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Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Famous As: Philosopher, Writer, & Composer

Who was Jean-Jacques Rousseau?

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a noted Swiss-born philosopher, writer and composer of the 18th Century Having lost his mother shortly after his birth, he was brought up by his father in an artisans’ neighborhood up to the age of ten. After being abandoned by his father, he grew up under the care of his maternal uncle under humiliating conditions. At sixteen, a freak incident saw him move to Savoy, where he came in contact with the Baronnesse de Warens, under whose guidance he turned into a man of letters. Later he traveled to Paris and took up writing as his career option. Although he gained recognition both as a writer and composer by his late thirties, it was his much later works, ‘Social Contract’ and ‘Emile’, which earned him his place in world literature. Prosecuted by the state for challenging the authorities, he spent his last days moving from place to place. Later, his works inspired generations of reformers to bring about changes in their own countries’ political systems.

In Savoy

At Savoy, Rousseau put up with a Catholic Priest, who introduced him to Françoise-Louise de Warens, a 29-year-old woman, paid by the King of Piedmont for proselytizing Protestants into Catholicism. She was a gorgeous woman with fine taste in arts and literature and Rousseau was easily influenced by her.

When he agreed to convert, he was sent to Turin for the completion of the process.In 1729, after spending sometime there unsuccessfully looking for jobs, he moved to Annecy and began living with Mdm. de Warens, initially as her son, but later as he reached twenty, as her lover.

Rousseau lived with Mdm. de Warens until 1742. Under her guidance, he became a man of letters and also a fine musician. He was mainly an autodidact and his studies ranged over every domain.

While reading, he carefully jotted down excerpts in a notebook. He also performed scientific experiments and made astronomical observations. In music, he studied scholarly works of noted musicians, gaining in-depth knowledge on composition and theory.

In Paris

In 1742, Jean-Jacques Rousseau left for Paris with the intention of presenting a new system of numbered musical notation at the Académie des Sciences. Although he believed that it would make his fortune, it was rejected as impractical. However, they praised his mastery over music.

In 1743, he found an ill-paying job as a secretary to the French ambassador to Venice, Comte de Montaigue. Although he quit the job within eleven months, the period was highly important because it was in Venice that he conceived the ideas that would later find expression in his ‘Social Contract’.

On his return to Paris in 1744, Rousseau met another aspiring man from the province, Denis Diderot. Very soon, the two men struck up a friendship and became the center of a group of intellectuals, who gathered round the ‘Encyclopédie, Ou Dictionnaire Raisonné Des Sciences, Des Arts Et Des Métiers’

In 1749, Rousseau entered an essay contest organized by the Academy of Dijon. The topic was “Has the progress of the sciences and arts contributed to the purification of morals?” He answered in negative and not only won the prize, but also earned a name for himself.

In 1750, he published his first major work, ‘Discours sur les sciences et les arts' (A Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts). In it he established that man had become corrupted by society and civilization. He reverted to this theme off and on in his later works.

In 1752, he gained acceptance as a musician with his ‘le devin du village’. It was played twice at Fontainebleau for Louis XV and in 1753, several times at the Opéra “Le devin du village (Village Soothesayer). After this, he became one of the most sought after men in Paris.


June 28, 1712
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in Genève.


Further Resources


Who was Jean-Jacques Rousseau? Everything You Need to Know


Who was Jean-Jacques Rousseau? Everything You Need to Know



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