« EelmineJätka »
The parallel which we intend to draw between a single work of of Rousseau, La Nouvelle Heloise, and La Littérature Extravagante, will best justify the foregoing assertion. It will show what a frightful progress in immorality has been made in France since the time of Rousseau.
Whilst the philosophers of Paris, maddened with sophistry, were destroying every germ of poetry, Rousseau, concealed in the groves of Montmorency, created for himself a world of his own, peopling it with beings such as he might have looked for in vain in that around him. We have his own account of this genuine inspiration of solitude and woods, the more singular as it occurred in the age of Voltaire's "Candide," in words as glowing as those in which any inspired poet ever told his visions.
"Devoured by the necessity of loving, without ever having been able to satisfy it fully, I beheld myself at the threshold of old age, and about to die without having yet lived. . The impossibility of finding the beings of my fancy in real life, drove me into the land of chimeras, and seeing no one in existence worthy of my phrensy, I cherished it in an ideal world which my creative imagination quickly peopled with inhabitants after my own heart. Never did this resource present itself at a more fitting time, nor did it ever prove so fertile. In uninterrupted ecstasy I drank to intoxication deep draughts of the most exquisite sentiments that ever entered into the heart of man. Forgetting altogether the human race, I called up around me a society of perfect beings, as celestial by their virtues as by their loveliness,-of friends firm, faithful and tender, such as I never found here below. I took such delight in thus floating in the empyrean amongst the attractive beings by whom I had surrounded myself, that I passed in this manner uncounted hours and days, and losing the remembrance of all beside, I had no sooner swallowed a hasty meal, than I longed to escape again into my charmed groves.
"I pictured to myself love, friendship, my heart's two idols, under the most enchanting forms. I delighted to invest them with all the charms of that sex which had ever been the object of my adoration. I supposed two female friends, rather than of the other sex, because, if examples of such friendship are more rare, they are also more attractive. I endowed them with characters analogous, yet differing; with countenances, not perfect, but such as were in accordance with my own taste, animated with benevolence and sensibility. I made one dark, the other fair; one full of vivacity, the other of gentleness; one firm, the other yielding, but in whose weakness there was something so touching, that virtue seemed almost to gain by it. To one of them I gave a lover, of whom the other was the tender friend, and even somewhat more; but I admitted no rivalry, no quarrels, no jealousy, for every ungentle sentiment is painful for me to conceive, and I was unwilling to dim my brilliant picture by aught that degrades nature.
"Enamoured of my enchanting models, I identified myself as much as possible with the lover and friend, but I made him attractive and
young, giving him besides the virtues and defects which I was conscious that I myself possessed.
"To find a fitting locality for my characters, I called to mind successively all the most beautiful spots I had seen in my travels. length I fixed upon that part of the shores of the lake where my fancy's wish had long since placed my own residence, in the bosom of that imaginary happiness to which fate has restricted me. The contrasts, the richness and variety of the islands, the magnificence, the majesty of the whole, which enchants the senses, stirs the heart, elevates the soul, combined to determine me, and I established at Vevay my youthful pupils."*
Thus in an age of conventional taste and literary pretension, we meet with a work, the inspiration of solitude, delighting its author during its composition, who long dwelt in the society of the ideal companions he had conjured up; beings not created for the world, but to fill up the vacuity of his heart. Even subsequently, when Rousseau had resolved to introduce them to the world, he was far from sharing the impatience of modern authors, who advertise their novels before they begin to write them. He, on the contrary, after he has finished the letters of two lovers at the foot of the Alps, copies them again and again, either for Madame d'Houdetôt or the Princess de Luxembourg, on delicate satin paper, binds together his sheets with a silken cord of divers colours, delays their publication as long as he can, and enjoys his work, for it is not that of an author by profession. No, he has put into it his heart, which he had relieved by telling, under the veil of fiction, all the mysterious burning and unsatisfied longings of his soul: thus confirming the old saying, that a composition, to be perfect, must be as true as an absolute fact with regard to its author, who ought actually to feel what he writes. Such was the invariable practice of the modern poet Goethe, who never wrote except to deliver his soul of an imperious sentiment. It is of such men that Plato said, they feel an irresistible impulse to create, because their soul is pregnant.*
Accordingly, of all the productions of French literature during the last century, this alone seems to have been born with the mark of immortality. Strange as it may appear, we are nevertheless inclined to consider the Nouvelle Heloise as a philosophical epic of the eighteenth century. Let not the word " philosophical" mislead any one. The French novel writers of the present day overwhelm us with philosophy by wholesale. Their works teem with pseudo-philosophical and pseudo-metaphysical speculations about every thing. Even Balzac, the novelist of the
*Les Confessions, livre ix.
+ Banquet of Plato,
fashionable world, calls his tales, Les Contes Philosophiques; Les Nouveaux Contes Philosophiques, and here and there smuggles into them such treatises as, de la philosophie de la debauche; de la philosophie de l'ivresse, &c. It is an author's stratagem, in order to sell to his fair readers, under the mask of some pages unintelligible to them, his detestable pictures as the product of his deep learning. We will not insult the memory of Rousseau, by allowing it to be supposed for a moment that for such a philosophy we called his work a philosophical epic. The unfortunate Jean Jacques was, in fact, one of the deepest thinkers of either ancient or modern times; but he lived in an age when the tree of knowledge, instead of its genuine fruits, had produced a sickly and monstrous excrescence. Serious theories upon all social questions constantly occupied him, and many of those which fermented in his brain he developed in his novel. St. Preux, Wolmar, Lord Edward, even Julia and Clara, philosophize and assist him to unravel his system. Without this philosophical spirit, his work would not be an epic of the eighteenth century, since every epic must be of its own age. Further, should all the records of the second part of the last century perish, a faithful picture of it would be exhibited in the Nouvelle Heloise. There we see the civilization and the corruption of Paris contrasted with the poverty and virtue of the Swiss mountaineers; we meet there the English carrying about their ennui and their philosophy, and we listen to Albion parliamenting in monarchical France and fixing the attention of innumerable innovators on the eve of a revolution. All these characteristics should be collected in an epic, and we find them in this novel. In short we possess, emanating from the concluding part of an age which promised no poetry, a most poetic composition-an ideal creation, to which the author imparted that reality which was so strongly felt and well expressed by Byron:
""Twas not for fiction chose Rousseau this spot,
And wonderful, and deep, and hath a sound
And sense and sight of sweetness: here the Rhone
Hath spread himself a couch, the Alps have reared a throne."
None will ever visit the castle of Clarens
"Clarens! sweet Clarens, birth-place of deep love!"
without looking there for Julia and Clara, though, as Rousseau
observes, they ought not to be sought there. "The country and the people," says he, " with whom it is covered, never seemed to me to have been made for each other."*
Of this composition, so important as a work of art, let us now consider the moral tendency-the view which the author had in publishing it. He starts from the point, that works on morality will produce no effect upon the inhabitants of great cities. The most virtuous works will only glide over their minds, from which one impression ever effaces another, and in which none takes deep root. Persons secluded from the world, on the contrary, the inhabitants of country places living in their family circle, might derive benefit from a well-written book; the authors therefore of works on morality ought to have these last in view. The desire of Rousseau to give to works of imagination such a tendency, and to exercise thus a salutary influence on public education, shows at once a spirit infinitely at variance with that which then prevailed in France. Did he accomplish what he promised? Is his composition to be considered as moral or immoral? This is what we are about to examine.
Let it not be forgotten, that Rousseau lived in France during the eighteenth century. He formed his opinion of the morality of the age according to what he saw around him, and in accordance with that, he estimated the duties of a moralist. If his system was sometimes erroneous, it was not so much his fault as that of his age. Hence it was, that he who loudly proclaimed that it was a crime to disturb an established creed by imprudent inquiries, indulged himself in bold opinions on the dogmas of Christianity; dreading lest the universal impiety both in France and other parts of the continent, joined to a false philosophy, should wither all religious sentiment in the human heart; and deeming, at the same time, that it was allowable to save the root of the tree at the expense of its branches. In the same way, the melancholy aspect of public morals seemed to urge him to rescue at least so much out of them as was most vitally connected with the existence of society.
"Had Heloise," says he, "had nothing to reproach herself for, her example would be much less instructive. In times of the greatest corruption, people still admire a perfect morality, as this excuses them from adopting it as a model of their conduct, and thus at an easy rate, by mere idle reading, they satisfy the remnant of their taste for virtue. Sublime authors! make your models a little less exalted if you wish to see them imitated. To whom do you extol a perfect virtue? Talk to us rather of that which may yet be recovered; perhaps some one may be found who will profit by such an example."
Les Confessions, livre iv.
Finally, he regrets that he did not live in an age when he must have burnt his work. With this conviction, Rousseau chose for the subject of his work, not that virtue which had never parted, but that which rising after a fall, makes amends for a fault committed in youth, by sacrifices of the heart, of all life, in the strict fulfilment of duties. His theme is that passion and crime disturb existence, and entail upon it a long series of sufferings and misfortunes; after which rest, peace, and happiness are recovered in the bosom of virtue. Rousseau pays, at the expense of the tumults of stormy passion, a high tribute to the serenity produced by a virtuous life. Is there in this a moral sense?
The story is simple and so well known that it need not be long dwelt on here. The daughter of virtuous parents is seduced by a man of inferior condition to her own, and they will not sanction their union. The lovers are painted in the most attractive colours, and the author tries even to throw the charm of innocence over their criminal love, and to find excuses for her in the imprudence of her mother, who had allowed them to associate, in circumstances, and in the blindness of passion. Truth and morality, however, do not suffer by this attempt, for it is the spectators and not the actors themselves who thus look upon the drama; since the maiden feels her degradation and the lover knows that he is a vile seducer whom the law may visit with rigorous justice. Their peace is gone; they pass through an ordeal of painful trials, aggravated yet more by remorse. This is the mere prologue. Julia, who is the chief personage, separated from her lover, but not from love, at length arrives at the critical moment for her happiness-and the novel at the critical point of its morality. The first is now to be decided, the second to be made manifest. On one side of the misguided Julia stand, virtue, duty, filial piety for her father; for the mother, the cause of her daughter's aberration, has just died; on the other her faithful and unhappy lover, and love with all its allurements. To which side will Julia pass? She had been weak, she was degraded, but in the arms of guilt she felt her degradation, and therefore did not irrevocably fall a victim to it. Lord Edward, the friend of her lover, proposes their elopement, and offers a safe and splendid asylum for their love. But Julia must then desert her father,-and she refuses the offer. Her father urges her to marry a man whom she does not love; her heart shrinks; but she complies with the request of her parent. The sacrifice appears to her as a just expiation by an offending daughter; the just punishment of a guilty child. But then comes the wonder. No sooner has Julia broken the
* Preface to the Nouvelle Heloise.