Confessions; Free PDF Book by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1923) biography

Confessions; Free PDF Book by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1923) biography

Confessions; Free PDF Book by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Volume 1
Translated from the French. With a preface by EDMUND WILSON

ROUSSEAU'S Confessions is the first great document of its kind in the modern world; it is the first great romantic autobiography. It may seem strange to us nowadays when we are surfeited with confessions - when fiction has come more and more to take the form of rambling autobiography and when everyone, of however humble eminence, writes at some time or other the "story of his life" - that such a narrative as Rousseau s should ever have been a novelty.

 Yet it is a fact that the particular romantic interest in personality which has drenched literature ever since had its first important expression in Rousseau. Hitherto before the latter half of the eighteenth century, the most violent emotions of men had tended to crystallize in objective works of art, as the passionate storms of Swift were compressed into pamphlets and satires and the sensibility of Racine was chiseled in the marble of classical tragedies.

But at the advent of Rousseau, with his new motto, Intus et in cute, the simple record of one's feelings and impressions became an end and a form in itself; you assumed that a thing was interesting, not by virtue of its absolute importance, but because it had happened to you, and you assumed that the things that happened inside you were more important than the things you actually did. When Byron comes to vent his emotions he will produce no real objective masterpiece, like Swift or Racine; he will merely give out a strong emanation of personality, the smoky fumes of escaping passions, an attitude, a pose, a temperament, abounding simply in the sense of its own will.

The very phenomena of the landscape and the seasons which have hitherto been regarded as rather uninteresting will be absorbed by the subjective life till they seem almost to share some sympathy with it. On one of the very first pages of the Confessions Rousseau tells of hearing the swallows which had come twittering outside the window when as a boy he had sat up all night reading, and, as Sainte-Beuve has said, they announced more than the coming of morning: they were the heralds of the whole flamboyant summer of modern romanticism.

Contrast Rousseau's Confessions with Voltaire s autobiographical fragment a typical document of the eighteenth century: the brisk bright running notes of the latter are all of the public affairs and public people; when they decline from an impersonal attitude it is only for a tincture of malice. But in Rousseau it is Rousseau we hear about, rarely ever society or politics; and we some times get the impression that Rousseau s individual soul is more precious than either politics or society.

Author: Jean-Jacques Rousseau
 Publication Date:1923

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