The 'Septie`me promenade' of the Reˆveries: a peculiar account of Rousseau's botany?

IN an article on Rousseau’s annotations of a popular botany text, Henry Cheyron describes the Genevan philosopher as ‘ce botaniste me´juge´’. 3 The misapprehension of Rousseau’s botanical practice identified by Cheyron has its roots, I believe, in Rousseau’s own depiction of his botanising in the Reˆveries; in the ‘Septie`me promenade’ Rousseau selfconsciously portrays this study as socially isolated, lazy and lacking in direction: ‘La botanique est l’e´tude d’un oisif et paresseux solitaire... Il se prome`ne, il erre librement d’un objet a` l’autre, il fait la revue de chaque fleur avec inte´reˆt et curiosite´.’4 Neither does Rousseau disguise botany’s role for him as a ‘the´rapeutique improvise´e’; the therapeutic purpose has tended to obscure the rigour, application, time and knowledge that Rousseau put into his botanical studies so that no less a scholar than Jean Starobinski asserts: ‘Jean-Jacques herborise en collectionneur, et non pas en naturaliste. C’est pour lui une occupation, un amusement, plutoˆt qu’une ve´ritable action.’5 Finally, Rousseau fuels this misunderstanding..
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