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."