Quotation by Peter Quennell

Both in principle and in their private attitude toward mankind Johnson and Rousseau were irreconcilable opponents. Johnson had a voracious appetite for life, and was passionately concerned with the welfare of individual men and women; while Rousseau, although he was persuaded that he loved the human race, or would have loved it if he could, followed a solitary, self-centred course and, among a host of associates, protectors, disciples, made comparatively few friends whose opinions and support he valued. Here one remembers another literary dispute, held some hundred-and-fifty years later, when Henry James, writing to the youthful H.G. Wells, described their fundamental difference. "You," he explained, "don't care for humanity but think they are to be improved. I love humanity but know they are not!" Johnson, too, despite his capacity for deep affection, was a life-long pessimist; Rousseau, the suspicious and resentful exile, was an inveterate reformer, and launched the doctrine of "human perfectibility" that made so strong, and often so confusing, an appeal to English nineteenth-century Romantic poets. He was a teacher; but his chief aim was primarily to teach himself; if he desired to learn, he confessed, it was primarily in order to understand his own character.
Peter Quennell (b. 1905), British poet, biographer, editor. "Rousseau's Enchanted Isle," The Pursuit of Happiness, Little, Brown (1988).
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