In the Words of Voltaire

“I may not agree with what you say,
but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Voltaire, pseudonym of François-Marie Arouet, born November 21, 1694, in Paris, France. His nom de plume is an anagram of AROVET LI, the Latinized spelling of his surname, and the first letters of the phrase le jeune, which means “the young.”

quoe

During his lifetime, Voltaire wrote nearly 20,000 letters and 2,000 books and pamphlets. I don’t recommend that you follow his writing habits.  He was said to have enjoyed nearly 40 cups of coffee every day, all while in bed, dictating his writing to secretaries.

But I would recommend reading him if you never have before.

quote

Quotations are not like reading Voltaire in context, but they might pique your interest in his writing. I’ve been seeing a lot of his quotes online lately as they seem to be relevant to current situation. The one above is a good example of that.

Voltaire was a French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher. His fame is based on his wit, his criticism of Christianity (especially the Roman Catholic Church) and his advocacy of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and separation of church and state.

He wrote plays, poems, novels, essays, histories, and scientific expositions., and he was one of the first authors to become renowned and commercially successful internationally.

quoteThe account of the end of his life, according to Wikipedia, is unconfirmed. What we do know is that in February 1778, Voltaire returned for the first time in over 25 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.” You might think that “adoring God” would be an odd thing for him to write, but he did not have a quarrel with God but with organized religions.

He recovered, and in March he saw a performance of his play and was treated by the audience as a returning hero, but became ill again and died on 30 May 1778.

The accounts of his death are varied and we can’t precisely know what occurred. Some of his enemies related that he repented and accepted the last rites from a Catholic priest. Others said he wouldn’t repent and so died in agony of body and soul. His adherents told of his defiance to his last breath. A story has developed in modern times that is likely to be true but fits with his views and wit. When a priest urged him to renounce Satan, he replied, “This is no time to make new enemies.”

“If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him,” is one of his famous quotes and he meant that though he believed in God if someone proved God didn’t exist, people would have to invent God. Christopher Hitchens  disagrees: “Thus, though I dislike to differ with such a great man, Voltaire was simply ludicrous when he said that if god did not exist it would be necessary to invent him. The human invention of god is the problem to begin with.”

A few others:
“God is a comedian playing to an audience that is too afraid to laugh.”
“I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous. And God granted it.”
“God is a comedian playing to an audience that is too afraid to laugh.”
“God is a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere.”
“If God created us in his own image, we have more than reciprocated.”

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Then again, Voltaire also said “There is no God, but don’t tell that to my servant, lest he murder me at night” because he recognized that a belief in God could lead people to morality. His belief seems to have fluctuated. After a natural disaster that killed many people, Voltaire wrote “God’s only excuse is that He doesn’t exist.”

Because of his well-known criticism of the Church, Voltaire was denied a Christian burial in Paris, friends and relations managed to bury his body secretly at the Abbey of Scellières in Champagne. His heart and brain were embalmed separately.

In 1791, the National Assembly of France, regarding Voltaire as a forerunner of the French Revolution, had his remains brought back to Paris and enshrined in the Panthéon. An estimated million people attended the procession and an elaborate ceremony.

tomb
Voltaire’s tomb in the Paris Panthéon

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Ken Ronkowitz

A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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