The Reveries Of The Solitary Walker Essay

Question:

Fifth Walk’ is a memoire that is also a type of explanation or revelation of how Rousseau sees himself. Using evidence from the text, explain how Rousseau represents himself.

Answer:

Jean Jacque Rousseau’s “Fifth Walk” from his book “The reveries of the solitary walker” gives a detailed insight of him about his daily life, idling on the banks of a lake near Neuchatel. He describes how he spent his days, discovering the very many facets of nature that include flora, fauna, the island as well as the lake itself. The very first line of the “Fifth Walk” itself depicts how delighted he was to have experienced being on St. Peter’s Island. “It is very pleasant and singularly placed for the happiness of a man who like to cut himself off” (Roussea, 1782, p. 62), he writes. Rousseau describes his sojourn that lasted about two months as filled with joyous discoveries of the many different types of plants, their bringing of new lives into this world, the idle walks on the shore of the island and the pleasures he derived out of drifting out into the waters, for hours and hours at a stretch only to return at nightfall. Towards the second half of the “Fifth Walk”, he talks about how it is not possible for every single human being to experience the kind of peace and calm he did.

Rousseau explores in great detail the landscapes, how they are more naturally green and how there is “more variety in the terrain” (Roussea, 1782, p. 62). He says that the place is perfect for wandering souls, who lust for the intricacies of nature, the chirping of birds, the rushing noise of falling waters and the serenity of the vast skies. Rousseau so dearly enjoyed his little stay at the lake. “They let me spend scarcely two months on this island, but I would have spent two years there, two centuries, and the whole of eternity without being bored for a minute. (Roussea, 1782, p. 63) “. It gave him immense pleasure to set out his day and explore the island. Several mornings, he would get up in a lovely mood and have his lunch with his only companions on the island, a tax collector, his wife and servants. He would plunge himself on his boat and row to the middle of the lake, lie and devote his days to idleness. He talks about how he would spend his days, watching the beautiful skies and the waters of the lake, sitting atop the heights of the island, captivated by the vistas, enthralled by the sheer beauty in front of his eyes. Such calm waters and enormous skies were, to him, “a hundred times preferable to the sweetest things in what are called the pleasure of life.” (Roussea, 1782, p. 66)

Other times, he would gather his magnifying glass and systema naturae and set off on to the island to explore each and every plant, each and every leaf there was to be explored. He mentions that he so deeply wanted to explore the variety of flora that was available to him that he would write books about “each stalk of hay of the meadows, each moss of the woods, each lichen that carpets the rocks.” (Roussea, 1782, p. 65). Rousseau would also bring along ample harvest with him back to his place to study them, in case he felt like it would rain outside. The reproductive system of the plants was very fascinating to him. He writes, “Nothing is more singular than the raptures and ecstasies I felt with each structure and organization.” (Roussea, 1782, p. 65).


Rousseau was as interested in the behavior and lives of animals as he was of the plants around him. He very frequently used to sail from the large island which was more cultivated to the smaller, lesser inhabited island. Upon his scouting the little island for several of his visits there, he suggested to the tax collector to move his pair of a male and a female rabbit to the small island as they could multiply there in peace and have no fear. For Rousseau, “the founding of this little colony was a festival”. (Roussea, 1782, p. 66). To him, leading the little rabbits along with the taxpayer’s wife and the wife’s sister was nothing short of an achievement. He felt pride in being able to set the rabbit couple onto the small island, giving them a new life, where they flourished and grew in numbers. The fact that the tax collector’s wife followed him into the waters and overcame her hydrophobia to help set the animal couple on to the small island was another booster shot to his ego.

Rousseau would let himself while away, spend his days idling. He would very often find himself sitting along the shores of the lake and as the waves would hit the shores, he would let his conscious self be carried away along with his day dreams. Calmness and serenity would engulf his being and he was perfectly fine with letting that happen. It was almost as if he was intoxicated by the little things around him that another person would either not even notice at all, or would not derive pleasure out of. Rousseau has wonderfully described his experience at the island, his dreamy imaginations at par with realities, his imbibed self, influenced by the subtlety and the details discovered by him, blurring fiction with reality. Towards the end of the “fifth walk” he is telling his readers about the same. He tries to explain to the readers his version of happiness, which is not “momentary” or based upon recalling the past or foretelling the future. Pure bliss should be what he describes as eternal, “making its duration noticed and without any trace of time’s passage”. (Roussea, 1782, p. 68). He says that such is true happiness and not the happiness we humans derive out of the pleasures of life, that are mostly dependant on the past or the future. The calmness of the soul, not absolute rest and neither agitated, disturbed or contaminated by desire or passion, the contentment, the peace, the sheer bliss which a soul experiences by being aware and close to the nature is what according to him is true happiness. This is the happiness that Rousseau experienced when he spent his two months at the St. Peter’s Island, all the while deriving pleasure out of nature.

Reference

Jean-Jacques Rousseau. (1776-1778) The reveries of the solitary walker” in Texts and Traditions Reader 2017 .Western Sydney University. (Original work published in 1782)

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