Jean Jacques Rousseau, a French author, born in Geneva, June 28, 1712, died at Erme-nonville, near Paris, July 2, 1778. He was descended from a family of Paris booksellers and Protestant refugees. His mother, the daughter of a clergyman, died when he was born, and he afterward mourned her death as the first of his woes. From his father, a watchmaker, he inherited a visionary, restless disposition, and a great fondness for works of fiction. Before he was nine years old he had spent whole nights with him in reading novels and Plutarch's "Lives." He was a sickly boy, and his life was saved only through the care of an aunt. After his father's departure from Geneva he was sent to school in the neighboring village of Boissy; and he afterward lived for several years in the house of his uncle, an engineer in Geneva, and acquired some knowledge of drawing and mathematics. After serving in the office of a lawyer, who dismissed him, he was apprenticed to an engraver, from whom he ran away in 1728. While wandering about penniless, he was relieved from starvation by the proselytizing priest Pontverre of Con-fignon in Savoy, who presented him to Mme. de Warens at Annecy, a recent convert to Catholicism. She sent him to the school of catechumens at Turin for his definitive conversion, and he lost no time in nominally going through the ceremony, in order to escape from that institution.
But his destitution obliged him to become a lacquey of the countess de Vercellis, and after her death of the count de Gouvon at Turin, who taught him Latin, and with whom his prospects were improving when an old comrade tempted him to lead a roving life, which in the autumn of 1729 ended in his seeking shelter under the roof of Mme. de Warens. She now sent him to a theological seminary at Annecy, from which he was dismissed as unfitted for the priesthood. Finally he took up his abode in her house at Chambéry, and after a severe illness he passed several years with her as her lover in the neighboring farmhouse Les Charmettes. He left her in 1740 in a fit of jealousy, and was a tutor in the family of M. de Mably at Lyons till the autumn of 1741, when he went to Paris. He was absorbed at that time in the study of music, after attempting to teach the art, and he had invented a new system of musical notation, which he submitted in 1742 to the academy of sciences in Paris, under the auspices of Réaumur, but without success. At a later period he published a Dictionnaire de musique. He then composed Les muses galantes, an opera which was never performed.
After recovering from a new attack of illness he was secretary to M. de Montaigu, French ambassador at Venice, for about 18 months, but in 1745 he returned to Paris disgusted with his chief. Here he became acquainted with Mme. d'Épi-nay, Diderot, Grimm, and D'Holbach. He now lived with Thérèse Le Vasseur; whom he had first met at a squalid hotel where she was a cook. She was coarse but faithful, and bore him five children, who were successively sent to the foundling hospital. Toward the close of his life he took her as his wife, in presence of two witnesses. He struggled with adversity for several years, receiving little or nothing for his musical and literary labors, and only a small income as secretary to Mme. Dupin, and next as cashier, which latter employment filled him with anxiety and nearly ruined his health. In 1750 he received the prize offered by the academy of Dijon for the best disquisition on the question whether the progress of science and the arts has contributed to corrupt or improve the morals of mankind. In his essay he declared war against all civilization, and henceforward he set himself up as a censor and reformer of society, disdaining all the elegancies of life, and attracting attention by his oddities.
In 1752 he produced Le devin du village, an opera, the artless melody of which won general admiration, and Lettre sur la musique française, in favor of Italian music, which exposed him to the animosity of the national school. He caused a still greater sensation by writing in 1753 another essay for the academy of Dijon on "The Origin of Inequality among Men," in which he attacked the existing social order. He now revisited Geneva, where he was cordially received and regained his citizenship by returning to Calvinism, and would have remained there but for his jealousy of Voltaire, who resided in the vicinity. In 1756 he took up his residence at the Hermitage, a charming retreat which Mme. d'Épinay had fitted up for him and his family in the valley of Montmorency; and here he wrote most of Julie, ou la Nouvelle Héloïse (6 vols., 1760), in which he idealized Mme. d'Houdetot, and his Lettre sur les spectacles, addressed to D'Alembert. But his love for Mme. d'Houdetot gave umbrage to Mme. d'Épinay, and he in his turn became jealous of the relations of the latter to Grimm, Diderot, and D'Holbach. His domestic life was at the same time made intolerable by the mother of Thérèse, and after many tribulations he was obliged to leave the Hermitage, and retired to Montmorency, where he found friends in the duke and duchess de Luxembourg, who prevailed upon him in May, 1759, to inhabit one of their châteaux. Here he met the prince de Conti, the marchioness de Boufflers, and Malesherbes, the censor of the press.
At Montmorency he wrote Émile and the Contrat social, and collected materials for his Confessions. His Émile, ou de l'éducation, a visionary work which has been called by Goethe "nature's gospel on education," was printed in Amsterdam at the duke's expense (4 vols., 1762); and being also published in Paris against Rousseau's wishes, it was condemned by the parliament, and he escaped arrest by going to Geneva and thence to the canton of Bern. Expelled everywhere, he finally took refuge in the then Prussian principality of Neufchâtel, where he was befriended by Lord Keith, the governor. His Contrat social, in which he proclaimed the principles of universal suffrage and popular sovereignty, appeared in the same year, and made him still more obnoxious to the adversaries of progress. He effectively replied to the fulminations of the archbishop of Paris against Émile, and in his Lettres de la mon-tagne (1764) to those of the Genevan authorities; but as the departure of Lord Keith from Neufchâtel left him unprotected against the fanaticism of the priests and the populace at Motiers, to which place he had retired, he fled at the end of 1765, intending to visit Berlin, but lingered at Strasburg and other places, where he was well received.
Arriving in Paris, he was treated with much distinction, but was not permitted to remain. Early in 1766 he accompanied David Hume to England at his urgent invitation, but soon fell out with him. The correspondence relating to this quarrel was deposited in the British museum in 1874, together with Rousseau's autograph will. He returned to France in May, 1767, and resided in various places till 1770, when he settled in Paris. His health was utterly broken by his imaginary and real fears of his enemies; and the police having interdicted the readings of his Confessions at the house of Mme. d'Épinay, at that lady's own request, he became still more despondent. Early in 1778 he was invited by M. de Girardin to his country seat at Ermenonville, where he ended his life so suddenly that rumors of suicide were circulated, but without sufficient evidence; he probably died from apoplexy. In 1794 his remains were removed to the Pantheon, where a statue of him had been erected; and in 1815 the allied sovereigns honored his memory by exempting Ermenonville from all war taxes. - No writer has been more bitterly denounced than Rousseau, on account of his subversive theories and the errors of his life.
But despite his sickly sentimentality, the subtle eloquence of his style is unrivalled in French literature, and his social and political theories, crude and erratic as they were, are redeemed by an all-pervading desire to increase the happiness of the laboring masses, and they paved the way for mighty reforms and revolutions. The most celebrated of his posthumous works is Les confessions (4 vols., Geneva, 1782), which like his other writings has been translated into most civilized languages. One of the best complete editions of his works is by Musset-Pathay (23 vols., Paris, 1823-'6); and there are many earlier and later complete and select editions, besides Oeuvres et correspondances inédites, by G. Streckeisen-Moulton (Paris, 1861). The biography of Rousseau by Musset-Pathay (2 vols., 1821), though superior to preceding ones, has been eclipsed by John Morley's "Rousseau" (2 vols., London, 1873). See also Rousseau, ses amis et ses ennemis, by Streckeisen-Moulton (2 vols., Neufchâtel, 1865); Voltaire et Jean Jacques Rousseau, by G. Desnoiresterres (Paris, 1875); and Jean Jacques Rousseau, sa vie et ses ouvrages, by Saint-Marc Girardin (2 vols., Paris, 1875).