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This article is taken from PN Review 169, Volume 32 Number 5, May - June 2006.

The Continuing Adventures of Mr Ross Hall, Esq. (& Madam Zell) Iain Bamforth

What are we to make of this man? Like William Godwin, father of Mary Shelley, he was a pedagogue incapable of practising what he preached. He wrote a treatise known to every educated person at the end of the century on how to educate a young boy and left his own five children with the Foundling Hospital in Paris. Edmund Burke observed that his often-expressed 'love of humanity' was a charade which excused him from any real concern with the suffering of ordinary men and women. Contemporary humanitarianism follows his impulse, allowing the heart and not history to lead it towards causes that can do no wrong: it doesn't care for human beings too much but it likes to take care of them. Half-a-century later Flaubert had to remind his mistress Louise Colet: 'Don't imagine that the pen has the same instincts as the heart.' Rousseau was hopelessly dependent on his gouvernante Thérèse Levasseur, not to speak of poor Madame de Warens, and yet proclaimed his proud 'Roman courage' and his defiant independence: if he had a need it was for a lack of binding attachments. What we think of as ordinary sociability was for Rousseau the hell of mutual dependence: too many people aping each other. In spite of his preference for cultivated upper-class young ladies, with their soft skin and ribboned hair, at the age of 33 he made Thérèse, an illiterate laundry maid met at the Hôtel Saint-Quentin in Paris, his lifelong companion: ...

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