The year was 1797. I was on my way to Ferney as I was lucky enough to be invited to Voltaire’s dinner party. I sat back in the carriage and my heart pounded as the clopping of the horse’s hooves got louder. My prolonged preparation of my special attire had me running late for the special occasion. I spoke to myself loudly, “I can’t be late to this important dinner” hoping the coachman would hear me and speed up. The coachman turned back and gave me a quick signal with his hands, signifying that we were about to reach the destination in a short time. Voltaire loomed like some great beam of light whose rays had reached around the world, and sparked curiosity. All of  Europe strove to see him. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to be able to sit with my five friends along with Voltaire in his mansion and dine together on the same table. As we were approaching Voltaire’s large estate, I looked out the window. The chirping of the birds made my heart flutter as we neared the mansion. It felt like every fiber of my body was being vibrated with anticipation and excitement. Voltaire’s gateway was astonishing. A pathway with endless amounts of trees on both sides led us closer to the mansion. It was a pleasant surprise when I saw a Château, a small church, and a group of small hovels. The size of the mansion simply widened my eyes. Just then, the chairman notified me “Sir, we have arrived.” I tried to maintain composure  and accustomed to the environment I was seeing as I stepped down from the carriage. “Welcome, you must be Daniel Lee. Take your time.” Voltaire gently told me. I walked up the stairs to the entrance, and greeted Voltaire “Nice to meet you. It is my honor to dine with you this fine afternoon.” Six servants were on either side of the mansion wall, ready to assist me as I entered the mansion. I followed Voltaire and one of the servants as they led me to a long hallway. I noticed the polished dark oak walls filled with intricate portraits and paintings. Finally after walking for a long span of time, we entered the dining room. As soon as I entered the dining room, the enticing aroma of the cuisine wafted through the air. I looked up to see my five wonderful acquaintances sitting around the dining table. I took the seat next to my good friend Antoine, a French Bourgeoisie. I took a quick glance around the dining room and looked at the table. The spoons, forks, knives, and the plates were of silver-gilt. The plates had the host’s coat of arms on them. I was astonished by the lavish decor in the mansion. Voltaire raised his glass and started off the dinner, “Welcome all, it is my utmost pleasure to have you all here. It is a small rule of mine to provide my guests with a fulfilling dinner and satisfactory hospitality before they leave my house. So please enjoy.” As Voltaire sat down, he scanned the table and saw Rousseau, Catherine the Great, Thomas Jefferson, Beaumarchais, Antoine the Bourgeoisie and myself. Just then, the servants started bringing in the dishes. We were first served warmed up beef in gravy which is a type of Hors D’Oeuvre. As everyone took a bite out of their beef in gravy, they once again started their conversations and the dining room was soon filled with booming laughter. We began to eat and converse with one another. “Sir Voltaire, I enjoyed your novel Candide. It was an outstanding novel for sure,” I said as I expressed my tribute. “I am pleased to hear that. I tried my best to express my opinions and criticize societal aspects at that time. I tried to uncover the corruption and flaws of the Church as well as Church leaders.” “Why is that?” Catherine the Great inquired. “I found it necessary as I was very much aware of the Church leaders’ corruption as well as their hypocrisy. I wrote in the novel, ‘I had not always bleared eyes and red eyelids; nor was I always a servant. I am the daughter of Pope Urban X, and of the Princess of Palestrina.’ I made it so that the pope defied the requirement of celibacy, and through this I exposed the hypocrisy of Church leaders.” Voltaire responded. “So are you against following the Church or even having a religion?” Catherine asked confusingly. “No absolutely not! I was simply trying to raise awareness of the Church’s corruption at that time. Because of this now I am abhorred by the Catholic church,” Voltaire shook his head and smirked absurdly.Antoine suddenly intervened, “I agree with Voltaire. The Catholic Church is certainly guilty of becoming corrupt, and using fear to influence the people of France into obeying their laws. The lower class of France was forced to pay much higher taxes than the wealthy clergymen. Also, the tax was hardly used to help the lower class improve their conditions, but rather further helped the upper class, which created an enormous wealth gap. This made the life for peasants much difficult.” Antoine, although not affected by the heavy taxes as much as the peasants, expressed his thoughts on the matter. “Rousseau, I am a big supporter of your works and political theories. I always wondered what exactly your thoughts are on religious tolerance.” Catherine asked as she looked up to Rousseau. “I believe that tolerance should be given to all religions that tolerate others, as long as their dogmas contain nothing contrary to the duties of citizenship. This is what brings stability and unity to the society,” Rousseau responded calmly. “That is exactly what I think a government should encourage.” came the agreement from Voltaire. “If there were only one religion in England there would be danger of despotism; if there were two they would cut each other’s throats. But there are thirty, and they live in peace and happiness.” Voltaire released several works that argued that religious intolerance was against the law of nature. Catherine nodded in approval and intervened in the conversation,”I have read the Treatise on Tolerance that you have written in 1763 Voltaire. You described religious intolerance as being absurd and barbaric.” “Yes, I sure did” nodded Voltaire. “I share similar thoughts as you. I strongly believe that religious persecutions turn people against the government, but religious tolerance softens even the most cruel hearts. Especially in a multicultural state as Russia, this is crucial” Catherine added on. “Speaking of Russia, how is everything going in Russia?” questioned Jefferson. “Russia has gone through many turmoils and difficulties. However, eighteenth century for Russia truly became earthshaking in the history of Russia. It has been a time of radical changes. Especially under my leadership and assertion of power over people,” Catherine exclaimed with pride. Jefferson took a spoonful of his soup and paused. Then retorted, “That is quite of a surprise as I have always believed that women’s interests were to be confined chiefly to housekeeping and childbearing. Also, since women are not called upon even to discuss politics, I see no reason to even give them the vote,” Jefferson said satirically. “Haha, I agree. To me, women are weaker and less rational than men and must depend on men,” Rousseau added on. Anger boiled deep in Catherine’s mind, and she furiously stood up, “If men can do something, women can also do the same. I strongly believe that women have great potential and are capable of efficiently working as political officials just like men. The state of Russia now should prove to you that women are indeed capable of holding such high positions in the state,” Catherine countered Jefferson as she shot him a fierce glare. In order to alleviate the tense atmosphere, Voltaire broke in, “Please. Let us all discuss these topics in a civilized manner. Thank You,” then added, “Catherine, please continue to explain to us how Russia has changed under your regime.” Catherine took a seat, “Well, I found it important to westernize Russia. I chose French culture as a guide for Russian culture. I even made French the official language of the court,” she responded as she smoothed out her dress. “Furthermore, I extended the borders of Russia and acquired the lands of Southern Ukraine and the Crimea, built hospitals, and even built the first school for women in 1764 called the Smolny Institute” she added. Catherine founded the Smolny Institute in 1764 which was the first educational institute for women and hoped to raise educated women, good mothers and useful members of family and society. “I see that you have done a lot in your country, and similar to your educational goals, I also have some of my own distinct views on education” Jefferson insisted. Voltaire took a sip of his wine, then questioned: “What exactly are your views on education?” Jefferson leaned back, and answered “I think freedom depends on self government and education is a key factor that contributes to both the knowledge and virtues that form a self-governing citizen.  I’ve tried my hardest to bring educational reforms. In 1781, I proposed a bill in Virginia that established free schools every five to six square miles, I sought to teach all children of the state reading, writing, and common arithmetic. To me, basic education is instrumental to securing life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of an individual.” By providing children with equal access to primary schools, Jefferson hoped to teach children to work out their own greatest happiness. “I see that many of you yearn to improve the educational system for the younger generation. But Rousseau, I heard a lot about your opinions on freedom. What exactly are your thoughts on freedom?” Voltaire changed the subject.Rousseau cleared his throat and raised his voice, “Freedom is crucial in our society. Man is born free, yet everywhere are in chains. Modern states repress the physical freedom that is our birthright, and do nothing to secure the civil freedom for the sake of which we enter into civil society” Jefferson responded . “I agree, all humans should be free. I wrote in the Declaration of Independence, ‘We hold truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.’ Every man is equal, and the government should respect this.””Well, it has roughly been about fifteen years after the American Revolution came to an end. Beaumarchais and Jefferson surely did achieve a tremendous accomplishment.” Voltaire exulted.I interrupted Voltaire “Also Beaumarchais, you’re considered as the ‘Most Underrated French Hero of the American Revolution.’ Why don’t you tell us briefly about how you contributed significantly to the American Revolution as a French citizen.” “Well, the cause of freedom has always been central to my beliefs.” Before Beaumarchais even finished his statement, I quickly broke in, “Why did you find it necessary? You are French, not American.” “When I first heard about the struggles of Americans, I saw in it a revolution that would perhaps change the political order and create a new world in which ability rather than the privileges would be esteemed. I wanted there to be a world of freedom and equal opportunity for everyone.” Beaumarchais spoke with pride. “I reached the position of a great contractor, the representative of the French government in giving aid to the struggling republic. My employment as a secret agent by the monarchy led to my involvement in the American Revolution as a supplier of arms. I truly did contribute significantly to the success of the American Independence” Beaumarchais added. “Now the Thirteen Colonies won independence from Great Britain and under President John Adams, we will advance into a nation that holds power and respect from the rest of the world” Jefferson beamed.”Here’s to hoping for a better future of the world”, Voltaire said, and everyone raised their glass of wine. “Cheers!””I must say that this year’s dinner party has been filled with great discussions and it was an honor for me to have you all as my guests today. Hope you all the best in the future,” Voltaire dismissed us.


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