Voltaire, FrançoIs mArie aRouet
Voltaire, François Marie Arouet a noted French author and infidel, was born at Chatenay, near, Sceaux, Feb. 20, 1694. He was educated at the Jesuit college of Louis-le-Grand. In 1712 he accompanied the marquis de Chateauunetuf to Holland, but the exposure of his scandalous relations with a woman there occasioned his recall to Paris. Soon after this he was imprisoned as the alleged author of lampoons on Louis XIV, which appeared after the king's death. In the Bastile he wrote part of his epic the Itenriade, and completed his tragedy AEdipe; on reading which the regent released him. On account of an altercation with a chevalier Rohn Chabot, he was banished, and resided in England from 1726 to 1729, where he became acquainted with lord Bolingbroke and the-freethinkers. On returning to France in 1729, he found himself idolized by the French, and entered at once upon a brilliant career. He wrote his Lettres sur les Anglais, in praise of English institutions. In this and other works which appeared about this time his leistical views began to crop out; so flagrant were some parts of the Lettres that the work was publicly burned. He only escaped arrest by retiring to Cirey, where he made his home with the marchioness Chatelet until her death, in 1749. In 1736 he had to escape for a time to Brussels, on account of the scandal occasioned by his Mondain. He visited Frederick the Great in 1740, and again in 1744 on a political mission. In 1750 he again went to Berlin, where Frederick granted him a pension of twenty thousand francs, and studied with him two hours a day. A violent rupture at length occurring between him and Frederick, Voltaire resolved to escape. He carried some of the king's literary work with him, and was arrested at Frankfort under circumstances of great annoyance and disgrace; but he afterwards renewed his correspondence with Frederick. In 1755 he purchased an estate near Geneva, but would not live agreeably with his Swiss neighbors. In 1762 he removed to an estate at Ferney, in France, near the Swiss border, for the purpose of easy escape from one country to the other. By this time he had become enormously rich through his stock operations and his books. He lived in excellent style, and was very liberal with his wealth. He had become, in a certain degree, the founder of a new sect of thinkers and writers of a decidedly atheistical tendency, although Voltaire himself was a theist, and rebuked the philosophy which tried to banish God from the universe. In his eighty-fourth year he visited Paris, where he was received with all the honor of a hero, and brought out the tragedy of Irenle with great enthusiasm. He was, during this visit, taken with a violent hemorrhage which threatened his life, and sought a reconciliation with the Church, that he might not be denied Christian burial. He signed a statement that he would die in the Roman Catholic faith, and that he asked pardon of God and the Church for his sins. He recovered from this attack, but died soon after, before leaving Paris, May 30,1778.
Voltaire was the foremost literary man of his age, the secret of his success lay in the remarkable spirit, vivacity, and grace with which he portrayed the spirit of his age, in his satires, tales, and other short articles. "English writers very rarely understand Voltaire. Those who dislike him almost invariably denounce him as a wild and reckless scoffer, or insist upon, trying him by a lofty standard of political philosophy, and passing heavy sentence on him accordingly. The truth is that Voltaire was no philosopher at all, and was naturally as little qualified for such a part as any man of his day. He was not a thinker. He was a man of certain quick, impatient instincts, which sometimes led him right and often sent him wrong; and endowed with the most wonderful and unrivalled weapon of wit wherewith to fight for any cause which, on the spur of a sudden feeling, he might happen to embrace." "Voltaire was the most formidable enemy the Roman priesthood has ever had since the Reformation. No man, since Luther, has shaken more profoundly the ecclesiasticism of Europe. In this respect, rather than by liberal political dogmas, he helped effectively to bring on the great Revolution of the last century. Rousseau was the real author of its dogmas, but Voltaire is the arch-anticlericalist of history. In the literary celebration at the Gaiete, Voltaire's undeniable services to the cause of toleration were the emphatic theme. Victor Hugo showed his good taste as well as good sense in this respect. All Christian men may well acknowledge this, almost the only good work of the great writer. The Protestants of France universally acknowledge it. Victor Hugo gave eloquently the memorable examples of the Calas family, and of Labarre. He might have added that of the Servien family. Voltaire made Europe ring with reports of these cases, till the courts of France had to rehabilitate the victims, as far as possible; and popery reeled under his persistent blows. Toleration in France, by which Protestantism has become a part of the national religion, dates really from his labors. The Jesuits were subsequently expelled, and Napoleon gave the Huguenots a legal status. Aside from this good work, Voltaire was almost totally a bad man. He was a libertine; he-could lie without scruple, as Carlyle shows in the life of the great Frederick; and nothing was too sacred for his jest and sarcasm." Among Voltaire's numerous writings are several tragedies and comedies: Siecle de Louis XIV: —Siecle de Louis X V: Histoire de Charles XII: Histoire de Russie: —Annales de l'Empire: —Histoire du Parliament: Philosophie: —La Bible Explique in which his attacks upon Christianity are expressed without decency; and in his references to the philosophy of others he is unjust in a high degree: —Dictionnaire Philosophique: Les Questiones sur les Miracles an objection to miracles founded upon the constancy of natural law. His works have been published in seventy volumes by Lequien (Paris, 1820); also by Louis Barre in twenty volumes (ibid. 1856-59). See Vie de Voltaire, by the marquis of Condorcet; Strauss, Voltaire (1872); Morley, Voltaire (1871); and Desnoiresterres, Voltaire et lu Societe du XVIIIieme Siecle (1855-76, 8 vols.).