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preface : " One will believe that he is reading, not so much
a book on education as the reveries of a visionary." Emile,
in fact, is an imaginary being whom Rousseau places in strange
conditions. He does not give him parents, but has him
brought up by a preceptor in the country, far from all society.
£mile is a character in a romance rather than a real man.

310. Division of the Work. — Without doubt, there
are in the Emile long passages and digressions that make the
reading of it more agreeable and its analysis more difficult.
But, notwithstanding all this, the author confines himself to
a methodical plan, at least to a chronological order. The
different ages of Emiile serve as a principle for the division
of the work. The first two books treat especially of the in-
fant and of the earliest period of life up to the age of twelve.
The only question here discussed is the education of the body
and the exercise of the senses. The third book corresponds
to the period of intellectual education, from the twelfth to
the fifteenth year. In the fourth book, Rousseau studies
moral education, from the fifteenth to the twentieth year.

Finally, the fifth book, in which the romantic spirit is still
rampant, is devoted to the education of woman.

311. The First Two Books of the &\iile. — It would be
useless to search this first part of the Emile for precepts rela-


tive to the education of the mind and the heart. Rousseau
has purposely eliminated from the first twelve years of the
child's life everything which concerns instruction and moral
discipline. At the age of twelve, Emile will know how to
run, jump, and judge of distances ; but he will be perfectly
ignorant. The idea would be that he has studied nothing at
all, and "that he has not learned to distinguish his right
hand from his left."

The exclusive characteristic of Emile's education, during
this first period, is, then, the preoccupation with physical
development and with the training of the senses.

Out of many errors, we shall see displayed some admirable
flashes of good sense, and grand truths inspired by the prin-
ciple of nature.

312. Let Nature have her Way. — What does nature
demand? She demands that the child have liberty of move-
ment, and that nothing interfere with the nascent activities
of his limbs. What do we do, on the contrary? We put
him in swaddling clothes ; we imprison him. He is deformed
by his over-tight garments, — the first chains that are imposed
on a being who is destined to have so many others to bear !
On this subject, the bad humor of Rousseau does not tire.
He is prodigal in outbreaks of spirit, often witty, and some-
times ridiculous.

" It seems," he says, " as though we fear that the child
may appear to be alive." "Man is born, lives, and dies, in a
state of slavery ; at his birth he is stitched into swaddling-
clothes ; at his death he is nailed in his coffin ; and as long
as he preserves the human form he is held captive by our

We shall not dwell on these extravagances of language
which transforms a coffin and a child's long-clothes into insti-


tutions. The protests of Rousseau have contributed towards
a reformation of usages ; but, even on this point, with his
great principle that everything must be referred to nature,
because whatever nature does she does well, the author of
Entile is on the point of going astray. No more for the
body than for the mind is nature suilicient in herself ; she
must have help and watchful assistance. Strong supports
are needed to prevent too active movements and dangerous
strains of the body ; just as, later on, there will be needed a
vigorous moral authority to moderate and curb the passions
of the soul.

313. The Mother to nurse her own Children. — But
there is another point where it has become trite to praise
Rousseau, and where his teaching should be accepted without
reserve. This is when he strongly protests against the use
of hired nurses, and when he eloquently summons mothers
to the duties of nursing their own children. Where there is
no mother, there is no child, says Rousseau, and he adds,
where there is no mother, there is no family ! " Would you
recall each one to his first duties ? Begin with the mothers.
You will be astonished at the changes you will produce ! "
It would be to fall into platitudes to set forth, after Rous-
seau, and after so many others, the reasons which recom-
mend nursing by the mother. We merely observe that
Rousseau insists on this, especially on moral grounds. It is
not merely the health of the child ; it is the virtue and the
morality of the family ; it is the dignity of the home, that he
wishes to defend and preserve. And, in fact, how many
other duties are provided for and made easier by the per-
formance of a primal duty.

314. Hardening of the Body. — So far, the lessons of
nature have instructed Rousseau. He is still right when he


wishes £mile to grow hard}', to become inured to privations,
to become accustomed at an early hour to pain, and to
learn how to suffer ; but from being a stoic, Rousseau soon
becomes a cynic Contempt for pain gives place to a con-
tempt for proprieties, fimile shall be a barefoot, like Dioge-
nes. Locke gives his pupil thin shoes ; Rousseau, surpassing
him, completely abolishes shoes. He would also like to
suppress all the inventions of civilization. Thus Emile,
accustomed to walk in the dark, will do without candles.
"I would rather have Emile with eyes at the ends of his
fmgers than in the shop of a candle-maker." All this tempts
us to laugh ; but here are graver errors. Rousseau objects
to vaccination, and proscribes medicine, fimile is fore-
handed. He is in duty bound to be well. A physician will
be summoned only when he is in danger of death. Again,
Rousseau forbids the washing of the new-born child in wine,
because wine is a fermented liquor, and nature produces
nothing that is fermented. And so there must be no play-
things made by the hand of man. A twig of a tree or a
poppy-head will suffice. Rousseau, as we see, by reason of
his wish to make of his pupil a man of nature, brings him
into singular likeness with the wild man, and assimilates
him almost to the brute.

315. Negative Education. — It is evident that the first
period of life is that in which the use of negative education
is both the least dangerous and the most acceptable. Ordi-
narily, Smile's preceptor will be but the inactive witness,
the passive spectator of the work done by nature. Had
Rousseau gone to the full length of his system, he ought to
have abolished the preceptor himself, in order to allow the
clnld to make his way all alone. But if the preceptor is
tolerated, it is not to act directly on Emile, it is not to per-


form the duties of a professor, in teaching him what it is
important for a child to know ; but it is simply to put him in
the way of the discoveries which he ought to make for himself
in the wide domain of nature, and to arrange and to combine,
artificially and laboriously, those complicated scenes which
are intended to replace the lessons of ordinary education.
Such, for example, is the scene of the juggler, where Emile
is to acquire at the same time notions on physics and on
ethics. Such, again, is the conversation with the gardener,
Robert, who reveals to him the idea of property. The pre-
ceptor is no longer a teacher, but a mechanic. The true
educator is nature, but nature prepared and skillfully ad-
justed to serve the ends that we propose to attain. Rousseau
admits only the teaching of things : —

'•Do not give your pupil any kind of verbal lesson; he
should receive none save from experience." "The most
important, the most useful rule in all education, is not to
gain time, but to lose it."

The preceptor will interfere at most only by a few timid
and guarded words, to aid the child in interpreting the les-
sons of nature. "State questions within his comprehension,
and leave him to resolve them for himself. Let him not
know anything because you have told it to him, but because
he has comprehended it for himself."

" For the body as for the mind, the child must be left to

" Let him run, and frolic, and fall a hundred times a day.
So much the better ; for he will learn from this the sooner to
help himself up. The welfare of liberty atones for many

In his horror for what he calls " the teaching and pedantic
mania," Rousseau goes so far as to proscribe an education
in habits : —


"The only habit that a child should be allowed to form
is to contract no habit."

316. The Child's Right to Happiness. — Rousseau did
not tire of demanding that we should respect the infancy that
is in the child, and take into account his tastes and his apti-
tudes. With what eloquence he claims for him the right of
being happy !

"Love childhood. Encourage its sports, its pleasures, and
its instinct for happiness. Who of you has not sometimes
regretted that period when a laugh was always on the lips,
and the soul always in peace? Why will you deny those
little innocents the enjoyment of that brief period which is so
soon to escape them, and of that precious good which they
cannot abuse ? Why will you fill with bitterness and sorrow
those first years so quickly passing which will no more re-
turn to them than they can return to you? Fathers, do you
know the moment when death awaits your children? Do
not lay up for yourselves regrets by depriving them of the
few moments that nature gives them. As soon as they can
feel the pleasure of existence, try to have them enjoy it, and
act in such a way that at whatever hour God summons them
they may not die without having tasted the sweetness of

317. Proscription of Intellectual Exercises. — Rous-
seau rejects from the education of FLmile all the intellectual
exercises ordinarily employed. He proscribes history on the
pretext that FJmile cannot comprehend the relations of events.
He takes as an example the disgust of a child who had been
told the anecdote of Alexander and his physician : —

" I found that he had an unusual admiration for the cour-
age, so much lauded, of Alexander. But do you know in
what he saw that courage? Simply in the fact that he
swallowed a drink that had a bad taste."


And from this Rousseau concludes that the child's intelli-
gence is not sufficiently open to comprehend history, and thnt
he ought not to learn it. The paradox is evident. Because
£mile is sometimes exposed to the danger of falling into
errors of judgment, must he be denied the opportunity of
judging? Similarly, Rousseau does not permit the study of
the languages. Up to the age of twelve, Emile shall know-
but one language, because, till then, incapable of judging and
comprehending, he cannot make the comparison between
other languages and his own. Later, from twelve to fifteen,
Rousseau will find still other reasons for excluding the study
of the ancient languages. And it is not only history and the
languages ; it is literature in general from which Emile is
excluded by Rousseau. No book shall be put into his hands,
not even the Fables of La Fontaine. It is well known with
what resolution Rousseau criticises The Grow and the Fox.

318. Education of the Senses. — The grand preoccupa-
tion of Rousseau is the exercise and development of the
senses of his pupil. The whole theory of object lessons, and
even all the exaggerations of what is now called the intuitive
method, are contained in germ in the Emile: —

' ' The first faculties which are formed and perfected in us
are the senses. These, then, are the first which should be
cultivated ; but these are the very ones that we forget or that
we neglect the most."

Rousseau does not consider the senses as wholly formed
by nature ; but he makes a special search for the means of
forming them and of perfecting them through education.

" To call into exercise the senses, is, so to speak, to learn
to feel ; for we can neither touch, nor see, nor hear, except as
we have been taught."

Onlv, Rousseau is wrong in sacrificing everything to this


education of the senses. He sharply criticises this favorite
maxim of Locke, " We must reason with children." Rous-
seau retards the education of the judgment and the reason,
and declares that " he would as soon require that a child be
five feet high as that lie reason at the age of eight."

319. The Third Book of the Emile. — From the twelfth
to the fifteenth year is the length of time that Rousseau has
devoted to study and to intellectual development proper. It
is necessary that the robust animal, " the roe-buck," as he
calls Emile, after a negative and temporizing education of
twelve years, become in three years an enlightened intelli-
gence. As the period is short, Rousseau disposes of the time
for instruction with a miser's hand. Moreover, Emile is very
poorly prepared for the rapid studies which are to be im-
posed on him. Not having acquired in his earlier years the
habit of thinking, having lived a purely physical existence, he
will have great difficulty in bringing to life, within a few
months, his intellectual faculties.

But without dwelling on the unfavorable conditions of
Emile's intellectual education, let us see in what it will

320. Choice in the Things to be taught. — The princi-
ple which guides Rousseau in the choice of Emile's studies
is no other than the principle of utility : —

' ' There is a choice in the things which ought to be taught as
well as in the time fit for learning them. Of the knowledges
within our reach, some are false, others are useless, and still
others serve to nourish the pride of him who has them. Only
the small number of those which really contribute to our good
are worthy the care of a wise man, and consequently of a
child whom we wish to render such. It is not a question of
knowing what is, but only what is useful."


321. Rousseau and the Abbe de Saint Pierre. — Among
educators, some wish to teach everything, while others de-
mand a choice, and would retain only what is necessary.
The Abbe' de Saint Pierre follows the first tendency. He
would have the scholar learn everything at college ; a little
medicine towards the seventh or eighth year, and in the
other classes, arithmetic and blazonry, jurisprudence, Ger-
man, Italian, dancing, declamation, politics, ethics, astron-
omy, anatomy, chemistry, without counting drawing and the
violin, and twenty other things besides. Rousseau is wiser.
He is dismayed at such an accumulation, at such an obstruc-
tion of studies, aud so yields too much to the opposite ten-
dency, and restricts beyond measure the list of necessary

322. Emile's Studies. — These, in fact, are the studies to
which Emile is limited : first, the physical sciences, and, at
the head of the list, astronomy, then geography, geography
taught without maps and by means of travel : —

" You are looking for globes, spheres, maps. What
machines ! Why all these representations? Why not begin
by showing him the object itself ? "

Here, as in other places, Rousseau prefers what would be
best, but what is impossible, to that which is worth less, but
which alone is practicable.

But Rousseau does not wish that his pupil, like the pupil of
Rabelais, become an " abyss of knowledge."

" AVhen I see a man, enamored of knowledge, allow him-
self to yield to its charms, and run from one kind to another
without knowing where to stop, 1 think I see a child on the
sea-shore collecting shells, beginning by loading himself with
them; then, tempted by those he still sees, throwing them
aside, picking them up, until, weighed down by their number,


and uo longer knowing which to choose, he ends by rejecting
everything, and returns empty-handed."

No account is made of grammar and the ancient languages
in the plan of Emile's studies. Graver still, history is pro-
scribed. This rejection of historical studies, moreover, is
systematically done. Rousseau has placed Emile in the
country, and has made him an orphan, the better to isolate
him ; to teach him history would be to throw him back into
society that he abominates.

323. No Books save Robinson Crusoe. — One of the con-
sequences of an education that is natural and negative is the
suppression of books. Always going to extremes, Rousseau
is not content to criticise the abuse of books. He deter-
mines that up to his fifth year Emile shall not know what a
book is : —

" I hate books," he exclaims ; " they teach us merely to
speak of things that we do not know."

Besides the fact that this raving is rather ridiculous in the
case of a man who is a writer by profession, it is evident that
Rousseau is roving at random when he condemns the use of
books in instruction.

One book, however, one single book, has found favor in
his sioht. Robinson Crusoe will constitute bv itself for a Ions
time the whole of Emile's library. We understand without
difficulty Rousseau's kindly feeling for a work which, under
the form of a romance, is, like the Emile, a treatise on natu-
ral education. Emile and Robinson strongly resemble each
other, since they are self-sufficient and dispense with

324. Excellent Precepts on Method. — At least in the
general method which he commends, Rousseau makes amends
for the errors in his plan of study : —


" Do not treat the child to discourses which he cannot
understand. No descriptions, no eloquence, no figures of
speech. Be content to present to him appropriate objects.
Let us transform our sensations into ideas. But let us not
jump at once from sensible objects to intellectual objects.
Let us always proceed slowly from one sensible notion to
another. In general, let us never substitute the sign for the
thing, except when it is impossible for us to show the

"I have no love whatever for explanations and talk.
Tilings ! things ! I shall never tire of saying that we ascribe
too much importance to words. With our babbling education
we make only babblers."

But the whole would bear quoting. Almost all of Rous-
seau's recommendations, in the way of method, contain an
element of truth, and need onby to be modified in order to
become excellent.

325. Exclusive Motives of Action. — A great question
in the education of children is to know to what motive we
shall address ourselves. Here again, Rousseau is exclusive
and absolute. Up to the age of twelve, Emile will have
been guided by necessity ; he will have been made depend-
ent on things, not on men. It is through the possible and
the impossible that he will have been conducted, by treating
him, not as a sensible and intelligent being, but as a force of
nature agaiust which other forces are made to act. Not till
the age of twelve must this system be changed. Emile has
now acquired some judgment ; and it is upon an intellectual
motive that one ought now to count in regulating his con-
duct. This motive is utility. The feeling of emulation can-
not be employed in a solitary education. Finally, at the
age of fifteen, it will be possible to appeal to the heart, to


feeling, and to recommend to the young man the acts we set
before him, no longer as necessary or useful, but as noble,
good, and generous. The error of Rousseau is in cutting
up the life of man to his twentieth year into three sharply
defined parts, into three moments, each subordinated to a
single governing principle. The truth is that at every age
an appeal must be made to all the motives that act on our
will, that at every age, necessity, interest, sentiment, and
finally, the idea of duty, an idea too often overlooked by
Rousseau, as all else that is derived from reason, — all these
motives can effectively intervene, in different degrees, in the
education of man.

^ 326. Emile learns a Trade. — At the age of fifteen,
Emile will know nothing of history, nothing of humanity,
nothing of art and literature, nothing of God ; but he will
know a trade, a manual trade. By this means, he will be
sheltered from need iu advance, in case a revolution should
strip him of his fortune.

"We are approaching," says Rousseau, with an astonish-
ing perspicacity, " a century of revolutions. Who can give
you assurance of what will then become of you ? I hold it
to be impossible for the great monarchies of Europe to last
much longer. They have all had their day of glory, and
every State that dazzles is in its decline."

We have previously noticed, in studying analogous ideas in
the case of Locke, for what other reasons Rousseau made of
Emile an apprentice to a cabinet-maker or a carpenter.

327. Emile at the Age of Fifteen. — Rousseau takes
comfort in the contemplation of his work, and he pauses
from time to time in his analyses and deductions, to trace
the portrait of his pupil. This is how he represents him at
the age of fifteen : —


" ^raile has but little knowledge, but that which he has is
really his own ; he knows nothing by halves. In the small
number of things that he knows, and knows well, the most
important is that there are many things which he does not
know, but which he can some day learn ; that there are many
more things which other men know, but which he will never
know ; and that there is an infinity of other things which no
man will ever know. He has a universal mind, not through
actual knowledge, but through the ability to acquire it. He
has a mind that is open, intelligent, prepared for everything,
and, as Montaigne says, if not instructed, at least capable
of beins; instructed. It is sufficient for me that he knows
how to find the of what good, is it? with reference to all that
he does, and the why? of all that he believes. Once more,
my object is not at all to give him knowledge, but to teach
him how to acquire it as he may need it, to make him esti-
mate it at its exact worth, and to make him love truth above
everything else. With this method, progress is slow ; but
there are no false steps, and no danger of being obliged to
retrace one's course."

All this is well ; but it is necessary to add that even Emile
has faults, great faults. To mention but one of them, but
one which dominates all the others, he sees things only from
the point of view of utility, and he would not hesitate, for
example, " to give the Academy of Sciences for the smallest
bit of pastry."

328. Education of the Sensibilities. — It is true that
Rousseau finally decides to make of Emile an affectionate
and reasonable being. " We have formed," he says, " his
body, his senses, his judgment; it remains to irive him a
heart." Rousseau, who proceeds like a magician, by wave of
wand and clever tricks, flatters himself that within a day's


time Eniile is going to become the most affectionate, the
most moral, and the most religious of men.

329. The Fourth Book of the Emile. — The develop-
ment of the affectionate sentiments, the culture of the moral
sentiment, and that of the religious sentiment, such is the
triple subject of the fourth book, — vast and exalted questions
that lend themselves to eloquence in such a way that the
fourth book of the Emile is perhaps the most brilliant of the
whole work.

330. Genesis of the Affectionate Sentiments. — Here
Rousseau is wholly in the land of chimeras. Emile, who
lives in isolation, who has neither family, friends, nor com-
panions, is necessarily condemned to selfishness, and every-
thing Rousseau can do to warm his heart will be useless.
Do we wish to develop the feelings of tenderness and affec-
tion? Let us begin by placing the child under family or
social influences which alone can furnish his affections the
occasion for development. For fifteen years Rousseau leaves
the heart of Emile unoccupied. What an illusion to think
he will be able to fill it all at once ! When we suppress the
mother in the education of a child, all the means that we can
invent to excite in his soul emotions of gentleness and
affection are but palliatives. Rousseau made the mistake of
thinking that a child can be taught to love as he is taught to
read and write, aud that lessons could be given to Emile in
feeling just as lessons are given to him in geometiy.

331. Moral Education. — Rousseau is more worthy of

Online LibraryGabriel CompayréThe history of pedagogy → online text (page 24 of 48)