Thursday, October 17, 2013

Book Review: Voltaire the Universal Man

Voltaire the Universal Man by Derek Parker delves into the very chaotic but interesting life of one of the world’s greatest playwrights and thinkers. Voltaire was born in 1694 whose real name was François-Marie Arouet. He wrote thousands of books, letters, and theatricals in his attempt to help people to think beyond the obvious. He railed against short logic, intolerance, dogmatic blindness, war, and at times established royalty.  In many ways he adopted American values and encouraged others in his country to follow the same beliefs.

Taught by Jesuits his family pushed him to become an attorney. However, he rebelled and instead became a writer and poet. Because of the way he thought about the world, and his criticism of some Paris practices, he spent numerous times imprisoned. An eleven month stay in the Bastille caused estrangement from his family but also freed him to pursue his own goals. 

His personality and fame can be seen in one of his conflicts. When a Paris noble of called Chevalier de Rohan mocked him by asking, “Monsieur de Voltaire, Monsieur Arouet, exactly what is your name?” The clever verbal jouster Voltaire retorted, “I myself do not bear a great name, but I know how to honor the one I carry”. At this insult the Chevalier raised his cane to thrash him and Voltaire unsheathed his sword. A few days later Voltaire was beaten by some ruffians paid for by the Chevalier. Instead of spending time in prison for asking for a duel (between a commoner and nobleman) he opted to instead go into exile in England. 

Voltaire was known as a champion of civil rights and a literary artist unsurpassed by anyone. His pressure forced people in France to think about the nature of government and helped solidify the Renaissance. He moved around a lot, his fame increased, and so did his wealth. Yet he had detractors that thought he wasn’t original enough in his works. Despite his criticism it was him who opened people’s minds to the possibilities. 

You may be interested in some of his notable quotes:

“I have only ever made one prayer to God, a very short one: ‘O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.’ And God granted it.”

“It is dangerous to be right in matters where established men are wrong.”

“There are truths which are not for all men, nor for all times.”

“Such then is the human condition, that to wish greatness for one’s country is to wish harm to one’s neighbors.”

“The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.”

“Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too”

Parker, D. (2005). Voltaire the Universal Man. Sutton Publishing Limited;UK

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