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The biography of Voltaire

I do not agree with a word that you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. (Lowers, p. 6) In a way this quote by Voltaire describes the way he lived his life. He was a freethinker who believed that everybody should be able to say and write what he or she wanted. He was the most controversial writer during the time of the Enlightenment. He believed that he should be able to write what he wished without anything happening to him. However, that was not the case. Voltaire, the pen name of Francois-Marie Arouet, was born November 21, 1694 to a middle class family.

As a child and through his whole life Voltaire was always ill. He was also a Hypochondriac. Once in a letter to a friend Voltaire said, the pen falls from my hand and I am sick as a dog. ( Parton, p. 18) Since his birth his mother had never been well. When Voltaire was seven his mother died. This allowed his father to be a primary influence, but the relationship proved to be filled with friction. His father was a lawyer who was very well known and had some famous clients. (Mason, p. )

His father always wanted him to become a lawyer so at the age of 10 he sent his son to a Jesuit school. At the school he was a brilliant student and at the age of sixteen he went on to law school. In 1718 his revolt against his father was concluded when he chose to be known as Arouet de Voltaire. (Durant, p. 8) Where he got this name is unknown. His father died in 1722. In 1728 his brother wanted to block his right to the inheritance but it was thrown out of court. (p. 9) After law school Voltaire joined a legal firm but it was too strict for him so he soon left.

Immediately following his brief law career he was exiled and then thrown in the Bastille because of obscene political writings. (p. 11) During this first time in jail he wrote Oedipe. When he got out of the Bastille it was performed for the first time. It was a success. In 1726 Voltaire once again was thrown in the Bastille for preaching deism openly for ten years and stating himself an enemy of Christ. For a third time in 1728 Voltaire was thrown in the Bastille. King Louis told Voltaire that by changing his name to a noble name he was still a nobody. (Mason, p. )

He said that he would never become a noble. As a result Voltaire challenged him to a duel and the King had him thrown in jail, again three days later he was told that he could pick banishment or imprisonment. Voltaire picked banishment and moved to England. (p. 22) In England Voltaire could write about what ever he wanted and did not have to risk going to jail. France was too severe for him. Books not of the kings liking were not to be read. (Durant, p. 18) But his works still managed to be circulated. During this time of his life most all of his great writings were drafted.

Maybe it was because he was finally content. He had bought a home at Ferney and got married. His house was right on the border of Switzerland and France. There he wrote and finished the Philosophical Encyclopedia, Candide, Micromegas, and many more. (Mason, p. 6-7) It was the golden part of his life. By this time he had become very rich and had a few homes. But soon, his marriage ended with his wifes death. This had brought much sorrow to him but also his greatest book. He wrote Candide. (p. 8) During the age of the Enlightenment, Voltaire without a doubt, was the most controversial writer.

He wrote about what needed to be done, not what was popular. Today we would not think that. During his time he was a passionate defender of freedom. For this the contemporary rulers did not like him. He instilled many people to start thinking and defending themselves more. Other people hated him for this. As a part of our constitution we have that right but they did not. He also defended the rights of men to write what they wish. We also have this right but they did not. Through his writings he was the first person to use the term, Philosophy of History.

Parton, p. 21) He wrote that religious leaders take away free thought and the right of criticism. Voltaires writings had a great influence on the French Revolution and later the American Revolution. Many people during his time said that he was more destructive than constructive. He thought that it was his function to observe the injustice of society and promote a better education for children. Voltaire was a great writer. He wrote almost every type of manuscript possible. Whenever a writer tried to succeed in their genre Voltaire was in his way.

Because of his variety he had a broad audience of readers. All his propaganda writings were aimed at immediate success. When possible he would revise his books to secure long lasting fame. Many of the volumes that seemed major during his lifetime have been forgotten today. Most of his plays were so good that they were played many years later after he had died. The reason for this is that the actors found the opportunity to display their talents. His most celebrated plays were Zaire in 1732 and Merope in 1743. The most famous of Voltaires works was Candide.

This book was written on the theory of optimism. He said that positive thinking was evil in a universe created by a good and fair god. The whole book attacked optimism and had no sign of god in the story. (Lowers, p. 11) He ridicules optimism as an assertion that all is well when it is not. In the book, someone makes an optimistic comment and a catastrophe occurs. In real life this is contradicted by facts. The book also implied that if the world were predetermined then men would not have been free. This created much controversy in the book. Many people hated it while others loved it. (p. ) In the book Voltaire created the character Pangloss.

He was the champion of optimism. Once in the book Pangloss says Note that noses were made to wear spectacles, when actually they are used to breathe through. (p. 14) Voltaires optimism was from his realistic view of the world. The whole book is comical, making you laugh from the first line till the last. It is also very confusing. If you skip a page then you have no clue what is going on. Through exaggeration Voltaire destroys the theory of optimism. For example, death is multiplied in Candide so when many deaths happen it starts to be funny.

Through all, the lesson in Candide is: man is so weak, so irrational, and so easily cruel, that he should treat his fellow men with indulgence and pity. He should never add to their current misery in the name of principles that are beyond his reason. (Man, 367-372) Throughout his career Voltaire wrote many little stories. Micromegas is one of these. Micromegas was about two extraterrestrial beings. (Voltaire, p. 4) There are two main characters. The first is Micromega from Sirius and the dwarf from Saturn. They are two explorers who come across earth on their trip. It is obviously a science fiction book.

The story was a satire of mans unjustified conceit. (p. 7) It was very controversial during his time. It did not sell many copies because nobody believed that it was true. At first the government banned the book but a few copies still managed to get around. Today it is read as a childrens book. (p. 19) Memoires, was written at the same time as Candide except it did not reach the public until after Voltaires death. Then only a few copies circulated. It was when his irony and literary talent were at their peak. It is really good but yet it is one of his least known works. It dealt with his political associations.

Parton, p. 37) In it he depicted the world as an insane arena in which events never materialize in the expected way. It is a very interesting book to read. Near the end of Voltaires life he was gaining more respect for his literary thoughts. He lived at his house in Ferney. He wrote plays and books up until his death in 1778. In 1778 at the age of 84 Voltaire decided to return to Paris. He had written a new play, Irene, and wanted to direct the rehearsals and attend its opening. When he arrived, notables in literature and the arts greeted him. Only the clergy and the government did not come.

Irene was a triumph! People realized that it could not be compared to any of his other plays. Soon after Irenes opening Voltaire fell badly ill. Priests tried to persuade him to meet death with dignity. Voltaire wished only to have a decent burial without scandal. When he died in May 1778 they did not allow him to be buried in France. However, in 1791, during the revolution, the National Assembly organized dignified ceremonies for the transfer of Voltaires ashes to the Pantheon. For a century and a half he remained the symbol of conflict to the church, the State, and established thinking.

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