Rousseau, Jean-Jacques

BORN 28 Jun 1712, Genève - DIED 2 Jul 1778, Ermenonville, Oise
GRAVE LOCATION Paris: Panthéon (Entrée)

Rousseau was born into a protestant family of French refugees at Geneva. His mother died in childbirth and his father fled from Geneva in 1722, leaving him to the care of relatives. He failed as assistant to a notary and was treated so poorly by an engraver that he ran away when he was 16. He was sent to Turin by Madame de Warens, who thought he was as enthousiastic as she was for Catholicism. In Turin he worked at a shop and was the lover of the shopkeeper's wife until her husband returned. He went back to Annecy and became the lover of Madame de Warens. He lived with her from 1731 to 1740.

In 1741 he went to Paris with a new notation for music that was found unuseful by the Academy of Sciences. The maid of his accomodation, Thérèse Levasseur, now became his lover. She claimed to have had five children by him, who were all taken away to the foundling hospital. This was not uncommon at the time, but in his "Confessions" he expressed his deep regret. Rousseau lived with Thérèse for the rest of his life.

After copying music and working as a secretary he wrote an opera, "Les Muses galantes". He corresponded with Voltaire and met Diderot. In 1750 he won a competition of the Academy of Dijon with his essay "Discours sur les Sciences et les Arts" ("Discourse on the Arts and Sciences") and found himself famous. His "Julie; Ou, La Nouvelle Héloïse" (1761) was a bestseller and in 1762 he published "Le Contrat social" ("The Social Contract"). This work was admired by the French revolutionaries as well as Kant and it influenced Hegel. Also in 1762 he published "Émile". This book on education was banned in France and Switzerland and the French parliament ordered the book to be burned.

Rousseau fled to Neuchâtel (1762-1765) under the protection of Frederick the Great. There he studied botany and (invited by David Hume) in 1776 he settled in England at Wooten Hall near Ashbourne, where he wrote a huge part of his "Confessions" (1781). At Wooten Hall he accidentally met Erasmus Darwin and a correspondence followed.

Horace Walpole played a cruel trick on him when he published a forged letter that stated that the Hume and British Government wanted him dead. He fled from England and went back to France where he lived in disguise and married Thérèse in 1768, although the marriage was legally invalid. In 1770 he was allowed to return to Paris if he didn't write against the authorities.

Rousseau died insane at a cottage in Ermenonville, where he was buried. Thérèse was his sole heir. In 1794 he was the third person to be placed in the Panthéon in Paris, after Mirabeau and Voltaire.

Rousseau loved the game of chess and he even played a game against the great chessmaster Philidor. He also won two games against the Prince de Conti in 1760.

Related persons
• was a friend of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Henri
• admired Houdetot, Sophie de la Live de Bellegarde, comtesse de
• quarreled with Hume, David
• corresponded with Laurencin de Chanzé, Jean Baptiste Espérance Blandine de

11/10/1794The body of Rousseau is transferred to the Panthéon in Paris. It was transferred from the Ile aux Peupliers in Ermonville. 
0/12/1897The tombs of Voltaire and Rousseau at the Panthéon are opened. They were opened to verify if they really contained the remains of these two famous personalities. A report was drafted that stated that the remains were real. [Voltaire]


The tomb of Jean-Jacques Rousseau at the Panthéon, Paris.
Picture by Androom (07 Mar 1995)


• Jouffre, Valérie-Noëlle, The Pantheon, Éditions Ouest-France, Rennes, 1994
• Reeth, Adelaïde van & Guido Peeters, Herinneringen in Steen, De Haan/Unieboek, Houten, 1988

Roussel, Raymond

Published: 17 Jul 2009
Last update: 25 Apr 2022