Romanticism pp 294-303 | Cite as

Jean Jacques Rousseau: Confessions

  • John B. Halsted
Part of the The Documentary History of Western Civilization book series (DHWC)


Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) has been accused of as well as credited with causing both the Romantic movement and the French Revolution (or whatever was good or evil in each). He certainly was one of the most influential thinkers of modern times, and his works have been used as sources of stimulation or authority for an immense variety of social, political, and aesthetic positions. He was born in Geneva: the opening pages of his Confessions which appear below, describe his family circumstances. He had to make his own way and did so largely as a copier of music, spending considerable time in Paris, moving among the philosophes but remaining solitary in consequence of his irascible and sensitive nature. His works contain a whole range of themes that were to become the staples of Romanticism. Like Goethe’s Werther, it is a misunderstood young genius who appears in the Confessions. His Emile expressed his opposition to the conventionality and formality of prevalent modes of child-rearing and education, and an untheological religion stressing the benignity of nature appeared in the “Confession of Faith of the Savoyard Vicar.” His Discourse on the Arts and Sciences has strong primitivist implications, and his Social Contract proposes a kind of religious nationalism, emphasizes the need for emotional participation in civic affairs, and seems to laud the political virtues of a simple peasantry.


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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1969

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  • John B. Halsted

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