Francois Marie Arouet was born on November 21 1694 in Paris He was the
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Francois Marie Arouet was born on November 21, 1694 in Paris. He was the son of a notary. The name most people know Francois by is his pen name, Voltaire. Voltaire was a French author, philosopher, and apostle of free thought. Voltaire was the most influential figure during the French Enlightenment.
Voltaire received an excellent education at a Jesuit school called Louis-le-Grand. At age 16 he left school and became friends with Parisian aristocrats. The aristocrats admired his cleverness, humor, and remarkable writing ability. In 1717 Voltaire was arrested for writing a series of satirical verses ridiculing the French government. He was imprisoned in the infamous French prison, the Bastille. During imprisonment he adopted the name Voltaire. He used this pen name because he could not be blamed for writing subversive literature if the government could not identify the author. During his eleven months in prison he wrote his first major play. The play was named “Oedipe”, which achieved great success in 1718. Ironically, only weeks out of prison Voltaire got in an argument with a nobleman and was arrested. He was given two options, imprisonment or exile. So, from 1726 to 1729 Voltaire was exiled to England. While in England he learned of the philosophies of John Locke and the ideas of Sir Isaac Newton. He absorbed the British liberties, deism, and literature. Still unwelcome in his homeland, Paris, Voltaire lived at Cirey in Lorraine from 1734 to 1744 with Madame du Chatelet. After 1744 they moved to Versailles, Sceaux, and Luneville. Madame du Chatelet died during childbirth in 1749. After the death of Madame du Chatelet Voltaire became the honored guest of Fredrick the Great at Potsdam. However, increasing acrimony led to their abrupt separation in 1753. (Grolier, pg.1) After three years of wandering around Europe Voltaire
went to live on the French-Swiss border, in a town called Ferney. Ferney soon became the intellectual capital of Europe. During his years in Ferney, Voltaire produced many books, plays, pamphlets, and letters. Many of these works spoke against religious intolerance and persecution. Voltaire remained in Ferney until his triumphant return to Paris. Voltaire was 83 at the time of his return. The excitement of his trip was too much for him and he died in Paris. He died May 30, 1778. Voltaire was denied burial in church ground because of his criticism of the church. He was finally buried in an abbey in Champagne. In 1791 his remains were transferred to his final resting-place at the Pantheon in Paris.
Voltaire was preeminent in almost every genre. (Encyclopedia Americana, pg.228) He made his way to fame by writing: Oedipe, (1718) his first story and Zaire, (1732) one of his best tragedies. Voltaire also wrote historical works such as: History of Charles XII (1731), Age of Louis XIV (1751) and Essay on Manners (1753-56).
Most importantly Voltaire was, and remains, famous as a philosopher and a fighter for reform. (Grolier, pg2) His thoughts were expressed in poems, tracts, pamphlets, and tales. The last works, particularly Candide, are still universally read and admired.
Voltaire was the most prolific correspondent of the century. His thousands of letters portray his life and personality. They reflect his wit, ideas, and describe the times. An
interesting side of Voltaire is the love letters he wrote to his niece, Madame Denis, who at one time, was his mistress.
IDEAS AND VIEWS
Voltaire was the leader, chief organizer, and propagandist of the reformist group called philosophes. (Microsoft Encarta, pg2) He worked with Diderot and d’Holbach, famous encyclopedists, on an encyclopedia. In 1770 Diderot and Voltaire had a dispute on atheism and broke up.
Voltaire preferred enlightenment despotism for France, although favoring constitutional monarchy for Britain and a more democratic government for Switzerland. One of Voltaire’s slogans was “Ecrasez I’infame” or “crush the infamous”. He used that against the church, Christianity, and intolerance, which he viewed as infamous institutions. His other targets were the horrendous systems of criminal justice, unfair taxation, and censorship of the press. Voltaire constantly criticized the Jews, especially the ancient Hebrews as superstitious fanatics. He found the Jews guilty of producing the Bible, Jesus Christ, and Christianity. Despite his amenity for organized religion, he always opposed religious persecution. Voltaire felt the concept of God was necessary to explain the universe and life. He did
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Anti-Catholicism in France, Philosophes, Age of Enlightenment, Voltaire, Candide, Zare, Marie Louise Mignot, Oedipus, Denis Diderot, milie du Chtelet, Baron dHolbach
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