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The free-thinking Voltaire frequently found himself in trouble with the French authorities. After a brief imprisonment, he fled to London. His exile (between 1726 and 1729) came at a time, however, when popular animosity toward the French was at its height.

One day, the philosopher was surrounded in the street by an angry mob. "Hang him!" they shouted. "Hang the Frenchman!"

Voltaire calmly turned to face the madding crowd: "Men of England!" he called. "You wish to kill me because I am a Frenchman? Am I not punished enough in not having been born an Englishman?"

So pleased were his captors with Voltaire's address that he was loudly applauded and escorted back to his lodgings.

["My prayer to God is a very short one," Voltaire once remarked. "O, Lord, make my enemies ridiculous. God has granted it."]

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