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HISTORICAL BIOGRAPHY OF VOLTAIRE
BY NATALIE PEAY, MORGAN POPE, NICOLAS MONTELEAGRE, MAGGIE WIBRIGHT, DAVID WHITE, RICKY SIMPKONS
“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”
François-Marie Arouet (Voltaire) was born on 21 November 1694 in Paris, France, the youngest of five children in a middle-class family. His father was François Arouet, a notary and minor treasury official; his mother was Marie Marguerite d'Aumart, from a noble family of Poitou province.
Young Francois Marie received his education at “Louis-le-Grand,” a Jesuit college in Paris where he showed a talent for languages. However, he said he learned nothing but “Latin and the Stupidities.” He left school at 17.
(A Jesuit college is founded by the society of Jesus)
By the time he left college, Voltaire had already decided he wanted to become a writer.
However, his father very much wanted him to become a lawyer, so Voltaire pretended to work in Paris as an assistant to a lawyer, while actually spending much of his time writing satirical poetry.
He became very popular with Parisian aristocrats and society circles.
From an early age, Voltaire had trouble with the French authorities for his energetic attacks on the government and the Catholic Church, which resulted in numerous imprisonments and exiles in the Bastille throughout his life.
He adopted the name "Voltaire", both as a pen-name and for daily use, which many have seen as marking his formal separation from his family and his past.
In 1726, Voltaire insulted the powerful young nobleman, “Chevalier De Rohan,” and was given two options: imprisonment or exile. He chose exile and from 1726 to 1729 lived in England.
While in England Voltaire was attracted to the philosophy of John Locke and ideas of mathematician and scientist, Sir Isaac Newton.
He studied England's Constitutional Monarchy and its religious tolerance. Voltaire was particularly interested in the philosophical rationalism of the time, and in the study of the natural sciences.
After returning to Paris he wrote a book praising English customs and institutions which met great controversy in France (including the burning of copies of the work), and in 1734 Voltaire was forced to leave Paris again.
EMILIE DU CHATELET
His second exile, from 1734 until 1749, was spent at the Château de Cirey (near Luneville in northeastern France) owned by the Marquis Florent-Claude du Chatelet and his wife, the intellectual Marquise Emilie du Chatelet.
He began a fifteen year relationship with the Marquise, both as lovers and as collaborators in their intellectual pursuits, during which they collected and studied over 21,000 books and performed experiments in the natural sciences in a laboratory.
He continued to write, often in collaboration with the Marquise, both fiction and scientific and historical treatises, as well as on more philosophical subjects (especially Metaphysics, the justification for the existence of God and the validity of the Bible). He renounced religion, and called for the separation of church and state and for more religious freedom.
Voltaire then moved to Potsdam (near Berlin) to join Frederick the Great (1712 - 1786), a great friend and admirer of his, with a salary of 20,000 francs a year. After a promising start, Voltaire attracted more controversy in 1753 with his attack on the president of the Berlin Academy of Science.
Once again, documents were burned and he fled toward Paris to avoid arrest, but Louis XV had banned him from returning to Paris, so instead he turned to Geneva, Switzerland, where he bought a large estate. Although he was welcomed at first, the law in Geneva banned theatrical performances and the publication of his works and Voltaire eventually left the city in despair.
In 1759, he finally settled at an estate called Ferney, close to the Swiss border, where he lived most of his last 20 years until just before of his death, and where he continued to receive all the intellectual elite of his time. His frustrating experiences of recent years inspired his best-known work, "Candide, ou l'Optimisme" ("Candide, or Optimism").
Voltaire returned to a hero’s welcome in Paris in 1778 at the age 83. However, the excitement of the trip was too much for him and he died in Paris soon after. Because of his criticism of the church, Voltaire was denied burial in church ground. He was finally buried at an abbey in Champagne. In 1791, his remains were moved to a resting place at the Pantheon in Paris.
“It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.”
“God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well.”
“God is a comedian, playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.”
“The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbours, kindle it at home, communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all.”
“I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: "O Lord make my enemies ridiculous." And God granted it.”
“It is lamentable, that to be a good patriot one must become the enemy of the rest of mankind.”
“Opinion has caused more trouble on this little earth than plagues or earthquakes.”