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It was on Monday June 6, 1904 that the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Society was founded at the University of Geneva. Its statutes, approved after a short discussion, enjoin it "to develop and coordinate studies relating to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, his work and his time", to publish a critical edition of his works and to bring together "under the name Jean-Jacques Rousseau Archives, manuscripts, printed matter, portraits, medals, souvenirs and other documents of any kind relating to this writer. »  The society also proposes to publish "a periodical collection of memoirs and documents" called Annales de la Société Jean-Jacques Rousseau .

One of the founders and first president of the Society was none other than Bernard Bouvier (1861-1941), professor at the University of Geneva. First an associate professor of German, Bernard Bouvier had succeeded Édouard Rod in 1895 to the chair of French literature. Marcel Raymond talks about  "his somewhat haughty charm", "inflections of a singular voice" and recalls his "persuasive accent". President of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Society from its foundation in 1904 until his death in 1941, Bernard Bouvier was also president of the Institut National Genevois and sat on the International Committee of the Red Cross.

At the time of its foundation, it was decided, in agreement with the City of Geneva, that the future society be allocated “a room […] reserved for the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Archives in the enlarged and newly fitted out building of the Public Library. » For the rest, the Administrative Council proposes to make available “a certainly modest subsidy” but destined to become “a regular allocation, included in the annual budget”. 

Several questions were asked, between 1904 and 1918, to Bernard Bouvier and his colleagues. The first touches on the position of the Society in the old conflict which has agitated, since the dawn of time, opponents and defenders of Rousseau: if the former, logically, expect nothing from an association dedicated to the study of Jean-Jacques, the latter do not understand the lack of enthusiasm of Bernard Bouvier, who accepts the membership of notorious anti-Rousseauists (including Ferdinand Brunetière ) and advocates an approach that is more critical than apologetic. A second relates to the very reading of Rousseau's work, which, according to some, cannot be practiced independently of its ideological influence.

When Marcel Raymond took over the presidency of the Society in 1941, twenty-seven volumes of the Annales had already appeared. Let us recall that Marcel Raymond (1897-1981), successor to Albert Thibaudet at the University of Geneva, developed, with Jean Rousset and Jean Starobinski, a new form of critical reading soon known as the School of Geneva . His essential action remained the preparation of the Complete Works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, which he undertook with Bernard Gagnebin , the first volume of which appeared in 1959. He was replaced in 1967 at the head of the Society by Jean Starobinski .

The Society, then successively chaired by Alain Grosrichard , François Jacob and Martin Rueff , proposes, for the decades to come, to continue the study of the work of the citizen of Geneva and the preservation of the Rousseauist heritage registered in the Memory of the World register. of UNESCO .

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