God Gave Us the Gift of Life; It Is Up To Us To Give Ourselves the Gift of Living Well

Voltaire? François-Marie Arouet? Jean Orieux? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A famous writer of the Enlightenment stated that God gave each of us the gift of life. It is our responsibility to take advantage of this gift by living fully and well. Voltaire has received credit for a remark of this type. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet) died in 1778. The 1880 edition of “Œuvres complètes de Voltaire” (“Complete Works of Voltaire”) included the following statement in its appendix. Boldface added to excerpts: 1

Dieu nous a donné le vivre; c’est à nous de nous donner le bien vivre.

The 1979 book “Voltaire: A Biography of the Man & His Century” by Jean Orieux contained the following English translation: 2

God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well. (Remarks)

This statement occurred in a section of the 1880 work called “Extracts from a Manuscript in the Hand of M. de Voltaire”, but QI does not know any details about the provenance of the manuscript. Hence, the accuracy of the attribution to Voltaire depends on the expertise of the 1880 editor of “Œuvres complètes de Voltaire”.

In 2015 “Finishing Well: My Daughter’s Journey Home” included the following chapter epigraph: 3

“God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well.”—Voltaire

In conclusion, this remark occurred in the 1880 edition of the “Complete Works of Voltaire”. A translation into English by Barbara Bray and Helen R. Lane appeared in 1979.

Image Notes: Illustration of Voltaire holding a pen by Baquoy circa 1795. Image has been cropped, resized, and retouched.

(Great thanks to Katherine Miller, Jasmin Cyc, and Gregor McElvogue whose inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1880, Œuvres complètes de Voltaire (Complete Works of Voltaire), Chapter 9: Extraits D’un Manuscrit de la Main de M. de Voltaire (Extracts From a Manuscript in the Hand of M. de Voltaire), Intitlé Sottisier (Title Foolishness), Appendice (Appendix), Supplément aux oeuvres en prose (Supplement to works in prose), Section: Montaigne, Quote Page 516, Garnier Frères, Libraires-Editeurs, Paris. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1979, Voltaire: A Biography of the Man & His Century by Jean Orieux, Translated from French by Barbara Bray and Helen R. Lane, Chapter 5, Quote Page 101, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans)
  3. 2015 Copyright, Finishing Well: My Daughter’s Journey Home by Janice Pitchford, Chapter 5; Happy Birthday To You, (Epigraph), Publisher AAE. (Verified with scans)