The son of a lawyer, François-Marie Arouet (1694–1778) was known by his nom de plume Voltaire. Poet, philosopher, playwright, historian, biographer, pamphleteer, outspoken, controversial writer with a sharp, often cruel, wit. He had strong opinions on just about everything. He was scathing about Christianity, especially the Roman Catholic Church. He wanted freedom of religion, freedom of speech and the separation of church and state. Often vilified, he could never have imagined the posthumous recognition he would receive.
In 1716 Voltaire was exiled from Paris for writing poems mocking the French Regent. A year later he was in the Bastille for writing scandalous verse implying the Regent had an incestuous relationship with his daughter. He served eleven months behind bars. He was back in the Bastille briefly in 1726, when he was arrested for planning to duel with an aristocrat who had insulted him. He left for England, where he stayed three years. Unable to eat the food he sent to Paris for a cook.
In 1727 Voltaire wrote that Newton ‘thought of his System of Gravitation, upon seeing an apple falling from a tree’. He wasn’t the original source, that was Newton himself, but was instrumental in spreading it.
When he returned to France in 1729, Voltaire exploited the French national lottery. An error in calculation meant that the payouts were larger than the value of all the tickets in circulation. Voltaire formed a syndicate which raked in massive winnings. The scheme left Voltaire very rich allowing him to devote himself to writing. He wrote fifty plays, dozens of treatises on science, politics and philosophy, two thousand books including several books on history, hundreds of poems and twenty thousand letters to friends and contemporaries. He often spent up to eighteen hours a day writing in bed drinking forty cups of coffee.
He denigrated everything from religion to the justice system. A lot of his work was suppressed. The authorities ordered certain books to be burned by the state executioner. To combat the censors, Voltaire had them printed abroad. Fearing arrest, he moved to the countryside after his “Letters Concerning the English Nation” was released in 1734. Because the publisher released the book without the approval of the royal censor and because Voltaire said the British constitutional monarchy was far better than its French counterpart, the book was publicly burnt and banned.
Voltaire spent his later life on his vast estate in Ferney, Switzerland, renamed Ferney-Voltaire in his honour. After accusing the Regent of incest, Voltaire lived there with his niece as a married couple.
In his seventies started a watchmaking business on his estate. Ferney watches rivalled the best in Europe. They were bought by Catherine the Great of Russia and King Louis XV of France.
Because he insulted the Roman Catholic Church, Voltaire was denied a Christian burial. Friends and relations managed to bury him in secret at the Abbey of Scellières in Champagne. His heart and brain were embalmed separately.
Regarding Voltaire as a forerunner of the French Revolution, the National Assembly of France had his remains enshrined in the Panthéon in 1791 in an elaborate ceremony with a complete orchestra. Over a million people walked in the procession, which stretched throughout Paris.
Post by Pamela