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Voltaire's Biography
French writer‚ satirist‚ the embodiment of the 18th-century Enlightenment. Voltaire is remembered as a crusader against tyranny and bigotry. Compared to Rousseau's (1712-1778) rebelliousness and idealism‚ Voltaire's world view was more skeptical‚ but both of their ideas influenced deeply the French Revolution. Voltaire disliked Rousseau and wrote to him in 1761: "One feels like crawling on all fours after reading your work."

François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire was born in Paris into a middle-class family. His father was a minor treasury official. Voltaire was educated by the Jesuits at the Collège Louis-le-Grand (1704-11). He learned Latin and Greek and later in life he became fluent in Italian‚ Spanish and English. From 1711 to 1713 he studied law. Before devoting himself entirely to writing‚ Voltaire worked as a secretary to the French ambassador in Holland. From the beginning‚ Voltaire had troubles with the authorities‚ but he energetically attacked the government and the Catholic church. These activities led to numerous imprisonments and exiles. In his early twenties he spent eleven months in the Bastille for writing satiric verses about the aristocracy.

Voltaire did not support the dogmatic theology of institutional religions‚ his religiosity was anticlerical. With his brother Armand‚ who was a fundamentalist Catholic‚ Voltaire did not get on as well as with his sister. Atheism Voltaire considered not as baleful as fanaticism‚ but nearly always fatal to virtue. The doctrines about the Trinity or the Incarnation he dismissed as nonsense. As a humanist‚ Voltaire advocated religious and social tolerance‚ but not necessarily in a direct way. Well known is Voltaire's hostility toward the Jews. His play LE FANATISME‚ OU MAHOMET LE PROPHÈTE (1741)‚ which portrayed the founder of Islam as an intriguer and greedy for power‚ was denounced by Catholic clergymen. They had no doubts that the true target was Christian fanaticism. However‚ Pope Benedict XIV‚ whom Voltaire dedicated the work‚ replied by saying that he read it with great pleasure.

In 1716 Voltaire was arrested and exiled from Paris for five months. From 1717 to 1718 he was imprisoned in the Bastille for lampoons of the Regency. During this time he wrote the tragedy ŒDIPE‚ and started to use the name Voltaire. The play brought him fame which did not lessen the number of his enemies at court.

At his 1726 stay at the Bastille‚ Voltaire was visited by a flow of admirers. Between 1726 and 1729 he lived in exile mainly in England. There he avoided trouble for three years and wrote in English his first essays‚ ESSAY UPON EPIC POETRY and ESSAY UPON THE CIVIL WARS IN FRANCE‚ which were published in 1727. After returning to France Voltaire wrote plays‚ poetry‚ historical and scientific treatises and became royal historiographer. HISTOIRE DE CHARLES XII (1731) used novelistic technique and rejected the idea that divine intervention guides history. In 1734 appeared Voltaire's Philosophical Letters in which he compared the French system of government with the system he had seen in England. Voltaire stated that he had perceived fewer barriers between occupations in England than in his own country. The book was banned‚ and Voltaire was forced to flee Paris. The English edition became a bestseller outside France.

Voltaire's economic situation improved substantially‚ when he joined a syndicate‚ which made a large profit with the state lottery. In addition‚ with lucky speculation in the Compagnie des Indes he became so wealthy‚ that he lent money to dukes and princes.

At the age of thirty-nine‚ Voltraire started his famous sixteen-year liaison with Mme du Châtelet. She was twenty-seven‚ married‚ and the mother of three children. "I found‚ in 1733‚ a young woman who thought as I did‚" Voltaire wrote in his memoirs‚ "and who decided to spend several years in the country‚ cultivating her mind." The Marquis du Châtelet was well aware of the affair. With madame du Châtelet Voltare lived at the Château de Cirey in 1734-36 and 1737-40. Between the years Voltaire took a refuge in Holland (1736-37). Mme du Châtelet‚ who was a mathematician and scientist‚ translated Newton's Principia Mathematica and Voltaire wrote ELÉMENTS DE LA PHILOSOPHIE DE NEWTON. Voltaire nicknamed her "Mme Neuton Pompom."

In 1740 Voltaire was an ambassador-spy in Prussia‚ then in Brussels (1742-43)‚ and in 1748 he was at the court of King Stanislas in Lunéville. From 1745 to 1750 he was a historiographer to Louis XV and in 1746 he was elected to the French Academy. In Paris‚ Voltaire had a new mistress‚ Marie-Louise Denis‚ his eldest niece. At the invitation of Fredrick the Great‚ Voltaire moved in 1750 to Berlin‚ realizing eventually that the ruler was more enlightened in theory than in practice.

Voltaire settled in 1755 in 1755 in Switzerland‚ where he lived the rest of his life‚ apart from trips to France. He had his own château‚ Les Delices‚ outside Geneva‚ and later at nearby Ferney‚ in France. Anybody of note‚ from Boswell to Casanova‚ wanted to visit the place; Voltaire's conversations with visitors were recorded and published and he was flattered by kings and nobility. "Common sense is not so common‚" Voltaire wrote.

Voltaire's official publishers were Gabriel and Philibert Cramer from Geneve. They operated from Stockholm to Naples‚ and from Venice to Lisbon and Paris‚ spreading the ideas of Enlightenment. As an essayist Voltaire defended freedom of speech and religious tolerance. In his DICTIONNAIRE PHILOSOPHIQUE (1764) he defined the ideal religion – it would teach very little dogma but much morality. Voltaire's thoughts were condemned in Paris‚ Geneva‚ and Amsterdam. For safety reasons Voltaire denied his authorship.

In his late years Voltaire produced several anti-religious writing. In Ferney he built a chapel with the inscription 'Deo Erexit Voltaire' inscribed on the lintel. He also led campaign to open up a trial‚ in which the Huguenot merchant Jean Calas was found guilty of murdering his eldest son and executed. The parliament at Paris declared afterwards in 1765 Calas and all his family innocent. – (See also the writer Emile Zola‚ who defended falsely accused Alfred Dreyfus in his open letter J'accuse in 1898.)

Voltaire died in Paris on May 30‚ 1778‚ as the undisputed leader of the Age of Enlightenment. He had suffered throughout his life from poor health‚ but at the time of his death he was eighty-four. Voltaire left behind him over fourteen thousand known letters and over two thousand books and pamphlets. Among his best-known works is the satirical short story CANDIDE (1759)‚ which reflected the nihilism of Jonathan Swift. In the story the young and innocent hero‚ Candide‚ experiences a long series of misfortunes and disastrous adventures. He is kicked out of the castle of Thunder-Ten-Tronckh for making love to the baron's daughter‚ Cunégonde‚ in the army he is beaten nearly to death‚ in Lisbon he experiences the famous earthquake‚ he is hunted by the Inquisition and Jesuits‚ and threatened with imprisonment in Paris. Meanwhile Cunégonde's father‚ mother and brother are hacked to pieces by invaders‚ and she is raped repeatedly. Eventually Candide marries Cunégonde‚ who has become an ugly gummy-eyed‚ flat-chested washerwoman‚ with wrinkled cheeks."If this is the best of possible worlds‚" Voltaire wrote‚ "what then are the others." Finally Candide finds the pleasures of cultivating one's garden - "Il faut cultiver notre jardin."

Candide's world is full of liars‚ traitors‚ ingrates‚ thieves‚ misers‚ killers‚ fanatics‚ hypocrites‚ fools and so on. However‚ Voltaire's outrage is not based on social criticism but on his ironic view of human nature. When Candide asks his friend Martin‚ does he believe that men have always massacred one another‚ Martin points out that hawks eat pigeons. " – Well‚ said Martin‚ if hawks have always had the same character‚ why do you suppose that men have changed?" Candide rejects the philosophy of his tutor‚ the unsuccessfully hanged Doctor Pangloss‚ who claims that "all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds" (see Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz). Candide was partly inspired by the devastating Lisbon earthquake of 1755‚ Dr. Pangloss was allegedly a caricature of Leibniz‚ but it is possible that the real model was Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis (1698-1759)‚ a French philosopher and scientist. The prolific writer produced a number of studies from the physics of Venus to the proof of the existence of God. Voltaire's L'HISTOIRE DU DOCTOEUR AKAKIA ET DU NATIF DE SAINT-MALO (1753) openly ridiculed Maupertuis' ideas. Candide's narrative frame‚ the education of a young man‚ was again utilized among others in Stendhal's The Red and the Black and Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain. Leonard Bernstein made Candide a musical comedy in 1957.

In addition to Candide‚ Voltaire treated the problem of evil in his classic tale ZADIG (1747)‚ set in the ancient Babylon‚ and in 'Poem of the Lisbon' Earthquake'. "But how conceive a God supremely good‚" Voltaire asked in the poem‚ "Who heaps his favours on the sons he loves‚ / Yet scatters evil with as large a hand?" MICROMÉGAS (1752) was an early science-fiction story‚ in which two ambassadors from the outer space visit Earth‚ and witness follies of human thought and behavior. Voltaire possibly wrote the conte already in 1738-39. It has similarities with 'Voyage du Baron Gangan'‚ which he sent to Fredrick the Great.

Voltaire's Dictionnaire Philosophique was burned with the young Chevalier de la Barre‚ who had neglected to take of his hat while passing a bridge‚ where a sacred statue was exposed. Later Voltaire introduced his Dictionary as a dialogical book: its short‚ polemical articles were more useful when "the readers produce the other half". In Essay on the Manner and Spirit of Nations‚ Voltaire presented the first modern comparative history of civilizations‚ including Asia. Later he returned to the Chinese philosophy is his Dictionary‚ praising the teachings of Confucius: "What more beautiful rule of conduct has ever been given man since the world began? Let us admit that there has been no legislator more useful to the human race."
Some rights reserved Petri Liukkonen (author) & Ari Pesonen. Kuusankosken kaupunginkirjasto 2008

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