Jean-Jacques Rousseau Additional Biography


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

0111204760-Rousseau.jpg Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

The son of a poor Swiss watchmaker, Rousseau spent his youth in various apprenticeships and minor occupations and did not gain any notice he was thirty-seven. That year he won a prize for an essay on science, the arts, and social morality, awarded by the provincial academy at Dijon. Six years later he won wider attention with the publication of Discourse on the Origins of Inequality (1755), in which he contrasted the corruption of his contemporary society with the simplicity and goodness of humanity in a natural state.

Rousseau’s highly popular La Nouvelle Héloise (1761) was published with the tacit consent, rather than formal permission, of the royal censor. Rousseau’s next work, Emile (1762), which develops a concept of progressive education, was less fortunate. The book’s pantheistic stress on education through communion with nature moved the archbishop of Paris to censor it and the parliament of Paris to burn it. Soon anathema to both Protestants and Roman Catholics, Emma was burned in Rousseau’s native Switzerland, as well as in Rome.

Emile’s banning caused Rousseau considerable anxiety. Indeed, the whole issue of censorship threatened the security of Enlightenment philosophers. French censorship laws were tightened after 1757, with the possibility of a death sentence for works published without official approval. More usual punishments, however, were prison time in the Bastille or...

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(Survey of World Philosophers)

Article abstract: Rousseau helped transform the Western world from a rigidly stratified, frequently despotic civilization into a predominantly democratic civilization dedicated to assuring the dignity and fulfillment of the individual.

Early Life

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born of middle-class parents in the fiercely independent Protestant municipality of Geneva. His mother, the former Suzanne Bernard, died within days of his birth, and he was reared until age ten by his watchmaker father, Isaac Rousseau, with whom the precocious boy shared a passion for romantic novels, a passion that helped shape Jean-Jacques’s emotional and highly imaginative nature. Young Rousseau and the irresponsible Isaac often neglected sleep as they devoured their beloved romances, an escapist reading regimen that Rousseau supplemented with more substantial works by such writers as Plutarch and Michel Eyquem de Montaigne.

This earliest phase of Rousseau’s life came to an abrupt end when his father was forced to flee from Geneva to escape imprisonment for wounding a former military officer during a quarrel in the autumn of 1722. Left in the care of a maternal uncle, Rousseau was soon placed, along with his cousin Abraham Bernard, in the home of the Lambercier family, a Protestant minister and his sister, in the village of Bossey, a few miles outside Geneva.

The essentially carefree two years spent with the Lamberciers were followed by a short period of distasteful employment with the district registrar, and a longer apprenticeship to an engraver. Petty thefts and other breaches of discipline earned for Rousseau, now in his teens, a series of beatings that in no way altered his recalcitrant behavior but instead augmented his hatred of authority. After nearly three years of these confrontations, in March of 1728, he abandoned his apprenticeship and, with it, his native city.

Rousseau was introduced to twenty-nine-year-old Madame de Warens, eventually to be one of the great loves of his life, who sent the destitute and still-directionless teenager to Turin’s monastery of the Spirito Santo, where, within a few days of his arrival, he found it expedient to embrace the Catholic faith. Released into the streets of Turin with little money, Rousseau held several jobs but eventually returned, probably by mid-1729, to Madame de Warens.

Rousseau’s duties as record keeper to Madame de Warens were light enough to allow him ample time for wide reading, but his genius still had not manifested itself, and after his patron left on a journey to Paris, the aimless youth took the opportunity to add to his ample store of life adventures. At Lausanne, he attempted, despite insufficient knowledge of music, to conduct an orchestral work of his own composition; the performance was a fiasco.

Succeeding months saw Madame de Warens establish herself as Rousseau’s mistress and Rousseau busy himself with the study and teaching of music. Over the next several years, Rousseau also undertook the intensive study of most other branches of human knowledge in an eminently successful effort to overcome the handicap of his earlier haphazard education.

Life’s Work

By 1740, Rousseau had begun serious attempts to write, but he remained essentially unknown. His first minor recognition came in 1742, during his second visit to Paris, when he suggested a new method of musical notation to the Academy of Science. Although the method was judged inadequate, Rousseau’s presentation earned him the respect of and eventual introduction to several figures of importance in the French intelligentsia, most notably philosopher Denis Diderot. In 1743, at the salon of Madame Dupin, Rousseau widened his circle of influential acquaintances, and eventually he became Madame Dupin’s secretary.

While traveling to Vincennes to visit Diderot, who had been imprisoned in 1749, Rousseau happened across an essay competition that would ensure his lasting fame. Had the advancement of science and art, the Academy of Dijon wished to know, improved the moral state of mankind? Rousseau argued in the negative, and his essay, A Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, was awarded first prize on July 10, 1750. Rousseau’s central contention, that modern advances in the arts and sciences had produced an abandonment of primitive sincerity and simple virtue, inspired a plethora of attacks and defenses and helped prepare the way for the Romantic reaction against Enlightenment rationalism.

Rousseau’s next success was the composition of an operetta, Le Devin du village (1752; Cunning-Man, 1766), which gained for him some financial security and was honored with a command performance before the French court on October 18, 1752. By refusing an audience with the king and then entangling himself in a dispute over the relative merits of French and Italian music, however, Rousseau almost immediately lost...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 28, 1712, to a Protestant family. His mother died nine days later. His father and his Aunt Suzanne reared him until Rousseau’s father had to flee Geneva because of a quarrel with a military officer. The ten-year-old boy was placed in the Lambercier pension at Bossey, and it was there that Rousseau acquired a taste for country life that never left him. Once back in Geneva, Rousseau attempted an apprenticeship, first as a notary, then as an engraver, but considered the work boring and oppressive. Returning from a walk late one day in 1728, he found the gates to the city locked and decided to leave Geneva and seek his fortune elsewhere.

Rousseau’s departure...

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(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Rousseau’s philosophical writings and novels, all of them rich in ethical content, inspired a major shift in Western thought during the eighteenth century and part of the nineteenth century. They substantially undercut the Age of Reason and inspired a new Age of Romanticism. In the process, Rousseau’s eighteenth century lifestyle and work influenced manners and morals, the reevaluation of education, conceptions of the state and of politics, and the reassertion of religious values. His philosophical genius led the way to new views of human nature, liberty, free creative expression, violence, the character of children, and the vital human and cultural importance of women.


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (roo-SOH), the man whom Immanuel Kant called “the Newton of morality,” was born in Geneva (now in Switzerland) on June 28, 1712, and, as he notes in Les Confessions de J.-J. Rousseau (1782, 1789; The Confessions of J.-J. Rousseau, 1783-1790; commonly known as The Confessions), his life was marked from the beginning by misfortune. Rousseau’s birth cost the life of his mother; Suzanne Bernard, and his father, Isaac Rousseau, was never able to embrace his son without shedding tears. The infant’s health was poor, and indeed Jean-Jacques spent so much of his life experiencing such illness that he often expected an imminent death.

Rousseau’s early life was...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

As the internal contradictions of the ancien régime prepared the way for the revolutions that marked the end of the eighteenth century and established an intellectual basis for the modern era, the solitary figure of the self-taught rebel Jean-Jacques Rousseau came to symbolize the new individual. Though he or she may well be a victim of the prejudices of society, the artist may find consolation by expressing his or her passions. The proper method of expressing sensibility is as disordered, lawless, and excessive as the feelings to be expressed. Whether it be in the form of the philosophical essay, the novel, or autobiography, Rousseau’s work took his century by storm and laid the groundwork for Romanticism.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (rew-soh), French philosopher, novelist, and essayist, was born June 28, 1712, in Geneva. The fact that his mother died at his birth he referred to as the first of his misfortunes. When he was twelve years old his father, a watchmaker of restless disposition, was forced to leave Geneva for challenging someone of high social standing. Isaac Rousseau sent Jean-Jacques to live with his mother’s brother. Himself a man of many moods and little stability, Rousseau wandered and held positions for very short periods of time until he settled, more or less, upon a life as a writer.

At thirteen Rousseau was apprenticed to a boorish and cruel engraver who punished him for his adolescent pranks; at sixteen...

(The entire section is 1194 words.)