Tuesday, May 15, 2012
A little over a decade ago, I had the serendipitous good luck to find myself staying in a small village in France called Ermenonville after a wedding I attended in a nearby town. At the time, I had no idea that the [very inexpensive but lovely] chateau hotel where I was lodging was the location where Jean Jacques Rousseau had, in 1778, spent the last months of his life.
I fell in love with the village, with the castle itself, and with Parc Jean Jacques Rousseau across the street from the chateau, where I went hiking many times. On my hikes, I carried along a journal and a sketch pad, and stopped to write and to draw various sites in the parc. I still can’t believe my good luck in spending a week in those lovely surroundings.
The odd thing is, on one of my hikes in the park, I was grappling with the question of my own at-times-competing needs for solitude and company, and I was able so resolve some of these vexing questions while in that extraordinary natural setting.
I had read Rousseau in school but remembered little about his writing, so when I came home I purchased a book or two of his, one of which is Reveries of the Solitary Walker. Here is an interesting quote from the chapter entitled ‘Third Walk’ on the subject of solitude, a subject with which Rousseau grappled as well.
“It is from this time that I can date my total renunciation of the world and the great love of solitude which has never left me. The task I had set myself could only be performed in absolute isolation; it called for long and tranquil meditations which are impossible in the bustle of society life. So I was obliged to adopt for a time another way of life, which I subsequently found so much to my taste that since then I have only interrupted it for brief periods and against my will, returning to it most gladly and following it without effort as soon as I was able; and when men later reduced me to a life of solitude, I found that in isolating me to make me miserable, they had done more for my happiness than I had been able to do myself.”
~~ Jean Jacques Rousseau, Reveries of a Solitary Walker, “Third Walk”
Parc Jean Jacques Rousseau