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At midnight on 6 September 1765, Jean-Jacques Rousseau was wakened by the sound of breaking glass. A hail of stones was coming through the windows of his home, a modest house in the village of Môtiers, in the Jura mountains. When his landlord later visited the scene, he looked at the pile of stones and said, "Good God, it's an absolute quarry!"

Rousseau had moved to this village to escape persecution in France, where the Archbishop of Paris had whipped up a campaign against him. Môtiers had seemed the ideal safe haven. Its inhabitants were Protestant and it belonged not to France but to the principality of Neuchâtel (today part of Switzerland, but then a territory ruled by Prussia). Yet the philosopher's talent for making enemies transcended all national and confessional boundaries. His latest book, Letters Written from the Mountain, had scandalised pious Calvinists and had insulted the government of Geneva for good measure. Now the minister of Môtiers was denouncing him from the pulpit. It was time to go.

But where to? Various unlikely options were considered, including Corsica and Silesia. One country, however, offered the two things Rousseau most strongly desired: freedom from persecution and an appreciative public. That country was Great Britain, already famed as a land of liberty (thanks to its idealisation by Voltaire) and increasingly respected as a vibrant centre of intellectual life.

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