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the greatest literary character which France produced in the last

, the greatest literary character which France produced in the last century, was born at Paris, February 20, 1694. His father, Francis Arouet, was “ancien notaire du Chatelet,” and treasurer of the chamber of accounts; his mother, MaryMargaret Daumart. At the birth of this extraordinary man, who lived to the age of eighty-five years and some months, there was little probability of his being ‘reared, and for a considerable time he continued remarkably feeble. In his earliest years he displayed a ready wit and a sprightly imagination: and, as he said of himself, made verses before he was out of his cradle. He was educated under Father Por6, in the college of Louis the Great; and such was his proficiency, that many of his essays are now existing, which, though written when he was between twelve and fourteen, shew no marks of infancy. The famous Ninon de l’Enclos, to whom this ingenious boy was introduced, left him a legacy of 2000 livres to buy him a library. Having been sent to the equity-schools on his quitting college, he was so disgusted with the dryness of the law, that he devoted himself entirely to the Muses. He was admitted into the company of the abb< Chaulieu, the marquis de la Fare, the duke de Sully, the grand prior of Vendo;ne, marshal Villars, and the chevalier du Bouillon; and caught from them that easy taste and delicate humour which distinguished the court of Louis XIV. Voltaire had early imbibed a turn for satire; and, for some philippics against the government, was imprisoned almost a year in the Bastile. He had before this period produced the tragedy of “Oedipus,” which was represented in 1718 with great success; and the duke of Orleans, happening to see it performed, was so delighted, that he obtained his release from prison. The poet waiting on the duke to return thanks: “Be wise,” said the duke, “and I will take care of you.” “I am infinitely obliged,” replied the young man; “but I intreat your royal highness not to trouble yourself any farther about my lodging or board.” His father, whose ardent wish it was that the son should have been an advocate, was present at one of the representations of the new tragedy: he was affected, even to tears, embraced his son amidst the felicitations of the ladies of the court, and never more, from that time, expressed a wish that he should become a lawyer. About 1720, he went to Brussels with Madam de Rupelmonde. The celebrated Rousseau being then in that city, the two poets met, and soon conceived an unconquerable aversion for each other. Voltaire said one day to Rousseau, who was shewing him “An Ode to Posterity,” “This is a letter which will never reach the place of its address.” Another time, Voltaire, having read a satire which Rousseau thought very indifferent, was advised to suppress it, lest it should be imagined that he “had lost his abilities, and preserved only his virulence.” Such mutual reproaches soon inflamed two hearts already sufficiently estranged. Voltaire, on his return to Paris, produced, in 1722, his tragedy of “Mariamne,” without success. His “Artemira” had experienced the same fate in 1720, though it had charmed the discerning by the excellence of the poetry. These mortifications, joined to those which were occasioned by his principles of imprudence, his sentiments on religion, and the warmth of his temper, induced him to visit England, where he printed his “Henriade.” King George I. and particularly the princess of Wales (afterwards queen Caroline) distinguished him by their protection, and obtained for him a great number of subscriptions. This laid the foundation of a fortune, which was afterwards considerably increased by the sale of his writings, by the munificence of princes, by commerce, by a habit of regularity, and by an ceconomy bordering on avarice, which he did not shake off till near the end of his life. On his return to France, in 1728, he placed the money he carried with him from England into a lottery established by M. Desforts, comptroller-general of the finances; he engaged deeply, and was successful. The speculations of finance, however, did not check his attachment to the belles lettres, his darling passion. In 1730, he published “Brutus,” the most nervous of all his tragedies, which was more applauded by the judges of good writing than by the spectators. The first wits of the time, Fontenelle, La Motte, and others, advised him to give up the drama, as not being his proper forte. He answered them by publishing “Zara,” the most affecting, perhaps, of all his tragedies. His “Lettres Philosophiques,” abounding in bold expressions and indecent witticisms against religion, having been burnt by a decree of the parliament of Paris, and a warrant being issued for apprehending the author in 1733, Voltaire very prudently withdrew; and was sheltered by the marchioness du Chatelet, in her castle of Cirey, on the borders of Champagne and Lorraine, who entered with him on the study of the “System” of Leibnitz, and the “Principia” of Newton. A gallery was built, in which Voltaire formed a good collection of natural history, and made a great many experiments on light and electricity. He laboured in the mean time on his “Elements of the Newtonian Philosophy,” then totally unknown in France, and which the numerous admirers of Des Cartes were very little desirous should be known. In the midst of these philosophic pursuits, he produced the tragedy of “Alzira.” He was now in the meridian of his age and genius, as was evident from the tragedy of “Mahomet,” first acted in, 174-1 but it was represented to the “procureur general” as a performance offensive to religion and the author, by order of cardinal Fleury, withdrew it from the stage. “Merope,” played two years after, 1743, gave an idea of a species of tragedy, of which few models have existed. It was at the representation of this tragedy that the pit and boxes were clamorous for a sight of the author; yet it was severely criticised when it came from the press. He now became a favourite at court, through the interest of madam d'Etoile, afterwards marchioness of Pompadour. Being employed in preparing the festivities that were celebrated on the marriage of the dauphin, he attained additional honours by composing “The Princess of Navarre.” He was appointed a gentleman of the bed-chamber in ordinary, and historiographer of France. The latter office had, till his time, been almost a sinecure; but Voltaire, who had written, under the direction of the count d'Argenson, the “History of the War of 1741,” was employed by that minister in many important negociations from 1745 to 1747; the project of invading England in 1746 was attributed to him and he drew up the king ofFrance’s manifesto in favour of the pretender. He had frequently attempted to gain admittance into the academy of sciences, but could not obtain his wish till 1746 , when he was the first who broke through the absurd custom of filling an inaugural speech with the fulsome adulation of Richelieu; an example soon followed by other academicians. From, the satires occasioned by this innovation he felt so much uneasiness, that he was glad to retire with the marchioness du Chateletto Luneville, in the neighbourhood of king Stanislaus. The marchioness dying in 1749, Voltaire returned to Paris, where his stay was but short* Though he had many admirers, he was perpetually complaining of a cabal combined to filch from him that glory of which he was insatiable. “The jealousy and manoeuvres of a court,” he would say, “are the subject of conversation; there is more of them among the literati.” His friends and relations endeavoured in vain to relieve his anxiety, by lavishing commendations on him, and by exaggerating his success. He imagined he should find in a foreign country a greater degree of applause, tranquillity, and reward, and augment at the same time both his fortune and reputation, which were already very considerable. The king of Prussia, who had repeatedly invited him to his court, and who would have given any thing to have got him away from Silesia, attached him at last to his person by a pension of 22,000 livres, and the hope of farther favour . From the particular respect that was paid to him, his time was now spent in the most agreeable manner; his apartments were under those of the king, whom he was allowed to visit at stated hours, to read with him the best works of either ancient or modern authors, and to assist his majesty in the literary productions by which he relieved the cares of government. But this happiness was soon at an end; and Voltaire saw, to his mortification, when it was too late, that, where a man is sufficiently rich to be master of himself, neither his liberty, his family, nor his country, should be sacrificed for a pension. A dispute which our poet had with Manpertuis, the president of the academy at Berlin, was followed by disgrace . It has been said that the king of Prussia dismissed him with this reproof: “I do not drive you away, because I called you hither; I do not take away your pension, because I have given it to you; I only forbid you my presence.” Not a word of this is true; the fact is, that he sent to the king the key of his office as chamberlain, and the cross of the order of merit, with these verses: