My VIP for this week is Voltaire,a famous French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher, because I am studying his Candide this week. The baby that would become Voltaire was born November 21, 1694, in Paris, France. He was the youngest of five children and was given the name of Francois-Marie Arouet. His parents were Francois Arouet and Marie Marguerite Daumard. His father was a lawyer, and his mother came from the lowest rank of French nobility. Two of his older brothers died in infancy, and the surviving brother and sister were seven to nine years older than him. He was baptized on November 22, 1694.
Arouet received his education at the Jesuit school of College Louis-le-Grand. There he studied Latin, theology, and rhetoric. At a later time, he became fluent in Italian, Spanish, and English. He left school with the desire to be a writer, which was very much against his father’s wishes. His father wanted him to become a lawyer, but the young man spent his time writing poetry, essays, and historical studies.
After spending some time in prison, Arouet adopted the name of Voltaire in 1718 at the age of 24 years. He is famous for his wit as well as for his attacks on the Catholic Church and Christianity itself and advocacy for “freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and separation of church and state.”
Voltaire was a versatile and prolific 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 of civil liberties, 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.
Voltaire lived for some years outside Paris, but he returned to the city of his birth in February 1778 at age 83 following a five-day journey. He became ill and thought that he was going to die. A few months later he became ill again and died on May 30, 1778. He was denied a Christian burial because of his well-known but not retracted criticism of the Church. However, his friends managed to bury his body secretly at the Abbey of Scellieres in Champagne. “His heart and brain were embalmed separately.” His body was brought back to Paris and enshrined in the Pantheon on July 11, 1791.