Autobiographical, Scientific, Religious, Moral, and Literary Writings (Collected Writings of Rousseau)
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Newcomers to Rousseau’s works and those who are familiar with his writings will find something to surprise them both in this wide variety of short pieces from every period of his life.
Among the important theoretical writings found here are the “Fiction or Allegorical Fragment on Revelation” and the “Moral Letters,” which are among Rousseau’s clearest statements about the nature and limits of philosophic reasoning. In the early “Idea of a Method for the Composition of a Book,” Rousseau lays out in advance his understanding of how to present his ideas to the public. He ponders the possibilities for and consequences of air travel in “The New Daedalus.” This volume also contains both his first and last autobiographical statements.
Some of these writings show Rousseau’s lesser-known playful side. A comic fairy tale, “Queen Whimsical”, explores the consequences—both serious and ridiculous—for a kingdom when the male heir to the throne, endowed with the frivolous characteristics of his mother, has a sister with all the characteristics of a good monarch. When Rousseau was asked whether a fifty-year old man could write love letters to a young woman without appearing ridiculous, he responded with “Letters to Sophie,” which attempt to demonstrate that such a man could write as many as four—but not as many as six—letters before he became a laughingstock. In “The Banterer,” he challenges readers to guess whether the work they are reading was written by an author who is “wisely mad” or by one who is “madly wise.” When Rousseau was challenged to write a merry tale, “without intrigue, without love, without marriage, and without lewdness,” he produced a work considered too daring to be published in France.
1 How many prejudices and errors and evils did I begin to notice in everything that causes men’s admiration, this view touched me with pain and inﬂamed my courage, I believed that I felt myself animated by a ﬁner zeal than that of amour-propre, I took up the pen and, having resolved to forget myself, I consecrated its productions to the service of truth and virtue. This resolution seemed to inspire me with genius and a new soul. The lively persuasion that dictated my writings gave them a warmth
that. I have the right to believe myself capable of that restraint; it will not be my apprenticeship. 14 I do not care at all about being noticed, but when I am noticed I am not sorry for it to be in a slightly distinctive manner, and I would prefer to be forgotten by the whole human race than regarded as an ordinary man. 15 On that point I have an unanswerable reply to make; it is that from the manner in which I am known in the world I have less to gain than to lose in showing myself as I am.
safe refuge. The religious views expressed in the “Profession” made Rousseau the target of the defenders of religious orthodoxy (both Protestant and Catholic) without winning him many allies among the more radically antireligious intellectuals. Rousseau’s journey to this position was eventful. Aside from some prayers (also included here), his earliest religious writing was the certiﬁcation of a miracle, the “Memorandum Delivered April 19, 1742.” When this work was unearthed years later, after
torments, rather than to eat a burnt stew. One must reason with wise men and never with the public. The multitude has been compared to a ﬂock of sheep for a long time; it is necessary to give it examples instead of arguments, for everyone fears being ridiculed much more than being foolish or wicked. Moreover in all things that concern the common interest, since almost all people judge in accordance with their own maxims, they are less attached to examining the force of proofs than to penetrating
justice, and in power. It would be easier to annihilate the sentiment of divinity in oneself than to conceive of a God without acknowledging in him those attributes the combination of which forms the only manner in which he can be represented to our mind. Now, from a necessary consequence of his inﬁnite power, it must extend over us; and if it extends over us, since it is the source of all wisdom, it requires that we govern ourselves following the principles of wisdom that it put into our mind;