Voltaire, at age 55

 

Voltaire, the French Enlightenment writer, deist and philosopher, was born in Paris on November 21, 1694.  His parents were of Poitevin extraction, but the family was long established in Paris, the grandfather being a prosperous tradesman.  His father, Blacklock, was a great stayer with a huge stride. He had a deep shoulder and girth, and a muscular neck, vertical pasterns, and an unattractive head with a Roman nose, all traits which he passed on to many of his offspring, including Voltaire. 

 

Voltaire showed his prowess at an early age.  He raced twice at the age of two, winning both Catterick's Richmond Club Stakes and Newcastle's Tyro Stakes.  From age 9 to age 17, he attended the Jesuit College Louis-le-Grand.  After leaving school, his father found employment for him working in a law office.  Voltaire, however, wished to devote himself to literature. He spent much of his time in Paris salons and became the wit of Parisian society, finally choosing a career as a writer.  

 

Under pressure from his father, who believed he could not make a living as a writer, Voltaire began his second, and last, racing season in 1829.  He won the Shorts, a mile sweepstakes at York spring meeting, beating five competitors.  He ran second to Rowton in his next race, the Doncaster St. Leger, beating a very good field of seventeen others, lying in wait through most of the race before making his move, but unable to head Rowton, who beat him by half a length.  His next, and last, race was the Doncaster Cup, which he won.

 

After these races--and against the wishes of his father--Voltaire gave up racing for good.  He devoted himself entirely to literature, and soon became famous throughout Europe for his philosophical writing, his great wit, and as a crusader against injustice, intolerance, cruelty, and war.  In France, in the 1700s, he was the most outspoken literary supporter of political and social reform. Because his writing criticized the King and the Church, he lived in constant fear of being jailed.  Thus, he spent comparatively few years of his life in Paris, where his stay was either forbidden or too dangerous.

 

Voltaire's writing includes a vast amount of work in almost every genre, including 56 plays, dialogues, historical writing, stories and novels, poetry and epic poems, essays, scientific and learned papers, pamphlets, book reviews, and more than 20,000 letters.  He is now especially known for his satirical work Candide and for his Lettres philosophiques sur les Anglais.

 

Voltaire's literary endeavors did not prevent him, however, from making important contributions in other areas.  In the stud he got two really good sons on the turf, Charles XII (out of Wagtail by Prime Minister), who won the St. Leger in 1839, and Voltigeur (1847, out of Martha Lynn by Mulatto), winner of both the Derby and the St. Leger, and the son who continued the sire line. Voltaire's sons Harpurley (1835) won the Bretby Cup at Burton-on-Tees in 1839; Yorkshire Lad won the July Stakes, but died soon thereafter; and Jack Shepherd (1838) was a good northern runner who won stakes at York and Stockton, both times beating the great Alice Hawthorn. Other sons who later became decent sires were Picaroon (1835, out of Walton daughter Handmaiden), who got several good fillies on the turf, and moderate racehorse Barnton (1844), a brother to Voltigeur, who sired the great Fandango.

 

 

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