Voltaire

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Voltaire is a French philosopher and writer whose works epitomize the Age of Enlightenment, often attacking injustice and intolerance. His original name was name was Arouet.

Young Francois Marie received his education at "Louis-le-Grand," a Jesuit college in Paris where he said he learned nothing but "Latin and the Stupidities." He left school at 17 and soon made friends among the Parisian aristocrats. In 1717, his sharp wit got him into trouble with the authorities.

In 1759, Voltaire purchased an estate called "Ferney" near the French-Swiss border where he lived until just before of his death. Ferney soon became the intellectual capital of Europe. Voltaire worked continuously throughout the years, producing a constant flow of books, plays and other publications. He wrote hundreds of letters to his circle of friends. He was always a voice of reason. Voltaire was often an outspoken critic of religious intolerance and persecution.

Voltaire returned to a hero's welcome in Paris at age 83.

The excitement of the trip was too much for him and he died in Paris. Because of his criticism of the church Voltaire was denied burial in church ground. He was finally buried at an abbey in Champagne. In 1791 his remains were moved to a resting place at the Pantheon in Paris.

In religion Voltaire felt that Christianity was a good thing for chambermaids and tailors to believe in, but for the use of the elite he advocated a simple deism. He opposed the atheism and materialism of Helvétius and Holbach. His line, "If God did not exist, he would have to be invented," has become proverbial.