The purpose of this study is to synthesize, from two perspectives, the Lettres sur les écrits et le caractère de J.-J. Rousseau of Germaine de Staël. One, which is theoretical, is to build, more elaborately and in the concrete reality of the text, the “conscience critique,” described by Georges Poulet to appreciate Mme. de Staël’s literary debut work. The other, that is in the dimension of the history of literature, is to participate in the critical review of the concept of “préromantisme.” Our reading has two consequences. First, the empirical investigation on “préromantisme,” exemplified by our analysis on Mme. de Staël’s text, can propose a continuity between Enlightenment and Romanticism, despite the incongruity of the title. As an enthusiastic critic of Rousseau, being faithful to the synthesis of “sentiment” and “raison” that is the project of the Enlightenment, Mme.
de Staël invents a necessity to translate it into the new synthesis of “méditation” and “mélancolie” in the figure of Rousseau. Second, this conceptual transformation is implemented through the birth of the modern critic. For Mme. de Staël, the condition for this interpretative innovation is that the existence of the critic must embody that innovation in advance.
To define experimentally the nature of Rousseau as “méditation” and “mélancolie,” Mme. de Staël actualizes in anticipation a melancholic way of being. Therefore, the subtlety of critic’s “identification” with his object is not for the subject’s simple reaction to this identification. Such identification operates between the critic and something that has not yet come into existence, something to be made by the critic. The birth of “conscience critique” relies on this irony, that foresees the era of romanticism.