Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Rousseau’s Fondness for Coffee

A Painting of Rousseau (1753)
Jean-Jacques Rousseau had a great fondness for coffee. He would often get up at two in the morning and take coffee to clear his head and have some energy.

In 1771, Rousseau made a new friendship with Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, a world traveller and naturalist, who went on to achieve literary fame with his 1788 novel Paul and Virginia. They met frequently and Bernardin made notes on their meetings with the intention of writing a book on Rousseau. The book was never completed, but the notes have survived and are a valuable source of information on Bernardin’s conversations with Rousseau.

In one of his notes, Bernardin relates that one day when he was walking with Rousseau in the Tuileries, they caught the aroma of roasting coffee. Rousseau turned towards Bernardin and ecstatically said, “I love that perfume. When they roast coffee in my entryway, some of my neighbors close their doors, but I open mine.” (Source: Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius by Leo Damrosch).

After that Bernardin sent Rousseau a packet of coffee from his travels and received this answer: “We have scarcely made each other’s acquaintance, and you begin with gifts. This makes our association too unequal; my fortune does not permit me to do the same. Choose either to take your coffee back or never to see each other again.” But Bernardin managed to persuade Rousseau to keep the coffee, accepting in return a ginseng root and a book on ichthyology.

In Rousseau’s correspondence, there are several letters in which he is thanking his acquaintances for sending him coffee as gift. He wrote a letter to M. du Peyrou on June 11, 1765, reminding him to pack some coffee for their planned excursion to the mountain called Le Chasseron.

Here’s an excerpt from Rousseau’s letter:

“Let me recommend to you not to forget, among the provisions for our expedition, some coffee, sugar, a coffee-pot, a steel and flint, and all the necessary articles to facilitate our making coffee in the woods when we are so inclined. Take Linnaeus and Sauvage, a book that may amuse us, and some sort of game at which several persons may play, should it happen that we are obliged to stay in houses on account of bad weather. We should use every precaution against want of occupation and listlessness.” (Source: Original correspondence of Jean Jacques Rousseau with Mad. La Tour de Franqueville, and M. du Peyrou)

Francois-Louis d’Escherny who accompanied Rousseau and others to Le Chasseron has left an account describing how they made fires and prepared coffee. 

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