Rousseau explains his ideas on happiness in ‘Fifth Walk’. Based on the reading, is it true to say that Rousseau is happy contemplating and then writing about himself? Either explain why this is true, or explain what you think is a better way to describe how Rousseau finds happiness.
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The ‘Fifth Walk’ in Reveries of a Solitary Walker by Jean-Jacques Rousseau is an essay which expresses his proposal on the solitary human finding contentment and solace beyond compare through an emotional connection with nature. It articulates that Rousseau feels content in nature due to his emotional connection with it and his solitary experiences within it. Moreover, while undergoing these solitary experiences, he feels in harmony with his natural surroundings which in turn reinforces his happiness. It is evident that Rousseau’s model of happiness is embedded within his time in nature, and he believes that the beauty of nature is sufficient enough to provide the basis of a happy life. In this essay, I will attempt to demonstrate how Rousseau finds his happiness through his descriptions of his natural surroundings and activities that he underwent, that being, his solitary experiences within nature, thus emphasising that Rousseau’s happiness is due to his interaction and connection with nature.
In the Fifth Walk, it is evident that Rousseau’s happiness revolves around nature, and he praises solitude as the only state of happiness. Furthermore, this essay illustrates Rousseau’s sentiment in nature which he is surrounded by on the island of St Pierre in the middle of Lake Bienne. The truthfulness and authenticness that is articulated in this essay emphasises that Rousseau is embracing who he really is within natural surroundings. An example includes where Rousseau states, “I could have spent two years, two centuries, and the whole of eternity there without a moment becoming bored” (Rousseau, 1778, p. 50). This statement reinforces the fact that Rousseau was comfortable enough within nature that he felt that he could stay there forever. This comfort emphasises his happiness and content in the idyllic environment that he is in. Furthermore, these pleasurable moments that Rousseau is experiencing in nature allow him to feel meditative, in a sense that the solitude and silences amongst the environment he is in are influencing his happiness. This is evident whereby he states, “how affecting it is for solitary contemplatives who love to lose themselves altogether in the charms of nature and to meditate in a silence unbroken by any sound other than that of the cry of eagles, occasional birdsong, and the rumbling of streams cascading down the mountains” (Rousseau, 1778, p. 49). He further describes the scenery as having “more natural greenery, meadows and shaded woodland hideaways and more frequent contrasts and sudden changes in the landscape” (Rousseau, 1778, p. 49), which demonstrates that Rousseau is in perception of his beautiful and sublime surroundings.
It is clear that Rousseau’s immersion in nature, and being surrounded by nature itself, is stimulating Rousseau’s contentment and happiness. This can be seen upon Rousseau’s arrival, whereby he travelled alone with no luggage and just a box with books and belongings. He made no attempt to settle in, and he felt very angered when he would have to work and would quickly return it in hope of never having to work again. Rousseau states, “I filled my room with flowers and grasses; for I had at that time just become enthusiastic about botany” (Rousseau, 1778, p. 51). This act depicts Rousseau’s creativity, and it is made clear that he enjoys being surrounded by nature as it brings him happiness and entertainment. Furthermore, it can be seen that Rousseau is devoting himself to nature, not only through his sense of creativity, but through his interest in of botany. He composed a Flora petrinsularis (a work about the flora of the island) in which he aimed to describe all the plants on the island to keep him busy. His interest in the beautiful and the sublime through validated art and expression reinforces that he finds happiness within it and is fascinated with it, which hence results in having a connection with the inner self. This can be further explained whereby he states, “nothing could be more extraordinary than the great joy and ecstasy I felt every time I observed something about the structure and organization of plants and about the role of the sexual parts in the process of fertilization, which was at that time completely new to me” (Rousseau, 1778, p. 52).
Rousseau’s use of emotive and descriptive language within his explanations of his time at the island emphasises that his search for happiness is fulfilled and that he indeed made moments last forever. These are articulated through his activities in which he underwent. His depictions of his activities demonstrate a sense of introspection and sincerity of emotion, while also highlighting the intensity of human experience. This is evident whereby Rousseau states, “I would let myself float and drift slowly wherever the water took me, sometimes for several hours at a time, plunged in a thousand vague but delightful reveries” (Rousseau, 1778, p. 52). Here, it can be seen that Rousseau is immersing himself in nature which causes him to lose self-consciousness of the self. Furthermore, his boating experience emphasises that he is able to be absorbed in reverie, and thus articulates that the motions of nature provide the basis for a happy and calm emotions. Rousseau also discusses how not only nature has influenced his happiness but also his ability to immerse himself into reveries. He feels that being in Lake St Pierre has completely filled his soul with happiness and leaves it no longer to be filled in his solitary reveries. Such happiness made him feel that he could not distinguish between fiction and reality, and would often find himself going through long and happy reveries. Furthermore, his surroundings influenced him to undergo self reflection, and this is evident whereby he states, “so much did everything combine to make so dear to me the meditative and solitary life” (Rousseau, 1778, p. 57). Another statement by Rousseau which highlights his state of self reflection includes his claim about not wanting to leave the island and going back to his mainland to face reality. Rousseau states, “If only I could end my days on this beloved island, never to leave it again nor see again my inhabitants of the mainland who might remind me of the calamities of all kinds which they have delighted in piling upon me for many years” (Rousseau, 1778, p. 57). His introspection here demonstrates his sincerity of emotions whilst on this island. Furthermore, it articulates that Rousseau was so deep into happiness and his reveries that he is upset to have to go back to his mainland and face the realities of life. In nature, he faced no calamities and rather underwent many activities that brought him joy and was surrounded by the beauty of nature, however, going back to his mainland will force him to go out of his solitary and meditative state, bringing him less joy and a nostalgic feeling. Thus, it is evident that Rousseau was happy being around nature, and he was able to find his independence and sense of self whilst being around nature in a solitary state.
In conclusion, it is evident that Rousseau found happiness while being in a solitary state surrounded by nature. He enjoyed being surrounded by nature and hence devoted himself to it, thus creating a sense of self reflection and sincerity of emotion. Moreover, nature allowed Rousseau to undergo reveries which placed him in a meditative state, and hence, feeling a sense of joy. Rousseau was extremely content in nature as it provided a stimulating environment for him, and as a result, he was able to form an emotional connection with it. The outcome of this was that Rousseau did not want to work or go back to his mainland as nature filled his soul, and was not ready to face the realities of life away from the beauty of being solitary in nature. In saying this, Rousseau’s immersion and interaction in St Pierre; whether it was devoting himself with his natural surroundings or the activities he underwent, provided him with happiness, to the point where he wished he could spend all of eternity there.
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