Every year for Christmas and New Year we dread the loss of the celebrities we love, and reminisce those who died during the year. Apparently it was very much the same in Eighteenth century France, if Manon's letters are anything to go by. On 2 January 1777, she wrote to her friend Sophie Cannet:
Rousseau is not dead. He did not take a fall, as it was reported, and was not even even ill. I would have been annoyed had he disappeared before I got to see him. Were it not for certain troubles I cannot seem to shake, there are some things I might try, I would not write, as his wife refuses to accept that I am the author of my own letters, but... but... I must leave such projects to a later time.
Unfortunately Manon never got to put these plans into action as Rousseau did die a year and a half later. On 6 July 1778, she sent the news to Sophie's sister, Henriette:
Jean-Jacques is dead. I was given the news yesterday at dinner. Immediately, I felt my appetite disappear, my stomach tighten and heave at the thought of eating anything. Why? ... The best of Rousseau stays with us; anything else is but released from pain. His life is filled, his spirit and his sentiments are still here, so why am I so saddened?
When Manon Roland was 21 she heard that Rousseau was in Paris and decided to try and meet him. A friend of hers, a fellow Genevese provided the introduction and the reason for the visit: he's commissioned some music from Rousseau and she was to pick it up. So she wrote him a letter and went to his house, accompanied by her nanny.
She relates the visit in a letter to her friend Sophie, on 29 February 1776.
Thérèse Levasseur with Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
When Manon knocked, the door was open by Therese Levasseur who asked her rudely what she wanted.
- "To speak to Monsieur Rousseau - is this his home?"
- "What do you want with him?"
- "An answer to a letter I wrote a few days ago."
- "Well, Miss, you can't speak to him. But you can go and tell the people who made you write - for surely you did not write this letter..."
- "Pardon me?"
- "The hand itself is clearly a man's."
- "Would you like to watch me write?" Laughed Manon.
She did not see Rousseau, who was old and sick and saw no visitors anyway, but Manon went back home with, she says, the slight satisfaction that he found her letter well enough written that he thought it could not be by a woman.
This is where I live blog about my new book project, an intellectual biography of three French Revolutionary women philosophers.