Discuss an interesting detail or encounter, perhaps reflecting the Romantic ideas of the day, that Jean-Jacques Rousseau includes in Part One Book One of his Confessions. 

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau, known as the father of Romanticism, wrote his Confessions in the 1760s. It is difficult to put a precise definition to the term, but Romantic in this sense generally prefers natural elements over convention and that which is not real. This movement favors individuality and creativity, and it prefers feeling, emotion, and intuition to thought, reason, and intellect. 

Confessions is just what the title implies: Rousseau writes an autobiography in which he reveals the realities of his life from the beginning of it. While he is quick to say he does not think he is the most original thinker ever to write or live, he does credit himself and this writing with being original.

I am commencing an undertaking, hitherto without precedent, and which will never find an imitator.

Part 1 is full of stories he tells on himself which might be considered embarrassing and humbling. He is not shy about addressing all kinds of subjects, including the rather taboo subject of sexuality.

With equal freedom and veracity have I related what was laudable or wicked, I have concealed no crimes, added no virtues; and if I have sometimes introduced superfluous ornament, it was merely to occupy a void occasioned by defect of memory: I may have supposed that certain, which I only knew to be probable, but have never asserted as truth, a conscious falsehood.

It is interesting that Rousseau claims he cannot remember anything about his life prior to age five or six; coincidentally, that is also the time at which he began to read. He connects the beginning of his life with his ability to read and therefore express himself. He read many things, and all of them moved him--one even moved him to feel kind of like a superman as he put his hand over a very hot chafing dish without feeling a burn.

One rather humorous incident is the result of the young Rousseau's common practice of "thievery." He steals a few things and does not get caught, which of course emboldens him to continue the practice. One time he decides to steal an apple, and how he goes about it is so typical of a young rapscallion today. He finds a metal spit and tries to reach for an apple which is sitting out of his reach on a shelf behind a latticed pantry door, but the spit is too short.

Determined to keep trying, the boy finds another spit, attaches it to the other, and then tries again. With some effort, he manages to spear one of the apples and joyfully tries to capture it with his hand. Unfortunately, Rousseau discovers--much to his dismay--that the apple is too big to fit through the lattice. He tries to pull it through, but it just splits in half and falls to the floor of the pantry.

The next day he tries again, and just as he starts to repeat the process--he is busted. The apple halves on the pantry floor from the night before give him away and he gets caught.

The next day (a fine opportunity offering) I renew the trial. I fasten the spits together; get on the stool; take aim; am just going to dart at my prey—unfortunately the dragon did not sleep; the pantry door opens, my master makes his appearance, and, looking up, exclaims, "Bravo!"—The horror of that moment returns—the pen drops from my hand. 

This small incident and others both reveal his life and are also reflections of his individual creativity and uniqueness. These stories and this writing are all his attempt at expressing what is original, individual, and emotional--the key elements of Romanticism. 

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