The age of Enlightenment can best be described as the trends in thoughts and expression in Europe during the 18 th century. More than a set of fixed ideas, the enlightenment implied a method of thought, attitude, and a desire to question values and explore new ideas. In many respects, France was the homeland for many philosophers who had these tumult ideas. During the Enlightenment domain, such philosophers as Voltaire, Denis Diderot and Charles de Montesquieu fueled such attitudes by publishing powerful propaganda weapons against the ecclesiastical authority and the superstition, conservatism, and semi-feudal social forms of the time. (Encarta, 1999) Fran ois Marie Arouet (Voltaire) was a French writer philosopher and one of the original leaders of the enlightenment. His writings quickly became known for their brilliant and sarcastic wit.

Voltaires' early writings encouraged dramatic political change. For the first time in Paris, Voltaire went beyond exploring enlightenment and explored political over through. These writings quickly resulted in his imprisonment in the Bastille. During his detention at the Bastille, Voltaire completed his first epic poem in memory of Henry IV. Voltaire soon conquered the English language and prepared an enlarged edition of his Poem, Of The League. This work, was an eloquent defense of religious toleration, it achieved an almost unprecedented success, not only in France, but also throughout all of continental Europe.

It was in these works that Voltaires' belief in freedom of thought, and respect for all individuals helped maintain literature as a useful tool in dealing with the problems of the present day. Denis Diderot was a French encyclopedist and materialist philosopher. His lifework, the Encyclopedie was enormously influential in shaping the rationalist thought of the 18 th century. The Encyclopedie epitomized the spirit of the enlightenment and encourage influential figures to take a stand. In 1759 the French government formally suppressed and forbade further publication of the Encyclopedie. Nevertheless, Diderot continued work and publish the remaining volumes, and the Encyclopedie continued to be a powerful propaganda tool.

Also a novelist, satirist, and playwright, Diderot produced another infamous work, The Father of the Family (1758). The Baron de Montesquieu was from a noble background like most philosophers, being a manorial lord of southern France. He inherited a seat in the Parliament of Bordeaux, and was active in politics and writing for most of his life. Widely traveled and very well educated by his family, Montesquieu was most influential as a writer against the absolutism of the French monarchy and greatly desired a more ordered form of government for France. Most affected by the British government and system of legislation, Montesquieu greatly affected the constitutional thinkers of America and their systems of governance throughout the late 18 th and 19 th centuries. (Encarta, 1999) Essentially the age of Enlightenment was an era of dramatic political change.

This period opened the door for philosophical writers to discuss and exploit humanity. Intern many works produced in this era fueled the fire of a humanitarian revolt. However, in many positive respects the Enlightenment left Western civilization with a lasting heritage of modern secularism, political and economic liberalism, and a humanitarian reform. (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1993) Works Cited 1) " Age of Enlightenment" The Encarta, New CD Rom, Encycolpedia. 1999 ed 2) " Voltaire" The Encarta, New CD Rom, Encycolpedia.

1999 ed 3) " Diderot" The Encarta, New CD Rom, Encycolpedia. 1999 ed 4) " Montesquieu" The Encarta, New CD Rom, Encycolpedia. 1999 ed 5) "Age of Enlightenment" The Encyclopedia Britannica. 1993 ed 6) Lyons, Martyn.

Napoleon Bonaparte and the legacy of the French Revolution. London: Macmillan, 1994.