Books

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Books

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Confessions, Book I (Christopher Kelly, trans.):[1]

. . . I do not know how I learned to read; I remember only my first readings and their effect on me [at 5 or 6]. This is the time from which I date the uninterrupted consciousness of myself. My [dead] mother had left behind some Novels. My father and I began to read them after supper. At first it was only a matter of giving me practice at reading by means of amusing books; but soon our interest became so lively that we read in turn without respite, and passed the nights in this occupation. We could never stop before the end of the volume. Sometimes, hearing the morning song of the swallows, my father said, completely ashamed, "Let's go to bed; I am more of a child than you are." . . .

The Novels ended with the summer of 1719. . . . Fortunately there were some good books in [her father's library]; and it could hardly be otherwise; since this library had been formed by a Minister, in truth, and even a learned one . . . but also a man of taste and intelligence. The History of the Church and the Empire by Le Sueur, the discourse of Bossuet on universal history, the illustrious men of Plutarch, the History of Venice by Nani, Ovid's Metamorphoses, la Bruyère, the worlds of Fontenelle, his Dialogues of the Dead, and some volumes of Molière, were carried into my father's workshop, and I read them to him every day during his work. There I developed a taste that was rare and perhaps unique for that age. Above all Plutarch became my favorite reading. . . . From these interesting readings, from the discussions they occasioned between my father and myself, was formed that free and republican spirit, that indomitable and proud character, impatient with the yoke and servitude which has tormented me my whole life in situations least appropriate for giving vent to it. Ceaselessly occupied with Rome and Athens; living, so to speak, with their great men, myself born the Citizen of a Republic, and son of a father whose love of the fatherland was his strongest passion, I caught fire with it from his example; I believed myself to be Greek or Roman; I became the character whose life I read: the account of the traits of constancy and intrepidity which had struck me made my eyes sparkle and my voice strong. . . .

  1. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Confessions in The Collected Writings of Rousseau (Vol. 5, Christopher Kelly, Roger D. Masters, and Peter Stillman, eds., Hanover:University Press of New England, 1995. pp. 7-8.