The great luminary of the Enlightenment not only in France but in all Europe was Voltaire (1694-1778). Born and educated under Louis XIV, he lived and wrote almost to the eve of the French Revolution. "To name Voltaire," wrote Victor Hugo, "is to characterize the entire Eighteenth Century." "Italy had a Renaissance and Germany had a Reformation, but France had Voltaire," writes one critic. "He was for his country both Renaissance and Reformation, and half the Revolution. He carried on the skepticism of Montaigne and earthy humor of Rabelais. He fought superstition and corruption more savagely and effectively than Luther or Erasmus, Calvin, Knox, or Melanchthon; he helped to make the powder with which Mirabeau and Marat, Danton, and Robespierre blew up the Old Regime."
Voltaire, whose family name was Arouet, was born in Paris of a well-to-do, middle class family. He was educated by the Jesuits who formed his taste along classical lines. He studied law for a time, began to write plays and to circulate in the salons of Paris where he attracted attention because of his wit.