Rousseau, John Baptist

, a celebrated French poet, was born at Paris in 1669: he was the son of a shoe-maker, who, however, being a man of substance, gave him a good education; and Rousseau soon shewed himself worthy of it. He discovered early a turn for poetry; and, at twenty, was distinguished for some little productions, full of elegance, taste, and spirit. In 1688 he attended M. de Bonrepos as page in his embassy to the court of Denmark; and passed thence to England with marshal Tallard in quality of secretary. Yet, he had so little of avarice and ambition in his nature, that he never conceived the notion of n^aking a fortune; and actually refused some places which his friends had procured for him. In 1701 he was admitted into the academy of inscriptions and belles lettres. He had now obtained the reputation of a poet of the first rank, expected a place in the French academy, and was in hopes of obtaining Boileau’s pension, which was about to ba vacant, when an affair broke out which obliged him to quit his country, and embittered his whole life afterwards. Some verses full of reflections, and of a very exceptionable nature, were produced as Rousseau’s. Rousseau denied that they were his, and maintained them to be forgeries, contrived for his ruin by those who envied and hated him. He was tried in form; and, by an arrest of parliament in 1712, banished the kingdom for ever. Voltaire, who certainly has not shewn himself well affected to this poet, yet expresses himself thus upon the affair of his banishment “Those couplets, which were the cause of his banishment, and are like several which he owned, must either be imputed to him, or the two tribunals, which pronounced sentence upon him, must be dishonoured. Not that two tribunals, and even more numerous bodies, may not unanimously commit very great acts of injustice when a spirit of party prevails. There was a violent party against Rousseau.” The truth, however, is, that Rousseau was the author, although he denied it, and the probability is, that the tribunal before which he was tried had proof of this; such at least seems to be the opinion of most French writers. | He now withdrew to Switzerland, where he found a lector in the count de Luc, the French ambassador to the* Helvetic body; who carried him to Baden, and introduced him to prince Eugene, who was there. He continued with the prince till the conclusion of the peace at Baden; and then accompanying him to Vienna, was introduced by hiril to the emperor’s court. He continued here three years, at the end of which he might have returned to his own country, some powerful friends offering to procure letters of grace for recalling him; but he answered, “that it did not become a man, unjustly oppressed, to seal an ignominious sentence by accepting such terms; and that letters of gracd might do well enough for those that wanted them, but certainly not for him who only desired justice.” He was afterwards at Brussels, and in 1721 went over to London, where he printed, in a very elegant manner, a collection of his poems, in 2 vols. 4to. The profits hence arising put his finances into good condition; but, placing his money with the emperor’s company at Ostend, which failed soon after, he was reduced to the necessity of relying upon private benefactions. The duke of Aremberg gave him the privilege of his table at Brussels; and, when this nobleman was obliged to go to the army in Germany in 1733, he settled on him a handsome pension, and assigned him an. apartment in his castle of Euguien near Brussels. Rousseau, losing afterwards the good graces of the duke of Aremberg, as he had before lost those of prince Eugene, for he does not seem to have been happily formed for dependence, listened at length to proposals of returning to France, and for that purpose went incognito to Paris in 1739. He stayed there some little time; but, finding his affairs in no promising train, set out for Brussels. He continued some time at the Hague, where he was seized with an apoplexy; but recovered so far as to be removed to Brussels, where he finished his unfortunate life, March 17, 1741. He now declared upon his death-bed, as he had declared to Rollin at Paris a little before, that he was not the author of the verses which occasioned his banishment.

His executor, conformably to his intentions, gave a complete and beautiful edition of his works at Paris, 1743, in 3 vols. 4to, and also in 4 vols. 12mo, They contain odes, epistles, epigrams, and comedies, in verse; and a collection of letters, in prose; and have procured him the Character of the best lyric poet of France. Voltaire, who | is not supposed to have done justice to Rousseau, owns, however, that “his odes are beautiful, diversified, and abound with images; that, in his hymns, he equals the harmony and devotion observable in the spiritual songs of Racine; and that his epigrams are finished with greater care than those of Marot. He was not,” continues the critic, “so successful in operas, which require sensibility; nor in comedies, which cannot succeed without gaiety. la both these qualities he was deficient; and therefore failed in operas and comedies, as being foreign to his genius.1


MoreriDict. Hist. Voltaire’s SieIe de Louis XIV.