Voltaire is known for his philosophy of freedom at the time of Enlightenment and pluralistic thinking. Being a strong adversary of official Catholicism, he’d advocate for human rights and encourage people to open their minds to the wind of political, philosophical, and social changes. Besides this, the enlightener’s wit and insightful vision of humanity’s flaws have established Voltaire’s name as a symbol of pure talent, contagious smartness of ideas, and remarkable style. Voltaire may be a controversial persona, but people will always think of him as a pioneer of a whole new era of free-thinking, rationality, and deep spirituality.
Voltaire, named Francois-Marie Arouet at birth, was born to an attorney and a noble lady on August 19, 1649. However, there was some controversy about his actually documented origin since he’d assure of being a bastard of a high-rank royalty family member. The future writer had 2 siblings, a sister and brothers, one of whom died at an early age. From 1704 till 1711 he attended a religious boarding school, where he got vast knowledge in ancient languages, i.e. Latin and Greek, alongside religious studies and philosophy, and quite a few spoken languages.
The period of his primary education could be regarded as a fruitful opportunity for Francois-Marie to try himself as a writer. Shortly after the school, he moved to the capital, having told his father he’d be employed as a co-partner for a notary office whereas, he’d spend days writing poems and pieces. The father learned about his lie and sent him to Normandy, where besides studying law, he got acquainted with a vast range of nobility who appreciated his intelligence and encouraged him to write his works.
When the study was over, he moved permanently to Paris where Voltaire joined literature circles. Though most of the writer’s pieces were banned by the absolute ruling monarchy for their critical perspective and exposure of its flaws, his first major piece was a play, Comedie-Francaise (1717), as his pioneering dramatic composition and it already caused huge popularity for Voltaire.
A wave of favorable comments about the play motivated Francois-Marie to devote efforts to writing and to come up with a pseudonym. It’s believed that his alias, Voltaire, is a derivative from such alleged words as voltage meaning a horse or volatile (a being with wings). Also, it could be an anagram of a Latin spelling of his last name Arouet – AROVEL LI.
In 1720, the writer released a fresh theatrical piece, Artemis, which was seen as a disaster for the author’s career and most of the parts of the play wouldn’t be preserved to the present day. Two years afterward, as a result of his travels to different parts of the state in high hopes to get the play dramatized again he caught smallpox and had to stay in bed for over a month. During that time he still managed to find people in Belgium willing to work with him. It took him almost a whole to distribute copies in the homeland. Though Voltaire was struggling with theatrical works, his musical pieces were at the peak of popularity sustaining his name as one of the most promising poets of the century. Mariamne (1724) didn’t succeed either, though a part of the play was dramatized at a royal wedding in 1725.
Followed by tremendous renown, the chosen pseudonym also brought a lot of trouble to the beginning thinker. In 1726, he was aggravated by a wealthy and influential sire who’d mock Voltaire’s desire to relate his name to royalty while he was of pure descent. That led to him being harshly assaulted by robbers who’d been hired by the aristocrat, and to a duel arranged by Voltaire. The duel was canceled due to his incarceration also arranged by the kin of the French rich man. In his attempt to escape an inevitable sentence, the poet pleaded to the court to be exiled to Britain as a redress.
Such a fate’s turn was quite beneficial for Voltaire since he kept his freedom and made friendships with famous English activists and people of letters, including Alexander Pope, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, etc. During his exile, he managed to find a liking in influential writers and poets of the Empire, e.g., Shakespeare and changed his political views that, now, included movements contrary to the French absolutism.
1727 was necessary for Voltaire’s career as a critic as he released his articles Upon the Civil Wars of France, Extracted from Curious Manuscripts and Upon Epic Poetry of the European Nations. In the next few years, Voltaire would also participate in different financial operations, including a lottery and small business development, and coming into his father’s will.
A large-scale conflict of Voltaire’s works and the French government took place in 1732 when Letters Concerning the English Nation was published in London and then spread to France. There, the thinker praised the English governance and state system, which was contrasted to the French one. In Paris and other major cities of the state, his Letters were burnt in public marches.
In about a year after leaving France for the second time, the enlightener moved to a house of the official husband of Emilie du Chatelet, with whom he’d been in an intimate relationship for more than 15 years. Later on, the three accumulated more than 20, 000 books on sciences and would regularly hold scientific experiments.
As of 1736, Voltaire would communicate via letters with a Prussian Prince, which resulted in almost a decade-long ambiguous relationship between the two.
From 1751 the writer created a set of diverse works, including Micromegas, a sci-fi novel, Diatribe of Doctor Akakia, a humorous piece on Maupertuis, and Memoires pour Servir a la Vie de M. de Voltaire and others.
After another exile from France in the early 1750s, Voltaire traveled through Europe and ended up in Geneva, where he released his philosophical, scientific, and literary works such as The Maid of Orleans, then Candide, or Optimism (1759), Dictionnaire philosophique (1764).
Having managed to escape another attempt of the French government to imprison him after 1765, Voltaire decided to do justice and actively participate in court cases, where’d advocate people’s right of presumption, and allegedly became a member of the American Freemasonry.
When he came back to France after a quarter of century absence, he caught a cold, and at the age of 83 Voltaire passed away to due health complications. Officially, the Catholic Church refused to bury him at a cemetery, and the writer found peace in the South of France, in the city of Champagne.