|Core Jewish population:|
480,000 - 550,000
Enlarged Jewish population (includes non-Jewish relatives of Jews):
|Regions with significant populations|
Traditional Jewish languages
Hebrew and Aramaic
Predominant spoken languages
French, Hebrew, Judeo-Arabic, Yiddish, Russian
|Related ethnic groups|
|Sephardi Jews, Mizrahi Jews, Ashkenazi Jews, other Jewish ethnic divisions|
The history of the Jews in France deals with the Jews and Jewish communities in France. There has been a Jewish presence in France since at least the early Middle Ages. France was a center of Jewish learning in the Middle Ages, but persecution increased as the Middle Ages wore on, including multiple expulsions and returns. During the late 18th century French Revolution, France was the first country in Europe to emancipate its Jewish population. Antisemitism has persisted despite legal equality, as expressed in the Dreyfus affair of the late 19th century.
During World War II, the Vichy government collaborated with Nazi occupiers to deport numerous French and foreign Jewish refugees to concentration camps. 75% of the Jewish population in France survived the Holocaust.
In the 21st century, France has the largest Jewish population in Europe and the third-largest Jewish population in the world (after Israel and the United States). The Jewish community in France is estimated to be 480,000-500,000 but depends on the adopted definition. French Jewish communities are concentrated in the metropolitan areas of Paris, which has the largest population; Marseille, with the second-largest population of 70,000; Lyon, Nice, Strasbourg, and Toulouse.
The majority of French Jews in the 21st century are Sephardi and MizrahiNorth African Jews, many of whom (or their parents) emigrated since the late 20th century from former French colonies of North Africa after those countries became independent. They migrated to France beginning in the late 20th century. They span a range of religious affiliations, from the ultra-Orthodox Haredi communities to the large segment of Jews who are entirely secular and who commonly marry outside the Jewish community.
Approximately 200,000 French Jews live in Israel. Since 2010 or so, more have been making aliyah there amid rising antisemitism in France.
According to the Jewish Encyclopedia (1906), "The first settlements of Jews in Europe are obscure. From 163 B.C.E. there is evidence of Jews in Rome [...]. In the year 6 C.E. there were Jews at Vienne and Gallia Celtica; in the year 39 at Lugdunum (i.e. Lyon)".
An early account praised Hilary of Poitiers (died 366) for having fled from the Jewish society. The emperors Theodosius II and Valentinian III, addressed a decreee to Amatius, prefect of Gaul (9 July 425), that prohibited Jews and pagans from practising law or holding public offices (militandi), so that Christians should not be subject to them and possibly incited to change their faith. At the funeral of Hilary, Bishop of Arles, in 449, Jews and Christians mingled in crowds and wept, while the former sang psalms in Hebrew. From the year 465 the Church took official cognizance of the Jews.
In the sixth century, Jews were documented in Marseilles, Arles, Uzès, Narbonne, Clermont-Ferrand, Orléans, Paris, and Bordeaux. These places were generally centers of Roman administration, and located on the great commercial routes. The Jews built synagogues in these centers. In harmony with the Theodosian code, and according to an edict of 331 aby the emperor Constantine, the Jews were organized for religious purposes as they were in the Roman empire. They appear to have had priests (rabbis or ḥazzanim), archisynagogues, patersynagogues, and other synagogue officials. The Jews worked principally as merchants, as they were prohibited from owning land; they also served as tax-collectors, sailors, and physicians.
They probably remained under Roman law until the triumph of Christianity, with the status established by Caracalla, on a footing of equality with their fellow citizens. Their association with fellow citizens was generally amicable, even after the establishment of Christianity in Gaul. The Christian clergy participated in some Jewish feasts; intermarriage between Jews and Christians sometimes occurred; and the Jews made proselytes. Worried about Christians adopting Jewish religious customs, the third Council of Orléans (539) warned the faithful against Jewish "superstitions", and ordered them to abstain from traveling on Sunday and from adorning their persons or dwellings on that day. In the 6th century, a Jewish community thrived in Paris. They built a synagogue on the Île de la Cité, but it was later torn down by Christians, who erected a church on the site.
In 629, King Dagobert proposed the expulsion of all Jews who would not accept Christianity. No mention of the Jews was found from his reign to that of Pepin the Short. But in Southern France, then known as Septimania and a dependency of the Visigothic kings of Spain, the Jews continued to dwell and to prosper. From this epoch (689) dates the earliest known Jewish inscription relating to France, that of Narbonne. The Jews of Narbonne, chiefly merchants, were popular among the people, who often rebelled against the Visigothic kings.
The presence of Jews in France under Charlemagne is documented, with their position being regulated by law. Exchanges with the Orient strongly declined with the presence of Saracensin the Mediterranean sea. Trading and importing of oriental products such as gold, silk, black pepper or papyrus almost disappeared under the Carolingians. The RadhaniteJewish traders were nearly the only group to maintain trade between the Occident and the Orient.
Charlemagne fixed a formula for the Jewish oath to the state. He allowed Jews to enter into lawsuits with Christians. They were not allowed to require Christians to work on Sunday. Jews were not allowed to trade in currency, wine, or grain. Legally, Jews belonged to the emperor, and could be tried only by him. But the numerous provincial councils which met during Charlemagne's reign were not concerned with the Jewish communities.
Louis le Débonnaire (814–833, 834-844), faithful to the principles of his father, granted strict protection to Jews, whom he respected as merchants. Like his father, Louis believed that 'the Jewish question' could be solved with the gradual conversion of Jews; according to medieval scholar JM Wollace-Harill, some people believed this tolerance threatened the Christian unity of the Empire, which led to the strengthening of the Bishops at the expense of the Emperor. Saint Agobard of Lyon (779-841) had many run-ins with the Jews of France. He wrote about how rich and powerful they were becoming. Scholars such as Jeremy Cohen suggest that Saint Agobard's belief in Jewish power contributed to his involvement in violent revolutions attempting to dethrone Louis the Pious in the early 830s. Lothar and Agobard's entreaties to Pope Gregory IV, gained them Papal support for the overthrow of Emperor Louis. Upon Louis the Pious' return to power in 834, he deposed Saint Agobard from his see, to the consternation of Rome. There were unsubstantiated rumors in this period that Louis', second wife Judith was a converted Jew, as she would not accept the Ordinatio for their first child.
Jews were engaged in export trade, particularly traveling to Palestine under Charlemagne. When the Normans disembarked on the coast of Narbonnese Gaul, they were taken for Jewish merchants. One authority said the Jewish traders boasted about buying whatever they pleased from bishops and abbots. Isaac the Jew, who was sent by Charlemagne in 797 with two ambassadors to Harun al-Rashid, the fifth AbbasidCaliph, was probably one of these merchants. He was said to have asked the Baghdad caliph for a rabbi to instruct the Jews whom he had allowed to settle at Narbonne (see History of the Jews in Babylonia).
Further information: Medieval France
Persecutions under the Capets (987–1137)
There were widespread persecutions of Jews in France beginning in 1007 or 1009. These persecutions, instigated by Robert II (972–1031), King of France (987–1031), called "the Pious", are described in a Hebrew pamphlet, which also states that the King of France conspired with his vassals to destroy all the Jews on their lands who would not accept baptism, and many were put to death or killed themselves. Robert is credited with advocating forced conversions of local Jewry, as well as mob violence against Jews who refused. Among the dead was the learned Rabbi Senior. Robert the Pious is well known for his lack of religious toleration and for the hatred which he bore toward heretics; it was Robert who reinstated the Roman imperial custom of burning heretics at the stake. In Normandy under Richard II, Duke of Normandy, Rouen Jewry suffered from persecutions that were so terrible that many women, in order to escape the fury of the mob, jumped into the river and drowned. A notable of the town, Jacob b. Jekuthiel, a Talmudic scholar, sought to intercede with Pope John XVIII to stop the persecutions in Lorraine (1007). Jacob undertook the journey to Rome, but was imprisoned with his wife and four sons by Duke Richard, and escaped death only by allegedly miraculous means.[clarification needed] He left his eldest son, Judah, as a hostage with Richard while he with his wife and three remaining sons went to Rome. He bribed the pope with seven gold marks and two hundred pounds, who thereupon sent a special envoy to King Robert ordering him to stop the persecutions.
If Adhémar of Chabannes, who wrote in 1030, is to be believed (he had a reputation as a fabricator), the anti-Jewish feelings arose in 1010 after Western Jews addressed a letter to their Eastern coreligionists warning them of a military movement against the Saracens. According to Adémar, Christians urged by Pope Sergius IV were shocked by the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem by the Muslims in 1009. After the destruction, European reaction to the rumor of the letter was of shock and dismay, CluniacmonkRodulfus Glaber blamed the Jews for the destruction. In that year Alduin, Bishop of Limoges (bishop 990-1012), offered the Jews of his diocese the choice between baptism and exile. For a month theologians held disputations with the Jews, but without much success, for only three or four of Jews abjured their faith; others killed themselves; and the rest either fled or were expelled from Limoges. Similar expulsions took place in other French towns. By 1030, Rodulfus Glaber knew more concerning this story. According to his 1030 explanation, Jews of Orléans had sent to the East through a beggar a letter which provoked the order for the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Glaber adds that, on the discovery of the crime, the expulsion of the Jews was everywhere decreed. Some were driven out of the cities, others were put to death, while some killed themselves; only a few remained in all the "Roman world". Count Paul Riant (1836-1888) says that this whole story of the relations between the Jews and the Mohammedans is only one of those popular legends with which the chronicles of the time abound.
Another violent commotion arose about 1065. At this date Pope Alexander II wrote to Béranger, Viscount of Narbonne and to Guifred, bishop of the city, praising them for having prevented the massacre of the Jews in their district, and reminding them that God does not approve of the shedding of blood. In 1065 also, Alexander admonished Landulf VI of Benevento "that the conversion of Jews is not to be obtained by force." Also in the same year, Alexander called for a crusade against the Moors in Spain. These Crusaders killed without mercy all the Jews whom they met on their route.
During this period, which continued until the First Crusade, Jewish culture flourished in the South and North of France. The initial interest included poetry, which was at times purely liturgical, but which more often was a simple scholastic exercise without aspiration, destined rather to amuse and instruct than to move. Following this came Biblical exegesis, the simple interpretation of the text, with neither daring nor depth, reflecting a complete faith in traditional interpretation, and based by preference on the Midrashim, despite their fantastic character. Finally, and above all, their attention was occupied with the Talmud and its commentaries. The text of this work, together with that of the writings of the Geonim, particularly their responsa, was first revised and copied; then these writings were treated as a corpus juris, and were commented upon and studied both as a pious exercise in dialectics and from the practical point of view. There was no philosophy, no natural science, no belles-lettres, among the French Jews of this period.
Main article: Rashi
The great Jewish figure which dominated the second half of the 11th century, as well as the whole rabbinical history of France, was Rabbi Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki) of Troyes (1040–1106). He personified the genius of northern French Judaism: its devoted attachment to tradition; its untroubled faith; its piety, ardent but free from mysticism. His works are distinguished by their clarity, directness, and are written in a simple, concise, unaffected style, suited to his subject. His commentary on the Talmud, which was the product of colossal labor, and which eclipsed the similar works of all his predecessors, by its clarity and soundness made easy the study of that vast compilation, and soon became its indispensable complement. Every edition of the Talmud that was ever published has this commentary printed on the same page of the Talmud itself. His commentary on the Bible (particularly on the Pentateuch), a sort of repertory of the Midrash, served for edification, but also advanced the taste for seeking the plain and true meaning of the bible. The school which he founded at Troyes, his birthplace, after having followed the teachings of those of Worms and Mainz, immediately became famous. Around his chair were gathered Simḥah b. Samuel, R. Shamuel b. Meïr (Rashbam), and Shemaya, his grandsons; likewise Shemaria, Judah b. Nathan, and Isaac Levi b. Asher, all of whom continued his work. The school's Talmudic commentaries and interpretations are the basis and starting point for the Ashkenazic tradition of how to interpret and understand the Talmud's explanation of Biblical laws. In many cases these interpretations differ substantially from those of the Sephardim, which results in differences between how Ashkenazim and Sephardim hold what constitutes the practical application of the law. In his Biblical commentaries he availed himself of the works of his contemporaries. Among them must be cited Moses ha-Darshan, chief of the school of Narbonne, who was perhaps the founder of exegetical studies in France, and Menachem b. Ḥelbo. Thus the 11th century was a period of fruitful activity in literature. Thenceforth French Judaism became one of the poles within Judaism.
Further information: Crusades
The Jews of France suffered during the First Crusade (1096), when the Crusaders are stated, for example, to have shut up the Jews of Rouen in a church and to have murdered them without distinction of age or sex, sparing only those who accepted baptism. According to a Hebrew document, the Jews throughout France were at that time in great fear, and wrote to their brothers in the Rhine countries making known to them their terror and asking them to fast and pray. In the Rhineland thousands of Jews were killed by the Crusaders (see German Crusade, 1096).
Expulsions and Returns
Expulsion from France, 1182
The First Crusade led to nearly a century of accusations (blood libel) against the Jews, many of whom were burned or attacked in France. Immediately after the coronation of Philip Augustus on 14 March 1181, the King ordered the Jews arrested on a Saturday, in all their synagogues, and despoiled of their money and their investments. In the following April 1182, he published an edict of expulsion, but according the Jews a delay of three months for the sale of their personal property. Immovable property, however, such as houses, fields, vines, barns, and wine-presses, he confiscated. The Jews attempted to win over the nobles to their side, but in vain. In July they were compelled to leave the royal domains of France (and not the whole kingdom); their synagogues were converted into churches. These successive measures were simply expedients to fill the royal coffers. The goods confiscated by the king were at once converted into cash.
During the century which terminated so disastrously for the Jews their condition was not altogether bad, especially if compared with that of their brethren in Germany. Thus may be explained the remarkable intellectual activity which existed among them, the attraction which it exercised over the Jews of other countries, and the numerous works produced in those days. The impulse given by Rashi to study did not cease with his death; his successors—the members of his family first among them - continued his work. Research moved within the same limits as in the preceding century, and dealt mainly with the Talmud, rabbinical jurisprudence, and Biblical exegesis.
Recalled by Philip Augustus, 1198
This century, which opened with the return of the Jews to France proper (then reduced almost to the Isle of France), closed with their complete exile from the country in a larger sense. In July 1198, Philip Augustus, "contrary to the general expectation and despite his own edict, recalled the Jews to Paris and made the churches of God suffer great persecutions" (Rigord). The king adopted this measure from no good will toward the Jews, for he had shown his true sentiments a short time before in the Bray affair. But since then he had learned that the Jews could be an excellent source of income from a fiscal point of view, especially as money-lenders. Not only did he recall them to his estates, but he gave state sanction by his ordinances to their operations in banking and pawnbroking. He placed their business under control, determined the legal rate of interest, and obliged them to have seals affixed to all their deeds. Naturally this trade was taxed, and the affixing of the royal seal was paid for by the Jews. Henceforward there was in the treasury a special account called "Produit des Juifs", and the receipts from this source increased continually. At the same time it was to the interest of the treasury to secure possession of the Jews, considered as a fiscal resource. The Jews were therefore made serfs of the king in the royal domain, just at a time when the charters, becoming wider and wider, tended to bring about the disappearance of serfdom. In certain respects their position became even harder than that of serfs, for the latter could in certain cases appeal to custom and were often protected by the Church; but there was no custom to which the Jews might appeal, and the Church laid them under its ban. The kings and the lords said "my Jews" just as they said "my lands", and they disposed in like manner of the one and of the other. The lords imitated the king: "they endeavored to have the Jews considered an inalienable dependence of their fiefs, and to establish the usage that if a Jew domiciled in one barony passed into another, the lord of his former domicil should have the right to seize his possessions." This agreement was made in 1198 between the king and the Count of Champagne in a treaty, the terms of which provided that neither should retain in his domains the Jews of the other without the latter's consent, and furthermore that the Jews should not make loans or receive pledges without the express permission of the king and the count. Other lords made similar conventions with the king. Thenceforth they too had a revenue known as the Produit des Juifs, comprising the taille, or annual quit-rent, the legal fees for the writs necessitated by the Jews' law trials, and the seal duty. A thoroughly characteristic feature of this fiscal policy is that the bishops (according to the agreement of 1204 regulating the spheres of ecclesiastical and seigniorial jurisdiction) continued to prohibit the clergy from excommunicating those who sold goods to the Jews or who bought from them.
The practice of "retention treaties" spread throughout France after 1198. Lords intending to impose a heavy tax (captio, literally "capture") on Jews living in their lordship (dominium) signed treaties with their neighbours, whereby the latter refused to permit the former's Jews entry into his domains, thus "retaining" them for the lord to tax. This practice arose in response to the common flight of Jews in the face of a captio to a different dominium, where they purchased the right to settle unmolested by gifts (bribes) to their new lord. In May 1210 the crown negotiated a series of treaties with the neighbours of the royal demesne and successfully "captured" its Jews with a large tax levy. From 1223 on, however the Count Palatine of Champagne refused to sign any such treaties, and in that year even refused to affirm the crown's asserted right to force non-retention policies on its barons. Such treaties became obsolete after Louis IX's ordinance of Melun (1230), when it became illegal for a Jew to migrate between lordships. This ordinance—the first piece of public legislation in France since Carolingian times—also declared it treason to refuse non-retention.
Under Louis VIII
Louis VIII of France (1223–26), in his Etablissement sur les Juifs of 1223, while more inspired with the doctrines of the Church than his father, Philip Augustus, knew also how to look after the interests of his treasury. Although he declared that from 8 November 1223, the interest on Jews' debts should no longer hold good, he at the same time ordered that the capital should be repaid to the Jews in three years and that the debts due the Jews should be inscribed and placed under the control of their lords. The lords then collected the debts for the Jews, doubtless receiving a commission. Louis furthermore ordered that the special seal for Jewish deeds should be abolished and replaced by the ordinary one.
Twenty-six barons accepted Louis VIII's new measures, but Theobald IV (1201–53), the powerful Count of Champagne, did not, since he had an agreement with the Jews that guaranteed their safety in return for extra income through taxation. Champagne's capital at Troyes was where Rashi had lived a century before, and Champagne continued to have a prosperous Jewish population. Theobald IV would become a major opposition force to Capetian dominance, and his hostility was manifest during the reign of Louis VIII. For example, during the siege of Avignon, he performed only the minimum service of 40 days, and left for home amid charges of treachery.
Under Louis IX
In spite of all these restrictions designed to restrain, if not to suppress moneylending, Louis IX of France (1226–70), with his ardent piety and his submission to the Catholic Church, unreservedly condemned loans at interest. He was less amenable than Philip Augustus to fiscal considerations. Despite former conventions, in an assembly held at Melun in December 1230, he compelled several lords to sign an agreement not to authorize Jews to make any loan. No one in the whole Kingdom of France was allowed to detain a Jew belonging to another, and each lord might recover a Jew who belonged to him, just as he might his own serf (tanquam proprium servum), wherever he might find him and however long a period had elapsed since the Jew had settled elsewhere. At the same time the ordinance of 1223 was enacted afresh, which only proves that it had not been carried into effect. Both king and lords were forbidden to borrow from Jews.
In 1234, Louis freed his subjects from a third of their registered debts to Jews (including those who had already paid their debts), but debtors had to pay the remaining two-thirds within a specified time. It was also forbidden to imprison Christians or to sell their real estate to recover debts owed to Jews. The king wished in this way to strike a deadly blow at usury.
In 1243, Louis ordered, at the urging of Pope Gregory IX
For other uses, see Voltaire (disambiguation).
François-Marie Arouet (French: [fʁɑ̃.swa ma.ʁi aʁ.wɛ]; 21 November 1694 – 30 May 1778), known by his nom de plumeVoltaire (;French: [vɔl.tɛːʁ]), was a FrenchEnlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit, his attacks on the established Catholic Church and Christianity as a whole and his advocacy of freedom of religion, freedom of speech and separation of church and state.
Voltaire was a versatile and prolific writer, producing works in almost every literary form, including plays, poems, novels, essays and historical and scientific works. He wrote more than 20,000 letters and more than 2,000 books and pamphlets. He was an outspoken advocate of civil liberties, despite the risk this placed him in under the strict censorship laws of the time. As a satiricalpolemicist, he frequently made use of his works to criticize intolerance, religious dogma and the French institutions of his day.
François-Marie Arouet was born in Paris, the youngest of the five children of François Arouet (19 August 1649 – 1 January 1722), a lawyer who was a minor treasury official, and his wife, Marie Marguerite Daumard (c. 1660 – 13 July 1701), whose family was on the lowest rank of the French nobility. Some speculation surrounds Voltaire's date of birth, because he claimed he was born on 20 February 1694 as the illegitimate son of a nobleman, Guérin de Rochebrune or Roquebrune. Two of his older brothers—Armand-François and Robert—died in infancy, and his surviving brother Armand and sister Marguerite-Catherine were nine and seven years older, respectively. Nicknamed "Zozo" by his family, Voltaire was baptized on 22 November 1694, with François de Castagnère, abbé de Châteauneuf (fr), and Marie Daumard, the wife of his mother's cousin, standing as godparents. He was educated by the Jesuits at the Collège Louis-le-Grand (1704–1711), where he was taught Latin, theology, and rhetoric; later in life he became fluent in Italian, Spanish, and English.
By the time he left school, Voltaire had decided he wanted to be a writer, against the wishes of his father, who wanted him to become a lawyer. Voltaire, pretending to work in Paris as an assistant to a notary, spent much of his time writing poetry. When his father found out, he sent Voltaire to study law, this time in Caen, Normandy. But the young man continued to write, producing essays and historical studies. Voltaire's wit made him popular among some of the aristocratic families with whom he mixed. In 1713, his father obtained a job for him as a secretary to the new French ambassador in the Netherlands, the marquis de Châteauneuf (fr), the brother of Voltaire's godfather. At The Hague, Voltaire fell in love with a French Protestant refugee named Catherine Olympe Dunoyer (known as 'Pimpette'). Their affair, considered scandalous, was discovered by de Châteauneuf and Voltaire was forced to return to France by the end of the year.
Most of Voltaire's early life revolved around Paris. From early on, Voltaire had trouble with the authorities for critiques of the government. As a result, he was twice sentenced to prison and once to temporary exile to England. One satirical verse, in which Voltaire accused the Régent of incest with his daughter, resulted in an eleven-month imprisonment in the Bastille. The Comédie-Française had agreed in January 1717 to stage his debut play, Œdipe, and it opened in mid-November 1718, seven months after his release. Its immediate critical and financial success established his reputation. Both the Régent and King George I of Great Britain presented Voltaire with medals as a mark of their appreciation.
He mainly argued for religious tolerance and freedom of thought. He campaigned to eradicate priestly and aristo-monarchical authority, and supported a constitutional monarchy that protects people's rights.
Adopts the name Voltaire
The author adopted the name Voltaire in 1718, following his incarceration at the Bastille. Its origin is unclear. It is an anagram of AROVET LI, the Latinized spelling of his surname, Arouet, and the initial letters of le jeune ("the young"). According to a family tradition among the descendants of his sister, he was known as le petit volontaire ("determined little thing") as a child, and he resurrected a variant of the name in his adult life. The name also reverses the syllables of Airvault, his family's home town in the Poitou region.
Richard Holmes supports the anagrammatic derivation of the name, but adds that a writer such as Voltaire would have intended it to also convey connotations of speed and daring. These come from associations with words such as voltige (acrobatics on a trapeze or horse), volte-face (a spinning about to face one's enemies), and volatile (originally, any winged creature). "Arouet" was not a noble name fit for his growing reputation, especially given that name's resonance with à rouer ("to be beaten up") and roué (a débauché).
In a letter to Jean-Baptiste Rousseau in March 1719, Voltaire concludes by asking that, if Rousseau wishes to send him a return letter, he do so by addressing it to Monsieur de Voltaire. A postscript explains: "J'ai été si malheureux sous le nom d'Arouet que j'en ai pris un autre surtout pour n'être plus confondu avec le poète Roi", (I was so unhappy under the name of Arouet that I have taken another, primarily so as to cease to be confused with the poet Roi.) This probably refers to Adenes le Roi, and the 'oi' diphthong was then pronounced like modern 'ouai', so the similarity to 'Arouet' is clear, and thus, it could well have been part of his rationale. Voltaire is known also to have used at least 178 separate pen names during his lifetime.
La Henriade and Mariamne
Voltaire's next play, Artémire (de), set in ancient Macedonia, opened on 15 February 1720. It was a flop and only fragments of the text survive. He instead turned to an epic poem about Henri IV of France that he had begun in early 1717. Denied a licence to publish, in August 1722 Voltaire headed north to find a publisher outside France. On the journey, he was accompanied by his mistress, Marie-Marguerite de Rupelmonde, a young widow.
At Brussels, Voltaire and Rousseau met up for a few days, before Voltaire and his mistress continued northwards. A publisher was eventually secured in The Hague. In the Netherlands, Voltaire was struck and impressed by the openness and tolerance of Dutch society. On his return to France, he secured a second publisher in Rouen, who agreed to publish La Henriade clandestinely. After Voltaire's recovery from a month-long smallpox infection in November 1723, the first copies were smuggled into Paris and distributed. While the poem was an instant success, Voltaire's new play, Mariamne, was a failure when it first opened in March 1724. Heavily reworked, it opened at the Comédie-Française in April 1725 to a much-improved reception. It was among the entertainments provided at the wedding of Louis XV and Marie Leszczyńska in September 1725.
In early 1726, a young French nobleman, the chevalier de Rohan-Chabot, taunted Voltaire about his change of name, and Voltaire retorted that his name would be honoured while de Rohan would dishonour his. Infuriated, de Rohan arranged for Voltaire to be beaten up by thugs a few days later. Seeking compensation, redress, or revenge, Voltaire challenged de Rohan to a duel, but the aristocratic de Rohan family arranged for Voltaire to be arrested and imprisoned in the Bastille on 17 April 1726 without a trial or an opportunity to defend himself. Fearing an indefinite prison sentence, Voltaire suggested that he be exiled to England as an alternative punishment, which the French authorities accepted. On 2 May, he was escorted from the Bastille to Calais, where he was to embark for Britain.
In England, Voltaire lived largely in Wandsworth, with acquaintances including Everard Fawkener. From December 1727 to June 1728 he lodged at Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, now commemorated by a plaque, to be nearer to his British publisher. Voltaire circulated throughout English high society, meeting Alexander Pope, John Gay, Jonathan Swift, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, and many other members of the nobility and royalty. Voltaire's exile in Great Britain greatly influenced his thinking. He was intrigued by Britain's constitutional monarchy in contrast to French absolutism, and by the country's greater support of the freedoms of speech and religion. He was influenced by the writers of the age, and developed an interest in earlier English literature, especially the works of Shakespeare, still relatively unknown in continental Europe. Despite pointing out his deviations from neoclassical standards, Voltaire saw Shakespeare as an example that French writers might emulate, since French drama, despite being more polished, lacked on-stage action. Later, however, as Shakespeare's influence began growing in France, Voltaire tried to set a contrary example with his own plays, decrying what he considered Shakespeare's barbarities. Voltaire may have been present at the funeral of Isaac Newton, and met Newton's niece, Catherine Conduitt. In 1727, he published two essays in English, Upon the Civil Wars of France, Extracted from Curious Manuscripts and Upon Epic Poetry of the European Nations, from Homer Down to Milton.
After two and a half years in exile, Voltaire returned to France, and after a few months living in Dieppe, the authorities permitted him to return to Paris. At a dinner, French mathematician Charles Marie de La Condamine proposed buying up the lottery that was organized by the French government to pay off its debts, and Voltaire joined the consortium, earning perhaps a million livres. He invested the money cleverly and on this basis managed to convince the Court of Finances that he was of good conduct and so was able to take control of a capital inheritance from his father that had hitherto been tied up in trust. He was now indisputably rich.
Further success followed, in 1732, with his play Zaïre, which when published in 1733 carried a dedication to Fawkener that praised English liberty and commerce. At this time he published his views on British attitudes toward government, literature, religion and science in a collection of essays in letter form entitled Letters Concerning the English Nation (London, 1733). In 1734, they were published in French as Lettres philosophiques in Rouen.[note 1] Because the publisher released the book without the approval of the royal censor and Voltaire regarded the British constitutional monarchy as more developed and more respectful of human rights (particularly religious tolerance) than its French counterpart, the French publication of Letters caused a huge scandal; the book was publicly burnt and banned, and Voltaire was forced again to flee Paris.
Château de Cirey
In 1733, Voltaire met Émilie du Châtelet, a married mother of three who was 12 years his junior and with whom he was to have an affair for 16 years. To avoid arrest after the publication of Letters, Voltaire took refuge at her husband's château at Cirey-sur-Blaise, on the borders of Champagne and Lorraine. Voltaire paid for the building's renovation, and Émilie's husband, the Marquis du Châtelet, sometimes stayed at the château with his wife and her lover. The relationship had a significant intellectual element. Voltaire and the Marquise collected over 21,000 books, an enormous number for the time. Together, they studied these books and performed experiments in the natural sciences at Cirey, which included an attempt to determine the nature of fire.
Having learned from his previous brushes with the authorities, Voltaire began his habit of keeping out of personal harm's way and denying any awkward responsibility. He continued to write plays, such as Mérope (or La Mérope française) and began his long research into science and history. Again, a main source of inspiration for Voltaire were the years of his British exile, during which he had been strongly influenced by the works of Sir Isaac Newton. Voltaire strongly believed in Newton's theories; he performed experiments in optics at Cirey, and was one of the sources for the famous story of Newton and the apple falling from the tree, which he had learned from Newton's niece in London and first mentioned in his Letters.
In the fall of 1735, Voltaire was visited by Francesco Algarotti, who was preparing a book about Newton in Italian. Partly inspired by the visit, the Marquise translated Newton's Latin Principia into French in full, and it remained the definitive French translation into the 21st century. Both she and Voltaire were also curious about the philosophies of Gottfried Leibniz, a contemporary and rival of Newton. While Voltaire remained a firm Newtonian, the Marquise adopted certain aspects of Leibniz's arguments against Newton. Voltaire's own book Eléments de la philosophie de Newton (Elements of Newton's Philosophy) made Newton accessible and understandable to a far greater public, and the Marquise wrote a celebratory review in the Journal des savants. Voltaire's work was instrumental in bringing about general acceptance of Newton's optical and gravitational theories in France.
Voltaire and the Marquise also studied history, particularly those persons who had contributed to civilization. Voltaire's second essay in English had been "Essay upon the Civil Wars in France". It was followed by La Henriade, an epic poem on the French King Henri IV, glorifying his attempt to end the Catholic-Protestant massacres with the Edict of Nantes, and by a historical novel on King Charles XII of Sweden. These, along with his Letters on the English mark the beginning of Voltaire's open criticism of intolerance and established religions. Voltaire and the Marquise also explored philosophy, particularly metaphysics, the branch of philosophy that deals with being and with what lies beyond the material realm, such as whether or not there is a God and whether people have souls. Voltaire and the Marquise analysed the Bible and concluded that much of its content was dubious. Voltaire's critical views on religion are reflected in his belief in separation of church and state and religious freedom, ideas that he had formed after his stay in England.
In August 1736, Frederick the Great, then Crown Prince of Prussia and a great admirer of Voltaire, initiated a correspondence with him. That December, Voltaire moved to Holland for two months and became acquainted with the scientists Herman Boerhaave and 's Gravesande. From mid-1739 to mid-1740 Voltaire lived largely in Brussels, at first with the Marquise, who was unsuccessfully attempting to pursue a 60-year-old family legal case regarding the ownership of two estates in Limburg. In July 1740, he traveled to the Hague on behalf of Frederick in an attempt to dissuade a dubious publisher, van Duren, from printing without permission Frederick's Anti-Machiavel. In September Voltaire and Frederick (now King) met for the first time in Moyland Castle near Cleves and in November Voltaire was Frederick's guest in Berlin for two weeks; in September 1742 they met in Aix-la-Chapelle. Voltaire was sent to Frederick's court in 1743 by the French government as an envoy and spy to gauge Frederick's military intentions in the War of the Austrian Succession.
Though deeply committed to the Marquise, Voltaire by 1744 found life at the château confining. On a visit to Paris that year, he found a new love—his niece. At first, his attraction to Marie Louise Mignot was clearly sexual, as evidenced by his letters to her (only discovered in 1957). Much later, they lived together, perhaps platonically, and remained together until Voltaire's death. Meanwhile, the Marquise also took a lover, the Marquis de Saint-Lambert.
After the death of the Marquise in childbirth in September 1749, Voltaire briefly returned to Paris and in mid-1750 moved to Prussia to the court of Frederick the Great. The Prussian king (with the permission of Louis XV) made him a chamberlain in his household, appointed him to the Order of Merit, and gave him a salary of 20,000 French livres a year. He had rooms at Sanssouci and Charlottenburg Palace. Though life went well at first—in 1751 he completed Micromégas, a piece of science fiction involving ambassadors from another planet witnessing the follies of humankind—his relationship with Frederick the Great began to deteriorate after he was accused of theft and forgery by a Jewish financier, Abraham Hirschel, who had invested in Saxon government bonds, on behalf of Voltaire, at a time when Frederick was involved in sensitive diplomatic negotiations with Saxony.
He encountered other difficulties: an argument with Maupertuis, the president of the Berlin Academy of Science and a former rival for Émilie's affections, provoked Voltaire's Diatribe du docteur Akakia ("Diatribe of Doctor Akakia"), which satirized some of Maupertuis's theories and his abuse of power in his persecutions of a mutual acquaintance, Johann Samuel König. This greatly angered Frederick, who ordered all copies of the document burned. On 1 January 1752, Voltaire offered to resign as chamberlain and return his insignia of the Order of Merit; at first, Frederick refused until eventually permitting Voltaire to leave in March. On a slow journey back to France, Voltaire stayed at Leipzig and Gotha for a month each, and Kassel for two weeks, arriving at Frankfurt on 31 May. The following morning, he was detained at the inn where he was staying by Frederick's agents, who held him in the city for over three weeks while they, Voltaire and Frederick argued by letter over the return of a satirical book of poetry Frederick had lent to Voltaire. Marie Louise joined him on 9 June. She and her uncle only left Frankfurt in July after she had defended herself from the unwanted advances of one of Frederick's agents and Voltaire's luggage had been ransacked and valuable items taken.
Voltaire's attempts to vilify Frederick for his agents' actions at Frankfurt were largely unsuccessful. Voltaire responded by composing Mémoires pour Servir à la Vie de M. de Voltaire, a work published after his death that paints a largely negative picture of his time spent with Frederick. However, the correspondence between them continued, and though they never met in person again, after the Seven Years' War they largely reconciled.
Geneva and Ferney
Voltaire's slow progress toward Paris continued through Mainz, Mannheim, Strasbourg, and Colmar, but in January 1754 Louis XV banned him from Paris, so instead he turned for Geneva, near which he bought a large estate (Les Délices) in early 1755. Though he was received openly at first, the law in Geneva, which banned theatrical performances, and the publication of The Maid of Orleans against his will soured his relationship with Calvinist Genevans. In late 1758, he bought an even larger estate at Ferney, on the French side of the Franco-Swiss border.
Early in 1759, Voltaire completed and published Candide, ou l'Optimisme (Candide, or Optimism). This satire on Leibniz's philosophy of optimistic determinism remains the work for which Voltaire is perhaps best known. He would stay in Ferney for most of the remaining 20 years of his life, frequently entertaining distinguished guests, such as James Boswell, Adam Smith, Giacomo Casanova, and Edward Gibbon. In 1764, he published one of his best-known philosophical works, the Dictionnaire philosophique, a series of articles mainly on Christian history and dogmas, a few of which were originally written in Berlin.
From 1762, he began to champion unjustly persecuted people, the case of Huguenot merchant Jean Calas being the most celebrated. Calas had been tortured to death in 1763, supposedly because he had murdered his eldest son for wanting to convert to Catholicism. His possessions were confiscated and his two daughters were taken from his widow and were forced into Catholic convents. Voltaire, seeing this as a clear case of religious persecution, managed to overturn the conviction in 1765.
Voltaire was initiated into Freemasonry the month before his death. On 4 April 1778 Voltaire accompanied his close friend Benjamin Franklin into La Loge des Neuf Sœurs or Les Neuf Sœurs in Paris, France and became an Entered Apprentice Freemason. "Benjamin Franklin … urged Voltaire to become a freemason; and Voltaire agreed, perhaps only to please Franklin."
Death and burial
In February 1778, Voltaire returned for the first time in over 25 years to Paris, among other reasons to see the opening of his latest tragedy, Irene. The five-day journey was too much for the 83-year-old, and he believed he was about to die on 28 February, writing "I die adoring God, loving my friends, not hating my enemies, and detesting superstition." However, he recovered, and in March saw a performance of Irene, where he was treated by the audience as a returning hero.
He soon became ill again and died on 30 May 1778. The accounts of his deathbed have been numerous and varying, and it has not been possible to establish the details of what precisely occurred. His enemies related that he repented and accepted the last rites given by a Catholic priest, or that he died under great torment, while his adherents told how he was defiant to his last breath. According to one story of his last words, his response to a priest at his deathbed urging him to renounce Satan was "Now is not the time for making new enemies." However, this appears to have originated from a joke first published in a Massachusetts newspaper in 1856, and was only attributed to Voltaire in the 1970s.
Because of his well-known criticism of the Church, which he had refused to retract before his death, Voltaire was denied a Christian burial in Paris, but friends and relations managed to bury his body secretly at the Abbey of Scellières in Champagne, where Marie Louise's brother was abbé. His heart and brain were embalmed separately.
On 11 July 1791, he was enshrined in the Panthéon, after the National Assembly of France, which regarded him as a forerunner of the French Revolution, had his remains brought back to Paris. It is estimated that a million people attended the procession, which stretched throughout Paris. There was an elaborate ceremony, complete with an orchestra, and the music included a piece that André Grétry had composed especially for the event, which included a part for the "tuba curva" (an instrument that originated in Roman times as the cornu but had recently been revived under a new name).
Voltaire had an enormous influence on the development of historiography through his demonstration of fresh new ways to look at the past. Guillaume de Syon argues:
Voltaire recast historiography in both factual and analytical terms. Not only did he reject traditional biographies and accounts that claim the work of supernatural forces, but he went so far as to suggest that earlier historiography was rife with falsified evidence and required new investigations at the source. Such an outlook was not unique in that the scientific spirit that 18th-century intellectuals perceived themselves as invested with. A rationalistic approach was key to rewriting history.
Voltaire's best-known histories are History of Charles XII (1731), The Age of Louis XIV (1751), and his Essay on the Customs and the Spirit of the Nations (1756). He broke from the tradition of narrating diplomatic and military events, and emphasized customs, social history and achievements in the arts and sciences. The Essay on Customs traced the progress of world civilization in a universal context, thereby rejecting both nationalism and the traditional Christian frame of reference. Influenced by Bossuet's Discourse on the Universal History (1682), he was the first scholar to make a serious attempt to write the history of the world, eliminating theological frameworks, and emphasizing economics, culture and political history. He treated Europe as a whole, rather than a collection of nations. He was the first to emphasize the debt of medieval culture to Middle Eastern civilization, but otherwise was weak on the Middle Ages. Although he repeatedly warned against political bias on the part of the historian, he did not miss many opportunities to expose the intolerance and frauds of the church over the ages. Voltaire advised scholars that anything contradicting the normal course of nature was not to be believed. Although he found evil in the historical record, he fervently believed reason and educating the illiterate masses would lead to progress.
Voltaire explains his view of historiography in his article on "History" in Diderot's Encyclopédie: "One demands of modern historians more details, better ascertained facts, precise dates, more attention to customs, laws, mores, commerce, finance, agriculture, population." Voltaire's histories imposed the values of the Enlightenment on the past, but at the same time he helped free historiography from antiquarianism, Eurocentrism, religious intolerance and a concentration on great men, diplomacy, and warfare. Yale professor Peter Gay says Voltaire wrote "very good history", citing his "scrupulous concern for truths", "careful sifting of evidence", "intelligent selection of what is important", "keen sense of drama", and "grasp of the fact that a whole civilization is a unit of study".
From an early age, Voltaire displayed a talent for writing verse and his first published work was poetry. He wrote two book-long epic poems, including the first ever written in French, the Henriade, and later, The Maid of Orleans, besides many other smaller pieces.
The Henriade was written in imitation of Virgil, using the alexandrine couplet reformed and rendered monotonous for modern readers but it was a huge success in the 18th and early 19th century, with sixty-five editions and translations into several languages. The epic poem transformed French King Henry IV into a national hero for his attempts at instituting tolerance with his Edict of Nantes. La Pucelle, on the other hand, is a burlesque on the legend of Joan of Arc. Voltaire's minor poems are generally considered superior to either of these two works.
Many of Voltaire's prose works and romances, usually composed as pamphlets, were written as polemics. Candide attacks the passivity inspired by Leibniz's philosophy of optimism through the character Pangloss's frequent refrain that circumstances are the "best of all possible worlds". L'Homme aux quarante ecus (The Man of Forty Pieces of Silver), addresses social and political ways of the time; Zadig and others, the received forms of moral and metaphysical orthodoxy; and some were written to deride the Bible. In these works, Voltaire's ironic style, free of exaggeration, is apparent, particularly the restraint and simplicity of the verbal treatment. Candide in particular is the best example of his style. Voltaire also has—in common with Jonathan Swift—the distinction of paving the way for science fiction's philosophical irony, particularly in his Micromégas and the vignette Plato's Dream (1756).
In general, his criticism and miscellaneous writing show a similar style to Voltaire's other works. Almost all of his more substantive works, whether in verse or prose, are preceded by prefaces of one sort or another, which are models of his caustic yet conversational tone. In a vast variety of nondescript pamphlets and writings, he displays his skills at journalism. In pure literary criticism his principal work is the Commentaire sur Corneille, although he wrote many more similar works—sometimes (as in his Life and Notices of Molière) independently and sometimes as part of his Siècles.
Voltaire's works, especially his private letters, frequently contain the word "l'infâme" and the expression "écrasez l'infâme", or "crush the infamous". The phrase refers to abuses of the people by royalty and the clergy that Voltaire saw around him, and the superstition and intolerance that the clergy bred within the people. He had felt these effects in his own exiles, the burnings of his books and those of many others, and in the hideous sufferings of Jean Calas and François-Jean de la Barre. He stated in one of his most famous quotes that "Superstition sets the whole world in flames; philosophy quenches them."
The most oft-cited Voltaire quotation is apocryphal. He is incorrectly credited with writing, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." These were not his words, but rather those of Evelyn Beatrice Hall, written under the pseudonym S. G. Tallentyre in her 1906 biographical book The Friends of Voltaire. Hall intended to summarize in her own words Voltaire's attitude towards Claude Adrien Helvétius and his controversial book De l'esprit, but her first-person expression was mistaken for an actual quotation from Voltaire. Her interpretation does capture the spirit of Voltaire's attitude towards Helvetius; it had been said Hall's summary was inspired by a quotation found in a 1770 Voltaire letter to an Abbot le Riche, in which he was reported to have said, "I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write." Nevertheless, scholars believe there must have again been misinterpretation, as the letter does not seem to contain any such quote.
Voltaire's first major philosophical work in his battle against "l'infâme" was the Traité sur la tolérance (Treatise on Tolerance), exposing the Calas affair, along with the tolerance exercised by other faiths and in other eras (for example, by the Jews, the Romans, the Greeks and the Chinese). Then, in his Dictionnaire philosophique, containing such articles as "Abraham", "Genesis", "Church Council", he wrote about what he perceived as the human origins of dogmas and beliefs, as well as inhuman behavior of religious and political institutions in shedding blood over the quarrels of competing sects. Amongst other targets, Voltaire criticized France's colonial policy in North America, dismissing the vast territory of New France as "a few acres of snow" ("quelques arpents de neige").
Voltaire also engaged in an enormous amount of private correspondence during his life, totalling over 20,000 letters. Theodore Besterman's collected edition of these letters, completed only in 1964, fills 102 volumes. One historian called the letters "a feast not only of wit and eloquence but of warm friendship, humane feeling, and incisive thought."
In Voltaire's correspondence with Catherine the Great he derided democracy. He wrote, "Almost nothing great has ever been done in the world except by the genius and firmness of a single man combating the prejudices of the multitude."
Like other key Enlightenment thinkers, Voltaire was a deist, expressing the idea: "What is faith? Is it to believe that which is evident? No. It is perfectly evident to my mind that there exists a necessary, eternal, supreme, and intelligent being. This is no matter of faith, but of reason." Voltaire held mixed views of the Abrahamic religions but had a favourable view of Hinduism.
In a 1763 essay, Voltaire supported the toleration of other religions and ethnicities: "It does not require great art, or magnificently trained eloquence, to prove that Christians should tolerate each other. I, however, am going further: I say that we should regard all men as our brothers. What? The Turk my brother? The Chinaman my brother? The Jew? The Siam? Yes, without doubt; are we not all children of the same father and creatures of the same God?"
In one of his many denunciations of priests of every religious sect, Voltaire describes them as those who "rise from an incestuous bed, manufacture a hundred versions of God, then eat and drink God, then piss and shit God."
In a letter to Frederick II, King of Prussia, dated 5 January 1767, he wrote about Christianity:
La nôtre [religion] est sans contredit la plus ridicule, la plus absurde, et la plus sanguinaire qui ait jamais infecté le monde.
"Our [religion] is assuredly the most ridiculous, the most absurd and the most bloody religion which has ever infected this world. Your Majesty will do the human race an eternal service by extirpating this infamous superstition, I do not say among the rabble, who are not worthy of being enlightened and who are apt for every yoke; I say among honest people, among men who think, among those who wish to think. … My one regret in dying is that I cannot aid you in this noble enterprise, the finest and most respectable which the human mind can point out."
In La bible enfin expliquée, he expressed the following attitude to lay reading of the Bible:
It is characteristic of fanatics who read the holy scriptures to tell themselves: God killed, so I must kill; Abraham lied, Jacob deceived, Rachel stole: so I must steal, deceive, lie. But, wretch, you are neither Rachel, nor Jacob, nor Abraham, nor God; you are just a mad fool, and the popes who forbade the reading of the Bible were extremely wise.
Voltaire's opinion of the Christian Bible was mixed. Although influenced by Socinian works such as the Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum, Voltaire's skeptical attitude to the Bible separated him from Unitarian theologians like Fausto Sozzini or even Biblical-political writers like John Locke. His statements on religion also brought down on him the fury of the Jesuits and in particular Claude-Adrien Nonnotte. This did not hinder his religious practice, though it did win for him a bad reputation in certain religious circles. The deeply Christian Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote to his father the year of Voltaire's death, saying, "The arch-scoundrel Voltaire has finally kicked the bucket ...". Voltaire was later deemed to influence Edward Gibbon in claiming that Christianity was a contributor to the fall of the Roman Empire in his book The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:
As Christianity advances, disasters befall the [Roman] empire—arts, science, literature, decay—barbarism and all its revolting concomitants are made to seem the consequences of its decisive triumph—and the unwary reader is conducted, with matchless dexterity, to the desired conclusion—the abominable Manicheism of Candide, and, in fact, of all the productions of Voltaire's historic school—viz., "that instead of being a merciful, ameliorating, and benignant visitation, the religion of Christians would rather seem to be a scourge sent on man by the author of all evil."
However, Voltaire also acknowledged the self-sacrifice of Christians. He wrote: "Perhaps there is nothing greater on earth than the sacrifice of youth and beauty, often of high birth, made by the gentle sex in order to work in hospitals for the relief of human misery, the sight of which is so revolting to our delicacy. Peoples separated from the Roman religion have imitated but imperfectly so generous a charity." Yet "His hatred of religion increased with the passage of years. The attack, launched at first against clericalism and theocracy, ended in a furious assault upon Holy Scripture, the dogmas of the Church, and even upon the person of Jesus Christ Himself, who was depicted now as a degenerate". The reasoning of which may be summed up in his well-known quote, "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities".
According to Orthodox rabbi Joseph Telushkin, the most significant Enlightenment hostility against Judaism was found in Voltaire; thirty of the 118 articles in his Dictionnaire philosophique dealt with Jews and described them in consistently negative ways. For example in Voltaire's A Philosophical Dictionary, he wrote of Jews: "In short, we find in them only an ignorant and barbarous people, who have long united the most sordid avarice with the most detestable superstition and the most invincible hatred for every people by whom they are tolerated and enriched."
On the other hand, Peter Gay, a contemporary authority on the Enlightenment, also points to Voltaire's remarks (for instance, that the Jews were more tolerant than the Christians) in the Traité sur la tolérance and surmises that "Voltaire struck at the Jews to strike at Christianity". Whatever anti-semitism Voltaire may have felt, Gay suggests, derived from negative personal experience.