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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Famous last words

May 30, 2023 09:59AM ● By Paul Erland

“Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough,” said Karl Marx right before he died on March 14, 1883—presumably without a trace of irony. But the urge to get in a last word, with some people, is apparently as strong as the one to get in the last word for most people. The compulsion may be summed up with this variation on a time-honored nugget of advice: Always make a good last impression.

As far as last words go, Beethoven (died March 26, 1827) or his chroniclers have all the bases covered. The great composer’s parting shots have been variously recorded as: “Pity, pity, too late,” or “Applaud, my friends, the comedy is finished” (which he supposedly said in Latin: Plaudite, amici, comedia finite est.) Then there’s “I shall hear in Heaven.” “I feel as if up to now I had written only a few notes.”   

To his friend Johann Hummel, who was at his bedside: “Is it not true, Hummel, that I have some talent after all?” And: “There! Do you hear the bell? Don’t you hear it ringing? The curtain must drop. Yes! My curtain is falling.”

One biographer says he said nothing. He simply shook his fists as a thunderstorm raged outside. 

We’d like to say, roll over, Beethoven, and clear up the confusion.

Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, there was convicted murderer Thomas Grasso, who definitely would stand for no confusion. On March 20, 1995, just before he was to be executed by lethal injection, Grasso uttered these defiant last words: “I did not get my SpaghettiOs. I got spaghetti. I want the press to know this.”

March 29, 1912 was a notable day for last words. John Jacob Astor, the American industrialist who was the richest man in the world at the time, was a passenger on the Titanic with his new young bride. The couple was about to step into a lifeboat when Astor gave up his seat to a female passenger. He was one of the 1,500 that perished when the ship sank. Astor’s last words were: “Goodbye, dearie, I’ll see you later.”

Captain Robert Falcon Scott, the famed British explorer, reached the South Pole on January 18, 1912, only to find that they’d been beaten there by a party led by Roald Amundsen. On their return trip to their base camp, the entire party died. 

Scott’s last diary entry, on March 29, concluded with the words: “For God’s sake, look after our people.”

Scott also left behind a message to the public, which read in part: “Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale.”

The tale of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald is familiar to lovers of literature. Zelda died on March 10, 1948, in a fire in Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, where she was a patient. Her husband Scott had died eight years earlier. Neither Scott nor Zelda left any last words for posterity, but inscribed on their tombstone in Saint Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Rockville, Maryland, is the final sentence of The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Borne back to the past, perhaps, but definitely propelled into the future—until we come to rest at last? Who knows? Not Henry Ward Beecher, the noted abolitionist and preacher, and brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”), who died on March 8, 1887. His last words: “Now comes the mystery.”

Presidents famous last words

Presidents' famous last words

As we celebrate Presidents’ Day, it is a good time to consider some of their famous last words. Read More »