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The Oxford Book of Death: Last Words

It may not be a terribly cheery subject but the inescapable reality of death has given rise to much of literature’s most profound and moving work. We are currently relaunching some of the titles in the Oxford Book of… series, and today I thought I would share an excerpt from the absolutely wonderful Oxford Book of Death. Below are some ‘last words’ from figures throughout history.

ARCHIMEDES (212 BC): (on being ordered by a Roman soldier to follow him) ‘Wait till I have finished my problem.’

BOILEAU (1711): ‘It is a great consolation to a poet on the point of death that he has never written a line injurious to good morals.’

RAMEAU (1764): (to his confessor) ‘What the devil are you trying to sing, monsieur le cure? Your voice is out of tune.’

VOLTAIRE (1778): (as the bedside lamp flared up) ‘What? The flames already?’

ADAM SMITH (1790): ‘I believe we must adjourn this meeting to another place.’

BEETHOVEN (1827): ‘I shall hear in Heaven.’

PALMERSTON (1865): ‘Die, my dear Doctor? – That is the last thing I shall do!’

DISRAELI (1881): (Queen Victoria having proposed to visit him) ‘Why should I see her? She will only want me to give a message to Albert.’

GIDE (1951): ‘I am afraid my sentences are becoming grammatically incorrect.’

RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (in conversation some two weeks before his death in 1958, recorded by Sylvia Townsend Warner in a letter): ‘If I were reincarnated, I added, I think I would like to be a landscape painter. What about you? Music, he said, music. But in the next world I shan’t be doing music, with all the striving and disappointments. I shall be being it.’

JAMES THURBER (1961): ‘God bless… God damn.’

GORONWY REES (1979): (to his son, Daniel) ‘What shall I do next?’

Recent Comments

  1. […] you’re still tempted, OUP’s blog has a few selections of famous last words from some historical figures. For my money (which won’t be spent giving this book to a close friend or relative!), Andre […]

  2. […] OUP Blog brings word of the Oxford Book of Death, with excerpts of notable last words. GIDE (1951): ‘I am afraid my […]

  3. Donna McCurdy

    I remember back in 1977 or 1978, reading a thick hard cover book of ordinary peoples last words before dying. The book was extroudinary! The recorded last words spoke of Angels as well as Demons. I wish I could remember the name of the book! It made a deep impression on me that is still with me today!

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