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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/337

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By Professor W. B. PILLSBURY

AS is often the case with a great man viewed two centuries after his time, one is tempted to wonder what the source of Rousseau's repute may have been. Few men have so greatly influenced the course of thought in many different directions as Rousseau and few great men have been as little worthy of influence, judged by their characters or their attainments. It seems incredible that a vagabond, a psychopath, a man without serious training, should produce a system of philosophy, a system of education, a political philosophy, that was to modify the political systems as well as the course of thought of civilized nations for generations. To repeat a few cant phrases, Rousseau offers a paradox in each of his capacities between his theories and his actions. He preached social cooperation and the acceptance of social responsibilities, but was himself a hermit and recognized a duty only to avoid it; he praised social equality and the advantages of limiting one's desires rather than seeking means of satisfying them, but he spent his life fawning upon the great and the wealthy, and was always a parasite upon some one more fortunate than himself; in his system of education he gives much space to arguing the advantages of personal parental care for children, while he sent his own five children as soon as born to a foundling asylum, and with so little care that no one was able to trace them. Apparently the father was never sufficiently interested in their fate to make the attempt. The list might be expanded indefinitely, but this will amply suffice to show the inconsistencies of the man.

The key to his inconsistencies as to much of his power as a writer is to be found in his mental abnormalities. He was undoubtedly a psychasthenic all his life, and in his last years this probably passed over into insanity. The symptoms of psychasthenia are clear throughout his confessions. He was tortured always by the delirium of doubt, he was often aboulic, the sexual life that he portrays so fully gives much evidence of a Freudian neurasthenia; in his later life he was never without delusions of persecution. Nothing is lacking to complete the clinical picture. As one result of his mental disease he was never in complete control of either thought or action. He never could definitely and sharply pass upon the truth or falsity of his ideas. He lived all his life in a half-dream state, incapable of saying whether any one of the trains of ideas that presented itself was quite real, or was consistent with any other. To change the metaphor, his was a play life, through-