THE REVERIES OF THE SOLITARY WALKER
By Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Read by Matthew Lloyd Davies
4 hours 39 minutes
The Reveries of the Solitary Walker was one of the last works written by the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) and was, in fact, not quite complete. It was published four years after his death and came quickly to be regarded as one of his most poetic works. It consists of 10 Walks (only the final ‘Walk’ was unfinished) during which he muses on a variety of topics including thoughts on issues which featured strongly in his notable life as a philosopher and commentator, including education and political philosophy. However, interwoven into the reflective narrative are personal observations and memories – some painful, concerning times when he felt attacked and severely criticised for his writings. There are also comments on nature particularly the plants he encounters which, placing the writer in the countryside, balances the darker inner musings. This puts the tone beyond nostalgia, and if there is undoubtedly a feeling of resignation, the essays emanate a sense of end-of-life understanding and acceptance. The First Walk sets the scene: “BEHOLD me then as if alone upon the earth, having neither brother, relative, friend or society but my own thoughts; the most social and affectionate of men proscribed as it were by unanimous consent. They have sought in the refinement of their hatred what would be the most cruel torment to my susceptible soul and have rent asunder every bond which attached me to them. I should have loved mankind in spite of themselves and it was only by throwing off humanity that they could avoid my affection. At length, then, behold them strangers, unknown, as indifferent to me as they desired to be; but thus detached from mankind, and everything that relates to them, what am I? This remains to be sought. Unhappily the search must be preceded by casting a glance on my own situation, since I must necessarily pass through this examination, in order to judge between them and myself.” Matthew Lloyd Davies reads the first translation into English which appeared in 1796, less than 20 years after Rousseau’s death.