The book contains ten walks — each enclosing a series of meditations on solitude and society. The text is peppered with remembrances of bygone encounters and is punctuated by mutual lamentation and praise of the solitary state. His ostracism has allowed him to seek his true purpose, and has granted him a vantage point from which to reflect on society and his destined state. Thus, from the offset, Rousseau aligns his psychological meditation with a tactile path, linking the literal and figurative thematically. With everything and everyone out of his circle, he has only his soul to reflect upon and in which to find pleasure.
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First walk "A recent event as sad as it was unexpected has finally extinguished this feeble ray of hope and shown me that my earthly destiny is irrevocably fixed for all time. Since then, I have resigned myself utterly and recovered my peace of mind.
This resignation has made up for all my trials by the peace of mind it brings me, a peace of mind incompatible with the unceasing exertions of a struggle as painful as it was unavailing. Even physical suffering would take my mind off my misfortunes rather than adding to them. Perhaps the cries of pain would save me the groans of unhappiness, and the laceration of my body would prevent that of my heart.
My fevered imagination builds them up, works on them, magnifies them, and inspects them from every angle. They are far more of a torment to me imminent than present; the threat is far more worse than the blow. As soon as they happen, they lose all the terrors lent to them by imagination and appear in their true size. I find them far less formidable than I had feared, and even in the midst of my suffering I feel a sort of relief.
In this state, freed from all further fear and from the anxieties of hope, I shall learn from mere habit to accept ever more easily a situation which can grow no worse; and as my awareness of it is dulled by time they can find no further way of reviving it. So much good my persecutors have done me by recklessly pouring out all the shafts of their hatred.
They have deprived themselves of any power over me and henceforward I can laugh at them. I no longer have any neighbors, fellow-men, or brothers in this world. I live here as in some strange planet on to which I have fallen from the one I knew. All around me I can recognize nothing but objects which afflict and wound my heart, and I cannot look at anything that is close to me or round about me without discovering some subject for indignant scorn or painful emotion.
Let me therefore detach my mind from these afflicting sights; they would only cause me pain, and to no end. Alone for the rest of my life, since it is only in myself that I find consolation, hope and peace of mind, my only remaining duty is towards myself and this is all I desire. Thus if I am to contemplate myself before my decline, I must go back several years to the time when, losing all hope for this life and finding no food left on earth for my soul, I gradually learnt to feed it on its own substance and seek all its nourishment within myself.
I learnt from my own experience that the source of true happiness is within us, and that it is not in the power of men to make anyone truly miserable who is determined to be happy. This picture evoked mixed feelings of gentle sadness which were too closely akin to my age and my experience for me not to make the comparison.
I saw myself at the close of an innocent and unhappy life, with a soul still full of intense feelings and a mind still adorned with a few flowers, even if they were already blighted by sadness and withered by care.
Alone and neglected, I could feel the approach of the first frosts and my failing imagination no longer filled my solitude with beings formed after the desires of my heart. Sighing I said to myself: What have I done in this world? I was created to live, and I am dying without having lived. That is what gives me confidence. My heart and my reason cry out that I shall not be disappointed. Let men and fate do their worst, we must learn to suffer in silence, everything will find its proper place in the end and sooner or later my turn will come.
Experience is always instructive, I admit, but it is only useful in the time we have left to live. When death is already at the door, is it worth learning how we should have lived? Thus all the experience of my old age is of no use to me in my present state, nor will it help me in the future.
I had the firm intention, when I reached this age, of making no further effort to climb out of whatever situation I was in and of spending the rest of my life living from day to day with no thought for the future. When the time came I carried out my plan without difficulty, and although my fortune at the time seemed to be on the point of changing permanently for the better, it was not only without regret but with real pleasure that I gave up these prospects.
In shaking off all these lures and vain hopes, I abandoned myself entirely to the nonchalant tranquillity which has always been my dominant taste and most lasting inclination. I quitted the world and its vanities, I gave up all finery--no more sword, no more watch, no more white stockings, gilt trimmings and powder, but a simple wig and a good solid coat of broadcloth--and what is more than all the rest, I uprooted from my heart the greed and covetousness which gave value to all I was leaving behind.
I gave up the position I was then occupying, a position for which I was quite unsuited, and set myself to copying music at so much a page, an occupation for which I had always had a distinct liking. Nothing keeps the same unchanging shape, and our affections, being attached to things outside us, necessarily change and pass away as they do.
Always out ahead of us or lagging behind, they recall a past which is gone or anticipate a future which may never come into being; there is nothing solid there for the heart to attach itself to. Thus our earthly joys are almost without exception the creatures of a moment; I doubt whether any of us knows the meaning of lasting happiness. But if there is a state where the soul can find a resting-place secure enough to establish itself and concentrate its entire being there, with no need to remember the past or reach into the future, where time is nothing to it, where the present runs on indefinitely but this duration goes unnoticed, with no sign of the passing of time, and no other feeling of deprivation or enjoyment, pleasure or pain, desire or fear than the simple feeling of existence, a feeling that fills our soul entirely, as long as this state lasts, we can call ourselves happy, not with a poor, incomplete and relative happiness such as we find in the pleasures of life, but with a sufficient, complete and perfect happiness which leaves no emptiness to be filled in the soul What is the source of our happiness in such a state?
Nothing external to us, nothing apart from ourselves and our own existence; as long as this state lasts we are self-sufficient like God. The feeling of existence unmixed with any other emotion is in itself a precious feeling of peace and contentment which would be enough to make this mode of being loved and cherished by anyone who could guard against all the earthly and sensual influences that are constantly distracting us from it in this life and troubling the joy it could give us.
But most men being continually stirred by passion know little of this condition, and having only enjoyed it fleetingly and incompletely they retain no more than a dim and confused notion of it and are unaware of its true charm. Nor would it be desirable in our present state of affairs that the avid desire for these sweet ecstasies should give people a distaste for the active life which their constantly recurring needs impose upon them. But an unfortunate man who has been excluded from human society, and can do nothing more in this world to serve or benefit himself or others, may be allowed to seek in this state a compensation for human joys, a compensation which neither fortune nor mankind can take away from him.
If there had been the slightest leaven of evil in my soul, this adversity would have fermented it to excess and driven me into a frenzy, but it only succeeded in reducing me to inactivity. Unable to do good to myself or anyone else, I abstain from acting; and this state, which is only blameless because I cannot avoid it, makes me find a sort of satisfaction in abandoning myself completely and without reproach to my natural inclination. No doubt I go too far, since I avoid opportunities for action even when I think nothing but good can come from them.
But knowing that I am not allowed to see things as they are, I refrain from judging by the appearances my enemies give to things, and however alluring the motives for action may seem, it is enough that they have been left within my grasp for me to be sure they are deceptive. A tile that falls off a roof may injure us more seriously, but it will not wound us so deeply as a stone thrown deliberately by a malevolent hand. The blow may miss, but the intention always strikes home.
This was what I told myself. My reason and my heart assented, yet I could feel that my heart was not entirely satisfied. Whence came this dissatisfaction? I searched and found the answer: it came from my self-love, which, having waxed indignant against mankind, still rebelled against reason. Everything here on earth is in a continual flux which allows nothing to assume any constant form.
All things change round about us, we ourselves change, and no one can be sure of loving tomorrow what he loves today. All our plans of happiness in this life are therefore empty dreams. Let us make the most of peace of mind when it comes to us, taking care to do nothing to drive it away, but not making plans to hold it fast, since such plans are sheer folly.
I have seen few if any happy people, but I have seen many who were contented, and of all the sights that have come my way this is the one that has left me most contented myself. I ruminate on them so to speak, turning them over frequently in my memory, and few as they are, if they were pure and unmixed, they would perhaps make me happier than in my days of prosperity. In extreme poverty a little is enough to make one rich; a beggar is gladder to find one gold coin than a rich man to find a purse full of money.
People would laugh if they could see how my soul is affected by the slightest pleasures
The Reveries of a Solitary Walker
Perhaps I should have chained myself to the railings to protest NSW mental health funding inadequacies. The Wayside Chapel "The Wayside Chapel has provided unconditional love, care and support for people on and around the streets of Kings Cross since Google voice directions are the work of the devil. I knew that they provided low-cost meals, clothing and showers for the most disadvantaged community members, referrals for crisis accommodation, and a range of drop-in activities, but had not had first-hand dealings with them.
Reveries of the Solitary Walker
Shelves: switzerland , male , non-fiction , walking , years Well, this sounded really good from the description: slightly crazy Rousseau at the end of his life, walking, thinking, bitterness, misanthropy, etc. But he emphasizes those last points a little too Well, this sounded really good from the description: slightly crazy Rousseau at the end of his life, walking, thinking, bitterness, misanthropy, etc. While there are some good ideas and thoughts in here, none of them really blew me away, they all seemed like stuff I would write down in my own diary, only to look back on them and feel a slight twinge of shame. These are ten well-formed essays, with forceful agendas. He is so much in his own mind that I felt like I was reading a case-study in how not to drive yourself crazy. Reduced to my own self, it is true that I feed on my own substance. And while the writing is not bad, he repeats his points to the point of tedium, and takes so long in saying it, that I fell asleep reading a few of them.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, ‘Reveries of the Solitary Walker’: A Summary
First walk "A recent event as sad as it was unexpected has finally extinguished this feeble ray of hope and shown me that my earthly destiny is irrevocably fixed for all time. Since then, I have resigned myself utterly and recovered my peace of mind. This resignation has made up for all my trials by the peace of mind it brings me, a peace of mind incompatible with the unceasing exertions of a struggle as painful as it was unavailing. Even physical suffering would take my mind off my misfortunes rather than adding to them.
Reveries of a Solitary (Sydney) Walker