Jean-Jacques Rousseau was an influential Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer of 18th-century Romanticism. His political philosophy deeply influenced the major revolutions like the French Revolution and the American Revolution. He was also responsible for the overall development of modern political, sociological and educational thought. His immensely popular sentimental novel, “Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse”, was of great importance to the development of pre-romanticism and romanticism in fiction. His political works like, “Discourse on the Origin of Inequality” and “On the Social Contract” are cornerstones in modern political and social thought and are inspirational for democratic government and social empowerment. He also made important contributions to music as a theorist. In 1794, sixteen years after his death, Rousseau was interred as a national hero in the Panthéon in Paris. His other important works include “Confessions”, “Reveries of a Solitary Walker” and “Émile: or, On Education”.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau Childhood and Early life
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born on June 28, 1712 in Geneva. His father, Isaac Rousseau, a watchmaker by profession was a well educated man with love for music. His mother, Suzanne Bernard Rousseau was the daughter of a Calvinist preacher. She died just nine days after his birth due to puerperal fever. Rousseau was only ten, when his father got into a legal quarrel with a wealthy landowner, who accused him of trespassing into his properties. His father moved away to Nyon in the territory of Bern, taking along Rousseau's aunt Suzanne with him. Rousseau was left with his maternal uncle, who sent him with a Calvinist minister in a hamlet outside Geneva for two years. He was accompanied by his maternal uncle’s son Abraham Bernard. During his stay at the hamlet, young Rousseau studied mathematics and drawing. He was deeply influenced by the religious service and for a while had ambitions of becoming a Protestant minister.
At the age of 15, Rousseau ran away from Geneva and took shelter with a Roman Catholic priest in adjoining Savoy. The priest introduced him to Françoise-Louise de Warens, a noblewoman of Protestant background. She was a professional lay proselytizer and was paid by the King of Piedmont to help bring Protestants to Catholicism. Rousseau was sent to Turin, to complete his conversion into Catholicism. Renounced by his father and uncle, he had no one to take care of him. He supported himself by working as a servant, secretary, and tutor, wandering in Italy and France. During this time he partly stayed with De Warens, whom he idolized and called his "maman". Pleased by his devotion, she tried to get him started in a profession. It is even said that, Rousseau briefly attended a seminary to become a priest. It was believed that when he turned 20, the relationship between him and De Warens turned into a romantic one. De Warens always remained a great influence in his life; she belonged to a circle of educated members of the Catholic clergy and introduced him to the world of letters and ideas. During his 20s, he studied philosophy, mathematics, and music. In 1737, he received a small portion of his mother’s inheritance, partly used it to repay De Warens for her financial support. In 1739, he took a tutor job in Lyon.
Career and Works
In the year 1742, Rousseau moved to Paris to present his new system of numbered musical notation to the Académie des Sciences. This system was proposed to be compatible with typography, and was based on a single line, displaying numbers representing intervals between notes and dots and commas indicating rhythmic values. The Academy considered it impractical and rejected it. For the next two years from 1743-1744, he worked as a secretary to the Comte de Montaigue, the French ambassador to Venice. He was ill-paid on this post which made him to quit it and return to Paris. In Paris, Rousseau fell in love with Thérèse Levasseur, a pretty seamstress and started supporting her big family. During this period, he became a close friend of French philosopher Diderot and started writing articles on music in 1749. In 1750, Rousseau wrote “Discourse on the Arts and Sciences” which gained him significant fame. In 1754, Rousseau returned to Geneva, reconverted to Calvinism and regained his official Genevan citizenship. The next year he completed his second major work, the “Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men”.
In 1761, Rosseau published a massive 800-page novel, “Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse” which proved to be immensely successful. The ecstatic descriptions of Swiss natural beauty in the book was liked and appreciated by masses. The next year in 1762, Rousseau published “Du Contrat Social, Principes du droit politique”. Later in May, he published “Emile: or, On Education”. The religious comments in these books turned both Protestant and Catholic authorities offensive towards him. His books were banned from France and Geneva. He was publicly condemned by the Archbishop of Paris, his books were burned, and warrants were issued for his arrest. Some of his former friends such as Jacob Vernes of Geneva didn’t accept his views and wrote violet rebuttals. Rousseau who thought of defending the religion was fiercely opposed and had to flee to avoid arrest. With the help of his powerful friends, Duc of Luxembourg and Prince de Conti, he flees to Neuchâtel, a Canton of the Swiss Confederation. They also help to distribute his banned books in France, disguised as other works using false covers and title pages.
During his exile, Rosseau stayed in the town of Môtiers, where he sought and found protection under Lord Keith. In Môtiers, he wrote the “Constitutional Project for Corsica”. On the night of September 6, 1765, his house in Môtiers was stoned and he had to take refuge in Great Britain with British philosopher David Hume. Hume helped him to find lodgings at a friend's country estate in Wootton in Staffordshire. Although he was officially barred from entering France before 1770, he returned to France in 1767 using a false name. It was believed that the next year in 1768, Rosseau sort of married Thérèse. This marriage was considered illegitimate as marriages between Catholics and Protestants were illegal. In 1770, Rosseau was allowed to enter Paris on a condition that he wouldn’t publish any books. In 1772, he was invited to present recommendations for a new constitution for the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, hence making “Considerations on the Government of Poland” his last major political work. In 1776, Rosseau finished “Dialogues: Rousseau Judge of Jean-Jacques” and started writing, the “Reveries of the Solitary Walker”. In last years of his life, Rosseau returned to copying music, spending his leisure time in the study of botany to support himself.
Rosseau suffered a hemorrhage and died on 2nd July, 1778, at the age of 66. He was initially buried at Ermenonville on the Ile des Peupliers. In 1794, his remains were moved to the Panthéon in Paris.