Jean Jacques Rousseau,
Painting by Quentin de La Tou
Holding the Hand of the Pupil
How did it come about that a man born poor, losing his mother at birth and soon deserted by his father, afflicted with a painful and humiliating disease, left to wander for twelve years among alien cities and conflicting faiths, repudiated by society and civilization, repudiating Voltaire, Diderot, the Encyclopedic, and the Age of Reason, driven from place to place as a dangerous rebel, suspected of crime and insanity, and seeing, in his last months, the apotheosis of his greatest enemy — how did it come about that this man, after his death, triumphed over Voltaire, revived religion, transformed education, elevated the morals of France, inspired the Romantic movement and the French Revolution, influenced the philosophy of Kant and Schopenhauer, the plays of Schiller, the novels of Goethe, the poems of Wordsworth, Byron, and Shelley, the socialism of Marx, the ethics of Tolstoi, and, altogether, had more effect upon posterity than any other writer or thinker of that eighteenth century in which writers were more influential than they had ever been before? Here, if anywhere, the problem faces us: what is the role of genius in history, of man versus the mass and the state?'
Thus Will and Ariel Durant open volume 10, Rousseau and Revolution, of the Story of Civilization. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in Geneva in 1712. His family was of French origin. The father was a master watchmaker, imaginative and unstable; the mother died within a week of Jean-Jacques 'birth. When he was ten his
1. Will Durant, "Rousseau and Revolution" in The Story of Civilization, vol. 10 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967), p. 3.
father fled Geneva to escape imprisonment (he had quarrelled with an acquaintance and given him a bloody nose), and from then on the boy lived the life of an orphan, He was apprenticed to an engraver who often beat him severely, and the once happy lad became a morose and unsociable introvert. He consoled himself with books and excursions into the countryside. In 1728 he left Geneva and from then on was to wander through Europe, usually on foot, seeking an elusive happiness. From his youth he was uncomfortable in the society of educated men, shy and wordless before beautiful women, but happy when alone with woods and fields, water and sky.
He made Nature his confidante and in silent speech told her his loves and dreams. He imagined that the moods of Nature entered at times into a mystic accord with his own. Though he was not the first to make men feel the loveliness of Nature, he was her most fervent and effective apostle; half the nature poetry since Rousseau is part of his lineage.1
Rousseau's formal education ended at the age of twelve, but an aptitude for music led to his becoming a music teacher and composer. One or two of his minor operas were quite popular in their day and his contemporaries considered him a musician of the first order, although today the rating would not be so high. Throughout his life Rousseau was to fall back on music as a means of livelihood, for his writings brought him more persecution than fortune.
In 1741 Rousseau moved to Paris where he made friends with Diderot who commissioned him to write the musical articles for the Encyclopedic In 1746, when he was thirty-four, he met Therese Levasseur, a servant girl in his boarding house. In his Confessions, Rousseau writes of Therese:
At first I decided to improve her mind; I was wasting my time. Her mind is as Nature made it; culture and teaching have no effect on it. I do not blush to admit that she has never been able to read properly, though she can write fairly well... She has never been able to recite the twelve months of the year in their proper order, and does not know a single figure, despite all the trouble I have taken to teach her...2
Nonetheless, he lived with her for the rest of his life. She was his most constant and faithful companion in a career strewn with aborted friendships and bitter misunderstandings. In 1768, ten years before his death, perhaps out of gratitude,
1. Ibid, p. 11.
2. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Confessions (Hannondsworth: Penguin Books, 1987), p. 311.
Rousseau legalized their bond with marriage.
In 1749 Diderot was imprisoned for offensive passages in some of his writings: Walking the ten miles from Paris, Rousseau often went to visit him in prison. On one of those visits he took a journal to read as he walked. In it he came across an announcement of an essay competition sponsored by the Dijon Academy on the question: "Has the restoration of the sciences and the arts contributed to corrupt or to purify morals? " He was tempted to compete, for he was now thirty-seven years old and it was time he made a name for himself. The result was the Discourse on Arts and Science that would spread his name from the salons of Paris throughout Europe. In a letter to his friend Malesherbes he described that fateful walk:
All at once I felt myself dazzled by a thousand sparkling lights. Crowds of vivid ideas thronged into my mind with a force and confusion that threw me into unspeakable agitation; I felt my head whirling in a giddiness like that of intoxication. A violent palpitation oppressed me. Unable to walk for difficulty in breathing, I sank down under one of the trees by the road, and passed half an hour there in such a condition of excitement that when I rose I saw that the front of my waistcoat was all wet with tears.... Ah, if ever I could have written a quarter of what I saw and felt under that tree, with what clarity I should have brought out all the contradictions of our social system! With what simplicity I should have demonstrated that man is by nature good, and that only our institutions have made him bad.
The last sentence was to be the theme song of his life. The Discourse took Paris by storm, and he won the first prize. At the height of the Age of Reason, a voice was raised against it, and in the decades to come that voice would triumph.
In the Discourse Rousseau blames the overly-sophisticated arts for many of society's ills. He attacks the philosophers who "sap the foundations of our faith, and destroy virtue ". As for science: "Let men learn for once that nature would have preserved them from science as a mother snatches a dangerous weapon from the hands of her child. "And he exalts virtue, saying, "Virtue! sublime science of simple minds... are not your principles graven upon every heart? Need we do more, to learn your laws, than... listen to the voice of conscience?... This is the true philosophy, with which we must learn to be content. "2
About that time (1752) Quentin de La Tour portrayed Rousseau in pastel, 7' showing him smiling, handsome and well-groomed. Diderot condemned the portrait
1. Durant.op. cit.,p. 19.
2. Ibid., p. 22.
as being unfaithful to Rousseau s somber temperament, and another contemporary described him thus: "A timid politeness, sometimes... so obsequious as to border on humility. Through his fearful reserve distrust was visible; his lowering eyes watched everything with a look full of gloomy suspicion. He seldom entered into conversation, and rarely opened himself to us. "'
But it seemed that everything about Rousseau provoked controversy. A visitor who met him a few years later had this to say: "You have no idea how charming his society is, what true politeness there is in his manners, what a depth of serenity and cheerfulness in his talk... To an expression of great mildness he unites a glance of fire, and eyes the vivacity of which was never seen. "2
The 1750 s saw mounting quarrels with Voltaire and Diderot, as his writings struck new notes of defiant independence. In 1754 another essay competition prompted a second discourse, the Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men. In it he argues that all economic, political, social and moral inequalities are unnatural and arise when men leave the "state of nature". "Man is naturally good, " he declares. This discourse contains the famous line, "If she
1. Ibid., p. 26.
2. Ibid., p. 205.
[Nature] destines man to be healthy, I venture to declare that a state of reflection is a state contrary to nature, and that a thinking man is a depraved animal. " Here he also makes a strong statement about the evils of private property:
The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying, This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes, might not anyone have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: "Beware of listening to this imposter; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody. "1
In 1758 he attacked his former friends, the Encyclopedistes, in a treatise which blasted cultured society. He and Therese moved to the country and the next five years were perhaps the most fruitful in his life. His novel La Nouvelle Heloi'se (1761) met with immediate and enormous success. It is a study of friendship and love which Rousseau raises to the level of philosophy. In 1762 he published his two most famous works: The Social Contract and Emile. In The Social ContractRousseau attempts to solve the problem of finding a "form of association which will defend and protect, with the whole common force, the person and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself to all, may still obey himself alone, and remain free as before. " It begins with the bold cry that was to inspire both the American and French revolutions and other revolutions to come in the following centuries: "Man is born free, and he is everywhere in chains. "
In Emile Rousseau proposed a revolution in education. The book is a treatise on education in the form of a novel. At a very young age Emile is given by his parents into the hands of the teacher, Jean-Jacques (Rousseau uses his own name). The novel traces the course of the boy's education from then until manhood and marriage. Will Durant gives a concise account of Emile.'
Rousseau began by rejecting existing methods as teaching, usually by rote, worn-out and corrupt ideas; as trying to make the child an obedient automaton in a decaying society; as preventing the child from thinking and judging for himself; as deforming him into a mediocrity and brandishing platitudes and classic tags. Such schooling suppressed all natural impulses, and made education a torture which every child longed to avoid. But education should be a happy process of natural unfolding, of
1. Ibid., p.30.
learning from nature and experience, of freely developing one s capacities into full and zestful living. It should be the "art of training men": the conscious guidance of the growing body to health, of the character to morality, of the mind to intelligence, of the feelings to self-control, sociability, and happiness.
Rousseau would have wanted a system of public instruction by the state, but as public instruction was then directed by the Church, he prescribed a private instruction by an unmarried tutor who would be paid to devote many years of his life to his pupil. The tutor should withdraw the child as much as possible from its parents and relatives, lest it be infected with the accumulated vices of civilization. Rousseau humanized his treatise by imagining himself entrusted with almost full authority over the rearing of a very malleable youth called Emile. It is quite incredible, but Rousseau managed to make these 450 pages the most interesting book ever written on education. When Kant picked up Emile he became so absorbed that he forgot to take his daily walk.
If nature is to be the tutor s guide, he will give the child as much freedom as safety will allow. He will begin by persuading the nurse to free the babe from swaddling clothes, for these impede its growth and the proper development of its limbs. Next, he will have the mother suckle her child instead of turning it over to a wet nurse; for the nurse may injure the child by harshness or neglect, or may earn from it, by conscientious care, the love that should naturally be directed to the mother as the first source and bond of family unity and moral order. Here Rousseau wrote lines that had an admirable effect upon the young mothers of the rising generation:
Would you restore all men to their primal duties? — begin with the mother; the results will surprise you. Every evil follows in the train of this first sin. ... The mother whose children are out of sight wins scanty esteem; there is no home life, the ties of nature are not strengthened by those of habit; fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters cease to exist. They are almost strangers; how should they love one another? Each thinks of himself. But when mothers deign to nurse their own children, there will be a reform in morals; natural feeling will revive in every heart; there will be no lack of citizens for the state; this first step will by itself restore mutual affection. The charms of home are the best antidote of vice. The noisy play of children, which we thought so trying, becomes a delight; mother and father... grow dearer to each other; the marriage tie is strengthened... Thus the cure of this one evil would work a widespread reformation; nature would regain her rights. When women become good mothers men will become good husbands and fathers.
Rousseau divided the educational career of his pupil into three periods: twelve years of childhood, eight of youth, and an indeterminate age of preparation for marriage and
parentage, for economic and social life. In the first period education is to be almost entirely physical and moral; books and book learning, even religion, must await the development of the mind; till he is twelve Emile will not know a word of history, and will hardly have heard any mention of God. Education of the body must come first. So Emile is brought up in the country, as the only place where life can be healthy and natural.
Men are not made to be crowded together in anthills, but scattered over the earth to till it. The more they are massed together, the more corrupt they become. Disease and vice are the sure results of overcrowded cities. . . . Man s breath is fatal to his fellows. . . . Man is devoured by our towns. In a few generations the race dies out or becomes degenerate; it needs renewal, and is always renewed from the country. Send your children out to renew themselves; send them to regain in the open field the strength lost in the foul air of our crowded cities.
Encourage the boy to love nature and the outdoors, to develop habits of simplicity, to live on natural foods. Is there any food more delectable than that which has been grown in one s own garden? A vegetarian diet is the most wholesome, and leads to the least ailments.
The indifference of children toward meat is one proof that the taste for meat is unnatural. Their preference is for vegetable foods, milk, pastry, fruit, etc. Beware of changing this natural taste and making your children flesh-eaters. Do this, if not for their health, then for the sake of their character. How can we explain away the fact that great meat-eaters are usually fiercer and more cruel than other men?
After proper food, good habits. Emile is to be taught to rise early. "We saw the sun rise in midsummer, we shall see it rise at Christmas; . . . we are no lie-abeds, we enjoy the cold." Emile washes often, and as he grows stronger he reduces the warmth of the water, till "at last he bathes winter and summer in cold, even in ice water. To avoid risk, this change is slow, gradual, imperceptible. " He rarely uses any headgear, and he goes barefoot all the year round except when leaving his house and garden. "Children should be accustomed to cold rather than heat; great cold never does them any harm if they are exposed to it soon enough. " Encourage the child's natural liking for activity. "Don't make him sit still when he wants to run about, nor run when he wants to be quiet.... Let him run, jump, and shout to his heart's content. "Keep doctors away from him as long as you can. Let him learn by action rather than by books or even by teaching; let him do things himself; just give him materials and tools. The clever teacher will arrange problems and tasks, and will let his pupil learn by hitting a thumb
and stubbing a toe; he will guard him from serious injury but not from educative pains. Nature is the best guide, and should be followed this side of such injury:
Let us lay it down as an incontrovertible rule that the first impulses of nature are always right. There is no original sin in the human heart.... Never punish your pupil, for he does not know what it means to do wrong. Never make him say, "Forgive me. "... Wholly unmoral in his actions, he can do nothing morally wrong, and he deserves neither punishment nor reproof.... First leave the germ of his character free to show itself; do not constrain him in anything; so you will better see him as he really is.
However, he will need moral education; without it he will be dangerous and miserable. But don't preach. If you want your pupil to learn justice and kindness, be yourself just and kind, and he will imitate you. "Example! Example! Without it you will never succeed in teaching children anything." Here too you can find a natural basis. Both goodness and wickedness (from the viewpoint of society) are innate in man; education must encourage the good and discourage the bad. Self-love is universal, but it can be modified until it sends a man into mortal peril to preserve his family, his country, or his honor. There are social instincts that preserve the family and the group as well as egoistic instincts that preserve the individual. Sympathy (pitie) may be derived from self-love (as when we love the parents who nourish and protect us), but it can/lower into many forms of social behaviour and mutual aid. Hence some kind of conscience seems universal and innate.
Cast your eyes over every nation of the world, peruse every volume of its history; amid all these strange and cruel forms of worship, in this amazing variety of manners and customs, you will everywhere find the same [basic] ideas of good and evil.... There is, at the bottom of our hearts, an inborn principle of justice and virtue by which, despite our maxims, we judge our own actions, or those of others, to be good or evil; and it is this principle that we call conscience.
Whereupon Rousseau breaks out into an apostrophe which we shall find almost literally echoed in Kant:
Conscience! Conscience! Divine instinct, immortal voice from heaven; sure guide of a creature ignorant and finite indeed, yet intelligent and free, infallible, judge of good and evil, making man like to God! In thee consists the excellence of man s nature and the morality of his actions; apart from. thee I find nothing in myself to raise me above the beasts — nothing but
the sad privilege of wandering from one error to another by the help of an unbridled intellect and reason which knows no principle.
So intellectual education must come only after the formation of moral character. Rousseau laughs at Locke's advice to reason with children:
Those children who have been constantly reasoned with strike me as exceptionally silly. Of all human faculties reason... is the last and choicest growth — and you would use this for the child's early training? To make a man reasonable is the coping stone of a good education, and yet you profess to train a child through his reason. You begin at the wrong end.
No; we must, rather, retard mental education. "Keep the child's mind [intellect] idle as long as you can. " If he has opinions before he is twelve you may be sure they will be absurd. And don't bother him yet with science; this is an endless chase, in which everything that we discover merely adds to our ignorance and our foolish pride. Let your pupil learn by experience the life and workings of nature; let him enjoy the stars without pretending to trace their history.
At the age of twelve intellectual education may begin, and Emile may read a few books. He may make a transition from nature to literature by reading Robinson Crusoe, for that is the story of a man who, on his island, went through the various stages through which men passed from savagery to civilization. But by the age of twenty Emile will not have read many books. He will quite ignore the salons and the philosophes. He will not bother with the arts, for the only true beauty is in nature. He will never be "a musician, an actor, or an author. " Rather, he will have acquired sufficient skill in some trade to earn his living with his hands if that should ever be necessary. (Many a tradeless emigre, thirty years later, would regret having laughed, as Voltaire did, at Rousseau's "gentilhomme menuisier" —gentleman carpenter.) In any case Emile (though he is heir to a modest fortune) must serve society either manually or mentally. "The man who eats in idleness what he has not earned is a thief. "1
Emile learns to be a cabinet maker and finally meets Sophie, an idealized country girl, and marries her. At the end of the book he announces to his beloved teacher that he is going to be a father, and will try to educate his child. "But continue to be the teacher of the young teachers, " Emile pleads to Jean-Jacques. "Advise and control us; we shall be easily led; as long as I live I shall need you.... You have done your duty; teach me to follow your example, while you enjoy the leisure you have earned so well. "2
1. Ibid., pp. 179-82.
2. Ibid., p. 187.
So startlingly revolutionary was Emile, so open in its attack upon the evils of society and of established Christianity, that a decree was issued for Rousseau's arrest, and the Parlement of Paris was told:
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...
That in consequence he dares seek to destroy the truth of Sacred Scripture... and the authority of the Church ...
The author of this book... should be arrested as soon as possible...1
Emile was publicly torn and burned on 11 June 1762. Rousseau had already fled to Switzerland. Nonetheless, this remarkable book set some standards for the good pupil and the good teacher which can inspire us even today.
From the burning of Emile onwards, Rousseau was hounded, or felt himself hounded, from country to country, from home to home. The British philosophy David Hume was struck by Rousseau s writings and offered him refuge in England Rousseau accepted and he and Therese arrived in London in early 1766. Bin Rousseau quickly succeeded in making an enemy of Hume, and sixteen months later the couple was back in France to continue their continental peregrinations.
Despite a promise that he had made in 1762 to write no more books, Rousseau had been stung into renewed composition by the constant attacks of his enemies. To answer these and all the unkind Paris gossip, he had undertaken the Confessions, which was completed in 1770. In it he set out to win his readers 'sympathy, and the sympathy of posterity, which might compensate him for the misunderstandings of which he felt he had been a victim throughout the long misery of his life. His method was to give form to his feelings while at the same time narrating the events of his early years. What was important to him was not so much to tell his history and achievements, as to prove himself a man who, with all his imperfections, was fundamentally honest and good and the innocent victim of persecution. For this purpose he took particular pains to record, and even to exaggerate, the more disgraceful sides of his nature.
1. Ibid., pp. 189-90.
I have displayed myself as I was, as vile and despicable when my behaviour was such, as good, generous, and noble when I was so. I have bared my secret soul as Thou thyself hast seen it, Eternal Being! So let the numberless legion of my fellow men gather round me, and hear my confessions. Let them groan at my depravities, and blush for my misdeeds. But let each one of them reveal his heart at the foot of Thy throne with equal sincerity, and may any man who dares, say "I was a better man than he. "1
Such disconcerting frankness is one aspect of the Confessions which has made it fascinating reading ever since. Perhaps no other autobiographer has bared himself so candidly. "... so faithfully did Rousseau recall his earliest feelings when at the age of fifty-four he began to write his Confessions, " writes one modern critic, "that we have not only a beautifully etched outline of those far-away childhood scenes, but a clear picture as well... of the formative influence of those first incidents on the unattractive, hypersensitive small boy that he was, and through him on the European thought of two centuries. "2
In the last years of Rousseau's life his bitterness diminished. At that time he mote his most beautiful book, Reveries of a Solitary Walker, harking back to the days when he had wandered alone throughout Europe. In it he suggests that the meditative spirit may always find in Nature a deeply nourishing response to its innermost moods. In the spring of 1778 Rousseau and Therese moved from Paris to a cottage in the countryside where he died on 1 July. On July 4 Rousseau was buried on the Isle of Poplars situated in a small lake thirty miles from Paris. For a long time thereafter the isle was a place of pilgrimage; all the world of fashion, even the Queen of France, went to worship at Rousseau's tomb. In 1794 his remains were removed to the Pantheon in Paris and were laid beside those of his old enemy, Voltaire.
Rousseau's influence on Western civilization has been immense. He was the father of the Romantic movement that swept across Europe in the nineteenth century and inspired the poetry of Wordsworth. Thomas Jefferson derived the Declaration of Independence partly from Rousseau, and it is said that Napoleon ascribed the French Revolution more to Rousseau than to any other writer. Not least significant, education still feels repercussions from Emile. The book's educational ideas stimulated Pestalozzi in Switzerland, Maria Montessori in Italy, and John Dewey in America; "progressive education " is part of Rousseau s legacy.
1. Rousseau, op cit.,p. 17
.2. From J. M. Cohen, Introduction, in Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Confessions, p. 8.
And thus we find that the solitary, brooding and often unhappy genius gave impetus to an educational and cultural movement that would bring hitherto unheard of joy and freedom to generations of children more fortunate than he. Will Durant assesses the importance of Emile:
After two centuries of laudation, ridicule, and experiment, the world is generally agreed that Emile is beautiful, suggestive, and impossible. Education is a dull subject, for we remember it with pain, we do not care to hear about it, and we resent any further imposition of it after we have served our time at school. Yet of tins forbidding topic Rousseau made a charming romance. The simple, direct, personal style captivates us despite some flowery exaltations; we are drawn along and surrender ourselves to the omniscient tutor, though we should hesitate to surrender our sons...1
Like his master Plato, he took the child away from the contagion of his parents in the hope that the child, graduating from a saving education, would then befit to rear his own children. And like Plato, he "laid up in heaven a pattern" of a perfect state or method, so that "he who desires may behold it, and beholding, may govern himself accordingly. " He announced his dream, and trusted that somewhere, to some men and women, it would carry inspiration and make for betterment. It did.2
Brooke Boothby, a writer and a friend of Rousseau, whose ideals he promoted in England.
He is depicted here a copy of one of his friend's books under his hand.
1. Durant, op. cit., p. 187.
2. Ibid., p. 188.
Omen, be humane; it is your foremost duty. Be humane to all classes and to all ages, to everything not foreign to mankind. What wisdom is there for you outside of humanity? Love childhood; encourage its sports, its pleasures, its amiable instincts. Who of you has not sometimes looked back with regret on that age when a smile was ever on the lips, when the soul was ever at peace? Why would you take from those little innocents the enjoyment of a time so short which is slipping from them, and of a good so precious which they can not abuse? Why would you fill with bitterness and sorrow those early years so rapidly passing, which will no more return to them than to you?
(...) In order to strengthen the body and to make it grow, Nature resorts to means which ought never to be thwarted. A child must not be constrained to keep still when he wishes to move, nor to move when he wishes to remain quiet. When the will of children has not been spoiled by our fault, they wish nothing that is to no purpose. They must jump, and run, and scream, whenever they have a mind to do so. All their movements are needs of their constitution which is trying to fortify itself; but we should distrust the desires which they themselves have not the power to satisfy. We must then be careful to distinguish the true or natural need from the fancied need which begins to appear, or from that which comes merely from that superabundance of life of which I have spoken.
(...) There is an excess of severity and an excess of indulgence, and both are equally to be avoided. If you allow children to suffer, you expose their health and their life, and make them actually miserable; if you are overcareful in sparing them every sort of discomfort, you are laying up in store for them great wretchedness by making them delicate and sensitive; you remove them from that condition of men to which they will one day return in spite of you. In order not to expose them to some ills of Nature, you are the author of others which she has not provided for them. You will tell me that I fall into the error of those unwise fathers whom I reproach with sacrificing the happiness of children out of consideration for a remote time which may never come. By no means; for the liberty which I grant my pupil amply rewards
him for the slight discomforts to which I allow him to be exposed. I see little vagabonds playing in the snow, purple with cold, benumbed and hardly able to move their fingers. They are at liberty to go and warm themselves, but they do not do it; and if they were forced to go they would feel the rigors of constraint a hundred times more than they feel those of the cold. Of what, then, do you complain? Shall I make your child wretched by exposing him only to the discomforts which he is perfectly willing to suffer? I am doing him good at the present moment by leaving him free; and I am doing him a future good by arming him against ills which he ought to endure. If he could choose between being my pupil and yours, do you think he would hesitate for an instant?
(...) The master-work of a good education is to make a reasonable man, and we propose to train up a child through the reason! This is to begin at the end, and to confound the instrument with the work. If children were capable of reasoning, they would have no need of being educated; but by speaking to them from their earliest years in a language they do not understand, we accustom them to be satisfied with words, to pass judgment on everything said to them, to esteem themselves just as wise as their teachers, and to become disputatious and stubborn; and whatever we expect to obtain from them by reasonable motives we never obtain save by motives of selfishness, fear, or vanity, which we are always obliged to add to the first.
Here is the formula to which may be reduced almost all the moral lessons which are given, or may be given, to children:
Teacher: You must not do that. Child: And why must I not do that? T. Because it is wrong. C. Wrong! What is it to do wrong? T. To do what is forbidden. C. What is the penalty for doing what is forbidden? T. You will be punished for your disobedience. C. I will do it in such a way that nothing will be known about it.T. You will be watched. C. I will hide myself. T. You will be questioned. C. I will lie, T. You must not lie. C. Why must I not lie? T. Because it is wrong to lie. Etc., etc.
(...) In attempting to convince your pupils of the duty of obedience, you add force and threats to this pretended persuasion, or, still worse, flattery and promises. In this way, then, baited by interest or constrained by force, they pretend to be convinced by reason; they see very clearly that obedience is very advantageous to them, and rebellion harmful, the moment you become aware of either. But as you exact nothing of them which is not disagreeable and as it is always painful to obey the wills of others, they secretly gratify their own wishes, persuaded that they are
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, by Houdon
doing right as long as their disobedience is unknown, but ready to acknowledge that they have done wrong if they are found out, for fear of a greater evil. The ground of duty not being within the compass of their years, there is not a man living who can succeed in making them truly conscious of it; but the fear of punishment, the hope of pardon, importunity, and embarrassment at replying, draw from them all the confessions that are exacted; and we fancy that they have been convinced when they have only been wearied or intimidated.
What follows? In the first place, by imposing on them a duty which they do not feel, you arm them against your tyranny; then you teach them to become insincere, deceitful, untruthful, in order to extort rewards or, to escape punishments; and, finally, accustoming them always to cover a secret motive with an apparent motive, you yourselves furnish them the means of imposing on you constantly, of depriving you of the knowledge of their true character, and on occasion of satisfying you and others with empty words. The laws, you will say, though obligatory on the conscience, also employ restraint in the case of grown men. This I grant; but what
are these men but children who have been spoiled by education? This is precisely what we must prevent.
(...) Do not give your pupil any sort of verbal lesson, for he is to be taught only by experience. Inflict on him no species of punishment, for he does not know what it is to be in fault. Never make him ask your pardon, for he does not know how to offend you. Divested of all morality in his actions, he can do nothing which is morally wrong, and which merits either chastisement or reprimand.
I see that the reader, already dismayed, is judging of this child by his own. But he is mistaken. The perpetual restraint under which you hold your pupils irritates their spirits; and the more they are held in constraint under your eyes, the more turbulent they become the moment they regain their liberty. They must needs compensate themselves, when they can, for the harsh constraint in which you hold them. Two pupils from the city will do more mischief in the country than the youth of a whole village. Shut up a little gentleman and a little peasant in the same room, and the first will have overturned and broken everything before the second has stirred from his place. Why is this, unless the one is in haste to abuse a moment of license; while the other, always sure of his liberty, is never in haste to make use of it? And yet, village children, often humored or thwarted, are still very far from the condition in which I would have them kept.
Shall I venture to state, at this point, the most important, the most useful rule, of all education? It is not to gain time, but to lose it. Ye ordinary readers, pardon my paradoxes, for they must be uttered by any one who reflects; and, whatever you may say to it, I would much rather be a man of paradoxes than a man of prejudices. The most dangerous period in human life is the interval between birth and the age of twelve. It is the time when errors and vices germinate, and when, as yet, there is no instrument to destroy them; and when the instrument comes, the roots have gone down so deep that the time has passed for pulling them out. If children leaped at a single bound from the state of nurslings to the age of reason, the current education might be the best for them; but in accordance with natural progress they require an education of a totally different sort.
(...) Cease to blame others for your own faults. The evil which children see corrupts them less than the evil which you teach them. Always preaching, always moralizing, always playing the pedant, for one idea which you give them in the belief that it is good, you give them at the same time twenty others which are worth
nothing. Full of what is passing in your own head, you do not see the effect which you are producing in theirs. In that long stream of words with which you are incessantly tiring them, do you think there is not one which is thus wrongly apprehended? Do you think that they do not comment in their way on your diffuse explanations, and that they do not find in them material for constructing a system of their own, which they will find occasion to set up against you?
Listen to a little fellow whom you have just indoctrinated: let him chatter, ask questions, and run on at his ease; and you will be surprised at the strange turn your arguments have taken in his mind. He confounds all you have said, perverts your entire meaning, puts you out of patience, and sometimes dismays you by unforeseen objections. He reduces you to silence or causes you to silence him; and what can he think of that silence on the part of a man who has such love for talking? If he once carries off this advantage and becomes conscious of it, farewell to education. From this moment there is nothing more to be done; he seeks no longer to be instructed, but searches for opportunities to refute your arguments.
(...) Readers, always bear in mind that he who speaks to you is neither a scholar nor a philosopher, but a plain man, a friend of truth, attached to no system or party; a recluse, who, living little among men, has fewer occasions for being imbued with their prejudices, and more time for reflecting on what strikes him when he associates with them. My arguments are founded less on principles than on facts; and I imagine I can not better put you in a condition to judge of them than by frequently reporting to you some instance of the observations which have suggested them to me.
I once spent a few days in the country at the house of a lady who took great interest in the education of her children. One morning as I was present at the lesson of the eldest, his tutor, who had very thoroughly instructed him in ancient history, calling up the story of Alexander, dwelt on the well-known incident of his physician Philip, which has often been represented on canvas, and is surely well worth the trouble.' The tutor, a man of worth, made several reflections on the intrepidity of Alexander which did not please me, but which I refrained from combating in order not to discredit him in the estimation of his pupil. At table, according to the French custom, there was no lack of effort to make the little fellow chatter with great freedom.
After dinner, suspecting from several indications that my young savant had comprehended nothing whatever of the history that had been so finely recited to him, I took him by the hand and we made the tour of the park together. Having questioned
him with perfect freedom, I found that he admired the boasted courage of Alexander more than any other one of the company; but can you imagine in what particular he saw his courage? It was merely in the fact of having swallowed at a single draught a disagreeable potion without hesitation, without the least sign of disgust. The poor child, who had been made to take medicine not a fortnight before, and who had swallowed it only after infinite effort, still had the taste of it in his mouth. In his mind, death and poisoning passed for disagreeable sensations, and he could conceive no other poison than senna. However, it must be acknowledged that the firmness of the hero had made a strong impression on his young heart, and that he had resolved to be an Alexander the very first time he should find it necessary to swallow medicine. Without entering into explanations which were evidently beyond his capacity, I confirmed him in these laudable intentions, and I returned laughing in my sleeve at the exalted wisdom of parents and teachers who think that they can teach history to children.
It is easy to put into their mouths the words kings, empires, wars, conquests, revolutions, and laws', but when it comes to attaching definite ideas to these words, there will be a long distance between all these explanations and the conversation with Robert the gardener.
(...) Children, who are great imitators, all try their hand at drawing. I would have my pupil cultivate this art, not exactly for the art itself, but for rendering the eye accurate and the hand flexible; and, in general, it is of very little consequence that he understand such or such an exercise, provided he acquire the perspicacity of sense, and the correct habit of body, which are gained from that exercise. I shall take great care, therefore, not to give him a drawing-master who will give him only imitations to imitate, and will make him draw only from drawings. He shall have no master but Nature, and no models but objects. He shall have before his eyes the very original, and not the paper which represents it; he shall draw a house from a house, a tree from a tree, a man from a man, so as to become accustomed to observe bodies and their appearances correctly, and not to take false and conventional imitations for real imitations. I shall discourage him even from tracing anything from memory in the absence of objects, until, by frequent observations, their exact figures are firmly impressed on his imagination; for fear that, substituting odd and fantastic forms for the truth of things, he lose the knowledge of proportions and the taste for the beauties of Nature.
(...) When I represent to myself a child from ten to twelve years old, healthy, vigorous, and well formed for his age, he does not excite in me an idea which is not" agreeable, either for the present or for the future. I see him impetuous, sprightly, animated, without corroding care, without long and painful foresight, wholly absorbed in his actual existence, and enjoying a plenitude of life which seems bent on reaching out beyond him. I look forward to another period of life, and I see him exercising the senses, the mind, and the powers which are being developed within him from day to day, and of which he gives new evidences from moment to moment. I contemplate the child, and he pleases me; I imagine the man, and he pleases me more; his ardent blood seems to add warmth to my own; I seem to live with his life, and his vivacity makes me young again.
(...) We are fond of forming happy predictions of children, and we always feel regret for that stream of absurdities which almost always comes to overthrow the hopes that we have founded on some happy witticism which has chanced to fall from their lips. If my pupil rarely furnishes such hopes, he will never occasion this regret;
for he never speaks a useless word, and does not exhaust himself on babble which he knows receives no attention. His ideas are limited, but they are clear; if he knows nothing by heart, he knows much by experience; if he reads less than other children in our books, he reads better in the book of Nature; his mind is not in his tongue, but in his head; he has less memory than judgment; he knows how to speak but one language, but he understands what he says; and if he does not speak as well as others, he has the merit of doing better than they do.
(...) Emile has arrived at the end of the period of infancy, has lived the life of a child, and has not bought his perfection at the cost of his happiness. On the contrary, they have lent each other mutual aid. While acquiring all the reason suited to his age, he has been as happy and as free as his constitution permitted him to be. If the fatal scythe has come to cut down in him the flower of our hopes, we shall not have to mourn at the same time his life and his death, nor to intensify our griefs by the recollection of those which we have caused him; and we can say to ourselves that he has at least enjoyed his childhood, and that we have caused him to lose nothing of all that Nature had given him.
The great disadvantage of this primary education is that none but clear-sighted men take account of it, and that, in a child educated with such care, vulgar eyes see nothing but a vagabond. A teacher thinks of his own interest rather than that of his
pupil. He endeavors to prove that he does not waste his time, and that he earns the money which is paid him; and so he furnishes the child with acquisitions capable of easy display, and which can be exhibited at will. Provided it can easily be seen, it matters not whether what he learns is useful. He stores his memory with this rubbish, without discernment and without choice. When the time comes for examining the child, he is made to display his wares; he brings them out, and we are satisfied; then he ties up his bundle and goes his way. My pupil is not so rich; he has no bundle to display, and has nothing to show but himself. Now, a child can no more be seen in a moment than a man. Where are the observers who can seize at the first glance the traits which characterize him? There are such, but they are few; and out of a hundred fathers not one of this number will be found.
Too many questions weary and disgust people in general, and especially children. At the end of a few minutes their attention flags; they no longer hear what a persistent questioner requires of them, and no longer reply save at random. This manner of examining them is vain and pedantic. It often happens that a random word portrays their mind and heart better than a long discourse could do; but care must be taken that this word is neither dictated nor fortuitous. We must have good judgment ourselves in order to appreciate the judgment of a child.
I once heard the late Lord Hyde relate an anecdote concerning one of his friends, who, having returned from Italy after an absence of three years, wished to examine the progress of his son, a boy nine or ten years of age. In company with the child and his tutor, they were walking one afternoon where pupils were engaged in the sport of flying their kites. As they were going along, the father said to his son, "Where is the kite whose shadow we see yonder?" Without hesitating or raising his head, the child replied, "On the highway." And in fact, added Lord Hyde, the highway was between us and the sun. At this reply the father embraced his son, and, finishing the examination at that point, continued his walk without saying a word, The next day he sent the tutor a life-pension in addition to his salary.
What a man that father was! And what a son was promised him.2 The question was precisely adapted to the child's age. The reply was very simple; but observe what accuracy of childish judgment it supposes. It is thus that Aristotle's pupil3 tamed the celebrated steed4 which no horseman could subdue.
(...) Always recollect that the spirit of my system is not to teach the child many things, but never to allow anything to enter his mind save ideas which are accurate and clear. Though he learn nothing, it is of little importance to me provided he is not
deceived; and I furnish his head with truths only to protect him from errors which he would learn in their place. Reason and judgment come slowly; but prejudices rush- forward in flocks, and it is from these that he must be preserved. But if you make knowledge your sole object, you enter a bottomless and shoreless sea, everywhere strewn with rocks, and you will never extricate yourself from it. When I see a man smitten with the love of knowledge allow himself to be seduced by its charm, and to run from one subject to another without knowing how to stop, I fancy I see a child upon the sea-shore gathering shells. At first, he loads himself with them; then, tempted by those he sees beyond, he throws them away and picks up others, until, weighed down by their number, and not knowing what to select, he ends by throwing all away and returns empty-handed.
During the period of infancy the time was long, and we sought only to lose it, for fear of making a bad use of it. It is now the very reverse of all this, and we have not time enough in which to do all that is useful. Reflect that the passions are approaching, and that the moment they knock at the door your pupil will no longer be attentive save to them. The peaceful epoch of intelligence is so short, it passes so rapidly, it has so many necessary uses, that it is folly to imagine that it suffices to make a child wise. It is not proposed to teach him the sciences, but to give him a taste for them, and methods for learning them, when this taste shall be better developed. Without doubt this is the fundamental principle of all good education.
This is also the time for accustoming the pupil, little by little, to give consecutive attention to the same subject; but it is never constraint, but always pleasure or desire, which should produce this attention. Great care should be taken that attention does not become a burden to him, and that it does not result in ennui.Therefore, keep a watchful eye over him, and, whatever may happen, abandon everything rather than have his tasks become irksome; for how much he learns is of no account, but only that he does nothing against his will.
If he asks you questions, reply just enough to stimulate his curiosity, but not enough to satisfy it. Above all, when you see that, instead of asking questions for instruction, he undertakes to beat the bush and to annoy you with silly questions, stop on the instant, for you may then be sure that he no longer cares for the thing itself, but merely to subject you to his interrogations. You must have less regard to the words which he pronounces than for the motive which prompts him to speak. This caution, hitherto less necessary, becomes of the utmost importance the moment the child begins to reason.
(...) We were observing the position of the forest at the north of Montmorency when he interrupted me by his importunate question, Of what use is that. You are right, I say to him; we must think of that at our leisure; and if we find that this work is good for nothing, we will not resume it, for we have no lack of useful amusements. We occupy ourselves with something else, and the question of geography is not raised for the rest of the day.
On the following morning I propose to him a walk before breakfast; he asks nothing better. Children are always ready for a ramble, and this one has good legs. We enter the forest, we stroll through the meadows, we become lost, we no longer know where we are; and when we attempt to return we are no longer able to find our way back. Time passes, the heat increases, and we are hungry; we hurry on, we wander about to no purpose from place to place, and everywhere we find but woods, walks, plains, but no information for finding our way. Very warm, very weary, very hungry, the only purpose served by our wanderings is to lead us farther astray. We finally seat ourselves in order to rest and deliberate.
Emile, whom I suppose to be educated as other children are, does not deliberate; he weeps. He does not know that we are at the gate of Montmorency, and that a simple hedge conceals it from us; but this hedge is a forest for him; a man of his stature is buried in bushes.
Rousseau's residence in Montmorency
After a few moments' silence, I say to him with a disturbed air: "My dear Emile, how shall we proceed to get out of this place?"
EMILE (dripping with sweat and weeping bitterly). "I know nothing about it. I am tired, hungry, and thirsty; I can do nothing more."
JEAN JACQUES. "Do you fancy I am in a better condition than you are, and do you think that I should fail to weep if I could dine on my tears? It is not a question of weeping, but of finding our way. Let us see your watch; what time is it?"
E. "It is noon, and I have not had my breakfast."
J J. "That is true; it is noon, and I, too, have had nothing to eat."
E. "Oh, then you too must be-hungry!"
J J. "The misfortune is that my dinner will not come to find me here. It is noon, and it is exactly the hour when we were observing yesterday from Montmorency the position of the forest. If we could also observe from the forest the position of Montmorency? ..."
E. "Oh, yes; but yesterday we saw the forest, and from this place we do not see the city."
J J. "This is the difficulty — If we could do without seeing it and still find its position?..."
E. "0 my good friend!"
J J. "Did we not say that the forest was? ..."
E. "At the north of Montmorency."
J J. "Consequently, Montmorency should be ..."
E. "At the south of the forest."
J J. "We have a means of finding the north at noon."
E. "Yes, by the direction of a shadow."
J J. "But the south?"
E. "How shall we find it?"
J J. "The south is opposite the north."
E. "That is true; we have only to look opposite the shadow. Oh! there is the south! There is the south! Surely Montmorency is in that direction; let us look for it there."
J J. "Perhaps you are right; let us take this path through the woods."
E. (clapping his hands and shouting for joy). "Ah! I see Montmorency! There it is before us, in plain sight. Let us go to breakfast, let us go to dinner, let us make haste. Astronomy is good for something."
(...) Never direct the child's attention to anything which he can not see. While humanity is almost unknown to him, as you are not able to raise him to the state of man, lower man for him to the state of childhood. While thinking of what would be useful to him at another age, speak to him only of that whose utility he sees at present. Moreover, let there never be comparisons with other children; as soon as he begins to reason let him have no rivals, no competitors, even in running. I would a hundred times rather he would not learn what he can learn only through jealousy or through vanity. But every year I will mark the progress he has made; I will compare it with that which he makes the following year. I will say to him: "You have grown so many inches; there is the ditch which you jumped and the load which you carried; here is the distance you threw a stone and the course you ran at one breath. Let us see what you can do now." In this way I excite him without making him jealous of any one. I would have him surpass himself, and he ought to do it. I see no harm in his being his own rival.
(...) To what an abundance of interesting objects may we not thus turn the curiosity of the pupil without ever quitting the real and material relations which are within his reach or allowing a single idea to arise in his mind which he can not comprehend! The art of the teacher consists in never allowing his observations to bear on minutiae which serve no purpose, but ever to confront him with the wide relations which he must one day know in order to judge correctly of the order, good and bad, of civil society. He must know how to adapt the conversations with which he amuses his pupil to the turn of mind which he has given him. A given question which might not arouse the attention of another would torment Emile for six months.
We go to dine at an elegant house, and find all the preparations for a feast — many people, many servants, many dishes, and a table-service elegant and fine. All this apparatus of pleasure and feasting has something intoxicating in it which affects the head when we are not accustomed to it. I foresee the effect of all this on my young pupil. While the repast is prolonged, while the courses succeed each other, and while a thousand noisy speeches are in progress around the table, I approach his ear and say to him: "Through how many hands do you really think has passed all that you see on this table before it reaches it?" What a host of ideas do I awaken in his mind by these few words! In an instant all the vapors of delirium are expelled. He dreams, he reflects, he calculates, he becomes restless. While the philosophers, enlivened by the wine, and perhaps by their companions, talk nonsense and play the child, he philosophizes all alone in his comer. He interrogates me, but I refuse to
reply, and put him off until another time; he becomes impatient, forgets to eat and drink, and longs to be away from the table in order to converse with me at his ease.. What an object for his curiosity! What a text for his instruction! With a sound judgment which nothing has been able to corrupt, what will he think of luxury when he finds that all the regions of the world have been put under contribution, that twenty millions of hands, perhaps, have been at work for a long time to create the material for this feast, and that it may have cost the lives of thousands of men?
(...) I insist absolutely that Emile shall learn a trade. "An honorable trade, at least," you will say. What does this term mean? Is not every trade honorable that is useful to the public? I do not want him to be an embroiderer, a gilder, or a varnisher, like Locke's gentleman; neither do I want him to be a musician, a comedian, or a writer of books.5 Except these professions, and others which resemble them, let him choose the one he prefers; I do not assume to restrain him in anything. I would rather have him a cobbler than a poet; I would rather have him pave the highways than to decorate china. But, you will say, "Bailiffs, spies, and hangmen are useful people." It is the fault only of the government that they are so. But let that pass; I was wrong. It does not suffice to choose a useful calling; it is also necessary that it does not require of those who practice it qualities of soul which are odious and incompatible with humanity. Thus, returning to our first statement, let us choose an honorable calling; but let us always recollect that there is no honor without utility.
This is the spirit which should guide us in the choice of Emile's occupation, though it is not for us to make this choice, but for him; for, as the maxims with which he is equipped preserve in him a natural contempt for useless things, he will never wish to consume his time in work of no value, and he knows no value in things save that of their real utility. He must have a trade which might serve Robinson in his island.
By causing to pass in review before a child the productions of Nature and art, by stimulating his curiosity and following it where it leads, we have the advantage of studying his tastes, his inclinations, and his propensities, and to see glitter the first spark of his genius, if he has genius of any decided sort. But a common error, and one from which we must preserve ourselves, is to attribute to the ardor of talent the effect of the occasion, and to take for a marked inclination toward such or such an art the imitative spirit which is common to man and monkey, and which mechanically leads both to wish to do whatever they see done without knowing very well what it is good for. The world is full of artisans, and especially of artists, who have no natural talent for the art which they practice, and in which they have been
urged forward from their earliest age, either through motives of expedience, or through an apparent but mistaken zeal which would have also led them toward any other art if they had seen it practiced as soon. One hears a drum and thinks himself a general; another sees a house built and wishes to be an architect. Each one is drawn to the trade which he sees practiced, when he believes it to be held in esteem.
(...) When Emile learns his trade I wish to learn it with him; for I am convinced that he will never learn anything well save what we learn together. We then put ourselves in apprenticeship, and we do not assume to be treated as gentlemen, but as real apprentices, who are not such for the sport of the thing. Why should we not be apprentices in real earnest? The Czar Peter was a carpenter at the bench and a drummer in his own army; do you think that this prince was not your equal by birth or by merit? You understand that I am not saying this to Emile, but to you, whoever you may be. Unfortunately, we can not spend all our time at the bench. We are not only apprenticed workmen, but we are apprenticed men; and our apprenticeship to this last trade is longer and more difficult than the other. How, then, shall we proceed? Shall we have a master of the plane one hour a day, just as we have a dancing-master? No; we shall not be apprentices, but disciples; and our ambition is not so much to learn cabinet-making as to rise to the position of cabinet-maker. I am therefore of the opinion that we should go, at least once or twice a week, to spend a whole day with the master workman; that we should rise when he does; that we should be at work before he comes; that we should eat at his table, work under his orders, and that, after having had the honor to sup with his family we, if we wish, should return to rest on our hard beds. This is how we learn several trades at once, and how we employ ourselves at manual labor without neglecting the other apprenticeship.
If I have been understood thus far, it ought to be plain how, with the habitual exercise of the body and labor of the hands, I insensibly give to my pupil a taste for reflection and meditation in order to counterbalance in him the indolence which would result from his indifference for the judgments of men and from the repose of his passions. He must work as a peasant and think as a philosopher in order not to be as lazy as a savage. The great secret of education is to make the exercises of the body and of the mind always serve as a recreation for each other.
(...) Emile is industrious, temperate, patient, firm, and full of courage. His imagination, in nowise enkindled, never magnifies dangers for him. He is sensible to few evils, and knows how to suffer with constancy because he has not learned to
contend against destiny. With respect to death, he does not yet know clearly what it is; but accustomed to submit without resistance to the law of necessity, when he must die he will die without a groan and without a struggle; and this is all that Nature permits in that moment abhorred by all. To live in freedom and in but slight dependence on things human is the best means of learning how to die.
In a word, Emile has every virtue which is related to himself. In order to have the social virtues also, all he lacks is to know the relations which exact them; he lacks merely the knowledge which his mind is wholly prepared to receive.
He considers himself without regard to others, and thinks it well that others are not thinking at all of him. He exacts nothing of any one, and believes that he is in debt to nobody. He is alone in human society, and counts only on himself. He has also a greater right than any other to count upon himself, for he is all that one can be at his age. He has no faults, or has only those which are inevitable to us; he has no vices, or only those against which no man can protect himself. He has a sound body, agile limbs, a just and unprejudiced mind, and a heart that is free and without passions. Self-love, the first and the most natural of all, is as yet scarcely excited in it. Without disturbing the repose of any one, he has lived as contented, happy, and free as Nature has permitted. Do you think that a child who has thus reached his fifteenth year has lost the years preceding?
From Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, trans. William H. Payne
(New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1904).
1. The same incident is related by Montaigne: "Alexander having been informed by a letter from Parmenion that Philip, his most esteemed physician, had been bribed by Darius
to poison him, at the same moment that he gave to Philip Parmenion's letter to read, drank the beverage which he had presented to him."
2. A letter of Rousseau to Madame Latour de Franqueville, September 26,1762, informs us that this young man was the Count de Gisors.
3. Alexander the Great.
4. Bucephalus. The horse was frightened only at his own shadow. The young Alexander discovered the cause and the remedy.
5 'You yourself are one," some one will say. I am, to my sorrow, I acknowledge; and my faults, which I think I have sufficiently expiated, are no reasons why others should
have similar ones. I do not write to excuse my faults, but to prevent my readers from imitating them.