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Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was the prophet of Romanticism. He started life in Protestant Geneva, but most of his life was lived in Paris where he was both part of the Encyclopedia staff as well as a revolutionary thinker whose works contributed to the French Revolution. His novel Julie, ou la nouvelle Heloise was one of the best-selling novels of the eighteenth century.



Early life of Jean-Jacques Rousseau

by William H. Fredlund
1712 June 28 Born GENEVA. Jean-Jacques Rousseau is born to Isaac Rousseau, a clockmaker, and his wife Susan Bernard. Rousseau has older brother François(born 1705.) The Rousseau home is at 40 Grand Rue. Building still there with plaque. Rousseau family of French Huguenot origin, had been in Geneva for five generations.(Since 1549)
1712 July 1 Mother Susan Bernard dies.
1712 July 4 Rousseau baptized in Saint Pierre the Calvinist cathedral of Geneva where Calvin preached. From 1712 to 1717, Rousseau lives in the family home on Grand Rue of elegant Geneva.(mother's family).
1717 Father Isaac's poor management puts family in bad situation have to move out of big house and into tiny apt in unfashionable Geneva of the workers. This is Rousseau whole life: aspirations of the upper class. Reality: no money.
1722 Isaac gets into fight, challenges a duel, gets summoned by authorities. Decides to flee Geneva. Isaac lives rest of his life outside the boundaries of Geneva in nearby Switz. Thus in 1722 when Rousseau is now age ten he is left in Geneva to the mercies of his mother's family. Basically he is an "orphan" for the rest of his youth.
1722 BOSSEY Uncle sends Rousseau and his cousin Benjamin to a country parson named Jean Jacques Lambercier nearby Geneva. Lambercier has lovely single sister who helps. Rousseau discovers he loves being spanked by Mlle. Lambercier.
1724 Rousseau back in Geneva in his uncle's house.
1725 Rousseau was apprenticed to an engraver, Geneva, Abel Ducommun (1705-?) Now Rousseau has descended again into lower class contrary to all the upper class life of his uncle's house. His self conscious life. Buying the pears. He absolutely hates his life as a lower-class apprentice. Thought of himself as a "special" person from a special family. This is his first experience with the lower classes and he hates them when he is among them up close.
1728 March Rousseau goes for country walk with friends. They get locked out of the city gates: too late. Decides to run away
1728 SAVOY, ANNECY March 21 Arrives Annecy. Sent to meet Françoise-Louise de la Tour, Baronne (Baroness) de Warens. Mme de Warens, aged 29. (Rousseau always call her "Maman," Mama.) What did Rousseau look like? They said he was "attractive." (See Rousseau's own description of himself at this moment of his life in his Confessions, Oxford World's Classics edition, p. 47: "I was not what you would call handsome, but my figure was neat and trim; I had a shapely foot, a slender leg, a jaunty air, a lively face, a pretty mouth, black eyebrows and hair, eyes which were small and quite deepset, but which flashed with the fire that burned in my veins.")
1728 TURIN (March) Guest at house of Mme suggests Rousseau go to a hospice for Protestant converts to Roman Catholicism. Rousseau sets off walking with companion over Alps to Turin.
1728 Leaves the hospice hates it. Gets job with Countess de Vercellis, Palazzo Cavour as a footman. Hideous descent for this proud "citoyen" of Geneva. His cavorting in the alleys of Turin exposing bottom!
1728 December The Countess died: "a woman who farts is not dead." And died. Rousseau again alone out on the streets.
1729 SAVOY, ANNECY Rousseau runs away from Turin with friend. Walks back to Savoy, Annecy, goes to house of Mme de Warens. Rousseau is welcomed into house. At suggestion of friend, Rousseau enters a Catholic seminary in Annecy. He hates.
1731 CHAMBERY, SAVOY Mme has moved to apt in Chambery. Rousseau comes.(age 19) Tearful reunion. Complex household with Mme's "accountant" Claude Anet living there too and her secret lover. He attempts suicide. Was this because of Rousseau? Rousseau gets job in the Survey Office. Lasts 8 months. (never does like a steady job of any kind. Hates being told what to do.) Now Rousseau enters music actively. Studies then begins giving music lessons in Chambery. Active for rest of his life in music: writes it and makes living copying music.
1733 Life continues in Chambery for the menage a trois. Rousseau is 21 and Rousseau Mme (Maman) decides it is time to end his virginity. She openly proposes to alter this situation and he accepts. No doubt Claude Anet discerned what was going on. How did Rousseau feel? ("I felt as if I had committed incest.")
1734 (March) Claude Anet dies of illness.
1735, LES CHARMETTES Mme de Warens leases small house in the country valley of Les Charmettes outside Chambery. Here Rousseau & Mme live tranquil in summer of '35 and summer of '36 before she later takes another lover (Wintzenreid). These summers of '35, '36, '37 provide Rousseau with the romantic mythology of house in country with bubbling brooks and flowers and walks in the country and all the other romantic visions of nature linked to Love! All this is when Rousseau begins to write seriously.
1737 Rousseau now turns 25, age of majority in Geneva. He now has right to claim his inheritance from his mother's estate. So he sets off to Geneva to get lawyer to help. He received 30,000 florins which he brings to Mme to help with expenses.
1737 Fall Rousseau journeys to Montpellier for a "cure" (also may have been to get away from Mme new lover Wintzenreid). Relations not good now between Rousseau and Mme. The new man in the house has spoiled the dream. But Rousseau goes back anyway.
1738 Rousseau back at Les Charmettes in a new menage-a-trois with Wintzenreid the new young lover ("tall, pale well-built") a former hairdresser. Rousseau miserable summer of 1738 having to share Mme with W. Ruined the whole romantic idyll. His writing increases and it is summer 1738 when he publishes first piece. Writes on Life of Solitude (Remember Werther talks of the same thing). Here is one of the cornerstones of Romantic imagery: man happy in nature.
1739 Rousseau spends summer at Les Charmettes with Mme and Wintzenreid. Here have situation so much like Sorrows of Young Werther. The threesome and Rousseau stays there and lives it and suffers.
1740 Rousseau (age 27) decides to leave Les Charmettes, can't stand the threesome. Time to spread his wings and fly away from Maman.
1740, LYONS April Rousseau goes to Lyons. Joins household of Jean de Mably, Provost General of province of Lyons for King. Rousseau enters one of most sophisticated well educated households of Lyons. Enlightenment, Progress, Science, political theory, technology. Mably: Believe the credo of Bacon, that science will save us. Rousseau to be the tutor to little Mably children. Rousseau project for Mably children: drop Latin and Greek. Part of the old vs new. Battle of the Books of 17thC.
1742, PARIS The ambitious young man comes to the capital to make his name and fortune. Here Rousseau is like another fictional character Julien Sorel. Moves into Hotel Saint Quentin near the Sorbonne (Left Bank). Arrives Paris with letters of introduction to all the important people thanks to the Mably family. Thus Rousseau connected to upper class from the start. (contrary to the myth of the poor talented poet who makes it on his talent). Rousseau meets immed the secretary of the Academy of Archaeology who invites Rousseau to submit his new system for musical notation to the academy and soon Rousseau attends session. Rousseau's play Narcisse, brings to Paris, shows to the playwright Marivaux. M. encourages. Narcisse shows us Rousseau in the world of Watteau. Same playful gay light inconsequential world of mid century Paris that drove all into arms of Romanticism. Rousseau there too. Narcisse: Valere loves Angelique. A and sister pay painter to paint picture of Valere in the clothes of a woman. Valere falls in love with the painting. Perfect:! homosexuality, narcissism, transvestite all perfect for gay world of Paris mid-18thC.
1743 VENICE Rousseau gets job as secretary to Amb to Venice. summer '43 he arrives Venice. Rousseau has NO interest in Venetian painting. Isn't that interesting? He loved music, but no love of painting.
1744 PARIS Rousseau back in Paris. Moves in and lives for one year with his friend, Don Manual Ignacio Altuna, Spanish nobleman.
1745 Spring Altuna returns to Spain. Rousseau impoverished not a penny so now reduced again to that terrible poverty that alternates with living among the rich. Moves back to the Hotel Saint-Quentin. Meets Therese Levasseur (lives with mother & father in the Rue Saint-Jacques) "I declared to her in advance that I would never abandon her and never marry her."
1746 Rousseau joins the Dupin family as paid retainer. For next five years helps both husband and wife with their publications. does research. prepares for publication books. Son Françueil and he work on science projects together.
1748 Birth of Rousseau's first child to Therese. Rousseau decided and convinced Therese to get rid of the little unwanted bastard. Oct, Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws is published. Montesquieu was friend of the Dupins. Rousseau working with Diderot on the project of the Encyclopedia the most characterisitc of mid-century Enlightenment projects. To gather all human knowledge together in one publication. Rousseau defines self as "chameleon." Meets Mme d'Epinay and begins to frequent her castle fifteen miles from Paris. Mme d'Epinay is the lover of his friend Françueil de Dupin.
1749 July 23 Diderot arrested thrown into prison in Vincennes. August Rousseau conversion on road to visit hot day hot walk.(Reminds us of Paul on the road to Damascus and Luther on the road home in storm.) Rousseau reads in the Mercure de France about the competition of the Academy of Dijon. Talks with Diderot about it. Was it Diderot who chose the side he should take since would be least expected????? Here we have the CENTRAL REVERSAL OF ENLIGHTENMENT PARIS: Rousseau at work on the Encyclopedia writes essay that attacks the whole premise of optimistic progressive Encyclopedia. One of most violent changes of direction in intellectual history. Diderot's optimistic prospectus for the Encyclopedia appears at exactly the same time as does Rousseau's Discourse on the Arts and the Sciences. Rousseau's Discourse refutes everything the Encyclopedia stands for. Science is evil says Rousseau. Harmful effects. Science is rooted in vice. sciences such as jurisprudence are only refective of human vice. Denounces the Bacon dream of science increasing wealth and thus improving man's life. Rousseau says this is just lust for luxury.Frugality is good for us. The arts and sciences cast garlands of flowers over the chains that men bear, crushing in them that sense of original liberty for which they are born, making them like their slavery, and turning them into what is called a civilized people. We must always follow commands; never our own nature. Modern man will finally explode and cause him to beg to have his innocence and ignorance and poverty back. "Setting myself against everything that excites admiration today, I can only await a universal outcry." Instead they gave him the PRIZE!!!!!!!!!!!! Voltaire rejected totally the essay that was tolerated in some circles in Paris. He found its reactionary views totally contrary to his own progressive ones.
1750-1757, HOTEL DE LANGUEDOC Rousseau moves in to Hotel with Therese, lives there surrounded by Therese family esp her mother who is constant interfering woman. July, Rousseau wins the Dijon prize. 1751, Mercure de France begins to publish letters about it and thus it becomes the great cause celebre of Paris.
1751, January Discourse published in Paris. Mercure publishes many letters about it. June, first volume of the Encyclopedia appears. 1753 Feb. Rousseau opera, Le Devin de Village, performed in Paris to huge success. (Devin=diviner or soothsayer) pastoral drama of true love. Complete simplicity. shephards and shepherdesses. Innocence wins out. Purity of country. Here is the Rousseau world. Le Devin de Village is performed before the King at Versailles.
1754, Summer Rousseau and Therese visit Geneva. Rousseau welcomed as celebrity. Rousseau considers resettling permanently back in Geneva. Has brief last meeting with Mme de Warens. Returns to Paris by Oct. Samuel Johnson to James Boswell: "I think Rousseau one of the worst of men; a rascal who ought to be hunted out of society, as he has been. Three or four nations have expelled him; and it is a shame that he is protected in this country!"
1755, August Publish the Discourse on the Origins of Inequality in Amsterdam and copies are on sale in Paris in the summer of 1755.
1778 While taking a morning walk on the estate of the marquis René Louis de Girardin at Ermenonville (28 miles northeast of Paris), Rousseau suffered a hemorrhage and died, aged 66. Rousseau was initially buried at Ermenonville on the Ile des Peupliers, near Geneva which became a place of pilgrimage for his many admirers. Sixteen years after his death, his remains were moved to the Panthéon in Paris in 1794, where they are located directly across from those of his contemporary, Voltaire.


1700 Foundation of the Academy of Science in Berlin: Liebniz elected President, thus marking the international nature of the Scientific Revolution.
1702 Death of King William III of England. Succeeded by Queen Anne(till 1714)
1703 Birth of John Wesley founder of Methodism. Isaac Newton elected President of Royal Society(Science in England).
1704 Death of John Locke. J.S. Bach writes his first cantata. Newton publishes his "Optics" emission theory of light. Daniel Defoe in prison starts his weekly newspaper The Review.
1706 England on the march: Marlborough conquers Spanish Netherlands.
1707 Handel in Venice. meeting with Scarlatti.
1709 Birth of Samuel Johnson. English literary critic.
1710 Leibniz pub Theodicee, (God created the best of all possible worlds, later parodied in Voltaire's Candide).
1711 The Spectator in London. begun by Addison and Steele.
1712 Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock. Birth of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (dies 1778).
1713 Birth of Denis Diderot. (d. 1784).
1714 Death of Queen Anne of England. Succeeded by Hanoverian line, George I.
1715 Death of King Louis XIV of France succeeded by his great-grandson Louis XV under Regency of Duc d'Orleans (Louis XV reigns to 1774).
1716 Diario di Roma begin pub. in Italy. First Italian newspaper.
1717 Watteau paints "Embarkation for the Isle of Cythera." Captures perfectly the French aristocratic dream of 18thC naturalism.Inoculation against small pox introduced in London by Lady Mary Montagu.
1718 Voltaire imprisoned in the Bastille. Foundation of Yale University in New Haven, Conn.
1719 Daniel Defoe, The Life and Strange Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. Based on true story in the newspapers. Usually credited as the first English novel. Had huge success. Man isolated in nature; does very well. Rousseau recommend it as the first novel a young boy should read. Coleridge praised its evocation of the "universal man" and Marx used it to demonstrate economic theory.
1721 J.S.Bach: Brandenberg Concertos.
1722 Daniel Defoe, The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders. Autobiography of young woman left to grow up in England when her mother is shipped off to Virginia penal colony. First great success of "woman"s fiction." Stories of success and failure of smart, tough young woman.
1724 Birth of Immanuel Kant. (d. 1804)
1725 Allan Ramsay, The Gentle Shepherd. Evocation of the 18thC myth of the shepherd, the pastoral with its Scots songs, beautiful rural imagery.(same thing in paintings of Watteau).
1726 Jonathan Swift: Gulliver's Travels.
1727 King George I dies. Succeeded by his son George II (to 1760).Death of Isaac Newton.
1729 J.S. Bach: St Matthew Passion.
1732 Birth of George Washington. (d. 1799).
1733 Alexander Pope, Essay on Man. Latin language abolished in the English courts. First newspaper in New York: The New York Weekly.
1734 Mme. de Lambert in her "Avis d'une Mere a sa Fille" recommends university education for women.
1735 Birth of John Adams (dies July 4, 1826). New York: John Peter Zenger printer publisher in NY acquitted of seditious libel in landmark case estab freedom of the press in the colonies.
1736 Venice: manufacture of glass begins in Murano.
1738 Voltaire introduces the ideas of Isaac Newton to France.
1740 Beginning of the reign of King Frederick II (Frederick the Great) in Prussia, transformation of small state of Prussia into one of most important states in Europe in which freedom of the press and freedom of religion is estab. by Frederick.
1741 Handel, Messiah, composed in 18 days. Philadelphia: Benjamin Franklin founds The General Magazine.
1742 Henry Fielding: Joseph Andrews.
1743 Birth of Thomas Jefferson (dies July 4, 1826). French explorers reach the Rocky Mountains. American vistas of pure nature carried back to France influence new school of nature as discussed by Rousseau.
1745 Death of Jonathan Swift. (b. 1667)
1747 Voltaire, Zadig. Samuel Johnson: Plan of a Dictionary of the English Language. Enlightenment: Age of Dictionaries and Encyclopedias.
1748 Samuel Richardson: Clarissa.
1749 Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling. One of biggest successes in the new world of the novel. Dijon Academy announces a competition for an essay on whether the arts and sciences contribute to the moral progress of man. Rousseau decides to enter with an essay in the negative. Wins.
1751 Paris: Rousseau now one of most famous writers due to the discussions on the newspapers of his essay on the arts and sciences. Paris: publish the prospectus for the great Enlightenment project of the Encyclopedia (Denis Diderot editor-in-chief). David Hume, Enquiry Concerning the Principals of Morals.
1755 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, publish in Paris his essay entered in the Dijon Academy competition of previous year on subject: The Origins of Inequality among Men. JJ says men in the state of nature are good; society makes them bad. One of the most influential works of the whole of the 18th century standing at the head of the whole Romantic Movement of the next 200 years.
1758 America: Geo Washington takes Fort Duquene (later named Pittsburgh) in the French and Indian War (in Europe called the Seven Years War).
1759 Voltaire: Candide, called a philosophical novel.
1760 King George the II succeeded by his son George III. James Macpherson publishes Ossian, Fragments of Ancient Poetry, Collected in the Highlands, a great literary fraud that had huge success as a collection of ancient Scottish poetry capturing the current mania for back to nature. Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy. Josiah Wedgwood founds his works at Etruria, Staffordshire, produce "china."
1762 Rousseau: The Social Contract (concept of the "general will").
1763 Peace of Paris ends the Seven Years War (French and Indian War in America) ends with the total triumph of England. France now driven out of America and the English colonies can now spread west with no opposition from European power. In Europe England supreme, English navy commands the seas, French navy negligible.
1764 Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary. Mozart, writes his first symphony.
1765 London: Parliament passes the Stamp Act.
1766 Fragonard, The Swing.
1767 Rousseau goes to England. J. J. Winkelmann publishes his great work, Monumenti Antichi, on the Classical monuments of Italy, signaling Europe's new fascination with the ancient world especially Rome and its history, as in Gibbon's Decline and Fall of Rome. This mania for the ancient world is another aspect of the Romantic quest for other times and other places.
1768 First weekly numbers of the Encyclopedia Brittanica.
1770 Boston: The Boston Massacre Future king of France marries Marie Antoinette, daughter of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria.
1773 Boston: Boston Tea Party.
1774 Goethe, Sorrows of Young Werther, first great international bestseller in world of fiction. Death of King Louis XV: succeeded by his son Louis XVI (wife Marie Antoniette).
1775 American Revolution begins: Paul Revere's ride. George Washington becomes Commander-in-Chief of the revolutionary armies.
1776 Declaration of Independence in America. Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of Roman Empire. Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.
1778 Death of Rousseau. Death of Voltaire. Opening of La Scala opera house in Milan.
1781 publish Rousseau's Confessions.
1783 Peace of Versailles signed that recognizes the Independence of the 13 Colonies. French helped Americans win. Much pro-American sentiment in Paris. Thomas Jefferson has been great hit there. Birth of Stendhal.
1786 Robert Burns, Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. Mozart, Marriage of Figaro.
1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia: Writes the US Constitution.
1788 Parlement of Paris lists grievances. King Louis XVI decides to call meeting of Estates General (the national congress) to be convened for May, 1789. Birth of Byron.
1789 French Revolution. New York: First national congress for US under new Constitution. George Washington sworn in as first president of the United States.
1790 Edmund Burke, Reflections of the Revolution in France. Mozart, Cosi Fan Tutte opera.
1791 King Louis XVI arrested. US: Bill of Rights.
1792 Birth of Percy Bysshe Shelley (dies 1822). Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Women.
1793 Execution of King Louis XVI of France. Establish the Committee of Public Safety. Danton as its head. Terror begins. Marquis de Sade, La Philosophie dans le Boudoir. Begin building the Capitol, Washington DC: Neo-Classic architecture.
1794 Execution of Robbespierre in Paris. Thomas Paine, Age of Reason.
1795 Rise of Napoleon: Appointed Commander-in-chief in Italy.
1797 Napoleon and Josephine in Paris. rising power in revolution.
1799 Napoleon triumphant. Consular gov. Birth of Balzac. Beethoven, Symphony No. 1. Rosetta stone found in Egypt making possible decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics.
1800 Napoleon estab as "First Consul:" complete control now of military and civil. gov.