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François-Marie Arouet

Voltaire at 24, by Catherine Lusurier after Nicolas de Largillière's painting
Born November 21, 1694
Paris, France
Died May 30, 1778 (aged 83)
Paris, France
Pen name Voltaire
Occupation Writer, philosopher, playwright
Nationality French

François-Marie Arouet (21 November 1694 – 30 May 1778), better known by the pen name Voltaire, was a French Enlightenment writer, essayist, and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion and free trade. Voltaire was a prolific writer and produced works in almost every literary form including plays, poetry, novels, essays, historical and scientific works, more than 20,000 letters and more than 2,000 books and pamphlets. He was an outspoken supporter of social reform, despite strict censorship laws and harsh penalties for those who broke them. A satirical polemicist, he frequently made use of his works to criticize Catholic Church dogma and the French institutions of his day.

Voltaire was one of several Enlightenment figures (along with Montesquieu, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau) whose works and ideas influenced important thinkers of both the American and French Revolutions.




Early career

François Marie Arouet was born in Paris, the youngest of the five children[1] (only three of which survived) of François Arouet (1650–January 1, 1722), a notary who was a minor treasury official, and his wife, Marie Marguerite d'Aumart (ca. 1660–13 July 1701), from a noble family of the province of Poitou. Voltaire was educated by Jesuits at the Collège Louis-le-Grand (1704–1711), where he learned Latin and Greek; later in life he became fluent in Italian, Spanish and English.[2]

By the time he left school, Voltaire had decided he wanted to be a writer, against the wishes of his father who wanted him to become a lawyer. Voltaire, pretending to work in Paris as an assistant to a lawyer, spent much of his time writing poetry. When his father found him out, he sent Voltaire to study law, this time in Caen (Normandy). Nevertheless, he continued to write, producing essays and historical studies that were not always noted for their accuracy, although most were accurate. Voltaire's wit made him popular among some of the aristocratic families with whom he mixed. His father then obtained a job for him as a secretary to the French ambassador in the Netherlands, where Voltaire fell in love with a French refugee named Catherine Olympe Dunoyer. Their scandalous elopement was foiled by Voltaire's father and he was forced to return to France.[citation needed]

Most of Voltaire's early life revolved around Paris. From early on, 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. He allegedly wrote satirical verses about the aristocracy. A work about the Régent thought to be by him led to his imprisonment in the Bastille for eleven months, until the real author came forward. While there, he wrote his debut play, Œdipe. Its success established his reputation.

The name "Voltaire"

The name "Voltaire", which the author adopted in 1718 both as a pen name and for daily use,[citation needed] is an anagram of "AROVET LI," the Latinized spelling of his surname, Arouet, and the initial letters of "le jeune" ("the younger").[3] The name also echoes in reverse order the syllables of the name of a family château in the Poitou region: "Airvault". The adoption of the name "Voltaire" following his incarceration at the Bastille is seen by many to mark Voltaire's formal separation from his family and his past.

Richard Holmes[4] supports this derivation of the name, but adds that a writer such as Voltaire would have intended it to also convey its connotations of speed and daring. These come from associations with words such as "voltige" (acrobatics on a trapeze or horse), "volte-face" (a spinning about to face one's enemies), and "volatile" (originally, any winged creature). "Arouet" was not a noble name fit for his growing reputation, especially given that name's resonance with "à rouer" ("for thrashing") and "roué" (a "débauché").

Voltaire is known to have used at least 178 separate pen names during his lifetime.[5]

Great Britain

The aptitude for quick, perceptive, cutting, witty and often scathingly critical repartee for which Voltaire is known today made him highly unpopular with many of his contemporaries, including much of the French aristocracy. These sharp-tongued retorts were responsible for Voltaire's exile from France, during which he resided in Great Britain.

After Voltaire retorted to an insult given him by the young French nobleman Chevalier de Rohan in late 1725, the aristocratic Rohan family obtained a royal lettre de cachet, an irrevocable and often arbitrary penal decree signed by the French King (Louis XV, in the time of Voltaire) that was often bought by members of the wealthy nobility to dispose of undesirables. They then used this warrant to force Voltaire first into imprisonment in the Bastille and then into exile without holding a trial or giving him an opportunity to defend himself.[6] The incident marked the beginning of Voltaire's attempts to improve the French judicial system.

Voltaire's exile in Great Britain lasted over two years, and his experiences there greatly influenced many of his ideas. The young man was impressed by Britain's constitutional monarchy in contrast to the French absolute monarchy, as well as the country's support of the freedoms of speech and religion. He was also influenced by several of the neoclassical writers of the age, and developed an interest in earlier English literature, especially the works of Shakespeare, still little known in continental Europe at the time. Despite pointing out his deviations from neoclassical standards, Voltaire saw Shakespeare as an example French writers might look up to, since drama in France, despite being more polished, lacked on-stage action. Later, however, as Shakespeare's influence was being increasingly felt in France, Voltaire would endeavour to set a contrary example with his own plays, decrying what he considered Shakespeare's barbarities.

After almost three years in exile, Voltaire returned to Paris and published his views on British attitudes towards government, literature, and religion in a collection of essays in letter form entitled the Lettres philosophiques sur les Anglais (Philosophical Letters on the English). Because he regarded the British constitutional monarchy as more developed and more respectful of human rights (particularly religious tolerance) than its French counterpart, these letters met great controversy in France, to the point where copies of the document were burnt and Voltaire was again forced to leave France.

Château de Cirey

In the frontispiece to their translation of Newton, Émilie du Châtelet appears as Voltaire's muse, reflecting Newton's heavenly insights down to Voltaire.

Voltaire's next destination was the Château de Cirey, located on the borders of Champagne 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 (famous in her own right as Émilie du Châtelet). Cirey was owned by the Marquise's husband, Marquis Florent-Claude du Chatelet, who sometimes visited his wife and her lover at the chateau. The relationship, which lasted for fifteen years, had a significant intellectual element. Voltaire and the Marquise collected over 21,000 books, an enormous number for the time. Together, they studied these books and performed experiments in the "natural sciences" in his laboratory. Voltaire's experiments included an attempt to determine the elements of fire.

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 many plays, such as Mérope (or "La Mérope française") and began his long researches into science and history . Again, a main source of inspiration for Voltaire were the years of his British exile, during which he had been strongly influenced by the works of Sir Isaac Newton. Voltaire strongly believed in Newton's theories, especially concerning optics (Newton’s discovery that white light is composed of all the colours in the spectrum led to many experiments at Cirey), and gravity (the story of Newton and the apple falling from the tree is mentioned in Voltaire's Essai sur la poésie épique, or Essay on Epic Poetry). Although both Voltaire and the Marquise were curious about the philosophies of Gottfried Leibniz, a contemporary and rival of Newton, they 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", she did write "je newtonise," which translated means, "I am 'newtoning'" or "I 'newtonise'". Voltaire's book, Eléments de la philosophie de Newton (Elements of Newton's Philosophy), was probably co-written with the Marquise, and describes the other branches of Newton's ideas that fascinated him, including optics and the theory of attraction (gravity).

Voltaire and the Marquise also studied history—particularly those persons who had contributed to civilization. Voltaire's second essay in English had been Essay upon the Civil Wars in France. When he returned to France, he wrote a biographical essay of King Charles XII of Sweden, which marks the beginning of Voltaire's criticism toward established religions. The essay won him the position of historian at the king's court. Voltaire and the Marquise also worked with philosophy, particularly with metaphysics, the branch that dealt with what could not be directly proven: whether or not there was a God, etc. Voltaire and the Marquise analyzed the Bible, trying to discover its validity in their time. Voltaire's critical views on religion are reflected in his belief in separation of church and state and religious freedom, ideas that he had formed after his stay in England.

Though deeply committed to the Marquise, Voltaire by 1744 found life at the château confining. On a visit to Paris that year, he found a new love: his niece. At first, his attraction to Marie Louise Mignot was clearly sexual; he wrote her letters (only discovered in 1957) that verged on pornography, such as "My soul kisses yours; my prick, my heart, are in love with you. I kiss your pretty arse..."[7] Much later, they lived together, perhaps platonically, and remained together until Voltaire's death. Meanwhile, the Marquise also took a lover, the Marquis de Saint-Lambert.[8]


Die Tafelrunde 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 in childbirth in September 1749, Voltaire briefly returned to Paris and in 1750 moved to Potsdam to join Frederick the Great, a close friend and admirer of his.[9] 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 - in 1752 he wrote Micromégas, perhaps the first piece of science fiction involving ambassadors from another planet witnessing the follies of humankind- his relationship with Frederick the Great began to deteriorate and he encountered other difficulties. Faced with a lawsuit and an argument with Maupertuis, the president of the Berlin Academy of Science, Voltaire wrote the Diatribe du docteur Akakia (Diatribe of Doctor Akakia) which satirized Maupertuis. 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.

Geneva and Ferney

Voltaire headed toward Paris, but Louis XV banned him from the city, so instead he turned to Geneva, near which he bought a large estate (Les Délices). Though he was received openly at first, the law in Geneva which banned theatrical performances and the publication of The Maid of Orleans against his will made him move at the end of 1758 out of Geneva across the French border to Ferney, where he had bought an even larger estate, and led to Voltaire's writing of Candide, ou l'Optimisme (Candide, or Optimism) in 1759. This satire on Leibniz's philosophy of optimistic determinism remains the work for which Voltaire is perhaps best known. He would stay in Ferney for most of the remaining 20 years of his life, frequently entertaining distinguished guests, like James Boswell, Giacomo Casanova, and Edward Gibbon.[10] In 1764 he published his most important philosophical work, the Dictionnaire Philosophique, a series of articles mainly on Christian history and dogmas, a few of which were originally written in Berlin.[6]

Voltaire's château at Ferney, France.

From 1762 he began to champion unjustly persecuted people, the case of Jean Calas being the most celebrated. This Huguenot merchant had been tortured to death in 1763, supposedly because he had murdered his son for wanting to convert to Catholicism. His possessions were confiscated and his remaining children were taken from his widow and were forced to become members of a monastery. Voltaire, seeing this as a clear case of religious persecution, managed to overturn the conviction in 1765.[6]

Death and burial

In February 1778, Voltaire returned for the first time in 20 years to Paris, among other reasons to see the opening of his latest tragedy, Irene. The 5-day journey was too much for the 83-year old, and he believed he was about to die on February 28, writing "I die adoring God, loving my friends, not hating my enemies, and detesting superstition." However, he recovered, and in March saw a performance of Irene where he was treated by the audience as a returning hero.[6] However, he soon became ill again and died on May 30, 1778. When asked on his deathbed by a priest to renounce the devil and turn to God, he is alleged to have replied, "For God's sake, let me die in peace."[11]

Voltaire's tomb in Paris' Pantheon

Because of his well-known criticism of the church, which he had refused to retract before his death, Voltaire was denied a Christian burial, but friends managed to bury his body secretly at the abbey of Scellières in Champagne before this prohibition had been announced. His heart and brain were embalmed separately. In July 1791, the National Assembly, which regarded him as a forerunner of the French revolution, had his remains brought back to Paris to enshrine him in the Panthéon. It is estimated that a million people attended the procession, which stretched throughout Paris. There was an elaborate ceremony, complete with an orchestra, and the music included a piece that André Grétry composed specially for the event, which included a part for the "tuba curva". This was an instrument that originated in Roman times as the cornu but had been recently revived under a new name.[12]

A widely-repeated story that the remains of Voltaire were stolen by religious fanatics in 1814 or 1821 during the Pantheon restoration and thrown into a garbage heap is false. Such rumours resulted in the coffin being opened in 1897, which confirmed that his remains were still present.[13]



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 Maid of Orleans, besides many other smaller pieces.

The Henriade was written in imitation of Virgil, using the Alexandrine couplet reformed and rendered monotonous for modern readers but it was a huge success in the 18th and early 19th century, with sixty-five editions and translations into several languages. The epic poem transformed French king Henri IV into a national hero for his attempts at instituting tolerance with his Edict of Nantes. La Pucelle, on the other hand, is a burlesque on the superhuman powers attributed to virginity in the legend of Joan of Arc. Voltaire's minor poems are generally considered superior to either of these two works.


Frontispiece and first page of chapter one of an early English translation by T. Smollett et al of Voltaire's "Candide" , printed by J. Newbery, 1762

Many of Voltaire's prose works and romances, usually composed as pamphlets, were written as polemics. Candide attacks the passivity inspired by Leibniz's philosophy of 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, free of exaggeration, is apparent, particularly the restraint and simplicity of the verbal treatment. 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 Micromégas.

In general criticism and miscellaneous writing, Voltaire's writing was comparable to his other works. Almost all of 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 Siècles.

Voltaire's works, especially his private letters, frequently contain the word "l'infâme" and the expression "écrasez l'infâme," or "crush the infamous". The phrase refers to abuses to the people by royalty and the clergy that Voltaire saw around him, and the superstition and intolerance that the clergy bred within the people.[14] He had felt these effects in his own exiles, in the confiscations of his books, and the hideous sufferings of Calas and La Barre. He also stated that (one of his most famous quotes) "Superstition sets the whole world in flames; philosophy quenches them".

The most oft-cited Voltaire quotation is apocryphal. He is incorrectly credited with writing, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” These were not his words, but rather those of Evelyn Beatrice Hall, written under the pseudonym S. G. Tallentyre in her 1906 biographical book The Friends of Voltaire. Hall intended to summarize in her own words Voltaire's attitude towards Claude Adrien Helvétius and his controversial book De l'esprit, but her first-person expression was mistaken for an actual quotation from Voltaire. Her interpretation does capture the spirit of Voltaire’s attitude towards Helvetius; it had been said Hall's summary was inspired by a quotation found in a 1770 Voltaire letter to an Abbot le Roche, in which he was reported to have said, “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.”[15] Nevertheless, scholars believe there must have again been misinterpretation, as the letter does not seem to contain any such quote.[16]

Voltaire's first major philosophical work in his battle against 'l'infâme" is the Dictionnaire philosophique, comprising articles on "Abraham", "Genesis", "Church Council", written about what he perceived as the human origins of dogmas and beliefs, as well as inhuman behavior of religious and political institutions, in shedding blood over the quarrels of competing sects.

Amongst other targets, Voltaire criticized France's colonial policy in North America, dismissing the vast territory of New France as "a few acres of snow" ("quelques arpents de neige").


Voltaire also engaged in an enormous amount of private correspondence during his life, totaling over 20,000 letters. Theodore Besterman's collected edition of these letters, completed only in 1964, fills 102 volumes.[17] One historian called the letters "a feast not only of wit and eloquence but of warm friendship, humane feeling, and incisive thought."[18]



Voltaire at 70. Engraving from 1843 edition of his Philosophical Dictionary.

Like many other key figures during the European Enlightenment, Voltaire considered himself a deist.[citation needed] He did not believe that absolute faith, based upon any particular or singular religious text or tradition of revelation, was needed to believe in God. In fact, Voltaire's focus was instead on the idea of a universe based on reason and a respect for nature reflected the contemporary pantheism.

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."[19][20]

In terms of religious texts, Voltaire's opinion of the Bible was mixed. This did not hinder his religious practice, however, though it did gain him somewhat of a bad reputation among religious fundamentalists. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote to his father the year of Voltaire's death, saying, "The arch-scoundrel Voltaire has finally kicked the bucket...."[21]

Contradictory views of Islam and its prophet, Muhammad, can be found in Voltaire's writings. In a letter recommending his play Fanaticism, or Mahomet to Pope Benedict XIV, Voltaire described the founder of Islam as "the founder of a false and barbarous sect" and "a false prophet."[22] Elsewhere, however, his views were more favourable. In Essai sur les Moeurs et l'Esprit des Nations, he described Muhammad as the founder of "a wise, severe, chaste, and humane religion", and also said "The legislator of the Muslims, a terrible and powerful man, established his dogmas with his valor and arms; yet, his religion became benign and tolerant."[23]

From translated works on Confucianism and Legalism, Voltaire drew on Chinese concepts of politics and philosophy (which were based on rational principles), to look critically at European organized religion and hereditary aristocracy.[citation needed]

There is an apocryphal story that his home at Ferney was purchased by the Geneva Bible Society and used for printing Bibles,[24] but this appears to be due to a misunderstanding of the 1849 annual report of the American Bible Society.[25] Voltaire's chateau is now owned and administered by the French Ministry of Culture.

The most significant of Enlightenment hostility against Judaism was found in Voltaire,[26] despite claims to the contrary by some that his remarks were in fact anti-Biblical and not truly anti-semitism.[27] Thirty of the 118 articles in his Dictionnaire Philosophique dealt with Jews and described them in consistently negative ways.[28] Peter Gay, the best known contemporary authority on the Enlightenment[26], offered two suggestions in an attempt to mitigate Voltaire's open hostility towards the Jews. He writes that "Voltaire struck at the Jews to strike at Christianity," and that his anti-semitism also derived from negative personal experience.[29] However, Voltaire was exceedingly vocal against the Church, openly writing how it had been the "consistently implacable enemy of progress, decency, humanity and rationality," and how it had been the Church's interest to "keep people as ignorant and submissive as children."[30] If, despite the risk of censorship, Voltaire was able to express his anti-Christian sentiments so strongly, it's unrealistic to suggest that he needed to hide his anti-Christian stance as anti-semitism. Be that as it may, Voltaire did not limit his attack on aspects of Judaism that Christianity used as a foundation, repeatedly making it clear that he despised Jews.[26] Gay's second suggestion is also untenable, as Voltaire himself denies its validity when he remarked that he had "forgotten about much larger bankruptcies through Christians."[31]

In the Scottish Enlightenment the Scots began developing a uniquely practical branch of humanism to the extent that Voltaire said "We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation"[32][33].


Voltaire was initiated into Freemasonry one month before his death. On April 4, 1778 Voltaire accompanied Benjamin Franklin into Loge des Neuf Soeurs in Paris, France and became an Entered Apprentice Freemason, perhaps only to please Franklin. Both being deists and lovers of reason, Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin became close friends over time. [34]


Bust of Voltaire by Houdon.

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 and oppressive force useful only as a counterbalance since its "religious tax" or the tithe helped to create a strong backing for revolutionaries. Voltaire distrusted democracy, which he saw as propagating the idiocy of the masses.[35] Voltaire long thought only an enlightened monarch could bring about change, given the social structures of the time and the extremely high rates of illiteracy, and that it was in the king's rational interest to improve the education and welfare of his subjects. But his disappointments and disillusions with Frederick the Great changed his philosophy somewhat, and soon gave birth to one of his most enduring works, his novella, Candide, ou l'Optimisme (Candide, or Optimism, 1759), which ends with a new conclusion: "It is up to us to cultivate our garden". His most polemical and ferocious attacks on intolerance and religious persecutions indeed began to appear a few years later. Candide was also subject to censorship and Voltaire jokingly claimed the actual author was a certain "Demad" in a letter, where he reaffirmed the main polemical stances of the text.[36]

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 Three Impostors. But far from being the cynical remark it is often taken for, it was meant as a retort to the atheistic clique of d'Holbach, Grimm, and others.

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 the Third Estate (the commoners and middle class, who were burdened with most of the taxes).

Voltaire has had his detractors among his later colleagues. The Scottish Victorian writer Thomas Carlyle argued that, while Voltaire was unsurpassed in literary form, not even the most elaborate of his works were of much value for matter and that he never uttered an original idea of his own. Nietzsche, however, called Carlyle an "insipid muddlehead" who failed to free himself from the very petty-mindedness he professed to condemn.

While he often used China, Siam and Japan as examples of brilliant non-European civilizations and harshly criticized slavery,[37] he often said that the ancient Jews were "an ignorant and barbarous people", but that most of the ancient peoples were as well.

The town of Ferney, where Voltaire lived out the last 20 years of his life, is now named Ferney-Voltaire in honor of its most famous resident. His château is a museum.

Voltaire's library is preserved intact in the National Library of Russia at St. Petersburg, Russia.

In Zurich 1916, the theater and performance group who would become the early avant-garde movement Dada named their theater The Cabaret Voltaire. A late-20th-century industrial music group then named themselves after the theater.

A character based on Voltaire plays an important role in The Age of Unreason, a series of four alternate history novels written by American science fiction and fantasy author Gregory Keyes.

Voltaire was also known to have been an advocate for coffee, as he was purported to have drunk the beverage at least 30 times per day. It has been suggested that high amounts of caffeine acted as a mental stimulant to his creativity.[38]


Major works


Voltaire wrote between fifty and sixty plays, including a few unfinished ones. Among them are these:


  • History of Charles XII, King of Sweden (1731)
  • The Age of Louis XIV (1751)
  • The Age of Louis XV (1746 - 1752)
  • Annals of the Empire - Charlemagne, A.D. 742 - Henry VII 1313, Vol. I (1754)
  • Annals of the Empire - Louis of Bavaria, 1315 to Ferdinand II 1631 Vol. II (1754)
  • ' Essay on the Manners of Nations (or 'Universal History') (1756)
  • History of the Russian Empire Under Peter the Great (Vol. I 1759; Vol. II 1763)



See also


  1. ^ Wright, p 505.
  2. ^ Liukkonen, Petri. "Voltaire (1694-1778) - pseudonym of François-Marie Arouet". Retrieved 24 July 2009. 
  3. ^ Christopher Thacker (1971), "Voltaire", Profiles in literature series (Taylor & Francis): p. 3, ISBN 9780710070203, 
  4. ^ Holmes, Richard (2000). Sidetracks: explorations of a romantic biographer. HarperCollins. pp. 345–366.  and "Voltaire's Grin" in New York Review of Books, 30 November 1995, pp. 49-55
  5. ^ - "The appendixes offer even more: a listing of Voltaire's and Daniel Defoe's numerous pseudonyms (178 and 198, respectively)..."
  6. ^ a b c d "The Life of Voltaire". Retrieved 2009-08-03. 
  7. ^ "Ian Davidson, Voltaire in Exile, Grove Press 2006".  See also Will and Ariel Durant, The Age of Voltaire, Simon & Schuster (196 ) page 392[1]
  8. ^ "Davidson, ibid, page 7". Retrieved 2009-08-03. 
  9. ^ According to poet Richard Armour, Voltaire's friendship with Frederick William existed because "Frederick considered Voltaire to be immensely clever and so did Voltaire."
  10. ^ The Scottish diarist Boswell recorded their conversations in 1764, which are published in Boswell and the Grand Tour.
  11. ^ Norman Davies, Europe: A history p. 687
  12. ^ Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed, 1954; "Cornu" article
  13. ^ Voltaire and Rousseau, Their Tombs in the Pantheon Opened and Their Bones Exposed, New York Times, January 8, 1898
  14. ^ Palmer, R.R.; Colton, Joel (1950). A History of the Modern World. McGraw-Hill, Inc.. ISBN 0-07-040826-2. 
  15. ^ Boller, Jr., Paul F.; George, John (1989). They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505541-1. 
  16. ^ Charles Wirz, archivist at The Voltaire Institute and Museum in Geneva, recalled in 1994, that Hall, placed wrongly, between speech marks this quotation in two works devoted to Voltaire, recognising expressly the quotation in question was not one, in a letter of 9 May 1939, which was published in 1943 in volume LVIII under the title "Voltaire never said it" (pp.534-5) of the review "Modern language notes", Johns Hopkins Press, 1943, Baltimore. An extract from the letter: 'The phrase "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" which you have found in my book "Voltaire in His Letters" is my own expression and should not have been put in inverted commas. Please accept my apologies for having, quite unintentionally, misled you into thinking I was quoting a sentence used by Voltaire (or anyone else but myself).' "The words "my own" were underlined personally by Hall in her letter. To believe certain commentators - Norbert Guterman, A Book of French Quotations, 1963 - Hall was referencing back to a Voltaire letter of 6 February 1770 to an abbot le Riche where Voltaire said "Reverend, I hate what you write, but I will give my life so that you can continue to write." The problem is that, if you consult the letter itself, the sentence there does not appear, nor even the idea: A M LE RICHE A AMIENS. 6 February. You left, Sir, des Welches for des Welches. You will find everywhere barbarians obstinate. The number of wise will always be small. It is has increased; but it is nothing in comparison with the stupid ones; and, by misfortune, one says that God is always for the big battalions. It is necessary that the decent people stick together and stay under cover. There are no means that their small troop could tackle the party of the fanatics in open country. I was very sick, I was near death every winter; this is the reason, Sir, why I have answered you so late. I am not less touched by it than your memory. Continue to me your friendship; it comforts me my evils and stupidities of the human genre. Receive my assurances, etc. Voltaire, however, did not hesitate to wish censure against slander and personal libels. Here is what he writes in his “Atheism” article in the Dictionnaire philosophique: Aristophanes (this man that the commentators admire because he was Greek, not thinking that Socrates was Greek also), Aristophanes was the first who accustomed the Athenians to consider Socrates an atheist. ... The tanners, the shoemakers and the dressmakers of Athens applauded a joke in which one represented Socrates raised in the air in a basket, announcing there was God, and praising himself to have stolen a coat by teaching philosophy. A whole people, whose bad government authorized such infamous licences, deserved well what it got, to become the slave of the Romans, and today of the Turks.
  17. ^ "article in Forum for Modern Language Studies". doi:10.1093/fmls/I.3.230. Retrieved 2009-08-03. 
  18. ^ Will and Ariel Durant, Rousseau and Revolution (1967), page 138
  19. ^ "Voltaire". 2009-06-25. Retrieved 2009-08-03. 
  20. ^ Voltaire. W. Dugdale, A Philosophical Dictionary ver 2, 1843, Page 473 sec 1. Retrieved October 31, 2007.
  21. ^ Keffe, Simon P. (2003). The Cambridge Companion to Mozart. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521001927. 
  22. ^ Voltaire Letter to Benedict XIV written in Paris on August 17, 1745 AD Your holiness will pardon the liberty taken by one of the lowest of the faithful, though a zealous admirer of virtue, of submitting to the head of the true religion this performance, written in opposition to the founder of a false and barbarous sect. To whom could I with more propriety inscribe a satire on the cruelty and errors of a false prophet, than to the vicar and representative of a God of truth and mercy? Your holiness will therefore give me leave to lay at your feet both the piece and the author of it, and humbly to request your protection of the one, and your benediction upon the other; in hopes of which, with the profoundest reverence, I kiss your sacred feet.
  23. ^ "Essai sur les Moeurs et l'Esprit des Nations". Voltaire Intégral. Retrieved 2009-06-27. , Vol. I: Tome XI: Chap. VII "De l’Alcoran, et de la loi musulmane."
  24. ^ Geisler, N.L.; Nix, W.E.. A General Introduction to the Bible. Moody Press. 
  25. ^ "Voltaire's House and The Bible Society" (pdf). The Open Society. Retrieved 2008-07-01.  2.18 MiB
  26. ^ a b c Prager, D; Telushkin, J. Why the Jews?: The Reason for Antisemitism. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983. page 128-9.
  27. ^ Voltaire, François-Marie. Essai sur les Moeurs.  See also: Voltaire, François-Marie. Dictionnaire Philosophique. 
  28. ^ Poliakov, L. The History of Anti-Semitism: From Voltaire to Wagner. Routledge & Kegan Paul, Ltd., 1975 (translated). page 88-89.
  29. ^ Gay, P. The Party of Humanity: Essays in the French Enlightenment. Alfred Knopf, 1964. pages 103-105.
  30. ^ Gay, Party of Humanity, 44, 53.
  31. ^ Hertzberg, A. The French Enlightenment and the Jews. Columbia University, 1968. page 284.
  32. ^ José Manuel Barroso, 11th President of the European Commission (28 November 2006). "The Scottish enlightenment and the challenges for Europe in the 21st century; climate change and energy" (html). Enlightenment Lecture Series, Edinburgh University. "I will try to show why Voltaire was right when he said: 'Nous nous tournons vers l’Écosse pour trouver toutes nos idées sur la civilisation' [we look to Scotland for all our ideas on civilisation]." 
  33. ^ "Visiting The Royal Society of Edinburgh…" (html). Royal Society of Edinburgh. First published in The Scotsman Saturday 4 June 2005. "Scotland has a proud heritage of science, research, invention and innovation, and can lay claim to some of the greatest minds and greatest discoveries since Voltaire wrote those words 250 years ago." 
  34. ^ "Benjamin Franklin...urged Voltaire to become a freemason; and Voltaire agreed, perhaps only to please Franklin.Ridley, Jasper (2002). The Freemasons: A History of the World's Most Powerful Secret Society. pp. 112.  See also: "I did not know that: Mason Facts".  and "Voltaire on British Columbia Grand Lodge Site". 
  35. ^ "Democracy". The Philosophical Dictionary. Knopf. 1924. Retrieved 2008-07-01. 
  36. ^ "Letter on the subject of Candide, to the Journal encyclopédique July 15, 1759". University of Chicago. Retrieved 2008-01-07. 
  37. ^ Voltaire, François-Marie. Candide (chapter 19). 
  38. ^
  39. ^ This is a translation of a famous Chinese play Orphan of Zhao about the revenge of the orphan of the clan of Zhao on his enemies who killed almost every member of his clan. This play was based on an actual historical event in the Spring-Autumn period of Chinese history. Voltaire's version was translated by Arthur Murphy as The Orphan of China in 1759.


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From Wikiquote

"What we find in books is like the fire in our hearths. We fetch it from our neighbor's, we kindle it at home, we communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all." .

François-Marie Arouet (1694-11-211778-05-30), better known by his pen name Voltaire, was a French writer, deist and philosopher.

See also: Candide



  • La vertu s'avilit à se justifier.
    • Virtue debases itself in justifying itself.
      • Oedipe, act II, scene IV (1718)
  • C'est un poids bien pesant qu'un nom trop tôt fameux.
    • Quite a heavy weight, a name too quickly famous.
      • La Henriade, chant troisième, l.41 (1722)
  • L'homme est libre au moment qu'il veut l'être.
    • Man is free at the instant he wants to be.
      • Source Brutus, act II, scene I (1730)
Opinions have caused more ills than the plague or earthquakes on this little globe of ours.
  • Les mortels sont égaux; ce n'est pas la naissance,
    C'est la seule vertu qui fait la différence.
    • All men are equal; it is not their birth,
      But virtue itself that makes the difference.
      • Eriphile, act II, scene I (1732); these lines were also used in Mahomet, act I, scene IV (1741)
  • Les anciens Romains élevaient des prodiges d'architecture pour faire combattre des bêtes.
    • The ancient Romans built their greatest masterpieces of architecture for wild beasts to fight in.
      • Letter addressed to "un premier commis" [name unknown] (1733-06-20), from Oeuvres Complètes de Voltaire: Correspondance [Garnier frères, Paris, 1880], vol. I, letter # 343 (p. 354)
  • Ainsi presque tout est imitation. L’idée des Lettres persanes est prise de celle de l’Espion turc. Le Boiardo a imité le Pulci, l’Arioste a imité le Boiardo. Les esprits les plus originaux empruntent les uns des autres.
    • Almost everything is imitation. The idea of The Persian Letters was taken from The Turkish Spy. Boiardo imitated Pulci, Ariosto imitated Boiardo. The most original writers borrowed from one another.
      • "Lettre XII: sur M. Pope et quelques autres poètes fameux," Lettres philosophiques (1733)
  • Il en est des livres comme du feu de nos foyers; on va prendre ce feu chez son voisin, on l’allume chez soi, on le communique à d’autres, et il appartient à tous.
    • What we find in books is like the fire in our hearths. We fetch it from our neighbors, we kindle it at home, we communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all.
      • "Lettre XII: sur M. Pope et quelques autres poètes fameux," Lettres philosophiques' (1733)
  • Où est l'amitié est la patrie.
    • Where there is friendship, there is our natural soil.
      • Letter to Nicolas-Claude Thieriot (1734)
  • Le paradis terrestre est où je suis.
    • Paradise is where I am.
      • Le Mondain (1736)
  • Tout homme sensé, tout homme de bien, doit avoir la secte chrétienne en horreur.
  • Aime la vérité, mais pardonne à l'erreur.
    • Love truth, but pardon error.
      • "Deuxième discours: de la liberté," Sept Discours en Vers sur l'Homme (1738)
  • Usez, n’abusez point; le sage ainsi l’ordonne.
    Je fuis également Épictète et Pétrone.
    L’abstinence ou l’excès ne fit jamais d’heureux.
    • Use, do not abuse; the wise man arrange things so. I flee Epictetus and Petronius alike. Neither abstinence nor excess ever renders man happy.
      • "Cinquième discours: sur la nature de plaisir," Sept Discours en Vers sur l'Homme (1738)
  • Le secret d'ennuyer est celui de tout dire.
    • The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.
      • "Sixième discours: sur la nature de l'homme," Sept Discours en Vers sur l'Homme (1738)
  • Une seule partie de la physique occupe la vie de plusieurs hommes, et les laisse souvent mourir dans l'incertitude.
    • A single part of physics occupies the lives of many men, and often leaves them dying in uncertainty.
      • "A Madame la Marquise du Châtelet, Avant-Propos," Eléments de Philosophie de Newton (1738)
  • Ne peut-on pas remonter jusqu’à ces anciens scélérats, fondateurs illustres de la superstition et du fanatisme, qui, les premiers, ont pris le couteau sur l’autel pour faire des victimes de ceux qui refusaient d’etre leurs disciples?
    • May we not return to those scoundrels of old, the illustrious founders of superstition and fanaticism, who first took the knife from the altar to make victims of those who refused to be their disciples?
  • Mais qu’un marchand de chameaux excite une sédition dans sa bourgade; qu’associé à quelques malheureux coracites il leur persuade qu’il s’entretient avec l’ange Gabriel; qu’il se vante d’avoir été ravi au ciel, et d’y avoir reçu une partie de ce livre inintelligible qui fait frémir le sens commun à chaque page; que, pour faire respecter ce livre, il porte dans sa patrie le fer et la flamme; qu’il égorge les pères, qu’il ravisse les filles, qu’il donne aux vaincus le choix de sa religion ou de la mort, c’est assurément ce que nul homme ne peut excuser, à moins qu’il ne soit né Turc, et que la superstition n’étouffe en lui toute lumière naturelle.
    • But that a camel-merchant should stir up insurrection in his village; that in league with some miserable followers he persuades them that he talks with the angel Gabriel; that he boasts of having been carried to heaven, where he received in part this unintelligible book, each page of which makes common sense shudder; that, to pay homage to this book, he delivers his country to iron and flame; that he cuts the throats of fathers and kidnaps daughters; that he gives to the defeated the choice of his religion or death: this is assuredly nothing any man can excuse, at least if he was not born a Turk, or if superstition has not extinguished all natural light in him.
      • Letter to Frederick II of Prussia, December 1740, referring to Mohammed
  • Qui sert bien son pays n'a pas besoin d'aïeux.
    • Who serves his country well has no need of ancestors.
      • Mérope, act I, scene III (1743)
  • Les habiles tyrans ne sont jamais punis.
    • Clever tyrants are never punished.
      • Mérope, act V, scene V (1743)
  • Il vaut mieux hasarder de sauver un coupable que de condamner un innocent.
    • It is better to risk sparing a guilty person than to condemn an innocent one.
      • Zadig (1747)
  • Qui plume a, guerre a.
    • To hold a pen is to be at war.
      • Letter to Jeanne-Grâce Bosc du Bouchet, comtesse d'Argental (1748-10-04)
      • This remark also appears in a letter to Marie-Louise Denis (May 22, 1752): To hold a pen is to be at war. This world is one vast temple consecrated to discord [Qui plume a, guerre a. Ce monde est un vaste temple dédié à la discorde].
  • C'est une des superstitions de l'esprit humain d'avoir imaginé que la virginité pouvait être une vertu.
    • It is one of the superstitions of the human mind to have imagined that virginity could be a virtue.
      • Notebooks (c.1735-c.1750)
      • Note: This quotation and the three that follow directly below are from the so-called Leningrad Notebook, also known as Le Sottisier; it is one of several posthumously published notebooks of Voltaire.
  • Prier Dieu c'est se flatter qu'avec des paroles on changera toute la nature.
    • To pray to God is to flatter oneself that with words one can alter nature.
      • Notebooks (c.1735-c.1750)
  • Nous cherchons tous le bonheur, mais sans savoir où, comme les ivrognes qui cherchent leur maison, sachant confusément qu'ils en ont une.
    • We all look for happiness, but without knowing where to find it: like drunkards who look for their house, knowing dimly that they have one.
      • Notebooks (c.1735-c.1750)
      • A variation on this remark can be found in the same notebook: Men who look for happiness are like drunkards who cannot find their house but know that they have one [Les hommes qui cherchent le bonheur sont comme des ivrognes qui ne peuvent trouver leur maison, mais qui savent qu'ils en ont une].
  • Si Dieu nous a faits à son image, nous le lui avons bien rendu.
    • If God has made us in his image, we have returned him the favor.
      • Notebooks (c.1735-c.1750)
  • Il est dangereux d’avoir raison dans des choses où des hommes accrédités ont tort.
    • It is dangerous to be right in matters where established men are wrong.
      • "Catalogue pour la plupart des écrivains français qui ont paru dans Le Siècle de Louis XIV, pour servir à l'histoire littéraire de ce temps," Le Siècle de Louis XIV (1752)
      • Note: The most frequently attributed variant of this quote is: It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.
  • Un ministre est excusable du mal qu’il fait, lorsque le gouvernail de l’État est forcé dans sa main par les tempêtes; mais dans le calme il est coupable de tout le bien qu’il ne fait pas.
    • A minister of state is excusable for the harm he does when the helm of government has forced his hand in a storm; but in the calm he is guilty of all the good he does not do.
      • Le Siècle de Louis XIV, ch. VI: "État de la France jusqu’à la mort du cardinal Mazarin en 1661" (1752) Unsourced paraphrase or variant translation: Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.
  • Elle [la nation juive] ose étaler une haine irréconciliable contre toutes les nations; elle se révolte contre tous ses maîtres. Toujours superstitieuse, toujours avide du bien d’autrui, toujours barbare, rampante dans le malheur, et insolente dans la prospérité.
    • 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 in prosperity.
      • Essai sur les Moeurs et l'Esprit des Nations (1753), Introduction, XLII: Des Juifs depuis Saül [2]
  • Un peuple qui trafique de ses enfants est encore plus condamnable que l’acheteur: ce négoce démontre notre supériorité; ce qui se donne un maître était né pour en avoir.
    • A people that sells its own children is more condemnable than the buyer; this commerce demonstrates our superiority; he who gives himself a master was born to have one.
      • Essai sur les Moeurs et l'Espit des Nations (1753), ch. CXCVII: Résumé de toute cette histoire jusqu’au temps où commence le beau siècle de Louis XIV [3]
  • Ce corps qui s'appelait et qui s'appelle encore le saint empire romain n'était en aucune manière ni saint, ni romain, ni empire.
    • This agglomeration which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.
      • Essai sur l'histoire générale et sur les mœurs et l'esprit des nations, Chapter 70 (1756)
  • En aimant tant la gloire, comment pouvez-vous vous obstiner à un projet qui vous la fera perdre?
    • While loving glory so much how can you persist in a plan which will cause you to lose it?
      • Letters of Voltaire and Frederick the Great (New York: Brentano's, 1927), transl. Richard Aldington, letter 130 from Voltaire to Frederick II of Prussia, October 1757. [4]
  • Les opinions ont plus causé de maux sur ce petit globe que la peste et les tremblements de terre.
    • Opinions have caused more ills than the plague or earthquakes on this little globe of ours.
  • Il faut toujours en fait de nouvelles attendre le sacrement de la confirmation.
    • When we hear news, we should always wait for the sacrament of confirmation.
      • Letter to Charles-Augustin Ferriol, comte d'Argental (1760-08-28)
  • Quand il s’agit d’argent, tout le monde est de la même religion.
    • When it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion.
      • Letter to Mme. d'Épinal, Ferney (1760-12-26) from Oeuvres Complètes de Voltaire: Correspondance (Garnier frères, Paris, 1881), vol. IX, letter # 4390 (p. 124)
There are truths which are not for all men, nor for all times.
  • There are truths which are not for all men, nor for all times.
    • Letter to François-Joachim de Pierre, cardinal de Bernis (1761-04-23)
  • Quoi que vous fassiez, écrasez l'infâme, et aimez qui vous aime.
    • Whatever you do, crush the infamous thing, and love those who love you.
      • Letter to Jean le Rond d'Alembert (1762-11-28); This was written in reference to crushing superstition, and the words "écrasez l'infâme" ("Crush the Infamy") became a motto strongly identified with Voltaire.
  • La superstition est à la religion ce que l’astrologie est à l’astronomie, la fille très folle d’une mère très sage. Ces deux filles ont longtemps subjugué toute la terre.
    • Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy, the mad daughter of a wise mother. These daughters have too long dominated the earth.
      • "Whether it is useful to maintain the people in superstition," Treatise on Toleration (1763)
  • Il y a eu des gens qui ont dit autrefois: Vous croyez des choses incompréhensibles, contradictoires, impossibles, parce que nous vous l’avons ordonné; faites donc des choses injustes parce que nous vous l’ordonnons. Ces gens-là raisonnaient à merveille. Certainement qui est en droit de vous rendre absurde est en droit de vous rendre injuste. Si vous n’opposez point aux ordres de croire l’impossible l’intelligence que Dieu a mise dans votre esprit, vous ne devez point opposer aux ordres de malfaire la justice que Dieu a mise dans votre coeur. Une faculté de votre âme étant une fois tyrannisée, toutes les autres facultés doivent l’être également. Et c’est là ce qui a produit tous les crimes religieux dont la terre a été inondée.
    • Formerly there were those who said: You believe things that are incomprehensible, inconsistent, impossible because we have commanded you to believe them; go then and do what is unjust because we command it. Such people show admirable reasoning. Truly, whoever is able to make you absurd is able to make you unjust. If the God-given understanding of your mind does not resist a demand to believe what is impossible, then you will not resist a demand to do wrong to that God-given sense of justice in your heart. As soon as one faculty of your soul has been dominated, other faculties will follow as well. And from this derives all those crimes of religion which have overrun the world.
      • Questions sur les miracles (1765)
      • Alternative condensed translation: "Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities."
  • La nôtre [religion] est sans contredit la plus ridicule, la plus absurde, et la plus sanguinaire qui ait jamais infecté le monde.

    Votre Majesté rendra un service éternel au genre humain en détruisant cette infâme superstition, je ne dis pas chez la canaille, qui n’est pas digne d’être éclairée, et à laquelle tous les jougs sont propres; je dis chez les honnêtes gens, chez les hommes qui pensent, chez ceux qui veulent penser... Je ne m’afflige de toucher à la mort que par mon profond regret de ne vous pas seconder dans cette noble entreprise, la plus belle et la plus respectable qui puisse signaler l’esprit humain.

    • Ours is assuredly the most ridiculous, the most absurd and the most bloody religion which has ever infected this world.

      Your Majesty will do the human race an eternal service by extirpating this infamous superstition, I do not say among the rabble, who are not worthy of being enlightened and who are apt for every yoke; I say among honest people, among men who think, among those who wish to think. ... My one regret in dying is that I cannot aid you in this noble enterprise, the finest and most respectable which the human mind can point out.

      • Letters of Voltaire and Frederick the Great (New York: Brentano's, 1927), transl. Richard Aldington, letter 156 from Voltaire to Frederick II of Prussia, 1767-01-05 [5]
  • Le doute n'est pas une condition agréable, mais la certitude est absurde.
    • Doubt is not an agreeable condition, but certainty is an absurd one.
      • Letter to Frederick II of Prussia (1767-04-06)
  • Où est le prince assez instruit pour savoir que depuis dix-sept cents ans la secte chrétienne n’a jamais fait que du mal?
    • Where is the prince sufficiently educated to know that for seventeen hundred years the Christian sect has done nothing but harm?
      • Letters of Voltaire and Frederick the Great (New York: Brentano's, 1927), transl. Richard Aldington, letter 160 from Voltaire to Frederick II of Prussia, 1767-04-06 [6]
  • J'ai toujours fait une prière à Dieu, qui est fort courte. La voici: Mon Dieu, rendez nos ennemis bien ridicules! Dieu m'a exaucé.
    • I always made one prayer to God, a very short one. Here it is: "O Lord, make our enemies quite ridiculous!" God granted it.
      • Letter to Étienne Noël Damilaville (1767-05-16)
  • En effet, l'histoire n'est que le tableau des crimes et des malheurs.
  • Il est bien malaisé (puisqu’il faut enfin m’expliquer) d’ôter à des insensés des chaînes qu’ils révèrent.
    • It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.
      • Le dîner du comte de Boulainvilliers (1767): Troisième Entretien
  • La vie est hérissée de ces épines, et je n'y sais d'autre remède que de cultiver son jardin.
    • Life is bristling with thorns, and I know no other remedy than to cultivate one's garden.
      • Letter to Pierre-Joseph François Luneau de Boisjermain (1769-10-21), from Oeuvres Complètes de Voltaire: Correspondance [Garnier frères, Paris, 1882], vol. XIV, letter # 7692 (p. 478)
  • C’est une grande question parmi eux s’ils [les africains] sont descendus des singes ou si les singes sont venus d’eux. Nos sages ont dit que l’homme est l’image de Dieu: voilà une plaisante image de l’Être éternel qu’un nez noir épaté, avec peu ou point d’intelligence! Un temps viendra, sans doute, où ces animaux sauront bien cultiver la terre, l’embellir par des maisons et par des jardins, et connaître la route des astres il faut du temps pour tout.
    • It is a serious question among them whether they [Africans] are descended from monkeys or whether the monkeys come from them. Our wise men have said that man was created in the image of God. Now here is a lovely image of the Divine Maker: a flat and black nose with little or hardly any intelligence. A time will doubtless come when these animals will know how to cultivate the land well, beautify their houses and gardens, and know the paths of the stars: one needs time for everything.
      • Les Lettres d'Amabed (1769): Septième Lettre d'Amabed [7]
  • On dit que Dieu est toujours pour les gros bataillons.
    • It is said that God is always on the side of the big battalions.
      • Letter to François-Louis-Henri Leriche (1770-02-06)
      • Note: In his Notebooks (c.1735-c.1750), Voltaire wrote: God is not on the side of the big battalions, but on the side of those who shoot best.
  • C'est une plaisante chose que la pensée dépende absolument de l'estomac, et malgré cela les meilleurs estomacs ne soient pas les meilleurs penseurs.
    • Thought depends largely on the stomach. In spite of this, those with the best stomachs are not always the best thinkers.
      • Letter to Jean le Rond d'Alembert (1770-08-20)
  • Si Dieu n'existait pas, il faudrait l'inventer.
    • If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.
      • Épître à l'Auteur du Livre des Trois Imposteurs (1770-11-10)
  • "Si Dieu n'existait pas, il faudrait l'inventer." Mais toute la nature nous crie qu'il existe; qu'il y a une intelligence suprême, un pouvoir immense, un ordre admirable, et tout nous instruit de notre dépendance.
    • "If God did not exist, He would have to be invented." But all nature cries aloud that he does exist: that there is a supreme intelligence, an immense power, an admirable order, and everything teaches us our own dependence on it.
      • Voltaire quoting himself in his Letter to Prince Frederick William of Prussia (1770-11-28), translated by S.G. Tallentyre, Voltaire in His Letters, 1919.
  • Tous les autres peuples ont commis des crimes, les Juifs sont les seuls qui s'en soient vantés. Ils sont tous nés avec la rage du fanatisme dans le cœur, comme les Bretons et les Germains naissent avec des cheveux blonds. Je ne serais point étonné que cette nation ne fût un jour funeste au genre humain.
    • All of the other people have committed crimes, the Jews are the only ones who have boasted about committing them. They are, all of them, born with raging fanaticism in their hearts, just as the Bretons and the Germans are born with blond hair. I would not be in the least bit surprised if these people would not some day become deadly to the human race.
      • Lettres de Memmius a Cicéron (1771)
  • Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien.
    • The better is the enemy of the good.
      • La Bégueule (1772)
      • Variant translations:

        The perfect is the enemy of the good.
        The best is the enemy of the good.

      • Note: This quotation also appears in Italian (Il meglio è l'inimico del bene) in the Questions sur l'Encyclopédie article, "Dramatic Art" (1764)
  • J'aime fort la vérité, mais je n'aime point du tout le martyre.
    • I am very fond of truth, but not at all of martyrdom.
      • Letter to Jean le Rond d'Alembert (1776-02-08)
  • Je meurs en adorant Dieu, en aimant mes amis, en ne haïssant pas mes ennemis et en détestant la superstition.
    • I die adoring God, loving my friends, not hating my enemies, and detesting superstition.
      • Déclaration de Voltaire, note to his secretary, Jean-Louis Wagnière (1778-02-28)
  • Que les supplices des criminels soient utiles. Un homme pendu n’est bon à rien, et un homme condamné aux ouvrages publics sert encore la patrie, et est une leçon vivante.
    • Let the punishments of criminals be useful. A hanged man is good for nothing; a man condemned to public works still serves the country, and is a living lesson.
      • "Civil and Ecclesiastical Laws," Dictionnaire philosophique (1785-1789)
      • Note: The Dictionnaire philosophique was a posthumously published collection of articles combining the Dictionnaire philosophique portatif (published under various editions and titles from 1764 to 1777), the Questions sur l'Encyclopédie (published from 1770 to 1774), articles written for the Encyclopédie and the Dictionnaire de l'Académie française, the manuscript known as l'Opinion sur l'alphabet and a number of previously published miscellaneous articles.
  • Laissez lire, et laissez danser; ces deux amusements ne feront jamais de mal au monde.
    • Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.
      • "Liberty of the Press," Dictionnaire philosophique (1785-1789)
  • Toutes les sectes des philosophes ont échoué contre l’écueil du mal physique et moral. Il ne reste que d’avouer que Dieu ayant agi pour le mieux n’a pu agir mieux.
    • All philosophical sects have run aground on the reef of moral and physical ill. It only remains for us to confess that God, having acted for the best, had not been able to do better.
      • "Power, Omnipotence," Dictionnaire philosophique (1785-1789)
  • L'homme doit être content, dit-on; mais de quoi?
    • Man ought to be content, it is said; but with what?
    • Pensées, Remarques, et Observations de Voltaire; ouvrage posthume (1802)
      • Note: This is from a volume of posthumously published "Thoughts, remarks and observations" believed to be by Voltaire. [8]
  • Le public est une bête féroce: il faut l’enchaîner ou la fuir.
    • The public is a ferocious beast: one must chain it up or flee from it.
      • Letter to Mademoiselle Quinault, quoted in Charles Sainte-Beuve, "Lettres inédites de Voltaire," Causeries de Lundi (20 October 1856) [9]; an English translation can be found on this page: [10]
  • I cannot imagine how the clockwork of the universe can exist without a clockmaker.
    • As quoted in More Random Walks in Science : An Anthology (1982) by Robert L. Weber, p. 65

Dictionnaire philosophique portatif (1764)

  • La morale est la même chez tous les hommes, donc elle vient de Dieu; le culte est différent, donc il est l’ouvrage des hommes.
    • Morality is everywhere the same for all men, therefore it comes from God; sects differ, therefore they are the work of men.
      • "Atheist" (1764)
  • Tel homme qui dans un excès de mélancolie se tue aujourd’hui aimerait à vivre s’il attendait huit jours.
    • The man, who in a fit of melancholy, kills himself today, would have wished to live had he waited a week.
  • Ne ressemblons-nous pas presque tous à ce vieux général de quatre-vingt-dix ans, qui, ayant rencontré de jeunes officiers qui faisaient un peu de désordre avec des filles, leur dit tout en colère: "Messieurs, est-ce là l’exemple que je vous donne?"
    • Do not most of us resemble that old general of ninety who, having come upon some young officers debauching some girls, said to them angrily: "Gentlemen, is that the example I give you?"
      • "Character" (1764)
  • On dit quelquefois: "Le sens commun est fort rare."
    • People sometimes say: "Common sense is quite rare."
      • "Common Sense" (1765)
      • Note: The better known variant of this quote is "Common sense is not so common," said to be in the Philosophical Dictionary entry "Self-Love"; but it is not found there.
  • Sa réputation s’affermira toujours, parce qu’on ne le lit guère.
    • His reputation will go on increasing because scarcely anyone reads him.
  • Tous les hommes seraient donc nécessairement égaux, s’ils étaient sans besoins. La misère attachée à notre espèce subordonne un homme à un autre homme: ce n’est pas l’inégalité qui est un malheur réel, c’est la dépendance.
    • All men would then be necessarily equal, if they were without needs. It is the poverty connected with our species which subordinates one man to another. It is not inequality which is the real misfortune, it is dependence.
      • "Equality" (1764)
  • Telle est donc la condition humaine que souhaiter la grandeur de son pays, c’est souhaiter du mal à ses voisins.
    • Such then is the human condition, that to wish greatness for one's country is to wish harm to one's neighbors.
      • "Fatherland" (1764)
  • Les hommes vertueux ont seuls des amis.
  • Voulez-vous avoir de bonnes lois; brûlez les vôtres, et faites-en de nouvelles.
    • If you want good laws, burn those you have and make new ones.
  • Le préjugé est une opinion sans jugement.
    • Prejudice is an opinion without judgement.
      • "Prejudices" (1764)
  • Qu’est-ce que la tolérance? c’est l’apanage de l’humanité. Nous sommes tous pétris de faiblesses et d’erreurs; pardonnons-nous réciproquement nos sottises, c’est la première loi de la nature.
    • What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly — that is the first law of nature.
      • "Tolerance" (1764)
  • Une compagnie de graves tyrans est inaccessible à toutes les séductions.
    • A company of solemn tyrants is impervious to all seductions.
      • "Tyranny" (1764)

Questions sur l'Encyclopédie (1770-1774)

  • On en trouve [l'argent] toujours quand il s’agit d’aller faire tuer des hommes sur la frontière: il n’y en a plus quand il faut les sauver.
    • Money is always to be found when men are to be sent to the frontiers to be destroyed: when the object is to preserve them, it is no longer so.
      • "Charity" (1770)
  • La vertu suppose la liberté, comme le transport d’un fardeau suppose la force active. Dans la contrainte point de vertu, et sans vertu point de religion. Rends-moi esclave, je n’en serai pas meilleur. Le souverain même n’a aucun droit d’employer la contrainte pour amener les hommes à la religion, qui suppose essentiellement choix et liberté. Ma pensée n’est pas plus soumise à l’autorité que la maladie ou la santé.
    • Virtue supposes liberty, as the carrying of a burden supposes active force. Under coercion there is no virtue, and without virtue there is no religion. Make a slave of me, and I shall be no better for it. Even the sovereign has no right to use coercion to lead men to religion, which by its nature supposes choice and liberty. My thought is no more subject to authority than is sickness or health.
      • "Canon Law: Ecclesiastical Ministry" (1771)
  • Le divorce est probablement de la même date à peu près que le mariage. Je crois pourtant que le mariage est de quelques semaines plus ancien.
    • Divorce is probably of nearly the same age as marriage. I believe, however, that marriage is some weeks the more ancient.
      • "Divorce" (1771)
  • Il faut vingt ans pour mener l’homme de l’état de plante où il est dans le ventre de sa mère, et de l’état de pur animal, qui est le partage de sa première enfance, jusqu’à celui où la maturité de la raison commence à poindre. Il a fallu trente siècles pour connaître un peu sa structure. Il faudrait l’éternité pour connaître quelque chose de son âme. Il ne faut qu’un instant pour le tuer.
    • It requires twenty years for a man to rise from the vegetable state in which he is within his mother's womb, and from the pure animal state which is the lot of his early childhood, to the state when the maturity of reason begins to appear. It has required thirty centuries to learn a little about his structure. It would need eternity to learn something about his soul. It takes an instant to kill him.
      • "Man: General Reflection on Man" (1771)
  • En général, l’art du gouvernement consiste à prendre le plus d’argent qu’on peut à une grande partie des citoyens, pour le donner à une autre partie.
    • In general, the art of government consists in taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other.
      • "Money" (1770)
  • Rien n’est si ordinaire que d’imiter ses ennemis, et d’employer leurs armes.
    • Nothing is so common as to imitate one's enemies, and to use their weapons.
      • "Oracles" (1770)
  • L’Éternel a ses desseins de toute éternité. Si la prière est d’accord avec ses volontés immuables, il est très inutile de lui demander ce qu’il a résolu de faire. Si on le prie de faire le contraire de ce qu’il a résolu, c’est le prier d’être faible, léger, inconstant; c’est croire qu’il soit tel, c’est se moquer de lui. Ou vous lui demandez une chose juste; en ce cas il la doit, et elle se fera sans qu’on l’en prie; c’est même se défier de lui que lui faire instance ou la chose est injuste, et alors on l’outrage. Vous êtes digne ou indigne de la grâce que vous implorez: si digne, il le sait mieux que vous; si indigne, on commet un crime de plus en demandant ce qu’on ne mérite pas.
    En un mot, nous ne faisons des prières à Dieu que parce que nous l’avons fait à notre image. Nous le traitons comme un bacha, comme un sultan qu’on peut irriter ou apaiser.
    • The Eternal has his designs from all eternity. If prayer is in accord with his immutable wishes, it is quite useless to ask of him what he has resolved to do. If one prays to him to do the contrary of what he has resolved, it is praying that he be weak, frivolous, inconstant; it is believing that he is thus, it is to mock him. Either you ask him a just thing, in which case he must do it, the thing being done without your praying to him for it, and so to entreat him is then to distrust him; or the thing is unjust, and then you insult him. You are worthy or unworthy of the grace you implore: if worthy, he knows it better than you; if unworthy, you commit another crime by requesting what is undeserved.
      In a word, we only pray to God because we have made him in our image. We treat him like a pasha, like a sultan whom one may provoke or appease.
      • "Prayers" (1770)
  • Il est défendu de tuer; tout meurtrier est puni, à moins qu’il n’ait tué en grande compagnie, et au son des trompettes.
    • It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.
      • "Rights" (1771)


  • Anything that is too stupid to be spoken is sung.
    • Source: "Nowadays what isn't worth saying is sung" (Aujourd'hui ce qui ne vaut pas la peine d'être dit, on le chante) — Pierre de Beaumarchais, Le Barbier de Séville (1775), act I, scene II.
    • In George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman, act II, there is the following dialogue:
      TANNER: Let me remind you that Voltaire said that what was too silly to be said could be sung.
      STRAKER. It wasn't Voltaire: it was Bow Mar Shay.
      TANNER. I stand corrected: Beaumarchais of course.
    • This quote has also been attributed to Joseph Addison. In The Spectator, 1711-03-21, Addison wrote of "an establish'd Rule, which is receiv'd as such to this Day, That nothing is capable of being well set to Musick, that is not Nonsense."
  • Business is the salt of life.
    • This is a proverb which can be found in Robert Codrington's "Youth's Behaviour, Second Part" (1672) and in Thomas Fuller's "Gnomologia" (1732).
  • Defend me from my friends; I can defend myself from my enemies.
    • Garantissez-moi de mes amis, écrivait Gourville proscrit et fugitif, je saurai me défendre de mes ennemis. ("Defend me from my friends," wrote Gourville, exile and fugitive, "I can defend myself from my enemies.") — Gabriel Sénac de Meilhan, Considérations sur l'esprit et les moeurs (1788): "De L'Amitié." Sénac de Meilhan was quoting Jean Hérault, sieur de Gourville (1625 - 1703).
    • The remark has often been attributed to Voltaire and to Claude-Louis-Hector de Villars.
  • God is a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere.
    • For a discussion of this quotation, which is uncertain in origin but was quoted long before Voltaire, see the following: [11]
  • God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.
    • "Creator — A comedian whose audience is afraid to laugh." — H.L. Mencken, in A Book of Burlesques‎ (1920), p. 203. and A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949), Ch. 30
  • I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
    • Though these words are regularly attributed to Voltaire, they were first used by Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing under the pseudonym of Stephen G Tallentyre in The Friends of Voltaire (1906), as a summation of Voltaire's beliefs on freedom of thought and expression.
    • Another possible source for the quote was proposed by Norbert Guterman, editor of "A Book of French Quotations," who noted a letter to M. le Riche (February 6, 1770) in which Voltaire is quoted as saying: "Monsieur l'abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write" ("Monsieur l'abbé, je déteste ce que vous écrivez, mais je donnerai ma vie pour que vous puissiez continuer à écrire"). This remark, however, does not appear in the letter.
  • Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.
    • Il est encore plus facile de juger de l'esprit d'un homme par ses questions que par ses réponses. (It is easier to judge the mind of a man by his questions rather than his answers) — Pierre-Marc-Gaston, duc de Lévis (1764-1830), Maximes et réflexions sur différents sujets de morale et de politique (Paris, 1808): Maxim xvii
  • No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.
  • Nothing can be more contrary to religion and the clergy than reason and common sense.
    • Rien n'est plus contraire à la religion et au clergé qu'une tête sensée et raisonnable.Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach, Théologie portative, ou Dictionnaire abrégé de la religion chrétienne (1768): Folie

About Voltaire

  • Not a day goes by without our using the word optimism, coined by Voltaire against Leibniz, who had demonstrated (in spite of the Ecclesiastes and with the approval of the Church) that we live in the best of possible worlds. Voltaire, very reasonably, denied that exhorbitant opinion... Leibniz could have replied that a world which has given us Voltaire has some right to be considered the best.

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