Monday, January 19, 2009

Voltaire Takes On the Universe

Gentle Readers, the Amateur Historian is Quite Pleased to announce yet another series, entitled "Voltaire Takes on the Universe: Voltaire Wins."

The title, I should hope, is self-explanitory.

To begin with, we must start with the twenty-three year old Voltaire, who was then going by the name Francois-Marie Arouet and was merely a minor poet. Someone had recently published some extremely subursive verses about the sexual escapades of Phillippe d'Orleans, who was serving as regent of France until Louis XV was old enough to rule on his own.

Arouet, who was rumored to be one of the possible authors of the poem, got into a dicussion of said poem in the Parisian inn where he was living. Arouet mysteriously asked one of his new friends, i.e. a random guest in the inn, if he liked the poem and boasted that though he, Arouet, was very young he had, in fact, written it and written many more like it.

His new friend turned out to be a police spy.
Arouet went to the Bastille.

While he was there, he befriended his guards and formed an instant dislike for his head inquisitor, Monsieur Ysabeau. Ysabeau asked Arouet for any and all subursive poems. Arouet said he had no knowledge of said poems (which was actually true, as he hadn't yet written any) and then "gave in" and said he'd left them at the inn. When Ysabeau failed to find them, Arouet feigned a fit of temper and "admitted" to throwing them down the toilet.

Ysabeau was forced to open up the sewage drain near the inn where Arouet had been staying, much against the wishes of the rest of the inn and all the people living around it. Ysabeau ought to have listened to the protests of Arouet's neighbors. The drain was made of old bricks and mortar and collapsed as soon as Ysabeau tried to inspect it more closely. The sewage spewed forth, ruining everything in the cellars of the inn (the inn-keeper later got compensation for the loss of his entire collection of beer and wines) and forcing Ysabeau to pick through the collected waste in search of the poems.

As Ysabeau wrote in his formal report: "It appears M. Arouet, with his active imagination. only pretended to have thrown away [the documents]... to create unnecessary work."

While this was going on, Arouet wrote his first famous play, an adaptation of Oedipus that became the theatrical success of the decade. While his eleven-month jaunt in the Bastille had been unpleasant, the lack of other occupation forced him to finish his play, and this play earned him popularity with audience and critics alike. Philippe d'Orleans, apparently feeling Arouet (who had now chosen the penname Voltaire) had learned his lesson, told him to keep up the good work and gave him a gold watch and a large annual subsidy.

Voltaire thanked Philippe d'Orleans for paying for his food, but begged the regent to never again chose his lodgings.


  1. Everybody < Voltaire
    I'm looking forward to this series, very much. And hopefully some amusing stories about Émilie du Châtelet as well? That is, if she did anything amusing, that saucy nerd.

  2. She did, actually, including pwning Voltaire at science, which made poor Voltaire insecure and angry and caused rather a lull in their otherwise happy relationship. They did, however, manage to get over it when Voltaire decided to focus exclusively on literature... though not after several years of not-speaking to one another.

  3. I knew about the pwning business, but not that they didn't speak to eachother for so long xD