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Jean Jacques Rousseau
by [?]

Knowledge comes through desire, but where desire comes from no man can say. It surely is not a matter of will.

Jean Jacques had a hunger for knowledge, and this, some wise men say, is the precious legacy of mother to son. He wanted to know!

And it was this desire that shaped his career.

He asked questions of priests all day long, because he was filled with the fallacy that priests knew the secrets of the unknowable and were on friendly terms with God.

To escape importunity a priest sent him to Madame De Warens. Now Madame was a widow, rich and volatile, filled with a holy religious zeal. Where religion begins and sex ends no man can say–the books are silent and revelation is dumb. Indeed, there be those who are so bold as to say that art, love and religion are one.

Leaving this to the specialists, let us simply say that the love of learning landed Jean Jacques, aged seventeen, poetic and philosophic vagabond, into the precious care of Madame De Warens, who kept a religious retreat for novitiates intent on the ideal life.

The religion of Mohammed made converts in numbers like unto the sands of the desert, because they were promised a Paradise peopled by dark- eyed houris. Orthodoxy got its hold by a promise of rest, idleness and freedom from responsibility. The heaven into which Jean Jacques slipped was a combination of all that Allah, Gabriel and the seductive dreams of Moody, Sankey and such could provide. Science founded on truth can never be popular until mankind further evolves, since it offers nothing better than toil and difficulty, and after each achievement increased work as a reward for work. This condition stands no show when compared with a heaven that gives harps that never require tuning, robes that need not be laundered, and mansions that demand no plumbing.

Jean Jacques lived an ideal existence; he was the guest, pupil, servant and lover of the Religious Lady who kept the Religious Retreat. Also, he was immune from responsibility. But Paradise has one serious objection–the serpent. This time the serpent was jealousy. Whenever the Religious Lady had guests of quality, the snake sank its fangs deep into the quivering flesh of her valet-lover. Thus does the Law of Compensation never rest.

“What is your favorite book?” asked Ralph Waldo Emerson of George Eliot.

And the answer was, “Rousseau’s ‘Confessions.'”

And Emerson’s counter-confession was, “So is it mine.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning nibbled at the same cheese. But the belief now is that Rousseau’s “Confessions” is largely constructive truth, as differentiated from fact, and constructive truth is the thing which might have happened, but did not. Rousseau’s “Confessions” is a psychological study of hopes, desires, aspirations and hesitations, flavored with regrets. All literature is confession–vicarious confession. The gentle reader has the joy of doing the thing, and escaping the penalty.

* * * * *

Rousseu’s first literary effort to attract attention was written in his thirty-ninth year. It was merely an exercise penned with intent to show that so-called civilization had really polluted mankind and done more harm than good.

The essay was a subtle indictment of the times, with the French Government in mind, all from the standpoint of a Swiss. And it convinced at least one man–the author–of the truth of its allegations.

At this time there were in France more than a hundred offenses punishable with death. In the coronation oath of the King was a clause promising that he would exterminate all heretics. Just how this was to be done, the King left to experts. The “lettre de cachet,” or secret arrest, was in full swing and very popular among princes and church officials high in authority. Any suspected man could be removed from family and friends as though the earth had swallowed him. He went out to drive, or to walk, or to work, and was seen no more. Search was vain and inquiry useless–aye, worse, it might involve the inquirer. The writ of habeas corpus was as yet a barren hypothesis.