Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Voltaire's Birthday: 11-21-07

It's the birthday of the man who helped spark the Enlightenment in France, writing under the name Voltaire, born Francois-Marie Arouet in Paris (1694). He was already a well-known playwright and poet when, in 1725, he got into an argument with a nobleman. A few days later, that nobleman hired a group of men to surround Voltaire in the street and beat him with cudgels. The nobleman stood by and watched. Voltaire was outraged when none of his political friends came to his defense after the incident. He had thought that his stature as a poet made him the equal of the aristocrats he spent all his time with, but apparently he was still a second-class citizen. He began publicizing the incident and calling for justice, and he was thrown into the prison at the Bastille. He was released only on the condition that he leave France, and so he went to England. He spent most of the rest of his life in exile, and his writings built up support in Europe for what we now think of as basic human rights.

Voltaire said, "Let us read and let us dance — two amusements that will never do any harm to the world."

-The Writer's Almanac

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