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François Marie Arouet de Voltaire, 1694-1778
[Mentioned in The People's Idea of God, p. 6]
Voltaire, man of letters, philosopher, and defender of the oppressed, led a life which was as full of extremes as his character was full of contradictions. Born in Paris of middle-class parents, he attended a Jesuit college where he acquired such a love of literature and the theater that he submitted only briefly to his father's plans that he follow him in the legal profession.
Voltaire was determined to be a man of letters. His facility in writing rhymed epigrams, especially satirical ones against the Regent, led to an eleven-month imprisonment in the Bastille. Here he wrote the greater part of an epic poem which had Henry IV for its hero and eulogized Admiral Coligny. Voltaire was then exiled from Paris for eleven months. During this period the tremendous success of one of his plays at the Comédie Française helped to smooth his path. He now assumed the name of "Voltaire," perhaps an abbreviation of the nickname, "le volontaire," which he had as a child.
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