Voltaire Levi Pilcer
“It is better to risk sparing a guilty person than to condemn an innocent one.” Personal History Voltaire was one of France’s foremost Enlightenment thinkers. He was well known for his sharp wit and quick mind. Born Francois Marie Arouet in Paris on 21 November 1694 to a noble family, Voltaire was taught at some of the most prestigious schools of the day. He eventually went on to study law at Caen. Voltaire wished to become a writer from an early age. His father however, did not believe such a profession to be fitting, and instead found a job for Voltaire in the treasury. Voltaire later became the secretary to the French ambassador in Holland. These jobs gave Voltaire the opportunity to observe the inefficient and outdated French system of government.
Imprisonment “Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.” Voltaire was frequently persecuted frequently persecuted for his satirical criticism of both the King and the Church. Voltaire was imprisoned in the Bastille, a symbol of the tyranny of the French monarchy, for 11 months in 1717 for one such publication ridiculing the King. It was here that he adopted the name Voltaire, and published his first major work; the play ‘Oedipe’. Voltaire was released in 1718 and continued his publications
Exile “The true triumph of reason is that it enables us to get along with those who do not possess it.” In 1726 Voltaire was involved in a dispute with a high ranked nobleman, the Chevalier of Rohan. Rohan obtained a Lettre de Cachet from King Louis XV exiling Voltaire from France. He fled to England, where he remained till 1729. Voltaire’s years in Britain greatly influenced his later thinking and works. He greatly admired the constitutional monarchy of the British government, its recognition of basic human rights and its religious tolerance. This was contrasted with France’s absolute monarchy and its ancient legal and political systems, as well as its entrenched intolerance of religious minorities. Voltaire was also inspired by the works of Sir Isaac Newton, which began his deep interest in the Natural sciences. He was also an admirer of William Shakespeare, who was little known on continental Europe at the time. Voltaire returned to France where he penned ‘Lettres Philosophiques sur les Anglais’, an essay which compared the British and French governments. The essay was viewed as criticism of the monarchy and all copies were burned. Voltaire was forced to flee Paris.
“As long as people believe in absurdities they will continue to commit atrocities” Chateau de Cirey Having fled Paris, Voltaire arrived at the Chateau de Cirey where he began a relationship with the Marquise de Chatelet. She was an enthusiastic scientist as well, and they spent the next 15 years experimenting in various scientific fields. Voltaire also studied history and philosophy and continued to publish his works. It was from the Chateau that he first printed his ‘Essai sur la Poeise Epique’; ‘Essay on Epic Poetry. It as from this book that the story of Newton and the apple tree came. The Marquise died in childbirth in 1749 and Voltaire left the chateau.
‘Common sense is not so common’ Ferney Following his years at the chateau, Voltaire briefly spent time at the court of Frederick the Great, in Potsdam. He was expelled after writing ‘Diatribe du Docteur Akakia’, a work that satirized the views of the President of the Berlin Academy of Science. It was later burned. Following this, Voltaire briefly returned to Paris, but was forced to flee after citicising the state and the church. He bought an estate in Ferney, on the Swiss border where he spent the next 19 years. It was at Ferney that he published some of his most famous works, such as ‘Candide ou Optimisme’ and the ‘Dictionaire Philosophique’. Voltaire returned to Paris in 1778 for the opening of his new play, ‘Irene’. However the journey was too much for fim and he died soon after at the age of 84. Due to his constant criticism of the church, he was refused burial in a christian cemetery. However, a group of his friends secretly buried him at an abbey in Champagne.
Religion “Of all religions, Christianity is without a doubt the one that should inspire tolerance most, although, up to now, the Christians have been the most intolerant of all men” • Outspoken critic of the Catholic church. Was often persecuted for his views • Did not believe in organized religion • Critical of he believed was the church’s attempts to exploit the common man • Critical of the relationship between the church and the government. Believed in the seperation of church and state. • Critical of the religious intolerance propogated by the Catholic Church. Greatly admired the religious tolerance he observed during his exile in Britain ‘If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.’
Civil Liberties ‘Men are equal; it is not birth but virtue that makes the difference.’ • Believed in freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion. • He was outspoken against the French Judicial system, and tried to have it reformed many times. Wished for uniformity in the legal system across France, instead of the seperate codes of law that existed. Was also against the arbitrary “justice” of the lettres de cachet. • Believed that all men are equal, and deserved to be treated fairly. Opposed the class system of which he was a privileged member. ‘I disagree with what it is you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’ “Prejudices are what fools use for reason.”
Government • Was not a believer in democracy • Argued that the best system of government was an enlightened, constitutional monarchy in which the people were guaranteed civil liberties and basic human rights. • Despised the divine right of the monarchy, a system which was propogated by the church in return for support from the throne. “It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the government is wrong” “The best government is a benevolent tyranny tempered by an occasional assassination.” ‘It is better to obey one lion, than 200 rats.’
Influence on the Revolution Voltaire died in 1778, 11 years before the Revolution began. However, he is considered to be on of France’s greatest enlightenment thinkers and writers, and his works greatly influenced many of the later revolutionaries. His ideals on government, civil liberties and human rights were considered by many to be an integral part of the revolutionary ideology. As a member of Paris’ privileged Second Estate, Voltaire did interact with figures who later became central to the revolution.
Major Works • ‘Oedipe’; Voltaire’s first major work gave him immediate fame and popularity in France. • ‘Lettres Philosophiques sur les Anglais’; Compares the British and French system of government. • ‘Essai sur la Poeise Epique’; • ‘Micromegas; The world’s first sci-fi novel. Satirizes the absurdity of the governments of the time. • ‘Diatribe du Docteur Akakia’; Satirizes the views of the President of the Berlin Academy of Science, and his abuse of power. • ‘Candide, ou L’Optimisme’; Ridicules the philosophy of Gottfried Leibniz. • ‘Dictionaire Philosophique’; Criticizes the Church and its views on subjects such as morality.
Bibliography • http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Voltaire • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voltaire • http://www.lucidcafe.com/library/95nov/voltaire.html • http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/voltaire.htm • http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/lecture11a.html • http://www.visitvoltaire.com/voltaire_bio.htm • http://thinkexist.com/quotation/of_all_religions-christianity_is_without_a_doubt/15132.html • http://thinkexist.com/quotation/the_truths_of_religion_are_never_so_well/173357.html • http://www.spaceandmotion.com/philosophy-voltaire-ideas-quotes.htm