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APPENDIX II: ROUSSEAU AND HIS ENEMIES - Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Political Writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau vol. 2 
The Political Writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau, ed. from the original manuscripts and authentic editions, with introductions and notes by C. E. Vaughan. (Cambridge University Press, 1915). In 2 vols. Vol. 2.
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ROUSSEAU AND HIS ENEMIES
[IT is probable that many readers are prejudiced against Rousseau, as a writer, because they have formed an unfavourable judgment of him, as a man. It is, therefore, of Great importance that the grounds of this unfavourable judgment should be sifted. And some eight years ago a remarkable writer, Mrs Macdonald, made discoveries which throw an entirely new light upon the matter (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a new Criticism, 1906). The results of her researches are unfortunately much less widely known than they deserve to be. For this reason, I append the following summary account of them, which was originally delivered as a lecture to the Philosophical and Literary Society of Leeds, in the hope that attention may be drawn to a work which, I cannot but think, has revolutionised the evidence as to Rousseau’s character.]
I am to speak to-night not of the writings of Rousseau, but of his life; not of his genius, but his character. Yet, before I enter on this subject, it is impossible not to cast a glance at the great work which he accomplished in the world, at the revolution which he wrought in the intellectual and imaginative life of Europe.
Consider first the more Imaginative side of his achievement, the vast space which he fills in the purely literary movement of his time. He gave a new and most fruitful turn to the Novel; he brought a keener observation, a more searching analysis, of the springs of action and character than had been known for many a long day; he is one of the fountain heads of modern realism. Or, to speak more generally, Wordsworth, Byron and Shelley are his spiritual children. So are Chateaubriand and George Sand; so also, at least in their earlier work, are Goethe and Schiller.
In the field of reflection and abstract thought he has left a yet deeper mark behind him. He is a great moralist and a great religious teacher; he is the father of all that has since been done for educational reform; he gave an impulse to political and social progress of which the world has still cause to be thankful; he recast the whole fabric of political philosophy from top to bottom. It was the Contrat social that dealt the first deadly blow to the individualism, which since the days of Locke had swept everything before it. From the publication of the Contrat social, that theory has tottered slowly to its fall.
There are few men in the whole history of Europe whose influence upon subsequent generations has been so strong and so definite. I can think of none myself except Aristotle and Plato.
Now, whenever a great task has been done in the world, we are driven instinctively to ask: Of what sort was the man who did it? Does his own life, his personal character, offer any mirror of the qualities which give strength and enduring value to his writings?
In the case of Rousseau, as you know, this question has been vehemently debated; and the evidence, on the face of it, is extraordinarily conflicting. We have, on the one hand, the sinister portrait painted by his enemies; by Hume, by Diderot, and, above all, by Mme d’Épinay. We have, on the other hand, the very different pictures drawn by Mercier and Bernardin de SaintPierre, the friends of his old age; by d’Escherny, du Peyrou and Moultou, whose familiarity with him began much earlier, and, in the case of Moultou at any rate, continued unbroken to the end. Between the two stands the evidence furnished by the Confessions and other autobiographical writings of Rousseau himself: unsparing in the evil they record; but rich also in touches, both conscious and unconscious, which make strongly for the good.
In the indictment against him, by far the most damaging evidence is that supplied by the Mémoires of Mme d’Épinay. If we accept it, there is no choice but to pronounce him a mass of lying, malignity and hypocrisy. And in most of the books written about him, you will find the validity of this evidence either loudly asserted or tacitly assumed. Within the last nine years, however, a wholly new turn has been given to the argument. The authenticity of the Mémoires has been roughly challenged; and, proofs in hand, a remarkable scholar, Mrs Macdonald, has roundly asserted that they are unworthy of any credit.
The whole question of Rousseau’s character has been suddenly reopened. Evidence of an entirely new nature has been brought before the Court. And it is manifestly just that our verdict should be reconsidered in its light.
It is my object this evening to lay this new evidence before you; and I appeal to your justice to hear it, as far as may be, without prejudice. If it is valid evidence, it is clear that the whole life of Rousseau—to say the least, the last five and twenty years of it—will need to be rewritten. And that being so, I have no choice but to begin by recalling to you, with all the impartiality I can muster, the crucial stages of its course.
His life covers the period from 1712 to 1778. The son of a watchmaker at Geneva, he was brought up by his father—his mother died at his birth—till he was eight or nine. During these years, he tells us that his chief amusements were the Grand Cyrus and other like romances of the preceding century, and the Lives of Plutarch. From the one he may have drawn the delight in story telling, die Lust zu fabulieren, which was afterwards to produce the Nouvelle Héloïse. From the other he certainly drank in that admiration for the great States of antiquity, in particular for the republics of Rome and Sparta, which was to leave so strong a mark upon the Contrat social and his whole work in political philosophy
About 1720, his father, having got embroiled in a quarrel with a fire-eating officer, and being moreover something of a rolling stone, hastily quitted Geneva and left him in charge of an uncle who, in his turn, sent him to board with a Pastor on the outskirts of the city. After passing some years with this good man, Rousseau was apprenticed first to a Notary; then, on proving quite unfit for such work, to an Engraver. His new life was hateful to him. He lost all the refinement which birth and early training had given him, and began to run wild. One Sunday evening, finding the city gates shut in his face, and knowing that he would be flogged by his master, he made up his mind on the spot that he would never submit to that disgrace. And, as the only means of escape, he ran away (1728). Thus, at the age of sixteen, he turned himself adrift upon the world. During the rest of his life he never wholly lost the character of wanderer and pilgrim.
After some days’aimless roaming, he was directed by the Priest of a neighbouring village to seek the help of a benevolent lady, a convert to the Catholic faith, who lived at Annecy. This was Mme de Warens, to whom, far more than to his father or to any other of his early instructors, he owed all that went to mould his character and tastes. It was from her that he drew the love of calm and the love of outward nature which were to be among the strongest of his passions; and it was while living with her that he laid the foundation of the meditative habits, and also of the strangely varied intellectual and artistic tastes, which were to go with him to the end. In other respects, her influence was not so healthy. One has no wish to be hard on a woman who did so much for him and to whom he was devotedly attached. But it must be confessed that she was in many ways an ill guide for a dreamy and impressionable youth. And her notions of love, to use a familiar phrase, were ‘both extensive and peculiar.’After a few years—to preserve him, as she said, from the corruptions of the world—she insisted on making him her lover. Vagrant, lover, student—that, in short, is the description of him during this, the seed-time of his life (1728-1741).
Finding, after a short absence, that his place in the affections of Mme de Warens had been taken by another. Rousseau, at the age of twenty-nine, set forth once more to make his fortune; this time in Paris. There, after more than one false start, he finally settled down in 1743, as a struggling aspirant in literature and music. It is to this period that belongs the worst deed with which his memory can be charged. Soon after settling in Paris, he formed a connection with a wholly uneducated woman, whom with pathetic constancy he never ceased to cherish as the ‘child of nature,’Thérèse Levasseur. By her he had five children; and each of them in turn he lodged, immediately after birth, in the Foundling Hospital at Paris. It was an abominable act, and I will not stoop to justify or to palliate it. I will go further than that. I will express my unfeigned regret that in after years, when repentance and remorse came upon him, as they did come in full tide, he should more than once have interrupted his selfreproaches with attempts to extenuate his misdeed. Extenuating circumstances there may have been—I think myself there were—circumstances connected with the shady character of the Levasseur family, among whom the children must almost necessarily have been brought up. But, whatever the pleas in mitigation, Rousseau was surely the last man in the world to make them. And there is no more to be said.
With 1749, when he was nearing the age of forty, a new scene suddenly broke upon him. A mere chance, the offering of a prize by the Academy of Dijon, revealed his genius for the first time to the world and to himself. The publication of the first Discourse. on the moral influence of the Arts and Sciences, was the literary event of the day (175I). And from that moment he was a marked man. For the next twelve years—years, as he himself says, of delirium and fever—he continued to pour forth the works which, as we have seen, changed the face of thought, feeling and imaginative temper from end to end of Europe. Seldom or never has fame come to a great writer so late in life. Seldom or never has it been earned by labours so unwearied. The second Discourse, the Nouvelle Héloïse, Émile and the Contrat social—all these were crowded into the short space from 1753 to 1762.
A landmark in the history of Europe, this period was equally so m the life of Rousseau himself. To these years belongs the breach with Mme d’Épinay, Grimm and Diderot, of which I shall have to speak in a few minutes (1757–8). To these years also— and this is far more important—belongs what he himself calls his ‘inward reformation’; a change as complete and, in its first dawn at any rate, as sudden as that which, under the name of ‘conversion,’is familiar to us in the annals of religion. This meant a complete revolution in his whole moral outlook; a resolve to apply unsparingly to his own life and conduct the principles which, in a reflective shape, he was beating out, with ever increasing clearness, in his writings. He determined to enter without flinching upon the path into which he was seeking to guide others to free himself once and for all from that enslavement to public opinion, to alien codes and rules of conduct, which he was denouncing in others. His aim was to square his own life and conduct with the exacting standard of truth and simplicity which he had reached by toilsome meditation; to return, so far as might be in his own heart and his own actions, to the’ state of nature.’ With this end, he abandoned at once and for ever all efforts to make his way in the world, dropped the gentleman’s laced coat and sword, lived as a plain bourgeois and set out to make his livelihood by copying music at sixpence a sheet. The change was made at the very moment when his worldly prospects were far brighter, and the temptation to pursue wealth and social standing far stronger, than they had ever been before. It was no case of disappointed vanity or ambition. It was the sacrifice of a prize which lay ready to his hand and which few men would have been strong enough to thrust aside.
There is yet another point which I would ask you to consider. If this change was a thing not only of appearance but of reality, if (as I am convinced was the case) Rousseau from the moment of its completion was a new man, does not his past life present itself in a wholly different light? The acts and habits of his past in themselves of course, remain the same. But our estimate of them as an index to his character, is signally changed. They belong to an order of things which has largely been left behind, And their connection with the new order, though it can never be entirely broken, is proportipnately weakened. We should shrink from judging St Paul by the acts done before his conversion. Ought we not to apply something of the same measure to Rousseau?
The first result of Émile and the Contrat social was to call down a storm of persecution upon the head of the author. Within a month, decrees of arrest or banishment were launched against him firstly by the Parlement of Paris, then by the Councils of Geneva and of Bern, He was driven from pillar to post. The very ground seemed to give way beneath his feet. And it was solely by the open-mindedness of Frederick the Great that at last he found refuge in the Canton of Neuchâtel, then an appanage of Prussia After three years of comparative calm, he was driven from here also by a rising of the populace, and eventually, on the invitation of Hume, turned his steps to England (1766). Owing to his unhappy breach with Hume, he found this country also a place of torment; and, before a year-and-a-half was out, fled back suddenly to France (1767).
From this moment it is clear that a great change had come over the spirit of Rousseau, and that his courage, at least for purposes of action, was broken. For the rest of his life there was nothing left him but to endure. The hostility of the ‘philosophers ‘which had smouldered ever since his quarrel with Grimm and Diderot, was fanned into a flame by his rupture with Hume. He knew that no pains were being spared to blacken his character secretly while he lived. He knew that the same object would be pursued without concealment directly he was dead. He was aware that, as Burke complained twenty years later, the philosophers habitually acted in concert, and that, for this and other reasons they wielded a control over public opinion which it was hardly possible to overthrow. So far, as I shall hope to shew, there was no delusion in the matter; and those who argue otherwise are themselves, I fear, entirely mistaken. Beyond this point however, it is, I think, undeniable that Rousseau was from this time onward subject to delusions and hallucinations. Knowing that there was a conspiracy against him, he saw traces of it in incidents in which, with the best will in the world, his enemies cannot possibly have been concerned. The storms of the last five years had, in fact, been greater than he could weather; and, on certain points and at certain moments, his mind gave way beneath the strain. Can we wonder that this was so? Is it surprising that persecution and slander should at least have driven their victim into a state of unreasoning suspicion? One thing, however is clear. It is that these delusions were confined within very narrow limits, and that beyond these limits, the intellect of the inan was as clear, his mastery over all the resources of his genius as absolute, as it had ever been before. The Dialogues, which shew the cloud of suspicion more clearly than any of his other writings, are a masterpiece of dialectic. In them, as well as in the other writings of this period, we find a knowledge of the human heart and a power of poignant description which were a new thing in the literature of Europe.
Justly indignant at the treachery of his assallants, it was only right that Rousseau should cast about for weapons of defence. From the men of his own day there was little hope of redress. His sole hope was to clear his character in the judgment of posterity. It was with this object that he wrote the Confessions and, after a short interval, the Dialogues, which form their inseparable sequel. The former were completed in 1770, and in the course of the next winter were read two or three times before picked audiences in Paris The readings, however, were summarily stopped on the application of Mme d’Épinay to the Lieutenant of Police; and, apart from loans of the manuscript to a small circle of acquaintance, Rousseau found himself driven back upon the verdict of the future. He had failed to draw his enemies into the open, while he was there to answer them. The one thing he had gained was to have cleared his conscience by giving them fair notice that there would be a posthumous defence.
The fate of the Dialogues (1772–6) appears to have struck home far more closely to his heart. In this work he had avoided, as far as possible, all reference to detail. His object was not to tell the outward story of his life, but to lay bare the inmost workings of his heart. He went, therefore, far more nearly to the root of the matter than he had done in the Confessions; the picture he gives of himself is far more personal and intimate. This being the case, he was naturally yet more concerned to secure for it some measure of publicity. And the plan he decided on for this purpose was to lay the completed copy solemnly upon the high altar of Notre Dame. On the day he had fixed in his own mind, he made his way to the Cathedra!, but found his approach to the altar blocked by a barrier which had never struck his eye before. He took this for a token that the will of God was against the fulfilment of his design, and, after a bitter struggle, bowed his head in submission (1776).
It was the last confiict of his troubled life, and it was the most cruel But the victory was complete. From that time he abandoned all hope of justifying his character even to posterity. ‘Buried alive among the living,’he made no further attempt to break down ‘the triple wall of darkness that surrounded him.’ ‘I resigned myself,’he says, ‘without reserve, and once more I have found peace.’His last link with life was broken, and all that was left him was to prépare himself by stern self-discipline for death. This is the spirit which breathes throughout the Rêveries, the last of his writings, and surely not far from the best. It was begun within two months of the final mortification of his hopes. It was left unfinished at his death. The end came quite suddenly in the summer of 1778. There is no ground for the often repeated assertion that it was self-sought.
This must suffice for a sketch of Rousseau’s life. There is one point only on which I must return; the breach with Grimm, Diderot and Mme d’Épinay which he always reckoned, and I think justly to have lain at the root of the troubles which pursued him to his death. The charges he brings against them, when the matter is sifted, reduce themselves to three. He accuses them, and in particular Diderot, of persistently interfering with his liberty of turning the ties of friendship into a tyranny which it was impossible to endure. The letters written to him by Diderot in 1757 prove this charge up to the hilt. My only wonder is that he should have stood the meddlesome dictation of the man as long as he did. The second cause of the quarrel is bound up with a preposterous scheme for sending Rousseau, under circumstances which rightly or wrongly, he held to be highly compromising, to squire Mme d’Épinay to Geneva. He angrily—and, as far as the manner went, most ungraciously—refused. Grimm seized the occasion to renounce his friendship with every mark of contempt; and Mme d’Épinay, screwed to the sticking place by Grimm, her declared lover, speedily followed suit (November, 1757).
The third and last grievance of Rousseau sprang out of his passion for Mme d’Houdetot, the sister-in-law of Mme d’Épinay. Mme d’Houdetot was manifestly much flattered by the love of the great writer, and, in spite of her attachment to Saint-Lambert, gave him considérable encouragement. Both she and Rousseau seem to have behaved with childish want of caution. But both fortunately were saved by scruples of honour from falling over the precipice which they could not bring themselves to avoid. The tale was speedily borne to Saint-Lambert, who remonstrated vehemently with his mistress, but in the end magnanimously forgave both her and Rousseau. The latter, finding himself treated with marked coolness by the woman he loved, confided his distress to Diderot, who at the time still professed to be his friend. A few months later Rousseau discovered that the whole story, with detalls known only to Diderot, had again been raked up to Saint-Lambert and, what was yet worse, was now the common gossip of Paris. After communicating with Saint-Lambert, he drew the inevitable inference that his confidence had been betrayed by Diderot and publicly announced that all friendship between them was at an end (October, 1758). Diderot himself admits that he was Saint-Lambert’s informant, though he offers an explanation of his treachery which is demonstrably false. Whether it was he or Grimm who spread the tale over Paris, is a question which it is not possible to answer. Nor, so far as Rousseau is concerned, is it of much importance. All we know is that, apart from Mme d Épinay (who, it may be hoped, was innocent), they were the only two persons in possession of the secret; and, to judge from their subsequent conduct, either of them was capable of stabbing an enemy in the dark.
It only remains to ask who it was that, in the previous summer (1757), had carried the first news of the unfortunate business to Saint-Lambert. And here at any rate, there is little or no doubt about the answer. Mme d’Épinay in her Mémoires quotes letters written by her during those months to Grimm, who was then with the French Army in West-phalia. The letters are full of spiteful gossip about Rousseau and her sister-in-law; and we learn by her own admission1 that she had contrived to get sight of the letters which passed between them. We gather from Grimm’s replies, firstly, that the gossip made him intensely curious, and secondly, that he was constantly in the way of meeting Saint-Lambert, then quartered within a few miles of him. There is no need to look any farther for the tale bearer. He had the information, and he was not the man to have scruples about using it. Mme d’Épinay, indeed, tells us of an anonymous letter which betrayed the secret to Saint-Lambert. But as she fathers this alleged letter on thérèse Levasseur, and as elsewhere, with incredible inconsequence, she lays it to the charge of Rousseau himself, we may safely pronounce that this story, like so many others in the Mémoires, is a deliberate lie; and that, in all probability, it was forged for the express purpose of screening the treachery of Grimm. This was the nest of vipers in which Rousseau had sought friendship. These are the people whom he is accused of treating with odious ingratitude.
The strangest part of the story is yet to come. It is from this tainted source that the common estimate of Rousseau has been largely drawn. It is by the Mémoires of Mme d’Épinay that his character both in this country and in France, has too often been credulously judged.
This curious book is one of a group published between 1812 and 1825; all from the hands of the same literary clique; all directed more or less, to the detraction of Rousseau. They are the Correspondance de Grimm, published in 1813; the Mémoires de Mme d’Épinay, in 1818; and the Biographie Universelle, or rather the volumes of it containing the articles on Diderot, Mme d Épinay, Grimm and Rousseau, from 1813 to 1825. Of these the Mémoires are the most remarkable in themselves, and the most important to us for their bearing upon the life and charaeter of Rousseau. Whatever their value as records of fact, they are, at least in the first half, a monument of literary skill; and none of the praises which have been given them on that score can be reckoned too great.
But what of their veracity? You will, I think, agree with me that every autobiography— and it is as an autobiography that the Mémoires claim to rank—must satisfy at least two conditions. It must be fairly in accordance with the facts which are known to us from other sources. And whenever it quotes letters or documents it must do so with absolute exactness. To these two conditions for reasons which will appear directly, a third must in this case be added. Prejudiced or unprejudiced, an autobiography, so far as it deals with the characters of others, must at least give the spontaneous impressions of the writer. It must bear no trace of arrangement or editing, at the suggestion of another.
Now, of these three conditions, not one is fulfilled by the Mémoires of Mme d’Épinay. The order of events—a matter of the utmost importance in all cases of dispute between one person and another— is hopelessly confused. Facts redounding either to the cr dit of Grimm and Diderot, or to the discredit of Rousseau, are freely invented. Above all, round the whole book hangs an atmosphere of romance which, even before recent discoveries had been made, should have been enough to put any well informed reader on his guard. The fact is that, in the first instance, the book was written not as an autobiography, but as a novel—’the sketch ‘as Grimm says in his Correspondance, ‘of a long novel.’ And oddly enough, we are told by Mme d’Épinay herself that this novel was originally designed as a counterblast to the Nouvelle H loïse: it was intended for an example of the true way to handle fiction as opposed to the false methods employed by Rousseau.
You will ask, How does it happen that a book, which was written as fiction, has come to palm itself off upon the world as matter of fact? The answer is very simple. The names of the personages in the manuscript from which the book was printed are all assumed names: Mme de Montbrillant, M. Volx, M. Garnier, René, and so forth, standing for Mme d’Épinay, Grimm, Diderot, Rousseau and the rest. But the editor who prepared the work for the press at once saw through the very flimsy veil devised by the authoress, and replaced the real names in the version given by him to the public. So much he frankly admits in his preface. But he strives to take the edge off the admission by laying stress on the assurance of the authoress that ‘this publication is not a novel but the authentic memoir of a group of men and women, subject to the frallties of human nature.’And, what is quite unpardonable he says not a word of the numerous alterations which he has made in the text, with the object of removing its most glaring discrepancies with known fact,
From all this we may infer that the authoress intended her narrative to be taken for fact; but that she retained the novel form as a convenient screen against the charges of slander and misrepresentation which she foresaw were certain to be brought against her. By restoring the real names and correcting the most crying misstatements, the editor, Brunet, carried out the first of these intentions with a success which the authoress herself can have hardly ventured to look for. As for the risk necessarily involved in knocking down the screen of professed fiction, he determined to face it at all costs, and boldly trust to the gullibility of the public. The event has shewn that he was wise in his generation. For nearly ninety years his imposture was taken for gospel. It is only by the insight and industry of Mrs Macdonald that it has been unmasked.
The second condition of authenticity, you will remember, was that any letters or documents cited must be scrupulously exact. What is the record of Mme d’Épinay in this matter? It was noticed long ago that some of the letters quoted in the Mémoires differ widely both in wording and spirit, from the version of the same letters given in Rousseau’s Confessions. This is markedly the case to take one example, with the last of the letters written to Rousseau by Mme d’Épinay on what has been called the ‘day of the five letters ‘; that is the day on which Rousseau—as we now know with perfect justice—accused Mme d’Épinay of making mischief between him and Mme d’Houdetot (June or July, 1757), Not more than two or three sentences of the two versions are the same. In l’one they are absolutely opposed. As Saint-Marc Girardin a writer strongly hostile to Rousseau, says: ‘the letter given in the Confessions is that of a wounded friend; the version of the Mémoires comes from an affronted benefactress.’The critics however, had an easy way out of the dimculty. ‘One of them’ says Sainte-Beuve1 , ‘must have been lying. I do not believe that it was Mme d’Épinay.’And upon this airy assumption was built the sweeping inference that, wherever Rousseau’s statements or documents differ from those of his opponents, it is he who lies and they who tell the truth; that the Confessions are a tissue of falsehood, but the Mémoires a model of veracity.
There was, indeed, a simple way of settling the question. But it involved labour and research. It was to consult the original letters which all the time were known to be lying in the Library of Neuchâtel. That, however, was an expédient which occurred neither to the enemies of Rousseau nor, for a long time, to his admirers. At last, in 1865, a large sélection of them was published by Streckeisen-Moultou, great-grandson of that Moultou to whom Rousseau a few weeks before his death, confided the manuscript of the Confessions. Among the pieces there printed was the letter in question. It was then seen that the original letter corresponds word for word with the copy given in the Confessions, and that the version offered by the Mémoires is an impudent fabrication. It is unfortunate for Sainte-Beuve. It is still more unfortunate for Mme d’Épinay.
I content myself with one more illustration. It is not by any means the most glaring. But it involves less explanation of intricate detalls than most of the others; and therefore, for our purposes it is the most convenient. At a certain moment it suits the purposes of Mme d’Épinay to quote a letter written by Rousseau to the famous physician, Tronchin, who eventually became one of his most persistent enemies. The object of the quotation is to shew that Rousseau was not above blackening the character of those with whom he had lived on terms of friendship, and towards whom at least in this letter, he stil1 professes goodwill. here are the exact words as given in the Mémoires: ‘ . . .Il est inconcevable qu’une femme qui a autant d’esprit, autant d’amour pour la vertu, et qui se plaît à la pratiquer jusqu’à sacrifier son bonheur avec fermeté lorsque son devoir l’exige, mette sans cesse sur le compte de sa raison les erreurs et les caprices de ses penchants. Oui, je suis convaincu qu’il n’est point d’homme, si honnête qu’il soit, s’il suivait toujours ce que son cœur lui dicte, qui ne devînt en peu de temps le dernier des scélérats.’
By a lucky chance, the original of this Ietter has been preserved. And this is what Rousseau actually wrote: ‘ . . .N’est-il pas assez étrange qu’étant femme sensée, bonne amie, excellente mère de famille, aimant la justice et la vertu, et supportant souvent bien des chagrins pour remplir ses devoirs, elle ne veuille pas faire honneur à sa raison de ce qu’elle refuse à ses penchants? Car, quoi qu elle en puisse dire, le moyen d’être honnêtes gens sans combattre? Il n’y a pas un seul homme au monde qui, s’il faisait tout ce que son cœur lui propose de faire, ne devînt en fort peu de temps le dernier des scélérats.’The worst of the discrepancies between the two versions have been italicised in both.
Now at first sight the changes made by Mme d’Épinay may not seem very important. But if we read carefully, we shall see that, while adroitly preserving many of the words actually employed by Rousseau, the revised version succeeds in giving them an entirely different sense. In the original, Rousseau, writing to a kindred spirit, delivers a sermon on his favourite text, that without a sensé of duty there can be no such thing as goodness. And he finds fault with Mme d’Épinay for not recognising this important truth as clearly as he and his correspondent would have1 wished. His quarrel is not with her moral perversity, but with her speculative blindness. In the revised version, on the other hand, Tronchin is informed that’ she persistently lays her shortcomings to the charge,’not of her unguarded impulses, but of her ‘reason’or conscience. And it is hinted, though not expressly declared that she has, perhaps unknown to herself, a grudge against her conscience, and is in danger of speedily becoming the ‘worst of criminals.’The real Ietter is pedantic enough, but it is without personal innuendo. The false letter is full of malignant hints which the writer is too artful and too cowardly to make clear.
In order to deepen the impression of Rousseau’s treachery, Mme d’Épinay implies, though she does not state in so many words, that this letter had just been received by Trochin (December. 1757); in other words, that it was written after her, breach with Rousseau and at a moment when he might plausibly be credited with a desire to do her an ill service. As a matter of fact, the date at the head of the original letter (February 27th, 1757) shews it’ to have been written almost a year earlier; that is, at a time when there neither was, nor had been, any cloud upon their friendship. Is it altogether an accident that the opening sentences of the letter, in which there is a clear reference to this date, have been suppressed? And what are we to say of the words with which the garbled letter is introduced by the authoress: ‘Here, word for word, is the passage which I have copied to send you ‘(i.e. Grimm? If they do these things in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry? If she treats us in this manner when she is ‘copying word for word,’what are we to look for when she gives us no such comforting assurance?
From all this it results that the documents of Mme d’Épinay are no more to be trusted than her statements. And this would be still more apparent if the editor, Brunet, had not, whenever it suited his purpose, replaced the spurious documents of the original manuscript by the true versions, preserved in the published writings of others. Here again, as in the case of matters of fact, he has maintained a discreet silence about his editorial recreations.
I pass now to the third condition demanded in an autobiography that the writer’s judgments on men and things, whether right or wrong in themselves, must at least represent his own mind; that they shall not have been doctored to suit the views and impressions of others. And here we come to the strangest part of a strange story.
For the last twenty-five years and more it has been known that the rough copy of the original manuscript used by Brunet was in existence; and that it was divided between two Libraries, the Archives and the Arsenal, at Paris. Unfortunately, the two writers who made this discovery, MM.Perey and Maugras, entirely failed to follow it up. They seem to have contented themselves with a sabbath day’s journey through the new text; and with the touching piety of biographers—they were engaged on a Life of Mme d’Épinay—they had the courage to affirm that Mme d’Épinay ‘was the slave of truth,’and that, ‘after the most scrupulous examination ‘they ‘had been able to convince themselves of the perfect exactitude of her narrative’(1882-3).
It was not until some twenty years later (1906) that the real significance of the new manuscript was detected. For this service we are indebted to Mrs Macdonald. A careful examination of the manuscript shewed her that large parts of it, particularly those parts which relate to Rousseau, had been entirely rewritten; and that the second version was invariably more unfavourable to his actions and character than the first. This led to a further discovery which put the key to the whole business in her hands. Among the pages of the Arsenal manuscript—that which contains the latter part of the Mémoires—she found some loose sheets with a list of ‘the altérations to be made in the narrative.’The most important of these alterations relate to the story of René— this it will be remembered, is the name given to Rousseau in the novel as written by Mme d’Épinay—and they are introduced by the tell-taie words: ‘Reprendre René depuis le commencement’—’Rewrite the story of Rousseau from the beginning.’Every item in the list’contains some attack or innuendo against Rousseau’s character. And, sure enough, every item reappears, with all due literary embellishment, in the revised version of the story.
It is plain, therefore, that the so-called Mémoires have not even the poor merit of reflecting the authoress’unadulterated prejudices; that they stand for nothing better than a faked, garbled blackened version of the judgments she had originally formed The first version we know, from Mme d’Épinay’s own statement,to have been begun in 1757; and she may be presumed to have completed it in the years immediately following (1758–1763). The date of the second is more doubtful. Mrs Macdonald assumes that it was written directly after the public readings of the Confessions which Rousseau gave shortly after his return to Paris (1770–1), and that it was intended for an answer to their revelations. M. Scherer, failing as he did to distinguish between the two versions, assumes the same date (or one a little later), and the same motive, for the whole1 .
We are now in a position to judge of the real value of the Mémoires. We know that they have undergone two successive garblings; the first at the hand of the authoress herself, some time between 1760 and 1783; the second at that of her editor, some forty or fifty years later. The first of these falsifications Had for its object to sponge out the comparatively pleasing portrait of Rousseau which the authoress had originally drawn, and to paint over it that of a treacherous and spiteful monster, ‘the artful villain ‘of Diderot’s invective. The second was undertaken with a view to removing the grossest improbabilities of this spurious portrait, and investing it with an air of plausibility. The resuit of the two is a double-distilled fraud, which imposed upon the world for nearly a century, but whose crédit is now utterly overthrown. No statement that Mme d’Épinay makes, no document that she quotes, unless it is supported by some other and quite independent authority, is worth the paper on which it is written. The whole thing—so far as it relates to Rousseau— is a tissue of forgeries from beginning to end.
The question at once suggests itself: was the first falsification due solely to Mme d’Épinay herself? or was it suggested to her by some other party? Was Eve her own temptress? or was there at her ear some ‘familiar toad ‘who inspired slanders and suggested forgeries of which she would otherwise have been incapable?
Mrs Macdonald is confident that the hand-writing both of Grimm and Diderot may be detected among the notes directing the ∗ changes to be made in the story.’Of Grimm’s manual presence she offers no proof; and, until this is done, there is clearly no case against him. Of notes added, as she believes, by Diderot she gives two facsimiles. And though, from a misapprehension of the reference in her facsimiles, I long hesitated, I have now no doubt whatever that she is in the right, I may add that I base my conclusion on an independent comparison of the facsimiles given by Mrs Macdonald with autograph letters of Diderot’s, preserved in the Geneva Library and the British Museum.
Thus the evidence of hand-writing is fatal to Diderot, but falls us— so far as can be proved at present—in the case of Grimm. In spite of this, however, I believe it probable that Grimm as well as Diderot had a share in the imposture. The mere fact that the second version is more hostile to Rousseau than the first is enough to raise a suspicion that the alteration was due to pressure from without. And there are reasons—not certain indeed but probable—for inferring that it was Grimm and Diderot who applied it. Rousseau himself, both in the Confessions and the Dialogues, expresses his conviction that they were at the bottom of the conspiracy against him. And, though this is obviously no proof, yet, considering that he was exceptionally clearsighted and had exceptional means of information, it affords a presumption which at least deserves examination. It is manifestly fair that the case of each should be taken singly.
And first for Diderot. Much of the information, or what passes for such, that is given in the Mémoires can have been supplied by none but him. I mention only the slander about Rousseau’s alleged double dealing with Saint-Lambert; a slander which is confuted by the best of all proofs, the letters which passed between him and Saint-Lambert in the autumn of 1757. Again: How, I ask did it come that, when the approaching appearance of the Mémoires was announced in 1818, it was the son-in-law of Diderot who acted for the family of Mme d’Épinay in applying for an injunction against their publication? Is not the probable explan tion that Vandeul, the person in question, knew of his father-in-law’s connection with the compilation, that he was heartily ashamed of it, and therefore did everything in his power to suppress it That must certainly have been the motive of Mme d’Épinay’s family On grounds still more closely confined to the ‘Story of René’—the only part of the printed book in which Diderot appears— it is hard to believe that it was not also that of Diderot’s.
Lastly, we know that, during the later years of his life, Diderot was swept off his feet by hatred of Rousseau and terror of the revelations which the Confessions were known to have in store; and this terror and hatred seem at last to have become little less than a possession. The Mémoires of Bachaumont afford sufficient proof that this was the case. And the attack published by Diderot himself within a few months of Rousseau’s death, and republished, with aggravations, after the appearance of the Dialogues and the first (but harmless) part of the Confessions, is one long demonstration of it (1778–1782), The closing words of this diatribe are, for our purpose, particularly significant. ‘Rousseau himself, in a posthumous work where he proclaims himself mad ad nproud, a hypocrite and a liar, has lifted one corner of the veil. Time will finish the task. And justice will be done upon the dead, as soon as it can be done without giving pain to the living.’Mrs Macdonald finds in these words a plain warning of the blow which the author, or authors, of the Mémoires held in reserve. She finds also a plain proof that their contents were well known to Diderot; and she draws the further inference that he himself had supplied much of the material. As to the first two links in the chain she is manifestly right. As to the third, when we take it in connection with the arguments I have just given, it is impossible to say that she is wrong.
But how, you will ask, is tins revengeful spirit to be reconciled with the open character which is generally attributed to Diderot? I answer frankly that it is not. In my opinion, Diderot is one of those men to whom the world has agreed to do something more than justice. here, however, we must make a distinction. I believe that, when left to himself, Diderot was indeed of too open a nature to launch against a former friend a conspiracy so dishonourable as this. I think that his ‘openness ‘was of the kind, only too familiar, which goes hand in hand with deplorable weakness. I conclude that, in this matter, he was probably a puppet in the hands of others more designing and more unscrupulous than himself. I am willing to suppose that, under their influence and perhaps without realising the full bearings of his conduct, he allowed himself to be carried much further than he would have gone of his own accord. And I find in one of Grimm’s letters a sentence which shews that his friends were well aware of his weakness and that some of them were not above trading upon it to the last farthing. This letter was written at a moment when Grimm, apparently on no solid ground, had taken it into his head that Diderot was in the secret of Rousseau’s passion for Mme d’Houdetot This, as we know, was a point on which he was desperately curious. Accordingly he writes to Mme d’Épinay: ‘All we have got to do is to heat his head, and then he will soon begin to steam off his secret.’I imagine that this process of ‘heating Diderot’s head ‘was persistentiy and cunningiy applied to his fears and resentments as well as to his secrets; and that it ended in working him into a perfect frenzy of terror and hatred. He was—his writings as well as his life testify to the fact—incurably loose minded. Once possessed of an idea, he had no power of distinguishing between fact and fiction, He saw black where, in truth there was nothing but white. He tells us, for instance, that Rousseau had repeatedly begged to be restored to his friendship; but that, as a just man, he had felt bound to repel all such advances. The fact, as can be proved from a letter printed in Rousseau s Correspondance, is exactly the reverse. It was Diderot who applied for a renewal of the friendship, and Rousseau who refused1 . Taking all these flaws of temperament into account, I think we may fairly acquit Diderot of the lowest depth of baseness. His conduct was bad enough; but that is no reason why we should make it worse2 .
With Grimm I conceive the case to have been very different. But let us begin at the beginning. And, in the first place, what reason is there for supposing that Grimm had anything to do with the Mémoires of Mme d’Épinay ? The answer is that we can establish the connection from the first link to the last. We know that he was in the secret of their first beginning. We know that, in the early stages, they were regularly submitted to him for correction. We know that, once established as the lover of Mme d’Épinay, he remained her closest friend until her death. Having consulted him when she began the Mémoires, it is therefore not only highly probable that she consulted him to the end, but highly improbable that she did not. And if any startling change was to be made in the plan of them—and we know how startling the changes were—it is inconceivable that Grimm’s advice should not have been sought, hardly possible that it was not also taken, in the matter. But this is not all. How did the rewritten manuscript come into the hands of its first editor, Brunet ? It was bought by him from the heirs of Lecourt de VilIière, a former factotum first of Mme d’Épinay and then of Grimm. How did he obtain the manuscript ? He received it from the hands of Grimm, when the latter fled from France in 17921 . How did the rough copy find its way to the Archives and the Arsenal ? It was brought thither in 1793–8 by the municipal authorities, who. in their turn, had found it among the papers of the émigré, Grimm.
Everything, therefore, conspires to point to Grimm as being bound up with the fate of the Mémoires from the first stage to the last. It is even probable, as Mrs Macdonald argues, that his chief occupation during the four months preceding his final flight from Paris (November, 1791—February, 1792), was to superintend the conversion of the rough draft into the fair COPY. And it is clearly the merest accident that prevented him from destroying the rough copy, with all its damning evidence, directly the fair copy was completed. The cleverest criminal seldom fails to leave some clue by which his misdeeds may be unravelled. And Grimm was clearly no exception to this salutary rule.
But after a11, you may say, men do not act without motives. And what motive had Grimm for blackening the character of
Rousseau Exactly the same, I conceive, as Didetot: a speculative motive, and a personal one. Rousseau was not only the most formidable opponent that the ‘philosophers ‘of the day had to meet; he was the only one worth reckoning. Grimm, therefore like the arch-philosopher Diderot, though certainly to a less degree, was goaded to action by the odium philosophicum which in this as in so many other instances, was no less potent a spur than the odium theologicum. That was the speculative passion which stirred the depths of these celestial souls.
But strong as was the speculative motive, with Grimm, as with Diderot, the personal motive was stronger yet. It may have sprung, as Lord Morley suggests, in the first instance from natural antipathy; though, considering that the two men were close friends for many years, I hardly think this a likely explanation In any case, the antipathy was not returned by Rousseau. It is plain to me that the moving cause of Grimm’s hatred was a not unnatural, but extremely displeasing, jealousy. It is clear that from the moment he had secured a footing in Mme d’Épinay’s house he made up his mind to get Rousseau out of it. The new lover looked askanee at the old friend, and never rested until he had induced his mistress to do likewise. He had already planted two actual or possible rivais, Francueil and Duclos, upon the doorstep He now proceeds, with relentless skill, to apply the same measure to Rousseau. In a series of letters, dating from the spring of 1756 to the final rupture at the end of 1757, he seizes every handle for exciting his mistress’resentments and suspicions. He even stoops to tell her, apparently with no ground for the assertion that Rousseau was in love with her himself. At last these manœuvres had the desired effect; and, under stern compulsion from her tyrant, she roughly ordered Rousseau out of the cottage where she had settled him, with every mark of friendliness, but twenty months before, A few days earlier, Grimm had himself broken violently with his hunted enemy; the letter in which he does so breathes rancour in every line. Is it reasonable to doubt that the man who had done all these things, and done them in this manner, was ready to use against his enemy every weapon that came within his reach? It is certain that he prepared the preposterous Mémoires for publication, Is it not probable that he had also a share in forging the slanders which they were destined to make current? Some of the worst of these occur in letters that purport to come from his own hand. And even supposing that these letters are not faked—as some of them demonstrably are—did he not make himself responsible for them twice over by passing them, years after, for the press?
Such, so far as I can judge, was the man whom Rousseau always regarded as the bitterest of his enemies. In Lord Morley’s book on Rousseau you will find a very different estimate. He discovers in Grimm a ‘helpfulness,’an ‘integrity,’above all, a ‘positivity ‘which is ‘very welcome.’Positivity| How sweet the name sounds in a believer’s ear| Yet I cannot but think that the use of it in this connection is most unfortunate. If by positivity we mean a certain quality of mind, a high, dry, rather cold strain of reasonableness, then I admit that it deserves our full respect. It is not the greatest quality of which man is capable. But it is a useful and, in its place, an indispensable one. We may well agree with Lord Morley that ‘there is too little, rather than too much, of it in the world.’But if we mean the constant elbowing of ourselves and our own interests to the front, if we mean that the positive man is he who persistently tramples on the weak and licks the dust before those who are stronger and richer and more powerful than himself, then may heaven préserve me from positivity| Self-seeking, lying, slandering, and flattery— I should wish to keep a good word for better things than these.
I have said ‘flattery and self-seeking.’And I might have used much stronger words than these. Turn for a moment to his private correspondence with the potentates of the day—he was tame cat to at least three of them—and you will come across strange things. His adulation of them varies between the blasphemous and the burlesque, The following is a sample of his blasphemy ‘Here,’he writes to the Duchess of Saxe-Gotha, who had rebuked him for his insinuations against Rousseau, ‘Here, Madame, you have my confession of faith. I lay it on the altar of goodness and wisdom which, like the Word, has become flesh and we have seen it and its image dwells among us.’Was there ever such a profanation of a great text as this? And here is an instance of his involuntary burlesque. He has just received a letter from Catherine of Russia, murderess and wanton, and he tells her that ‘it makes him weep like a calf. The earthquake of Lisbon is a mere puppet-show, by the side of the agitation it has given him.’It was a bad habit with the philosophers to pour flattery upon this amazing woman. You will find plenty of it in Voltaire s letters to his ‘Minerva ‘and ‘Saint Catherine.’But I do not remember anything so abject as this of Grimm’s. It is clear that the positivity of Grimm, whatever else it may have been was not exactly of the altruistic, or Comtist, variety.
The truth is that, when Lord Morley wrote, comparatively little was known about this highly questionable man. Since then, two new sources of information have been thrown open, and his character is set in an entirely new light. One of these is his private correspondence with ‘certain persons of importance,’ The other is the book by Mrs Macdonald of which I have spoken so often The former proves him, out of his own mouth, to have been a sycophant. The latter furnishes a clue by which, for the first time, the tangled web of the Mémoires has been successfully unravelled In the light of these revelations, I confess I should be much surprised if Lord Morley still thinks of Grimm as favourably as he did. If he does, I for one should be compelled reluctantly to dissent.
Even apart from these recent revelations, I must own that the verdict I speak of seems to me surprising. For even without Mrs Macdonald’s clue, a careful study of the Mémoires proves— as it seems to me, beyond all doubt—that, in his dealings with Rousseau, Grimm was both spiteful and mendacious. I need only refer back to the evidence already mentioned, reminding you that the bulk of it is drawn, doubtless with Mrs Macdonald’s aid, from the letters and statements of the Mémoires. But it is ungrateful to find fault with a writer to whom we all owe so much as to Lord Morley— no one more than myself. And it is only right to say that he has been far more cautious in his use of the Mémoires than most of those who have handled this uncommonly treacherous weapon.
One word more about Grimm and his fellow conspirators, and I have done with this branch of the subject. Of the three, I should judge Mme d’Épinay to have been the least guilty, and to have done her task most thoroughly against the grain. She was the one I believe, who took the least initiative in the matter. It is obvious that, where Grimm was concerned, she had no will of her own Next in the scale, I should place Diderot, whose amazing weakness we have already seen, and who, like the lady, was probably a mere puppet in the hands of Grimm. But his misstatements must have been made with more or less of consciousness and deliberation. He is not, therefore, to be let off as lightly as Mme d’Épinay. Worst of all, there can be little doubt, was Grimm the villain, so far as I can see, of this most discreditable piece. It was he who, on his own shewing, laid the train for the breach between Mme d’Épinay and Rousseau. It was he who fired it. And it was he who took measures for the ultimate publication of the slanders embodied in the Mémoires.
And if we ask how it was that, with all their labour, they could produce no better refutation of the story told in the Confessions the answer is: it was because they had nothing better to give. The charges of the Confessions, I conclude, were substantially true. If met at all, they could be met only by forgery and lies. These were supplied to order in the Mémoires. It was only ask and you shall have. And this is the book which has been taken for gospel, and its authoress sainted as the’ slave of truth1 .’