November 21: Voltaire

voltaireOn November 21, 1694 François-Marie Arouet was born in Paris, France. Of course, you dear reader know him better as Voltaire, the 18th century philosopher, writer, historian and satirist who was not afraid of challenging any and all authorities.

The origin of Voltaire’s pen name is quite interesting. In the mid-1710s, the young Arouet published a particularly ill received satirical verse about the Duke of Orléans and was promptly imprisoned in the Bastille for eleven months. While in prison, he wrote his first play, and invented a pen name as a way of possibly keep himself from getting in more trouble. The name Voltare is an anagram of “AROVET LI,” the latinized spelling of his family’s name followed by the French words “le jeune” or “the young.” Of course, it’s been suggested that his pen name was also a boastful comment about his quick, sharp wit; a play on both the words volatile and “volte-face,” a word meaning to quickly turn around to face one’s enemy.

Voltaire wrote many pieces of literature, poetry, historical and scientific knowledge, but his best known work is easily Candide. The novel is a comic picaresque about a young man named Candide whose sheltered life progressively begins to fall apart. When the novel begins, Candide is a believer in the optimistic philosophy of Gottfried Wilhem Leibnizian, a philosophy that Voltaire thought was bunk. Specifically, Voltaire thought Liebnizian optimism, and its chief tenant that “this is the best of all possible worlds,” was naive in a world that contained evils and suffering. So, to that end, Voltaire humorously shows the philosophy’s fallacies, by depicting Candide’s feeble attempts to look on the bright side of life when faced with earthquakes, war and slavery. By the novel’s end, Candide has rejected Leibnizian optimism and has decided to pursue his own (undefined) philosophical path.

I can think of no better way to celebrate Voltaire’s birth than with a drink named for Candide. Optimists are said to wear rose colored glasses, so it’s fitting that this is a rose colored cocktail.

Candide

  • 1/2 ounce Dry Vermouth
  • 1/2 ounce Gin
  • 1/2 ounce Orange Curacao
  • 2 dashes Triple Sec
  • 1 dash Grenadine

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: The Vicious Circle’s clubhouse opens.

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