Letters on... Rousseau

J.J. ROUSSEAU   |   Madame la Baronne de STAEL   |   Anne Louise NECKER

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Item#: 117976 price:$3,500.00

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"AN ORIGINAL STATEMENT ABOUT ROUSSEAU… REFUTES THE NOTION OF SYMPATHY AS EMBRACED BY… HUME AND ADAM SMITH": FIRST EDITION IN ENGLISH OF MADAME DE STAËL'S LETTERS ON… J.J. ROUSSEAU, 1789, A BREAKTHROUGH WORK BY ONE OF "THE MOST INFLUENTIAL LIBERAL POLITICAL THINKERS IN 19TH CENTURY FRANCE," IN CONTEMPORARY TREE CALF BOARDS

DE STAEL, Baroness, Mademoiselle Necker. Letters on the Works and Character of J.J. Rousseau. To which are added A Letter from the Countess Alexandre de Vassy to the Baroness de Stael, with the Baroness's Answer, and an Account of the last Moments of Rousseau. London: G.G.J. and J. Robinson, 1789. Octavo, contemporary full brown tree calf sympatherically rebacked in calf-gilt, red morocco spine label; pp. (i-iii), iv, (1), 2-139 (1). $3500.

First edition in English of Madame de Staël first major work, preceded only by the previous year’s anonymous French edition, a "subtle but unrelenting questioning of the values of French culture," here asserting there is a synthesis of "Rousseau’s republican and Hume's monarchical discourses inherent in French Enlightenment philosophy." With this pivotal work, published when she was only 22, Staël first "helped the dawning 19th century to take stock of itself."

Madame de Staël "was among the most influential liberal political thinkers in 19th-century France… her thought, however, has been obscured next to major male thinkers such as Jacques Necker, Benjamin Constant, Francois Guizot and Alexis de Tocqueville" (Takeda, Mme de Staël, 1). Before she was 21, Staël authored a romantic drama, Sophie (1786) and a tragedy, Jane Gray (1790), but it was Letters on Rousseau, first issued anonymously in French in December 1788, at the age of 22, "that made her known." The seminal "value of her critical and historical work is undeniable… Staël's involvement in, and understanding of, the events and tendencies of her time gave her an unusual position: it may be said that she helped the dawning 19th century to take stock of itself" (Encylopedia Britannica). "The daughter of Jacques Necker, who had just been appointed finance minister of the French monarchy for the second time… Staël gathered the most distinguished male guests in her salon at rue du Bac." Letters on Rousseau "shows that, despite the political change that was to happen in the near future, Staël at least tried to sustain a cultural and moral continuity in matters of aristocratic civility… she tried to assert this double objective by synthesizing aspects of Rousseau's republican and Hume's monarchical discourses inherent in French Enlightenment philosophy" (Takeda, 119).

Staël "is the only major woman author of the 19th century, with the exception of George Sand, who had managed to break through the silence in literary history surrounding women's writing during that time… Her subtle but unrelenting questioning of the values of French culture… makes her an 'exemplary intellectual,' as Pierre Barberis has called her" (Massardier-Kenney, Staël, Translation, and Race). In Letters on Rousseau, "in the first place, Staël makes an original statement about Rousseau. She asserts that, neither romantic nor rational, he is actually a man of 'sentiment'… the source of artistic and intellectual impetus, and the aesthetic sensibility of a genius such as Rousseau… At the same time her recourse to sentiment contradicts the view of passion as constituting the pursuit of self-interest as advanced by Hobbes… and economists such as Turgot. In addition, against the materialistic and utilitarian implication of French Enlightenment philosophy, Staël asserts that religion and philosophy are compatible… [and] refutes the notion of sympathy as embraced by Scottish enlightenment philosophers such as Hume and Adam Smith." Staël also, notably, "contests Rousseau's opinion that women are incapable of writing with sentiment and passion… [and] attacks one of Rousseau's most male chauvinistic aspects, where he claims that women needed not to be educated" (Takeda, 47, 51-2). Staël and Mary Wollstonecraft "did more than anyone else in their century to advance the causes of literary study and of women through their analysis of character" (Carlson, "Characters" in Modern Philology, V.98, No.2, 320). First edition in English: reviewed in Critical Review, August 1789. ESTC T80523. Lowndes, 2134. Early owner signature.

Text with a few leaves expertly cleaned, otherwise fresh and crisp, attractive in contemporary tree calf boards.

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