Saturday, April 21, 2012

Last words

There are several amusing books that compile the last words (or purported last words) of famous people. Some hold that as the end nears, one ought to think of such words in advance (I haven't). Some that stick in the mind are Gertrude Stein’s “What is the answer? What is the question?" and Ulysses Grant’s “I think I am becoming a verb.” When Somerset Maugham was asked about dying, he is reputed to have said: “I can’t really recommend it.” Some ascriptions are just urban legends. Apparently, Goethe did not say on his deathbed: “More light!” but (speaking to his servant accusingly): “Did you put sugar in the wine again?”

About Christopher Hitchens, Andrew Sullivan reports as follows. “As he lay dying, he asked for a pen and paper and tried to write on it. After a while, he finished, held it up, looked at it and saw that it was an illegible assemblage of scribbled, meaningless hieroglyphics. "What's the use?" he said to Steve Wasserman. Then he dozed a little, and then roused himself and uttered a couple of words that were close to inaudible. Steve asked him to repeat them. There were two: "Capitalism." "Downfall." In his end was his beginning."

 I suppose Sully means that Hitchens was reverting to his youthful Troskyism. But was he?


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