Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire

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Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire

(1694-1778)

The supreme figure of the European Enlightenment, Voltaire was originally set to enter a legal career but found the law not to histaste. After an abortive attempt to enter diplomatic service,Voltaire commenced a career in writing, eventually incurring thewrath of the Duc D'Orléans and landing himself in the Bastille. After a series of ups-and downs in the French Court, Voltairetraveled to England, where he pursued a crash course in Englishliterature, philosophy, and even Newtonian physics. On his returnto France, Voltaire produced poetry, plays, and essays. Once againhis impolitic tongue got the best of him and he left the Court togo to Berlin. After some questionable financial dealings, Voltaire left Prussia. His revenge on Frederick II took the form of aspiteful account of the king. (It was not published until afterVoltaire's death.) Settling in Geneva, Voltaire wrote Candide, hissatiric refutation of Leibnizian optimism. Voltaire spentconsiderable time and effort in helping those who suffered from theconsequences of French religious intolerance. At almost 84,Voltaire was eventually permitted to return to Paris but theexcitement of the homecoming apparently contributed to illness anddeath. Voltaire lies in the Panthéon, where he was reinterredafter the French Revolution.