous man in Europe.”147 Voltaire returned the compliment in his impish way: “What is this Bohemian thinking about, to have more wit than we?”148 It was Grimm’s Correspondance, more than any other writings except Voltaire’s, that spread through Europe the ideas of the French Enlightenment. Yet he had his doubts of the philosophes and their faith in progress. “The world,” he said, “is made up of nothing but abuses which none but a madman would try to reform.”149 And in 1757 he wrote:
It seems to me that the eighteenth century has surpassed all others in the eulogiums that it has heaped upon itself.... A little more, and the best minds will persuade themselves that the mild and peaceful empire of philosophy is about to succeed the long tempests of unreason, and to establish forever the repose, the tranquillity, and the happiness of mankind. … But unluckily the true philosopher has less consoling but more accurate notions.... I am a long way from believing that we are approaching the age of reason, and I lack but little of believing that Europe is threatened by some fatal revolution.150
We catch here a hint of the pride and vanity that sometimes irritated Grimm’s friends. More Gallic than the Gauls, he spent hours on grooming himself, powdering his face and hair, and so sprinkling himself with perfume that he was nicknamed “the musk bear.”151 His Correspondance shows him scattering compliments with expectant hand. Frederick the Great made it a condition of subscribing to the letters that Grimm should “spare me his compliments.”152 Such flattery, of course, was part of epistolary style in the Old Regime.
Grimm, usually cold and calculating, caught the attention of Paris by almost dying for Mlle. Fel, and fighting a duel for Mme. d’Épinay. Louise-Florence Tardieu d’Esclavelles was the daughter of a Valenciennes baron who died in the King’s service in 1737. Eight years later Louise, aged twenty, married Denis-Joseph Lalive d’Épinay, son of a rich tax collector. They came to live in the handsome Château de la Chevrette, nine miles from Paris, near the Forest of Montmorency. Her happiness bubbled. “Will my heart ever be able to endure such happiness?” she wondered. She wrote to a cousin: “He was playing the harpsichord, I was sitting on the arm of his chair, my left hand resting on his shoulder, and my other hand turning over the leaves; he never missed kissing it each time it passed in front of his lips.”153
She was not beautiful, but she was charmingly petite, très bien faite (she tells us);154 and her big black eyes would later ravish Voltaire. But “always to feel the same thing” is soon “the same as to feel nothing”;155 after a year M. d’Épinay no longer noticed those eyes. He had been promiscuous before marriage, he became so again. He drank heavily, gambled heavily, and spent a fortune on the sisters Verrières, whom he installed in a cottage near La Chevrette. Meanwhile his wife bore him two children. In 1748 he returned from a trip in the provinces, slept with his wife, and infected her with syphilis. Broken in health and spirits, she secured a legal separation from her husband. He agreed to a generous settlement; she inherited the fortune of her uncle; she kept La Chevrette; she tried to forget her unhappiness by caring for her children and helping her friends. When one of these, Mme. de Julli, fell mortally ill of smallpox, Louise went to nurse her, and stayed with her to the end, running the risk of an infection that might have killed her or disfigured her for life.
All her friends agreed that she should take a lover. One came (1746), that same Dupin de Francueil who gave employment to Rousseau. He began with music, and ended with syphilis; he was soon cured, while she continued to suffer.156 He joined her husband in sharing the Desmoiselles de Verrières. Duelos told her bluntly, “Francueil and your husband have the two sisters between them.”157 She fell into a delirium that lasted thirty hours. Duclos sought to take Dupin’s place, but she sent him away. To these misfortunesanother was added. Mme. de Julli, dying, had given Louise a batch of papers revealing her amours, with an earnest request to burn them. Louise did. Then M. de Julli accused her of having knowingly burned the certificates of her own indebtedness to him. She denied the charge, but appearances were against her, for it was known that despite separation she was giving her husband financial help.
It was at this juncture that Grimm entered the drama. He had been introduced to Louise by Rousseau in 1751; the three had several times played or sung music together. One evening at a party given by Count von Friesen, a guest expressed conviction of Mme. d’Épinay’s guilt. Grimm defended her; argument rose to the point of honor; accuser and defender fought a duel; Grimm was slightly wounded. Soon afterward the lost documents were found; Madame was exonerated; she thanked Grimm as her preux chevalier,and their mutual esteem ripened into one of the most enduring loves of that fitful age. When Baron d’Holbach sickened with grief over the death of his wife, and Grimm went off to take care of him in the countryside, Louise asked him: “But who will be my knight, monsieur, if I am attacked in your absence?” Grimm answered: “The same as before—your past life.”158 The reply was not beyond cavil, but it was beyond praise.
Rousseau had met Mme. d’Épinay in 1748 at Mme. Dupin’s. She invited him to La Chevrette. Her Memoirs describe him fairly:
He pays compliments, yet he is not polite, or at least he is without the air of politeness. He seems to be ignorant of the usages of society, but it is easily seen that he is infinitely intelligent. He has a brown complexion, white eyes that overflow with fire and give animation to his expression. … They say he is in bad health, and endures agony which he carefully conceals.... It is this, I fancy, which gives him from time to time an air of sullenness.159
His picture of her is not very gallant:
Her conversation, though agreeable enough in mixed company, was uninteresting in private.... I was happy to show her little attentions, and gave her little fraternal kisses, which seemed not to be more sensual than herself. … She was very thin, very pale, and had a bosom like the back of her hand. This defect alone would have been sufficient to moderate my most ardent desires.160
For seven years he was welcomed in Mme. d’Épinay’s home. When she saw how uncomfortable he was in Paris, she thought of ways to help him, but she knew that he would refuse money. One day, as they were walking through her park behind La Chevrette, she showed him a cottage, called L’Hermitage, which had belonged to her husband. It was unused and in disrepair, but its situation, on the very edge of the Forest of Montmorency, excited Rousseau to exclaim: “Ah, madame, what a delightful habitation! This asylum was expressly prepared for me.”161 Madame made no reply, but when, in September, 1755, they walked again to the cottage, Rousseau was surprised to find it repaired, the six rooms furnished, and the grounds cleared and neat. He quotes her as saying: “My dear, here behold your refuge; it is you who have chosen it; friendship offers it to you. I hope this will remove your cruel idea of separating from me.” She knew that he had thought of residing in Switzerland; perhaps she did not know that his enthusiasm for Geneva had cooled. He “bathed with tears the beneficent hand” of his friend, but hesitated to accept her offer. She won Thérèse and Mme. Levasseur to her plan, and “at length she triumphed over all my resolutions.”
On Easter Sunday, 1756, adding grace to her gift, she came to Paris in her coach, and took her “bear,” as she called him, along with his mistress and his mother-in-law, to the Hermitage. Thérèse did not relish separation from Paris, but Rousseau, sniffing the air, was happier than at any time since his idyl with Mme. de Warens. “On April 9, 1756, I began to live.”162 Grimm darkened the occasion with a warning to Mme. d’Épinay:
You do Rousseau a very ill service by giving him the Hermitage, but you do yourself a very much worse one. Solitude will complete the work of blackening his imagination; all his friends will be, in his eyes, unjust and ungrateful, and you first of all, if you refuse a single time to place yourself at his orders.163
Then Grimm, now secretary to Maréchal d’Estrées, went off to play his part in the war that was to remake the map of the world.