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 It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...

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nordmann
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PostSubject: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Sat 13 Dec 2014, 12:47

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's last words, quoted in the title of the thread, were an apposite summation of their author's attitude throughout her life and therefore a fitting, if modest, self-scripted epitaph to a person whose diverse claims to well-deserved respect and admiration include being one of the first British satirists (her skill at which effectively led to her exile from Britain, itself a commendation of her prowess), one of the first great female travel writers, a highly respected and knowledgeable Orientalist, a witty and eloquent correspondent with many of the great minds of her generation, a recognised early champion of women's rights, and probably most praiseworthy of all, someone for whom Alexander Pope reserved his most scathing, scurrilous and vitriolic bile (always a good indication of intelligence, erudition and decency, traits that seem somehow to have always excited that strange poet's most especial hatred, especially if owned by a woman).



Whereas Oscar Wilde's famous wallpaper remark might, as a dying utterance, be said to reinforce its author's reputation for wit and observation of life's ludicrousness to the end, one cannot help but feel that had he known what was going to happen next he would have put a little more time and effort into concocting a more fitting parting shot. While humorous, "One of us has to go" still wouldn't sit at all well carved on its utterer's gravestone. Likewise Napoleon, who apparently did have one eye on such an engraving just before his last breath, could still only come up with the amazingly banal (and in any case a plagiarism of Marshal Neil's equally banal exit line), "Tete d'Armee" (Head of the Army).

So in an attempt to restrict ourselves to fitting - rather than simply famous or witty - dying words, ones that would not look at all out of place carved into stone over their author's last resting place and which also present the incumbent to the casual observer in pithy and exact summation, are there any others you have ever come across that are worth sharing?
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Sat 13 Dec 2014, 15:19

I'm always wary when I see "So in an attempt to restrict ourselves..." in instructions from on high - hope this offering will pass muster.

Various "last words" have been attributed to Sir Thomas More, but the most famous - "I die the King's good servant, but God's first" - strike me as fitting and authentic. It was a delicious little last dig at Henry and Cromwell, reminding them both that, in defying the king over a matter of conscience, he was only doing what the king himself had told him to do:



"I had always, from the beginning [of my service to Henry VIII, in 1518], truly conducted myself by looking first upon God and next upon the King according to the lesson that his Highness taught me at my first coming to his noble service, the most virtuous lesson that ever prince taught his servant . . . ." (from the “Letter to Margaret," June 3, 1535”)



". . . His Highness. . . made me [in 1529], as you well know, his Chancellor of this realm. Soon after, his Grace asked me yet again to look and consider his great matter, and well and indifferently to ponder such things as I should find.... And nevertheless he graciously declared unto me that he would in no wise that I should do or say anything except that I should perceive my own conscience should serve me, and that I should first look unto God and after God unto him, which most gracious words was the first lesson also that ever his Grace gave me at his first coming into his noble service." (from the “Letter to Cromwell, March 5, 1534,” Selected Letters, 209)
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Sat 13 Dec 2014, 17:11

"I die the King's good servant, but God's first" - yes, I can see that on a gravestone and, if they are really his last words, qualify Thomas More to that small group of people whose self-composed epithets were not only delivered as their last utterance but offered us a deep insight into the inhabitant of the grave.

I have also rather liked always Winston Churchill's attested last words; "I'm so bored with it all ...".
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Sat 13 Dec 2014, 19:26

Well if you'll have Thomas More's self proclaimed epitaph, then perhaps you'll accept the (almost) last words of his predecessor as Chancellor, Thomas Wolsey, which subtley blur exactly who he was declaring his final allegience to:

"Had I but served my God with but half the zeal as I served my King, He would not in mine age have left me here naked to mine enemies".

... his unceremonial burial being in a simple unadorned grave at Leicester Abbey (what is it about Leicester?). Wolsey had originally planned for himself a magnificent tomb in St Paul's, and though Henry VIII considered taking it for himself, eventually the impressive black marble sarcophagus was given over to be the final resting place for Admiral Nelson.
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Sun 14 Dec 2014, 10:11

Yes, Wolsey's a good one - dying of dysentery must have been a humiliating experience for such a proud man. The paths of glory for so many seem to have led first to the lavatory and then the grave.

Gray's Elegy has always been one of my favourite poems and this verse made me think about Cromwell (Oliver's) reputed last words:


Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast

The little tyrant of his fields withstood;

Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,

Some Cromwell guiltless of his country's blood.


The quotation: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" is what he's supposed to have come out with as he lay dying - that would be a splendid one for the Res Hiss graveyard - but the Lord Protector's actual final words weren't quite so grand: "It is not my design to drink or sleep - but my design is to make what haste I can to be gone."

Perhaps John Foster's verdict is better: "He lived a hypocrite and died a traitor."
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Sun 14 Dec 2014, 10:56

For those who remember him - John Le Mesurier's dying words "It's all been rather lovely" most definitely merit engraving on his gravestone.

Edit: And of course Kenneth Williams's "Oh what's the bloody point?"
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Sun 14 Dec 2014, 12:59

I can sympathise with this one I can never come up with something witty under pressure and suffer from 'afterthought' when lots of great responses come to mind when the person has left.

"Don't let it end like this. Tell them I said something".
~~ Pancho Villa, Mexican revolutionary, d. 1923
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Sun 14 Dec 2014, 13:23

The advent of electronic communications has led some to suggest that historical records (as understood by previous generations) are in danger of being lost - or not even kept in the first place. Letters, ledgers, diaries, notes, memos and other documents are now more likely to be enacted electronically via e-mail and text etc rather than on paper. It seems somewhat prescient, therefore, that the founder of the Swedish telecommunications company Lars Magnus Ericsson demanded that no headstone whatsoever should adorn his grave.
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Mon 15 Dec 2014, 09:56

William Pitt the Younger is supposed to have said "I think I could eat one of Bellamy's veal pies" on his deathbed.
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Mon 15 Dec 2014, 10:05

Very big of Pitt to provide an epithet for Bellamy with his dying breath! Smile
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Mon 15 Dec 2014, 10:43

"Thank God I have done my duty......drink drink, fan fan, rub rub" the last words of Horatio Nelson., and not the "Kiss me/Kismet Hardy" of popular belief.
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Mon 15 Dec 2014, 11:40

Again, I can't see the Nelson family being too impressed with this having been carved on his headstone ...

It's fitting epithets we're after! (Unless you know something about Nelson we don't) Cheers
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Mon 15 Dec 2014, 12:21

Thomas à Becket's last words supposedly were, "I am ready to die for my Lord, that in my blood the Church may obtain liberty and peace", ... which would go well as an epitaph, even though I suspect they were the result of a bit of post-mortem ecclesiastical editing.
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Mon 15 Dec 2014, 13:25

@nordmann wrote:
Again, I can't see the Nelson family being too impressed with this having been carved on his headstone ...

It's fitting epithets we're after! (Unless you know something about Nelson we don't)  Cheers


I thought it was a thread about famous last words; never mind.

This, I think, is appropriate, for it is the last words of a hardened drinker; "I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis", Humphrey Bogart.
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Mon 15 Dec 2014, 14:40

Here is a happy one and a sad one. Both of these self-composed epitaphs were - to quote from nordmann's post above - "not only delivered as their last utterance but offered us a deep insight into the inhabitant of the grave."

Good night, my darlings! I'll see you all tomorrow. - Noel Coward

Just don't leave me alone. - John Belushi
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Mon 15 Dec 2014, 22:44

@Triceratops wrote:
This, I think, is appropriate, for it is the last words of a hardened drinker; "I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis", Humphrey Bogart.

This is reminiscent of Dylan Thomas' reported last words. Having spent the evening in a bar in New York he stumbled back to his hotel room and said "I've had 18 straight whiskies - I think that's the record".

The pathologist's report concluded that he had died from 'a gross insult to the brain'.

And this from the poet who brought us:

'Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.'

None of these quotes, however, adorn his grave. Instead is just written is a rather perfunctory 'In memory of Dylan Thomas, died Nov 9 1953 - RIP'.


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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Mon 15 Dec 2014, 22:56

@Vizzer wrote:


The pathologist's report concluded that he had died from 'a gross insult to the brain'.
Perhaps the newsagent delivered the Daily Wail (or the Daily Distress) instead of a newspaper?

I heartily concur with his late majesty King George V - "Bugger Bognor!"
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Tue 16 Dec 2014, 11:55

The writer and prominent environmentalist Edward Abbey's last words were literally "No Comment" (he had been asked if he wished to say something that might serve as his epithet). Unlike the other people mentioned in this thread Abbey's quote was indeed engraved on his gravestone.

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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Wed 17 Dec 2014, 15:27

Japanese author Yukio Mishima after giving a patriotic and pseudo-religious speech to a bemused and rowdy crowd of soldiers at the Ichigaya garrison in Tokyo minutes before killing himself by seppuku:

"I don't think they even heard me."
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Wed 17 Dec 2014, 17:37

Apparently (according to cockpit voice recorders recovered after fatal air crashes) the commonest last words spoken on the flight deck are "Oh shit"
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Thu 18 Dec 2014, 10:10

I've only been involved in one crash and those were my exact words.

Luckily it was car rather than plane
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Tue 30 Dec 2014, 20:24

"The sun is God."

The artist, Turner.
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Fri 06 Feb 2015, 16:24

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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Fri 06 Feb 2015, 17:59

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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Fri 06 Feb 2015, 19:21

@Meles meles wrote:
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Apt, if not particularly specific.
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Sun 08 Feb 2015, 12:29

Wills are a great way of firing off one last parting shot, especially if one has a beef with a relative. One Sarah Clarke of Bournemouth, for example, went straight for the jugular "To my daughter, I leave £1 – for the kindness and love she has never shown me." Ouch.

In a similar vein, but with as much wit as vindictiveness a certain Anthony Scott of no stated abode is reported on several websites devoted to such topics (so may not be true, though I so hope it is) "To my first wife Sue, whom I always promised to mention in my will. Hello Sue!"

Another English will, though again rather anonymously attributed; "“I wish peace and affluence to all my friends and a piece of effluence to all my enemies”.

George Bernard Shaw, as one would expect, left a large chunk of money for the future promotion of Esparanto - the universal language he had helped to develop, as well as the lucrative royalties from "Pygmalion" (and by extension "My Fair Lady") to the National Art Gallery in Dublin, where he reckoned he'd received the only education worth having as a youngster while on his frequent "mitches" from school. Otherwise his estate went to close relatives and friends, as normal. However what sets it apart as a lovely parting shot was his wish as written in this final testament to express one last time his support for “Darwin’s millennial saga of creation [over the Bible's] six day synopsis”.
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Sun 08 Feb 2015, 15:58

I like Ambrose Bierce's mock-epitaph for a proprietor he fell out with, considering that the latter had broken his promises to AB

"Here lies Frank Pixley, as usual."
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Mon 09 Feb 2015, 12:08

"Here lie the bones of Elizabeth Charlotte
Born a virgin died a harlot
Still a virgin at seventeen
A wonderful thing in Aberdeen"
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Mon 09 Feb 2015, 12:40

"Here lies the mother of children seven,
Four on earth and three in heaven;
The three in heaven preferring rather
To die with mother than live with father."
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Mon 09 Feb 2015, 12:47

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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Tue 12 May 2015, 09:43

I found these recently on the internet - letters written by Amelia Earhart to her parents (amongst others) which were only to be opened in the event of her death. Sadly she forgot to tell anyone she'd done this and they were only found much later by her husband after most of the intended recipients also had died.

To her father:

May 20, 1928

Dearest Dad:
Hooray for the last grand adventure! I wish I had won, but it was worth while anyway. You know that.
I have no faith we’ll meet anywhere again, but I wish we might.
Anyway, good-by and good luck to you.
Affectionately, your doter,
Mill


And to her mother:

“Even though I have lost, the adventure was worth while. Our family tends to be too secure. My life has really been very happy, and I don’t mind contemplating its end in the midst of it.”

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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Tue 12 May 2015, 09:54

And how about this for an epitaph?



Henrietta and Susanna were the two wives (in succession) of a Canadian doctor called Samuel Bean, both of whom sadly died in the 1860s. There is nothing about this gravestone that Sam designed in their honour not to like, from the "finger" to the cryptic (but perfectly legible) inscription.
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Mon 18 May 2015, 21:16

Epitaphs, or at least gravestone inscriptions, don't have to be just epigraphic to provide a pithy and exact summation of a life's achievements and mathematicians are well placed to exploit this.

Ludolph van Ceulen, 1540-1610:  calculated π to 35 places.





Ferdinand von Lindemann, 1852-1939: proved π is a transcendental number.  




Henry Perigal, 1801-1898: proved the pythagorean theorem by the dissection method.

           


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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Wed 16 Nov 2016, 13:56

Love him, like him, or loath him - Alexander Pope didn't give a shit one way or the other.

Pope's grave in St Mary's, Richmond Upon Thames, is marked with the marvellously discreet and modest single letter "P".



Some fans of his from Oxford in the 1960s set up a brass plaque nearby with a more standard epitaph etched upon it "... Qui nil molitur inepte" (... Who wrote nothing inept) which many visitors today mistakenly assume must have been something either written by Pope or an expressed preference of his for the purpose of grave inscription.

However the reason for the absolute brevity of Pope's inscription may be to do with the church authorities' objection to the actual epitaph he had indeed genuinely wanted, and had written himself:

[Here] lies one who ne’er cared,
and still cares not a pin,
What they said, or may say,
Of the mortal within.


But perhaps one of the pithiest and funniest self-composed gravestone epitaphs belongs to John Strange, the judge and parliamentarian who died in 1754 and who, as Master of the Rolls, was buried in the rather exclusive environs of the old Rolls Chapel where some latitude on the part of the church authorities regarding memorials and dedications was assumed. It read simply:

Here lies an honest lawyer,
and that is Strange
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Wed 16 Nov 2016, 15:18

I've always been surprised that Alexander Pope has never been honoured by any memorial or plaque in Westminster Abbey's Poets' Corner. It can't be simply because he was catholic as he's buried in Twickenham's Anglican church (although his family's catholicism was the reason why he was brought up and later lived in the Chiswick/Twickenham area ... by the Test Acts his parents were forbidden from owning property within 12miles of London, so they bought the "end house of Mr Josiah Mawson's New Buildings in Chiswick" ... which is now the Mawson Arms adjacent to the Fullers' Brewery, ...  and why Alexander Pope built his lavish villa and gardens just across the Thames in Twickenham). Pope's style of verse isn't to my taste but there are far worse wordsmiths than him honoured in Poets' Corner.


Last edited by Meles meles on Wed 16 Nov 2016, 15:47; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : all the correct letters just not in the right order)
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Wed 16 Nov 2016, 15:27

Pope upset a lot of important people.

He was very rude about George II if I remember correctly. Called him a dunce.
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PostSubject: Re: It's All Been Very Interesting - great parting shots ...   Thu 17 Nov 2016, 08:21

When is it worse not to be named in Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey? Well, for both Keats and Shelley the answer would obviously be "when one is".

Thanks to Myles Na gCopaleen it is difficult not to think of Keats and Shelley as an inseparable duo of boozy buddies with a penchant for shaggy dog stories. To an extent in fact this is not too far off the truth - the two corresponded often and amicably and obviously respected each other tremendously, though they were quite different young men indeed. We know from Shelley's beautiful "Adonaïs" that Percy at least held his mate John in very high regard indeed, even though Keats - who died of TB at a tragically young age - had never actually published a single poem in his life.

Which brings us to the epitaph - about which Keats, who sadly had had a lot of time to ruminate on the subject before his untimely death and interment in the Protestant Chapel in Rome, had composed himself and made no bones (pardon the pun) about how it should be presented on his gravestone, a request made allegedly even with his dying breath; namely that a simple bare stone marker, with no name or dates, should contain only the discreet words "Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water".

Almost before his body was cold however his well-meaning mates Joe Severn and Charlie Armitage-Brown had already screwed things up. A posthumous publication of Keats' poetry had got generally bad reviews from the poetic establishment and the incensed buddies in a veritable pit of fique expanded somewhat on Johnnie's theme - as can be seen in the picture under:



To make matters worse, in 1954 some other well-meaning rhymers led by the then Poet Laureate John Masefield, decided our wobble-weapon friend's memorial in Westminster looked a little lonely and should be adorned with a new extension to his memorial honouring the shaggy dog duet, something that a "man whose name was writ in water" would have objected to even more, one reckons:



For the shade of the departed Shelley (who also died so tragically young) this rather unwished for juxtaposition to the Avon Lady's Bard might even have been seen as rubbing salt into the metaphysical wound. In life, Percy had been known to criticise Willy's literary output on the basis that the Swan of Avon, rather than being mute, used "ten words where one would have sufficed, as often indeed would have none" (he wasn't a great fan), ended up with some Shakespearian verbosity on his own tombstone, again put there by well-meaning mates: "COR CORDIUM - Nothing of him that doth fade, But doth suffer a sea-change Into something rich and strange." (from The Tempest - a little insensitive, I reckon, given the gurgly demise poor Percy had suffered).

In any case, next time your eye deflects upwards from Willy's shiny hairless pate while killing time on a rainy day in Poets Corner and it dutifully alights on our two shaggy dog merchants, spare a thought for the fact that both of the poor lads would have been right mortified to find their monikers floating as disembodied nominative muses above the world's most famous stage manager.
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