Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694-1778), wit, liberal, and freethinker, at the age of thirty-one was insulted by Chevalier de Rohan and answered with a biting sarcasm. A little time later, when dining at the table of the Duc de Sully, he was asked to step out and was beaten by the servants of Rohan, who looked on. For three months Voltaire postponed to challenge Rohan to a duel; then he challenged, but on the morning set for the encounter, he was arrested and put into the Bastille; after two weeks there he, in accordance with his own wish, was deported to England. there he stayed for three years, from 1726-1729.
When Voltaire returned to France, he was a self-appointed agent of all things British. In the world of thought the supreme point of difference between the French and the British lay in the conflict of views of Descartes and Newton on the mechanics of the universe. Descartes was long dead, and Newton died in 1727, during Voltaires stay in England. The French scientists in general kept to the teaching of Descartes about the vortices that compel the planets to follow their paths; the British scientists adopted the Newtonian teaching of universal gravitation, and the debate was going on upon Voltaires return to France. In the years that Voltaire spent at Cirey as a guest of Madame du Chatelet, he wrote, with her assistance, a long treatise on the Newtonian system of the world. The singular influence Voltaire gained in France, in Germany, and in the rest of Europe was responsible for the early acceptance of the Newtonian system and the rejection of the Cartesian. Although himself no mathematician, Voltaire set himself up as the supreme judge and decided in favor of Newton and against his compatriot. He actually stopped the debate. His influence was also responsible, more than anything else, for making the deeply Catholic France into a nation of freethinkers, thus paving the road to the French Revolution of 1789, that took place eleven years after his death.