Confessions of J. J. Rousseau
I have entered upon a performance which is without example, whose accomplishment
will have no imitator. I mean to present my fellow-mortals with a man in all the integrity
of nature; and this man shall be myself.
I know my heart, and have studied mankind; I am not made like any one I have been
acquainted with, perhaps like no one in existence; if not better, I at least claim originality,
and whether Nature did wisely in breaking the mould with which she formed me, can
only be determined after having read this work.
Whenever the last trumpet shall sound, I will present myself before the sovereign judge
with this book in my hand, and loudly proclaim, thus have I acted; these were my
thoughts; such was I. With equal freedom and veracity have I related what was laudable
or wicked, I have concealed no crimes, added no virtues; and if I have sometimes
introduced superfluous ornament, it was merely to occupy a void occasioned by defect of
memory: I may have supposed that certain, which I only knew to be probable, but have
never asserted as truth, a conscious falsehood. Such as I was, I have declared myself;
sometimes vile and despicable, at others, virtuous, generous and sublime; even as thou
hast read my inmost soul: Power eternal! assemble round thy throne an 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
I was born at Geneva, in 1712, son of Isaac Rousseau and Susannah Bernard, citizens.
My father's share of a moderate competency, which was divided among fifteen children,
being very trivial, his business of a watchmaker (in which he had the reputation of great
ingenuity) was his only dependence. My mother's circumstances were more affluent; she
was daughter of a Mons. Bernard, minister, and possessed a considerable share of
modesty and beauty; indeed, my father found some difficulty in obtaining her hand.
The affection they entertained for each other was almost as early as their existence; at
eight or nine years old they walked together every evening on the banks of the Treille,
and before they were ten, could not support the idea of separation. A natural sympathy of
soul confined those sentiments of predilection which habit at first produced; born with
minds susceptible of the most exquisite sensibility and tenderness, it was only necessary
to encounter similar dispositions; that moment fortunately presented itself, and each
surrendered a willing heart.
The obstacles that opposed served only to give a decree of vivacity to their affection, and
the young lover, not being able to obtain his mistress, was overwhelmed with sorrow and
despair. She advised him to travel—to forget her. He consented—he travelled, but
returned more passionate than ever, and had the happiness to find her equally constant,
equally tender. After this proof of mutual affection, what could they resolve?—to