Written before Rousseau's “Discourse on the Arts and Sciences” (1750), Voltaire's “The Man of the World” (1736) can nevertheless easily be appreciated as a rebuttal to the latter denunciation of urban civilization. Voltaire's poem insists on the importance of pleasure by speaking in the first person. The poetic voice affirms the pleasures of Paris and the court strictly as a matter of personal preference. Enlightenment critics of the court insisted that culture and the arts should educate the general public in matters of morality and taste. Voltaire makes no such claim. In listing the glories of French culture, he claims to speak for no one but himself, though he presumes that cosmopolitans share his enthusiasms. His tone is cheerfully elitist. Civilization has advanced far beyond the primitive conditions of antiquity, so there is no need to sleep on the ground or eat mash like some ancient shepherd. The advancement of culture has, Voltaire acknowledges, introduced new pleasures and wants that were unknown to earlier ages. Why should he, a worldly man, be required to abandon these satisfactions? Herein lies the “modern” quality of what is at first glance a defense of the ancien régime. Each age has a lifestyle appropriate to its degree of culture. Voltaire claims simply to live according to the happiness made possible by his own society. In a sense he values being “up-to-date” as much as Charles Baudelaire and Adolf Loos, later paragons of modernity.
Next to Rousseau, Voltaire (1694-1778) was the leading French proponent of the Enlightenment. A militant adherent to the application of rational principles to social institutions and philosophical beliefs, he was imprisoned more than once for disturbing the orthodoxy of France's Catholic monarchy. As a correspondent he wrote prodigiously. Between 1711 and 1778 he sent more than 14,000 letters throughout Europe. Leading philosophers, aristocrats, and kings (both foreign and domestic) admired his thought. He spent time in England at the invitation of Hume and in Berlin at the court of Frederick the Great. His