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- The Eve of the French Revolution - 50/64 -

is not ordered in the same system, and which does not concur to the same end, namely, the preservation of the whole in the established order. This Being who wills and who can, this Being active in Himself, this Being, whatever he may be, who moves the universe and orders all things, I call God. I attach to this name the ideas of intelligence, power and will, which I have united to form the conception, and that of goodness which is their necessary consequence; but I know no better the Being to whom I have given it; He hides Himself alike from my senses and my understanding; the more I think of it, the more I am confused; I know very certainly that He exists and that He exists by himself; I know that my existence is subordinated to His, and that all things that I know of are in the same case. I perceive God everywhere in His works; I feel Him in myself, I see Him about me; but as soon as I want to contemplate Him in Himself, as soon as I want to seek where He is, what He is, what is His substance, He escapes from me, and my troubled spirit perceives nothing more."

Having considered the attributes of God, the Savoyard curate turns to himself. He finds that he can observe and govern other creatures; whence he infers that they may all be made for him. But mankind differs from all other things in nature by being inharmonious, disorderly, and miserable. Man has in himself two distinct principles, one of which lifts him to the study of eternal truth, to the love of justice and moral beauty; the other enslaves him under the rule of the senses, and the passions which are their servants. "No! "cries the curate, "man is not one; I will, and I will not; I feel myself at once enslaved, and free; I see good, I love it, and I do evil; I am active when I listen to reason, passive when my passions carry me away; my worst torture, when I fail, is to feel that I could have resisted."

Man is free in his actions, and, therefore, animated by an immaterial substance. This is the third article of the curate's faith. Conscience is the voice of the soul; the passions are the voices of the body. Immortality of the soul is a pleasing doctrine and there is nothing to contradict it. "When, delivered from the illusions caused by the body and the senses, we shall enjoy the contemplation of the Supreme Being, and of the eternal truths whose source He is, when the beauty of order shall strike all the powers of our soul, and we shall be solely occupied in comparing what we have done with what we ought to have done, then will the voice of conscience resume its force and its empire; then will the pure bliss which is born of self-content, and the bitter regret for self-debasement, distinguish by inexhaustible feelings the fate which each man will have prepared for himself. Ask me not, O my good friend, if there will be other sources of happiness and of misery; I do not know, and the one I imagine is enough to console me for this life and to make me hope for another. I do not say that the good will be rewarded; for what other reward can await an excellent being than to live in accordance with his nature; but I say that they will be happy, because the Author of their being, the Author of all justice, having made them to feel, has not made them to suffer; and because, not having abused their liberty on the earth, they have not changed their destiny by their own fault; yet they have suffered in this life, and so they will have it made up to them in another. This feeling is less founded on the merit of man than on the notion of goodness which seems to me inseparable from the divine essence. I only suppose the laws of order to be observed, and God consistent with Himself."[Footnote: "Non pas pour nous, non pas pour nous, Seigneur, Mais pour ton nom, mais pour ton propre honneur, O Dieu! fais nous revivre! Ps. 115." (Rousseau's note).]

"Neither ask me if the torments of the wicked will be eternal, and whether it is consistent with the goodness of the Author of their being to condemn them to suffer forever; I do not know that either, and have not the vain curiosity to examine useless questions. What matters it to me what becomes of the wicked? I take little interest in their fate. Nevertheless I find it hard to believe that they are condemned to endless torments. If Supreme Justice avenges itself, it avenges itself in this life. You and your errors, O nations, are its ministers! It employs the ills which you make to punish the crimes which brought them about. It is in your insatiable hearts, gnawed with envy, avarice, and ambition, that the avenging passions punish your crimes, in the midst of your false prosperity. What need to seek hell in the other life? It is already here, in the hearts of the wicked."

Revelation is unnecessary. Miracles need proof more than they give it. As soon as the nations undertook to make God speak, each made Him speak in its own way. If men had listened only to what He says in their hearts, there had been but one religion upon earth. "I meditate on the order of the universe, not to explain it by vain systems, but to admire it unceasingly, to adore the wise Author who is felt in it. I converse with Him, I let His divine essence penetrate all my faculties, I tenderly remember His benefits, I bless Him for His gifts; but I do not pray to Him. What should I ask Him? That He should change the course of things on my account; that He should perform miracles in my favor? I, who should love more than all things the order established by His wisdom, and maintained by His Providence, should I wish to see that order interfered with for me? No, that rash prayer would deserve to be punished rather than to be answered. Nor do I ask Him for the power to do good; why ask Him for what He has given me? Has He not given me a conscience to love the good; reason, to know it; liberty, to choose it? If I do evil, I have no excuse; I do it because I will; to ask him to change my will is to ask of Him what He demands of me; it is wanting Him to do my work, and let me take the reward; not to be content with my state is to want to be a man no longer, it is to want things otherwise than they are, it is to want disorder and evil. Source of justice and truth, clement and kind God! in my trust in Thee the supreme wish of my heart is that Thy will may be done. In uniting mine to it, I do what thou doest, I acquiesce in Thy goodness; I seem to share beforehand the supreme felicity which is its price."

This appears to have been Rousseau's deliberate opinion on the subject of prayer. He has, however, expressed in the "New Heloisa" quite another view, which is found in a letter from Julie to Saint-Preux, and is inserted principally, perhaps, to give the latter an opportunity to answer it. Yet Rousseau, as we have often seen, although unable to understand that any one could honestly differ from himself, was quite capable of holding conflicting opinions. And the value of any one of his sayings is not much diminished by the fact that it is contradicted in the next chapter. "You have religion," says Julie,[Footnote: _Nouvelle Héloïse_, Part. vi. Let. vi. (_Oeuvres_, x. 261).] "but I am afraid that you do not get from it all the advantage which it offers in the conduct of life, and that philosophical pride may disdain the simplicity of the Christian. I have seen you hold opinions on prayer which are not to my taste. According to you, this act of humility is fruitless for us; and God, having given us, in our consciences, all that can lead us to good, afterwards leaves us to ourselves and allows our liberty to act. That is not, as you know, the doctrine of Saint Paul, nor that which is professed in our church. We are free, it is true, but we are ignorant, weak, inclined to evil. And whence should light and strength come to us, if not from Him who is their source? And why should we obtain them, if we do not deign to ask for them? Beware, my friend, lest to your sublime conceptions of the Great Being, human pride join low ideas, which belong but to mankind; as if the means which relieve our weakness were suitable to divine Power, and as if, like us, It required art to generalize things, so as to treat them more easily! It seems, to listen to you, that this Power would be embarrassed should It watch over every individual; you fear that a divided and continual attention might fatigue It, and you think it much finer that It should do everything by general laws, doubtless because they cost It less care. O great philosophers! How much God is obliged to you for your easy methods and for sparing Him work."

Enough has been said of the theism of Rousseau to show its great difference from that of Voltaire and of his followers. His attitude toward them is not unlike that of Socrates toward the Sophists. Indeed, Jean Jacques, by whomever inspired, is far more of a prophet than of a philosopher. He speaks by an authority which he feels to be above argument. In opposition to Locke and to all his school, he dares to believe in innate ideas, although he calls them feelings.[Footnote: "When, first occupied with the object, we think of ourselves only by reflection, it is an idea; on the other hand, when the impression received excites our first attention and we think only by reflection on the object which causes it, it is a sensation." _Oeuvres_, iv. 195 _n_. (_Émile_, liv. iv.).] These innate ideas are love of self, fear of pain, horror of death, the desire for well-being. Conscience may well be one of them.

"My son," cries the Savoyard curate, "keep your soul always in a state to desire that there may be a God, and you will never doubt it. Moreover, whatever course you may adopt, consider that the true duties of religion are independent of the institutions of men; that a just heart is the true temple of Divinity; that in all countries and all sects, to love God above all things, and your neighbor as yourself, is the sum of the law; that no religion dispenses with the moral duties; that these are the only duties really essential; that the inward worship is the first of these duties, and that without faith no true virtue exists.

"Flee from those who, under the pretense of explaining nature, sow desolating doctrines in the hearts of men, and whose apparent skepticism is a hundred times more affirmative and more dogmatic than the decided tone of their adversaries."

At the time when "Émile" was written, Jean Jacques had quarreled personally with most of his old associates of the Philosophic school. Diderot, D'Alembert, Grimm, and their master, Voltaire,--Rousseau had some real or fancied grievance against them all. But the difference between him and them was intrinsic, not accidental. By nature and training they belonged to the rather thin rationalism of the eighteenth century; a rationalism which was so eager to believe nothing not acquired through the senses that it preferred to leave half the phenomena of life not only unaccounted for but unconsidered, because to account for them by its own methods was difficult, if not impossible. Rousseau, at least, contemplated the whole of human nature, its affections, aspirations, and passions, as well as its observations and reflections, and this was the secret of his influence over men.



The reign of Louis XVI. was a time of great and rapid change. The old order was passing away, and the Revolution was taking place both in manners and laws, for fifteen years before the assembling of the Estates General. In the previous reigns the rich middle class had approached social equality with the nobles; and the sons of great families had consented to repair their broken fortunes by marrying the daughters of financiers;--"manuring their land," they called it.

Next a new set of persons claimed a place in the social scale. The men of letters were courted even by courtiers. The doctrines of the Philosophers had fairly entered the public mind. The nobility and the middle class, with such of the poor as could read and think, had been deeply impressed by Voltaire and the Encyclopaedists. All men had not been affected in the same way. Some were blind followers of these leaders, eager to push the doctrines of the school to the last possible results, partisans of Helvetius and Holbach. These were the most logical. Beside them came the sentimentalists, the worshipers of

The Eve of the French Revolution - 50/64

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