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Voltaire Essay, Research Paper

Francois Marie Arouet was born on November 21, 1694 in Paris. The pen name that he used the most often, however, was Voltaire. Voltaire was a French author, philosopher, and apostle of free thought; he was the most influential figure during the French Enlightenment.

Voltaire received an excellent education at a Jesuit school called Louis-le-Grand. At age 16 he left school and became friends with Parisian aristocrats. These aristocrats admired his cleverness, humor, and remarkable writing ability.

In 1717 Voltaire was arrested for writing a series of satirical verses ridiculing the French government, and he was imprisoned in the infamous French prison, the Bastille. During his imprisonment, he adopted the name Voltaire. He used this pen name so that he could not be blamed for writing subversive literature if the government could not identify the author. During the eleven months he spent in prison, Voltaire wrote his first major play entitled Oedipe, which achieved great success in 1718. Ironically, only weeks out of prison, Voltaire got into an argument with a nobleman and was arrested. He was given two options: imprisonment or exile. Voltaire chose exile, and therefore passed the years from 1726 to 1729 in England. While in England, he learned about the philosophies of John Locke, and the ideas of Sir Isaac Newton. He absorbed the British liberties, deism, and literature.

Still unwelcome in his homeland, Paris, Voltaire lived at Cirey in Lorraine from 1734 to 1744 with Madame du Chatelet. After 1744, they moved to Versailles, Sceaux, and Luneville. Madame du Chatelet died during childbirth in 1749. After the death of Madame du Chatelet, Voltaire became the honored guest of Fredrick the Great at Potsdam. However, increasing resentment led to their abrupt separation in 1753.

After three years of wandering Europe, Voltaire went to live on the French-Swiss border in a town called Ferney, which soon became the intellectual capital of Europe. During his years in Ferney, Voltaire produced many books, plays, pamphlets, and letters; many of these works spoke against religious intolerance and persecution. Voltaire remained in Ferney until his triumphant return to Paris at the age of eighty-three.

On May 30, 1778, Voltaire died in Paris. Due to his criticism of the church, Voltaire was denied burial on church ground, but he was finally buried in an abbey in Champagne. In 1791, his remains were transferred to his final resting place at the Pantheon in Paris.

Voltaire was exceptional in almost every genre of literature. He developed a following by writing Oedipe in 1718, and Zaire in 1732, which was one of his best tragedies. Voltaire also wrote historical works such as: History of Charles XII in 1731, Age of Louis XIV in 1751, and Essay on Manners from 1753 to 1756.

Most importantly, Voltaire was, and remains, a famous philosopher and fighter for reform. His thoughts were expressed in poems, tracts, pamphlets, and tales. His last works, particularly Candide, are still universally read and admired.

Voltaire was the most prolific correspondent of his century. His thousands of letters portray his life and personality; they reflect his wit, his ideas, and they describe his lifestyle. An interesting side of Voltaire is seen through the love letters he wrote to his niece, Madame Denis, who at one time was his mistress.

Voltaire was the leader, chief organizer, and propagandist of the reformist group called philosophes. He worked with Diderot and d?Holbach, famous encyclopedia writers, on an encyclopedia. In 1770, however, Diderot and Voltaire had a dispute on atheism and separated.

Voltaire preferred enlightenment despotism for France, although favoring constitutional monarchy for Britain and a more democratic government for Switzerland. One of Voltaire?s slogans was ?Ecrasez I?infame? or ?crush the infamous?. He used this against the church, Christianity, and intolerance, which he viewed as infamous institutions. His other targets were the horrendous systems of criminal justice, unfair taxation, and censorship of the press. Despite his amenity for organized religion, Voltaire always opposed religious persecution. He felt the concept of God was necessary to explain the universe and life, but he did not believe in one having a soul. He also believed in the freedom of thought, the respect for individuals, and said that literature should be useful and concerned with the problems of modern day.

Although Voltaire was known principally as a reformer and a teller of tall tales, he had a keen awareness of what is now called the human predicament- the struggle that mankind experiences while living in society. Today, Voltaire is known as one of the world?s greatest writers and philosophers whose style, wit, ideas, views, and his keen sense of justice was simply misunderstood in his time.

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