jean-jacques rousseau in london



His book Émile was the most significant book on education after Plato's Republic, and his other work had a profound impact on political theory and practice, romanticism and the development of the novel. He lived in England for 18 months. 





Rousseau, 10 Buckingham Street WC2. Rousseau (1712-1778) had a fundamental dislike of England and the English - but he was prevailed upon to live to England following reaction to the publication of The Social Contract and Émile in late 1765 (he arrived in January 1766 and spent some 18 months in the country). He was invited and accompanied to England by David Hume. Much of his time was spent at Wootton in Staffordshire - Hume's home. However, they also lived for a time at 10 Buckingham  Street, London in 1766.

Rousseau's great work on education, Émile, drew on thinkers that had preceded him - for example, John Locke on teaching - but he was able to pull together strands into a coherent and comprehensive system - and by using the medium of the novel he was able to dramatize his ideas and reach a very wide audience.  He made, it can be argued, the first comprehensive attempt to describe a system of education according to what he saw as ‘nature’. His thinking certainly stresses wholeness and harmony, and a concern for the person of the learner. Central to this was the idea that it was possible to preserve the 'original perfect nature' of the child by controlling their education and environment (based on an analysis of the different physical and psychological stages through which they pass from birth to maturity). This was a fundamental point. Rousseau argued that the momentum for learning was provided by the growth of the person (nature) - and that what the educator needed to do was to facilitate opportunities for learning. He explored a comprehensive scheme of education (a fuller account of which is given on Jean-Jaques Rousseau). The scale of his contribution is indicated by Darling (1994) when he argued that the history of child-centred educational theory is a series of footnotes to Rousseau.

While in England, Rousseau was, in Robert Wokler's (1995: 14) words, 'overwelmed by suspicions of an international conspiracy to discredit his character, managing to bring great misery upon himself, and much discomfort for Hume. Real persecution compounded the paranoia with which he was undoubtedly afflicted... for the rest of his life. While in England he started work on (and probably completed Part One) The Confessions which is 'an important reference point in the history of literature' (Matravers 1996: viii-ix) - Rousseau took autobiography beyond the introspection of St. Augustine by 'tracing the casual aspects of his character back to incidents in his childhood' (op cit).

David Hume (1711-1776), the Scottish philospher (perhaps best known for his Treatise of Human Nature - first published in 1740) had spent a considerable amount of time in France including being secretary to the British ambassador (1763-1765).  

For a fuller appreciation and links see:
Jean-Jaques Rousseau


Matravers, D. (1996) 'Introduction' to Rousseau. The Confessions, London: Wordsworth.

Wokler, R. (1996) Rousseau, Oxford: Oxford University Press.


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This page is part of our virtual walk around the history of informal education (in central London). 

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Prepared by Mark K. Smith
Mark K. Smith
First published August 27, 2000.
Last update: January 28, 2005