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.