Do you want to know more about Voltaire? Would you like to know the history of this philosopher? Do you want to discover this emblematic figure of French literature?
We are reading specialists and we are going to take a closer look at the life and work of Voltaire.
Voltaire had a full life, he is the bearer of Enlightenment thought. Throughout his life, he never stopped fighting for his deepest convictions, even if it meant alienating the king and French justice.
In this article, we will see:
- Information this philosopher
- The story of this author
- Things to remember about his work
- The different works of Voltaire
Let's start now by discovering information about Voltaire.
Presentation of Voltaire
Here are some important points about Voltaire's life.
The story of this 18th century philosopher
François-Marie Arouet was born on November 21, 1994 in Paris. At the age of ten he entered the Louis-le-Grand college with the Jesuits , he remained there for 7 years. This religious order aims to train the elite, which is why students are trained in oratorical arts : pleas, versification competitions, theater and oratorical jousts.
Arouet was a brilliant student , he had great admiration for his teacher Charles Porée.
Ambitious, he left college at age 17 in 1711, dreaming of becoming a man of letters . His father is not convinced of his son's choice and will do what he can to stop him. The young Arouet began to turn sour and wrote satirical texts about a Regent and his daughter, after several warnings he ended up spending 11 months in the Bastille prison in 1717.
When he leaves prison, he realizes that he wasted his time and that he did not use his talent well; he is determined to become famous. He therefore experienced his first successes and also some disillusionments.
In January 1726 he had the misfortune of responding to a knight belonging to a prestigious family. He was beaten up a few days later. Wanting to take justice into his own hands, he will be punished and taken by force once again to the Bastille . But this time he will only stay there two weeks before going into exile in England.
He was then 32 years old and this passage would have a terrible impact on her. Indeed, he is amazed by the freedom of the English . The people even have a law protecting them against the power of the King. After numerous meetings, it is here that his career will experience a turning point since he will move a little more towards philosophy and politics.
After three years in England, he was finally allowed to return to France. He doesn't have much savings but with intelligent investments he is starting to amass quite a bit of money. Then in 1730 he received his father's inheritance. One event will particularly mark him, it is the death of one of his former actresses, Adrienne Lecouvreur , with whom he had had an affair. Because she was an actress, she was excommunicated and was not given a decent burial.
In 1733, he became the lover of Emilie du Châtelet , daughter of his former protector. Her husband is a soldier who travels all over Europe, he accepts infidelities on the condition that they do not cause any noise. After ten years of living together, the two lovers will each experience infidelities . Voltaire will have a secret affair with his niece which will remain well guarded until his death. It is thanks to Madame de Châtelet that Voltaire will truly become a philosopher , she is a great inspiration for him.
In 1734 he will issue philosophical letters, “ The Manifesto of the Lights ” speaking of English modernity , will be published throughout Europe in nearly 20,000 copies which is a very large figure for the time. In France, this book is seen as an attack on the government and religion . A letter of cachet is sent to him, he will take refuge in the countryside with his mistress.
During the ten years that followed, his only goal was to regain the trust of his detractors and to finally convince the hesitant . He is against religion since he is convinced that it is the cause of French backwardness.
At the same time, he maintained a correspondence with the King of Prussia which he continued until the end of his life. The King of Prussia Frederick II absolutely wants to attach Voltaire to his court . But Madame de Châtelet is opposed to it, wary of the “philosopher king”. Thanks to this correspondence he will succeed in getting closer to King Louis XV, he will obtain the title of gentleman but will never become a courtier because the king does not like him.
He also planned to conquer the French academy ; upon his death he would have many allies there and would have Alembert at his head . On May 2, 1746 he was elected.
Also in 1746 a book in the name of Zadig caused a stir. Indeed, this book published in Amsterdam is anti-religion . Voltaire denies having any connection with him.
In September 1749 his mistress died , according to him it was “the only real suffering of his life”. He will fall into a heavy depression. He is now 56 years old, the adversity of Louis XV pushes him to accept the insistent invitations of Frederick II .
He spent two and a half years in the company of the king with whom ties were weakening, before reaching France he passed through several cities including Frankfurt where he was arrested . Madame Denis, his niece, with whom he continues to maintain a relationship, will be humiliated. He left Frankfurt on July 8, 1753. With the ban on approaching Paris, he headed towards Geneva where he found a haven of peace.
Voltaire collaborates with multiple authors to create the Encyclopedia which defends the freedom of thought and writing . But he does not agree with the way of proceeding since this book is very expensive and he thinks that a shorter and therefore less expensive book would have had a greater impact.
He bought two castles and lived in Ferney for 20 long years. He is proud of the wealth he has amassed and does not hide it.
Candide , his best-known work, was a huge success and sold more than 20,000 copies clandestinely .
From 1761 to 1765 he will fight against injustices , the three cases he will deal with are those of Calas, Sirven and La Barre . All three of them were wrongly convicted, Volaire will try to protect them as best he can.
In 1764 he wrote numerous works of a few pages, which were sold for a few pennies, with the aim of spreading his ideas to as many people as possible. He will also create the Portable Philosophical Dictionary which will be condemned.
Since 1773 Voltaire suffered from prostate cancer . On May 10, 1774 Louis XV died and the new authorities in place made him understand that capital was once again open to him. He returned to Paris in February 1778 after 28 years of absence. He is welcomed like a star, everyone wants to see him, touch him.
In March 1778 Voltaire's illness took over. At the end of his life the dying person will be in agony . During the last four days he will be so exhausted that he will feel calm.
What to remember about Voltaire?
We will quickly see three important points of Voltaire's philosophy. Three principles for which he fought all his life.
Voltaire believes that man must take charge of himself and improve his condition with the help of science, industry, art and equal justice. Although there are different laws in each country, justice must be universal . Everyone is capable of conceiving the idea, because we are reasonable beings with morality.
Freedom of speech
“I do not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death so that you have the right to say it”, this is the quote with which we can summarize the idea that Voltaire made of freedom of speech . Paradoxically, he prevents Rousseau and de La Mettrie from exercising this right by putting obstacles in their way.
Voltaire fought against the Church all his life. He is one of the precursors of secularism and wanted justice to be devoid of religious interest.
Main works of Voltaire
Voltaire wrote a lot throughout his life, including plays, stories, poems, all historical and philosophical works. A large part of this literary production is also dedicated to letters written to his correspondents and to polemical texts. Here are his best-known works:
- Philosophical letters (1734)
- Zadig or Destiny (1748)
- Candide or Optimism (1759)
- Philosophical dictionary (1764)
- The Ingenu (1767)
3 quotes from the illustrious Voltaire
Here are 3 very well-known quotes that are attributed to the philosopher.
“If God did not exist, we would have to invent him.”
“Politics is the first of arts and the last of professions.”
“The great thing and the only thing we should have is to live happily.” Epistles to Horace