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French deistic philosopher and author b at Geneva June 28 1712 d at Ermenonville 28 m ne of Paris July 2 1778 His mother died at his birth and his father a dissipated and violent-tempered man paid little attention to the sons training and finally deserted him The latter developed a passion for reading with a special fondness for Plutarchs Lives Apprenticed first to a notary and then to a coppersmith he ran away 1728 to escape the rigid discipline and after wandering for several days he fell in with Roman Catholic priests at Consignon in Savoy who turned him over to Madame de Warens at Annecy and she sent him to an educational institution at Turin Here he duly abjured Protestantism and next served in various households in one of which he was charged with theft After more wanderings he was at Chambery 1730 from which Madame de Warens had removed In her household he spent eight years diverting himself in the enjoyment of nature the study of music the reading of the English German and French philosophers and chemistry pursuing the study of mathematics and Latin and enjoying the playhouse and opera He next spent eighteen months at Venice as secretary of the French ambassador Comte de Montaignu 1744-45 Up to this time when he was thirty-nine his life the details of which he publishes in his Confessions Geneva 1782 may be described as subterranean He now returned to Paris where his opera Les Muses galantes failed copied music and was secretary of Madame Dupin Here he came into association with Diderot Grimm DAlembert Holbach and Madame dEpinay and was admitted as a contributor to the Encyclopedie and his gifts of entertainment reckless manner and boundless vanity attracted attention With the Discours sur les sciences et les arts Paris 1750 a prize essay in which he set forth the paradox of the superiority of the savage state he proclaimed his gospel of back
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