- Time Period1694 - 1778
Francois Marie Arouet (pen name Voltaire) was born on November 21, 1694 in Paris. Voltaire's intelligence, wit and style made him one of France's greatest writers and philosophers. Voltaire was the embodiment of the 18th-century Enlightenment.
Young Francois Marie received his education at "Louis-le-Grand," a Jesuit college in Paris from 1704-11. From 1711 to 1713 he studied law, and then worked as a secretary to the French ambassador in Holland before devoting himself entirely to writing. He soon made friends among the Parisian aristocrats. His humorous verses made him a favorite in society circles. In 1717, his sharp wit got him into trouble with the authorities. He was imprisoned in the Bastille for eleven months for writing a scathing satire of the French government. During his time in prison Francois Marie wrote Oedipe which was to become his first theatrical success and adopted his pen name "Voltaire."
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. It was interpreted as criticism of the French government and was forced to leave Paris again.
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 Voltaire lived at the Château de Cirey in Luneville,(in eastern France) in 1734-36 and 1737-40. Together they studied the natural sciences for several years. In 1746, Voltaire was voted into the "Academie Francaise." In 1749, after the death of "Marquise du Chatelet" and at the invitation of the King of Prussia, "Frederick the Great," he moved to Potsdam (near Berlin in Germany). In 1753, Voltaire left Potsdam to return to France.
In 1759, Voltaire purchased an estate called "Ferney" near the French-Swiss border where he lived until just before of his death. Ferney soon became the intellectual capital of Europe. Voltaire worked continuously throughout the years, producing a constant flow of books, plays and other publications. 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). In addition to Candide, Voltaire treated the problem of evil among others in his classic tale Zadig (1747), set in the ancient Babylon, and in Poem of the Lisbon Earthquake Voltaire asks:
"But how conceive a God supremely good
Who heaps his favours on the sons he loves
Yet scatters evil with as large a hand?"
Voltaire returned to a hero's welcome in Paris at age 83. 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. 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.