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Page 308

The Culture of Modernity . �95

The interest of Rousseau's novel is less in the story as a set of events than
in the portrayal and evocation of strong and noble sentiments : love,
benevolence, the devotion to virtue. The overpowering picture which emerges
is that we are somehow ennobled by strong, true, uncorrupted feeling, as Julie
and St.-Preux are by their love, which they have kept pure by sacrificing its
immediate fulfilment to the demands of duty P

The impact of La Nouvelle Heloise when it came out in 1761 is hard to
imagine in this more jaded age. Copies were snapped up, and many of those
who read it were literally overpowered with emotion. Rousseau received a
flood of letters from readers who were "ravished", "in transports", in
"ecstasy", moved to "delices inexprimables" and "Iarmes delicieuses". The
Baron Thiebault came to the end of the book, "ne pleurant plus, mais criant,
hurl ant comme une bete" {"no longer weeping, but crying out, howling like
a beast"}. Fran�ois, a cornet in the cavalry, was so moved by his reading "que
je crois que dans ce moment j'aurais vu la mort avec plaisir" {"I believe that
in that moment I would have looked upon death with pleasure"} . The readers
were not only overwhelmed but morally uplifted. Madame Rolland thought
that any woman who could read the book without being made morally better
must have a soul of mud.24

The story of Julie and St.-Preux was inspiring because they had attained
to a nobility and purity of sentiment in spitt: of the crossing of their love-or
perhaps it was because this love was unfulfilled in the normal way. Their love
was great and exemplary, and this was partly because it had called for a
certain heroism to live up to it. This is a heroism of renunciation, and it is
fuelled by the sense that life attains greatness this way, that one has lived on
a bigger and fuller scale than would have been possible otherwise. Something
like this, of course, is what inspires heroism at any time; the difference was
that here it was not undying fame that moved the lovers but a certain nobility
and purity of feeling. Love transmuted by renunication and suffering seems to
offer the way to the highest in life, to an exaltation of sentiment which
ordinary happiness cannot bring. "Rien n'est bon que d'aimer", and "rien
n'est vrai que de souffrir" {"nothing is good but loving"; "nothing is true but
suffering"}; these twin slogans capture the animating vision of the cult of
sensibility.25

It was fatally easy for this cult to slide from heroism to self-indulgence.
The renunciation, the loss, instead of rousing us to self-transcendence, is
savoured in melancholy. The age of sentiment was also one of melancholy,
which was also defined and propagated by English writers, who were also
translated and had a great impact on the Continent. In this case, it was
Young's poem "Night Thoughts" and Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country
Churchyard", which did most to shape the mood. But the term has already
shifted somewhat in meaning. It no longer bears the sense of an excess of one

Page 616

Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 34, H, 3 8, 68, 9 1,
1 3 2., 347, 460, 461, 491

Wood, Neal, 2.39
Wollaston, William, 2.54
Wordsworth, William, 301, 372., 3 78, 3 8 1,

4 19, 42.0, 42.6, 430, 4S7, 461, 46S
Wright, Henry Clark, 400

Index '

Yeats, William Butler, 42.0, 42.1, 42.7, 483,
491

Young, Edward, 2.9S

Zinzendorf, Count, 302.
Zola, Emile, 430, 4 3 3

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