Voltaire, François Marie Arouet de (16941778)

Voltaire, François Marie Arouet de, great French “persifleur” and “Coryphæus of Deism,” born in Paris, son of a lawyer; trained to scoff at religion from his boyhood, and began his literary career as a satirist and in the production of lampoons which cost him twice over imprisonment in the Bastille, on his release from which he left France in 1726 and went to England, where he stayed three years, and got acquainted with the free-thinking class there; on his return to Paris he engaged in some profitable commercial speculations and published his “Charles XII.,” which he had written in England, and retired to the château of Cirey, where he lived five years with Madame du Châtelet, engaged in study and diligent with his pen, with whom he left France and went to Poland, after her death paying his famous visit to Frederick the Great, with whom before three years were out he quarrelled, and from whom he was glad to escape, making his head-quarters eventually within the borders of France at Ferney, from which he now and again visited Paris, where on his last visit he was received with such raptures of adulation that he was quite overcome, and had to be conveyed home to die, giving up the ghost exactly two months after. He was a man of superlative adroitness of faculty and shiftiness, without aught that can be called great, but more than any other the incarnation of the spirit of his time; said the word which all were waiting to hear and who replied yea to it—a poor word indeed yet a potent, for it gave the death-blow to superstition, but left religion out in the cold. The general, the great offence Carlyle charges Voltaire with is, that “he intermeddled in religion without being himself in any measure religious; that he entered the Temple and continued there with a levity which, in any temple where men worship, can beseem no brother man; that, in a word, he ardently, and with long-continued effort, warred against Christianity, without understanding, beyond the mere superficies, what Christianity was” (16941778).

Definition taken from The Nuttall Encyclopædia, edited by the Reverend James Wood (1907)

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