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Atelier de Nicolas de Largillière, portrait de Voltaire, detail (Musée Carnavalet) -001.jpg
François-Marie Arouet (Voltaire), Portrait of Nicolas de Largillière (after 1724/1725)
Signature of Voltaire.jpg
Voltaire's signature

Voltaire [ vɔltɛːʀ ] (actually François-Marie Arouet [fʀɑ̃swa maʀi aʀwɛ], born  November 21, 1694 in Paris , † May 30, 1778 ibid) was a French philosopher and writer . He is one of the most widely read and influential Enlightenment authors .

In France in particular, the 18th century is also known as "the century of Voltaire" ( le siècle de Voltaire ) . As a poet , playwright and epic poet , he wrote primarily for the educated French bourgeoisie , as a narrator and philosopher for the entire European upper class in the Age of Enlightenment , whose members usually mastered the French language and read some of the original French-language works. Many of his works saw multiple editions in quick succession and were often immediately translated into other European languages. Voltaire had an excellent knowledge of the English and Italian languages and published some texts therein. He spent a considerable part of his life outside France and knew the Netherlands , England , Germany and Switzerland from personal experience.

With his criticism of the abuses of absolutism and feudal rule as well as the ideological monopoly of the Catholic Church , Voltaire was a pioneer of the Enlightenment and an important pioneer of the French Revolution . In presenting and defending what he believed to be right, he showed an extensive knowledge and empathy for the ideas of his contemporary readers. His precise and generally understandable style, his often sarcastic wit and his art of irony are often considered unsurpassed.


Bust of Voltaire, Paul-Louis Cyfflé


The later Monsieur de Voltaire has been born François-Marie Arouet on 21 November 1694 in Paris and the next day in the church Saint-André-des-Arts in Paris baptized . Voltaire himself always stated, however, that he was born on February 20 of the same year in a country house belonging to his family near the town of Sceaux . Voltaire was the youngest of five children of the civil lawyer François Arouet and the noble Marie Marguerite Arouet, née Daumart. Two of his older siblings had died shortly after their birth, his brother Armand was ten and his sister Catherine eight years older than him. The father, who was close to Jansenism , was the son of a wealthy Parisian textile merchant, had initially acquired the post of notary at the Paris City Court and shortly after the birth of his youngest the office of High Judge (Conseiller du roi) at the Supreme Finance Court. Here he exercised the lucrative office of fee collector (receveur d'épices) . Voltaire himself, however, liked the idea he had expressed that he had been conceived out of wedlock, on the one hand his godfather, the noble Abbé de Châteauneuf, and on the other hand a friend of the family, the literary amateur ex-officer Guérin de Rochebrune († †) 1719), named as his mother's lover.

His educated mother came from a family of lawyers in Paris. She died when Voltaire was six years old. After her death, he was initially looked after by his sister and in 1704 came to the Jesuit college Louis-le-Grand (today Lycée Louis-le-Grand) as a boarding school student. Here he acquired a solid humanistic education. Early on he proved with verses his literary talent and was therefore in 1706 by his godfather, the Abbe de Chateauneuf, in the Epicurean - freethinking circle around Philippe de Vendôme introduced, the governor of the Order of Malta in France. His enthusiasm for the theater also began at this time. Preserved fragments of the tragedy Amulius et Numitor probably come from the late school days . In 1710 his teachers published a printed poem by him, an ode to St. Genoveva . In the same year he received several school awards and was introduced to the most famous poet of the time, Jean-Baptiste Rousseau . In addition, he made some friends among his predominantly aristocratic classmates, e. B. the brothers René-Louis and Marc-Pierre d'Argenson , who later became foreign and war ministers, respectively.

Since his father wanted him to become a lawyer like his brother, he enrolled at the Paris Law School in 1711. Mainly, however, he was active as a writer of elegant and witty verse and made a name for himself in the city's literary circles. In the spring of 1713 he was forced by his dissatisfied father to take up a position as a notarial clerk (clerc de notaire) in the provincial town of Caen . However, he soon socialized here in aesthetic and free-thinking circles, so that in the autumn his father forced him to accompany the French ambassador, a brother of his godfather, as secretary to The Hague . There he began a love affair with a young Huguenot , daughter of a Madame Denoyer, who published a satirical magazine critical of France. As can be seen from received love letters from the young people, Voltaire even thought of kidnapping the seventeen-year-old "Pimpette". The horrified mother complained to the envoy, who then sent his nineteen-year-old secretary back to Paris. The father, outraged, threatened disinheritance and deportation to America.

First works and publications

Voltaire (1718), portrait by Nicolas de Largillière

Back in Paris, Voltaire worked briefly again in 1714 for a lawyer, but was increasingly active in literature, which his father finally accepted. As before, he frequented literary and intellectual circles. There he made his first enemies, for example with a pamphlet against the Académie française , which was an ode to Louis XIII submitted by him . or with a verse satire on the established author and literary theorist Antoine Houdar de la Motte , who advocated the use of prose instead of verse in narrative works and even tragedies - a view that Voltaire 30 years later as a narrator and occasionally as a playwright quite shared. The ode Le vrai Dieu from 1715 is one of his first philosophical texts.

More and more aristocratic houses opened up to him, where he was valued as a versatile lyric poet and above all as an author of funny, often mocking poems. One of his most distinguished addresses was the small court of an illegitimate, legitimate son of Louis XIV , the Duc du Maine , and his wife Bénédicte, who was interested in literature and art . Maine was regent for the young Louis XV in 1715 by his dying father together with his cousin Philip of Orléans . determined, however, by Philip using the Paris Parlements been sidelined.

At the Maines, Voltaire read a satirical poem in 1716, in which he alluded to the rumor that Philip had an incestuous relationship with his daughter Marie Louise Élisabeth d'Orléans , Duchess of Berry. Of course Philip found out about it and, in his capacity as regent, banished Voltaire from Paris. Only after a few months, most of which he spent as a guest at the castle of the young Duc de Sully, was he allowed to return, having addressed an epistle of supplication and homage to Philip. Hardly in Paris, however, he wrote another satire. In the presence of a police spy, he again made highly insulting comments about the Duchess of Berry. This time the sentence was harsher: in May 1717 he was imprisoned in the Bastille .

Here he completed his first tragedy, Oedipe, which rivaled Sophocles and Corneille . Above all, he began an epic under the title La Ligue about the worst phase of the Huguenot Wars and their end by Henry IV , who defeated the Catholic League and in 1598 with the Edict of Nantes granted the Protestants toleration. The work, which rivaled Virgil's Aeneid , was intended as a kind of national epic and later actually gave Voltaire the reputation of the greatest French epic poet of his time.

Thanks to the advocacy of influential patrons, he was released from prison after eleven months, but was initially banished from Paris. After he returned there in October 1718, after almost a year and a half, he appeared under the new name “de Voltaire” from June 12, 1718 - probably an anagram from AROVETL [e] J [eune] (with the handwritten swap identical letters V / U and J / I as well as the aristocratic “de” in front of it, which gained respect in society, but was not a given title of nobility , but a nom de plume ). Voltaire justified the name change in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Rousseau written in early 1719 . He did not want to be confused with the mediocre playwright Pierre-Charles Roy . The pronunciation of the surnames at that time was the same except for the initial A. Voltaire passionately cultivated the feud with Roy, which began in 1716, until the end of his life. The name Voltaire first appeared in print in 1719 on the title page of the Oedipe .

The successful performance of Oedipe , a play that, ironically enough, had an incestuous relationship to the subject, made him well known in the autumn of 1718. The personal tips against the regent and his daughter were now replaced by a highly literary sublimation. The regent himself attended the premiere accompanied by his daughter, the "fertile" Berry; this “moved in in striking splendor with an entourage of thirty ladies and sat down on a seat under a canopy of the kind that had never been seen in a French theater. Her advanced pregnancy did one more thing to make her the focus of curiosity. ”Afterwards she saw the play several times demonstratively. Voltaire frequented literary salons again and was also a welcome guest in the country castles of the high nobility around Paris. Here he met the exiled politician Lord Bolingbroke , who brought him closer to England. During this time he wrote the tragedy Artémire (1720) and the verse Epistle Épître à Uranie (1722), where he first explicitly formulated his theistic ideas. He also continued to work on La Ligue .

When his father died in 1722, Voltaire inherited part of his fortune. Since he received a pension (annual gratuity ) from the royal casket from the regent Philip in the same year as a reward for the Oedipe , he was now financially well off. Also in 1722 he made his first long trip - to the Austrian Netherlands . Here he visited Jean-Baptiste Rousseau , who had been banished from France in Brussels , but who fell out with him. In 1723 he entered into a relationship with the aristocratic Madame de Bernières, the wife of a presiding judge (président) at the Parlement , and thus demonstrated his greatly improved social status .

In the same year he first met the censors when he was refused permission to print La Ligue, ou Henri le Grand , although he had asked to dedicate the work to the king. He therefore had it appear anonymously in Rouen in 1723 with the false imprintGenève ”. In 1724 his tragedy Mariamne fell through at the premiere. However, after a revision under the new title Hérode et Mariamne, it saw 27 performances in a row in the following year.

In May 1725, thanks to the influential Marquise de Prie , lover of the First Minister, the Duke of Bourbon , Voltaire was commissioned to stage theatrical performances for the wedding of Louis XV. to organize. This gave him access to the court at Versailles and brought him a second pension , now from the young queen's box. As one of France's most sought-after authors and a wealthy person, he seemed perfectly integrated into the prevailing system.

Voltaire in England

In 1726 the Chevalier de Rohan , scion of an old noble family, had him beaten up by his servants. When Rohan's mocking question about how he got his new name, Voltaire answered snippily: “Je commence mon nom, monsieur, vous finissez le vôtre” (for example: I am the first of my name, you are only the last). Voltaire, outraged by the beating, took fencing lessons to challenge the Chevalier to a duel. However, the Rohan obtained a royal warrant for his arrest, and he was returned to the Bastille . Since he was now famous, the king offered him freedom on the condition that he leave France.

Voltaire accepted and went to England where the industrial revolution was imminent. He was fascinated by the intellectual and economic optimism as well as by the relatively great intellectual freedom and social mobility in this multi-denominational society, in which religion was a private matter and the power of the king and the privileges of the nobility were restricted. He was particularly impressed by the parliamentary system and the protection of citizens against arbitrary state decisions. He was introduced to the best circles of London by Lord Bolingbroke, who had been able to return to England in 1723, and was introduced to the Francophile King George I , who was elector of Hanover until 1714. In addition, he was allowed to dedicate his epic about Henry IV to the English Queen, which he had, revised, printed in London in 1728. Here he changed the title to La Henriade , probably based on that of the unfinished epic La Franciade by Pierre de Ronsard .

Voltaire, around 1736, after Maurice Quentin de La Tour
Elémens de la philosophie de Neuton , 1738

For a Frenchman at that time by no means taken for granted, Voltaire learned to speak, read and also to write English. He studied, among other things, the works of the empiricist and theoretician of common sense John Locke and the dramas of William Shakespeare . He also dealt with the revolutionary theories of the physicist and astronomer Isaac Newton as well as with other new scientific and technical discoveries.

At the end of 1728 he returned to France after two and a half years, but initially stayed in Dieppe . Among the finished and started works that he brought with him were, among other things, the "philosophical letters" ( Lettres anglaises or Lettres philosophiques ), which can be considered the first programmatic writing of the Enlightenment; also his first historiographical book Histoire de Charles XII, roi de Suède ( Charles XII. of Sweden), the first edition of which in 1730 was largely confiscated when it was supposed to be smuggled into Paris for sale; and the tragedies Brutus and Zaïre , which were successfully performed in 1730 and 1732, respectively.

Since he had recognized in England at the latest how important financial independence was for a critical writer like him, he began to skillfully increase his fortune after his return, so that he was soon very wealthy. Together with Charles Marie de La Condamine , he decided in 1729–1730 to "crack" the Paris lottery: the background was a calculation by La Condamine, according to which one would achieve a net profit of around one million livre if one bought all the tickets. The two managed the coup - the responsible minister had miscalculated - and they each won 500,000 livres on the deal. At times he invested large parts of his fortune in shipping companies which, as was customary at the time in the triangular trade between France, West Africa and the Antilles , also engaged in slave trade .

When the actress Adrienne Lecouvreur died in 1730 and her body was thrown on the Schindanger , Voltaire outraged with the Ode sur la mort de Mademoiselle Lecouvreur that a well-known and admired person was denied a worthy burial because they still despised him by many and had worked as an actress in a profession that was hostile to the clergy. In 1733 he caricatured the world of Parisian writers with the satirical poem Le Temple du gût and aroused their displeasure.

In 1733 the Letters Concerning the English Nation appeared in London in an independent English version and in 1734 in Paris the French original edition, the Lettres philosophiques . Here he presents England to his compatriots as a model, which the rulers in France, as expected, perceived as an affront. The mostly Jansenist-pious high judges of the Paris Parliament were particularly annoyed, especially on a diatribe who opposed the anthropological pessimism of the Jansenist Blaise Pascal , which was attached to the letters. They banned the book, which only helped it to circulate, and issued an arrest warrant for the author.

The years with Émilie du Châtelet

Émilie du Châtelet ,
portrait of Marianne Loir, Bordeaux,
Musée des Beaux-Arts
Cirey Castle , on the left the library wing added by Voltaire

Voltaire then retired to the small castle of Cirey in Champagne , which belonged to the Marquis Florent Claude du Chastellet (* 1695), the husband of his new lover (since June 1733) Émilie du Châtelet (the spelling "Châtelet" goes back to Voltaire ). From there he could flee to nearby Lorraine , which de jure still belonged to the German Empire .

For the next ten years he led an unsteady wandering life with the center in Castle Cirey, which he had remodeled at his own expense and with Émilie du Châtelet as his closest reference person. He visited Paris whenever it seemed possible, e.g. B. to premieres of his pieces there; he stayed in Cirey (or continued to flee) when he felt endangered. He also traveled a lot. He stayed longer in Brussels and several times in Holland, which had advanced to become Europe's printing company. Here he published in particular his more critical works, which were then illegally imported into France.

Thanks to Madame du Châtelet, an active naturalist and mathematician, Voltaire developed a deeper interest in the natural sciences. In 1734 they both responded to a question about the nature of fire from the Académie des sciences and each submitted a treatise in which they attempted a physical explanation. Inspired by M me du Châtelet's engagement with the English physicist and astronomer Isaac Newton (whose Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica she later translated), Voltaire wrote the non-fiction-like work Éléments [= foundations] de la philosophie de Newton in 1736/37 , in which he made it generally understandable introduced groundbreaking theories little known in France. His philosophical discussions with M me du Châtelet, an admirer of Leibniz , could have stimulated the “metaphysical treatise” ( Traité de métaphysique ) critical of religion in 1735 , which he left unpublished at her insistence (printed only posthumously in 1784).

However, his domain remained literature. In 1736, in the epistle Le Mondain, he provocatively praised the luxury and comfort of modernity and invited the reader to amuse himself with him about certain secular and, above all, spiritual preachers of renunciation and their praise of the supposedly happy old days, which in truth were only times of poverty and ignorance. He obviously didn't care that luxury and comfort were only available to a few in his own time. He also wrote plays, mostly tragedies, and staged them on a trial basis with friends and acquaintances and, in supporting roles, himself in the small theater that he had set up in Cirey. The most important pieces of this period are: Adélaïde du Guesclin (1734), La Mort de César (1735), Alzire (1736), Mérope (1736), Zulime (1740) and Mahomet (1740). The latter was successfully premiered in Lille in 1741, but canceled in Paris after the third performance in 1742. The royal censor Crébillon and parts of the Catholic clergy diagnosed a tendency to be critical of religion, because Mohammed is shown as a cynical power man who misuses faith as a means to an end, uses fanatical disciples as political assassins and has ex-disciples who have become a burden removed. A little later, Voltaire was allowed to dedicate the piece to Pope Benedict XIV , whose reply he included in the Dresden edition of 1748.

In addition to literature, Voltaire again dealt with historical studies in Cirey and worked on the Siècle de Louis XIV, which had been planned since 1732 . In 1734 he began the deliberately disrespectful burlesque epic La Pucelle (The Maiden [of Orléans]) about the medieval war heroine Jeanne d'Arc , which he only circulated in private copies for a long time.


Voltaire, steel engraving from the 1846 edition of the work after Moreau

He had been in correspondence with Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia, who was almost twenty years his junior, as early as 1736 and was courted by him. Soon after Friedrich's accession to the throne, he met him on September 11, 1740 in Moyland Castle in the Kleve district and accepted an invitation to Berlin in November. In 1742 he visited him in Aachen. In June 1743 he was therefore sent to Potsdam by the new French Minister of War, his school friend Marc-Pierre d'Argenson, with the order that he should send Friedrich, who had achieved his war goals in the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748) in 1742 , and from the alliance against Habsburg had resigned to bring them back to France.

The mission was unsuccessful, but Voltaire was now considered an important liaison with Prussia. Although he was King Louis XV. was unsympathetic, he was allowed back into the courtyard. On the occasion of the wedding of the Dauphin (Crown Prince) in 1745, he staged his ballet comedy La Princesse de Navarre together with the composer Rameau and a little later his singspiel Le Temple de la gloire (The Temple of Fame), also with music by Rameau. Since Ludwig's new mistress , Madame de Pompadour , who he had known better since the early thirties , was also patronizing him , he was appointed National Chronicle ( Historiographe de France ) on April 1, 1745 and received the coveted title on December 1, 1745 Office of Royal Chamberlain, Second Class ( Gentilhomme ordinaire de la chambre du roi ). On May 2, 1746, not least because of the long-lasting success of the tragedy Mérope (first performance in 1743), he was unanimously elected a member of the Académie française , which the king had prevented in 1743. After recording and reading his inaugural address Des effets de la poésie sur le génie des langues on May 9, 1746, Voltaire took the 33rd armchair of the Academy. However, his position at court remained uncertain. An incident at the queen's gaming table in 1747 put him out of favor with Ludwig, who still disliked him - Voltaire had warned M me du Châtelet in English against high-ranking cardsharps.

He largely withdrew to the nearby Sceaux Castle of the widowed Duchesse du Maine, which he entertained with narrative works in prose. Here z. B. Memnon , a preliminary stage of the later short novel Zadig . However, his contact with the court was still close enough that in 1748 he witnessed first hand how the new tragedy Catiline of his little-valued playwright competitor and royal censor Crébillon was demonstratively praised and applauded at the premiere (at the expense of the king) in order to offend him . He retaliated by writing his own themed versions of no fewer than five tragedies of Crébillon on the same subject in the following years to demonstrate his superiority. Later (1762), however, this did not prevent him from composing an eulogy on the death of his former rival ( Éloge de M. de Crébillon ).

In 1748/49 Voltaire lived together with Mme du Châtelet, mostly in the castle of Lunéville / Lorraine, the residence of the Polish ex-king and father-in-law of Louis XV. Stanislaus I. Leszczyński . There she fell in love with the officer, courtier and poet Jean-François de Saint-Lambert, who was 10 years her junior, and became pregnant. She died in childbed on September 10, 1749; even the newborn, a girl, did not survive. Voltaire was deeply affected, although for some time he had had an intimate relationship with his niece Marie Louise Mignot (1712–1790), widowed Denis, with whom he lived in Ferney until his death in 1778.

At the court of Frederick II of Prussia

The round table of Frederick II in Sanssouci :
watched by Frederick II in the middle, Voltaire (second chair to the left of the king) is having a conversation with the Algarotti , who is sitting opposite , Casanova sits between the king and Algarotti . Oil painting by Adolph von Menzel , 1850 ( burned in 1945 in the Friedrichshain flak tower).

After the death of his lover Émilie du Châtelet, after some hesitation, Voltaire accepted the invitation of Frederick the Great . This asked of Louis XV. permission to take over the French Chamberlain in his service; Ludwig wrote that it suited him, while according to d'Argenson's memoirs he is said to have said to his courtiers that Voltaire was more a fool at the Prussian court and one less at his own. Voltaire went to Sanssouci near Potsdam in the summer of 1750 , where other French writers and scholars held court offices. The scholar received the office of royal chamberlain, well endowed with 20,000 livres (7,000 talers ), and was treated like a high-ranking guest. In addition, Frederick II awarded him in 1750 as one of the few civilians the order Pour le Mérite , which was donated for military services . After falling out of favor with Friedrich, the order was withdrawn from him on March 16, 1753 by handwriting from the king. At first, however, Friedrich was enthusiastic about the enrichment of his court and wrote to his sister Wilhelmine : “In our small society the great light of our poet extinguishes the weak light of the candles; he, and he alone, has spirit, and we have the pleasure of listening to him. "


The relationship with Friedrich suffered already at the beginning of 1751 when he learned that his new chamberlain in Berlin (where he had a second residence) had entered into an illegal securities transaction with Saxon government bonds (so-called tax anticipation certificates). The matter came out because Voltaire had fallen out with his middleman, the Jewish banker Hirschel, and after the deal had broken down, he had brought a lawsuit against him that included the value of some jewels that had been used as collateral . When he tried to keep the tax slip business secret, Hirschel unpacked and Voltaire was suspected of having manipulated one of the mutual contracts in his favor. He found it difficult to pull himself out of the affair. Voltaire soon afterwards invested his saved fortune of 300,000 livres in estates in Horburg and Reichenweier in Alsace, a clever move, because it was French territory, which was administered by the Duchy of Württemberg .

In 1751 he brought out his Siècle de Louis XIV (The Century of Louis XIV) in Berlin , a representation of French history in the 17th century. In it he assigned a central role to cultural history and thus set new standards for the writing of history . His cultural-historical orientation became even clearer in the Abrégé de l'Histoire universelle (Outline of the Universal History ), which he published in sections in the Mercure de France in 1750/51 . In 1751 Lambert in Paris published the only complete edition of his works in eleven volumes that could be printed in France during his lifetime with the tolerance of censorship.

Voltaire's quarrels with other courtiers ultimately led to a deep disgruntlement of Frederick. Above all, he was targeting an old friend of Mme du Châtelet, the President of the Berlin Academy, Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis , a well-deserved mathematician and natural scientist, with whom he once fought for the spread of Newton's theories Friedrich himself recommended. The dispute escalated when Maupertuis used his power as president of the academy to force the members to take a common position against the mathematician Johann Samuel König . He had given priority to Maupertuis on the principle of least effect and awarded Leibniz, and was accused of having forged his letter, which served as evidence. When Friedrich publicly joined this charge, Voltaire contradicted and mocked Maupertuis in the satirical text La Diatribe du Docteur Akakia (1752). When Maupertuis published Lettres sur des sujets divers in the same year , some of the crude ideas contained therein sparked general ridicule, in which Friedrich also took part with a pamphlet.

Voltaire and Maupertuis competed in the round table of Sanssouci every afternoon at the king's supper, which lasted several hours, for the king's favor, which degenerated into a sharp rivalry. In September 1752, Voltaire anonymously published the Réponse d'un académien de Berlin à un académien de Paris , in which he accused Maupertuis of tyrannizing and dishonoring the academy; He also claimed that several members would have already left the academy if they did not fear to displease the king who was the patron of the academy. Friedrich now took up pen himself and defended his academy president. He made Voltaire promise not to have the Akakia reprinted and not to write anything else against Maupertuis. In 1752 Voltaire had a second edition of Akakia secretly printed in Leipzig, which Friedrich had the Berlin hangman burn in public in a car dairy in December 1752 . Voltaire sent him the chamberlain key and his medals back in January 1753 and left for Saxony at the end of March, ostensibly for a cure and with the promise to come back, which he did not do. In Leipzig he published two more brochures against Maupertuis and a letter from Maupertuis, which he had distorted by making a "small correction" to a threatening letter. In April the king wrote him an angry letter. Voltaire stayed at the court of Duchess Luise Dorothea of ​​Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg for a good month from mid-April . Maupertuis resigned as president of the academy in the summer of 1753 and traveled to Paris, succeeded by the Marquis d'Argens . Friedrich wrote to Maupertuis: “I assume that you are very happy now, far from the bickering and the Akakias ... What a fuss a fool can cause in a society! I hate to miss the spirit of mine; but his character comforts me for his loss. ”Maupertuis returned to Berlin in the autumn.

Some time before his departure, Voltaire had heard from Julien Offray de La Mettrie that the king had said of him: “J'aurai besoin de lui encore un an, tout au plus; on presse l'orange et on en jette l'écorce. ”(I need it for another year at the most; you squeeze the orange and throw the peel away). This quote contributed significantly to his decision to leave Friedrich's court.

The Frankfurt affair
The golden lion around 1900

From Schloss Friedenstein in Gotha he traveled via the landgrave's court in Kassel to the Free Imperial City of Frankfurt , where he stopped off with his secretary Cosimo Alessandro Collini and met his niece Marie-Louise Denis. There he was subjected to a baggage check on May 31, 1753 at the instigation of Friedrich or the Prussian representative there, War Councilor Franz Baron von Freytag , and placed under house arrest in his hotel, the Golden Lion , and interrogated for eight hours. Even before Voltaire's departure, Frederick had asked Voltaire to return his private print Oeuvres du philosophe de Sanssouci , a volume of poetry that he used to lend to his confidants, but which he had to return from everyone who left the court, because it contained attacks against European monarchs and the Church, and Friedrich had good reason to fear Voltaire's indiscretion. The band was still in a baggage bale in Leipzig and it was necessary to wait for it to arrive. In the meantime, the merchant and Prussian councilor Johann Friedrich Schmidt confiscated Voltaire's remaining luggage and money. On June 16, Friedrich ordered Voltaire's release against the promise of a subsequent handover of the book; the luggage arrived on June 17th, the order from Berlin on June 21st, but since Voltaire had attempted to escape on the 20th and was arrested at Bockenheimer Tor , Freytag believed he could defy the order. He held Voltaire in the Zum Bockshorn inn and had him guarded by twelve guards, the costs of which the prisoner had to bear himself. Four guards were posted in his room, four more in his niece's attic. The Legation Secretary Dorn, who reports to Freytag, emptied "bottle after bottle" in Madame Denis' room. Voltaire turned to potentates like the Emperor and the British King with requests for help and letters of claim. After 12 days the guards were withdrawn and Voltaire moved back into the Golden Lion . The quarrels lasted until July 7th, when Voltaire was able to leave Frankfurt.

The council of the Free Imperial City had, for fear of the Prussian king, let his ambassador go. Voltaire later claimed that his luggage and cash had been reduced by half; in fact, Schmidt retained Voltaire's and Collini's travel money as a deposit for the cost of the imprisonment. When Voltaire was given back little money when he was released, he drew his travel pistol and aimed at the Legation Councilor Dorn. This brought a lawsuit against him and Voltaire never saw his money again. In addition, the Hague publisher van Duren appeared in Frankfurt and made a claim for 20 ducats against King Friedrich, for which Voltaire had to vouch; in response he received a slap in the face from Collini. But he complained and was right, Voltaire also had to pay this sum. Voltaire's claim that the mayor Johann Karl von Fichard put 26 ducats in his own pocket is probably an invention of anger. After that he pondered for life, but in vain, for revenge against Freytag and Schmidt and felt the imprisonment in Frankfurt as the deepest disgrace of his life.

The following year, on March 16, 1754, the king wrote to him: “I disapproved of the fact that you did not stop writing against Maupertuis, although you had given me your word, and that you also wanted to make my academy as ridiculous as the president . ”Voltaire, for his part, played his niece“ dragged through the dirt ”as a victim of Frederick's“ vandalistic barbarism ”. While Friedrich supported the action of his ambassadors in several letters to the city of Frankfurt in June, July and August 1753, he wrote in 1758 that Freytag had exceeded his orders to retrieve the volume of poetry.

In 1757, on Voltaire's initiative , Friedrich's sister Wilhelmine arranged for a resumption of the correspondence between the latter and the king, who at first was brittle and asked a secretary to reply. But Voltaire's contact, which was still ignored in Versailles, seemed essential for his prestige in France. Gradually they exchanged polite letters again. But on August 19, 1759, the philosopher wrote to d'Argental : “I will never forget how infamous he was against my niece, nor that he has the forehead to flatter me twice a month without ever being To have repaid injustice. I dearly wish his deep humiliation; I don't know whether I wish his eternal damnation. ”Friedrich had already experienced a humiliation in 1757, in his desperate situation before the battle of Rossbach , which made him play with suicidal thoughts, as he told Voltaire and his fatherly advice he had dismissed as the words of the poet; others followed at Kolin in 1757, Hochkirch in 1758 and Kunersdorf in 1759.

New years of wandering

After staying at a few smaller German courts ( Mainz , Schwetzingen , Mannheim ), Voltaire waited in vain in the Alsatian cities of Strasbourg and Colmar for permission to return to Paris and re-enter his Versailles court offices. As a direct result of the arrest in Frankfurt, together with his niece, she wrote to him that she was pregnant. Voltaire replied that he wanted to be her only lover and that he regretted having ever had other lovers. In view of the events in Frankfurt, however, it appears uncertain whether fatherhood can really be ascribed to the aging Voltaire.

Les Délices in Geneva, today the Musée Voltaire
Voltaire's house in Lausanne
at the end of the 1750s

Then in October 1753 his niece wrote to him that she had had a miscarriage. After this experience, Voltaire, who seemed to have never had a desire to have children before, made a significantly different impression with regard to children and family. For example, after the death of a former maid of his niece in 1757, he took in one of the orphans who had remained behind, the ten-year-old Mathieu, in his estate Les Délices on the outskirts of the city republic of Geneva , which he had bought in 1755. He also bought a house in Lausanne with a wide view of Lake Geneva and the Alpine chain, which became his preferred residence. But while his new play L'Orphelin de la Chine (The Orphan Child from China) was successfully performed in Paris , he got into trouble with the anti-theater Calvinist Council of Churches in Geneva because, as in Cirey, he organized private performances in his house .

Like many Enlightenment authors, Voltaire was shocked by the destructive earthquake in Lisbon in 1755 . He responded with the long poem Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne (1756). Here he questions the optimism of the English writer and denier of progress Alexander Pope (1688–1744) and many of his natural religious contemporaries, according to which everything that is is good and right ("Whatever is, is right"). In the same year he published his Essai sur l'histoire générale et sur les mœurs et l'esprit des nations (essay on the general history and the manners and spirit of nations), a universal history of humanity that he as a whole along the path of Seeing progress, even if he himself had largely lost his former optimism and continued to lose in the face of the horrors of the beginning Seven Years' War (1756–1763), in which he repeatedly offered himself to the court of Versailles as a mediator.

Also in 1756 he began working on the Encyclopédie, the Encyclopédie , initiated by Diderot and d'Alembert in 1746 , which caused him new trouble in Geneva in 1757 because of the critical Encyclopédie article "Genève", whose author he provided d'Alembert with information had. At the end of the 1750s he participated with pamphlets, among others against the columnist Fréron , in the defensive battle of the authors and sympathizers of the Encyclopédie against their opponents, but in 1758 they obtained a second ban and in 1759 they were indexed by the Pope.

In 1757 Voltaire turned his back on Geneva and went on another trip. In 1758 he wrote (partly in Schwetzingen Castle ) the philosophical short novel Candide, Ou l'optimisme, which is now considered his best work . In a turbulent plot that parodies the contemporary love and adventure novel with its often improbable twists and turns, Voltaire sarcastically and ironically leads the optimism à la Leibniz (“Our world is the best of all possible worlds”) and Wolff ad absurdum and recommends, in the end, not to build metaphysical castles in the air, but "to order our garden". At the same time, he targets the transfiguration of nature by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his disciples by showing the destructive effects of the earthquake of 1755 in the Lisbon chapter (Chapter V) . Many of his German encounters and experiences also flowed into Candide .

Sedentary and fulfilling last years

Voltaire Castle in Ferney-Voltaire

At the age of 64, Voltaire followed Candide's closing words , according to which you should “order your garden”, and bought the Ferney-Voltaire and Tourney estates (1758 and 1759) in the French border area near Geneva .

Until his death, he managed these in an innovative and efficient manner and to the benefit of his tenants and farm workers, for whom he organized lucrative home work in winter. He also campaigned for the abolition of serfdom . Together with his niece Madame Denis, his loyal secretary Wagnière and a few other confidants, he spent the last phase of his life in Ferney, which was to mark the zenith of his career. The Geneva lawyer and city councilor Jean Huber accompanied the years in Ferney as a portraitist. As always, he continued to write incessantly, dozens of works.

In 1759 he wrote his memoires pour servir à la vie de M. de Voltaire, écrits par lui-même (German: Voltaire on the King of Prussia, memoirs ), in which he mockingly reminisces his long-term relationship with the Prussian king and with tips , Wickedness and perfidies take revenge for the Potsdam quarrels and the shameful internment in Frankfurt. It also contains ample ridicule of the homosexuality of the king and many of his courtiers, with all sorts of slippery details. Goethe , who read these memoirs with pleasure, called them “the pattern of all shameful writings”. This did not prevent Voltaire from continuing to offer himself as a mediator, but Madame Pompadour , whom Voltaire had always liked, remained irreconcilable towards Friedrich, who always publicly called her Cotillon II (underskirt No. 2) and still in May 1759 an ode of abuse sent it to Voltaire, which he immediately quoted in his memoirs. Only after Friedrich had drawn an unexpectedly high amount of 200 Louisdor for Voltaire's statue of Pigalle in 1770 and had a copy made, which he set up in the vestibule of Sanssouci, did the poet finally feel - in addition to his diatribe - sufficient satisfaction; In 1776 he replaced his memoirs with the more dignified and comparatively boring Commentaire historique .

Bust of the Aging Voltaire by François-Marie Poncet, 1776

He participated in 1760 with the piece Le Café ou l'Écossaise , which was written against his habit in prose, in the establishment of the new genre "drame (bourgeois)" ( bourgeois tragedy ), which had been launched shortly before by Diderot. In addition, after the success of the Candide , he wrote other stories, including the masterful, sensitive-philosophical short novel L'Ingénu (Das Naturkind; actually Der Unbedarfte, 1767). But the writing of history also remained on his program, with z. B. the Histoire de l'Empire de Russie sous Pierre le Grand (1763). Another focus of his work were philosophical works in the narrow sense, including numerous "philosophical dialogues" (Dialogues philosophiques) or, in response to a religiously motivated judicial murder affair, the Traité sur la tolérance (1763) or his Bible and religious criticism on the point bringing "portable philosophical lexicon" ( Dictionnaire philosophique portatif , 1764). It uncovered numerous contradictions within the Bible as well as weaknesses in Catholic theology and provided the sympathizers of the Enlightenment with arguments critical of the Bible and religion. In the 19th century it was still used by the secular and anti-clerical French bourgeoisie in the struggle to separate church and state. It, on the other hand, contributed much to the hateful opposition that Voltaire was receiving in Catholic Conservative circles at the same time.

Voltaire's round table in Ferney ( Jean Huber : La sainte cène du patriarche , 1771/73)

Above all, as "patriarque de Ferney", he received visitors from all over Europe in his castle and exchanged letters with countless, mostly high-ranking people. At the same time, with the power of his steadily growing authority, he fought against state arbitrariness, backwardness, obscurantism and intolerance as a journalist . When he z. B. In 1762 and 1766, to the applause of the whole of enlightened Europe, involved in the judicial murder affairs involving the Protestant Jean Calas and the alleged atheist (and dictionary reader) La Barre , he could not save the victims, but at least achieved subsequent rehabilitation from Calas. For the Protestant Sirven (1764), who was also threatened with judicial murder, he fought for a revision of the judgment with acquittal and compensation.

In 1774 Louis XVI ascended the French throne. A meeting with Emperor Joseph II , who was incognito on the way from Paris to Vienna and passed close to Ferney, did not take place, to the disappointment of Voltaire.

Voltaire's place of death, Quai Voltaire 27, Paris
Plaque on the house where Voltaire died, Quai Voltaire 27, Paris
Voltaire's sarcophagus in the Panthéon , Paris

In February 1778 Voltaire traveled to Paris to attend the premiere of his new play Irène . He was received as if in a triumphal procession and could hardly resist the honors and invitations. On March 30th, he was entrusted with the management of the meetings of the Académie française for the coming trimester, and on April 7th he was admitted to the Parisian Masonic Lodge Les Neuf Sœurs in the presence of around 250 Freemasons . On May 26, the king overturned General Lally-Tollendal's death sentence , which Voltaire had advocated. He described the verdict as a judicial murder. The general had been known to Voltaire for his investments in colonial businesses since at least 1760. Voltaire died four days later at the age of 83. It took a trick of his nephew to get him to a church burial in the Abbey of Sellières in Champagne , against the will of the clergy .

Voltaire's statue and sarcophagus in the Panthéon

On July 11, 1791, Voltaire's bones were transferred from there to the Panthéon . His sarcophagus was inscribed: POETE HISTORIEN PHILOSOPHE IL AGRANDIT L'ESPRIT HUMAIN ET LUI APPRIT QU'IL DEVAIT ETRE LIBRE (As a poet, historian, philosopher, he made the human mind bigger and taught it to be free).

Only after his death was his extensive correspondence gradually published. With more than 22,000 letters (including a good 15,000 of his own), it comprises 51 volumes in the Œuvres Complètes de Voltaire (OCV) , in the edition of the Voltaire Foundation, and appears retrospectively as a very important part of his oeuvre . Among his correspondents was the Russian tsarina Catherine II , a philosopher on the throne for Voltaire and the “most shining star in the north”. After his death, she acquired his library , which is now in the Russian National Library in Saint Petersburg .

Effect and positions

Statue of Voltaire in Ferney, 1890, sculptor: Émile-Placide Lambert (1828–1897)
French 5 franc coin (1994) for the 300th birthday of Voltaire

Voltaire was not a system-building thinker, but a "philosopher" in the French sense, that is, an author who wrote fiction as well as philosophical, historical and scientific writings and was active as a journalist.

His philosophical narratives ( contes philosophiques ), written from around 1746 onwards , in which he brought the central ideas of the Enlightenment closer to a broader audience in an undogmatic and entertaining way, found the most permanent and ultimately widespread distribution .

He presumably considered himself primarily an important playwright because of his more than fifty plays, some of which were very successful. The tragedy Zaïre (1736) in particular was performed with great resonance in Italy, Holland, England and Germany (1810 in Weimar by Goethe ); it was part of the repertoire of the Théâtre français for more than 200 years . His contemporaries also recognized him as a worthy successor to the great tragedies Corneille and Racine . Goethe translated the tragedies Mahomet and Tancrède .

Voltaire was pioneering as the founder of historiography oriented towards cultural history. Scientifically ambitious and written for everyone to understand, his historiographical works opened a tradition that is still alive today in France. The lower case in the written French language is also due to him. He was the first to consistently practice it in his Siècle de Louis XIV . The inscription on Voltaire's sarcophagus in the Panthéon (see above), which was presumably formulated in 1791 by a member of the Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres and approved by this, visibly tries to present the three main aspects of his work as roughly equal: fiction, the Historiography, philosophy.

Social criticism

Voltaire fought for the equality of all citizens before the law, not for the equality of status and property. He believed that there would always be rich and poor. As a form of government, he favored the monarchy , at whose head he wanted a "good king". He believed he saw one of these in Frederick II up to the rift .

The quote "I disapprove of what you say but would defend your right to say it to the death" is often incorrectly attributed to Voltaire. In fact, the formulation comes from SG Tallentyre , who, however, only characterized one of Voltaire's attitudes and did not quote a quote.

Slavery and serfdom

Voltaire's positions on blacks, slaves, and the slave trade have been the subject of controversy in the research. Claudine Hunting, for example, thinks that Voltaire has decidedly rejected slavery. However, z. B. Christopher L. Miller and Michèle Duchet suggest otherwise. Tendentious authors, in particular, wrongly claimed that Voltaire had enriched himself directly in the overseas slave trade. In 1877, Eugène de Mirecourt published excerpts from a corresponding letter - according to the judgment of recent research, probably not authentic or forged. In fact, Voltaire had invested in the Compagnie des Indes Orientales , which among other things. participated in colonial wars of conquest and temporarily held the monopoly on slave trade in France. He seems to have viewed the employment of servants as worse than the slave trade, which he believed to be a necessary evil. Voltaire saw the naming of a slave trader's ship after him as an honor. He described an African albino brought to Paris by a slave trader as one of “the animals that resemble humans”. He seems to him to come close to the missing link between humans and animals, which Voltaire had also otherwise addressed. Voltaire considered blacks to be a species of humans different from whites, within which there was serious discussion as to whether they themselves were descended from apes or vice versa.

In Voltaire's Essai sur les mœurs et l'esprit des Nations there is the passage: “We buy the house slaves exclusively from the negroes; we are blamed for this trade. A people who bargain with their children are even more condemnable than the buyer. This trade shows our superiority; he who gives himself a Lord was born to have a [Lord] ”. The editor Condorcet , an opponent of slavery, commented that this passage in no way contained a defense of slavery. The older secondary literature did not consistently follow this explanation. The work also contains the thesis of a natural and rarely changing degree of genius and character among the nations, which explains why the negroes are slaves of other people. Voltaire also describes the unworthy treatment of slaves, "people like us", and compares the disregard of the Jews in ancient Rome with "our" view of "negroes" as "underdeveloped species of people".

Candide and the slave

Voltaire also contains decidedly critical statements on slavery. For example, under the heading “Esclaves” in the Questions sur l'Encyclopédie of 1771. He also impressively describes the mutilation of the Surinam slave in the Candide , which is illustrated in the Kehl edition with an engraving by Jean-Michel Moreau . In Commentaire sur l'Esprit des lois (1777), Voltaire praised Montesquieu for rejecting slavery. Voltaire enthusiastically commented on the attitude of the Quakers in Pennsylvania , who advocated and enforced the abolition of slavery. He called the war of Spartacus just, if not the only just war. In the last years of his life, Voltaire and his lawyer friend Charles-Frédéric-Gabriel Christin campaigned for the end of serfdom in the Jura , where the right of the dead had survived. In French law, the term mainmorte also included the person of the serfs. Voltaire did not achieve his goal; the serfs of the Franche-Comte were not liberated until 1790 in the following French Revolution.

Church criticism

Voltaire was one of the most important church critics of the 18th century. This early earned him the disapproval of the Roman Catholic Church, which branded him an atheist and banned his writings .

The builder of a chapel in Ferney with the inscription Deo erexit Voltaire, 1761 ("Built for God by Voltaire"), however, always defended himself against the charge of atheism. Despite all the distance to the traditional religions, he took an attitude that was related to the deist position, that is, a tolerant and undogmatic monotheism freed from archaic ideas . So he deduced the existence of a supreme intelligence from the laws of the cosmos ( Traité de métaphysique , 1735) and emphasized the moral usefulness of belief in God: “If God did not exist, one would have to invent him” (in Épitre à l'auteur du livre des trois imposteurs , 1770). Without any dogmatic claim, Voltaire also affirmed the immortality of the soul and the freedom of will.

He sharply criticized the Roman Catholic Church and its amalgamation with secular power. He concluded many of his later letters with the now famous slogan Écrasez l'infâme ! (literally: "Crush the wicked!"), which is usually related to the church as an institution. According to another interpretation was with l'infâme of Voltaire often castigated superstition ( l'infâme superstition ) meant. In 1768 he published the pamphlet Epître aux Romains under the pseudonym Corbera , which calls for resistance against the Pope.

Voltaire wanted an ecclesiastical burial, but on his deathbed he refused Communion and the Last Unction as well as the revocation of his writings required by the Church. Nor did he deviate from his denial of the sonship of Jesus .

He wrote to Friedrich II: Quote : “I have an insurmountable aversion to the way in which ... in our Roman - Catholic ... religion one ends one's life. It seems extremely ridiculous to me to let yourself be oiled when setting off into that other world, like the way you lubricate the axles of your touring car when you go on a long journey. This nonsense ... disgusts me so much ... "

He was a member of the Masonic Lodge Les Neuf Sœurs, founded in 1776 .

Statements about Judaism

According to Voltaire, the traditions and commandments of the monotheistic religions stand in complete opposition to the ideals and goals of the Enlightenment, tolerance and rationalism. In particular, he saw the mythological roots of Judaism as the typical embodiment of legalism , primitivism and blind obedience to traditions and superstitions and, in addition to the defense of Jews, there is a sometimes violent rejection of Judaism. In Voltaire's 118 articles comprehensive philosophical dictionary Dictionaire philosophique , the Jews are attacked in several articles and referred to, among other things, as "the most hideous people on earth".

"I speak with regret of the Jews: this nation is, in many ways, the most despicable one that has ever polluted the earth."

- Voltaire : Dictionnaire philosophique

Voltaire in particular mocked the Pentateuch as a barbaric aberration and the values ​​based on it as “cultural embarrassment” with historical irrelevance. An article about the Jews concludes the first part as follows:

“You will only meet in them an ignorant and barbaric people who for a long time have combined the filthiest greed with the most despicable superstitions and the most insurmountable hatred towards all peoples who tolerate them and from whom they enrich themselves. But they shouldn't be burned. "

- Voltaire : Dictionnaire philosophique

In 1762, the Portuguese Jew Isaac de Pinto wrote a reply to Voltaire's tirades, which correspond to well-known anti-Jewish positions and perspectives. This reply received multiple reprints and greater attention in the years that followed. In a reply, Voltaire admitted to having been “cruel and unjust” on many occasions and announced that he would correct these errors. At the same time, however, he reiterated his rejection of Jewish laws, books and their superstitions, which are "unbearable" for many and which he regards as incompatible with any philosophy.

In other writings Voltaire expressed himself positively about Judaism compared to Christian fundamentalism and praised the religious tolerance of ancient Judaism - although elsewhere he strongly criticized the intolerance of Judaism (then compared to the Enlightenment ideal). As in this point, Voltaire's statements about Judaism are also double-edged overall. On the one hand, he tried to make “Jewish superstitions” seem insignificant for the historical context, on the other hand, he gave Judaism a great deal of space in his considerations. While he castigated Jewish traditions as barbaric, his commitment to tolerance led him to recognize Judaism and to stand up for Jewish rights.

Voltaire rigorously rejected the popular and state persecution of Jews in the Middle Ages. In particular, he sharply rejected the Christian motives for the persecution of the Jews. He wrote one of his most urgent calls for tolerance from the perspective of Rabbi Akiba . The persecution of a religion to which Jesus himself belonged is absurd: "He lived a Jew and died a Jew, and you burn us because we are Jewish." Jacob Katz pointed out, however, that Voltaire's resentment towards Judaism did corresponded to the motives of Christian anti-Judaism.

Voltaire's views made an important contribution to the emerging emancipation of Jews in the 18th century, but his statements also served as a justification for future, racially motivated anti-Semitism. The Polish Talmudist Zalkind Hourwitz, librarian to the French king, summarized his attitude and work after Voltaire's death as follows:

“The Jews forgive him for all the bad he did them because of the good he brought them, perhaps unintentionally; because they now have a little respite for a few years, and they owe this to the progress of the Enlightenment, to which Voltaire certainly contributed more than any other author through his numerous works against fanaticism. "

- Zalkind Hourwitz

Many of Voltaire's statements about Jews were exploited for propaganda purposes by the French history teacher Henri Labroue (1880–1964) in German-occupied France in the book Voltaire Antijuif . Labroue has published a book on the history of the French Revolution in the Gironde and was originally a man of the left and a Freemason. In 1941 he organized an anti-Semitic exhibition under the name Le Juif et la France and was given a chair in “Jewish History” at the Sorbonne, but his lectures were boycotted. His annotated collection of 250 pages of quotations from Voltaire was published in 1942, with the permission of the German Propaganda Department . It suppresses Voltaire's enlightenment ideals. An anonymous article printed in the resistance journal J'accuse responded, inter alia. with quotations from Voltaire's dictionary to show the incompatibility of this appropriation with Voltaire's ideas of tolerance. In the judgment of Léon Poliakov , however, such a compilation of anti-Semitic statements by Voltaire was easy and corresponded to Voltaire's tendency. However, several Voltaire researchers have rejected many of Labroue's quotes and comments.


Voltaire dictates to Collini while he dresses, oil painting by Jean Huber around 1772

Voltaire criticized the grievances of his time, but also personal opponents, not with a raised index finger, but with wit and sarcasm. He mastered the stylistic device of irony in a masterly manner. He received recognition for the playful elegance of his shorter poems, the perfect verses and rhymes of his tragedies and epics, and the conciseness of his performing prose. Voltaire is also a master at parody . The philosophical story Candide parodies the love, adventure and travel novel of its time.

Voltaire left behind one of the most extensive and comprehensive works in literary and intellectual history, with well over 700 individual texts (which he dictated to a secretary at least in his later years). The details of the printing and publication of many writings are, not least because of the often almost conspiratorial circumstances, still unexplained and only incompletely researched. Milestones in the bibliography are the works and catalog raisonnés by Adrien-Jean-Quentin Beuchot, Georges Bengesco, Louis Moland and Theodore Besterman .

The currently relevant edition is the first historical-critical and complete edition, The Complete Works of Voltaire / Les Œuvres complètes de , which Theodore Besterman began in 1968 at the Institut et Musée Voltaire in Geneva and was continued by the Voltaire Foundation at the University of Oxford Voltaire (OCV) .


Voltaire bust from 1778 by Jean-Antoine Houdon ( National Gallery of Art Collection )

Web links

Commons : Voltaire  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Primary texts

Wikisource: Voltaire  - Sources and full texts (French)
Wikisource: Voltaire  - Sources and full texts

Introductory secondary literature

More special


Individual evidence

  1. So Georg Holmsten, p. 10.
  2. Jean Orieux: The life of Voltaire. Vol. 1, p. 24: “The young François had three fathers: an abbe, a noble gentleman and a royal notary. Why? For the joy of talk, to interest, irritate, shock and be the center of attention. "
  3. The Duchess tried to hide her advanced pregnancy and had just given birth in secret in the Luxemburg Palace.
  4. She had become pregnant again and was hiding in La Muette Castle until she was born (Jean-Michel Raynaud: Voltaire soi-disant. Presses Universitaires de Lille, 1983, vol. 1, p. 289)
  5. Jay Caplan: In the King's Wake. University of Chicago Press, 1999, p. 43.
  6. Joachim G. Leithäuser: He called himself Voltaire: Report of a great life. Cotta-Verlag, Stuttgart 1961, p. 32.
  7. Annelen Ottermann: Voltaire and his epic on Henri IV. (Scientific City Library Mainz, The Special Book, Volume 36), Mainz Quarterly Issues for History, Culture, Politics, Economy 39 (2019), no. 2, pp. 87-91.
  8. ^ René Pommeau: Le jeu de Voltaire écrivain. In: Le jeu au XVIIIe siècle: Colloque d'Aix-en-Provence 30 avril, 1er et 2 may 1971. Aix-en-Provence 1976, pp. 175-176.
  9. Lottery. In: Deutschlandfunk Kultur . September 13, 2009, accessed July 6, 2020 .
  10. ^ Letter D104 in Besterman's edition, 1: 117. Dated April 1722
    Christopher L. Miller: The French Atlantic Triangle. Literature and Culture of the Slave Trade. Duke University Press, Durham / London 2008, pp. 74 and 77.
  11. Frauke Bottcher: The mathematical and natural philosophical learning and work of the Marquise du Châtelet (1706–1749): A woman's access to knowledge in the 18th century. Springer Spectrum, 2012, ISBN 978-3-642-32486-4 , p. 73.
  12. Christopher Duffy in Frederick the Great - A Soldier's Life. Weltbild-Verlag, Augsburg 1994, ISBN 3-89350-558-X , p. 41.
  13. François-Marie Arouet, dit VOLTAIRE. In: Académie française . Retrieved July 6, 2020 .
  14. Source: Gustav Lehmann: The Knights of the Order pour le merite. Volume I, 1740–1811, p. 43, no. 310: Ernst Siegfried Mittler, royal bookstore, Berlin, 1913.
  15. Handwritten copy; Source: Gustav Lehmann: The Knights of the Order pour le merite. Volume I, 1740-1811, p. 44.
  16. ^ Letter from Frederick II to Wilhelmine dated October 7, 1750
  17. Detailed account of the affair with Thomas Carlyle : History of Friedrich II of Prussia (1865) and (with partly deviating evaluations) with Wilhelm Mangold: Voltaire's legal dispute with the royal protective Jew Hirschel 1751 (Berlin 1905)
  18. ^ JJ O'Connor, EF Robertson: The Berlin Academy and forgery (2003)
  19. K.-E. Kurrer : The History of the Theory of Structures. Searching for Equilibrium . Berlin: Ernst & Sohn , p. 920, ISBN 978-3-433-03229-9 .
  20. Voltaire on the King of Prussia, Memoirs , ed. and translated by Anneliese Botond (title of the original edition: Memoires pour servir à la vie de M. de Voltaire, écrits par lui-même ), Frankfurt / M. (Insel Verlag), 1981 (first edition 1967), comment p. 111
  21. Voltaire mentions the incident in a letter to Madame Denis on Sept. 2, 1751.
  22. Voltaire on the King of Prussia, Memoirs , Commentary, p. 119
  23. ^ So Collini in his memoirs, according to the commentary on Voltaire's memoirs, p. 120
  24. Commentary on Voltaire's Memoirs, p. 123
  25. Voltaire on the King of Prussia, Memoirs , Commentary, p. 118
  26. Wilhelmine's daughter, Friederike , had copied Voltaire's The Virgin , followed him to Vernoy , treated him as an uncle and allowed him to refer to her. Max Döllner : Development history of the city of Neustadt an der Aisch until 1933. Ph. C. W. Schmidt, Neustadt a. d. Aisch 1950, OCLC 42823280 ; New edition on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Ph. C. W. Schmidt publishing house Neustadt an der Aisch 1828–1978. Ibid 1978, ISBN 3-87707-013-2 , p. 329.
  27. Christophe Paillard: Le désastre de Lisbonne: de Voltaire à Rousseau (award-winning dissertation, Univ. Lyon, 2000/2002)
  28. Voltaire on the King of Prussia, Memoirs , ed. and translated by Anneliese Botond (title of the original edition: Memoires pour servir à la vie de M. de Voltaire, écrits par lui-même ), Frankfurt / M. (Insel Verlag), 1981 (first edition 1967)
  29. ^ Arnd Krüger : The Homosexual and Homoerotic in Sport. In: James Riordan, Arnd Krüger (Ed.): The International Politics of Sport in the 20th Century. Routledge, London 1999, ISBN 0-419-21160-8 , pp. 191-216.
  30. Voltaire on the King of Prussia, Memoirs, p. 67
  31. ^ Eugen Lennhoff, Oskar Posner, Dieter A. Binder: Internationales Freemaurer Lexikon. 5th edition. 2006, Herbig Verlag, ISBN 978-3-7766-2478-6 , Lemma Voltaire, p. 881.
  32. ^ William R. Denslow, Harry S. Truman : 10,000 Famous Freemasons from K to Z, Part Two . Kessinger Publishing, ISBN 1-4179-7579-2 .
  33. Correspondence and related documents , definitive edition, 51 volumes , editor Theodore Besterman, in: Œuvres complètes de Voltaire (OCV), volumes 85 to 135, publication period 1968–1977, ISBN 978-0-7294-0049-7
  34. ^ Karl Goedeke: Goethe and Schiller , 1859
  35. Evelyn Beatrice Hall: The Friends of Voltaire. UP Putnam's Sons, New York 1907, p. 199: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, archive.org .
  36. An erroneous attribution to Voltaire himself with incorrect reference to a letter dated February 6, 1770 to an abbot "le Riche" can be found in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations , but is based on a misreading by Norbert Guterman: A dictionary of french quotations. See e.g. BFR Shapiro: The Yale book of quotations. Yale University Press, 2006, p. 744, online .
  37. ^ The Philosophes and Black Slavery: 1748-1765. In: Journal of the History of Ideas 39/3 (1978), 405-418.
  38. ^ The French Atlantic Triangle. Literature and Culture of the Slave Trade . Durham & London. 2008, p. 421 ff.
  39. Voltaire et les sauvages. In: Revue Europe 38 / 361-362 (May-June 1959), 88-97
  40. Cf. Eugène de Mirecourt: Voltaire: Ses homes, ses crimes, ses oeuvres. Bray et Retaux, Paris 1877, p. 127: “[…] N'hésitant pas à joindre l'hypocrisie à cette avidité monstrueuse, il écrivait à son associé: 'Je me félicite avec vous de l'heureux succès du navire le Congo , Arrivé si à point sur la côte africaine pour soustraire à la mort tant de malheureux nègres. Je sais que les noirs, embarqués sur vos bâtiments, sont traités avec autant de douceur que d ' humanité (ils étaient entassés à fond de cale comme des bestiaux), et, dans uns telle circonstance, je me réjouis d'avoir fait une bonne affaire , en même temps qu'une bone action . '”On problems of the authenticity of this alleged fragment of a letter, its transmission and the unproven rumors based on it, cf. Jean Ehrard: Lumières et esclavage , André Versaille, Bruxelles 2008, ISBN 978-2-87495-006-3 , p. 28; Christopher L. Miller: The French Atlantic Triangle. Literature and Culture of the Slave Trade . Durham-London 2008, p. 428 f .; Emeka Abanime: Voltaire antiesclavagiste. In: Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 182 (1979), pp. 237-251; Audrey Smedley: Race in North America , Origin and Evolution of a Worldview, Westview, Boulder 1993, ISBN 0-8133-0621-3 , p. 116; Seeber, p. 65 f.
  41. See letter D104 in Besterman I, 117, which, in contrast to the letter presented by Mirecourt, is authentic.
  42. cf. B. Miller, 429 and the literature there
  43. Thus the judgment of Abanime, 247; Cited approvingly by Miller, 429.
  44. Besterman: Complete Works. 1979, p. 374; Kenneth N. Addison: “We hold these truths to be self-evident ...” An interdisciplinary analysis of the roots of racism and slavery in America. University Press of America, Lanham et al. 2009, ISBN 978-0-7618-4330-6 , p. 46.
  45. "ces animaux ressemblants à l'homme", Oeuvres Complètes, ed. Moland, Vol. 12, pp. 367 f .; quoted from Christopher L. Miller: The French Atlantic Triangle. Literature and Culture of the Slave Trade. Durham-London 2008, p. 427.
  46. For example in Art. Chaîne des êtres crées. In: Dictionnaire philosophique, Oeuvres Complètes, Vol. 18, p. 124; Source and connection to the albino passage after Miller 2008, p. 427.
  47. ^ William B. Cohen: The French encounter with Africans: white response to Blacks, 1530-1880 , Indiana University Press, Bloomington 2003 (1. A. 1980), ISBN 0-253-21650-8 , pp. 88 ff.
  48. "Nous n'achetons des esclaves domestiques que chez les Nègres; on nous reproche ce commerce. Un peuple qui trafique de ses enfants est encore plus condamnable que l'acheteur. Ce négoce démontre notre supériorité; celui qui se donne un maître était né pour en avoir. ”, Oeuvres Complètes, ed. Moland, 1875, Vol. 13, 177 f .; online .
  49. Oeuvres Complètes, ed. Moland, 1875, vol. 13, 178 n.1.
  50. cf. B. the selected overview in Seeber, 66 f.
  51. Oeuvres Complètes, ed. Moland, Vol. 12, p. 381; see Miller 2008, p. 76.
  52. “Il ya trente ans qu'on avait un beau nègre pour cinquante livres; c'est à peu près cinq fois moins qu'un boeuf gras. Cette marchandise humaine coûte aujourd'hui, en 1772, environ quinze cents livre. Nous leur disons qu'ils sont hommes comme nous, qu'ils sont rachetés du sang d'un Dieu mort pour eux, et ensuite on les fait travailler comme des bêtes de somme; on les nourrit plus mal: s'ils veulent s'enfuir, on leur coupe une jambe, et on leur fait tourner à bras l'arbre des moulins à sucre, lorsqu'on leur a donné une jambe de bois; après cela nous osons parler du droit des gens! ”, Essais sur les Mœurs, in: Oeuvres complètes de Voltaire, ed. Moland, Paris 1878, vol. 12, p. 417, online .
  53. "On les regardait du même que nous oeil voyons les Nègres, comme une espèce d'hommes inférieure." Essai sur les mœurs et l'esprit des Nations, I, Chap. 8, Oeuvres Complètes, ed. Moland, Vol. 11, p. 223.
  54. ^ Keyword Esclaves in: Questions sur l'Encyclopédie, Cinquième Partie, Cramer, Geneva 1771, p. 292 ff .; online .
  55. Keyword Eglise in: Questions sur l'Encyclopédie, Cinquième Partie, Cramer, Geneva 1771, p. 132. Voltaire's positive comments on this can also be found in the Letters on the Quakers (1733), Lettres philosophiques (1734) and in the Traité sur la tolerance (1763).
  56. ^ Letter 283, April 5, 1969, Correspondance générale, 461-3.
  57. ^ Colm Kiernan: Serfs du Mont Jura, in Dictionnaire Voltaire, Hachette Livre, 1994, pp. 214f.
  58. Roger Alexandre: Les mots qui restent (1901)
  59. Franz Strunz: Voltaire's Death In: Enlightenment and Criticism 1/2000 (p. 116 ff.)
  60. Not a week went by in which he did not write something about Judaism, says Ronald Schechter, who considers the question of Voltaire's anti-Semitism to be anarchistic. Obstinate Hebrews; Representations of Jews in France, 1715-1815 . California University Press, Berkley, 2003.
  61. ^ Léon Poliakov: History of Anti-Semitism. Vol. 5: The Enlightenment and its anti-Jewish tendencies. [German translation by Rudolf Pfisterer]. Worms. 1983, p. 101.
  62. ^ Dictionnaire philosophique. Chapter 1
  63. ^ Dictionnaire philosophique
  64. ^ "[...] il vécut Juif, mourut Juif, et vous nous brûlez, parce que nous sommes Juifs." Voltaire: Sermon du Rabbin Akib. (1761) In: Œuvres. Vol. 24, p. 282, online at Wikisource. See J. Patrick Lee: The Condemnation of Fanaticism in Voltaire's Sermon du rabbin Akib. In: Ourida Mostefai, John T. Scott (Eds.): Rousseau and L'Infâme: religion, toleration, and fanaticism in the age of Enlightenment. Rodopi, Amsterdam / New York 2009, pp. 67–76.
  65. Jacob Katz: From prejudice to destruction. Anti-Semitism 1700–1933. Munich 1990, p. 89.
  66. ^ Voltaire , Jewish Virtual Library, quoting the Encyclopaedia Judaica entry , 2008.
  67. On his biography see Muriel Thomas: Henri Labroue, 1880–1964, mémoire de maîtrise sous la direction de Jean-Claude Drouin, Bordeaux III, 1993; Sylvie Guillaume. In: Sylvie Guillaume, Bernard Lachaise (eds.): Dictionnaire des parlementaires d'Aquitaine sous la Troisième République. Presses Univ. de Bordeaux 1998, pp. 272-276; Claude Singer: L'échec du cours antisémite d'Henri Labroue à la Sorbonne (1942–1944). In: Vingtième Siècle. Revue d'histoire, No. 39, July – Sept. 1993, pp. 3-9; Claude Singer: Henri Labroue ou l'apprentissage de l'antisémitisme. In: Pierre-André Taguieff (Ed.): L'antisémitisme de Plume. 1940-1944. La propagande antisémite en France sous l'Occupation. Études et documents (= Pensée politique et sciences ). Berg International, Paris 1999, ISBN 2-911289-16-1 . Article Labroue in: Jean Jolly (ed.): Dictionnaire des Parlementaires français 1889–1940.
  68. Henri Labroue: Voltaire Antijuif. Paris 1942 ( online ).
  69. Anonymous: Voltaire, était il anti-juif? In: J'accuse. Edited by the Mouvement National Contre le Racisme. May-June 1942, pp. 186 f. See Adam Sutcliffe: The Ambiguities of Enlightenment: Voltaire and the Jews. In: Adam Sutcliffe: Judaism and Enlightenment. CUP, Cambridge 2003, pp. 231-246, here 246.
  70. ^ Léon Poliakov : L'Histoire de l'Antisemitisme. Volume 3. Calmann-Lévy, Paris 1968, engl. Übers. The History of Anti-Semitism: From Voltaire to Wagner. Routledge, Kegan & Paul, 1975, here p. 87 ff., German translation: History of Antisemitism. Volume 5: The Enlightenment and its anti-Jewish tendencies. Worms 1983.
  71. See, for example, Pierre Aubery: Voltaire et les Juifs. Irony et demystification. In: Theodore Besterman (Ed.): Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century. Institut et Musée Voltaire Les Délices, Geneva 1963, 24, 67-79; Fadien Lovsky: L'Antisémitisme Rationaliste. In: Revue d'histoire et de philosophie religieuses. 30. Vol., 1950, pp. 176-199. Cf. also: Paul H. Meyer: The Attitude of the Enlightenment towards the Jews. In: Theodore Besterman (Ed.): Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century. Institut et Musée Voltaire Les Délices, Geneva 1963, 26, pp. 1161–1206.
  72. Œuvres complètes de Voltaire. In: Voltaire Foundation . Accessed July 6, 2020 .


  1. Master of the chair was the astronomer Jérome Lalande , Benjamin Franklin led him to the temple, his guarantor was the historian Abbé Cordier de St. Firmin and Count Stroganow prepared him for the recording. His mason apron came from Claude Adrien Helvétius .
  2. In the opinion of some authors, Voltaire has partly moved away from these positions in his later years. Cf. Karl Vorländer: History of Philosophy (1902), also Franz Strunz: Voltaire's death. In: Enlightenment and Criticism 1/2000, p. 116 ff. Strunz: “On the other hand, he was repeatedly overcome by doubts about the immortality of the soul, about the existence of God, about the hope of an afterlife. For example, he wrote to Condorcet on April 4, 1777 that he would soon present himself 'up there or down there or nowhere'. "