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  • Études et documents sur les ‘minora’ de Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  • Andrew Billing
Études et documents sur les ‘minora’ de Jean-Jacques Rousseau. By Frédéric S. Eigeldinger. (Les Dix-huitièmes Siècles, 137). Paris: Honoré Champion, 2009. 334pp., ill. Hb €60.00.

The first part of this volume contains an eclectic series of essays, many originally published in the Bulletin de l’Association Jean-Jacques Rousseauand most of them pertaining to documents, including manuscripts, minor writings, letters, and ephemera, held in the important collection of Rousseau manuscripts at the Bibliothèque publique et [End Page 349]universitaire de Neuchâtel, where Frédéric Eigeldinger has established the Salle Rousseau. The most compelling relate to Rousseau’s early Swiss connections and later exile in Neuchâtel at Môtiers from 1762 to 1765 after the condemnation of the Émile. Thus, two essays on political themes insist on the importance of Rousseau’s youthful 1730–31 encounter with the ‘Montagnons’, the isolated alpine communities of the Neuchâtel mountains, for the development of his political thought and the construction of his ‘idéal de l’âge de l’or’ (p. 38). Eigeldinger’s suggestion that the generative power of the model of the Montagnons is supported by a tendency to nostalgic projection whereby Rousseau is ‘porté à idéaliser le passé, à mythifier en quelque sorte un souvenir’ (p. 38) reveals an inclination to interpret Rousseau’s social and political works through a somewhat restrictive psychological lens that privileges the autobiographical writings. (In another essay in this collection the author claims that the Rêveriesare Rousseau’s ‘œuvre la plus achevée intellectuellement parlant, la plus profonde, la plus humainement vraie’ (p. 95), and an essay on the Confessionsfollows general exegetic lines already well travelled by Marcel Raymond and Jean Starobinski.) Nonetheless, the two political essays also convincingly relate ‘le modèle suisse’ (p. 26) to the tension between patriotism and cosmopolitanism in Rousseau, as well as to Rousseau’s often neglected interest in federalism, which Eigeldinger strikingly identifies as the ‘principe d’association des Montagnons’ (p. 42). Furthermore, Eigeldinger’s well-documented treatment, in another essay, of the religious and political controversies occasioned by Rousseau’s presence in Neuchâtel, which were to provoke his flight from Môtiers in 1765, contextualizes them rather effectively in the broader historical context of Enlightenment debates on religious freedom. This study of Rousseau’s ‘minora’ also produces an amusing account of the unpublished Lettres à Sara, four letters putatively written by a fifty-year-old ‘barbon’ to a young woman thirty years his junior, which Eigeldinger reads both as a fictionalized account of Rousseau’s relationship with Sophie d’Houdetot and, with Émile et Sophieand the Lévite d’Ephraïm, as a paradoxical ‘mise à l’épreuve des théories morales’ (p. 109) by means of the concrete examples afforded by fiction. In conclusion, while the study employs a familiar interpretative framework, it should attract the attention of scholars interested in Rousseau’s Helvetic connections. The second part of the volume reproduces a number of largely unpublished manuscripts of varying interest held in the Neuchâtel archive, including, notably, the Lettres à Sara; a manuscript containing passages selected by Rousseau from Plutarch; the original ‘préface’ to the first draft of the Confessions, including hitherto unpublished variants; and a collection of fragments on translation that Rousseau appended to his translation of book one of Tacitus’s Histories.

Andrew Billing
Macalester College, St Paul, MN


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pp. 349-350
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