“However great a man’s natural talent may be, the act of writing cannot be
learned all at once.”
“Rousseaumania” — that’s quite a mouthful! — but it seems an apt way to describe the festivities taking place in the Oise, a region north of Paris for the 300th anniversary of the birth of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the philosopher-writer-composer probably best known for his classic work, The Social Contract. Though Jean-Jacques was actually born in Geneva and lived in the French village of Ermenonville only briefly until his death, Oise residents are mounting yearlong festivities in his honor. That’s right, year-long! What other writer has enjoyed such adulation? Shakespeare, perhaps? James Joyce, for example, only gets an annual one-day affair in Dublin and Brooklyn.
Not surprisingly, the French know how to party. There are picnics, conferences, publications, debates, plays, films, theatrical events, concerts and dinners — all designed to pay homage to the ever-popular philosopher and author. Fourteen regional restaurants boast Rousseau-inspired menus. Apparently, Jean-Jacques was quite a foodie and made a mean omelet with fresh herbs.
The town of Ermenonville, where Jean-Jacques lived for five years until his death, has pulled out all the stops. There was a Rousseau-style “citizens” banquet with Champagne, wine, and five courses, followed by fireworks and entertainment. Hundreds of residents and visitors wandered the trails of vast Jacques Rousseau Park, where the philosopher, who also taught, composed music, and studied botany, would take the long meditative walks which inspired him to pen a collection of musings called Reveries of a Solitary Walker (just love this title!)
Rousseau’s mother, Suzanne, died shortly after he was born but he later recalled fondly how his father fostered his love of reading when he was just a boy of five or six: “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.'”
How wonderful to think that an independent thinker whose collected works have inspired countless people and total more than 15,000 pages, first enjoyed a glimpse of the magical world of words reading through the night with his father. That’s where it all begins: Mothers and fathers who share their love of books. Write on!