Near the start of this section of Civilisation (1969) we see Kenneth Clark sitting in a rowing boat discussing the 'revolution in human feeling' that occurred when Jean-Jacques Rousseau spent two months on the Island of Saint-Pierre in 1765. 'In listening to the flux and reflux of the waves, he tells us, he became completely at one with nature, lost all consciousness of an independent self, all painful memories of the past or anxieties about the future, everything except the sense of being.' It is one of those points in the series where the beauty of the colour photography and ambient sounds convey as much as Clark's words.
The writing referred to here is the fifth of Rousseau's ten Reveries of the Solitary Walker, composed during the last two years of his life (1776-78). There he says that 'everything is in constant flux' and 'our earthly joys are almost without exception the creatures of a moment.' But happiness can be found as long as we can experience nothing but 'the simple feeling of existence, a feeling that fills our soul entirely ... Such is the state I often experienced on the Island of Saint-Pierre in my solitary reveries, whether I lay in a boat and drifted where the water carried me, or sat by the shores of the stormy lake, or elsewhere, on the banks of a lovely river or a stream murmuring over the stones' (trans. Peter France). When writing The Reveries of the Solitary Walker Rousseau was living in Paris, but able to escape the city in order to breath freely under the trees. The quiet happiness he was able to experience was only possible because he had learned to rid himself of 'self-love' (amour-propre) and leave behind the bustle of the world.