Voltaire: A philosopher of the French Revolution



            This essay is a write up on Voltaire, a philosopher in the French Revolution.  Philosophers were men and women who met to discuss society and politics, and solutions to social problems.  They spread new ideas, and a majority of them were writers.  Voltaire was a man of wit and intelligence and was very popular with some, yet not popular with others.  He is remembered as a "literary genius".  That is what this essay is going to be about, Voltaire.


            Voltaire was born in Paris in November 1694 and died in Paris on May 1778, although he grew up in England.  He had a very wealthy family and was sent to college where he was exposed to the stage, which really interested him.  His father had wanted him to study law, but literature inspired him.  He was a very witty, intelligent man with a keen sense of justice.  After a while his satirical poems got him into trouble, so his father sent him to Paris to get away from England.  There he published "Henriade" and wrote other plays.  Right after this, he was sent to the Bastille (a prison) for a quarrel he had with Chevalier de Rohan.  After he was released, he had to go back to England for a bit, where he stayed for 3 years and wrote plays.  He eventually went back to Paris, where in a piece of his writings, he definitely criticized the Church.  In fear, he fled out of France to Lorraine, where he spent 15 years with his mistress Emile de Breteuil.  He went back and forth to Paris, and decided to go to Berlin as a philosopher for Frederick.  But sooon he left over a quarrel on rights, since he was so opinionated.  He then wasn't allowed in Paris, so he stayed on the border when he there met Rousseau, a philosopher.  He stayed there, and European figures came to visit him, since he was known as a literary genius.  When he finally was allowed in Paris, he returned and was known as a "hero".  Since he was very witty and opinionated, this got him into trouble, especially with the Church, whom Voltaire didn't like anyway.


            Voltaire was the most famous philosopher of the Revolution.  He had a very different point of view on the revolution.  Many of his ideas were accepted by rulers of other nations, such as Frederick of Prussia.  But many people of France did not like Voltaire's ideas because he agreed with monarchy, which many people were against.  Voltaire grew up in England where absolute monarchy took place, so he liked the idea.  He thought without it a nation would fall apart.  Voltaire didn't have anything to lose by having a revolution.  In fact, he everything to gain, except the fact he wanted monarchy, which probably wouldn't exist after the revolution.  But with having a revolution, the Church would probably lose power, which he'd love, taxes would be down, and people would be treated equally.  The real thing is that Voltaire didn't even want a revolution!  All he wanted was to see the monarchy treat everyone equally and with justice, but that wasn't going to happen!


            Voltaire settled in Ferney in 1758, but between his return to Berlin and then coming to Ferney, he wrote his best work called the Essay sour l'histoire generale et sur les mouers et l'esprit des nations.  In this work, Voltaire denounces religion and the power of the clergy (religious people and leaders of the Church), though he states his own belief in the existence of God.  Voltaire just didn't like the Church and its ways, its not that he didn't believe in God.  I'm not aware what his religion as a young boy was, but he grew to despise the clergy and their belief that they were better than everyone else.  A few of his works criticizing Christianity and the church got him into trouble with the Church, but people being persecuted for their religious beliefs found a powerful friend in Voltaire because he defended them.  Voltaire's beliefs made him look at the clergy and nobles, and he didn't like what he saw, like many other people.  The clergy, who were all wealthy, paid far less taxes and Voltaire disagreed with that.  When Voltaire died, he was not allowed to be buried by the Church, because he criticized it so much.  Right wing religious leaders stole his remains and threw them in a garbage heap.


            Voltaire wanted individualism, he totally agreed with people being equal and being born with equal worth  But though he wanted everyone to be free and equal, he thought that a government would never succeed like that because everyone would have never-ending power and there would be no structure.  The government Voltaire really wanted was one with a monarch king, no lords or serfs, and everyone would be equal.  Other philosophers didn't want a monarch at all, that was what they were fighting against, so Voltaire got into conflict a lot  This idea would help Voltaire achieve a government with structure and equality, exactly what he wanted to see.


            Voltaire was born into a very wealthy family in Paris who sent him to college and provided him with a lot.  Being a wealthy man since birth didn't really allow him to see what it would be like to be poor.  In fact with all his works, he became a very wealthy man.  So this could have affected his attitude towards the revolution, because he wasn't particularly fighting for lower taxes like poorer people were.  He just mainly wanted justice.   Voltaire's class wasn't as affected as the Middle and Lower, but everyone was affected.  Because he wasn't part of the clergy, no one hated him for that, but a majority of the French society hated nobles for their wealth and low taxes.  Luckily for Voltaire, he was a writer and got on many people's good sides with his works and attitude, although many people hated his ideas of monarchy.


            Since Voltaire was a wealthy man, he would have worn extravagant clothing.  The men in those times wore wigs, and in most pictures of Voltaire it looked like he was wearing a wig.  He would wear a cotton undershirt with a big fluffy collar, followed by an embroidered vest and a fabulous tailored jacket with extensive buttons.  They also wore tight pants and small black boots.  Back in the days of Voltaire, they weren't exactly healthy conscious, so they ate a lot of meats, ducks, cows, thick butter, and milk, bread, fruits, etc.  Voltaire lived in a lot of homes over his lifetime, and they all were nicer than the lower class was accustomed to.  It would include a cleaner, bigger, brighter home with a better location and furniture.  Some days Voltaire would gather with other philosophers and discuss the revolution over tea and scones in a parlour.  This gathering was called a saloon.  He also wrote, publicly spoke, attend theatres, and went on day trips etc.


            Voltaire's main opposition was Louis XIV, in the long run, because he and his parliament weren't being equal and fair.  They were being selfish, foolish with money, and were taxing way too much.  Louis was wasting money on extravagant things for himself, and taxing and borrowing money to pay for it.  Voltaire opposed this greatly.  The Revolution definitely affected the King, for in the end he was killed for treason.  Voltaire's other opposition was the Church.  He greatly criticized the Church and the clergy for the way they were and thought they had so much power over the people.  He wrote books and works putting down the Church, and as a result, the Church hated Voltaire.  To many philosophers, the Church was holding up process and had to go.  Voltaire definitely agreed about that.  A personal enemy and critic was the philosopher Rousseau.  Rousseau believed that society needed an agreement, which everyone had to follow.  He believed in natural law, in other words that people are naturally good and are destroyed by modern society.  Of course, Voltaire had something to say about this, and would attack Rousseau, (verbally) with biting wit and humour.  I think the two were just too different and personally disliked each other.


            In the end, Voltaire led an amazing life and made a remarkable difference in people's lives, which not everyone can say they have done.  He was a genius in literature and was known as the wittiest man in the revolution.  All that can be said is if in your lifetime you have done something important enough to be written abut in a educational textbook and to be taught to children around the world, you'd achieved something in life.