Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Cold Chamfort

Nicolas de Chamfort, the French writer and wit, died on this day in 1794. He was famous for his Maximes et Pensees (Maxims and Thoughts).

Chamfort spent a short time in prison for his political opinions following the French Revolution. ("If it were not for the government, we should have nothing to laugh at in France," he wrote.)

After his release he was threatened with prison again. In September 1793 he locked himself into his office and shot himself in the face. The pistol malfunctioned and he succeeded only in shooting off his nose and part of his jaw.

He then repeatedly stabbed himself in the neck with a paper cutter, but failed to cut an artery. He finally used the paper cutter to stab himself in the chest.

He dictated to those who came to arrest him:

"I, Sebastien-Roch Nicolas Chamfort, declare that I wished to die a free man rather than be enslaved in a house of detention."

Chamfort signed his famous death note in a firm hand and in his own blood. He did not die at once, but lingered on until April 13, 1794, in the charge of a gendarme, to whom he paid a crown a day. At one point he said, "I feel livelier than ever. What a pity I no longer care about living."

Near the end, Chamfort said to a priest:

"My friend, I'm finally taking leave of this earth, a place where one's heart must either break or be hard as bronze."

Some other mots by Chafort:

"The only thing that keeps God from sending another flood is that the first one was useless."

"I have three kinds of friends: those who love me, those who pay no attention to me, and those who detest me."

"Man may aspire to virtue, but he cannot reasonably aspire to truth."

And my favorite:

"Swallow a toad in the morning and you will encounter nothing more disgusting the rest of the day."

About life and death, Chamfort wrote:

"Living is a sickness to which sleep provides relief every sixteen hours. It's a palliative. The remedy is death."

For a whole year of last thoughts, last words and last things, click here

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