Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Dylan Smith, Sec H01 Installment #1 Voltaire
After a battle with technological woes and pure exhaustion, I finally have the ability to post my report! My posts are going to be over a philosopher that I enjoy reading, and truly take to heart: Voltaire. This first post will contain mainly biographical information and background.
François-Marie Arouet, better known by his pen name, Voltaire, was born in Paris on November 21, 1694. He was the youngest of the five children, only three of whom survived, of François Arouet, a lawyer who was a minor treasury official, and his wife, Marie Marguerite d'Aumart, from a noble family of the province of Poitou. Some sources claim that his date of birth was February 20, 1694, but the November 21 date is the one that is generally accepted by most historians. Voltaire was educated by the Jesuits at the Collège Louis-le-Grand, attending from 1704 to 1711, where he learned Latin and Greek. Later in life he became fluent in Italian, Spanish and English.
By the time he left school, Voltaire had decided he wanted to be a writer, against the wishes of his father, who wanted him to become a lawyer. He pretended to work in Paris as an assistant to a notary, but spent much of his time writing poetry. When his father found out, he sent Voltaire to study law, this time in Caen, Normandy. Nevertheless, he continued to write essays and historical studies. Voltaire's wit in his writing made him popular among some of the aristocratic families with whom he mingled. His father then managed to secure a job for him as a secretary to a French ambassador in the Netherlands. There, Voltaire fell in love with a French Protestant refugee named Catherine Olympe Dunoyer. They decided to elope together, but were soon discovered by Voltaire's father, who forced him to return to France.
Most of Voltaire's early life revolved around Paris. From the beginning, Voltaire ran into continuous trouble with the authorities of the government and church for critiques of the government and religious intolerance. These actions resulted in numerous imprisonments and exiles. He wrote one satirical verse about the Régent, in which Voltaire accused the Régent of incest with his own daughter, leading to his imprisonment in the Bastille for eleven months. While there, he wrote his debut play, Œdipe. It was met with great success, and secured his place as a “big name” in literature.
In 1726, Voltaire responded to an insult from the young French nobleman Chevalier de Rohan, whose servants beat him a few days later. Voltaire seeked compensation for this beating, and was made it known that he was willing to fight in a duel with the nobleman. In response, the aristocratic Rohan family obtained a royal lettre de cachet. This was a decree signed by the French King, which, in the time of Voltaire, was Louis XV, that was routinely used to dispose of troublemakers of many kinds, including drunkards, violent people, and marriages between social classes. This warrant caused Voltaire to be imprisoned in the Bastille without a trial and without an opportunity to defend himself. Voltaire was able to suggest that he be exiled to England as an alternative punishment, which he did because he feared receiving an indefinite prison sentence. The French authorities accepted this suggestion, granting him the ability to travel to England. This incident marked the beginning of Voltaire's attempts to reform the French judicial system, which he wrote extensively on in following years.
There is some speculation to were the name "Voltaire", which the author adopted in 1718, came from. One theory is that it is an anagram of "AROVET LI," the Latinized spelling of his surname, Arouet, and the initial letters of "le jeune" ("the young"). The name also echoes in reverse order the syllables of the name of a family château in the Poitou region: "Airvault". The adoption of the name "Voltaire" following his incarceration at the Bastille is seen by many to mark Voltaire's formal separation from his family and his past. It has also been suggested that a writer such as Voltaire would have intended it to also convey its connotations of speed and daring. These come from associations with words such as "voltige" (acrobatics on a trapeze or horse), "volte-face" (a spinning about to face one's enemies), and "volatile" (originally, any winged creature). "Arouet" was not a noble name fit for his growing reputation, especially given that name's resonance with "à rouer" ("to be broken on the wheel" – a form of torture then still prevalent).
In February 1778, Voltaire returned for the first time in 20 years to Paris, among other reasons to see the opening of his latest tragedy, Irene. The five-day journey was too much for the 83-year-old, and he believed he was about to die on 28 February, writing "I die adoring God, loving my friends, not hating my enemies, and detesting superstition." However, he recovered, and in March saw a performance of Irene, where he was treated by the audience as a returning hero. He soon became ill again and died on 30 May 1778. The accounts of his deathbed have been numerous and varying, and it has not been possible to establish the details of what precisely occurred. His enemies related that he repented and accepted the last rites given by a Catholic priest, or that he died under great torment, while his adherents told how he was defiant to his last breath. According to one story, his last words were, "Now is not the time for making new enemies." It was his response to a priest at the side of his deathbed, asking Voltaire to renounce Satan.