Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Monday, October 06, 2014
This endearing little story comes from the
French Genevan-born philosopher of liberty and democracy, Jean-Jaques Rousseau, one of the best-known figures of the 18th century Enlightenment:
Every night, after supper, we read some part of a small collection of romances [i.e., adventure stories], which had been my mother's. My father's design was only to improve me in reading, and he thought these entertaining works were calculated to give me a fondness for it; but we soon found ourselves so interested in the adventures they contained, that we alternately read whole nights together and could not bear to give over until at the conclusion of a volume. Sometimes, in the morning, on hearing the swallows at our window, my father, quite ashamed of this weakness, would cry, "Come, come, let us go to bed; I am more a child than thou art."
— Rousseau, Confessions, Book 1.
Rousseau is of course the author of The Social Contract, and its famous opening line, which I think is one of the greatest opening lines of all time:
"L'homme est né libre, et partout il est dans les fers."
("Man is born free, and is everywhere in chains"). It's sometimes translated "… but is everywhere in chains", however, there is in the use of 'and', a greater sense of astonishment at the statement as it unfolds itself: "Man is born free, and (yet) is everywhere in chains!" It has set in motion the acceptance of its own logic, so that immediately, the reading mind asks: 'how can this be?'
There could hardly be a statement more diametrically opposed to the one I heard so frequently as a child, from Psalm 51, verse 5:
"Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me".