Poet, dramatist, and philosopher François-Marie Arouet (1694-1778) was born in Paris on this day and took the pen name Arouet de Voltaire when he was 24.
"Appreciation is a wonderful thing," he wrote, "it makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well."
A pioneer of free thought who inspired Thomas Jefferson and America's revolutionary founders, Voltaire was an outspoken enemy of every injustice. He used his pen to criticize the power of the French monarchy and the Church which landed him in the Bastille prison twice.
"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," said the defender of freedom.
At 32, he was exiled to England. Upon his return to France in 1729, he wrote a book praising English culture which the French interpreted as criticism and he was exiled again.
"Life is a point between two eternities," he believed.
He retired to the stately château in Ferney, a Swiss town near the border and helped transform the small town into a thriving European intellectual center. There he wrote Candide (1758), his famous novel about a young man who naively believed whatever happens is always for "the best of all possible worlds" and that the secret to happiness was to "cultivate your own garden."
"Think for yourself," he said. "And let others enjoy the privilege of doing so, too."
More VOLTAIRE Quotations
Happiness thrives in busy solitude.