Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Rousseau biography at Project Gutenberg

The complete two volumes of John Morley's biography of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, after spending a very long time in the Distributed Proofreaders rounds, are finally available as an eBook on Project Gutenberg.

Of particular interest is the chapter (volume 2, chapter 4) about Rousseau's book on education, Emilius (usually known as Emile). One notable passage deals with how the Enlightenment's changing conception of human nature away from original sin affected education, as "part of the general revival of naturalism":
The rebellion was aimed against the spirit as well as the manner of the established system. The church had not fundamentally modified the significance of the dogma of the fall and depravity of man; education was still conceived as a process of eradication and suppression of the mystical old Adam. The new current flowed in channels far away from that black folly of superstition. Men at length ventured once more to look at one another with free and generous gaze. The veil of the temple was rent, and the false mockeries of the shrine of the Hebrew divinity made plain to scornful eyes. People ceased to see one another as guilty victims cowering under a divine curse. They stood erect in consciousness of manhood. The palsied conception of man, with his large discourse of reason looking before and after, his lofty and majestic patience in search for new forms of beauty and new secrets of truth, his sense of the manifold sweetness and glory and awe of the universe, above all, his infinite capacity of loyal pity and love for his comrades in the great struggle, and his high sorrow for his own wrong-doing,—the palsied and crushing conception of this excellent and helpful being as a poor worm, writhing under the vindictive and meaningless anger of an omnipotent tyrant in the large heavens, only to be appeased by sacerdotal intervention, was fading back into those regions of night, whence the depth of human misery and the obscuration of human intelligence had once permitted its escape, to hang evilly over the western world for a season. So vital a change in the point of view quickly touched the theory and art of the upbringing of the young. Education began to figure less as the suppression of the natural man, than his strengthening and development; less as a process of rooting out tares, more as the grateful tending of shoots abounding in promise of richness. What had been the most drearily mechanical of duties, was transformed into a task that surpassed all others in interest and hope. If man be born not bad but good, under no curse, but rather the bestower and receiver of many blessings, then the entire atmosphere of young life, in spite of the toil and the peril, is made cheerful with the sunshine and warmth of the great folded possibilities of excellence, happiness, and well-doing.

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