Letter to a Member of the National Assembly  

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When the fence from the gallantry of preceptors is broken down, and your families are no longer protected by decent pride and salutary domestic prejudice, there is but one step to a frightful corruption. The rulers in the National Assembly are in good hopes that the females of the first families in France may become an easy prey to dancing-masters, fiddlers, pattern-drawers, friseurs, and valets-de-chambre, and other active citizens of that description, who, having the entry into your houses, and being half domesticated by their situation, may be blended with you by regular and irregular relations. By a law they have made these people their equals. By adopting the sentiments of Rousseau they have made them your rivals. In this manner these great legislators complete their plan of levelling, and establish their rights of men on a sure foundation. I am certain that the writings of Rousseau lead directly to this kind of shameful evil. I have often wondered how he comes to be so much more admired and followed on the Continent than he is here.

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

"Letter to a Member of the National Assembly" (1791) is a text by Irish essayist Edmund Burke. It placed the blame for the excesses of the French Revolution directly on the revolutionaries' misplaced (as he considered it) adulation of Rousseau. In fact, the text was a diatribe against Rousseau, whom he considered the paramount influence on the French Revolution.

His ad hominem attack did not really engage with Rousseau's political writings).

Burke maintained that the excesses of the Revolution were not accidents but were designed from the beginning and were rooted in Rousseau's personal vanity, arrogance, and other moral failings. He recalled Rousseau's visit to Britain in 1766, saying: "I had good opportunities of knowing his proceedings almost from day to day and he left no doubt in my mind that he entertained no principle either to influence his heart or to guide his understanding, but vanity".

Conceding his gift of eloquence, Burke deplored Rousseau's lack of the good taste and finer feelings that would have been imparted by the education of a gentleman:

Taste and elegance ... are of no mean importance in the regulation of life. A moral taste ... infinitely abates the evils of vice. Rousseau, a writer of great force and vivacity, is totally destitute of taste in any sense of the word. Your masters [i.e., the leaders of the Revolution], who are his scholars, conceive that all refinement has an aristocratic character. The last age had exhausted all its powers in giving a grace and nobleness to our mutual appetites, and in raising them into a higher class and order than seemed justly to belong to them. Through Rousseau, your masters are resolved to destroy these aristocratic prejudices.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Letter to a Member of the National Assembly" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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