Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Maybe death is like camp?

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Russian author of The Gulag Archipelago, among other books, was born on this day in 1918.

Solzhenitsyn spent eight years in a Soviet labour camp for criticizing the government in his writings.

In an interview with Spiegel Online International, Solzhenitsyn was asked if he was afraid of death.

"No, I am not afraid of death any more," he said. "When I was young the early death of my father cast a shadow over me -- he died at the age of 27 -- and I was afraid to die before all my literary plans came true. But between 30 and 40 years of age my attitude to death became quite calm and balanced.

"I feel it is a natural, but no means the final, milestone of one's existence."

See another writer's opinion of Solzhenitsyn at www.cynicalendar.blogspot.com.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pearl Harbor Day

On the morning of December 7, 1941, a Sunday, a swarm of 360 Japanese warplanes attacjked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The surprise attack struck a critical blow against the U.S. Pacific fleet and drew the United States into World War II.

That morning, many military personnel had been given passes to attend religious services off-base. At about 7 o'clock, two radio operators spotted large groups of aircraft in flight toward the island from the north, but, with a flight of B-17s expected from the U. S., they were told to sound no alarm. Thus, the Japanese assault came as a devastating surprise.

Five of eight battleships, three destroyers, and seven other ships were sunk or severely damaged, and more than 200 aircraft were destroyed. A total of 2,400 Americans were killed and 1,200 were wounded. It could have been worse: Three fleet carriers were out at sea on training maneuvers.

Japan's losses were some 30 planes, five midget submarines, and fewer than 100 men.

The next day, President Roosevelt appeared before a joint session of Congress and said, "Yesterday, December 7, 1941--a date which will live in infamy..." and asked Congress to approve a resolution declaring war between the U. S. and Japan. The Senate voted in favor 82 to 0, and the House 388 to 1. The sole dissenter was Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana, a devout pacifist who had also cast a dissenting vote against the U.S. entrance into World War I.

Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war against the U. S., and the U.S. government responded in kind.

The American contribution to the successful Allied war effort spanned four years and cost more than 400,000 American lives.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Erewhonsville, man

English novelist Samuel Butler was born on this day in 1835.

In his utopian novel Erewhon, Butler has his narrator describe the Erewhonians' attitude toward death.

"The Erewhonians regard death with less abhorrence than disease. They insist that the greater number of those who are commonly said to die, have never yet been born--not, at least, into that unseen world which is alone worthy of consideration.

"As for what we call death, they argue that too much has been made of it. The mere knowledge that we shall one day die does not make us very unhappy; no one thinks that he or she will escape, so that none are disappointed. We do not care greatly even though we know that we have not long to live; the only thing that would seriously affect us would be the knowing--or rather thinking that we know-- the precise moment at which the blow will fall. Happily no one can ever certainly know this, though many try to make themselves miserable by endeavouring to find it out.

"The Erewhonians…hold that death, like life, is an affair of being more frightened than hurt.

"They do not put up monuments, nor write epitaphs, but they have a custom which comes to much the same thing, for the instinct of preserving the name alive after the death of the body seems to be common to all mankind. They have statues of themselves made while they are still alive (those, that is, who can afford it), and write inscriptions under them, which are often quite as untruthful as are our own epitaphs--only in another way. For they do not hesitate to describe themselves as victims to ill temper, jealousy, covetousness, and the like, but almost always lay claim to personal beauty, whether they have it or not, and, often, to the possession of a large sum in the funded debt of the country.

"If a person is ugly he does not sit as a model for his own statue, although it bears his name. He gets the handsomest of his friends to sit for him, and one of the ways of paying a compliment to another is to ask him to sit for such a statue. Women generally sit for their own statues, from a natural disinclination to admit the superior beauty of a friend, but they expect to be idealised.

"When any one dies, the friends of the family write no letters of condolence, neither do they attend the scattering, nor wear mourning, but they send little boxes filled with artificial tears, and with the name of the sender painted neatly upon the outside of the lid. The tears vary in number from two to fifteen or sixteen, according to degree of intimacy or relationship; and people sometimes find it a nice point of etiquette to know the exact number they ought to send.

"Strange as it may appear, this attention is highly valued, and its omission by those from whom it might be expected is keenly felt. These tears were formerly stuck with adhesive plaster to the cheeks of the bereaved, and were worn in public for a few months after the death of a relative; they were then banished to the hat or bonnet, and are now no longer worn."

Monday, December 3, 2012

A little Kurtz-y to Death

Novelist Joseph Conrad was born on this day in 1857.

Born Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzenioski, in Poland, Conrad went to sea at 16 and spent 20 years there, first on French merchant ships in the West Indies, then on English ships, where he learned the language and traveled to Latin America and Africa. He drew on these experiences for much of his fiction; in 1890 he was the commander of a ship that traveled up the Congo River, the inspiration for Heart of Darkness.

He began writing in 1892, on a voyage from England to Australia, and in 1895 he left the British merchant service to become a full-time writer. He settled in London and married an Englishwoman.

Although English was not his native language, he is renowned for the subtlety and descriptiveness of his prose--despite the fact that he spoke the language all his life with a heavy accent.

In Heart of Darkness, the narrator, Marlow, recounts to his friends a trip into Africa, where he becomes curious about a man called Kurtz. He travels up the Congo River to reach Kurtz, an agent whom Marlow expects by his reputation to be a "universal genius," an "emissary of pity, and science, and progress, and devil knows what else."

As they near Kurtz's camp, they are attacked, and Marlow's helmsman is killed. They learn that Kurtz has made himself the natives' god and has decorated the posts of his hut with human skulls.

Marlow tries to get the seriously ill Kurtz away down the river, but Kurtz dies, his last words being, "The horror! The horror!"

Back in Europe Marlow tells Kurtz's fiancée that "the last word he pronounced was-your name."

Joseph Conrad died of a heart attack at age 67. His epitaph, taken from Spenser's The Faerie Queene, reads: "Sleepe after toyle, port after stormie seas, /Ease after warre, death after life, does greatly please."

In Heart of Darkness, Kurtz says:

"I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable grayness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamor, without glory, without the great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Everybody loves fireworks

Author Robert Louis Stevenson was born on this day in 1850. He wrote:

"This world itself, traveling blindly and swiftly in overcrowded space, among a million other worlds traveling blindly and swiftly in contrary directions, may very well come by a knock that will set it into explosion like a penny squib. And what, pathologically looked at, is the human body with all its organs, but a mere bagful of petards?" -- Aes Triplex.

For more on Stevenson, see Today in The Cynic's Almanac

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Last Words, Ink.

Has anyone ever made a business out of writing obituaries for people before they die? The marketing brochure could read something like this:

To the Individual:

Why wait until you die? –Enjoy your obituary now.

· When you die, everyone will say nice things about you. Why not read them now?

· Why leave your loved ones the burden of writing your obituary?

· Give people something to remember you by: Your last words.

· Your obituary should be about you.

To the Family:

Why wait until you can't think straight? –Write your loved one's obituary now.

· Say what you've always wanted to say: Give your loved one the gift of your most cherished thoughts.

· Take the time now to arrange those thoughts – not after the fact.

· If needed, when the time comes, we will arrange for the obituary to be placed.

The typical, everyday obituary:

Solomon Grundy, age 77, of Nullsville, passed away Monday, October 22. Preceded in death by wife, Olive Grundy; parents, Fred J. Grundy and Prudence Grundy. Survived by sons, Greg (Millicent) Grundy and George Grundy; daughter, Priscilla (Marvin) Jones; brother, Octavius Grundy; sisters, Henrietta Harris, Genevieve Franklin, Eleanora Oswald; sister-in-law, Mary Grundy; brothers-in-law, Gerald Harris, Martin Franklin, Fred Oswald; grandsons, Jimmy (James), Jake, Larry and Calvin Grundy, Deke and Donald Jones; a host of nieces and nephews; other friends of the family; devoted pet, Zippy. Funeral service will be conducted on Thursday, October 25, 2007 at 1 p.m. in the chapel of Holy Moses Church in Grapevine, by Rev. Farley Trabue. Interment will follow in the Nullsville Memorial Cemetery. Visitation will begin on Thursday, October 25 at 9 a.m. in the Bunker Brothers Funeral Home, Nullsville. BUNKER BROS. FUNERAL HOME, 453-888-4532.

The Last Words, Inc. obituary:

Solomon Grundy, age 77, of Nullsville, passed away Monday, October 22. Known as "Solly" to his scores of friends, Solomon P. Grundy was a shining exemplar of Mark Twain's maxim that "We should so endeavor to live that when we die even the undertaker will be sorry." A chimney sweep by trade, he was the owner and operator of Chim Cheree Clean Sweeps for some 25 years. Born and raised in the Big Sky country of Montana, he loved the outdoors and made all the world his own, "'tween pavement and stars." He started up the ladder of life as an art student in Chicago, where he came to appreciate the beauty and vitality of art; he was a painter and a wood-carver in his private life, and he loved to give the gift of his creations to those he knew and loved.
"My father was a wonderful and gentle man," said his daughter, Priscilla (Jones). "He was a talented artist. His carvings of animals were cherished by everyone. He could have sold them for money, but he loved giving them away as much as he loved making them.
"He loved our mother more than anything in the world; in the more than 40 years I was around them I never heard him say a cross word to her."
Mr. Grundy himself often said that, in his family, in his work, in his whole life, he was the luckiest man in the world – "as lucky as lucky can be."
Solomon "Solly" Grundy is survived by, among others, two daughters and a son.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

But leave the fire going

Civil War General Robert E. Lee died on this day in 1870.  His last words:

"Strike the tent."

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Or maybe: "My Poe soul"

 On this day in 1849, Edgar Allan Poe died.

"Quoth the Raven nevermore." -- Poe's epitaph.

It would have been elegant for Poe's last word to have been "Nevermore," in answer to the question he was asked on his deathbed ("Would you like to see your friends?"), but his dying utterance was probably the much more somber, "Lord help my poor soul."

Sunday, September 23, 2012

And Perry White said, okay, but don’t call me chief

Actor and worldwide heartthrob Rudolph Valentino died on this day in 1926. His last words:

"Don't worry, chief, it will be all right."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I'm asking for a reprieve

The idea that life is a term of penal servitude (The Cynic's Almanac, Sept. 18) is one touched upon, to one degree or another, by philosphers and writers from Plato and Saint Augustine to Schopenhauer and novelist Jonathan Franzen, whose The Corrections takes the subject as a theme.

Augustine said that our hearts are restless because this is not our true home. Jesus said as much. Go and sin no more, and perhaps you will one day be able to enter (or re-enter) the kingdom of Heaven.

None of us are without guilt, even as babes. How can that be, unless we have committed crimes elsewhere?

If we are all prisoners, how, then, should we be expected to act toward each other? Jesus said, of course, to love one another. But as criminals who can't recall their crimes, isn't it natural for us to be bitter, to think everyone worse than ourselves? Can we blamed for endlessly seeking some mean advantage? We can't help it -- we were born that way.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

And time uses mothballs

American novelist Thomas Wolfe died on this day in 1938. He wrote:

"Here, then, is man, this moth of time, this dupe of brevity and numbered hours, this travesty of waste and sterile action."

Friday, September 14, 2012

Dancing all the way

Dancer Isadora Duncan died on this day in 1927, when her scarf got caught in the wheels of a car she was riding in, pulling her out of the vehicle and strangling her. Her purported last words (although how she could say anything while being choked to death is a mystery lost to posterity):

"Goodbye, my friends. I go to glory."

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Walking the line, somewhere

The great Johnny Cash died on this day in 2003. He said:

"I wouldn't let anybody influence me into thinking I was doing the wrong thing by singing about death, hell and drugs."

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remember 9/11

Anniversary of the terrorist bombings in New York City, 9/11/01.

"The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; man alone is capable of every wickedness." -- Joseph Conrad.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Well, then, let's bury the hatchet

Danish writer Isak Denisen (nom de plume of Karen Blixen) died on this day in 1962. She wrote:

"Man and woman are two locked caskets, of which each contains the key to the other."

On Sept. 6, 1959, actor Edmund Gwenn (he played Santa Claus in the movie Miracle on 34th Street) died. As he was about to die, he was aksed if it was hard. He said:

"Yes, it's tough, but not as tough as doing comedy."

For more about the relationship between men and women, see Today in Cynic's Almanac

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

We have survived

French scientist and philosopher Auguste Comte died on this day in 1857. His last words (referring to himself):

"What an irreparable loss!"

Also on this day, in 1905, author Arthur Koestler was born. His book, Darkness at Noon, was an indictment of Stalinist Russia. He once wrote:

“From now on mankind will have to live with the idea of its death as a species.”

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Then he's not the friend of all humanity

Humanitarian Albert Schweitzer died on this day in 1965.

"He who is the friend of all humanity is not my friend." -- Moliere.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Make a hobbit of patience

Author J. R. R. Tolkein died on this day in 1973.

"Many that live deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends." -- The Lord of the Rings.

Also on this day, in 2002, basketball coach Abe Lemons died. He once said:

"I don't jog. If I die I want to be sick."

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Well, everyone needs gainful employment

World War II began On September 1, 1939, ended on September 1, 1945.

"Man: An animal whose chief occupation is extermination of other animals and his own species." -- Ambrose Bierce.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

We'll drink to that

English playwright John Fletcher died on this day in 1625. He was one of the most influential of the Jacobean playwrights; he collaborated with many others, most often with Francis Beaumont. He collaborated with Shakespeare on Henry VIII.

Fletcher wrote:

"Drink to-day, and drown all sorrow;
You shall perhaps not do 't to-morrow

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Thank you, Sir, may I have another life?

Today is the date (in the year 430 AD) of death of Saint Augustine. Here is a prayer of his:

"O, Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; To be understood as to understand; To be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; And it is in dying to ourselves that we are born to eternal life. Amen."

Friday, August 24, 2012

He already knew all the loopholes

British priest and author Ronald Knox died on this day in 1957. He was the Catholic chaplain at Oxford for many years and completed a translation of the New Testament. Evelyn Waugh wrote a biography of him.

On his deathbed, Knox was asked by a friend if he wanted her to read from his New Testament. He answered:

"No...Awfully jolly of you to suggest it, though."

On this day in 1899, Argentine author Jorges Luis Borges was born. On the subject of death Borges was prolific.

"To be immortal is commonplace; except for man, all creatures are immortal, for they are ignorant of death; what is divine, terrible, incomprehensible, is to know that one is immortal," he wrote. Also:

"The truth is that we live out our lives putting off all that can be put off; perhaps we all know deep down that we are immortal and that sooner or later all men will do and know all things."

On his idea of the location of our everlasing stomping-ground, Borges wrote:

"I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Out of the Darkness

Woody Miller writes:  "On December 20th, 2009, I went to visit my son Jeff – it was his birthday. I entered his apartment to find that he was a causality of suicide. I lost a son and my world has been forever changed by that tragic event.

This year, on September 29th, I will be participating in the Out of the Darkness Community Walk for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The Nashville Music Row Walk will start at 10:00 am at Owen Bradley Park. Funds from this event will support education and research programs for suicide prevention, erase the sigma surrounding suicide and its causes, and encourage those who are suffering from mental troubles to seek treatment.

I think of Jeff every day – remembering him and doing good in his memory is something that helps me cope with the loss. To join me in support of this worthy cause please visit www.outofthedarkness.org and register with my team “Jeff Miller – Our Love”. Please consider donating to help – you can do so online. Donations of any amount will be appreciated.

If you have any question or need more information contact me at my email address - woody.miller@att.net or at my cell number - (615) 509-0975.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

I'm afraid this quote just won't do

German playwright Bertold Brecht died on this day in 1956. He wrote:

Don't be afraid of death so much as an inadequate life.”

Monday, August 13, 2012

Not always a seer

On this day in 1946, author H. G. Wells (The Time MachineThe War of the Worlds) died. His last words:

"Go away. I'm all right."

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"Twas beastly that she had to die

"Well, hello dere. Come here often?"
Actress Fay Wray died on this day in 2004. She played King Kong's love interest in the original film. (Accept no remakes!) The last line of that movie:

"'It wasn't the airplanes, 'twas beauty killed the beast."

Friday, August 3, 2012

Home is where the hurt is

Polish-born Joseph Conrad, a master of English prose, died on this day in 1924. He wrote:

"Going home (dying) must be like going to render an account."

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

You can lose your head if you think too much

Denis Diderot, French philosopher and encyclopedist, died on this day in 1784. He wrote:

"The philosopher has never killed any priests, whereas the priest has killed a great many philosophers."

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Bring me a bottle, and let me die

Desiderius Erasmus, Dutch Renaissance theologian and writer, died on this day in 1536. He was the first to say:

"Women -- can't live with them, can't live without them."

Erasmus wrote:  "The nearer people approach old age the closer they return to a semblance of childhood, until the time comes for them to depart this life, again like children, neither tired of living no aware of death."

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Go fourth and meet your maker

Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on this day in 1826. The two had become the best of friends later in life. As Adams lay dying he said, "Thomas Jefferson--still survives..."  Actually, Jefferson had died earlier that day.

(Trivia: Another U. S. President died on July 4th -- James Monroe, July 4, 1831. Also, Pres. Calvin Coolidge was born on July 4, 1872.)

The great American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804. He wrote:

"We sometimes congratulate ourselves at the moment of waking from a troubled dream; it may be so the moment after death."

Saturday, June 30, 2012

If you believe you'll have another beer, you won't write anything

Playwright Lillian Hellman (The Little Foxes) died on this day in 1984. She wrote:

"If you believe, as the Greeks did, that man is at the mercy of the gods, then you write tragedy. The end is inevitable from the beginning. But if you believe that man can solve his own problems and is at nobody's mercy, then you will probably write melodrama."

Saturday, June 23, 2012

And be a good pitcher, too

(Steven) Grover Cleveland, 22nd and 24th President of the United States, died on this day in 1908.

Reviews are mixed on Cleveland's two acts as President. He made some disastrous political decisions but even his critics priased him for his honesty, integrity, and courage of his convictions. His last words:

"I have tried so hard to do right."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

I'm taking someone with me

Blaise Pascal, French mathematician, essayist and philosopher, was born on this day in 1623. He wrote:

"We shall die alone."

Pascal himself died at age 39. In his Pensees, he had written:

"For after all what is man in nature? A nothing in relation to infinity, all in relation to nothing, a central point between nothing and all and infinitely far from understanding either. The ends of things and their beginnings are impregnably concealed from him in an impenetrable secret. He is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness out of which he was drawn and the infinite in which he is engulfed."

Monday, June 18, 2012

Happy to have known you

Legendary actress Ethel Barrymore died on this day in 1959, at the age of 80. Her reported last words:

"Is everybody happy? I want everybody to be happy. I know I'm happy."

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Death, his bosom friend

Joseph Addison, English politician and co-author with Richard Steele of two famous periodicals, The Tatler and The Spectator, died on this day in 1719. His highly apocryphal last words were:

"See in what peace a Christian can die."

These were supposedly uttered as a challenge to his stepson, Lord Warwick. However, as there is no evidence that Warwick led anything but a blameless existence, the tale is probably a romance.

Addison did, indubitably, say or write the following:

"I have somewhere met with the epitaph on a charitable man which has pleased me very much. I cannot recollect the words, but here is the sense of it: ''What I spent I lost; what I possessed is left to others; what I gave away remains with me.'"

"The fear of death often proves mortal, and sets people on methods to save their lives, which infallibly destroy them."

"How beautiful is death, when earn'd by virtue!"

"We are always doing something for posterity, but I would fain see posterity do something for us."

And this, not apropos of death but just some words to remember:

"There is no defense against criticism except obscurity."

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A hero of my life

Charles Dickens, the world's greatest novelist (in my highly subjective opinion), died on this day in 1870. He was 58.

Dickens captured my imagination and my compulsive attention when I was a kid of 12 or so. One summer I lay on the couch day after day, reading his books one after the other.

"There is perhaps no person living who can remember reading David Copperfield for the first time," wrote Virginia Woolf, but I can, vividly. It was the work of Dickens' that I first essayed, and I was a goner after the opening pages, when David talks about the father he never knew, buried in the churchyard close by their house, and "the indefinable compassion I used to feel for (him) lying out alone there in the dark night."

(My own father had died a couple of years before.)

I re-read Dickens through high school, and in college I had a Dickens seminar, during which our professor would expound, noteless, for three hours at a stretch, twice weekly, about the man and his work. It was a thrilling experience -- here was someone even more in love with Dickens than I was. He particularly loved Copperfield , probably because Dickens himself loved the novel above all his others. ("I have my favourite child, and his name is David Copperfield," Dickens wrote.)

What Woolf meant was that reading this particular novel of Dickens is one of those timeless experiences:

"Like Robinson Crusoe and Grimm's Fairy Tales...Pickwick and David Copperfield are not books, but stories communicated by word of mouth in those tender years when fact and fiction merge, and thus belong to those myths and memories of life...

"We remodel our psychological geography when we read Dickens...What we remember is the ardour, the excitement, the humour; the oddity of people's characters; the smell and soot and savor of London; the incredible coincidences which hook the most remote lives together; the city, the law courts; this man's limp, that man's nose; some scene under and archway or on the high road; and above all some gigantic and dominating figure...stuffed and swollen with life."

Contrary to his wish to be buried in Rochester Cathedral, Dickens was laid to rest in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey. The inscription on his tomb reads:

"He was a sympathiser to the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England's greatest writers is lost to the world."

"Dickens did not merely believe in the brotherhood of man in the weak modern way," wrote G. K. Chesterton; "he was the brotherhood of man, and knew it was a brotherhood in sin as well as in aspiration."

Thursday, June 7, 2012

And excuse me, Mr. Coolidge

Writer and wit Dorothy Parker died on this day in 1967. An epitaph she had proposed for herself:

"Pardon my dust."

Parker was cremated, and her ashes remained unclaimed for more than 20 years. In her will, Parker bequeathed her estate to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Foundation. In 1988 the NAACP claimed her remains and placed them in a memorial garden outside their Baltimore headquarters.

A famous Parker mot: After being told that former President Calvin Coolidge had died, she said:

"How could they tell?"

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

So sorry, baby

American novelist Stephen Crane (The Red Badge of Courage) died on this day in 1900, of tuberculosis. He was 29.

"We should weep for men at their birth, not at their death." -- Montesquieu.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Lighting our way to dusty death

Giacomo Girolamo Casanova (de Seingalt) died on this day in 1798. He gave his name to a type of adventurous and romantic lover. His last words:

"I have lived as a philosopher and die as a Christian."

Also on this day, in 1910, the author O'Henry (William Sidney Porter) died. His last words?

"Turn up the lights, I don’t want to go home in the dark."

Sunday, June 3, 2012

He killed people with his paradoxes

Author Franz Kafka died on this day in 1924. On his deathbed (he died of tuberculosis) he begged his doctor to administer a dose of morphine to end his suffering:

"Kill me, or else you are a murderer!"

After his death, his works were not burned, as was his specified wish, thus we have some of the world's greatest literature, including the beautiful long short story, "Metamorphosis."

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Then I'll just owe you a cock

Feeling philosophical today. The last words of Socrates, before he quaffed his hemlock:

"Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius. Will you remember to pay the debt?"

To read about a fictional death presented by an author born today, visit Today in Cynic's Almanac

Friday, June 1, 2012

Content forever now

Helen Keller died on this day in 1968.

"Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence," she said, "and I learn whatever state I am in, therein to be content."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Whale of an ending

Film director James Whale (the original Frankenstein) died on this day in 1957, a suicide. He left this note:

"The future is just old age and illness and pain.... I must have peace and this is the only way."

For a fictionalized look at Whale as an old man, check out the great movie, Gods and Monsters.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

There'll be a pop quiz in Hell

French grammarian Dominique Bouhours died on this day in 1702. His last words:

"Je vais ou je vas mourir, l'un et l'autre se dit ou se disent." ("I am about to--or I am going to--die; either expression is correct.")

To read about another Frenchman interested in words, whose birth date is today, visit Today in Cynic's Calendar

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Tell my wife that

German philosopher Martin Heidegger died on this day in 1976. He wrote:

"Every man is born as many men and dies as a single one."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

He couldn't see the forestal for the trees

James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy during World War II, committed suicide on this day in 1949. He left this note, a copy of Sophocles' poem, Chorus from Ajax:

"Frenzy hath seized thy dearest son,
Who from thy shores in glory came
The first in valor and in fame;
Thy deeds that he hath done
Seem hostile all to hostile eyes. . . .
Better to die, and sleep
The never waking sleep, than linger on,
And dare to live, when the soul's life is gone."

Also on this day, in 1885, novelist Victor Hugo died. This is from nis novel, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame:

"Quasimodo then lifted his eye to look upon the gypsy girl, whose body, suspended from the gibbet, he beheld quivering afar, under its white robes, in the last struggles of death; then again he dropped it upon the archdeacon, stretched a shapeless mass at the foot of the tower, and he said with a sob that heaved his deep breast to the bottom, 'Oh-all that I've ever loved!'"

Hugo's last words were, according to legend:

"I see black light."

Monday, May 21, 2012

Been dying to talk to you

Obit in the local paper the other day with a picture of the deceased talking on his cell phone. Maybe he'll be buried with it, so as to stay in eternal touch with everyone on his list.

Some time ago there was one of the dead guy at his desk, pen in hand and phone cupped to his ear. Maybe he was the one person who did say on his deathbed:

"I didn't spend enough time at the office."

Friday, May 18, 2012

Want to live forever? Call the AP

Playwright, novelist, short-story writer and Pulitzer Prize winner Willam Saroyan died on this day in 1981. His last words, which he phoned into the Associated Press:

"Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case. Now what?"

Thursday, May 17, 2012

And Posterity is a slow payer

American humorist George Ade died on this day in 1944. He wrote:

"After being Turned Down by numerous Publishers, he had decided to write for Posterity."

Also on this day, in 1984, comedian Andy Kaufman died (maybe). In keeping with Kaufman's life, his death may have been a hoax, some people believe. Kaufman himself said that if it was, he would return 20 years later.

On May 16, 2004, some surviving friends of Kaufman threw a "Welcome Home, Andy" party, at which he did not show.

Coincidence: Jim Carrey, who played Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon, shared his birthday.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Especially American leeches

French naturalist and zoologist Georges Cuvier (full name Baron Georges Léopold Chrétien Frédéric Dagobert Cuvier) died on this day in 1832.

Cuvier was instrumental in establishing the fields of comparative anatomy and paleontology by comparing living animals with fossils. He is well known for establishing that extinction was a fact.

His last words, to a nurse who was bleeding him on his deathbed (he died of cholera):

"Nurse, It was I who discovered leeches have red blood."

Monday, May 7, 2012

The sharks will be your tour guides

Prominent theatrical manager Charles Frohman died on this day in 1915. He was a passenger on the Lusitania when it was sunk by a German submarine. As the story goes, he was last seen trying to calm passengers by saying:

"Why fear death? Death is only a beautiful adventure."

"Death is only a beautiful adventure" is a line from Peter Pan.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

And came out with mosquito bites all over me

Henry David Thoreau died on this day in 1862. In Walden, he wrote:

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I have not lived.”

And also:

"You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.”

Saturday, May 5, 2012

After he is forgotten, his obscurity will live on

Napoleon Bonaparte died on this day in 1821.

"I am surrounded by priests who repeat incessantly that their kingdom is not of this world," he said, "and yet they lay their hands on everything they can get."

And this, by Napoleon, is surely one of the greatest quips ever uttered:

"Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever."

Friday, May 4, 2012

I appreciate all my enemies

English writer Sir Osbert Sitwell died today in 1969. He was the brother of Dame Edith Sitwell. He wrote a five-volume appreciation of his eccentric family. He once said:

"It is fatal to be appreciated in one's own time."

And also:

"In reality, killing time is only the name for another of the multifarious ways by which Time kills us," he wrote.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Verses short, not sweet

John Dryden, once an English poet laureate, died on this day in 1700. He wrote:

"When I consider life, 'tis all a cheat,
Yet fooled with hope, men favor the deceit."

Monday, April 30, 2012

Impertinent, and steamed

Joan of Arc was burned at the stake on this day in 1431.

"There is a certain impertinence in allowing oneself to be burned for an opinion." -- Anatole France.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

And life, as well

Economist John Kenneth Galbraith died on this day in 2006.

"If all else fails, "Galbriath said, "immortality can always be assured by spectacular error."

Friday, April 27, 2012

And good luck

Poet Hart Crane committed suicide on this day in 1932. These were his last words before he jumped off the back of a boat coming back from Mexico, where he had been on a Guggenheim Fellowship:

"Goodbye, everybody."

This is from Crane's last poem, The Broken Tower:

And so it was I entered the broken world
To trace the visionary company of love, its voice
An instant in the wind (I know not whither hurled)
But not for long to hold each desperate choice

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tardiness is the worst crime

Author Daniel Defoe (Robinson Crusoe) died on this day in 1731. He wrote:

"The best of men cannot suspend their fate:
The good die early, and the bad die late

Defoe himself was 70 when he died.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

I am not a kook

Former President Richard Nixon died on this day in 1994.

"A man is not finished when he is defeated," Nixon once said. "He is finished when he quits."

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Madam, I'm Adam, and this is Death

Mark Twain died today in 1910.

"Whoever has lived long enough to find out what life is," Twain wrote, "knows how deep a debt of gratitude we owe to Adam, the first great benefactor of our race. He brought death into our world."

For more about Twain, visit

Today in Cynic's Almanac

Monday, April 16, 2012

You mean I'm gonna die someday?

"The most terrible burden any creature was ever compelled to endure is the sure knowledge of its death; all human civilization -- but especially religion -- testifies to the ingenuity and tenacity of our denial." -- Bosley Crowther.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Out of the Darkness

   "On December 20, 2009, I went to visit my son Jeff – it was his birthday.  I entered his apartment to find that he was a casualty of suicide.  I lost a son and my world has been forever changed by that tragic event.

   "This year on September 29th, I will be participating in the Out of the Darkness Community Walk for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  The Nashville Music Row Walk will start at 10:00 am at Owen Bradley Park.  Funds from this event will support education and research programs for suicide prevention, erase the stigma surrounding suicide and its causes, and encourage those who suffer from mental troubles to seek treatment.

   "I think of Jeff everyday – remembering him and doing good in his memory is something that helps me cope with the loss.  To walk with me for this worthy cause please visit www.outofthedarkness.org and register with my team “Jeff Miller – Our Love”. 

   "Please consider a donation – you can do so online.  At the before mentioned web site or at http://afsp.donordrive.com/participant/wmiller  Donations of any amount are appreciated.

   "With God’s help maybe we can help someone, somewhere.   No one should experience what it feels like to be so sad you wake up crying. 

"Thank you for your support.

Woody Miller"

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Make my ticket a return trip

English author Evelyn Waugh died on this day in 1966. He wrote:

"It is a curious thing that every creed promises a paradise which will be absolutely uninhabitable for anyone of civilized taste."

And also:

"I can see nothing objectionable in the total destruction of the earth, provided it is done, as it seems most likely, inadvertently."

For more on Waugh, visit This day in Cynic's Almanac

Monday, April 9, 2012

He lies where the rabble lays

The French writer Francois Rabelais (Gargantua and Pantagruel) died on this day in 1553. His last words have sometimes been recorded as:

"Bring down the curtain, the farce is played out."

And sometimes as:

"I am going to seek the great perhaps."

I like Rabelais' bequest to posterity:

"I owe much; I have nothing; the rest I leave to the poor."

Friday, April 6, 2012

Robinson rues so

Poet Edward Arlington Robinson died on this day in 1935. He is the poet who wrote this surprise ending to one of his poems:

"And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head

Robinson also once wrote:

"There is a good deal to live for, but a man has to go through hell really to find it out."

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

And he told me to tell you you're fired

Wilson Mizner, an American screenwriter, wit, gambler and raconteur, died on this day in 1933.

Mizner wrote a couple of modest plays (The Deep Purple, The Greyhound), but he is best remembered as co-owner of The Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles and as a raconteur. He and his brother, Addison, were involved in a number of picaresque scams that inspired Stephen Sondheim's Bounce.

Mizner's last words, as he lay on his deathbed with eyes closed and opened them to see a priest hovering over him:

"Why should I talk to you? I've just been talking to your boss."

Monday, March 19, 2012

A flameout

"...When there was nobody to care or know, this gigantic effort on the part of an insignificant little moth, against a power of such magnitude, to retain what no one else valued or desired to keep, moved one strangely...

"The body relaxed, and instantly grew stiff. The struggle was over. The insignificant little creature now knew death. As I looked at the dead moth, this minute wayside triumph of so great a force over so mean an antagonist filled me with wonder...

"The moth having righted itself now lay most decently and uncomplainingly composed.

"O yes, he seemed to say, death is stronger than I am."

-- Virginia Woolf, "The Death of a Moth."

Sunday, March 18, 2012

He gave them the cold shoulder

We forgot to mention yesterday that it was the anniversary of the death of Captain Lawrence Oates, who perished March 17, 1912, while a member of Robert F. Scott's ill-fated expedition to the South Pole.

Scott and his party had reached the Pole on Jan. 18, only to find that a rival group led Roald Amundsen had reached it a month earlier. Heading back to base camp, the devastated men ran out of food and water.

Oates left the party and walked -- or crawled -- willingly to his death, some say in order that his comrades might have a better chance to live. Even so, Scott and every one of his men died. (For a dissenting view, go here)

Oates' last words were:

"I am just going outside and may be some time."

Friday, March 16, 2012

My Lai was their lie

The My Lai Massacre occurred on this day in 1968.

Led by Lieutenant William L. Calley, a platoon of American soldiers entered the village of My Lai 4 on a search-and-destroy mission on the morning of March 16. Instead of guerrilla fighters, they found unarmed villagers, most of them women, children and old men.

The soldiers had been advised before the attack by army command that all who were found in My Lai could be considered Vietcong or active Vietcong sympathizers, and told to destroy the village. Still, they acted with extraordinary brutality, raping and torturing villagers before killing them and dragging dozens of people, including young children and babies, into a ditch and executing them with automatic weapons.

The massacre reportedly ended when an Army helicopter pilot, Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, landed his aircraft between the soldiers and the retreating villagers and threatened to open fire if they continued their attacks.

The events at My Lai were covered up by high-ranking army officers until the following March, when one soldier, Ron Ridenhour, heard of the incident secondhand and wrote about it in a letter to President Richard Nixon, the Pentagon, the State Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and various congressmen. The letter was largely ignored until later that year, when investigative journalist Seymour Hersh interviewed Calley and broke the story. Soon, My Lai was front-page news and an international scandal.

In March 1970, an official U.S. Army inquiry board charged 14 officers, including Calley and his company commander, Captain Ernest Medina, of crimes relating to My Lai. Of that number, only Calley was convicted. Found guilty of personally killing 22people, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Upon appeal, his sentence was reduced to 20 years, and eventually to 10. Seen by many as a scapegoat, Calley was paroled in 1974 after serving just one-third of his sentence.

"Neither the sun nor death can be looked upon steadily." -- La Rochefoucauld.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Preceded by "I et earlier"

Today is the Ides of March.

On this day in 44BC, Julius Caesar was assassinated on the steps of the Senate in Rome.

Caesar's last words are a matter of debate among scholars and historians. As Shakespeare has it, they were "Et tu, Brute?" ("You too, Brutus?"), followed by "Then fall, Caesar."

Shakespeare evidently read the Roman historian Suetonius, who wrote that Caesar's last words were the Greek phrase "καὶ σύ, τέκνον;" (roughly, "You too, my child?")

Plutarch said that Caesar said nothing, and pulled his toga over his head when he saw Brutus among the conspirators.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Family estate vs. family cemetery

What is a family estate?

A family estate serves the same purpose as the old family cemetery where a family of loved ones are buried, or entombed, together in a particular place. However, there are still some differences between a family estate and a family cemetery.

A family estate allows a family to have as many burial spaces or mausoleum crypts as desired so that generations of family members can be buried together. The main difference is that in a family cemetery, someone in the family must be responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the cemetery. Often, over the years, these cemeteries may become neglected, even abandoned. We see these forlorn specimens all the time as we drive through the countryside.

A family estate, arranged through a funeral home, can be maintained forever without the assistance of the family. Also, the family can choose mausoleum entombment instead of burial.

(Courtesy of Harpeth Hills Memory Gardens and Funeral Home, 9090 Highway 100, Nashville, TN. 615-646-9292.)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Then he screamed for more

Comedian Lou Costello, of Abbott and Costello fame, died on this day in 1959. He had just finished his first solo movie feature, The 30-Foot Bride of Candy Rock. His last words:

"That was the best ice-cream soda I ever tasted."

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Or fully spent before we half know

English author George Herbert died on this day in 1633. He was the author of the line "Living well is the best revenge."

He also wrote: "Life is half spent before we know what it is."

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Nothing like living, though

Phycicist Richard P. Feynman died on this day in 1988. His last words:

"I'd hate to die twice. It's so boring."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Don't know, but I hear they have harps a-plenty

This is the anniversary of the death, in 1988, of composer Frederick Loewe. Upon the death of his collaborator, Alan Jay Lerner, in 1986, Loewe said:

"It won't be long before we'll be writing together again. I just hope they have a decent piano up there."

Also on this day, in 1975, comic novelist P. G. Wodehouse died. He once wrote:

"It is a good rule in life never to apologize. The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them."

Monday, February 13, 2012

I believe I'll have another beer

Composer Richard Wagner died on this day in 1883.

"I believe in God, Mozart and Beethoven, and likewise their disciples and apostles," Wagner wrote. "I believe in the Holy Spirit and the truth of the one, indivisible Art;

"I believe that this Art proceeds from God, and lives within the hearts of all illumined men;

"I believe that he who once has bathed in the sublime delights of this high Art, is consecrate to Her for ever, and never can deny Her;

"I believe that through Art all men are saved.”

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Angels in waiting

Ethan Allen, U.S. patriot and leader of the Green Mountain Boys during the American Revolution, died on this day in 1789.

Allen's last words (on his deathbed, in response to a doctor who told him, "General, I fear the angels are waiting for you."):

"Waiting are they? Waiting are they? Well--let 'em wait."

Friday, February 3, 2012

The day the music died

Buddy Holly (Charles Hardin Holley) an American singer-songwriter and pioneer of rock and roll, died in a plane crash on this day in 1959. He was only 23 years old.

Although his career lasted less than two years, Holly's innovations were copied by his contemporaries and later musicians, notably The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and exerted a profound influence on popular music. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Holly #13 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

Holly was on tour with Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) in Iowa. After their last performance, at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, Holly chartered a Beechcraft Bonanza to take him and his new back-up band (Tommy Allsup, Carl Bunch, and Waylon Jennings) to Fargo, North Dakota. Bunch missed the flight, as he was in the hospital with frostbite. The Big Bopper asked Jennings for his spot on the four-seat plane, as he was recovering from the flu. Ritchie Valens was still signing autographs at the concert site when Allsup walked in and told him it was time to go. Allsup pulled a 50 cent coin out of his pocket and the two men flipped for the seat. Allsup lost.

The plane took off in light snow and gusty winds, and crashed after only a few minutes. The wreckage was discovered several hours later. The crash killed Holly, Valens, Richardson, and the 21-year-old pilot, Roger Peterson. Holly's body, along with those of Valens and Richardson, were thrown from the wreckage, Holly's body being nearly decapitated by his impact with a tree.

In his song, "American Pie," Don McLean called it "the Day the Music Died."

Holly's pregnant wife became a widow after barely six months of marriage and miscarried soon after.

Holly's headstone carries the correct spelling of his surname (Holley) and a carving of his Fender Stratocaster guitar.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

FAREWELLS now in print

   "If I were a maker of books, I would make a register, with comments, of various deaths. He who would teach men to die would teach them to live." -- Montaigne. 

   FAREWELLS, your almanac of last words and last thoughts, is now available at Amazon and also from the author.  The book is a wide-ranging collection of quotes, by the famous, the near-famous, and the not-so-famous.  Some excerpts:

   “I am dying, with the help of many doctors.” – Alexander the Great.

   “I did not get my spaghetti. I got Spaghetti-Os. I want the press to know this.” – Condemned murderer Thomas Grasso, referring to his last meal.

   “In heaven all the interesting people are missing.” – Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

   To order a copy of FAREWELLS, go to

   To save on shipping, get your copy directly from the author. Call 516-5678 or email paulerland@gmail.com. 

Here today, Gandhi tomorrow

Mohands (Mahatma) Gandhi died on this day in 1948.

"By the holy waters of the Yamuna, near New Delhi, almost a million people waited in the sun for the funeral procession to reach the cremation grounds. White predominated - the white of women's cotton saris and of men's clothes, caps and bulbous turbans. At Rajghat, a few hundred feet from the river, a fresh pyre had been built of stone, brick, and earth. It was eight feet square and about two feet high. Long, thin sandalwood logs sprinkled with incense were stacked on it. Mahatma Gandhi's body lay on the pyre with his head to the north. In that position Buddha met his end. At 4:45 p.m., Ramdas, the third son of the Mahatma, set fire to the funeral pyre. The logs burst into flames. The vast assemblage groaned. Women wailed; men wept. The wood crackled and seethed and the flames united into a single fire. Now there was silence. Gandhi's body was being reduced to ashes and cinders. A nation's father was dead.

"On Friday 30 January 1948, Gandhi woke up at his usual hour, 3:30 a.m. After the morning prayer he put the final touches to the new constitution for Congress which he had been unable to finish the previous night. The rest of the morning was spent answering letters. Someone mentioned the fact that despite his poor health he was working incessently. 'Tomorrow', he explained, 'I may not be here'.

"He was aware of the strengthening of the police guard around the Birla House, but notwithstanding Home Minister Patel's earnest request, Gandhi would not permit those who attended the prayer meetings: 'If I have to die I should like to die at the prayer meeting. You are wrong in believing that you can protect me from harm. God is my protector.'

"Gandhi had been busy since the early morning. It was now nearly four o' clock in the afternoon, and soon there would be a meeting with Patel. Gandhi had earlier been drawn into the ideological differences and rivalry between Patel and Nehru, and had expressed the view that one of the two should withdraw from the cabinet. He had since come to the conclusion that both were indispensable, pointing out that the government would be seriously weakened if it lost either.

"Patel arrived with his daughter, Manibehn, and was promptly ushered into the room where Gandhi sat at his spinning wheel. The conversation with Patel was long and absorbing one. Gandhi stressed that any breach between the two senior party colleagues would be disastrous. He would seek out Nehru after the evening prayer and discuss the whole matter with him as well. Earlier in the day someone had shown him a clipping from the London Times, an article suggesting that the conflict between Nehru and Patel was irreconcilable. He was determined to put an end to the disunity between them, even if it meant delaying his journey to Sevagram.

"While the conversation continued he took his evening meal. It was now past 5 p.m., but Gandhi did not notice that he was late for the prayer meeting. Abhabehn, the young wife of Kanu Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma's cousin, held up a watch, but neither Gandhi nor Patel paid any attention. After sometime Patel's daughter reminded them that it was ten minutes past five and that Gandhi had been late for his prayer meeting , whereupon the two men rose. It had been decided that Gandhi, Patel and Nehru would together discuss the matter the following day.

"Patel and his daughter immediately left the Birla House while Gandhi, a little vexed at being unpunctual, made his way to the prayer meeting. Leaning lightly on the two girls, Manu and Abha, his 'walking sticks', he took a short cut accross the grass, walking briskly to make up for the lost time and then mounted the six low steps upto the level of the prayer ground. As he took a few paces in the direction of the wooden platform on which he sat during services, the crowd opened to enable him to pass through, bowing to his feet as he went by. Gandhi took his arms off the girls' shoulders and for a moment stood there smiling, touching his palms in the traditional greeting-blessing.

"Just then a stocky young man in a khaki bush jacket jostled through the crowd, and when he was directly in front of Gandhi, he fired three shots into the Mahatma at point blank range. The Mahatma's hands folded in friendly greeting, descended slowly. 'He Ram (Oh God Rama),' he murmured, and sighed softly as the frail body slumped to the ground.

"The assassin was held by the Police. He was Nathuram Godse, an editor of a Marathi newspaper, Hindu Rashtra and an active and fanatic member of the Hindu Mahasabha. Gandhi was carried indoors, but he was already unconscious. Within a few moments a doctor pronounced him dead. Patel, who lived not far from Birla House, had hardly reached home when he rushed back. A few minutes later Nehru arrived. Soon one of Gandhi's disciples appeared at the door of Birla House to speak to the anxiously waiting crowd: 'Bapuji is finished.' A moan went up from the crowd. An epic in the saga of Indian and world history had ended. The world had lost yet another of its great sons to the hands of religion. A nation's destiny was dead. The world's tutor was dead."

(From thinkquest.org)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Be prepared for nothing

Poet Willam Butler Yeats died on this day in 1939. His epitaph, self-composed:

"Horseman, cast a cold eye
On Life, on death,
Horseman, Pass by

Yeats once wrote:

"All life weighed in the scales of my own life seems to me to be a preparation for something that never happens."

Friday, January 27, 2012

We're counting our blessings, then

Composer Giuseppe Verdi died on this day in 1901. He once said:

"Oh blessed a thousand times the peasant who is born, eats and dies without anybody bothering about his affairs."

"Giuseppe Verdi died on 27 Jan 1901 after a debilitating stroke six days earlier. A funeral befitting a king was in the planning but in accordance with Verdi's wishes he was buried, without grandeur, beside his wife Giuseppina Strepponi on a damp, foggy morning. However, one month later there was a great public funeral when both caskets, again according to his wishes, were moved to the Casa di Riposa after State approval had been met.

"It should be noted that some of the more notable biographies on Verdi give different versions and dates of the events that surrounded his death.."

(From HistoricOpera.com. Visit the site to see these different versions.)