Voltaire, (Francois Marie Arouet)

Voltaire, (Francois Marie Arouet)

Voltaire, (Francois Marie Arouet)



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Voltaire, (Francois Marie Arouet) Writer

• Born: 1694
• Birthplace: Paris, France
• Died: 1778
• Best Known As: Witty playwright and author of Candide

Name at birth: Francois Marie Arouet Voltaire was the pen name of Francois Marie Arouet, who first made a name for himself among the refined patrons of the French salons. He applied his wit and knowledge to writing poetry and political treatises, often incurring the wrath of the French government and the church. Perhaps his most famous work is his novel Candide (1759), with its common sense conclusion that we must “cultivate our garden.”Voltaire influenced political theorists, philosophers, educators and historians, and is one of the most celebrated citizens in the history of France.

Biography: Voltaire

The French poet dramatist, historian, and philosopher Voltaire (1694-1778) was an outspoken and aggressive enemy of every injustice but especially of religious intolerance. His works are an outstanding embodiment of the principles of the French Enlightenment.

François Marie Arouet rechristened himself Arouet de Voltaire, probably in 1718. A stay in the Bastille had given him time to reflect on his doubts concerning his parentage, on his need for a noble name to befit his growing reputation, and on the coincidence that Arouet sounded like both a rouer (for beating) and roué (a debauchee). In prison Voltaire had access to a book on anagrams, which may have influenced his name choice thus: arouet, uotare, voltaire (a winged armchair).

Youth and Early Success, 1694-1728

Voltaire was born, perhaps on Nov. 21, 1694, in Paris. He was ostensibly the youngest of the three surviving children of François Arouet and Marie Marguerite Daumand, although Voltaire claimed to be the “bastard of Rochebrune,” a minor poet and songwriter.
Voltaire’s mother died when he was seven years old, and he was then drawn to his sister. She bore a daughter who later became Voltaire’s mistress.

A clever child, Voltaire was educated by the Jesuits at the College Louis-le-Grand from 1704 to 1711. He displayed an astonishing talent for poetry, cultivated a love of the theater, and nourished a keen ambition.

When Voltaire was drawn into the circle of the 72-year-old poet the Abbé de Chaulieu, “one of the most complete hedonists of all times,” his father packed him off to Caen. Hoping to squelch his son’s literary aspirations and to turn his mind to the law, Arouet placed the youth as secretary to the French ambassador at The Hague. Voltaire fell in with a jilted French refugee, Catherine Olympe Dunoyer, pretty but barely literate. Their elopement was thwarted. Under the threat of a lettre de cachet obtained by his father, Voltaire returned to Paris in 1713 and was articled to a lawyer. He continued to write, and he renewed his pleasure-loving acquaintances. In 1717 Voltaire was at first exiled and then imprisoned in the Bastille for verses offensive to powerful personages.

As early as 1711, Voltaire, eager to test himself against Sophocles and Pierre Corneille, had written a first draft of Oedipe . On Nov. 18, 1718, the revised play opened in Paris to a sensational success. The Henriade, begun in the Bastille and published in 1722, was Voltaire’s attempt to rival Virgil and to give France an epic poem. This work sounded in ringing phrases Voltaire’s condemnation of fanaticism and advanced his reputation as the standard-bearer of French literature. However, his growing literary, financial, and social successes only partially reconciled him to his father, who died in 1722.

In 1726 an altercation with the Chevalier de Rohan, an effete but influential aristocrat, darkened Voltaire’s outlook and intensified his sense of injustice. Rohan had mocked Voltaire’s bourgeois origin and his change of name and in response to Voltaire’s witty retort had hired ruffians to beat the poet, as Voltaire’s friend and host, the Duc de Sully, looked on approvingly. When Voltaire demanded satisfaction through a duel, he was thrown into the Bastille through Rohan’s influence and was released only on condition that he leave the country.

England willingly embraced Voltaire as a victim of France’s injustice and infamy. During his stay there (1726-1728) he was feted; Alexander Pope, William Congreve, Horace Walpole, and Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, praised him; and his works earned Voltaire £1,000. Voltaire learned English by attending the theater daily, script in hand. He also imbibed English thought, especially that of John Locke and Sir Isaac Newton, and he saw the relationship between free government and creative speculation. More importantly, England suggested the relationship of wealth to freedom. The only protection, even for a brilliant poet, was wealth. Henceforth, Voltaire cultivated his Arouet business cunning.

At Cirey and at Court, 1729-1753

Voltaire returned to France in 1729. A tangible product of his English stay was the Lettres anglaises (1734), which have been called “the first bomb dropped on the Old Regime.” Their explosive potential included such remarks as, “It has taken centuries to do justice to humanity, to feel it was horrible that the many should sow and the few should reap.” Written in the style of letters to a friend in France, the 24 “letters” were a witty and seductive call for political, religious, and philosophic freedom; for the betterment of earthly life; for employing the method of Sir Francis Bacon, Locke, and Newton; and generally for exploiting the intellect toward social progress. After their publication in France in 1734, copies were sized from Voltaire’s bookseller, and Voltaire was threatened with arrest. He fled to Lorraine and was not permitted to return to Paris until 1735. The work, with an additional letter on Pascal, was circulated as Letters philosophiques.

Prior to 1753 Voltaire did not have a home; but for 15 years following 1733 he had a refuge at Cirey, in a château owned by his “divine Émilie,” Madame du Châtelet. While still living with her patient husband and son, Émilie made generous room for Voltaire. They were lovers; and they worked together intensely on physics and metaphysics. The lovers quarreled in English about trivia and studied the Old and New Testaments. These biblical labors were important as preparation for the antireligious works that Voltaire published in the 1750s and 1760s. At Cirey, Voltaire also wrote his Éléments de la philosophie de Newton.

But joining Émilie in studies in physics did not keep him from drama, poetry, metaphysics, history, and polemics. Similarly, Émilie’s affection was not alone enough for Voltaire. From 1739 he required travel and new excitements. Thanks to Émilie’s influence, Voltaire was by 1743 less unwelcome at Versailles than in 1733, but still there was great resentment toward the “lowborn intruder” who “noticed things a good courtier must overlook.” Honored by a respectful correspondence with Frederick II of Prussia, Voltaire was then sent on diplomatic missions to Frederick. But Voltaire’s new diversion was his incipient affair with his widowed niece, Madame Denis. This affair continued its erotic and stormy course to the last years of his life. Émilie too found solace in other lovers. The idyll of Cirey ended with her death in 1749.

Voltaire then accepted Frederick‘s repeated invitation to live at court. He arrived at Potsdam with Madame Denis in July 1750. First flattered by Frederick’s hospitality, Voltaire then gradually became anxious, quarrelsome, and finally disenchanted. He left, angry, in March 1753, having written in December 1752: “I am going to write for my instruction a little dictionary used by Kings. ‘My friend’ means ‘my slave.”‘ Frederick was embarrassed by Voltaire’s vocal lawsuit with a moneylender and angered by his attempts to ridicule P. L. M. de Maupertuis, the imported head of the Berlin Academy. Voltaire’s polemic against Maupertuis, the Diatribe du docteur Akakia, angered Frederick. Voltaire’s angry response was to return the pension and other honorary trinkets bestowed by the King. Frederick retaliated by delaying permission for Voltaire’s return to France, by putting him under a week’s house arrest at the German border, and by confiscating his money.

Sage of Ferney, 1753-1778

After leaving Prussia, Voltaire visited Strasbourg, Colmar, and Lorraine, for Paris was again forbidden him. Then he went to Geneva. Even Geneva, however, could not tolerate all of Voltaire’s activities of theater, pen, and press. Therefore, he left his property “Les Delices” and bought an estate at Ferney, where he lived out his days as a kingly patriarch. His own and Madame Denis‘s great extravagances were supported by the tremendous and growing fortune he amassed through shrewd money handling. A borrower even as a schoolboy, Voltaire became a shrewd lender as he grew older. Generous loans to persons in high places paid off well in favors and influence. At Ferney, he mixed in local politics, cultivated his lands, became through his intelligent benevolence beloved of the townspeople, and in general practiced a self-appointed and satisfying kingship. He became known as the “innkeeper of Europe” and entertained widely and well in his rather small but elegant household.

Voltaire’s literary productivity did not slacken, although his concerns shifted as the years passed at Ferney. He was best known as a poet until in 1751 Le Siecle de Louis XIV marked him also as a historian. Other historical works include Histoire de Charles XII; Histoire de la Russie sous Pierre le Grand; and the universal history, Essai sur l’histoire générale et sur les moeurs et l’esprit des nations, published in 1756 but begun at Cirey. An extremely popular dramatist until 1760, when he began to be eclipsed by competition from the plays of Shakespeare that he had introduced to France, Voltaire wrote – in addition to the early OedipeLa Mort de César, Ériphyle, Zaïre, Alzire, Mérope, Mahomet, L’Enfant prodigue, Nanine (a parody of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela), L’Orphelin de la Chine, Sémiramis, and Tancrede.

The philosophic conte was a Voltaire invention. In addition to his famous Candide (1759), others of his stories in this genre include Micromégas, Vision de Babouc, Memnon, Zadig, and Jeannot et Colin. In addition to the Lettres Philosophiques and the work on Newton, others of Voltaire’s works considered philosophic are Philosophie de l’histoire, Le Philosophe ignorant, Tout en Dieu, Dictionnaire philosophique portatif, and Traité de la métaphysique. Voltaire’s poetry includes – in addition to the Henriade – the philosophic poems L’Homme, La Loi naturelle, and Le Désastre de Lisbonne, as well as the famous La Pucelle, a delightfully naughty poem about Joan of Arc.

Always the champion of liberty, Voltaire in his later years became actively involved in securing justice for victims of persecution. He became the “conscience of Europe.” His activity in the Calas affair was typical. An unsuccessful and despondent young man had hanged himself in his Protestant father’s home in Roman Catholic Toulouse. For 200 years Toulouse had celebrated the massacre of 4,000 of its Huguenot inhabitants. When the rumor spread that the deceased had been about to renounce Protestantism, the family was seized and tried for murder. The father was broken on the rack while protesting his innocence. A son was exiled, the daughters were confined in a convent, and the mother was left destitute. Investigation assured Voltaire of their innocence, and from 1762 to 1765 he worked unceasingly in their behalf. He employed “his friends, his purse, his pen, his credit” to move public opinion to the support of the Calas family.

Voltaire’s ingenuity and zeal against injustice were not exhausted by the Calas affair. Similar was his activity in behalf of the Sirven family (1771) and of the victims of the Abbeville judges (1774). Nor was Voltaire’s influence exhausted by his death in Paris on May 30, 1778, where he had gone in search of Madame Denis and the glory of being crowned with laurel at a performance of his drama Irene.

Assessment of Voltaire

John Morley, English secretary for lreland under William Gladstone, wrote of Voltaire’s stature: “When the right sense of historical proportion is more fully developed in men’s minds, the name of Voltaire will stand out like the names of the great decisive moments in the European advance, like the Revival of Learning, or the Reformation.” Gustave Lanson, in 1906, wrote of Voltaire: “He accustomed public common sense to regard itself as competent in all matters, and he turned public opinion into one of the controlling forces in public affairs.” Lanson added: “For the public to become conscious of an idea, the idea must be repeated over and over. But the sauce must be varied to please the public palate. Voltaire was a master chef, a superb saucier.”

Voltaire was more than a thinker and activist. Style was nearly always nearly all to him-in his abode, in his dress, and particularly in his writings. As poet and man of letters, he was demanding, innovative, and fastidious within regulated patterns of expression. Even as thinker and activist, he believed that form was all-or at least the best part. As he remarked, “Never will twenty folio volumes bring about a revolution. Little books are the ones to fear, the pocket-size, portable ones that sell for thirty sous. If the Gospels had cost 1200 sesterces, the Christian religion could never have been established.”

Voltaire’s literary focus moved from that of poet to pamphleteer, and his moral sense had as striking a development. In youth a shameless libertine and in middle years a man notorious throughout the literary world, with more discreet but still eccentric attachments-in his later years Voltaire was renowned, whatever his personal habits, as a public defender and as a champion of human liberty. “Time, which alone makes their reputations of men,” he observed,” in the end makes their faults respectable.” In his last days in Paris, he is said to have taken especially to heart a woman’s remark: “Do you not know that he is the preserver of the Calas?”

Voltaire’s life nearly spanned the 18th century; his writings fill 70 volumes; and his influence is not yet exhausted. He once wrote: “They wanted to bury me. But I outwitted them.”

Further Reading

The best introduction in English to Voltaire’s life is Gustave Lanson, Voltaire (1906; trans. 1966). John Morley’s Voltaire (1903) also remains a readable and stimulating appreciation. A detailed and scholarly biography, by one of the world’s leading authorities on Voltaire, is Theodore Besterman, Voltaire (1969). Ira O. Wade, The Intellectual Development of Voltaire (1969), in attempting to synthesize the many facets of Voltaire’s mind for a unified view of his life, is often more encyclopedic than stimulating, but it provides a full and judicious treatment. Other useful studies include Georg Brandes. Voltaire (trans., 2 vols., 1930), and Henry Noel Brailsford, Voltaire (1935).

Interesting works that deal with various aspects of Voltaire’s life include Ira O. Wade, Voltaire and Madame du Châtelet (1941); Edna Nixon, Voltaire and the Calas Case (1961); John N. Pappas, Voltaire and D’Alembert (1962); and H. T. Mason, Pierre Bayle and Voltaire (1963). Other specialized works worth consulting are Constance Rowe, Voltaire and the State (1955); J. H. Brumfitt, Voltaire: Historian (1958); Peter J. Gay, Voltaire’s Politics: The Poet as Realist (1959); Virgil W. Topazio, Voltaire: A Critical Study of His Major Works (1967); and, for an excellent anthology of various critical opinions, William F. Bottiglia, ed.,



Political Dictionary: Voltaire

François-Marie Arouet (1694-1778) French political writer, journalist, and popularizer of every kind of knowledge. ‘Voltaire’ is an anagram of ‘Arouet L I’ (le jeune—the pairs I and J, and U and V, each being treated as the same letter). He was immensely successful in his own time, but is now little read apart from his satirical novel Candide. He rejected formal religion, which he saw as an insult to the supreme being in whom, as a deist, he believed. Voltaire was a relativist who believed that different political systems were appropriate to different societies. He praised the English system for its freedom, but saw a renewed and enlightened absolutism as the best form of rule for France. Unlike Montesquieu, he supported the French monarchy against the Church and the aristocracy. For Geneva, however, he thought the existing system of direct democracy was best, and tried to influence it in a more egalitarian direction. After failing to guide Frederick II of Prussia as a more enlightened despot, he concentrated on trying to achieve justice in particular cases, and produced his Treatise on Toleration in 1763. — Carl Slevin Britannica Concise Encyclopedia: Voltaire (born Nov. 21, 1694, Paris, France — died May 30, 1778, Paris) French writer. Voltaire studied law but abandoned it to become a writer. He became acclaimed for his tragedies and continued to write for the theatre all his life. He was twice imprisoned in the Bastille for his remarks and in 1726 was exiled to England, where his philosophical interests deepened; he returned to France in 1728 or 1729. His epic poem La Henriade (1728) was well received, but his lampoons of the Regency and his liberal religious opinions caused offense. Lettres philosophiques (1734), in which he spoke out against established religious and political systems, created an uproar. He fled Paris and settled at Cirey in Champagne with Mme du Châtelet, who became his patroness and mistress, and there he turned to scientific research and the systematic study of religions and culture. After her death he spent periods in Berlin and Geneva; in 1754 he settled in Switzerland. In addition to his many works on philosophical and moral problems, he wrote contes (“tales”) including Zadig (1747), Micromégas (1752), and his best-known work, Candide (1759), a satire on philosophical optimism. He kept up an immense correspondence and took an interest in any cases of injustice, especially those resulting from religious prejudice. Voltaire is remembered as a crusader against tyranny and bigotry and is noted for his wit, satire, and critical capacity.

For more information on Voltaire, visit Britannica.com.

Fairy Tale Companion: Voltaire

Voltaire (pseudonym of François Marie Arouet, 1694–1778), French author, political polemicist, and Enlightenment philosopher. In his fairy tale ‘Le Taureau blanc’ (‘The White Bull’, 1774), Voltaire freely mixes reality and the marvellous in an ironic critique of Old Testament stories. Built around the literal interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s metamorphosis into a white bull, the tale features humanized talking animals and a princess who reads Locke. True to the Enlightenment belief in rational enquiry, Voltaire specifically targets the Garden of Eden myth and denounces a God that would forbid knowledge to humanity.
— Adrienne E. Zuerner

French Literature Companion: Voltaire

Voltaire (pseud. of François-Marie Arouet) (1694-1778). Held to be one of the three greatest French writers of the 18th c., Voltaire was perhaps its most representative, certainly its most prolific, and emphatically its most combative (he illustrated the virtues of engagement long before Sartre). Most of his life was spent in an increasingly vigorous battle against l’infâme, a concept generally taken to comprehend the evils resulting from religious bigotry and superstition but which is infinitely extensible and probably encompasses all that Voltaire abhorred in benighted human behaviour—particularly Establishment behaviour—and that served to thwart the realization of his resolutely modern vision of a secular, tolerant society.

1. The Tragic Poet

Born in Paris, the youngest child of a notary, a pupil of the Jesuits at Louis-le-Grand, Voltaire was precociously attracted towards poetry. Devoted as he would always be to the aesthetic prejudices of the grand siècle, with its strict code of values, he dreamed of success as his century’s greatest tragic writer. To his contemporaries he became first and foremost precisely that: between Œdipe (1718) and Irène (1778) he composed—often to acclaim—28 tragedies on vastly differing subjects. Today the bulk of them are treated as so much literary history, despite the fact that Voltaire had a credible tragic dignity, a good sense of the dramatic possibilities of the stage, and above all ideas (in a period when the tragic theatre was remarkably stagnant) as to what constituted desirable innovations, e.g. an increase in action and spectacle ( Brutus, 1730; La Mort de César, 1731), or themes drawn from different times and places ( Zaïre, 1732; Adélaïde du Guesclin, 1734; Alzire, 1736; L’Orphelin de la Chine, 1755; Don Pèdre, 1761; etc.). His inability to equal Corneille or Racine is partly explicable by his lack of intense psychological insight and by his haste or impatience (although, paradoxically, he expended considerable energy on all his compositions), but it is mostly to be ascribed to his increasing desire to use the theatre—for long an ‘école de mœurs’—as a vehicle also for Enlightenment propaganda.

2. The Philosophe

Voltaire was always to look upon writing from the point of view of a philosophe, even when it did express immutable aesthetic values. Later, magisterially dismissing Rousseau, he was to say: ‘Jean-Jacques n’écrit que pour écrire; moi j’écris pour agir.’ Voltaire’s ‘action’ can be detected as early as 1714 and is explicable by his growing dissatisfaction with the status quo (whether socio-political or religious), which had doubtless been fostered by his early frequentation of the Société du Temple. Even so young, Voltaire was already notorious as a frondeur with an insolent tongue and a caustic pen. The latter earned him provincial exile (1716). It was, moreover, in the Bastille (1717-18) that he finished composing Œdipe, which brought him international attention, and began work on his epic poem La Ligue, published in 1723 (re-titled La Henriade in 1728). Both these works—not to overlook his deistic Le Pour et le contre (1722)—betray, with their humanitarian and anticlerical outbursts, a spirit of revolt, even a spirit in revolt. Friendship with Viscount Bolingbroke (1722 onwards) ensured, moreover, Voltaire’s interest in the complexities of the modern British state, ultimately setting the seal on his orientation as a philosophe ready to censure, systematically, whatever was contrary to liberty, tolerance, and common sense.

An opportunity to visit England came in 1726. Having, in his increasing self-regard, come to believe that a lionized poetic genius was second to none, Voltaire incautiously treated the chevalier de Rohan with ‘disregard’ (January 1726). Their altercation earned the poet (whose corporeal humiliation, administered by Rohan’s lackeys, was largely treated by society with an indifference which Voltaire found incomprehensible and unjust) a further spell in the Bastille. Shortly afterwards he left for London, capital of that ‘pays où on pense librement et noblement sans être retenu par aucune crainte servile’. He remained there for over two years, delving into all aspects of its dynamic ‘republican’ civilization, free to meditate on the iniquities he had seen (or experienced) at home. He returned to France (autumn 1728), rapidly completing Brutus (1730) and the Histoire de Charles XII (1731), which both amply betrayed the more dangerous potential of his preparatory work for the Lettres philosophiques. The latter, Lanson’s ‘première bombe lancée contre l’Ancien Régime’, immediately promoted the long-standing nuisance into a full-blown persona non grata.

Fleeing Paris to escape a lettre de cachet, Voltaire sought refuge at Cirey, home of his mistress, Madame du Châtelet (Émilie). The stay there (1734-44) was a period of happiness and of intense activity. Increasingly addicted to the tragic theatre, Voltaire added Alzire, Zulime, Mahomet, and Mérope to his repertoire; but essentially he worked—often alongside Émilie—on science and mathematics, biblical exegesis, history, and philosophical matters, either laying in large stocks of ammunition for his later campaign against revealed religion or using the material to produce that important work of popularization, the Éléments de la philosophie de Newton (1736). Émilie approved of this initiative. But stung somewhat by her opinion that history was much less important than natural science, the author of Charles XII also commenced two influential works: the Essai sur les mœurs and Le Siècle de Louis XIV.

3. Historian and Courtier

Voltaire was henceforth to be constantly preoccupied by history, giving much thought to its practice and to its role in society. His works on Louis XIV (1751), Peter the Great (1759-63), the philosophy of history (1765), the Parlement de Paris (1769), and Louis XV (1769) will all accentuate his determined break with the humanist and providentialist stances which he felt were characterized by credulity and prejudice, faulty emphasis and delusive rhetoric. Voltaire’s own counterpoised, sceptical method (see Essai sur les mœurs) was to prove excellent. Not so his practice. For, though endowed with all the qualities of the marvellously stylish narrator, he tended quite visibly to fall victim to his own scepticism. When, moreover, it came to describing great men and events, Voltaire the historian performed—on two counts—exactly like Voltaire the tragic writer. Lacking psychological finesse, he had not been born to work that ‘résurrection intégrale’ of the past which Michelet, for example, so brilliantly illustrated. Secondly, being passionately engaged in the struggles of the century, he tended to reduced history to a utilitarian warning of what happens to humanity deprived of Enlightenment.

With the death of Fleury (1743) official hostility to Voltaire slackened. Thanks to powerful advocates (Madame de Pompadour, d’Argenson, the duc de Richelieu), he regained a measure of favour and worked hard to redeem himself; momentarily he became a court poet, producing in particular La Princesse de Navarre (1744) and the eulogistic (officially printed) Poème de Fontenoy (1745). The rewards came despite Voltaire’s numerous enemies, who were either hostile to his ideals or jealous of his success and the considerable fortune he had amassed over the previous decades by business deals: Louis XV appointed him historiographer of France (1745), a distinction which doubtless helped his election (after four unsuccessful attempts) to the Académie Française (1746). During this period (1744-50) Voltaire also produced Zadig and—jousting yet again with Crébillon—three more tragedies: Sémiramis (1746), Oreste, and Rome sauvée (1749). ‘Immortalized’ and internationally famous, he now experienced relatively greater contentment. But the death of Émilie and diverse vexations and unpleasantness served to reactivate his restless, dissatisfied spirit. He decided to heed the siren-calls which Frederick II of Prussia, in his admiration for the ‘literary genius of the century’ had for long been sending. So began the (ultimately disastrous) Berlin interlude (1750-3), during which Voltaire, laden with Frederick’s honours, completed Micromégas and Le Siècle de Louis XIV, wrote the Poème sur la loi naturelle, continued work on the Essai sur les mœurs, and conceived the idea for what became the Dictionnaire philosophique. Unfortunately, however, the two men’s initial euphoria soon turned to mutual disenchantment. The rupture came, inevitably, when Voltaire, espousing König’s cause in his famous quarrel with Maupertuis, demolished the latter (the president of Frederick’s Academy of Science) with his bitterly satirical Diatribe du docteur Akakia (1753).

4. The Sage of Ferney

Now began the most sombre period in Voltaire’s life (1753-7). Disgraced in Berlin, unwelcome in France, generally anathema to right-thinking societies, Voltaire wandered disconsolate, seeking a permanent home. He was now 60. Who and what was he? A celebrated poet and playwright, a controversial historian, a superb letter-writer, a skilful popularizer of scientific ideas, a brilliant nonconformist whose ideas and attitudes constantly irritated authority. This is the Voltaire, however, of whom Valéry once said: ‘S’il fût mort à 60 ans, il serait à peu près oublié aujourd’hui.’ The assessment, if extreme, is understandable: the ‘real’ Voltaire, the Voltaire of legend and posterity, the Voltaire of Candide, the Voltaire who campaigned against injustice, intolerance, and human imbecility, is the Sage of Ferney, the substantial estate just over the border from Geneva which Voltaire bought in 1758 and which he managed actively and profitably. Once there, secure from persecution, financially independent, conscious of his mission, he became less concerned with purely literary pursuits and more devoted to his and his disciples’ accelerating crusade against all adversaries of the Enlightenment.

Since, by this time, Voltaire had for long been almost constantly absent from the intellectual milieux in Paris (with which, naturally, he remained in contact), and since, in parallel, he had become an international celebrity (whose letters were highly prized), we should perhaps mention here the outstanding importance of Voltaire’s Correspondence (edited by Theodore Besterman). Contained in 45 stout volumes, it enshrines nearly 70 years of vital French history, and covers—with a superb mastery of all conceivable registers—all possible matters, whether social, political, philosophical, or cultural. Here we find, in contact with his 1, 200 different correspondents of various nationalities, professions, opinions, and importance, a complex, everchanging, multi-faceted Voltaire whose pen was superbly suited to all occasions. Lanson has suggested, with some justification, that it is the Correspondence which is his least-contested masterpiece.

This is also, unsurprisingly, the time when Voltaire’s already numerous enemies multiplied alarmingly. However, his combination of wit, irony, Rabelaisian humour, and sheer vilification neutralized them all so effectively that their reputations were irreparably distorted (e.g. Fréron, Lefranc de Pompignan, Chaumeix, La Beaumelle, Rousseau, Nonnotte, Coger, etc.). His concerns, as he crossed swords with them, were political, philosophical, and above all religious. His attacks on revealed religion multiplied substantially and alarmingly (Extrait des sentiments de Jean Meslier, 1762; Dictionnaire philosophique, 1764; La Philosophie de l’histoire, 1764; Questions sur les miracles, 1765; Le Dîner du comte de Boulainvilliers, 1767; etc.). In tandem, his more general philosophe concerns found expression in his mock-heroic epic about Jeanne d’Arc, La Pucelle (1755-62), and in countless romans and contes, facéties and dialogues, which were even more accessible to that general public which avidly read his mordant, even scurrilous, productions. It is mainly these polemical pieces which—given their subject-matter—should have been perishable and yet which, paradoxically, proved to be eternal by their exuberance, their wonderful inventiveness. Candide had, for example, shown the propaganda value of the tale; now came Jeannot et Colin (1764), L’Ingénu (1767), L’Homme aux quarante écus (1768), etc.

But that was not all. Having himself experienced the direst vexations, Voltaire was more than normally sensitive to injustice and persecution. He concerned himself, for example, with the problems of political emancipation in Geneva (1765-6). Other activities are, however, better known: brilliantly he fought for the rehabilitation of Calas (1762-5) and Sirven (1765-71), victims of intolerance; or defended the memories of Lally (1766-78), La Barre (1767-75), and Montbailli (1771-3), all unjustly (even callously) executed; or undertook the seemingly hopeless defence (1772-3) of Morangiés, stridently accused of fraud. His most significant contributions in this field—besides his abundant writings which stubbornly justified the above unfortunates—are the Traité sur la tolérance (1762), the Commentaire sur le livre Des délits et des peines (1766), and the Prix de la justice et de l’humanité (1778).

It is the humanitarian Voltaire who, in the last decade of his life, imposed himself on his public. For when, in February 1778, he returned triumphally to Paris after 28 years of officially willed absence, it was ‘l’homme aux Calas’ who received the delirious welcome. When, worn out, he died on 28 May 1778, he was for many the most honoured man in Europe, for many others the most hated in Christendom. Similar mutually exclusive interpretations are common currency today.

Few authors have demonstrated such complexity. A man of extremes who was both mercurial and Protean, Voltaire was that essential man of extremes: the dual personality whose life and activities constantly and kaleidoscopically covered the whole spectrum of human behaviour. Valéry nicely formulated the problem when he called him ‘ce diable d’homme dont la mobilité, les ressources, les contradictions, font un personnage que la musique seule, la plus vive musique, pourrait suivre’.
[John Renwick]


• G. Lanson, Voltaire (1906)
• R. Naves, Voltaire (1942)
• J. Orieux, Voltaire ou la Royauté de l’esprit (1966)
• Th. Besterman, Voltaire (1976) (1985) 
• R. Pomeau (ed.), Voltaire en son temps )

German Literature Companion: François Marie Arouet Voltaire

Voltaire, François Marie Arouet (Paris, 1694-1778, Paris), French poet, historian, and philosopher, whose humanitarian views on politics and religion influenced European thought. He ignored contemporary German thought as represented by G. E. Lessing, who later attacked his views on drama in the Hamburgische Dramaturgie, especially as represented in Sémiramis and its preface, and contributed to the decline of Voltaire’s remarkable success on the German stage. During Voltaire’s residence at the court of Friedrich II of Prussia, Lessing was commissioned to translate some of Voltaire’s work. Through his contact with Voltaire’s secretary he obtained in 1753 a copy of the (as yet unpublished) Siècle de Louis XIV, which he did not return upon his departure to Wittenberg. Voltaire, suspicious of his motives, made a complaint to the King who, remembering this unfortunate episode, refused Lessing the post of royal librarian some twelve years later.

Forty-eight years of correspondence with the Prussian king testify to the constancy of the intellectual intercourse between both men. It began in August 1736 when the 24-year-old Crown Prince wrote his first letter admiring Voltaire’s genius and hoping for his friendship. They met for the first time in 1740, and Friedrich cherished the idea that Voltaire would come to stay at his court. After the death of Mme du Châtelet in 1749, Voltaire decided on the move to Potsdam, resigning in 1750 his post as historiographer and Chamberlain, Gentilhomme Ordinaire, thus burning his boats at the court of Louis XV. Personal contact, however, cooled the friendship, and after Voltaire had got himself involved in a court action over illegal money transactions as well as attacking Friedrich’s President of the Royal Academy (see Akademien), P.-L. M. de Maupertuis, the King decided in 1753 that Voltaire must leave Prussia. He asked for the return of the order Pour le mérite, with which he had honoured him, and of a book of his own verses. At Frankfurt, Voltaire was kept prisoner for several weeks before he could proceed to Geneva. This humiliating episode was the responsibility of Friedrich’s over-zealous representative, but Voltaire never forgot the disgrace. Yet the correspondence of the following years resumed the exchange of ideas and verses, Friedrich realizing that Voltaire was ‘only good to read’, but read him he must, while Voltaire confessed his love for the Prussian king ‘from a distance’. Their correspondence provides valuable insight into the minds of both men, whose extraordinary mutual fascination remains unique. Voltaire’s defence of the reputations of Jean Calas, Sirven, and La Barre, who had been executed in the early 1760s, aroused the King’s keen interest and sympathy.

In his last letter to Friedrich, Voltaire expressed the hope that the King might long survive him as the bulwark of Germanic liberty. Friedrich paid tribute to Voltaire’s memory in a dignified and warm Éloge which was read to the Berlin Academy by Thiébault in November 1778. Briefwechsel Friedrich des Großen mit Voltaire was edited, in three volumes, by R. Koser and G. Droysen (1908-11) and followed by Nachträge zu dem Briefwechsel Friedrich des Großen mit Maupertuis und Voltaire (1917).
Philosophy Dictionary: Voltaire

(1694-1778) French man of letters and philosopher. Voltaire was born François-Marie Arouet, into a wealthy Parisian family, and educated at the Jesuit school of Louis-le-Grand. His satirical writing led to exiles in Holland (1713) and England (1726-9; it was said that he went to England a poet and returned a philosopher). He returned to France, and published the Lettres philosophiques (1734, trs. as Philosophical Letters on the English Nation), whose admiration for the liberal spirit of England made it necessary for him to retire to the country to avoid arrest. For the next fifteen years he lived mainly in the country of Lorraine in the company of the savant Mme du Châtelet. After a period in Prussia he settled in 1755 in a château near Geneva, where he published Essai sur les mœurs et l’esprit des nations (1756, trs. as Essays on the Manners and Spirit of Nations, 1758) and Candide, ou l’optimisme (1759, trs. as Candide, or All for the Best, 1759). This was followed by the equally satirical Dictionnaire philosophique (1764, trs. as Philosophical Dictionary, 1764). He subsequently lived in France, but only returned to Paris shortly before his death, to be hailed as the greatest French champion of the Enlightenment, and his generation’s most courageous spokesman for freedom and toleration.

Philosophically Voltaire imbibed the combination of science, empiricism, and religious awe characteristic of Newton and Locke. Although he wrote passionately against the metaphysical speculations of his predecessors, especially Leibniz, Voltaire was prepared to take refuge in ignorance, for instance of the nature of the soul, or the way to reconcile evil with divine providence. Himself a deist, he became famous as the implacable opponent of organized Christian religion, whose baleful effects were all too visible in the world of his time. Although his lustre as a philosopher does not match his eminence as a man of letters, poet, and playwright, Voltaire remains a central example of the philosopher as a politically engaged, liberal humanist.

Columbia Encyclopedia: François Marie Arouet de Voltaire

Voltaire, François Marie Arouet de (fräNswä’ märē’ ärwā’ də vôltĕr’) , 1694–1778, French philosopher and author, whose original name was Arouet. One of the towering geniuses in literary and intellectual history, Voltaire personifies the Enlightenment.

Voltaire’s Life and Works
Early Life

The son of a notary, he was born at Paris and was educated at the Jesuit Collège Louis-le-Grand. Because of insults to the regent, Philippe II d’Orléans, wrongly ascribed to him, Voltaire was sent to the Bastille (1717) for 11 months. There he rewrote his first tragedy, Œdipe (1718), and began an epic poem on Henry IV, the Henriade. It was at this time that he began to call himself Voltaire. Œdipe won him fame and a pension from the regent. Voltaire acquired an independent fortune through speculation; he was often noted for his generosity but also displayed a shrewd business acumen throughout his life and became a millionaire.

In 1726 a young nobleman, the chevalier de Rohan, resenting a witticism made at his expense by Voltaire, had Voltaire beaten. Far from obtaining justice, Voltaire was imprisoned in the Bastille through the influence of the powerful Rohan family, and he was released only upon his promise to go to England. The episode left an indelible impression on Voltaire: for the rest of his life he exerted himself to his utmost in struggling against judicial arbitrariness. During his more than two years (1726–28) in England, Voltaire met, through his friend Lord Bolingbroke, the literary men of the period. He was impressed by the greater freedom of thought in England and deeply influenced by Newton and Locke. Voltaire’s Letters concerning the English Nation (1733, in English), which appeared (1734) in French as Lettres philosophiques, may be said to have initiated the vogue of English philosophy and science that characterized the literature of the Enlightenment. The book was formally banned in France.

Work in England and Cirey

While in England, Voltaire wrote the first of his historical works, a history of Charles XII of Sweden, which remains a classic in biography. Returning to France in 1729, he produced several tragedies, among them Brutus (1730) and Zaïre (1732). In 1733 he met Mme Du Châtelet, whose intellectual interests, especially in science, accorded with his own. They took up residence together at Cirey, in Lorraine, under the Marquis Du Châtelet’s tolerant eye. The connection with Émilie Du Châtelet lasted until her death in 1749.

At Cirey, Voltaire worked on physics and chemistry experiments and began his long correspondence with Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia (later Frederick II). In addition, he wrote Éléments de la philosophie de Newton (1736), which was partially responsible for bringing awareness of Newtonian physics to the Continent; a burlesque treatment of the Joan of Arc legends, La Pucelle (1755); and the dramas Mahomet (1742), Mérope (1743), and Sémiramis (1748). Through the influence of Mme de Pompadour, Voltaire was made royal historiographer, a gentleman of the king’s bedchamber, and a member of the French Academy.

Berlin and Geneva

Voltaire first visited Berlin in 1743, and after Mme Du Châtelet’s death he accepted Frederick II’s invitation to live at his court. His relations with Frederick, a man whose unbending nature matched his own, were generally stormy. Voltaire’s interference in the quarrel between Maupertuis and König led to renewed coldness on the part of Frederick, and in 1753 Voltaire hastily left Prussia. At a distance, the two men later became reconciled, and their correspondence was resumed. Unwelcome in France, Voltaire settled in Geneva, where he acquired the property “Les Délices”; he also acquired another house near Lausanne. The Genevese authorities soon objected to Voltaire’s holding private theatrical performances at his home and still more to the article “Genève” written for Diderot’s Encyclopédie, on Voltaire’s instigation, by Alembert. The article, which declared that the Calvinist pastors of Geneva had seen the light and ceased to believe in organized religion, stirred up a violent controversy.

The Ferney Years and Candide

Voltaire purchased (1758) an estate, Ferney (see Ferney-Voltaire), just over the French border, where he lived until shortly before his death. He conducted an extensive correspondence with most of the outstanding men and women of his time; received hosts of visitors who came to do homage to the “patriarch of Ferney”; employed himself in seeking justice for victims of religious or political persecution and in campaigning against the practice of torture; contributed to the Encyclopédie; and managed his estate, taking an active interest in improving the condition of his tenants.

Voltaire also edited the works of Corneille, wrote commentaries on Racine, and turned out a stream of anonymous novels and pamphlets in which he attacked the established institutions of his time with unremitting virulence. Ironically, it is one of these disavowed works, Candide (1759), that is most widely read today. It is the masterpiece among his “philosophical romances,” which also include the inimitable short tale Jeannot et Colin (1764), perhaps the quintessence of Voltaire’s style. In Candide Voltaire attacked the philosophical optimism made fashionable by Leibniz. Its conclusion, “Let us cultivate our garden” (instead of speculating on unanswerable problems), expresses succinctly Voltaire’s practical philosophy of common sense.

The Final Chapter

In 1778, his 84th year, Voltaire attended the first performance of his tragedy Irène, in Paris. His journey and his reception were a triumph and apotheosis, but the emotion was too much for him and he died in Paris soon afterward. In order to obtain Christian burial he had signed a partial retraction of his writings. This was considered insufficient by the church, but he refused to sign a more general retraction. To a friend he gave the following written declaration: “I die adoring God, loving my friends, not hating my enemies, and detesting persecution.” An abbot secretly conveyed Voltaire’s corpse to an abbey in Champagne, where he was buried. His remains were brought back to Paris in 1791 and buried in the Panthéon.

Voltaire’s Style

Voltaire attained the most subtly comical effects through an imperceptible turn of a phrase; his sentences flow with facility; his expressions are always felicitous and unlabored; his irony is as devastating as its touch is light. Brevity and lucidity characterize all his writings. The Dictionnaire philosophique (1764) is a compendium of Voltaire’s thought on the most varied subjects. In his serious poetic works, the perfection of his style is usually combined with a coldness that has robbed them of lasting appeal, although they tower above those of other 18th-century imitators of Racine. Voltaire was significant in helping to introduce to the theater authentic costumes, and he labored successfully for the improvement of the social status of actors.

Voltaire’s Philosophy

In his philosophy, based on skepticism and rationalism, he was indebted to Locke as well as to Montaigne and Bayle. Despite Voltaire’s passion for clarity and reason, he frequently contradicted himself. Thus he would maintain in one place that man’s nature was as unchangeable as that of animals and would express elsewhere his belief in progress and the gradual humanization of society through the action of the arts, sciences, and commerce. In politics he advocated reform but had a horror of the ignorance and potential fanaticism of people and the violence of revolution.

In religion Voltaire felt that Christianity was a good thing for chambermaids and tailors to believe in, but for the use of the elite he advocated a simple deism. He opposed the atheism and materialism of Helvétius and Holbach. His line, “If God did not exist, he would have to be invented,” has become proverbial. His celebrated slogan, Écrasez l’infâme! [crush the infamous thing!], has been interpreted as addressed either against the church or against the ancien régime in general.

Voltaire’s influence in the popularization of the science and philosophy of his age was incalculably great. Perhaps his most lasting and original intellectual contribution was made in the field of history. His Siècle de Louis XIV (1751) embodies in part the ideas of his historical masterpiece, Essai sur l’histoire générale et sur les mœurs et l’esprit des nations (7 vol., 1756; tr. 1759), the first attempt at writing a history of the world as a whole; Voltaire laid as much emphasis on culture and commerce as on politics and war, and he avoided national parochialism.


The first “complete” edition of Voltaire’s work was the so-called Kehl edition, by Beaumarchais (70 vol. in octavo or 92 vol. in duodecimo, 1784–89); a later edition is that of M. Beuchot (72 vol., 1828–40; rev. and enl., 52 vol., 1883). See his correspondence, ed. by T. Besterman (part of the series Studies on Voltaire and the 18th Century [SVEC], 1955–). There are English translations of Voltaire’s most widely read works. Biographies and studies of Voltaire reflect continued controversy as to Voltaire’s real thought and beliefs.

See biographies by G. Lanson (1906, in French; tr. by R. A. Wagoner, 1966), A. Mourois (1932), H. N. Brailsford (1935, repr. 1963), S. G. Tallentyre (1972), H. T. Mason (1981), A. J. Ayer (1986), and J. Leigh (2004); studies by P. Gay (1959) and V. W. Topazio (1966); N. Mitford, Voltaire in Love (1954); I. O. Wade, Voltaire and Madame du Châtelet (1941, repr. 1967) and The Intellectual Development of Voltaire (1969); I. Davidson, Voltaire in Exile (2005).

History 1450-1789: Voltaire

Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet; 1694–1778), French philosopher, historian, dramatist, and poet. Voltaire was born in Paris 21 November 1694, the son of a successful notary. A prolific philosopher, historian, and writer in numerous genres and a tireless champion of freedom of thought and expression, no figure better represents the spirit of the French Enlightenment than Voltaire.

Three years after the death of his mother (née Marguerite Daumard), Voltaire entered the Jesuit Collège Louis-le-Grand in Paris, in 1704, where he spent the next seven years. Following his studies, Voltaire frequented the libertine society of the Temple and began to exercise his literary talents by composing satirical light verse as well as his first play, Oedipe, completed in manuscript in 1715. In 1716 Voltaire was exiled from Paris because of an epigram against the regent, and in May 1717 was sent to the Bastille, accused of further inflammatory writings. Shortly after his release, Oedipe was staged in November 1718, its brilliant success making him an overnight celebrity, considered France’s preeminent poet. It was at this point that he adopted the name Monsieur de Voltaire, not only a nom de plume but also an index of his lifelong aristocratic aspirations.

The self-styled nobleman received a harsh but transformative lesson in 1726, when following a quarrel with the chevalier de Rohan, Voltaire once again found himself imprisoned in the Bastille and then was exiled to England for two years. Rightly or wrongly, Voltaire saw in England a model of political freedom and, above all, religious tolerance, which was to result in his hugely popular and influential English Letters (published first in England in 1733, in English and French versions, then in France in 1734). During his British sojourn, Voltaire, having acquired reasonable competence in English, read numerous English writers and thinkers, but it was above all the works of John Locke and Isaac Newton that earned his enduring admiration.

While a number of biographers and critics have overstated the intellectual impact England was to have on Voltaire—his deism and skepticism certainly predated his exile—it is clear that England had the effect of consolidating his militant opposition to intolerance and dogma in politics and religion, and just as importantly, made him a partisan of British sensualism (in Locke), and the “new philosophy” of scientific method (in Newton and his precursor, Francis Bacon). In France Voltaire became the greatest popularizer of Newtonian physics (publishing Elements of Newton’s Philosophy in 1738) and a driving force behind the Enlightenment’s anti-metaphysical, positivistic, and scientific bent in which the Cartesian rationalism of the French classical age gave way to the influence of English empiricism.

The English exile set the stage not only for Voltaire’s abiding philosophical concerns but also for a life spent mostly outside Paris. From 1734 he lived at Cirey with his mistress, Émilie du Châtelet, until her death in 1749. For a number of years prior to her death, Frederick the Great of Prussia (ruled 1740–1786) had sought to bring Voltaire to Potsdam and Berlin, and in 1750 Voltaire took up the offer; but the nearly three years he spent with Frederick ended in bitter disillusionment for both parties. After five years moving from one side of the Franco-Swiss border to the other, in 1759 he purchased the chateau of Ferney, just outside Geneva, which over the years he built into a sprawling estate, home to various cottage industries that added to his already considerable fortune, and a cultural crossroads where Voltaire hosted innumerable guests. He lived and worked there until the last year of his life. In February 1778, he returned to Paris to produce his last play, Irène, and his triumphant return to the capital was a legendary moment in French cultural history, so overwhelming that the eightyfour-year-old Voltaire remarked that he was being “killed with glory.” After a long life of notorious ill health and hypochondria, he died during the night of 30 May.

Today Voltaire is read above all as a philosopher—in the restricted sense that word had in the French eighteenth century—and as an acerbic social critic who railed against injustice, metaphysical absurdity of every ilk, clerical abuse, prejudice, and superstition. Those threads came together brilliantly in his 1759 philosophical tale, Candide, in which he lambasted the idealist doctrine of preestablished harmony and the “best of all possible worlds” promulgated by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and his followers Alexander Pope and Christian Wolff. Candide was written largely in response to the death of thirty thousand victims of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and as an exposition of the problems raised in his hastily drafted 1755 Poem on the Lisbon Disaster. In response to the question of evil, Voltaire abandoned any claim on a metaphysical explanation of human affairs, proposing instead that we “cultivate our garden,” that is, that we focus on local and practical concerns, faced with an order of experience that may in some sense be providential but whose mechanism escapes our reason. Voltaire had explored the problem of theodicy and providence in his earlier tale, Zadig (1747), which along with Micromégas (1752) and more than twenty other philosophical tales, made Voltaire the master of one of the French Enlightenment’s most fecund and innovative literary forms.

Yet Voltaire thought of himself perhaps more as a poet, playwright, and historian than as the mordant satirist acknowledged today. His career began and ended with the theater; in between, he produced a dozen or so plays, with varying degrees of success. Today they are rarely read or staged. From the light verse of his youth to the epic Henriad and the bawdy Maid of Orleans, the epicurean Mondain, and his Poem on Natural Law, among many others, poetry also held a central place in his oeuvre. In the domain of history, Voltaire (who was appointed royal historiographer in 1745 and elected to the French Academy in 1746) composed works on Charles XII, Louis XIV, and Louis XV. As with his plays and poetry, these books are today little read. Other works of nonfiction have fared better: the Essay on Manners (1754), the Treatise on Tolerance (1763, written after Voltaire had intervened in the Calas affair, in which a Protestant man was wrongfully executed on the charge of killing his son who wished to convert to Catholicism), and the Philosophical Dictionary (first volume published 1764) remain enduring classics.

Voltaire’s overwhelming importance and influence in the eighteenth century lie in his promotion of the force of reason and justice, his ironic wit, and his unparalleled skills as a propagandist of the ideals of the Enlightenment. In a career ranging from the end of the reign of Louis XIV to the reign of the last king of the ancien régime, Voltaire was France’s clearest, most prolific, and most enduring voice of dissent.

Primary Sources

Voltaire. The Complete Tales of Voltaire. Translated by William Walton. New York, 1990.

——. Correspondance. Edited by Theodore Besterman. 13 vols. Paris, 1977–.

——. Les oeuvres complètes de Voltaire. Edited by Theodore Besterman and W. H. Barber. 64 vols. Geneva and Toronto, 1968–1984.

——. Political Writings. Edited and translated by David Williams. Cambridge, U.K., 1994.

——. The Portable Voltaire. Edited by Ben Ray Redman. New York, 1977.

——. The Selected Letters of Voltaire. Edited by Richard A. Brooks. New York, 1973. ——. The Works of Voltaire. Translated by William F. Fleming, et al. 22 vols. Reprint. New York, 1988.

Secondary Sources

Knapp, Bettina L. Voltaire Revisited. New York, 2000.

Mason, Haydn Trevor. Voltaire: A Biography. Baltimore, 1981.

Pearson, Roger. The Fables of Reason: A Study of Voltaire’s “Contes philosophiques.” Oxford, 1993.

Pomeau, René. D’Arouet à Voltaire, 1694–1734. Oxford, 1985.

Quotes By: Voltaire


“To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.”

“You must have the devil in you to succeed in the arts.”

“Divorce is probably of nearly the same date as marriage. I believe, however, that marriage is some weeks the more ancient.”

“Doctors are men who prescribe medicines of which they know little, to cure diseases of which they know less, in human beings of whom they know nothing.”

“Men who are occupied in the restoration of health to other men, by the joint exertion of skill and humanity, are above all the great of the earth. They even partake of divinity, since to preserve and renew is almost as noble as to create.”

“I know of nothing more laughable than a doctor who does not die of old age.”

Voltaire, (Francois Marie Arouet)

Voltaire, (Francois Marie Arouet)

Wikipedia: Voltaire

François-Marie Arouet (21 November 1694 – 30 May 1778), better known by the pen name Voltaire, was a French Enlightenment writer, essayist, and philosopher known for his wit and his defence of civil liberties, including both freedom of religion and free trade. Voltaire was a prolific writer and produced works in almost every literary form including plays, poetry, novels, essays, historical and scientific works, more than 20,000 letters and more than 2,000 books and pamphlets.

He was an outspoken supporter of social reform, despite strict censorship laws and harsh penalties for those who broke them. A satirical polemicist, he frequently made use of his works to criticize Catholic Church dogma and the French institutions of his day.

Voltaire was one of several Enlightenment figures (along with Montesquieu, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau) whose works and ideas influenced important thinkers of both the American and French Revolutions.

Early career

François Marie Arouet was born in Paris, the youngest of the five children[1] (and the only one who survived) of François Arouet (1650–1 January 1722), a notary who was a minor treasury official, and his wife, Marie Marguerite d’Aumart (ca. 1660–13 July 1701), from a noble family of the Poitou province. Voltaire was educated by Jesuits at the Collège Louis-le-Grand (1704–11), where he learned Latin; later in life he became fluent in Spanish and English.

By the time he left college, Voltaire had decided he wanted to be a writer – however, his father wanted him to become a lawyer. Voltaire, pretending to work in Paris as an assistant to a lawyer, spent much of his time writing satirical poetry. When his father found him out, he sent Voltaire to study law, this time in the provinces. Nevertheless, he continued to write, producing essays and historical studies not always noted for their accuracy, though most were. Voltaire’s wit made him popular among some of the aristocratic families he mixed with. Voltaire’s father then obtained a job for him as a secretary to the French ambassador in the Netherlands, where Voltaire fell in love with a French refugee named Catherine Olympe Dunoyer. Their scandalous elopement was foiled by Voltaire’s father and he was forced to return to France.

Most of Voltaire’s early life revolved around Paris. From early on, Voltaire had trouble with the authorities for his energetic attacks on the government and the Catholic Church. These activities were to result in numerous imprisonments and exiles. In 1717, in his early twenties, he became involved in the Cellamare conspiracy of Giulio Alberoni against Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, the regent for Louis XV of France. He allegedly wrote satirical verses about the aristocracy and one of his writings about the Régent led to him being imprisoned in the Bastille for eleven months. While there, he wrote his debut play, Œdipe. Its success established his reputation.

Adopting the name “Voltaire”

The name “Voltaire,” which the author adopted in 1718 both as a pen name and for daily use,[citation needed] is an anagram of “AROVET LI,” the Latinized spelling of his surname, Arouet, and the initial letters of the sobriquet “le jeune” (“the younger”). The name also echoes in reverse order the syllables of the name of a family château in the Poitou region: “Airvault”. The adoption of the name “Voltaire” following his incarceration at the Bastille is seen by many to mark Voltaire’s formal separation from his family and his past.

Richard Holmes[2] supports this derivation of the name, but adds that a writer such as Voltaire would have intended it to also convey its connotations of speed and daring. These come from associations with words such as “voltige” (acrobatics on a trapeze or horse), “volte-face” (a spinning about to face one’s enemies), and “volatile” (originally, any winged creature). “Arouet” was not a noble name fit for his growing reputation, especially given that name’s resonance with “à rouer” (“for thrashing”) and “roué” (a “debauchee”).


The aptitude for quick, perceptive, cutting, witty and often scathingly critical repartee for which Voltaire is known today made him highly unpopular with many of his contemporaries, including much of the French aristocracy. These sharp-tongued retorts were responsible for Voltaire’s exile from France, during which he resided in England.

After Voltaire offended the young French nobleman Chevalier de Rohan in late 1725, the aristocratic Rohan family obtained a royal lettre de cachet, an irrevocable and often arbitrary penal decree signed by the French King (Louis XV, in the time of Voltaire) that was often bought by members of the wealthy nobility to dispose of undesirables. They then used this warrant to force Voltaire first into imprisonment in the Bastille and then into exile without holding a trial or giving him an opportunity to defend himself.[3] The incident marked the beginning of Voltaire’s attempts to improve the French judicial system.

Voltaire’s exile in England lasted over two years, and his experiences there greatly influenced many of his ideas. The young man was impressed by Britain’s constitutional monarchy in contrast to the French absolute monarchy, as well as the country’s support of the freedoms of speech and religion. He was also influenced by several of the neoclassical writers of the age, and developed an interest in earlier English literature, especially the works of Shakespeare, still little known in continental Europe at the time. Despite pointing out his deviations from neoclassical standards, Voltaire saw Shakespeare as an example French writers might look up to, since drama in France, despite being more polished, lacked on-stage action. Later, however, as Shakespeare’s influence was being increasingly felt in France, Voltaire would endeavour to set a contrary example with his own plays, decrying what he considered Shakespeare’s barbarities.

After almost three years in exile, Voltaire returned to Paris and published his views on British attitudes towards government, literature and religion in a collection of essays in letter form entitled the Lettres philosophiques sur les Anglais (Philosophical Letters on the English). Because he regarded the British constitutional monarchy as more developed and more respectful of human rights (particularly religious tolerance) than its French counterpart, these letters met great controversy in France, to the point where copies of the document were burnt and Voltaire was again forced to leave France.

Château de Cirey

Voltaire’s next destination was the Château de Cirey, located on the borders of Champagne and Lorraine. The building was renovated with his money, and here he began a relationship with the Marquise du Châtelet, Gabrielle Émilie le Tonnelier de Breteuil (famous in her own right as Émilie du Châtelet). Cirey was owned by the Marquise’s husband, Marquis Florent-Claude du Chatelet, who sometimes visited his wife and her lover at the chateau. The relationship, which lasted for fifteen years, had a significant intellectual element. Voltaire and the Marquise collected over 21,000 books, an enormous number for the time. Together, they studied these books and performed experiments in the “natural sciences” in his laboratory. Voltaire’s experiments included an attempt to determine the properties of fire.

Having learned from his previous brushes with the authorities, Voltaire began his future habit of keeping out of personal harm’s way, and denying any awkward responsibility. He continued to write, publishing plays such as Mérope and some short stories. Again, a main source of inspiration for Voltaire were the years of his British exile, during which he had been strongly influenced by the works of Sir Isaac Newton. Voltaire strongly believed in Newton’s theories, especially concerning optics (Newton’s discovery that white light is composed of all the colors in the spectrum led to many experiments at Cirey), and gravity (the story of Newton and the apple falling from the tree is mentioned in Voltaire’s Essai sur la poésie épique, or Essay on Epic Poetry). Although both Voltaire and the Marquise were curious about the philosophies of Gottfried Leibniz, a contemporary and rival of Newton, they remained “Newtonians” and based their theories on Newton’s works and ideas. Though it has been stated that the Marquise may have been more “Leibnizian”, she did write “je newtonise,” which translated means, “I am ‘newtoning'” or “I ‘newtonise'”. Voltaire’s book, Eléments de la philosophie de Newton (The Elements of Newton’s Philosophies), was probably co-written with the Marquise, and describes the other branches of Newton’s ideas that fascinated him, including optics and the theory of attraction (gravity).

Voltaire and the Marquise also studied history – particularly the people who had contributed to civilization up to that point. Voltaire’s second essay in English had been Essay upon the Civil Wars in France. When he returned to France, he wrote a biographical essay of King Charles XII, which marks the beginning of Voltaire’s criticism towards established religions. The essay won him the position of historian in the king’s court. Voltaire and the Marquise also worked with philosophy, particularly with metaphysics, the branch of philosophy dealing with the distant, and what cannot be directly proven: why and what life is, whether or not there is a God, and so on. Voltaire and the Marquise analyzed the Bible, trying to find its validity in their current time. Voltaire’s critical views on religion are reflected on his belief on the separation of church and state and religious freedom, ideas he formed after his stay in England.


After the death of the Marquise in childbirth in September 1749, Voltaire briefly returned to Paris and in 1751 moved to Potsdam to join Frederick the Great, a close friend and admirer of his.[4] The king had repeatedly invited him to his palace, and now gave him a salary of 20,000 francs a year. Though life went well at first – in 1752 he wrote Micromégas, perhaps the first piece of science fiction involving ambassadors from another planet witnessing the follies of humankind- his relationship with Frederick the Great began to deteriorate and he encountered other difficulties. Faced with a lawsuit and an argument with Maupertuis, then president of the Berlin Academy of Science, Voltaire wrote the Diatribe du docteur Akakia (Diatribe of Doctor Akakia) which satirised Maupertuis. This greatly angered Frederick, who had all copies of the document burned and arrested Voltaire at an inn where he was staying along his journey home.

Geneva and Ferney

Voltaire headed toward Paris, but Louis XV banned him from the city, so instead he turned to Geneva, near which he bought a large estate (Les Délices). Though he was received openly at first, the law in Geneva which banned theatrical performances and the publication of The Maid of Orleans against his will made him move at the end of 1758 out of Geneva across the French border to Ferney, where he had bought an even larger estate, and led to Voltaire’s writing of Candide, ou l’Optimisme (Candide, or Optimism) in 1759. This satire on Leibniz’s philosophy of optimistic determinism remains the work for which Voltaire is perhaps best known. He would stay in Ferney for most of the remaining 20 years of his life, frequently entertaining distinguished guests, like James Boswell, Giacomo Casanova, and Edward Gibbon.[5] In 1764 he published his most important philosophical work, the Dictionnaire Philosophique, containing a series of articles, many of which were originally written for the Encyclopédie.

From 1762 he began to champion unjustly persecuted people, the case of Jean Calas being the most celebrated. This Huguenot merchant had been tortured to death in 1763, supposedly because he had murdered his son for wanting to convert to catholicism. His possessions were confiscated and his remaining children were taken from his widow and were forced to become members of a monastery. Voltaire, seeing this as a clear case of religious persecution, managed to overturn the conviction in 1765.[3]

Death and burial

In February 1778, Voltaire returned for the first time in 20 years to Paris, among other reasons to see the opening of his latest tragedy, Irene. The 5-day journey was too much for the 83-year old, and he believed he was about to die on February 28, writing “I die adoring God, loving my friends, not hating my enemies, and detesting superstition.” However, he recovered, and in March saw a performance of Irene where he was treated by the audience as a returning hero.[3] However, he soon became ill again and died on 30 May 1778. When asked on his deathbed by a priest to renounce the devil and turn to God, he is alleged to have replied, “Now is no time to be making new enemies”. His last words are said to have been, “For God’s sake, let me die in peace.”[6]

Because of his well-known criticism of the church, which he had refused to retract before his death, Voltaire was denied a Christian burial, but friends managed to bury his body secretly at the abbey of Scellières in Champagne before this prohibition had been announced. His heart and brain were embalmed separately. In July 1791, the National Assembly, which regarded him as a forerunner of the French revolution, had his remains brought back to Paris to enshrine him in the Panthéon. There was an elaborate ceremony, complete with an orchestra, and the music included a piece that André Grétry composed specially for the event, which included a part for the “tuba curva”. This was an instrument that originated in Roman times as the cornu but had been recently revived under a new name.

A widely-repeated story that the remains of Voltaire were stolen by religious fanatics in 1814 or 1821 during the Pantheon restoration and thrown into a garbage heap is false. Such rumours resulted in the coffin being opened in 1897, which confirmed that his remains were still present[8].


From an early age, Voltaire displayed a talent for writing verse and his first published work was poetry. He wrote two long poems, the Henriade and The Maid of Orleans, besides many other smaller pieces.

The Henriade was written in imitation of Virgil, using the Alexandrine couplet reformed and rendered monotonous for dramatic purposes. Voltaire lacked enthusiasm for and understanding of the subject, both of which negatively affected the poem’s quality. La Pucelle, on the other hand, is a burlesque work attacking religion and history. Voltaire’s minor poems are generally considered superior to either of these two works.


Many of Voltaire’s prose works and romances, usually composed as pamphlets, were written as polemics. Candide attacks religious and philosophical optimism; L’Homme aux quarante ecus, certain social and political ways of the time; Zadig and others, the received forms of moral and metaphysical orthodoxy; and some were written to deride the Bible. In these works, Voltaire’s ironic style, free of exaggeration, is apparent, particularly the restraint and simplicity of the verbal treatment. Candide in particular is the best example of his style. Voltaire also has, in common with Jonathan Swift, the distinction of paving the way for science fiction’s philosophical irony, particularly in his Micromégas. In general criticism and miscellaneous writing, Voltaire’s writing was comparable to his other works. Almost all of his more substantive works, whether in verse or prose, are preceded by prefaces of one sort or another, which are models of his caustic yet conversational tone. In a vast variety of nondescript pamphlets and writings, he displays his skills at journalism. In pure literary criticism his principal work is the Commentaire sur Corneille, although he wrote many more similar works – sometimes (as in his Life and notices of Molière) independently and sometimes as part of his Siècles.

Voltaire’s works, especially his private letters, frequently contain the word “l’infâme” and the expression “écrasez l’infâme, or “crush the infamy”. The phrase refers to abuses of the people by royalty and the clergy that Voltaire saw around him, and the superstition and intolerance that the clergy bred within the people.[9] He had felt these effects in his own exiles, in the confiscations of his books, and the hideous sufferings of Calas and La Barre.

The most oft-cited Voltaire quotation is apocryphal. He is incorrectly credited with writing, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” These were not his words, but rather those of Evelyn Beatrice Hall, written under the pseudonym S. G. Tallentyre in her 1906 biographical book The Friends of Voltaire. Hall intended to summarize in her own words Voltaire’s attitude towards Claude Adrien Helvétius and his controversial book De l’esprit, but her first-person expression was mistaken for an actual quotation from Voltaire. Her interpretation does capture the spirit of Voltaire’s attitude towards Helvetius; it had been said Hall’s summary was inspired by a quotation found in a 1770 Voltaire letter to an Abbot le Roche, in which he was reported to have said, “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.”[10] Nevertheless, scholars believe there must have again been misinterpretation, as the letter does not seem to contain any such quote.[11]

Voltaire’s largest philosophical work is the Dictionnaire philosophique, comprising articles contributed by him to the Encyclopédie and several minor pieces. It directed criticism at French political institutions, Voltaire’s personal enemies, the Bible, and the Roman Catholic Church.

Amongst other targets, Voltaire criticized France’s colonial policy in North America, dismissing the vast territory of New France as “a few acres of snow” (“quelques arpents de neige”).


Voltaire also engaged in an enormous amount of private correspondence during his life, totaling over 20,000 letters. His personality shows through in the letters that he wrote: his energy and versatility, his unhesitating flattery, his ruthless sarcasm, his unscrupulous business faculty, and his resolve to double and twist in any fashion so as to escape his enemies.[citation needed]


Voltaire, though often mistaken for an atheist, did in fact take part in religious activities and even erected a chapel on his estate at Ferney. The chief source for the misconception is a line from one of his poems (called “Epistle to the author of the book, The Three Impostors”) that translates to: “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him.” The full body of the work, however, reveals his criticism was more focused towards the actions of organized religion, rather than on the concept of religion itself.

Like many other key figures during the European Enlightenment, Voltaire considered himself a deist. He did not believe that absolute faith, based upon any particular or singular religious text or tradition of revelation, was needed to believe in God. In fact, Voltaire’s focus was instead on the idea of a universe based on reason and a respect for nature reflected the contemporary pantheism, increasingly popular throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and which continues in a form of deism today known as “Voltairean Pantheism.”

He wrote, “What is faith? Is it to believe that which is evident? No. It is perfectly evident to my mind that there exists a necessary, eternal, supreme, and intelligent being. This is no matter of faith, but of reason.”

In terms of religious texts, Voltaire’s opinion of the Bible has been summarized by a 21st century author[who?] as: 1) an outdated legal and/or moral reference, 2) by and large a metaphor, but one that still taught some good lessons, and 3) a work of Man, not a divine gift. These beliefs did not hinder his religious practice, however, though it did gain him somewhat of a bad reputation in the Catholic Church. It may be noted that Voltaire was indeed seen as somewhat of a nuisance to many believers, and was almost universally known; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote to his father the year of Voltaire’s death, saying, “The arch-scoundrel Voltaire has finally kicked the bucket….”

Contradictory views of Islam and its prophet, Muhammad, can be found in Voltaire’s writings. In a letter recommending his play Fanaticism, or Mahomet to Pope Benedict XIV, Voltaire described the prophet as “the founder of a false and barbarous sect” and “a false prophet.” Elsewhere, however, his views were more favourable. In Essai sur les Moeurs et l’Esprit des Nations, he described Muhammad as the founder of “a wise, severe, chaste, and humane religion”, and also said “The legislator of the Muslims, a terrible and powerful man, established his dogmas with his valor and arms; yet, his religion became benign and tolerant.”

From translated works on Confucianism and Legalism, Voltaire drew on Chinese concepts of politics and philosophy (which were based on rational principles), to look critically at European organized religion and hereditary aristocracy.[citation needed]

There is an apocryphal story that his home at Ferney was purchased by the Geneva Bible Society and used for printing Bibles,[17] but this appears to be due to a misunderstanding of the 1849 annual report of the American Bible Society.[18] Voltaire’s chateau is now owned and administered by the French Ministry of Culture.


Voltaire was initiated into Freemasonry one month before his death. On 4 April 1778 Voltaire accompanied Benjamin Franklin into Loge des Neuf Soeurs in Paris, France and became an Entered Apprentice Freemason, perhaps only to please Franklin. Legacy Voltaire perceived the French bourgeoisie to be too small and ineffective, the aristocracy to be parasitic and corrupt, the commoners as ignorant and superstitious, and the church as a static force useful only as a counterbalance since its “religious tax” or the tithe helped to create a strong backing for revolutionaries. Voltaire distrusted democracy, which he saw as propagating the idiocy of the masses.[20] To Voltaire, only an enlightened monarch or an enlightened absolutist, advised by philosophers like himself, could bring about change as it was in the king’s rational interest to improve the power and wealth of his subjects and kingdom. Voltaire essentially believed enlightened despotism to be the key to progress and change.

The most enduring of Voltaire’s written works is his novella, Candide, ou l’Optimisme (Candide, or Optimism, 1759), which satirized the philosophy of optimism. Candide was also subject to censorship and Voltaire jokingly claimed the actual author was a certain “Demad” in a letter, where he reaffirmed the main polemical stances of the text.

Voltaire is also known for many memorable aphorisms, such as: “Si Dieu n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer” (“If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him”), contained in a verse epistle from 1768, addressed to the anonymous author of a controversial work, The Three Impostors.

Voltaire is remembered and honored in France as a courageous polemicist who indefatigably fought for civil rights – the right to a fair trial and freedom of religion – and who denounced the hypocrisies and injustices of the ancien régime. The ancien régime involved an unfair balance of power and taxes between the First Estate (the clergy), the Second Estate (the nobles), and the Third Estate (the commoners and middle class, who were burdened with most of the taxes).

Voltaire has had his detractors among his later colleague. The Scottish Victorian writer Thomas Carlyle argued that, while Voltaire was unsurpassed in literary form, not even the most elaborate of his works were of much value for matter and that he never uttered an original idea of his own.

While he often used China, Siam and Japan as examples of brilliant non-European civilizations and harshly criticized slavery, he also believed that Jews were “an ignorant and barbarous people.”[23]

The town of Ferney, where Voltaire lived out the last 20 years of his life, is now named Ferney-Voltaire in honor of its most famous resident. His château is a museum.

Voltaire’s library is preserved intact in the National Library of Russia at St. Petersburg, Russia.

In Zurich 1916, the theater and performance group who would become the early avant-garde movement Dada named their theater The Cabaret Voltaire. A late 20th century music group then named themselves after the theater.

A character based on Voltaire plays an important role in The Age of Unreason, a series of four alternate history novels written by American science fiction and fantasy author Gregory Keyes.

Major works

• Lettres philosophiques sur les Anglais (1733), revised as Letters on the English (circa 1778)
• Le Mondain (1736)
• Sept Discours en Vers sur l’Homme (1738)
• Zadig (1747)
• Micromégas (1752)
• Candide (1759)
• Ce qui plaît aux dames (1764)
• Dictionnaire philosophique (1764)
• L’Ingénu (1767)
• La Princesse de Babylone (1768)
• Épître à l’Auteur du Livre des Trois Imposteurs (1770)


Voltaire wrote between fifty and sixty plays, including a few unfinished ones. Among them are these:

• Œdipe (1718)
• Zaïre (1732)
• Eriphile (1732)
• Irène • Socrates
• Mahomet • Mérope
• Nanine
• The Orphan of China (1755)[24]


• History of Charles XII, King of Sweden (1731)
• The Age of Louis XIV (1751)
• The Age of Louis XV (1746 – 1752)
• Annals of the Empire – Charlemagne, A.D. 742 – Henry VII 1313, Vol. I (1754)
• Annals of the Empire – Louis of Bavaria, 1315 to Ferdinand II 1631 Vol. II (1754)
• History of the Russian Empire Under Peter the Great (Vol. I 1759; Vol. II 1763) References
• Bodanis, David, Passionate Minds – The Great Enlightenment Love Affair, ISBN 0-316-73087-4, Little, Brown, London, 2006
• Valérie Crugten-André, La vie de Voltaire [1]
• Morley, J., The Works of Voltaire, A Contemporary Version, New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901, A Critique and Biography, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming. [2] • Encyclopedia Britannica 1911
• “Encyclopédie”, ARTFL Project, University of Chicago
• “Liste chronologique des oeuvres de Voltaire”, adlitteram.free.fr
• “Château de Cirey – Residence of Voltaire”, visitvoltaire.com
• “Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil Marquise du Châtelet”, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St Andrews, Scotland See also
• Classical liberalism
• Contributions to liberal theory
• List of Freemasons
• List of coupled cousins
• Mononymous persons
• Political fiction


1. ^ Wright, p 505.
2. ^ Holmes, Richard (2000). Sidetracks: explorations of a romantic biographer. HarperCollins. pp. pp.345–366. and “Voltaire’s Grin” in New York Review of Books, 30 November 1995, pp. 49-55
3. ^ a b c d The Life of Voltaire
4. ^ According to poet Richard Armour, Voltaire’s friendship with Frederick William existed because “Frederick considered Voltaire to be immensely clever and so did Voltaire.”
5. ^ The Scottish diarist Boswell recorded their conversations in 1764, which are published in Boswell and the Grand Tour.
6. ^ Norman Davies, Europe: A history p. 687
7. ^ Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed, 1954; “Cornu” article
8. ^ Voltaire and Rousseau, Their Tombs in the Pantheon Opened and Their Bones Exposed, New York Times, January 8, 1898
9. ^ Palmer, R.R.; Colton, Joel (1950). A History of the Modern World. McGraw-Hill, Inc.. ISBN 0-07-040826-2.
10. ^ Boller, Jr., Paul F.; George, John (1989). They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505541-1.
11. ^ Charles Wirz, archivist at The Voltaire Institute and Museum in Geneva, recalled in 1994, that Hall, placed wrongly, between speech marks this quotation in two works devoted to Voltaire, recognising expressly the quotation in question was not one, in a letter of 9 May 1939, which was published in 1943 in volume LVIII under the title “Voltaire never said it” (pp.534-5) of the review “Modern language notes”, Johns Hopkins Press, 1943, Baltimore. An extract from the letter: ‘The phrase “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” which you have found in my book “Voltaire in His Letters” is my own expression and should not have been put in inverted commas. Please accept my apologies for having, quite unintentionally, misled you into thinking I was quoting a sentence used by Voltaire (or anyone else but myself).’ “The words “my own” were underlined personally by Hall in her letter. To believe certain commentators – Norbert Guterman, A Book of French Quotations, 1963 – Hall was referencing back to a Voltaire letter of 6 February 1770 to an abbot le Riche where Voltaire said “Reverend, I hate what you write, but I will give my life so that you can continue to write.” The problem is that, if you consult the letter itself, the sentence there does not appear, nor even the idea: A M LE RICHE A AMIENS. 6 February. You left, Sir, des Welches for des Welches. You will find everywhere barbarians obstinate. The number of wise will always be small. It is true…it has increased; but it is nothing in comparison with the stupid ones; and, by misfortune, one says that God is always for the big battalions. It is necessary that the decent people stick together and stay under cover. There are no means that their small troop could tackle the party of the fanatics in open country. I was very sick, I was near death every winter; this is the reason, Sir, why I have answered you so late. I am not less touched by it than your memory. Continue to me your friendship; it comforts me my evils and stupidities of the human genre. Receive my assurances, etc. Voltaire, moreover, did not hesitate to wish censure against works he did not like. Here is what he writes in his “Atheism” article in the Dictionnaire philosophique: Aristophane (this man that the commentators admire because he was Greek, not thinking that Socrates was Greek also), Aristophane was the first who accustomed the Athenians to look at Socrates like an atheist. … The tanners, the shoemakers and the dressmakers of Athens applauded a joke in which one represented Socrates raised in the air in a basket, announcing there was God, and praising himself to have stolen a coat by teaching philosophy. A whole people, whose bad government authorized such infamous licences, deserved well what it got, to become the slave of the Romans, and today of the Turks.
12. ^ “http://deism.com/voltaire.htm”. http://deism.com/voltaire.htm.
13. ^ Voltaire. W. Dugdale, A Philosophical Dictionary ver 2, 1843, Page 473 sec 1. Accessed 31 October 2007
14. ^ Keffe, Simon P. (2003). The Cambridge Companion to Mozart. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521001927.
15. ^ Voltaire Letter to Benedict XIV written in Paris on 17 August 1745 AD Your holiness will pardon the liberty taken by one of the lowest of the faithful, though a zealous admirer of virtue, of submitting to the head of the true religion this performance, written in opposition to the founder of a false and barbarous sect. To whom could I with more propriety inscribe a satire on the cruelty and errors of a false prophet, than to the vicar and representative of a God of truth and mercy? Your holiness will therefore give me leave to lay at your feet both the piece and the author of it, and humbly to request your protection of the one, and your benediction upon the other; in hopes of which, with the profoundest reverence, I kiss your sacred feet.
16. ^ “Essai sur les Moeurs et l’Esprit des Nations”. Voltaire Intégral. http://www.voltaire-integral.com/Html/00Table/11.html. Retrieved on 2009-06-27., Vol. I: Tome XI: Chap. VII “De l’Alcoran, et de la loi musulmane.”
17. ^ Geisler, N.L.; Nix, W.E.. A General Introduction to the Bible. Moody Press.
18. ^ “Voltaire’s House and The Bible Society” (pdf). The Open Society. http://www.nzarh.org.nz/journal/2004v77n1aut.pdf. Retrieved on 2008-07-01. 2.18 MiB 19. ^ “Benjamin Franklin…urged Voltaire to become a freemason; and Voltaire agreed, perhaps only to please Franklin.Ridley, Jasper (2002). The Freemasons: A History of the World’s Most Powerful Secret Society. pp. p.112. http://books.google.com/books?id=ISMObxdcmfsC&pg=RA4-PA112&dq=freemason+voltaire&ei=ssVASJfIOKakiwGz44zbCQ&sig=DSRHtjUrh3wTLPDfM9SiyFTyvyg. See also: “I did not know that: Mason Facts”. http://www.americanmason.com/didntARC.ihtml. and “Voltaire on British Columbia Grand Lodge Site”. http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/biography/voltaire/voltaire.html.
20. ^ “Democracy”. The Philosophical Dictionary. Knopf. 1924. http://history.hanover.edu/texts/voltaire/voldemoc.html. Retrieved on 2008-07-01.
21. ^ “Letter on the subject of Candide, to the Journal encyclopédique 15 July 1759”. University of Chicago. http://web.archive.org/web/20061013194545/http://humanities.uchicago.edu/homes/VSA/Candide/Candide.letter.html. Retrieved on 2008-01-07.
22. ^ Voltaire, François-Marie. Candide (chapter 19).
23. ^ Voltaire, François-Marie. Essai sur les Moeurs. See also: Voltaire, François-Marie. Dictionnaire Philosophique.
24. ^ This is a translation of a famous Chinese play Orphan of Zhao about the revenge of the orphan of the clan of Zhao on his enemies who killed almost every member of his clan. This play was based on an actual historical event in the Spring-Autumn period of Chinese history. Voltaire’s version was translated by Arthur Murphy as The Orphan of China in 1759.


• “Voltaire”. Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911.
• Hewett, Caspar J. M. (August 2006). “The Great Debate: Life of Voltaire.”. http://thegreatdebate.org.uk/Voltaire.html. Retrieved on 2008-11-02.
• Lewis, Bernard (1999). Semites and Anti-Semites: An Inquiry into Conflict and Prejudice. W. W. Norton & Co.. ISBN 0-393-31839-7.
• Muller, Jerry Z., 2002. The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Western Thought. Anchor Books.
• Pearson, Roger, 2005. Voltaire Almighty: a life in pursuit of freedom. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781582346304.
• Richard Shenkman (1993). “Voltaire”. Legends, Lies, and Cherished Myths of World History. HarperCollins. pp. pp.148–51.
• Spielvogel, J. J. (2003). Western Civilization – Volume II: Since 1500 (5th. ed. ed.).
• Vernon, Thomas S. (1989). “Chapter V: Voltaire”. Great Infidels. M & M Pr. ISBN 0943099056. http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/voltvern.htm.
• Wade, Ira O. (1967). Studies on Voltaire. New York: Russell & Russell.
• Wright, Charles Henry Conrad, A History of French Literature, Oxford University Press, American branch, 1912.

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