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M. DE VOLTAIRE ;
FROM THE MOST APPROVED LONDON EDITION.
40, THOMPSON STREET.
M. DE VOLTAIRE.
TO attempt to write a strictly original life of the author of The Philosophical Dictionary, would be to attempt an impracticability, since the world is so universally informed of his character; life, and writings, through the biographical researches of his friend and pupil, the elegant, though unfortunate Condorcet; the leading features of whose relation, it will be our endeavour to delineate with conciseness and veracity.
Whether we regard Voltaire as a politician, whose influential writings created a new mode of thinking in the school of philosophy; or, as a poet, philosopher, and historian, he must be ranked as one of the brightest ornaments of the country which gave him birth.
While Voltaire was the object of jealousy, persecution, and hatred, to the priesthood and the bigotted, he was eloquently advocating the cause of freedom and religious toleration, and strenuously supporting his favourite maxim-
Mankind are all stamp'd equal at their birth!
To account for such illiberality and injustice, is not at all difficult. Voltaire had boldly asserted his opinions, in defiance of the agents of tyranny and superstition: he had waged a deadly war against prejudice and ignorance: he had struck a fatal blow at the root of their power: and he had relaxed the hitherto
strongly-knit joints of the government of error, hypocrisy, and fanatacism. It was dangerous ground to tread upon, where the cormorants of the church and state glutted their appetites on the labours of the poor, the ignorant, and the superstitious, who adored and obeyed the " throned power” of right divine. Systems that will not stand the test of truth, cannot be immaculate ; and systems that profess to govern our morals, and direct our eternal happiness, ought to be as uncontaminated as the dew of heaven.
Thus shoals of hireling scribblers, and even men, they say, of some talent, among the clergy, envious of his great abilities, prejudiced and alarmed at the declaration of his religious principles, in a country where superstition reigned, did not hesitate to traduce the character, and arraign the works, of a man, whose talents so very far eclipsed their own; but the labours of such defamers were shortly to be obliterated from the annals of literature ; while it was impossible to transmit even their names to posterity, through any other medium, than such a remembrance as the Dunciad of the celebrated Pope.
FRANCIS-MARIE AROUET DE VOLTAIRE, was born at Chatenay, near Paris, on the 20th of February, 1694, but was not baptized till the 22d of November, of the same year, owing to his excessive weakness. His father, Francis Arouet, (ancient notary at Paris,) held the office of treasurer of the Chambre des Comptes ; and his mother, Margeret d’Aumart, was of a noble family of Poitou. Young Arouet, conformably to the custom, then generally established among the rich burgesses, or cadets, assumed the name of the paternal estate, Voltaire, leaving to the eldest son the name of the family. M. Arouet had the good fortune to procure important advantages to his sons, with respect to their education, without which genius cannot attain its meridian splendour.
Voltaire was admitted to the college of Jesuits. The professor of rhetoric, father Poree, under whose tuition he was placed, was a man of considerable eminence, and soon discerned, in the youth, the elements of genius, the germs of a great mind. Father Jay, also, observed the independence which characterized the opinions of his pupil.
On leaving college, he found a home in the dwelling of the abbe Chateauneuf, his god-father, and an old friend of his mother's. The abbe introduced the ingenious youth, already distinguished by several jeux d'esprits, to his intimate friend, the celebrated Mad. Ninon l'Enclos, who was pleased with the boy, and presented him with two thousand livres, (about eighty guineas,) for the purpose of purchasing a small library.