Alphabe Thursday R is for Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was a Genevan writer and philosopher of the 18th century and a walker of wide open spaces. While his friend Denis Diderot (1713-1784), the writer and encyclopedist was in prison. Rousseau was ‘very poor’ and said in his Confessions that ‘he walked the 6 miles’ sometimes he read as he went. In his Discourse on inequality Rousseau portrays man in his natural condition, wandering in the forest, without industry and the emblem of a simple man. The walker is a traveller, but travels unadorned and unaugmented, he is dependent only on his or her body and its strength rather than horses, boats or carriage. Walking cannot be improved. Rousseau’s career as a pedestrian began when he was 15 years old, he returned from a Sunday afternoon stroll in the country, he found the city gates locked. He decided then and there to abandon his home and workplace and find somewhere else to live. For several days he walked from Switzerland through Italy to France. He often referred to those carefree wandering days with pleasure. He tried to find some men to share his delight and planned a tour of Italy. This didn’t happened but he did continue to walk at every opportunity, saying that ‘There is something about walking that stimulates and enlivens my mind. When I stay in one place I hardly think at all, my body has to be on the move to set my mind going’.
He goes on to extol the other virtues of walking; the scenery, fresh air, the sounds, the good health to be gained and the the ‘easy atmosphere of an inn’.
Rousseau considers walking to be both exercise of simplicity and a means of contemplation. He would walk alone in the Bois de Boulogne after supper ‘thinking over subjects for works to be written and not returning till night’.