Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 514
Context: Voltaire aroused controversy all his life and would doubtless have been pleased if he could have known that it would still rage for nearly two centuries after his death. The champion of freedom in thought and belief, he wrote voluminously in support of his ideas throughout a long and...
(The entire section contains 514 words.)
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Context: Voltaire aroused controversy all his life and would doubtless have been pleased if he could have known that it would still rage for nearly two centuries after his death. The champion of freedom in thought and belief, he wrote voluminously in support of his ideas throughout a long and active life; as a result he was often in trouble with those in power. He wrote in many fields and was successful in all; beginning with the drama, he produced a tragedy which made him the fashionable poet of Paris. At the same time he was confined in the Bastille–first for writing satirical verses against the regent, and again a few years later for refusing to swallow an insult. He spent three years in England, returned to France, and became affluent through various investments. A few peaceful years were passed with the Marquise du Châtelet, but after her death his political insecurity returned. The genius of his wit and pen gained him royal favor and lost it for him; after a painful bout with the Prussian court he moved to Geneva and established an estate near that city, where he ruled almost as a monarch. Much of his later life was spent in exile; his most savage attacks were reserved for orthodox Christianity, priest-craft, and Catholicism, and he found it necessary to live outside France or upon its borders. Voltaire was not an atheist. He upheld theism with as much zeal as he employed in denouncing Christianity, and the atheists of his time considered him a reactionary. During all his long life he wrote steadily–poetry, drama, romance, history, philosophy, criticism, science, and the philosophical novels for which he is best known today. In addition, he carried on a vast correspondence. His utterances are keen and penetrating, often aphoristic or epigrammatic. His On the Nature of Man contains several examples, among them the lines "The way to be a bore, for an author, is to say everything (Le secret d'ennuyer est . . . de tout dire)." The following translation, by William F. Fleming, renders them in the style of Pope, whose Essay on Man (Voltaire's inspiration) had appeared in 1733–1734:
The night, perhaps, was lightsome as the day,
And winter bloomed with all the flowers of May;
Whilst man, the king of earth, in peace retired,
Wrapt up in self, himself alone admired.
But let us rest contented with our fate,
Our bliss is suited to our present state:
Against our Maker murmurs must prove vain,
Mortals should not the laws of God arraign:
Let us to serve him all our lives employ,
And gratefully the bliss he gives, enjoy.
If to two days the Almighty had confined
The time allotted to all humankind,
We should to God those two short days consign,
And consecrate the time to love divine.
He who assiduous every call attends,
Never complains that life too quickly ends.
A man in little time may sure live long,
This I could prove by reasons very strong;
But authors should not to instruct aspire,
Who speaks too much is ever sure to tire.