NPJ Book Review: The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Anonymous Translation into English of 1783, 1790, by A.S.B. Glover

The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Anonymous Translation into English of 1783, 1790, Revised, A.S.B. Glover translation (1955)

There are more up to date translations of this singular literary work for its time. Each translation has something to say for it. This translation happened to be on my shelf along with translation of the Social Contract that begins with the famous line, “Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains.”

 Confessions is an intellectual work, at times deeply introspective and other times facile as a reflection of oneself in a mirror – a natural expression of narcissism yet even questioning the meaning of that narcissistic reflection. Rousseau questioned ideas, probed and offered an insightful perspective of his childhood acts  and revelations and his evolving philosophy as a young man and adult without restraint. He exposed his mind to ideas and caused others to question society, culture, government and human greed along with other human attributes. It’s not an easy read but certainly offers a glimpse into the 18th century mind and life of a man whose life ( 1712 -1778) corresponded to the Age of Enlightenment (see also French Enlightenment) dated approximately from 1715 – 1789. Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin and James Madison among others were familiar with Rousseau’s writings some of which are incorporated in America’s founding documents including the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Rousseau’s Confessions is also famous for the following: Enfin je me rappelai le pis-aller d’une grande princesse à qui l’on disait que les paysans n’avaient pas de pain, et qui répondit : Qu’ils mangent de la brioche; Or, At last I remembered the worry of a great princess, to whom it was said that the peasants had no bread, and who replied, “Let them eat brioche (pastry or cake).

Alexandre Dumas later recalled in one of his writings that the “great princess” Rousseau wrote about was none other than Yolande de Polastron, Duchess of Polignac and friend of Marie Antoinette.

Confessions is a thoughtful and fascinating read, and to better understand Rousseau’s influence on the Enlightenment one should consult the Social Contract and Discourse on Inequality, both of which takes the seeker even closer to the heart of the Age of Enlightenment.