Rousseau’s tercentenary

A portrait of Rousseau

A watercolour portrait of Rousseau which hangs in the Ralph Leigh Room at the University Library

As well as certain other events this year, 2012 marks three hundred years since the birth of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, philosopher, composer, educational theorist and inventor of the modern autobiography. To mark this anniversary the University Library North Front Corridor display cases contain an exhibition of works by and about Rousseau, from the earliest editions of his works to scholarly studies published in the last few months.

The display brings together  first editions of some of Rousseau’s major works, as well as rare pirated editions of the controversial Discours sur les sciences et les arts. Translations of his works into Italian, Danish, German and Spanish show how rapidly his ideas spread throughout Europe. Other aspects of his life and influence are illustrated by works relating to his time in England and the pamphlet war which ensued from his debates with his one-time friend David Hume.

The Library’s holdings on Rousseau were greatly enhanced in the late twentieth century by the acquisition of the libraries of Rousseau scholars Ralph Leigh, editor of the Correspondance complète, and Robert Wokler, who worked on the last volumes of the Correspondance after Leigh’s death in 1987. Their respective collecting priorities are illustrated in a specific case, but visitors will also notice that the majority of the items on display derive from what is known as the Leigh collection (it incorporates Wokler’s books). The Library continues actively to acquire antiquarian publications of and about Rousseau and his circle, and the exhibition concludes with some of the most recent items purchased by the Rare Books Department, as well as the most recent works of modern scholarship. For more information about the Library’s antiquarian holdings, see the Leigh collection description.

The Library is delighted to host another internationally-renowned Rousseau scholar on 12 June, when Marian Hobson, emeritus professor of French at Queen Mary University of London, will speak on “Jean-Jacques Rousseau: ‘Little causes and great events’ in his pages and in his life”. 5pm in the Morison Room at the University Library, all welcome. The exhibition can be viewed during Library opening hours until 14 July.

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