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:
|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
|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
|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
|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
|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
|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
|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.|