Today is the 326th birthday of the philosopher, poet, playwright and beloved Frenchman: Voltaire. Imprisoned twice, exiled twice, and exhumed twice, his life story reads like the lives of six people. Truth stands the test of time and his writings are as valuable today as when the ink was still wet. The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.
OCCUPATION: Philosopher, Historian, Writer
BIRTH DATE: November 21, 1694
DEATH DATE: May 30, 1778
EDUCATION: Collége Louis-le-Grand
PLACE OF BIRTH: Paris, France
PLACE OF DEATH: Paris, France
ORIGINALLY: François-Marie Arouet
REMAINS: Buried, Panthéon, Paris, France
BEST KNOWN FOR: Author of the satirical novella ‘Candide,’ Voltaire is widely considered one of France’s greatest Enlightenment writers.
Widely considered one of France’s greatest Enlightenment writers, Voltaire was born François-Marie Arouet to a prosperous family on November 21, 1694, in Paris, France. He was the youngest of five children born to François Arouet and Marie Marguerite d’Aumart. When Voltaire was just 7 years old, his mother passed away. Following her death, he grew closer to his free-thinking godfather.
In 1704, Voltaire was enrolled at the Collége Louis-le-Grand, a Jesuit secondary school in Paris, where he received a classical education and began showing promise as a writer.
Voltaire wrote poetry and plays, as well as historical and philosophical works. His most well-known poetry includes The Henriade (1723) and The Maid of Orleans, which he started writing in 1730 but never fully completed.
Among the earliest of Voltaire’s best-known plays is his adaptation of Sophocles’ tragedy Oedipus, which was first performed in 1718. Voltaire followed with a string of dramatic tragedies, including Mariamne (1724). His Zaïre (1732), written in verse, was something of a departure from previous works: Until that point, Voltaire’s tragedies had centered on a fatal flaw in the protagonist’s character; however, the tragedy in Zaïre was the result of circumstance. Following Zaïre, Voltaire continued to write tragic plays, including Mahomet (1736) and Nanine (1749).
Voltaire’s body of writing also includes the notable historical works The Age of Louis XIV (1751) and Essay on the Customs and the Spirit of the Nations (1756). In the latter, Voltaire took a unique approach to tracing the progression of world civilization by focusing on social history and the arts.
Voltaire’s popular philosophic works took the form of the short stories Micromégas (1752) and Plato’s Dream (1756), as well as the famed satirical novella Candide (1759). In 1764, he published another of his acclaimed philosophical works, Dictionnaire Philosophique, an encyclopedic dictionary that embraced the concepts of Enlightenment and rejected the ideas of the Roman Catholic Church.
In 1716, Voltaire was exiled to Tulle for mocking the duc d’Orleans. In 1717, he returned to Paris, only to be arrested and exiled to the Bastille for a year on charges of writing libelous poetry. Voltaire was sent to the Bastille again in 1726, for arguing with the Chevalier de Rohan. This time he was only detained briefly before being exiled to England, where he remained for nearly three years.
The publication of Voltaire’s Letters on the English (1733) angered the French church and government, forcing the writer to flee to safer pastures. He spent the next 15 years with his mistress, Émilie du Châtelet, at her husband’s home in Cirey-sur-Blaise.
Voltaire moved to Prussia in 1750 as a member of Frederick the Great’s court, and spent later years in Geneva and Ferney. By 1778, he was recognized as an icon of the Enlightenment’s progressive ideals, and he was given a hero’s welcome upon his return to Paris.
Voltaire died on May 30, 1778, in Paris, France.
Author of books:
Histoire de Charles XII (1731, history)
Lettres Philosophiques (1734, letters)
Éléments de la Philosophie de Newton (1738)
Vision de Babouc (1748)
Le Siècle de Louis XIV (1751, history)
Essai sur les Moeurs (1756)
Candide (1759, novella)
Histoire de l’Empire de Russie sous Pierre le Grand (1759–63, history)
Philosophie de l’Histoire (1765)
Précis du Siècle de Louis XV (1768, history)
Adélaïde du Guesclin (1734)
La Mort de César (1735)
L’Enfant Prodigue (1736)