From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"I had always ridiculed the false ingenuousness of Montaigne, who, while pretending to confess his defects, is most careful to attribute to himself only such as are amiable; whereas I, who have always believed, and still believe, myself to be, all things considered, the best of men, felt that there is no human heart, however pure it may be, which does not conceal some odious vice."--Confessions (1782) by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Confessions (1782) is an autobiographical book by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In modern times, it is often published with the title The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in order to distinguish it from St. Augustine of Hippo's Confessions, the book from which Jean-Jacques Rousseau took the title for his own book. Covering the first fifty-three years of Rousseau's life, up to 1765, it was completed in 1770, but not published until 1782, four years after Rousseau's death.
The Confessions is divided into two parts, each consisting of six books. Rousseau alludes to a planned third part, but this was never completed. Though the book is somewhat flawed as an autobiography – particularly, Rousseau's dates are frequently off, and some events are out of order – Rousseau provides an account of the experiences that shaped his influential philosophy. For instance, the parts of his own education he liked best are clearly present in his account of ideal education, Emile: Or, On Education.
Rousseau's work is notable as one of the first major autobiographies. Prior to his writing the Confessions, the two great autobiographies were Augustine's own Confessions and Saint Teresa's Life of Herself. Both of these works, however, focused on the religious experiences of their authors. The Confessions was one of the first autobiographies in which an individual wrote of his own life mainly in terms of his worldly experiences and personal feelings. Rousseau recognized the unique nature of his work; it opens with the famous words:
- I have resolved on an enterprise which has no precedent, and which, once complete, will have no imitator. My purpose is to display to my kind a portrait in every way true to nature, and the man I shall portray will be myself.
The Confessions is also noted for its detailed account of Rousseau's more humiliating and shameful moments. For instance, Rousseau recounts an incident when, while a servant, he covered up his theft of a ribbon by framing a young girl - who was working in the house - for the crime. In addition, Rousseau explains the manner in which he disposes of his five illegitimate children, whom he had with Thérèse Levasseur.
His contemporaries, including Diderot and Voltaire who achieved literary fame, often slandered and framed Rousseau. Rousseau believed that he made so many enemies simply because of his many talents that others did not possess. He made contributions to music, writing operas, cantatas and tragedies. He refers to Diderot, a German named Grimm, and others, as the Holbachian clique. His friendship with Diderot wavered frequently until Rousseau decided to completely break off relations with him because of his lack of character. As with Voltaire, in a letter revealed in Confessions, Rousseau bluntly explains that the only thing he admired in Voltaire was his indubitable genius.
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