Story of Voltaire by Kewal Krishan_Sethi



a brief introduction

Kewal Krishan Sethi
All Rights Reserved

Kevisaa Karmsthali
C-7, Parijat Parisar
E-5, Arera Colony
 Bhopal - 462016



        "To name Voltaire", said Victor Hugo, "is to
characterize the entire eighteenth century." Italy had its
renaissance, and Germany had its Reformation, but France
had Voltaire; he was for his country both Renaissance and
the Reformation and half the Revolution. He carried on the
antiseptic skepticism of Montaigne, and the healthy earthy
humour of Rebelais; he fought superstition and corruption
more savagely than either Luther or Erasmus, Calvin or Knox
or Melanchton; he helped to make the powder with which
Mirabeau and Marat, Danton and Robespierre blew up the
ancien regime. Louis XVI, seeing in his Temple prison the
works of Rousseau and Voltaire, said, "Those two have
destroyed France", - meaning his dynasty.
        Unprepossessing, ugly vain, flippant, obscene,
unscrupulous, even, at times, dishonest - Voltaire was a man
with the faults of his time and place, missing hardly one. And
yet this same Voltaire turns out to have been tireless, kind,
considerate, lavish of his energy and his purse, as sedulous
in helping friends as in crushing enemies, able to kill with a
stroke of his pen, yet disarmed by the first advance of
conciliation; so contradictory was the man.
        But all these qualities, good and bad, were
secondary, not of the essence of Voltaire; the astounding and
basic thing in him was the inexhaustible fertility and brilliance
of his mind. His work fills ninety nine volumes, of which every
page is sparkling and fruitful, though they range from subject

to subject across the world as fitfully and as bravely as in an
encyclopedia. Voltaire was a hard worker. "Not to be
occupied, and not to exist, amount to the same thing," he
said. "All people are good except those who are idle." "Il avait
le diable au corps", said Sainte-Beuve and De Maitre called
him the man "into whose hands, hell has given all its

         Voltaire, that is to say, Francis Marie Arouet was born
at Paris in 1694 - 21st November. The birth was premature
and the baby was frail And unbelievably tiny. His father,
Francis Arouet was an earnest, plodding man whose main
occupation was to increase his social standing. To his father,
Voltaire owed his shrewdness and irascibility. His mother,
Marguerite, was of effervescent nature though she had her
share of misfortunes. Two of her children died and she
herself did not have good health. She died when Francis-
Marie was seven. To her, Voltaire is indebted for his levity
and wit.
         Francois de Castagner, Abbe de Chauteauneuf was
Voltaire's godfather. He was a man who believed in
pleasures - a hedonist. From him, Voltaire learned not to
believe in anything, simply on faith. "This", said the Abbe,
"was the greatest crime against religion." He spotted
Voltaire's gift for witty dialogues and quick retorts and often
encouraged him by taking him to the parties where Voltaire
exhibited his gift. After mother's death, Abbe assumed full
control of Voltaire's education.
         Voltaire started his studies in Louis le Grand College.
At the school, he showed his abilities to compose verses and
was systematically encouraged by his teachers, especially
Father Parée. Soon he became the school poet and once he
was given a task to compose a petition in verse on behalf of
a soldier. The petition was addressed to King Louis. Voltaire
also displayed his histrionic talents and he was nearly always
the first in his studies.

         At seventeen, Voltaire left the college. His father
wanted him to become a lawyer while Voltaire was bent upon
developing his literary activities and to earn his livelihood by
writing. Voltaire was too fond of gaiety and pleasure to like
the dull routine of law. His visits to 'The Temple' - club of his
godfather and an abode of hedonists - made him a lover of
night life and the parties. His wit and verse were soon all over
Paris and he was being invited to several parties where
people wanted to hear his conversation - always joyful and
quick. These sorties were painful to his father and he sent
Voltaire to Coen believing in the maxim 'out of sight, out of
mind'. But he was not quite successful for there was life in
Coen also and Voltaire was soon a part of it. But he had his
troubles also. A self styled great poetess did not like his blunt
nature and Voltaire was soon out of many of the parties, His
father, finding that the cure did not work, called him back to
Paris, Here he resumed his habits. After imprisonment (in
Coen), now as in later life, came exile; his father sent him to
The Hague with the French ambassador, requesting strict
surveillance of the madcap boy; but Francois at once fell in
love with a little lady, Pimpette; held breathless clandestine
interviews with her, and wrote to her passionate letters
ending always with the refrain, 'I shall certainly love you
forever.' The affair was discovered and Voltaire packed off to
Paris. He remembered Pimpette for several weeks. Finding
that this did not help, he capitulated and accepted a post as a
clerk to a Parisian advocate. For a time, he worked diligently
but not for long. soon he found himself out once again.
         Just at that time, Paris Academy had called for a
poem to celebrate Louis's generosity in donating a choir to

the 'Notre Dame with the prize for the selected poem. The
reward went to the poet who was the favourite at the Court
and Voltaire, stung at his rejection, parodied the winner.
Whole Paris resounded with laughter but not the Academy
and so Voltaire, as a fore runner o such subsequent acts, left
Paris. He stayed with Marquise de Saint - Ange and heard
from him, the anecdotes from the life of Louis XIII, Henry IV
and Henry of Navarre. It was here that he formed the idea of
writing an epic poem to celebrate Henry of Navarre. The
illness of Louis XIV brought Voltaire back, as it did many
others, in the hope of better breaks.
         Louis XIV died in 1715 and was succeeded by Louis
XV, 'too young to govern France, much less Paris'. The
question of regency threw France into two hostile factions.
One was led by Duke of Orleans who was in control and
other by Duke of Maine. During this quasi- interregnum, life
ran riot in the capital of the world and young Arouet ran with
it. He soon achieved reputation as a brilliant and reckless lad.
In course of time, all the bright and naughty things said about
the regent were ascribed to Arouet. These included some
pungent satires. Arouet had to suffer exile to Scully for six
months and an imprisonment for eleven months followed by
another exile of six months for the poems he had not written.
         The imprisonment in Bastille gave Arouet, who now
assumed the pen-name of Voltaire, eleven months of leisure
and here he started his epic poem 'The League' and wrote
his first drama 'Oedipus'. The drama was presented at
'Comedie' after his return to Paris. The drama was an
unqualified success and was applauded alike by friends and

foes of the regent created a new record in Paris by running
for 45 consecutive nights.
         Another bitter poem against the regent again sent
Voltaire scurrying out of Paris. He wandered from chateau to
chateau, working on his 'The League'. When the author of
the nasty poem was discovered, Voltaire was allowed to
return to Paris. Here he produced 'Artémire' which was an
utter failure. This sent him back to the chateaux.
         On 1.1.1721, his father died. At that time, Voltaire
was still struggling. His balance sheet had 'Oedipus' on the
credit side and 'Artémire' on the debit side leaving no fortune
to him. To overcome this, he accepted the post of a spy. In
this capacity, he made a trip to The Hague. From here he
went to Brussels where he made arrangements to publish his
'The League'. He returned to Paris via the chateaux and
solicited subscription for his new book. However, the Paris
Censor refused permission to publish 'The League' as it
criticized the Catholic religion. Nothing daunted, Voltaire
arranged for a secret version of the poem and soon every
secret drawer had a copy of it. The book was very popular
and Voltaire was hailed as a great poet.
         Flushed with success, Voltaire presented his drama
'Mariame'. However, it was a failure and was withdrawn.
Soon after Voltaire ran into trouble with one Cavalier du
Rohan. The Cavalier hired some ruffians to beat Voltaire.
Voltaire, bandaged and limping, challenged the Cavalier to a
duel next day. Du Rohan had no such idea and sought the
help of his cousin, who was Minister of Police. so Voltaire
went back once more to the Bastille. He was almost
immediately released on his promise to leave for England.

         Voltaire reached England on a bright morning in May
1726. For the first few months, he resided in the countryside
trying to master English. Soon he accomplished the task and
was able to speak and to write in English. He was introduced
to the literati by Lord Bolingbroke and dined with one after
another of them, even with elusive and corrosive Dean Swift.
What surprised him was the freedom with which Bolingbroke,
Pope, Addison and Swift wrote whatever they pleased. Here
was a people that had a will of its own, a people that had
remade the religion, hanged its King, imported another and
had a parliament more powerful than any European ruler.
There was no Bastille here and no lettre de cachet. Here
were thirty religions and not one priest. It was also the age of
Hobbes, Locke. Collins and Newton. At once, Voltaire
absorbed everything of England - its literature, its philosophy
and its science. He passed it through the French culture and
the French spirit and recorded his impressions in 'The letters
on the English' which he circulated in manuscript for they
were too frank to please the censor.
         He also made his own contribution to English
literature by publishing the English version of 'The League'
renaming it 'Henriade' and working on it with pains. He also
wrote about 'civil wars in France' and 'epic poems from
Homer to Milton' chiefly as propaganda for his 'Henriade'. He
also started a tragedy 'Brutus' on the lines of 'Julius Caesar'.
Besides these, Voltaire started studies on the life of Charles
XII of Sweden working painfully for the collection of the data.
Voltaire main work during the period was his 'letters'. Here
was as he saw England, its people, its literature, its customs

and ideas. His letters were, by implication, a criticism of
French bigotry, fanaticism, inequality, injustice. His was a
propaganda of an earnest reformer by contrasting French
miseries with English liberties. The 'letters' were dotted with
pungent humour, satirical attacks on Church, and straight
forward denunciation of social inequality. Here was the
beginning of a campaign which was to last through Voltaire's
         Voltaire's activities soon made him tired and he
missed Paris. In March 1729, he crossed over incognito to
France and worked through his friends to get his exile
cancelled. This was done in April 1729 and Voltaire resumed
his life in Paris. But nothing was ever again the same as
before. When he left Paris, he was a budding poet and an
average dramatist. When he returned he was a philosopher.
He was a Frenchman before he went and a cosmopolitan
when he came back. He still wrote poetry and drama and still
loved court life but he had an aim in life now and it was not
gaiety and pleasure making.
         Soon after returning to Paris, Voltaire ran into money.
On a mathematician's suggestion, Voltaire, with the help of a
few rich friends bought all the tickets in a poorly planned
lottery and demanded the prizes. Voltaire's share in the
spoils was 2,50,000 francs. Voltaire used his study of English
businessmen to invest the money and had soon tripled it.
With this financial security, Voltaire returned to literature. He
presented his tragedy 'Brutus' but it had to be withdrawn as
his opponents, chiefly de Rohan, hired persons to hoot his
play. On top of this came his first open brush with the
Church. The occasion was the death of actress Adrienne

Lacouverer. She had declined to renounce formally her
profession before death as desired by the Church.
Consequently the permission to bury her body was refused
and her body was destroyed. Voltaire protested against this
hypocrisy remarking that everyone adored her when she was
alive but abhorred her when she died. He wrote verses in
tribute to her and thereby angered the Church. He also
arranged a publication of his 'English Letters' in England. The
letters could not be published in Paris. Instead Voltaire asked
for permission to publish 'Charles XII'. The permission was
refused. As before, Voltaire resorted to secret methods and
the book appeared surreptitiously in Paris in October 1731.
         Basically 'Charles XII' was history but not the way
Voltaire tackled it. The book was a coverage of the whole
cultural cyclorama of Europe of Charles XII. The narrative
covers the Russian peasant girl as well as Catherine I of
Russia. And throughout the book, Voltaire singles out abuses
of France, Church and attacks them though never directly.
The guns are trained on social, economic and political
system of France but the fire is indirect. Russian Orthodox
Church is criticized though the main victim is French Church.
Voltaire praises Turkish nobility and its lack of hereditary
practices. He reminds kings of their uselessness. All this had
direct appeal to his middle class readers who were
themselves the victims of all the abuses of Church, Nobility
and the Bourbons.
         After the publication of 'Charles XII', Voltaire sought
refuge in the chateau of Countess de Fontaine-Martel. She
was a pleasure loving woman and was fond of throwing big
parties. Soon Voltaire was directing her parties and her

estates. Here he produced 'Eriphile' based on 'Hamlet' but
had to withdraw it. About this time a seat fell vacant at the
Academy and Voltaire made a trial for it. He would have got it
but for the publication of a long forgotten poem of his against
the religion. Voltaire promptly disowned the poem but the
seat was gone.
         Voltaire also produced his romantic tragedy 'Zaire'
which after a few alterations became a hit. 'Zaire' was
published in book form also and Voltaire dedicated it to his
friend Faulkner. This was decried by his rivals for Faulkner
was an Englishman, a foreigner and also a merchant.
Voltaire faced all these attacks and prepared a reply of his
own. This was 'Temple of Taste', a bitter satire against rivals,
critics and authors. The story is of Voltaire making a
pilgrimage to the Temple of taste where he meets others in
the way , all aspiring to reach the Temple. Voltaire picks his
men by names and pours, gleefully, burning oil on them. His
chief victim was Jeane Bapiste Rosseau.
         The work raised a storm and he had to seek refuge in
work. Countess de Fontaine-Martel, having died, he quit her
chateau and lived in Paris. He turned to his first philosophical
work, 'Remarks on the thoughts of Pascal'. Pascal was a
well known scientist but after a carriage accident had turned
a 'pucca' religious person. He became, in due course, head
of Jansecuists. Jansecuists believed in self torture. Man was
a wicked thing, they argued, and will continue to be so till he
could detach himself from the worldly things and passions.
Voltaire attacked all this. He (Voltaire) regarded man as a
being just a little removed from animal but highly organized.
Man was the only creature who sought his Maker, his

beginning and his end. Man must love God but he must also
love His creatures. Voltaire attacked Pascal's belief in
Christianity and reminded him of Bortholomew's massacres.
        Voltaire occasionally accepted young persons as
protégés. He encouraged them to write. But he also warned
them of their danger. One such pupil was Lefèvre who is
more famous for the essay written by Voltaire for him than for
himself. In this essay he explains the difficulties facing a new
author. He reminds him of the dangers from censor, critics,
parody makers and rivals.
        One of these pupils was Countess Emily de Chatelet,
then (1734) 27 years old. She was a remarkable woman; she
had studied Mathematics with the redoubtable Maupertuis,
and then with Clairut; she had written a learnedly annotated
translation of Newton's Principia; at fifteen she was
translating 'Aenoid' in French verse. She remembered 'The
League' by heart. She found Voltaire interesting as the old
Marquis was so dull. Voltaire returned her love. He called her
'a great man, whose only fault was being a woman'. She was
the person who taught Voltaire about intellectual equality of
the sexes. Voltaire repaired to the chateau of Duke of
Richelieu for whom he arranged his wedding ceremony and
here he also spent time with Emily. When the return to Paris
became too risky, Voltaire decided to go to Cirey, to the
chateau of the Countess and a quiet retired place.
        In between all this wooing, Voltaire produced his
tragedy 'Adelaide de Géselin'. From the start, the audience
was hostile and the play was hooted down. The failure made
Voltaire apprehensive. He had made powerful enemies. He
at once repaired to Richelieu chateau on the occasion of

marriage of the Duke. While he was there, some one
published his 'English Letters' and 'Thoughts on Pascal'. The
books were considered to be outrageous and were formally
denounced, confiscated, burned and hanged. Voltaire could
not be arrested as he proceeded to Loraine outside France's
jurisdiction. He wandered for a short time and finally
accepted the offer of Emily to settle down at Cirey, the
ancestral home of the du Chatelets.

         Voltaire reached Cirey in August 1734. Immediately
he plunged into the task of renovating the chateau. And
these activities as architect, gardener, decorator and
supervision of building activities, he also found time to write.
Emily joined Voltaire in Cirey in November. She was also
very active woman and took a leading part in the renovation.
In due course, the workers became less and less and Emily
and Voltaire evolved a sort of programme. Both Emily and
Voltaire were hard workers. Voltaire was interested in
science and writing; Emily in science and other things. Up to
supper, they remained alone, each absorbed in his or her
work. After supper they remained together. learning Italian,
English and other things. When guests were present, Voltaire
liked to read his works, present his dramas, arrange a puppet
show or project slides on the screen. Emily used to dance
and sing. The discipline was strict. Nobody was allowed to
leave his room till eleven o'clock when coffee was served.
Voltaire met people only after supper. Some of the keenest
minds traveled to Cirey to meet Voltaire. Among those came
were Koenig, Francesco Algoratti, Johann Bernaulli. The
things were not always serene in Cirey. Both Voltaire and
Emily had quick tempers. and fights would develop over
trifles. The accusations, charges and counter charges went
on for hours together. In front of the guests, however, the
quarrels were done in English.
         During this period, Voltaire, as usual, had several
works in his hand. Voltaire became interested in Science and
had an expensive laboratory equipped for work in natural
sciences. Amongst his writings in this period were Lazier, a

tragedy; La Puce, a burlesque on the Maid of Orleans which
was carefully guarded because of its explosive character.
The poem was in light and satirical vein and contains an
attack on religion. The poem is obtusely the struggle of
France against the English but in reality the struggle of Maid
of Orleans against both.
          Voltaire's more serious work was in other direction
viz. philosophy. He was writing two books, one in verse and
one in prose. The 'verse' work was called 'Discourse on Man'
- a semi philosophical tract. The subject matter was equality,
liberty, happiness, moderation, pleasure, he nature of man
and virtue. The poem is not so important in itself. It was more
worthy of notice because of its implications and suggestions
to the French. The other work was 'Treatise of Metaphysics'.
a better title would have been 'What I believe'. Here Voltaire
gave his views on such subjects as man, virtue, religion, the
soul and God. He put forward the view, 'This universe is
governed by laws which nothing can change'. Of religion, he
said, "Organized religion was a system of exploitation and
oppression'. Religion was not even necessary for the
foundation of morality. Virtue was a conduct which benefited
humanity and vice was conduct which harmed the
community. These works were never intended for publication
and were spread through friends and acquaintances.
          Besides the above, Voltaire was also engaged in
writing dramas and history. He was preparing material for a
history of Louis XIV intended to be the cyclorama of culture
of the period. In January 1736,he presented his tragedy
'Alzire' in Paris. The story was a sentimental one. The scene
was laid in the first days of Spanish America, locality being

Lima, capital of Peru. The story consists of the struggle
between the Spaniards and Americans, Spanish Governor's
love for Indian Princess and the jilted Indian Lover. The
tragedy begins when the Governor discovers the love affair
and assassinates the princess, He, himself, is stabbed by the
Indian prince. The play was warmly applauded. Voltaire now
prepared for a comedy 'The Prodigal Son'. It was presented
in October 1736, anonymously, and proved to be a big
        This was interrupted by the news from Paris that
Jore, the printer of 'The League' in secrecy was accused of
printing 'The English Letters' and was in Bastille. He could be
released if Voltaire acknowledged 'The Letters'. This Voltaire
did and Jore was promptly released. On his release, Jore
demanded 1400 francs to defray the cost of printing. Voltaire
refused to do so and Jore started a legal suit. Finally after
three months of bickering, Voltaire had to pay five hundred
francs. Voltaire, disconsolate, returned to Cirey.
        In 1736, began Voltaire's correspondence with
Fredrick the Prince, and not yet Great. Fredrick's first letter
was just like that of a boy to a king. Its flattery makes us see
how famous Voltaire was at the time though he had not
produced his good works as yet. Fredrick was a free thinker
who looked down upon dogmas. He was interested in
modern thought and in poetry. Voltaire replied to the letter
with all the grace and beauty at his command. The
correspondence became quite regular and voluminous.
Fredrick sent his verses for correction and also his book
'Anti- Mechiavali' in which he spoke beautifully of inequity of
war. He also asked for Voltaire's new poems especially 'La

Pucelle'. Voltaire replied with other verses and a new one 'Le
         Meanwhile Voltaire once gain turned his interest to
Science. He began the study of Newton's work. He devoted
himself to the task with his usual assiduity.
         Late in December 1736, the poem 'Le Mondain'
produced the reaction in Paris. The poem was light and
sparkling, designed to extol life's pleasures and to mock at
those who would eliminate them. Voltaire argued that
luxuries are not only desirable for pleasure but also for
economy. However, the poem was not liked by the
authorities and a warrant for Voltaire's arrest was issued.
Voltaire left Cirey and went to Brussels. From there he went
to Amsterdam. In March, he returned to Cirey after spreading
rumors that he was going to England. Here he wrote his
'Defence of the Mondain', a sequel to 'Le Mondain' in which
he reasserted his views.
         He also completed his book 'Elements of Newton'.
The book was a scientific one and did not contain any
political propaganda but still it was found objectionable by the
censor and the permission to print it was refused. But the
Dutch printers, confident that any of Voltaire's works was a
variable gold mine, proceeded with the printing without the
permission of Voltaire. In early 1738, the book appeared in
Amsterdam. The book contained serious mistakes and
misprints. Voltaire hastened to denounce the book and
disavowed it. The police took no action but there was
criticism alround.
         Voltaire's work was interrupted by the announcement
of a reward by the French Academy for the best essay on the

subject 'On the nature of fire'. Voltaire started his research on
this essay with his usual zeal. Meanwhile Emily was also
preparing an essay of her own on the subject. Both the
essays received honourable mention but failed to win the
award. The essay written by Marquise was rated better than
that of Voltaire.
         About this time, Voltaire had to fight a wordy duel with
Abbé de Desfontaine. There was no reaction to Voltaire's
'Elements of Newton' from police side but his opponents
considered it a good point to fight about. Abbé wrote an
essay ridiculing 'Elements of Newton' and bewailed the loss
of a poet. Voltaire replied with one explosive denunciation of
the Abbé. The poem called 'Le Préservatif' was published in
late 1738 and contained forthright attack on Abbé.. It brought
out all his faults including his homosexual tendencies. The
attack was too pungent to be ignored. Abbé replied with 'Le
Voltairemanic' wherein he outdid himself and laid himself
open to legal proceedings. Voltaire was not the one to miss
the opportunity and after a suit, Abbé was forced to disavow
'Le Voltairemanic' and call it calumnious in all the charges it
brought against Voltaire.
         Voltaire remained at Cirey for a long time except for
short trips outside. He visited Brussels and Paris occasionally
but the social activity made him tired and he longed for peace
of Cirey before long and always returned to it.
         Meanwhile letters for Fredrick continued to pour in.
The Prince wrote of the standards he set for the kings and
the poet responded with flattering letters. In January 1740,
Fredrick became king. He immediately began to implement
his ideas. Working indefatigably, he sought to improve the

conditions of the public. He established granaries in the
provinces; founded new college of commerce and
manufacture; laid foundation of new Prussian Academy. But
side by side, the army went on expanding enormously.
         Fredrick's desire to have Voltaire at Court was never
diminished. The king wanted to have brilliant men around
him. He had already attracted Maupertuis and Algarothi by
giving them sizeable pensions and opportunity to work
without molestation. His chief aim, and the most difficult, was
Voltaire. Emily was the stumbling block. Try what attraction
he would, he could not separate them. Finally he arranged a
contrivance. he told Voltaire that he will meet him at
Brussels. Voltaire agreed. At the last moment, however, the
king pleaded illness and invited Voltaire to Cleves where he
was staying. Reluctantly Emily let Voltaire go. Voltaire stayed
at Cleves for three days. Both the men were impressed and
agreed to meet later at Remusburg.
         In October, Emperor Charles VI of Austria died. He
had no male heirs and had nominated Maria Theresa as his
successor. Most of the powers had guaranteed the
arrangements. But on his death, there was a general
uncertainty. Maria Theresa was barely out of her teens and
the Empire was big. Every nation suspected every other.
Most uncertain factor was the attitude of Fredrick with his
well trained army. Voltaire arranged with Cardinal de Fleurry,
political right hand of Louis XV to go to Remusburg and try to
gauge the intentions of Fredrick. Cardinal gladly acquiesced
and in November, Voltaire went to Remusburg to meet the
king. From there he went to Postdam and thence to Berlin
returning to Cirey in December. His one month's sojourn

produced no results. He could not guess Fredrick's intentions
and wrote to Cardinal about it. He believed, however, that
Fredrick would not go to war which he decried so well in his
'Anti- Mechiavali'.
         But Voltaire was wrong. Fredrick struck suddenly and
without warning and occupied Serbia. This plunged whole of
Europe into war. France, Bavaria, Saxon joined Prussia in
attacks on Austria. England sided with Austria. The friendship
between Voltaire and Fredrick began to cool down though
the letters were still exchanged.
         Voltaire turned back to his literary work now. In May
1741, he presented a play 'Mohamet' to citizens of Lille,
having been refused permission to present it in Paris. The
play was an immense success. It told of the fanaticism of
'Mohamet' and his barbarities. In August 1742, the play was
allowed to be presented to Parisians but soon after Voltaire
was forced to withdraw the piece due to the criticism of the
Church. A few months later, Voltaire presented another
drama 'Méropé' which told of a simple story with no political
or religious implications. The play won great acclamation.
The pit, for the first time, called for Voltaire so that it could
acclaim him.
         On the eve of premier of 'Mérope's, a seat of the
Academy fell vacant and Voltaire tried to get it. He was,
however, forestalled by his old enemy, Bishop of Mirepoix,
who was angered by his satire. Voltaire was disappointed but
soon he received an unexpected request. He was asked to
go, privately, to Berlin and try to gauge Fredrick's intentions
who had signed a peace treaty with Austria leaving France in

an embarrassing position. So ,on 31st August 1743, Voltaire
reached Berlin.
         He stayed in Berlin for two months. Fredrick tried his
best to make Berlin glamorous enough for Voltaire to stay
there permanently. He even tried to discredit Voltaire in
France by giving a private letter of Voltaire to Bishop of
Mirepoix. On politics, he refused to confide in Voltaire.
Embittered, Voltaire returned to Paris in October.
         Here he was given a fresh task better suited to
Voltaire's taste viz. preparing the festivities on the occasion
of the marriage of Louis XV to Princess Infanta of Spain.
Voltaire arranged an extravagant revue which he called
'Princess of Navarre'. Games, clowns, shows, drama,
musicals and fireworks - all were provided. The show was a
great success and the King was impressed. Soon afterwards,
in April 1745, he was given a post - Historiographer. Here he
carried out his official duties with meticulous care.
         Voltaire now set his heart on something bigger - mark
of favour from Pope Benedict XIV. He applied to d'Argenson,
foreign minister to use his influence at Rome. when
d'Argenson balked, he turned to others. He obtained two gold
medals from the Pope. It was not good enough. Soon
afterwards, Voltaire wrote a flattering letter to Pope
appreciating his writings and expressing his wish to dedicate
the drama 'Mohamet' to Pope. The wish was granted and
Pope, as his mark of pleasure, granted to Voltaire Apostolic
benediction. Armed with this, Voltaire was able to become
academician at the age of 52 years.
         Only one person was unimpressed by all these
honours. From Berlin, the letters of Fredrick still poured in

trying to make Voltaire give up his governmental duties and
come to Berlin. Yet, despite all the stratagem, Fredrick failed
to impress Voltaire. Even so Voltaire was getting tired of his
post. To write to order, like a school boy, was not in his
nature. He longed for his freedom and, before long, he was
out of his post. Two incidents forced Voltaire's hasty
departure from the post. One was a rhyme which
complemented king's mistress Madame de Pampadour,
meant for her eyes only, fell in the hands of the Queen. Other
was an inadvertent remark in a gambling game which Emily
was playing against some members of royal family about
Emily's playing with cheats.
         Voltaire sought refuge at Secaux with the Duchess of
Maine where he remained in hiding for two months. Here he
wrote his philosophical romances Barbanc, Mammon,
Micromegas and Zadig. In 'Micromegas' two inhabitants of
Saturn and Sirius visit the earth. They are of enormous size
and Voltaire sought in them to show the utter insignificance
of the human being. 'Barbanc' dealt with the mixture of good
and evil that was Paris. 'Zadig' is analysis of the mystery of
human happiness, which, according to Voltaire, is something
very desirable but pathetically rare and elusive. In 'Memmon'
is related the story of a man who wanted to become perfectly
wise and to this end refrained from love and wine. The story
is one of the long list of difficulties he had to face.
         From Sceaux Voltaire, joined by Emily, retired to
Cirey where the atmosphere seemed to benefit him. Voltaire
was now 53 and began to show the first signs of age. He had
ceased to be a lover and became a friend to Emily. In
comparison, Emily was still young. A short while afterwards,

Voltaire went to the court of King Stanilaus of Poland who
was keeping a pretence of a court at Luneville. He also paid
a secret hurried visit to Paris. These excursions proved too
much and he fell ill. He, however, recovered quickly.
Meanwhile Emily had found a lover, Marquis de Saint
Lambert. When Voltaire learnt about it, he was furious but
soon reconciled himself to the situation by remarking, "I
replaced Richelieu; Saint Lambert replaced me, such is life".
But the next development was unexpected. At 42, Emily was
pregnant. To save the situation, Marquis du Chalét was
hurriedly called home and his wife let him have her company.
A few weeks later, she confided in him. Marquis was amazed
but believed it. Soon afterwards he left for his regiment.
Voltaire and Emily went to Paris and thence returned to
        All this time Voltaire was receiving letters from
Fredrick. Fredrick had not given up his idea of having Voltaire
at his court. When Voltaire reported pregnancy of Emily,
Fredrick was quick to suspect the truth that neither Voltaire
nor Marquis was responsible for it. He asked Voltaire to
come to Berlin in autumn. Voltaire refused to leave one 'who
might be dying very soon'. In September, Emily delivered a
daughter who died shortly afterwards. Emily continued her
fight with death but succumbed after a week. Voltaire was
shocked and stunned. He had lost a friend after fifteen years
of intimacy.
        Voltaire was under the shadow of Bastille, when
Emily took over. She took him past that shadow and gave
him, for fifteen years, the sanctuary, the comforts and the
peace of Cirey. Her influence on him was substantial though

it was not entirely to his advantage. In Cirey, Voltaire went
into side tracks. He did not fulfill the promise of fight against
'ancién régime' which had been given in 'English Letters'. He
frittered away his energies in metaphysics, science,
diplomacy and flattery. He became Academician and
received benediction from the Pope. The productive works of
this period were 'History of Charles XII'; essays on
Metaphysics, in prose and in verse; some dramas;
philosophical romances Micromegas, Zadig etc., and other
minor works. Yet these fifteen years were very important.
Voltaire, when he came to Cirey was a man of talent, a minor
author, a good conversationalist; when he left Cirey, he was
an international figure, a great philosopher and a great
author. At the threshold of sixty, Voltaire was the most
famous man in the world.

         Emily's death disconcerted Voltaire. He found that he
could not stay on in Cirey. He moved to Paris where he
stayed in the town house of du Chatlét, rented from Marquis.
At first he was down with grief but slowly he recovered. His
enemies had taken advantage of his momentary weakness
and attacked his dramas. They had even bribed away the
actors of Voltaire. In reply, Voltaire turned one of the halls in
the house into a private theatre where he himself worked with
the help of a few amateurs. One of them was Lekain who
was ultimately acclaimed as one of the greatest actors of
France. Voltaire's private theatre was a great success.
         Soon after Emily's death, Fredrick resumed his
invitation to Voltaire and after some delay, Voltaire accepted.
He reached Berlin on the 10th of July. His first impressions of
Berlin were favourable. He was generously received. A
pension of twenty thousand francs was given to him and
another four thousand for his niece Madame Denis, should
she join her uncle to maintain his house. Voltaire was
awarded Prussian Order of Merit.
         However, the relations between the King and the
Poet were strange. King thought Voltaire to be a scoundrel
and malicious but he was interested in French and wanted to
create in French. In this, he thought Voltaire will help him.
Voltaire viewed the King as a miser and believed that he
wanted to keep Voltaire as a well paid menial. Voltaire's
purpose in coming to Berlin was to seek tranquility which he
could not find in Paris due to jealousy and persecution but he
was shortly to be disillusioned. Within Voltaire, there was
always a mischievous and ill behaved child but Fredrick had

not the slightest intent to let his guests be insulted or
humiliated. Still Voltaire managed to get one of them
D'Arnaud exiled.
        Fredrick had gathered round himself a small group of
men, mostly foreigners - who entertained or instructed him
according to king's mood. Most of them were brilliant persons
and were dissatisfied with their position due to excessive
pride of Fredrick. Fredrick could never forget that he was the
King of Prussia even though he maintained the fiction that at
the supper table, all are equal. Always one or the other of the
guests were trying to escape from Berlin. Maupertuis, who
was head of Academy of Sciences, was a man of
considerable ability though he had no genius. He was over
ambitious. The popularity of Voltaire further fanned the flame
of jealousy in him.
        During this period Voltaire managed to finish and
print 'Siecle de Louis XIV'. The 'Philosophical Dictionary' was
also added to. A drama 'Orphelin de la Chine' was also
written. It was performed in Paris in 1755 and was well
received. In the same year the notorious 'La Pucelle'
appeared. This poem refers to the deeds of Jeane d'Arc.
While the poem ostensibly describes the maid struggle
against the British, actually it can be seen as being both
against the English and the French church.
        The relations between Fredrick and Voltaire were
never comfortable. For a time, they kept their feelings to
themselves but this could not continue for long. "The
monster," said Voltaire, to Madame Denis, "opens all our
mail". "The monkey", complained Fredrick to his guests,
"shows my private letters to his friends."

        It was Voltaire's avarice which brought the quarrel
into open. Voltaire tried to indulge in speculation, quarreled
with his agent and was led into a law suit. It was alleged that
he changed a document after the agent Hirsch had signed it.
The King was enraged and asked Voltaire to leave. A change
of mind, however, changed the sentence to a stern rebuke.
        The rift was patched but soon another point of friction
arose. Maupertuis had tried to harm Voltaire's reputation
during the law suit, but there was a more immediate cause.
Maupertuis had written a book which contained some things
which Voltaire did not approve of. When Voltaire pointed
them out, Maupertuis flared up. He was blunt in his letter to
Voltaire but Voltaire was patient. The matter came to a head
in the action against Koenig. It was in the spring of 1752.
Maupertuis had discovered, or so he believed, the 'principle
of least action'. This was later stated by Liebnitz more
precisely and accurately. This fact was pointed out by a
scientist Koenig. He quoted a letter of Liebnitz in his support.
Maupertuis denounced the letter as a forgery and Koenig as
a scoundrel. He had Berlin Academy punish Koenig (with
only one dissenting vote). Voltaire was shocked by the
procedure. But before he began the attack, he prepared for
the consequences. He withdrew his money from Berlin and
moved it out of reach of Fredrick. After all Maupertuis was
the President of the beloved Academy of Fredrick. Then
Voltaire struck.
        In 1752, appeared the most famous, though not the
best, work 'Die tribe du Docteur Akakia'. It was a thinly veiled
reference to Maupertuis. Voltaire did not dare publish such a
work without some kind of approval. For this he applied

another stratagem. He got the King's approval on another
pamphlet and the last page was then attached to 'Die tribe du
Docteur Akakia'. Of this Fredrick was not aware but he got a
wind of the pamphlet and called the author and had it read.
He got the manuscript burned but Voltaire was already
prepared. Other manuscripts were in existence and printed
copies appeared. Fredrick was furious and he got the books
confiscated and burned. But, then again, this was not the
only printed version and copies appeared abroad. Fredrick
could do no more than hang, symbolically, the book. Fearing
the worst, Voltaire sent back the orders etc. back to the King
but the King sent them back. Fredrick was preparing his own
        Voltaire obtained, after some persuasion, leave of
absence from the King. He left Postdam in March 1756.
Voltaire travelled to Liepzig where he lingered on for some
time, longer than Fredrick desired. From Liepzig Voltaire
went to Gotha. In the meantime a supplement to 'Dr. Akakia'
appeared, which was even more forthright than the main
pamphlet. This added to the wrath of Fredrick.
        Voltaire moved from Gotha to Frankfurt, which was,
nominally, a free city. Nevertheless Prussia's agent did pretty
much as he pleased. Voltaire was detained though with
courtesy. The excuse was that Voltaire had some poems of
Fredrick on his person without the Royal permission. But
further action could not be taken as reference had to be
made to Fredrick.
        Meanwhile, Voltaire tried to steal away. He was
followed and arrested. His niece Madame Denis was also
seized separately and sent to join him in custody. They were

kept close prisoners at an inn called 'The Goat'. The
authorities at Frankfurt felt that they were nor playing a
creditable part, came to conclusion that enough was enough
and intervened to let Voltaire go. He left Frankfurt in July.
         Voltaire travelled leisurely to Mainze, Mannhiem,
Strausburg and Colmar. He reached Colmar in October. Here
he proposed to stay for sometime and finish his 'Annals of
the Empire'.
         The next stage was now at hand. Permission to enter
France, or rather Paris, was not granted. While he was at
Colmar, a pirated edition of the 'Essai sur les Moeurs' was
published. It was written long back but permission to publish
it in France was absolutely refused. The confessions of
Voltaire, the partaking of Euchrist also did not mollify the
situation. It was the time to think of alternate arrangements.
Voltaire journeyed to Lyons and thence to Geneva. He
bought a country house and named it 'Les Delices'. It was at
the meeting point of four territories - Geneva, Vaud, Sardina
and France. He bought houses near about in case he had to
make a sudden move. He fitted a private theatre. He could
afford to set up a comfortable house. He kept open house for
visitors. The printers were close at hand in Geneva.
         The stay at Les Delices brought him into
correspondence with J. J. Rousseau which started well but
turned bitter later on. The earthquake at Lisbon, which
appalled other persons, gave Voltaire an occasion to ridicule
the beliefs of the orthodox, first in verse (1756) and then in
his best known novel 'Candide' in 1759. 'Candide' attacks
religious and philosophical optimism. It is a tale superbly told.

         All was, however, not well with Geneva. Geneva had
a law which prohibited ant theatrical performances. Voltaire
had violated this by having a theatre at his house. He thought
of building a regular theatre at Lausanne. An indirect
resolution of the Consistory declared that such theatrical
performance should be avoided by the public. It was also
provided that in case there is reason to believe that this is not
observed, matter should be brought to the notice of the
authorities. Voltaire took the hint and did not proceed with the
theatre at Lausanne though he did not discontinue it at his
         Meanwhile, he persuaded D'Alembert to include, in
his article on Geneva, a censure of the prohibition. This was
not liked by Rousseau who wrote his displeasure in
celebrated' Lettre D'Alembert sur les spectacles'.
         Voltaire now looked for another place where he could
combine the social liberty of France with the political liberty of
Geneva. At the end of 1758, he bought the considerable
property of Ferney about four miles from Geneva but on
French soil. At Ferney, he became a complete country
gentleman and was known to Europe as the squire of
Ferney. He, later, in 1765, sold the property at Les Delcis.
         In Ferney, as earlier, he maintained an open house
for visitors. He was accompanied in residence by Madame
Denis, fat, frivolous, indiscreet; his other niece Mme. de
Fontaine sparkling, intelligent but temptuous; an adopted
daughter Mlle. Corneille. The stay of various persons at The
Ferney were the background for a number of biographies
about him. But he did not neglect his creative activities. His
correspondence grew in volume. It even included Fredrick,

the two getting on well when not face to face. He was now
comparatively secure in position and did not have to resort to
tricks of disavowal, garbled publication and private libel. He
felt at ease in lampooning his contemporaries. One such
person was Le Franc de Pompaignan, who had written a
piece of verse much better than Voltaire, and Voltaire could
not digest it. Another person was Palissof, who had not
included Voltaire while gibbeting other authors. Freron had
criticised Voltaire for his views from the conservative side
and Voltaire replied with a cheap lampoon titled
'L'Ecossaise'. Freron, himself, did a very humourous criticism
on the first night of its performance.
         In Ferney Voltaire published some of the
accomplished works of his old age. The 'Encyclopédic' ,
which had been suppressed earlier, was published
clandestinely in 1764 under the name of 'Portable
Philosophical Dictionary', more virulent than the earlier
version. It enjoyed a wide, if surreptitious, circulation.
Henceforth the struggle against all revealed religion was
incessant; anonymous pamphlets, books, advice to his
friends followed in unending carefully hidden streams.
         But, at Ferney, another side of Voltaire appeared. He
took up cudgels on behalf of the oppressed and wronged
persons. One such affair was Calas affair. Callas was a
protestant who was accused of murdering his son, who was
said to be on the verge of conversion to Catholicism. The
Toulouse judges adjudged him guilty on the basis of
circumstantial evidence. Some lawyers hold that the lies in
which Calas was coached by his defending lawyer was

responsible for the verdict. Voltaire took up the case
accusing the judges of hurried verdict.
        Another similar case was of Sirven, who was accused
of murdering his child for religious reasons. This was another
case of judicial murder though there was no actual murder
since Sirven had taken refuge in flight. Other cases were of
Epinasse, who had been sentenced to galleys for harbouring
a protestant; Lally the son of unjustly treated French
commander in India, and others (La Barre included).
        La Barre was accused of mutilating a crucifix. The
charge was not proved but then he was accused of using
impious and obscene words and other scandalous acts. He
was condemned to death. He was beheaded and the body
was burned. Obviously the sentence was too harsh for the
accusation. Even Bishop of Amiens did ask for reprieve. La
Barre, in his defence, had said that he had read Voltaire's
'Philosophical Dictionary', a book which was banned. This
provided a link to Voltaire. Voltaire responded with all the
virulence at his command. He described the case reflecting
the intolerance of the Church.
        He did have his occasional personal fights also,
verbal of course, with bishop of the diocese; the superior
landlord of part of his estate; the republic of Geneva but
overall the Ferney period is quiet. He was an old man when
he came to Ferney and became older without noticing it. In
1776, he adopted, for all practical purposes, a young girl of
poor but noble family, Rene Philberte de Varicourt. She was
rescued from a convent and stayed at Ferney. She was got
married by Voltaire to marquis de Villette. Her pet name was
'Belle el Borne'. As compared to other female inmates of

Ferney, she remained a source of happiness in the last years
of Voltaire.
          The death of Louis XV and the accession of Louis
XVI rekindled the hope of reentering Paris but there was not
much of encouragement from the court. Nevertheless,
Voltaire left for Paris and arrived there on February 10, 1778,
to the city which he had not seen for twenty eight years. He
was received with immense rejoicing, not by the court, but by
the Academy, the society and the foreign visitors. Due to
fatigues of travels and also, probably, the excitement of
Paris, he fell ill but recovered to see the first performance of
his new tragedy, 'Irene', which he had finished just before
leaving Ferney. He prepared another tragedy 'Agathocle'. He
also attended several meetings of the Academy.
          The activities brought back the illness and he finally
succumbed on May 30, 1778. Some priests had come to him
for confession but he motioned them away. The result was
difficulty about burial. He was refused burial at one place but
was hurriedly buried at Scelleieres beating the indict of the
bishop by an hour or two. In July 1790, his body was
transferred to Pantheon. During the 'Hundred Days', it was
disentombed and stowed away. His heart was embalmed
and given to Madame Denis and she passed it on to
Madame de Villette. In 1864, it was preserved in a silver

         It is difficult to give an assessment of such a multi-
faceted person. He dabbled in many things. He had staunch
friends and strong enemies. He had his achievements and
his shortcomings but these should be seen in the light of the
existing situation at the time. The assessment also depends
upon the views of the person who is doing so. Most of the
judgments of Voltaire have been unduly coloured by
sympathy with or dislike of what may be briefly called his
polemical side.
         When sympathy and dislike are both discarded or
allowed for, he remains one of the most astonishing, if not
exactly one of the most admirable figures of letters. It can not
be said that he propounded some great thoughts. His
characteristic is for the most part an almost superhuman
cleverness rather than positive genius. But he was not
merely a mocker. In politics proper he seems indeed to have
had few constructive ideas. His attacks were destroying a
state of things but he neither had nor apparently tried to have
any substitute for them on the whole. In religion he protested
stoutly, and no doubt sincerely. His own attitude was not
purely negative; but here also he seems to have failed
altogether to distinguish between pruning and cutting down.
Both here and elsewhere his great fault was an inveterate
superficiality. But this superficiality was accompanied by such
wonderful acuteness within a certain range, by such an
absolutely unsurpassed literary aptitude band sense of style
in all the lighter and some of the graver modes of literature,
by such untiring energy and versatility in enterprise, that he
has no parallel among ready writers anywhere. The most

elaborate work of Voltaire is not of much value for matter; but
his slightest work is not devoid of value in form. His literary
craftsmanship is, at once versatile and accomplished, and he
has no superior and scarcely a rival.
         In person Voltaire was not engaging, even as a
young man. His extraordinary thinness is commemorated by
identifying him at once with "Satan, Death and Sin" by some
persons. In old age he was a mere skeleton, with a long nose
and eyes of preternatural brilliancy peering out of his wig. He
never seems to have been addicted to any manly sport, and
took little exercise. He was sober enough (for his day and
society) in eating and drinking generally; but drank coffee in a
hardened and inveterate manner. It may be presumed with
some certainty that his attentions to women were for the
most part platonic; indeed, both on the good and the bad side
of him, he was all brain. He appears to have had no great
sense of natural beauty, and, except in his passion for the
stage, he does not seem to have cared much for any of the
arts. Conversation and literature were the sole gods of his
idolatry. His beliefs or absence of beliefs emancipated him
from conventional scruples; and he is not a good subject for
those who maintain that a nice morality may exist
independently of religion. He was good-natured when not
crossed, generous to dependents who made themselves
useful to him, and indefatigable in defending the cause of
those who were oppressed by the systems with which he
was at war. But he was inordinately vain, and totally
unscrupulous in gaining money, in attacking an enemy, or in
protecting himself when he was threatened with danger. The
only excuse made for the alternate cringing and insult, the

alternate abuse and lying, which marked his course in this
matter, has been the very weak plea that a man can not fight
with a system - a plea which is sufficiently answered by the
retort that a great many men have so fought and have won.
         His fight, mainly, was against the "persecuting and
privileged orthodoxy" in general, and, more particularly, it is
the particular system which Voltaire saw around him, of
which he had felt the effects in his own exiles and the
confiscations of his books, and of which he saw the still
worse effects in the hideous sufferings of Calas and La
         It will be worthwhile to briefly recapitulate about his
monumental turn out. Its vastness and variety are of four or
five categories which are described below.
         Dramas - He started with, and continued throughout,
the dramas which were, in the later period, carriers of some
philosophical thoughts but initially either in response to a
stimulus or just for entertainment. Some of them, written in a
hurry or to ridicule an opponent are not very elegant either.
The play, Oedipe, was written when Voltaire was only
nineteen. Its production five years later gave him almost at
once first place among living French dramatists. Voltaire had
the supreme dramatic gift of portraying sharp conflict and this
is the secret of the success of his best tragedies: "the conflict
between patriotism and love in Brutus; between love and
religious duty in Zaïre; between love and filial obedience in
Alzire and Tancrede.
         At various times during his literary career, Voltaire
produced about a dozen comedies but his forte lay in tragedy
rather than in the lighter touch required by comedy.

Essentially Voltaire lacked the understanding and sympathy
which are essential to the great dramatist; but he could give
theatrical credence to a thrilling story and at the same time
preach a sermon.
        Poetry - The second division of his creations is
poetry. He started writing poetry at a very young age. Some
of this activity is outlined above (The League, La Pucelle).
Some other poems are Azolan, From Love to Friendship, In
Camp Before Philippsburg, On the Death of Adrienne
Lecouvreur, a Celebrated Actress, The Origin of Trades, The
Padlock, The Temple of Friendship, Thelema and Macareus,
To a Lady Very Well Known to the Whole Town, To Her
Royal Highness, the Princess of ***, To the Queen of
         Prose - The third division of Voltaire's works in a
rational order consists of his prose romances or tales. These
productions - incomparably the most remarkable and most
absolutely good fruit of his genius - were usually composed
as pamphlets, with a purpose of polemic in religion, politics,
or what not. Thus Candide attacks religious and philosophical
optimism, L'Homme aux quarante ecus certain social and
political ways of the time, Zadig and others the received
forms of moral and metaphysical orthodoxy, while some are
mere lampoons on the Bible, the unfailing source of Voltaire's
wit. But (as always happens in the case of literary work
where the form exactly suits the author's genius) the purpose
in all the best of them disappears almost entirely. It is in
these works more than in any others that the peculiar quality
of Voltaire - ironic style without exaggeration - appears. If one

especial peculiarity can be singled out, it is the extreme
restraint and simplicity of the verbal treatment. Voltaire never
dwells too long on a point, stays to laugh at what he has said,
elucidates or comments on his own jokes, guffaws over them
or exaggerates their form. The whole of Candide shows the
style at its perfection.
          Historical - The fourth division of Voltaire's work - the
historical - is the bulkiest of all except his correspondence,
and some parts of it have been amongst the most read, but it
is far from being even among the best. The small treatises on
Charles XII and Peter the Great are indeed models of clear
narrative and ingenious if somewhat superficial grasp and
arrangement. The so-called Siecle de Louis XIV and Siecle
de Louis XV (the latter inferior to the former but still valuable)
contain a great miscellany of interesting matter, treated by a
man of great acuteness and unsurpassed power of writing,
who had also had access to much important private
information. But even in these books defects are present,
which appear much more strongly in the articles entitled
Essai sur les moeurs, in the Annales de Vempire and in the
minor historical works. These defects are an almost total
absence of any comprehension of what has since been
called the philosophy of history, the constant presence of
gross prejudice, frequent inaccuracy of detail, and, above all,
a complete incapacity to look at anything except from the
narrow standpoint of a half-pessimist and half self-satisfied
philosopher of the 18th century.
          Physics & Metaphysics - His work in Physics
concerns us less than any other here; it is, however, not
inconsiderable in bulk, and is said by experts to give proof of

his aptitude. To his own age Voltaire was pre-eminently a
poet and a philosopher; the unkindness of succeeding ages
has sometimes questioned whether he had any title to either
name, and especially to the latter. His largest philosophical
work, at least so called, is the curious Philosophical
Dictionary, which consists of the articles contributed by him
to the great Encyclopidee and of several minor pieces. None
of Voltaire's works shows his anti-religious or at least anti-
ecclesiastical animus more strongly. The various title-words
of the several articles are often the merest stalking-horses,
under cover of which to shoot at the Bible or the church, the
target being now and then shifted to the political institutions
of the writer's country, his personal foes, &c., and the whole
being largely seasoned with that acute, rather superficial,
common-sense, but also commonplace, ethical and social
criticism which the 18th century called philosophy. The book
ranks perhaps second only to the novels as showing the
character, literary and personal, of Voltaire; and despite its
form it is nearly as readable. The minor philosophical works
are of no very different character. In the brief Traite de
metaphysique the author makes his grand effort, but scarcely
succeeds in doing more than show that he had no real
conception of what metaphysics is.
         Miscellaneous - In general criticism and
miscellaneous writing Voltaire is not inferior to himself in any
of his other functions. Almost all his more substantive works,
whether in verse or prose, are preceded by prefaces of one
sort or another, which are models of his own light pungent
causerie; and in a vast variety of nondescript pamphlets and
writings he shows himself a perfect journalist. In literary

criticism pure and simple his principal work is the
Commentaire sur Corneille, though he wrote a good deal
more of the same kind - sometimes (as in his Life and notices
of Moliere) independently sometimes as part of his Siecles.
Nowhere, perhaps, except when he is dealing with religion,
are Voltaire's defects felt more than here. He was quite
unacquainted with the history of his own language and
literature, and more here than anywhere else he showed the
extraordinarily limited and conventional spirit which
accompanied the revolt of the French 18th century against
limits and conventions in theological, ethical and political
         Correspondence - There remains only the huge
division of his correspondence, which is constantly being
augmented by fresh discoveries. In this great mass Voltaire's
personality is of course best shown, and his literary qualities
not the worst. His immense energy and versatility, his adroit
and unhesitating flattery when he chose to flatter, his ruthless
sarcasm when he chose to be sarcastic, his rather
unscrupulous business faculty, his more than unscrupulous
resolve to double and twist in any fashion so as to escape his
enemies, - all these things appear throughout the whole
mass of letters.
         On the whole, not a very complementary description
of his life and achievements from the literary and scholarly
point of view. Yet he remains the towering figure of his
times., of France of those days, immensely popular and
widely read author. All this can be ascribed to his rapport with
his readers to whim his remarks were addressed. They cared
not for the scholarly, painstaking research into the beginning

of the atrocities of the Church or the Nobility nor were over
concerned with a detached dissertation outlining plan to get
rid of the system. They easily identified the objects of ridicule
and scorn which Voltaire was pouring on them and this
coincided with their own experience. While the results may
not have been instant or even capable of demolishing the
structure, yet they appreciated the efforts which appealed to
their instincts and promised to bring about, at some other
time, the collapse of the hated 'old order' and lead to a more
agreeable life. Even when he mocked the opponents on
grounds, other than ideology, it was taken as an attack on
the privileged and it rang a chord in his readers. Herein lies
the appeal of Voltaire and for his all time greatness.


        In 1961, I chanced to read a book on Voltaire. The
character is so absorbing that I wanted to know more. Unable
to restrain myself, I prepared notes on what I read. This
essay is based upon these notes taken from various books at
that time, and supplemented on the basis of the excerpts
available on the internet.
        It is hoped that this short description of a complex
character raises interest in the person that Voltaire was.

                                        Kewal Krishan Sethi


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