Page images

I shall conclude this catalogue of worthies with a brief abstract of the Confessions of J. J. Rousseau. After a good education, in the Protestant religion, he was put apprentice. Finding his situation disagreeable to him, he felt a strong propensity to vice; inclining him to covet, dissemble, lie, and at length to steal; a propensity of which he was never able afterwards to divest himself. "I have been a rogue," says he, "and am so still sometimes, for trifles which I had rather take than ask for."*

He abjured the protestant religion, and entered the hospital of the Catechumens at Turin to be instructed in that of the Catholics; "For which in return," says he, "I was to receive subsistence. From this interested conversion," he adds, "nothing remained but the remembrance of my having been both a dupe and an apostate." †

After this, he resided with a Madame de Warrens, with whom he "lived in the greatest possible familiarity." This lady often suggested, that there would be no justice in the Supreme Being, should he be strictly just to us; because, not having bestowed what was necessary to make us essentially good, it would be requiring more than he had given. She was, nevertheless, a very good Catholic, or pretended at least to be one, and certainly desired to be such. If there had been no Christian morality established, Rosseau supposes she would have lived as though regulated by its principles. All her morality, however, was subordinate to the principles of M. Tavel; (who first seduced her from conjugal fidelity by urging, in effect, that exposure was the only crime,) or rather, she saw nothing in religion that contradicted them. Rosseau was far enough from being of this opinion; yet he confessed he dared not combat the arguments of the lady: nor is it supposable he could, as he appears to have been acting on the same principles at the time. "Finding in her," he adds, "all those ideas I had occasion for to secure me from the fears of death, and its future consequences, I drew confidence and security from this source." +

* Confessions, London Ed. 1796, Vol. I. pp. 52, 55, 68.

+ Vol. I. pp. 125, 126.

Vol. II. pp. 88, 103-106

The writings of Port Royal, and those of the Oratory, made him half a Jansenist; and notwithstanding all his confidence, their harsh theory sometimes alarmed him. A dread of hell, which, till then, he had never much apprehended, by little and little disturbed his security, and had not Madame de Warrens tranquilized his soul, would at length have been too much for him. His confessor also, a Jesuit, contributed all in his power to keep up his hopes.*

After this, he became familiar with another female, Theresa. He began by declaring to her that he would never either abandon or marry her. Finding her pregnant with her first child, and hearing it observed in an eating house, that he who had best filled the Foundling Hospital, was always the most applauded, "I said to myself," he tells us, "since it is the custom of the country, they who live here may adopt it. I cheerfully determined upon it without the least scruple: and the only one I had to overcome was that of Theresa; whom, with the greatest imaginable difficulty, I persuaded to comply." The year following a similar inconvenience was remedied by the same expedient: no more reflection on his part, nor approbation on that of the mother. "She obliged with trembling. My fault," says he, "was great; but it was an error."t

He resolved on settling at Geneva: and, on going thither and being mortified at his exclusion from the rights of a citizen by the profession of a religion different from his forefathers, he determined openly to return to the latter. "I thought," says he, "the gospel being the same for every Christian; and the only difference in religions the result of the explanations given by men to that which they did not understand, it was the exclusive right of the sovereign power in every country to fix the mode of worship, and these unintelligible opinions; and that, consequently, it was the duty of a citizen to admit the one, and conform to the other, in the manner prescribed by the law." Accordingly, at Geneva he renounced Popery.‡

*Vol II. p. 127.

+ Part II. Vol. I. pp. 123. 154, 155. 183. 187. 315.

Part II. Vol. I. pp. 263. 264.

After passing twenty years with Theresa, he made her his wife. He appears to have intrigued with a Madame de H. Of his desires after that lady he says, "Guilty without remorse, I soon became so without measure."*

Such, according to his own account, was the life of uprightness and honour which was to expiate for a theft which he had committed when a young man, and laid to a female servant, by which she lost her place and character.† Such was Rosseau, the man whom the rulers of the French nation have delighted to honour; and who, for writing this account, had vanity and presumption to expect the applause of his Creator. "Whenever the last trumpet shall sound," says he, "I will present myself before the sovereignt Judge, with this book in my hand, and loudly proclaim, Thus have I acted; these were my thoughts; such was I. Power eternal! Assemble round thy throne the innumerable throng of my fellow-mortals. Let them listen to my confessions, let them blush at my depravity, let them tremble at my sufferings, let each in his turn expose, with equal sincerity, the failings, the wanderings of his heart; and, if he dare, aver, I was better than that man."‡

* Vol. I. pp. 311. 378. + Vol. I. pp. 155. 160. + Vol. I. p. 1.



No man walks through life without a rule of some kind, by which his conduct is directed, and his inclinations restrained. They who fear not God are influenced by a regard to the opinions of men. To avoid the censure, and gain the applause of the public, is the summit of their ambition.

Public opinion has an influence, not only on the conduct of individuals in a community, but on the formation of its laws. Legislators will not only conform their systems to what the humours of the people will bear, but will themselves incline to omit those virtues which are the most ungrateful, and to spare those vices which are the most agreeable.

Nor is this all: so great is the influence of public opinion that it will direct the conduct of a community against its own laws. There are obsolete statutes, as we all know, the breach of which cannot be punished: and even statutes which are not obsolete, where they operate against this principle, have but little effect; witness the connivance at the atrocious practice of duelling.

Now, if public opinion be so potent a principle, whatever has a prevailing influence in forming it, must give a decided tone to what are considered as the morals of a nation. I say, to what are considered as the morals of a nation: for, strictly speaking, so much of the love of God and man, as prevails in a nation, so much morality is there in it, and no more. But, as we can judge of love only by

[blocks in formation]

its expressions, we call those actions moral, though it is possible their morality may be only counterfeit, by which the love of God and man is ordinarily expressed. If we perform those actions which are the ordinary expressions of love, from some other motive, our good deeds are thereby rendered evil in the sight of Him who views things as they are: nevertheless what we do may be equally beneficial to society as though we acted from the purest motive. In this indirect way Christianity has operated more than any thing that has been called by the name of religion, or by any other name, towards meliorating the state of mankind.

It has been observed, and with great propriety, that, in order to know what religion has done for an individual, we must consider what he would have been without it. The same may be said of a nation, or of the world. What would the nations of Europe have been at this time, if it had not been for the introduction of Christianity? It cannot reasonably be pretended that they would have been in any better situation, as to morality, than that in which they were previously to this event: for there is no instance of any people having by their own efforts, emerged from idolatry, and the immoralities which attend it. Now, as to what that state was, some notice has been taken already, so far as relates to the principles and lives of the old philosophers. To this I shall add a brief review of the state of society among them.

Great praises are bestowed by Plutarch on the customs and manners of the Lacedemonians. Yet the same writer acknowl-. edges, that theft was encouraged in their children by a law; and that in order to "sharpen their wits, to render them crafty and subtle, and to train them up in all sorts of wiles and cunning, watchfulness and circumspection, whereby they were more apt to serve them in their wars, which was upon the matter the whole profession of this Commonwealth. And if at any time they were taken in the act of stealing, they were most certainly punished with rods, and, the penance of fasting; not because they esteemed the stealth criminal, but because they wanted skill and cunning in the management and conduct of it."* Hence, as might be expected, and as Herodotus observes, their actions were gen

* Plutarch's Morals, Vol. I. p. 96.

« PreviousContinue »