Saturday, November 2, 2013

It all evens out in the end

The great Irish critic, playwright, philosopher and reformer George Bernard Shaw died on this day in 1950. He was 94. He once wrote:

"The world is populated in the main by people who should not exist."

Sunday, October 13, 2013

That one just killed the audience

TV giant Ed Sullivan died on this day in 1974. Once, when singer Connie Francis had just performed and Ed was chatting with her, he asked:

"Tell me, Connie, is your mother still dead?"

Monday, October 7, 2013

October 7, 1849 -- Edgar Allan Poe died, after a violent bout of drinking left him delirious. Poe once wrote:

"My love, she sleeps! Oh, may her sleep
As it is lasting, so be deep!
Soft may the worms about her creep!"

"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."

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Exit laughing

October 5, 2004 -- Comedian Rodney Dangerfield didn't get any respect -- he died.

His epitaph:

"There Goes the Neighborhood."

Friday, October 4, 2013

He had relations with animals

October 4, 1226 -- Saint Francis of Assisi died.

"Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent." -- George Orwell.

Today's Deathless Verse:

Isn't it a pity, how often he or she we deemed to be a saint,

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

If not, forget it

Ernest Renan, French philosopher and writer (Life of Jesus), died on this day in 1892. He wrote:

"O Lord, if there is a Lord, save my soul, if I have a soul."

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Don't go near the water

Author E. B. White (Charlotte's Web) died on this day in 1985. His famous essay, "Once More to the Lake," ends like this:

"When the others went swimming my son said he was going in too. He pulled his dripping trunks from the line where they had hung all through the shower, and wrung them out. Languidly, and with no thought of going in, I watched him, his hard little body, skinny and bare, saw him wince slightly as he pulled up around his vitals the small, soggy, icy garment. As he buckled the swollen belt suddenly my groin felt the chill of death."

Monday, August 19, 2013

All comics die at times

August 19, 1977: Groucho Marx died. His last words, according to legend:

"Die, my dear? Why, that's the last thing I'll do."

Friday, August 16, 2013

But he may be mistaken

Two immortals died on this day: Babe Ruth in 1948, Elvis Presley in 1977.

"To desire immortality is to desire the perpetuation of a great mistake." -- Arthur Schopenhauer.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I'm afraid this quote just won't do

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

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

Monday, August 5, 2013

And make-up

American screen goddess Marilyn Monroe died on this day in 1962, perhaps of a suicide, perhaps of an accidental overdose.  She once said:

It’s all make-believe, isn’t it?”

Today’s Deathless Verse:

The world is a stage,
  Everyone has his part,
According to age,
  And the scope of his art.
No matter the role,
  How lofty or mean,
It all becomes whole

  With our own dying scene.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

For that matter, kids are like sausages, too

Two people died on this day who uttered memorable quotes.

Denis Diderot, the French essayist and encyclopedist, died July 30, 1784. He said:

"All children are essentially criminal."

German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck died July 30, 1898. He said:

"Laws are like sausages. It's better not to see them being made."

Sunday, July 21, 2013

With a pension, of course

The great Scottish writer Robert Burns died on this day in 1796.

"I have a hundred times wished," Burns wrote, "that one could resign from life as an officer resigns a commission."

Today’s Deathless Verse:

A Reply from The Agency:
Dear Sirs,” you recently wrote us,
  “I’d like to turn in my notice.”
Which naturally prompts us to ask:
  Do you find staying on there a task?
We really don’t want you to go—

  There’s nothing else out there, you know.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

True faith is always sublime

Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, died July 16, 1910.

"A sublime faith in human imbecility has seldom led those who cherish it astray." -- Havelock Ellis.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Now you lay me down to sleep

Casey Anthony may haved buried her child in the woods. Is it legal to bury a loved one on your own?


Bury me where you will -- I won't care one way or t'other;
Bury me in a pine box -- or without one, if you druther;
Dig a hole and throw me in, and cover me up with dirt;
Stick a fork in me first, if you've a mind to -- it won't hurt;
Lay me down in the cold, cold ground -- I won't hold it against you, honey;
And if you're bound to go out there and live it up -- you're gonna need the money.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

What does a Grecian mother earn?

Writer William Faulkner died on this date in 1962.  Faulkner won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949 and delivered a famous acceptance speech.

He also wrote the famous line:

"If a writer has to rob his own mother he will not hesistate; the 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' is worth any number of old ladies."

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

She wouldn't ask for directions, either

Aviatrix Amelia Earhart went missing sometime on this day or yesterday in 1937.

"Please know that I am quite aware of the hazards. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others." -- Her last letter to her husband before her last flight.

"KHAQQ calling Itasca. We must be on you, but cannot see you. Gas is running low." -- her last radio communiqué before her disappearance.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

And suicide a knee-jerk reaction

Ernest Hemingway committed suicide on this day in 1961.

"Hemingway was a jerk." -- Harold Robbins.

An article in the New York Times explores the persistent phenomenon of suicide. More people die by suicide annually than by murder and warfare combined. In the United States, suicide tolls have held steady since 1942. Worldwide, about a million people kill themselves each year. In short, a lot of people will always agree with Pliny the Elder (AD 23 - AD 79), who wrote: "Amid the sufferings of life on earth, suicide is God's best gift to man."

Read the Times article

Monday, July 1, 2013

Got to go now

Both FOX News and the New York Times have run stories about a website that broadcasts the last words of condemned inmates in Texas. Here are the last words of Richard Cobb, executed April 25:

"Life is death, death is life. I hope that someday this absurdity that humanity has come to will come to an end. Life is too short. I hope that anyone that has negative energy towards me will resolve that. Life is too short to harbor feelings of hatred and anger. That's it."

Visit the site...

Friday, June 28, 2013

A relief for all of us

The great American actress Katharine Hepburn died on this day in 2003.

"Death will be a great relief," Hepburn once said. "No more interviews."

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Custermary propaganda

Custer's Last Stand happened on this day in 1876. The famous battle was a great victory for the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne, led by Sitting Bull. The U.S. Seventh Cavalry, of which five out the 12 troops (about 700 men) were led by George Armstrong Custer, was defeated; Custer himself was killed along with two of his brothers and a brother-in-law.

The sole survivor of the battle was a horse, named Comanche.

"When the cavalry won it was a great victory, and when the Indians won it was a massacre." -- Dick Gregory.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Apparently he wished to be cremated

Fantasy/adventure writer Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian) committed suicide on this day in 1936. He left a note:

All fled--all done, so lift me on the pyre;
The feast is over, and the lamps expire

which may or may not have been lifted from another source.

A great movie about Howard's life is The Whole Wide World, starring Vincent D'Onofrio.

Monday, June 10, 2013

He didn't feel so great

Alexander the Great died on this day (or on June 11, or perhaps on June 14) in 323 B.C.

The following text is taken from the Anabasis by the Greek author Arrian of Nicomedia, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt.

"Babylon -- A few days later Alexander was sitting at dinner with his friends and drinking far into the night...According to some accounts, when he wished to leave his friends at their drinking and retire to his bedroom, he happened to meet Medius, who at that time was the companion most closely in his confidence, and Medius asked him to come and continue drinking at his own table, adding that the party would be a merry one.

"The Royal diaries confirm the fact that he drank with Medius after his first carouse. Then (they continue) he left the table, bathed, and went to sleep, after which he supped with Medius and again set to drinking, continuing till late at night. Then, once more, he took a bath, ate a little, and went straight to sleep, with the fever already on him.

"Next day he was carried out on his bed to perform his daily religious duties as usual, and after the ceremony lay in the men's quarters till dark. He continued to issue orders to his officers...he was carried on his bed to the river [Euphrates], and crossed in a boat to the park on the further side, where he took another bath and rested.

"Next day he bathed again and offered sacrifice as usual, after which he went to lie down in his room, where he chatted to Medius and gave orders for his officers to report to him early next morning. Then he took a little food, returned to his room, and lay all night in a fever.

"The following morning he bathed and offered sacrifice, and then issued to [admiral] Nearchus and the other officers detailed instructions about the voyage, now due to start in two days' time.

"Next day he bathed again, went through regular religious duties, and was afterwards in constant fever: None the less he sent for his staff as usual and gave them further instructions on their preparations for sailing. In the evening, after another bath, his condition was grave, and the following morning he was moved to the building near the swimming-pool. He offered sacrifice, and, in spite of his increasing weakness, sent for his senior officers and repeated his orders for the expedition.

"The day after that he just managed to have himself carried to his place of prayer, and after the ceremony still continued, in spite of his weakness, to issue instructions to his staff.

"Another day passed. Now very seriously ill, he still refused to neglect his religious duties; he gave orders, however, that his senior officers should wait in the court, and the battalion and company commanders outside his door. Then, his condition already desperate, he was moved from the park back to the palace. He recognized his officers when they entered his room but could no longer speak to them. From that moment until the end he uttered no word. That night and the following day, and for the next twenty-four hours, he remained in a high fever.

"These details are all to be found in the Diaries. It is further recorded in these documents that the soldiers were passionately eager to see him; some hoped for a sight of him while he was still alive; others wished to see his body, for a report had gone round that he was already dead, and they suspected, I fancy, that his death was being concealed by his guards. But nothing could keep them from a sight of him, and the motive in almost every heart was grief and a sort of helpless bewilderment at the thought of losing their king.

"Lying speechless as the men filed by, he yet struggled to raise his head, and in his eyes there was a look of recognition for each individual as he passed.

"The Diaries say that Peitho, Attalus, Demophon, and Peucestas, together with Cleomenes, Menidas, and Seleucus, spent the night in the temple of Serapis and asked the god if it would be better for Alexander to be carried into the temple himself, in order to pray there and perhaps recover; but the god forbade it, and declared it would be better for him if he stayed where he was. The god's command was made public, and soon afterwards Alexander died - this, after all being the 'better' thing.

"The accounts of both Ptolemy and Aristobulus end at this point. Other writers have added that the high officers most closely in his confidence asked him to name his successor, and that Alexander's reply was 'the best man'."

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Sorry I can't go with you

German writer Thomas Mann (The Magic Mountain) was born on this day in 1875. He wrote:

"What we call mourning for our dead is perhaps not so much grief at not being able to call them back as it is grief at not being able to want to do so."

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Contrary to the last

Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (Hedda Gabler) died on this day in 1906.

Confined to bed in the last years of his life, one day the great writer heard his nurse tell a visitor that he was feeling better.

"On the contrary," he said, just before dying.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

And thank you for coming

Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's second wife and the mother of Elizabeth I, was executed on this day in 1536. The charges against her, trumped up by a group led by Thomas Cromwell, were incest, adultery and high treason.

From the scaffold, she addressed the spectators who came to see her beheaded:

"Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord.

"And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul."

Following her speech, she was blindfolded and led to the block, where she repeatedly prayed, "To Jesus Christ I commend my soul." As she placed her head on the stone, she began to cry and spoke her last words:

"Oh God, have pity on my soul. Oh God, have pity on my soul."

She did say the famous words, "The executioner is, I believe, very expert, and my neck is very slender," but these were spoken to the Constable of the Tower on the day before her execution.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The tolling Belle of Amherst

Emily Dickinson died on this day in 1886. Here is a poem she wrote about her nephew, Gilbert, who died of rheumatic fever at age 8:

Pass to thy Rendezvous of Light,
Pangless except for us --
Who slowly ford the Mystery
Which thou hast leaped across!

For more, visit Today in Cynic's Almanac

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

No dreams to come?

Russian anarchist Emma Goldman died on this day in 1940. She wrote:

"When we can't dream any longer, we die."

Also on this day, in 1912, Swedish playwright August Strindberg died. He wrote:

"Death doesn't bargain."

And also:

"The world, life and human beings are only an illusion, a phantom, a dream image."

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Leave 'em laughing

English poet John Masefield died on this day in 1967. He wrote:

"In this life he laughs longest who laughs last."

This is the last stanza of I Must Go Down to the Sea:

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Hoots and Howells

Author William Dean Howells died on this day in 1920. He was a friend of Mark Twain. He wrote:

"The mortality of all inanimate things is terrible to me, but that of books most of all."

Also on this day, in 1916, German composer Max Reger died. The following, written in a letter in reply to a critic, doesn't have anything to do with mortality, but we love it nonetheless:

"I am sitting in the smallest room of my house. I have your review before me. In a moment, it will be behind me."

Friday, May 10, 2013

Being a goddess, I'll ask him myself

Actress Joan Crawford died on this day in 1977. Her last words, spoken to her housekeeper, who had begun to pray aloud:

"Damn it . . . Don’t you dare ask God to help me."

Also on this day, in 1863, General Stonewall Jackson died. He was mortally wounded by his own men at the Battle of Chancellorsville. His last words:

"Let us cross over the river and sit under the shade of the trees."

Thursday, May 9, 2013

They missed the elephant, though

General John Sedgwick was a corps commander in the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War. At the Battle of the Wilderness, while inspecting his troops, he approached a parapet and peered out over the surrounding countryside. His officers and men urged him to take cover, but Sedgwick scoffed.

"They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance," he said.

A moment later Sedgwick went down, blood spurting "in a little fountain" from a hole in his cheek.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Last words, famous and infamous

Irish dramatist Brendan Behan (shown in picture with pal Jackie Gleason) died on this day in 1964. His last words, to a nun taking his pulse:

"Bless you, Sister. May all your sons be bishops."

Also on this day, convicted murderer Thomas Grasso uttered these last words before his execution:

"I did not get my Spaghetti-Os. I got spaghetti. I want the press to know this."

Friday, February 22, 2013

Followed by caviar and cymbals

English clergyman Sydney Smith died on this day in 1845. He once said:

"My idea of heaven is eating pate de foie gras to the sound of trumpets."

And also:

"A great deal of talent is lost to the world for want of a little courage. Every day sends to their graves obscure men whose timidity prevented them from making a first effort."

My favorite Sydney Smith quotation, having nothing to do with death or dying:

"I never read a book before previewing it; it prejudices a man so."