For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

I ought to elucidate the title of my blog. Of course it echoes The Reveries Of The Solitary Walker, the last great work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) which was published in 1782 after his death. It contains 10 "walks" which are really meditations on "Life, The Universe and Everything" Though self-absorbed and at times pessimistic, Rousseau had good reason to be so - exiled by the French Church and State, isolated by society, he fled to Switzerland where he found comfort in solitude and the natural world. History has proved him to be one of the very greatest thinkers and philosophers of the Enlightenment. Here's the first paragraph from his Ninth Walk: Happiness is a permanent condition which does not seem to be made for man here-below. Everything on earth is in constant flux, which permits nothing to take on constant form. Everthing around us changes. We ourselves change, and no one can be assured he will like tomorrow what he likes today. Thus, all our plans for felicity in life are idle fancies. Let us take advantage of mental contentment when it comes; let us keep from driving it away by our own fault. But let us not make any plans to chain it up, for those plans are pure follies. I have seldom seen happy men, perhaps not at all. But I have often seen contented hearts; and of all the objects which have struck me, that is the one which has made me most content. I believe this is a natural consequence of the power my sensations have over my internal feelings. Happiness has no exterior sign; to recognize it, it would be to see into the heart of the happy man. But contentment is read in the eyes, in the bearing, in the lilt of the voice, in the manner of walking, and seems to be transmitted to the one who perceives it. Is there a sweeter enjoyment than to see a whole people give itself up to joy on a holiday and every heart expand in the broad rays of pleasure which pass rapidly, but intensely, through the clouds of life? I think that Rousseau's "contentment" can be seen much of the time in the faces and attitudes of many of the remote walkers one meets and passes...

2 comments:

Loren said...

It is amazing the way other people seem much more bearable when met in the mountains, isn't it?

It made me rather nervous the few times I've met unfriendly people while out walking.

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, there's usually a cameraderie, or an empathy, whether spoken or unspoken. I remember enjoying a quiet moment at the top of Tryfan in Wales when two hikers hove into view and whispered, sympathetically, and almost apologetically:"Sorry to disturb your mountain peace, man..!" Of course, they didn't disturb it, and we had a good chat. But that kind of sensitivity is lost in the city streets...