"Let Them Eat Cake"

Context: Considered by many as the most important forerunner of Romanticism, Rousseau was Swiss-born but lived most of his life in France. His Confessions embodies many of the characteristics of the typical romantic: extreme individualism, emotional instability, deep sensibility, irresponsibility, love for nature, dislike of the established order, and the like. The Confessions is detailed and lengthy. Beginning, Rousseau writes: "I mean to present my fellow-mortals with a man in all the integrity of nature. . . . Such as I was, I have declared myself; sometimes vile and despicable, at others virtuous, generous, and sublime. . . ." In Book VI, Rousseau tells of being placed in charge of the wine cellar in the home of a prominent Frenchman. Taking advantage of his position, he began pilfering bottles of wine to drink in his quarters. Unhappily, he "could not drink without eating," and he was unable to pilfer bread from the table or have it brought to him by a footman. The remark "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche" (popularly known as "Let them eat cake") is incorrectly attributed to Marie Antoinette (1755-1793), after her arrival in France in 1770; Rousseau, however, wrote Book VI of the Confessions two or three years earlier.

At length I recollected the thoughtless saying of a great princess, who, on being informed that the country people had no bread, replied, "Let them eat pastry."
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. . . once the dear little cake was procured, and I was shut up in my chamber with that and a bottle of wine, . . . how much did I enjoy my little draughts, while reading a few pages of a novel. . . .