Self-pity meets vanity
Paul Johnson highlights two of Rousseau's most obnoxious character traits.
As a matter of fact, self-pity and vanity go hand in hand. The more extravagant one's self-conceit the greater the sense of injustice when one suffers hardships and disappointments.
Although indulged in some ways, he emerged from childhood with a strong sense of deprivation and - perhaps his most marked personal characteristic - self-pity. (p. 5)
To the unprejudiced modern eye he does not seem to have had much to grumble about. Yet Rousseau was one of the greatest grumblers in the history of literature. He insisted that his life had been one of misery and persecution. (p. 9)
Behind the self-pity lay an overpowering egoism, a feeling that he was quite unlike other men, both in his sufferings and his qualities. He wrote: 'What could your miseries have in common with mine? My situation is unique, unheard of since the beginning of time...' Equally, 'The person who can love me as I can love is still to be born.' 'No one ever had more talent for loving.' 'I was born to be the best friend that ever existed.' 'I would leave this life with apprehension if I knew a better man than me.' 'Show me a better man than me, a heart more loving, more tender, more sensitive...' 'Posterity will honour me...because it is my due.' 'I rejoice in myself.' '...my consolation lies in my self-esteem.' '...if there were a single enlightened government in Europe, it would have erected statues to me.' (p. 10)