Voltaire (1694-1778) is the pen-name of French Enlightenment writer, philosopher and wit Francois-Marie Arouet.
Voltaire was exiled to England 1726-1729. One day in London, he was surrounded by an angry mob calling "Hang him! Hang the Frenchman!" Voltaire bravely faced the mob and called out: "Men of England! You wish to kill me because I am a Frenchman. Am I not punished enough in not being born an Englishman?" The crowd cheered him and escorted him safely back to the inn where he was staying.
Voltaire greatly admired English religious toleration and freedom of speech, and saw these as necessary prerequisites for social and political progress. He saw England as a useful model for what he considered to be a backward France.
Voltaire perceived the French bourgeoisie to be too small and ineffective, the aristocracy to be parasitic and corrupt, the commoners as ignorant and superstitious, and the church as a static force only useful as a counterbalance since its "religious tax", or the tithe, helped to cement a powerbase against the monarchy.
Voltaire distrusted democracy, which he saw as propagating the idiocy of the masses. To Voltaire only an enlightened monarch, advised by philosophers like himself, could bring about change as it was in the king's rational interest to improve the power and wealth of France in the world. Voltaire is quoted as saying that he "would rather obey one lion, than 200 rats of (his own) species." Voltaire essentially believed monarchy to be the key to progress and change.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau sent a copy of his "Ode to Posterity" to Voltaire. Voltaire read it through and said, "I do not think this poem will reach its destination."