21 November 1694
Died 30 May 1778 (age 83)
Occupation Writer and philosopher
Parents François Arouet, father; Marie Marguerite d’Aumart,
François-Marie Arouet (21 November 1694 – 30 May 1778),
better known by the pen name Voltaire, was a French Enlightenment writer,
essayist, deist and philosopher known for his wit, philosophical sport,
and defense of civil liberties, including freedom of religion and the
right to a fair trial. He was an outspoken supporter of social reform
despite strict censorship laws in France and harsh penalties for those
who broke them. A satirical polemicist, he frequently made use of his
works to criticize Christian Church dogma and the French institutions
of his day.
Bust of Voltaire by the artist Antoine Houdon, 1781.François-Marie
Arouet de Voltaire was born in Paris in 1694, the last of the five children
of François Arouet (1650–1 January 1722) a notary who was
a minor treasury official, and his wife, Marie Marguerite d'Aumart (c.1660–13
July 1701) from a noble family from the Poitou province. Voltaire was
educated by Jesuits at the Collège Louis-le-Grand (1704-11),
where he learned Latin and Greek; later in life he became fluent in
Italian, Spanish and English. From 1711 to 1713 he studied law. Before
devoting himself entirely to writing, Voltaire worked as a secretary
to the French ambassador in Holland, where he fell in love with a French
refugee, named Catherine Olympe Dunoyer. Their elopement was foiled
by Voltaire's father, and he was forced to return to France. Most of
Voltaire's early life revolved around Paris until his exile. From the
beginning Voltaire had trouble with the authorities for his energetic
attacks on the government and the Catholic Church. These activities
were to result in numerous imprisonments and exiles. In his early twenties
he spent eleven months in the Bastille for writing satirical verses
about the aristocracy.
Voltaire set out on a career in literature. His father, however, intended
his son to be educated in the law. Voltaire, pretending to work in Paris
as an assistant to a lawyer, spent much of his time writing satirical
poetry. When his father found him out, he again sent Voltaire to study
law, this time in the provinces. Nevertheless, he continued to write,
producing essays and historical studies not always noted for their accuracy.
Voltaire's wit made him popular among some of the aristocratic families.
One of his writings, about Louis XV's regent, Philippe II, Duke of Orléans,
led to his being imprisoned in the Bastille. While there, he wrote his
debut play, Œdipe, and adopted the name Voltaire which came from
his hometown in southern France . Œdipe's success began Voltaire's
influence and brought him into the French Enlightenment.
at 70 years old, an engraving from an 1843 edition of his Philosophical
DictionaryVoltaire then set out to the Château de Cirey, located
on the borders of Champagne, France and Lorraine. The building was renovated
with his money, and here he began a relationship with the Marquise du
Châtelet, Gabrielle Émilie le Tonnelier de Breteuil. The
Chateau de Cirey was owned by the Marquise's husband, Marquis Florent-Claude
du Chatelet, who sometimes visited his wife and her lover at the chateau.
Their relationship, which lasted for fifteen years, led to much intellectual
development. Voltaire and the Marquise collected over 21,000 books,
an enormous number for their time. Together, Voltaire and the Marquise
also studied these books and performed experiments. Both worked on experimenting
with the "natural sciences," the term used in that epoch for
physics, in his laboratory. Voltaire performed many experiments including
one that attempted to determine the properties of fire.
The 1911 Encyclopedia
Britannica comments that "If the English visit may be regarded
as having finished Voltaire's education, the Cirey residence was the
first stage of his literary manhood." Having learned from his previous
brushes with the authorities, Voltaire began his future habit of keeping
out of personal harm's way, and denying any awkward responsibility.
He continued to write, publishing plays such as Mérope and some
short stories. Again, a main source of inspiration for Voltaire were
the years he spent exiled in England. During his time there, Voltaire
had been strongly influenced by the works of Sir Isaac Newton, a leading
philosopher and scientist of the epoch. Voltaire strongly believed in
Newton's theories, especially concerning optics (Newton’s discovery
that white light is composed of all the colors in the spectrum led to
many experiments by him and the Marquise), and gravity (the story of
Newton and the apple falling from the tree is mentioned in his Essai
sur la poésie épique, or Essay on Epic Poetry). Although
both Voltaire and the Marquise were also curious about the philosophies
of Gottfried Leibniz, a contemporary and rival of Newton, the pair remained
"Newtonians" and based their theories on Newton’s works
and ideas. Though it has been stated that the Marquise may have been
more "Leibnizian", which may have caused tension between the
two, this is probably an exaggeration; the Marquise even wrote "je
newtonise," which, translated, means "I am 'newtoning'".
Voltaire wrote a book on Newton's philosophies: the Eléments
de la philosophie de Newton (The Elements of Newton's Philosophies).
The Elements was probably written with the Marquise, and describes the
other branches of Newton's ideas that fascinated him: it spoke of optics
and the theory of attraction (gravity).
Voltaire and the
Marquise also studied history - particularly the people who had contributed
to civilization up to that point. Voltaire had worked with history since
his time in England; his second essay in English had the title Essay
upon the Civil Wars in France. When he returned to France, he wrote
a biographical essay of King Charles XII. This essay was the beginning
of Voltaire's rejection of religion; he wrote that human life is not
destined or controlled by greater beings. The essay won him the position
of historian in the king's court. Voltaire and the Marquise also worked
with philosophy, particularly with metaphysics, the branch of philosophy
dealing with the distant, and what cannot be directly proven: why and
what life is, whether or not there is a God, and so on. Voltaire and
the Marquise analyzed the Bible, trying to find its validity in the
world. Voltaire renounced religion; he believed in the separation of
church and state and in religious freedom, ideas he formed after his
stay in England. Voltaire even claimed that "One hundred years
from my day there will not be a Bible in the earth except one that is
looked upon by an antiquarian curiosity seeker."
by Adolph von Menzel. Guests of Frederick the Great, in Marble Hall
at Sanssouci, include members of the Prussian Academy of Sciences and
Voltaire (seated, third from left).After the death of the Marquise,
Voltaire moved to Berlin to join Frederick the Great, a close friend
and admirer of his. The king had repeatedly invited him to his palace,
and now gave him a salary of 20,000 francs a year. Though life went
well at first, he began to encounter difficulties. Faced with a lawsuit
and an argument with the president of the Berlin Academy of Science,
Voltaire wrote the Diatribe du Docteur Akakia (Diatribe of Doctor Akakia)
which derided the president. This greatly angered Frederick, who had
all copies of the document burned and arrested Voltaire at an inn where
he was staying along his journey home. Voltaire headed toward Paris,
but Louis XV banned him from the city, so instead he turned to Geneva,
where he bought a large estate. Though he was received openly at first,
the law in Geneva which banned theatrical performances and the publication
of La pucelle d'Orléans against his will led to Voltaire's writing
of Candide, ou l'Optimisme (Candide, or Optimism) in 1759 and his eventual
departure. Candide, a satire on the philosophy of Leibniz, remains the
work for which Voltaire is perhaps best known.
From an early age,
Voltaire displayed a talent for writing verse, and his first published
work was poetry. He wrote two long poems, the Henriade, and the Pucelle,
besides many other smaller pieces.
The Henriade was
written in imitation of Virgil, using the Alexandrine couplet reformed
and rendered monotonous for dramatic purposes. Voltaire lacked both
enthusiasm for and understanding of the subject, which both negatively
impacted the poem's quality. The Pucelle, on the other hand, is a burlesque
work attacking religion and history. Voltaire's minor poems are generally
considered superior to either of these two works.
Prose and romances
Many of Voltaire's prose works and romances, usually composed as pamphlets,
were written as polemics. 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, and some were written to deride the Bible. In these works,
Voltaire's ironic style without exaggeration is apparent, particularly
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. Candide in particular is the best example of his style.
Voltaire also has,
in common with Jonathan Swift, the distinction of paving the way for
science fiction's philosophical irony, particularly in his Micromegas.
like many key figures of the European Enlightenment, was a Deist. He
did not believe that faith was needed to believe in God. He wrote, "What
is faith? Is it to believe that which is evident? No. It is perfectly
evident to my mind that there exists a necessary, eternal, supreme,
and intelligent being. This is no matter of faith, but of reason."
Voltaire apparently believed in God based solely on reason, and without
supplementation or foundation in any particular religious book or tradition
Views on Christianityopposed
Christian beliefs fiercely. He argued that the Gospels were fabricated
and Jesus did not exist - that they were produced by those who wanted
to create God in their own image and were full of discrepancies. On
the other hand, he quoted the Scripture extensively and expertly in
such works as Traité sur la Tolérance to argue in favor
of tolerance for "fanatic" religious minorities, in that case
the Protestants. Neither did he hide his sympathy for the Jansenists.
Voltaire is reputed
to have proclaimed about the Bible, "In 100 years this book will
be forgotten and eliminated...", although there is no direct evidence
that he made such a statement. In his later years (1759) Voltaire purchased
an estate called "Ferney" on the French-Swiss border. As the
property straddled the border, Voltaire joked that when the French Catholics
were against him, he lived on the Swiss (Protestant) half, and vice
versa. There is an apocryphal story that this house was purchased by
the Geneva Bible Society and used for printing Bibles, but this appears
to be due to a misunderstanding of the 1849 annual report of the American
Bible Society . Voltaire's chateau is now owned and administered
by the French Ministry of Culture.
Views on raceexpressed
his views on race, mostly in his work Essai sur les mœurs, holding
that black people, whom he called "animals", were a peculiar
species of human because of what he perceived as great differences from
other humans, both physically and mentally. Voltaire expressed much
the same views in his personal correspondence. In Traité de Métaphysique,
his philosophical narrator claimed that white men "seem to be superior
to Negroes, just as Negroes are superior to monkeys and monkeys to oysters."
Voltaire's stance on blacks may be related to his financial interests.
The philosopher made an investment in a slave-trading enterprise in
Nantes, which, according to the contemporaneous observers, made him
one of the twenty richest men in France. However, some
passages of Candide reveal hostility to the violent treatment of slaves,
although in Essai sur les moeurs he states that Negroes are born to
Views on Jews's
viewpoint on Jews, Judaism and all organized religion reveals antisemitism
on his part. He once wrote, "The Jewish nation dares to display
an irreconcilable hatred toward all nations, and revolts against all
masters; always superstitious, always greedy for the well-being enjoyed
by others, always barbarous — cringing in misfortune and insolent
philosophical work is the Dictionnaire philosophique, comprising articles
contributed by him to the Encyclopédie and of several minor pieces.
It directed criticism against French political institutions, Voltaire's
personal enemies, the Bible and the Roman Catholic Church, showing the
character, literary and personal, of Voltaire.
Views on New Francewas
a critic of France's colonial policy in North America, dismissing the
vast territory of New France as "a few acres of snow" ("quelques
arpents de neige") that produced little more than furs and required
constant - and expensive - military protection from the mother country
against Great Britain's 13 Colonies to the south.
engaged in an enormous amount of private correspondence during his life,
totalling over 21,000 letters. His personality shows through in the
letters that he wrote: his energy and versatility, his unhesitating
flattery when he chose to flatter, his ruthless sarcasm, his unscrupulous
business faculty and his resolve to double and twist in any fashion
so as to escape his enemies.
In general criticism and miscellaneous writing, Voltaire's writing was
comparable with that in his other works. 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 caustic yet conversational tone.
In a vast variety of nondescript pamphlets and writings, he displays
his skills at journalism. In pure literary criticism his principal work
is the Commentaire sur Corneille, although he wrote many more similar
works — sometimes (as in his Life and notices of Molière)
independently and sometimes as part of his Siécles.
especially his private letters, constantly contain the word "l'infâme"
and the expression (in full or abbreviated) "écrasez l'infâme."
This expression has sometimes been misunderstood as meaning Christ,
but the real meaning is "crush the infamy (infamous)". Particularly,
it is the system which Voltaire saw around him, the effects of which
he had felt in his own exiles and the confiscations of his books, and
which he had seen in the hideous sufferings of Calas and La Barre.
's statue and tomb in the crypt of the Panthéon.Voltaire perceived
the French bourgeoisie to be too small and ineffective, the aristocracy
to be parasitic and corrupt, the commoners as ignorant and superstitious,
and the church as a static force useful only as a counterbalance since
its "religious tax" or the tithe helped to create a strong
backing for revolutionaries.
democracy, which he saw as propagating the idiocy of the masses. To
Voltaire, only an enlightened monarch or an enlightened absolutist,
advised by philosophers like himself, could bring about change as it
was in the king's rational interest to improve the power and wealth
of his subjects and kingdom. Voltaire essentially believed monarchy
to be the key to progress and change.
He supported "bringing
order" through military means in his letters to Catherine II of
Russia and Frederick II of Prussia where he strongly praised the Partitions
of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He was, however, deeply opposed
to the use of war and violence as means for the resolution of controversies,
as he repeatedly and forcefully stated in many of his works, including
the "Philosophical Dictionary," where he described war as
a "hellish enterprise" and those who resort to it "ridiculous
He is best known
today for his novel, Candide, ou l'Optimisme (Candide, or Optimism,
1759), which satirized the philosophy of Leibniz. Candide was also subject
to censorship and Voltaire jokingly claimed that the actual author was
a certain "Dr DeMad" in a letter, where he reaffirmed the
main polemical stances of the text. 
Voltaire is also
known for many memorable aphorisms, such as: "Si Dieu n'existait
pas, il faudrait l'inventer" ("If God did not exist, it would
be necessary to invent him"), contained in a verse epistle from
1768, addressed to the anonymous author of a controversial work, The
not to be confused with the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, sent
a copy of his "Ode to Posterity" to Voltaire. Voltaire read
it through and said, "I do not think this poem will reach its destination."[citation
Voltaire is remembered
and honored in France as a courageous polemicist who indefatigably fought
for civil rights — the right to a fair trial and freedom of religion
— and who denounced the hypocrisies and injustices of the ancien
régime. The ancien régime involved an unfair balance of
power and taxes between the First Estate (the clergy), the Second Estate
(the nobles), and everyone else (the commoners and middle class, who
were burdened with most of the taxes).
Thomas Carlyle argued
that while he was unsurpassed in literary form, not even the most elaborate
of Voltaire's works was of much value for matter and that he never uttered
an original idea of his own.
Voltaire did not
let his ideals interfere with the acquisition of his fortune. He was
a millionaire by the time he was forty after cultivating the friendship
of the Paris brothers who had a contract to supply the French army with
food and munitions and being invited to participate with them in this
extremely profitable enterprise. According to a review in the March
7, 2005 issue of The New Yorker of Voltaire's Garden, a mathematician
friend of his realized in 1728 that the French government had authorized
a lottery in which the prize was much greater than the collective cost
of the tickets. He and Voltaire formed a syndicate, collected all the
money, and became moneylenders to the great houses of Europe. Voltaire
complained that lotteries exploited the poor.
The town of Ferney,
France, where Voltaire lived out the last 20 years of his life (though
he died in Paris), is now named Ferney-Voltaire. His château is
now a museum (L'Auberge de l'Europe). Voltaire's library is preserved
intact in the Russian National Library, St Petersburg. His remains were
interred at the Panthéon, in Paris, in 1791.
The pen name "Voltaire"
The name "Voltaire," which he adopted in 1718 not only as
a pen name but also in daily use, is an anagram of the Latinized spelling
of his surname "Arovet" and the letters of the sobriquet "le
jeune" ("the younger"): AROVET Le Ieune. The name also
echoes in reversed order the syllables of a familial château in
the Poitou region: "Airvault". The adoption of this name after
his incarceration at the Bastille is seen by many to mark a formal separation
on the part of Voltaire from his family and his past.
Richard Holmes in
"Voltaire's Grin" also believes that the name "Voltaire"
arose from the transposition of letters. But he adds that a writer such
as Voltaire would have intended the name to carry its connotations of
speed and daring. These come from associated words such as: "voltige"
(acrobatics on a trapeze or horse), "volte-face" (spinning
about to face your enemies), and "volatile" (originally any
an outline biography
Marie Arouet (who later assumed the name Voltaire) was born in Paris
on November 21st 1694. The family was wealthy, his father was a notary
and his mother maintained contacts with friends interested in belles-lettres
From 1704 - 1711
François Marie was educated by the Jesuits at the College Louis-le-Grand,
his later involvement with the writing and staging of plays may have
been encouraged by the numerous plays, in Latin as well as French, that
were staged at College Louis-le-Grand.
Despite his father's
wishes that he train for a career in Law François Marie, after
a short period of work in a legal office, chose to attempt to pursue
a literary career. He soon began to fall in with questionable company
and to cause offense through the power and sarcasm of his wit and poetry.
Because of these tendencies his father, on several occasions, arranged
for him to spend time away from Paris.
From about 1715
François Marie increasingly began moving in aristocratic circles
including a famous salon-court that was maintained by the Duchesse du
Maine at Sceaux. He became recognised in Paris as a brilliant and sarcastic
wit - a lampoon of the French regent the Duc d'Orléans and also
his being accused, (unjustly), of penning two distinctly libelous poems
resulted in his imprisonment in the Bastille. This imprisonment being
imposed following the composition of a lettre de cachet, an administrative
order, issued at the request of powerful persons. François Marie
was most aggrieved at this unjust sentence to imprisonment being imposed
It was during his
subsequent eleven month period of detention that François Marie
Arouet / Voltaire completed his first dramatic tragedy, Oedipe. This
dramatic work was based upon the play Oedipus Tyrannus attributable
to the ancient Greek dramatist Sophocles. (It was during these times
that François Marie adopted the pen name Voltaire). Voltaire's
Oedipe opened at the Théâtre Français in 1718 and
received an enthusiastic response.
During his period
of detention in the Bastille he had also begun to craft a poem centered
on the life of Henry IV of France. An early edition of this work, which
features an eloquent appeal for religious toleration, was printed anonymously
in Geneva under the title of Poème de la ligue (Poem of the League,
1723). King Henry IV had been an Huguenot (protestant) claimant to the
French throne but was only accepted as King after modifying his approach
Voltaire was consigned
to the Bastille, again by lettre de cachet, after he had given offence
to the chevalier de Rohan who was member of one of the most powerful
families in France. This time however he was released within two weeks
following his promise to actually quit France and to begin a period
of exile. Accordingly he spent almost three years in London where he
soon mastered the English language and wrote, in English, two remarkable
works, an "Essay upon Epic Poetry" and an "Essay upon
the Civil Wars in France". Whilst in England he regularly attended
the theatres and playhouses and saw several performances of Shakespeare's
During his exile
in London he made a serious study of the new philosophical ideas of
John Locke that questioned both the Divine Right of Kings and also the
Authority of the State. He was also impressed by the English Constitutional
"We can well
believe that a constitution that has established the rights of the Crown,
the aristocracy and the people, in which each section finds its own
safety, will last as long as human institutions can last".
The scientific discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton also attracted his serious
attention. For the rest of his long literary and philosophical career
he did a very great deal to popularise the ideas of Locke and to spread
knowledge of the discoveries of Newton. It can be suggested that Locke's
and Newton's ideas tended to encourage people to have faith in their
own physical senses and in their powers of reason to the detriment,
more often than not, of religious faith.
In 1728 the autocratic
French government finally allowed the Poème de la ligue, (which
was now retitled La Henriade) to be published in France. This work achieved
a most remarkable acclaim, not only in France but throughout all of
the continent of Europe as well.
to France in 1728 and was to reside in Paris over the subsequent four
years devoting his time to literary activities. The chief work of this
period is the Lettres anglaises ou philosophiques (English or Philosophical
Letters, 1734). This work favourably commented upon the relative ease
with which educated commoners in England might take up occupations and
professions, it also strongly suggested that there was a degree of press
freedom, of equality of taxation, and of respect shown to the individual,
and to the law, in England that should be emulated elsewhere. His Lettres
anglaises ou philosophiques effectively constituted a covert attack
upon the political and ecclesiastical institutions of France and thus
brought him into conflict with the authorities.
Voltaire was once
more forced to quit Paris and found refuge from the French authorities
at the Château de Cirey in Lorraine, then an independent Duchy.
There he formed an intimate relationship with the learned Marquise du
Châtelet, who exerted a strong intellectual influence upon him.
In 1735 he was given leave to return to Paris by the French authorities
but, in the event, he preferred to continue as he was at Cirey. He did
however make visits to Paris, Versailles, and elsewhere.
Several years thereafter and largely through the influence of the Marquise
de Pompadour, the famous mistress of Louis XV, Voltaire became a court
favorite. He was appointed Royal Historiographer of France, and then
a gentleman of the King's bedchamber. In 1746 he was elected to the
Following the death
of Madame du Châtelet in 1749, he finally accepted a long-standing
invitation from Frederick II of Prussia to become resident at the Prussian
court. He journeyed to Berlin in 1750 but did not remain there more
than two years due to a series of misunderstandings and scandals. There
was at this time something of a fashion for European rulers to style
themselves as being enlightened despots. Apart from Frederick II, King
of Prussia, Catherine the Empress of the Russias is perhaps the most
notable example of this. The Empress used also, in fact, to correspond
Following his departure
from Berlin he was not welcome to return to France and began a series
of temporary stays in towns, such as Colmar and Geneva, along her frontiers.
During these years he completed his most ambitious work, the Essay on
General History and on the Customs and the Character of Nations, 1756.
This work sets itself out to be a study of human progress, through its
pages he denounced the power of the clergy but made evident his own
rationalist-deist belief in the existence of God. From 1758 he established
a more enduring home at Ferney, nearby to Geneva but within the frontiers
of the French kingdom, where he spent the remaining 20 years of his
life. Many European celebrities subsequently included a visit to Ferney
in their itineraries - a fact which tended to establish Ferney as the
virtual intellectual capital of Europe.
Voltaire is considered
to have been a central figure in the emergence of the Enlightenment
movement in Europe where people were increasingly encouraged to practice
toleration in religion and to look to the practical application of natural
laws discovered by science for the material improvement of human life.
He also tended to effectively persuade people that superstition was
in Ferney, he wrote several philosophical poems, such as Le désastre
de Lisbonne (The Lisbon Disaster, 1756), and a number of satirical and
philosophical novels, of which the most brilliant is Candide (1759).
of the Dictionnaire philosophique (1764) met with condemnation in Paris
and other European cities. It was considered to encourage people to
look to reason rather than to faith. A copy of the Dictionnaire philosophique
was actually burned at the same time as the unfortunate young Chevalier
de la Barre, who had neglected to take of his hat, and kneel, during
the passing of a religious procession. Given the furore over the Dictionnaire
he thought it prudent to deny authorship and to seek exile for a few
weeks in Switzerland.
to what proved to be perhaps the greatest intellectual project of the
times, the great ongoing Encyclopedié edited by the Philosophés
Denis Diderot and Jean d'Alembert. The Encyclopedié was also
to become the subject of controversy as it too was considered to challenge
faith by encouraging people to look to the power of reason.
that his own earlier life experiences of imprisonment and exile for
exercising his wit at the expense of the powerful were effectively a
result of the abuse of power. Individuals should not have to live under
the threat of such abuse by the powerful in society. From Ferney his
mind and pen sent forth hundreds of literary utterances in defence of
freedom of thought and of religious tolerance. He was also very apt
to satirise and to expose what he considered to be abuses. Those who
seemed to have suffered persecution because of their beliefs found in
him an eloquent and influential defender.
of freedom of thought and of religious tolerance in several notable
cases brought him into a direct conflict with the Catholic church authorities.
He saw the Catholic church authorities in France as often behaving in
a repressive manner and particularly so towards Huguenots. He often
used the phrase écrasons l'infâme let us crush the infamous
one by which he seems to have meant intellectual, religious, and social
In 1778 Voltaire
was given a rapturous welcome on his return to Paris and died there,
in his sleep on May 30th, possibly over-excited by his recent journey
and welcome. Because of his many unorthodoxies he was refused burial
in church ground but eventually found a resting place in the grounds
of the Abbey of Sellières, near Romilly-sur-Seine.
From 1789 there
was a revolution in France which, amongst many other things, unmistakeably
upheld "reason" and "virtue". In relation to Voltaire
some of the leading revolutionaries considered that the "glorious
Revolution has been the fruit of his works". In July 1791 his remains
were dis-interred and, amidst great ceremony, re-housed in an imposing
Sarcophagus in the Panthéon in Paris. The Panthéon being
a recently completed building that had been begun as a church of St.
Genevieve but which had been finished, by the revolutionary government,
as a monument to those designated by the revolutionaries as "les
Grands Hommes." As Voltaire's remains were borne toward the Panthéon,
in a hearse designed by the painter David that bore the inscription
"He taught us to be free", they were escorted by the National
Guard. Perhaps an hundred thousand people followed in the cortege with
many more thousands looking on.
At this time Voltaire
shared the Panthéon with René Descartes, regarded by the
intellectual heirs of the Enlightenment as the patron saint of Reason,
and also the revolutionary leader Mirabeau.
In 1814, with the
French revolutionary and Napoleonic era being ended by a restoration
of the Bourbon monarchy a group of persons who tended to hold right-wing,
clericalist, political views clandestinely removed his remains from
the Panthéon - although their absence was not discovered until
and brain, however, had been removed even before the burial in Champagne
- his brain is today preserved in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris
- his heart was in the care of a series of private custodianships for
more than one hundred years but eventually disappeared after an auction.