Confessions of J. J. Rousseau HTML version

Although Eloisa, which for a long time had been in the press, did not yet, at the end of the
year, 1760, appear, the work already began to make a great noise. Madam de
Luxembourg had spoken of it at court, and Madam de Houdetot at Paris. The latter had
obtained from me permission for Saint Lambert to read the manuscript to the King of
Poland, who had been delighted with it. Duclos, to whom I had also given the perusal of
the work, had spoken of it at the academy. All Paris was impatient to see the novel; the
booksellers of the Rue Saint Jacques, and that of the Palais Royal, were beset with people
who came to inquire when it was to be published. It was at length brought out, and the
success it had, answered, contrary to custom, to the impatience with which it had been
expected. The dauphiness, who was one of the first who read it, spoke of it to, M. de
Luxembourg as a ravishing performance. The opinions of men of letters differed from
each other, but in those of any other class approbation was general, especially with the
women, who became so intoxicated with the book and the author, that there was not one
in high life with whom I might not have succeeded had I undertaken to do it. Of this I
have such proofs as I will not commit to paper, and which without the aid of experience,
authorized my opinion. It is singular that the book should have succeeded better in France
than in the rest of Europe, although the French, both men and women, are severely
treated in it. Contrary to my expectation it was least successful in Switzerland, and most
so in Paris. Do friendship, love and virtue reign in this capital more than elsewhere?
Certainly not; but there reigns in it an exquisite sensibility which transports the heart to
their image, and makes us cherish in others the pure, tender and virtuous sentiments we
no longer possess. Corruption is everywhere the same; virtue and morality no longer exist
in Europe; but if the least love of them still remains, it is in Paris that this will be
found.—[I wrote this in 1769.]
In the midst of so many prejudices and feigned passions, the real sentiments of nature are
not to be distinguished from others, unless we well know to analyze the human heart. A
very nice discrimination, not to be acquired except by the education of the world, is
necessary to feel the finesses of the heart, if I dare use the expression, with which this
work abounds. I do not hesitate to place the fourth part of it upon an equality with the
Princess of Cleves; nor to assert that had these two works been read nowhere but in the
provinces, their merit would never have been discovered. It must not, therefore, be
considered as a matter of astonishment, that the greatest success of my work was at court.
It abounds with lively but veiled touches of the pencil, which could not but give pleasure
there, because the persons who frequent it are more accustomed than others to discover
them. A distinction must, however, be made. The work is by no means proper for the
species of men of wit who have nothing but cunning, who possess no other kind of
discernment than that which penetrates evil, and see nothing where good only is to be
found. If, for instance, Eloisa had been published in a certain country, I am convinced it
would not have been read through by a single person, and the work would have been
stifled in its birth.