François-Marie Arouet, known by his nom de plume Voltaire, was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit, his attacks on the established Catholic Church, and his advocacy of freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and separation of church and state. Voltaire was a versatile writer, producing works in almost every literary form, including plays, poems, novels, essays, and historical and scientific works. He wrote more than 20,000 letters and more than 2,000 books and pamphlets. He was an outspoken advocate, despite the risk this placed him in under the strict censorship laws of the time. As a satirical polemicist, he frequently made use of his works to criticize intolerance, religious dogma, and the French institutions of his day. Biography
François-Marie Arouet was born in Paris, the youngest of the five children of François Arouet, a lawyer who was a minor treasury official, and his wife, Marie Marguerite d'Aumart, from a noble family of the province of Poitou. Some speculation surrounds his date of birth, which Voltaire always claimed to be 20 February 1694. Voltaire was educated by the Jesuits at the Collège Louis-le-Grand, where he learned Latin and Greek; later in life he became fluent in Italian, Spanish and English. By the time he left school, Voltaire had decided he wanted to be a writer, against the wishes of his father, who wanted him to become a lawyer. Voltaire, pretending to work in Paris as an assistant to a notary, spent much of his time writing poetry. When his father found out, he sent Voltaire to study law, this time in Caen, Normandy. Nevertheless, he continued to write, producing essays and historical studies. Voltaire's wit made him popular among some of the aristocratic families with whom he mixed. His father then obtained a job for him as a secretary to the French ambassador in the Netherlands, where Voltaire fell in love with a French Protestant refugee named Catherine Olympe Dunoyer. Their scandalous elopement was foiled by Voltaire's father and he was forced to return to France. Most of Voltaire's early life revolved around Paris. From early on, Voltaire had trouble with the authorities for even mild critiques of the government and religious intolerance. These activities were to result in numerous imprisonments and exiles. One satirical verse about the Régent led to his imprisonment in the Bastille for eleven months. While there, he wrote his debut play, Œdipe. Its success established his reputation. He mainly argued for religious toleration and freedom of thought. He believed in the concept of an enlightened monarch that would protect the peoples rights. he would only hope that the monarch would not oppress his subjects though. The name "Voltaire"
The name "Voltaire", which the author adopted in 1718, is an anagram of "AROVET LI," the Latinized spelling of his surname, Arouet, and the initial letters of "le jeune" . The name also echoes in reverse order the syllables of the name of a family château in the Poitou region: "Airvault". The adoption of the name "Voltaire" following his incarceration at the Bastille is seen by many to mark Voltaire's formal separation from his family and his past. Richard Holmes supports this derivation of the name, but adds that a writer such as Voltaire would have intended it to also convey its connotations of speed and daring. These come from associations with words such as "voltige", "volte-face", and "volatile" . "Arouet" was not a noble name fit for his growing reputation, especially given that name's resonance with "à rouer" and "roué" . In a letter to Jean-Baptiste Rousseau in March 1719, Voltaire concludes by asking that, if Rousseau wishes to send him a return letter, he do so by addressing it to Monsieur de Voltaire. A postscript explains: "J'ai été si malheureux sous le nom d'Arouet que j'en ai pris un autre surtout pour n'être plus confondu avec le poète Roi", This probably refers to Adenes le Roi, and the 'oi' diphthong was then pronounced like modern 'ouai', so the similarity to 'Arouet' is clear, and thus, it could well have been part of his rationale. Indeed, Voltaire is additionally known to have used at least 178 separate pen names during his lifetime. Great Britain
In 1726, Voltaire responded to an insult from the young French nobleman Chevalier de Rohan, whose servants beat him a few days later. Since Voltaire was seeking compensation, and was even willing to fight in a duel, the aristocratic Rohan family obtained a royal lettre de cachet, a decree signed by the French King that was routinely used to dispose of troublemakers of many kinds . This warrant caused Voltaire to be imprisoned in the Bastille without a trial and without an opportunity to defend himself. Fearing an indefinite prison sentence, Voltaire suggested that he be exiled to England as an alternative punishment, which the French authorities accepted. This incident marked the beginning of Voltaire's attempts to reform the French judicial system. From 1726 to 1728 he lodged in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, now commemorated by a plaque at 10 Maiden Lane. Voltaire's exile in Great Britain lasted nearly three years, and his experiences there greatly influenced his thinking. He was intrigued by Britain's constitutional monarchy in contrast to the French absolute monarchy, and by the country's greater support of the freedoms of speech and religion. He was also influenced by several neoclassical writers of the age, and developed an interest in earlier English literature, especially the works of Shakespeare, still relatively unknown in continental Europe. Despite pointing out his deviations from neoclassical standards, Voltaire saw Shakespeare as an example that French writers might emulate, since French drama, despite being more polished, lacked on-stage action. Later, however, as Shakespeare's influence began growing in France, Voltaire tried to set a contrary example with his own plays, decrying what he considered Shakespeare's barbarities. He was present at the funeral of Isaac Newton, and praised the British for honoring a scientist of heretical religious beliefs with burial at Westminster Abbey. After almost three years in exile, Voltaire returned to Paris. At a dinner, the mathematician Charles Marie de La Condamine proposed buying up the lottery that was organized by the French government to pay off its debts and Voltaire joined the consortium, earning perhaps a million livres. He invested the money cleverly and on this basis managed to convince the court that he was of good conduct and so was able to receive an inheritance from his father that had earlier been refused. He was now seriously rich. In 1733 he met Émilie du Châtelet, who was twelve years his junior and with whom he was to have an affair for sixteen years, as described in the work Voltaire in Love by Nancy Mitford. At this time he published his views on British attitudes toward government, literature, and religion in a collection of essays in letter form entitled Letters Concerning the English Nation . In 1734, they were published in French as Lettres philosophiques in Rouen. A revised edition appeared in English in 1778 as Lettres philosophiques sur les Anglais . Most modern English editions are based on the one from 1734 and typically use the title Philosophical Letters, a direct translation of that version's title. Because the publisher released the book without the approval of the royal censor and Voltaire regarded the British constitutional monarchy as more developed and more respectful of human rights than its French counterpart, the French publication of Letters caused a huge scandal; the book was burnt. After the book was banned, Voltaire was forced again to flee. Later, this book was banned, and Voltaire had to flee to Paris. Château de Cirey
Voltaire's next destination was the Château de Cirey, on the borders of Champagne and Lorraine. The building was re...