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writes (Essai sur les mœurs et l'esprit des nations, ch. cxlv). "La plupart des bons mots ne sont que des redites." This criticism, as will be seen in these pages, applies also, although perhaps in a less degree, to many historical sayings.
A number of "dying words" have been included, not so much because of any particular intrinsic merit they may possess, but rather on account of the interest they acquire from their having been uttered (or said to have been uttered) by famous persons. With regard to these M. Fournier writes (p. 377, idem) "Défiez-vous des mots prêtés aux mourants. La mort n'est point bevarde: un soupir, un regard noyé dans les ombres suprêmes, un geste de la main se portant vers le cœur, quelques paroles confuses, mais surtout sans déclamation, voilà seulement ce qu'elle permet à ceux qu'elle a frappés." Still, if correctly reported, they are likely to proceed from the heart of the speakers.
Gaunt: "O, but they say, the tongues of dying men
Enforce attention, like deep harmony;
Where words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain ;
On the whole, it is perhaps better, while keeping an open mind on the point of their accuracy, to value historical sayingslike history for what they teach. Rousseau (Emile, 1838 ed., vol. i, p. 307) writes: "Les anciens historiens sont remplis de vues dont on pourroit faire usage quand même les faits qui les présentent seroient faux Les hommes sensés doivent regarder l'histoire comme un tissu de fables, dont la morale est très appropriée au cœur humain." Here are the sayings
fables or otherwise, partly true or wholly false-it is for my readers to draw their own moral from any of them, or draw none at all as they please. For my part, to conclude these desultory remarks-as they began---with a quotation,
I cannot tell how the truth may be ;
I say the tale as 'twas said to me.
Sir W. Scott, Lay of the Last Minstrel, ca. ii, st. 23. It only remains for me to express my indebtedness and thanks for the valuable assistance rendered me by Mr. Swan Sonnenschein, Mr. W. A. Peplow, and Mr. F. Thorold Dickson, of the Inner Temple, Barrister-at-Law.
Errors there must be in such a compilation, and particulars of any such that may be noticed will be gratefully received if forwarded through the publishers.
a battle of giants.
DUKE OF WELLINGTON (1769. 1852) - in conversation with Samuel Rogers, referring to the battle of Waterloo (June 18, 1815): in allusion to the Legendary Gigan tomachia of classical (post-Homeric) antiquity: cf. Plato, Republic 378 C; Horace, Odes iii, 1, 5-8, iii, 4, 49-58, where the giants are mentioned by name.
A bishop ought to die on his legs.
JOHN WOOLTON, Bishop of Exeter (1535-94),-Last words. See Decet imperatorem, &c; Un roi de France peut mourir, &c. It is related of Siward, Earl of Northumberland (d. 1055) that, when near his end, he put on his armour, saying that "it became not a man to die like a beast ;" and died standing. (Percy Anecdotes, vol ii, p. 102).
A bishop should die preaching.
BISHOP JEWELL (1522-71)—in reply to his friends, who were endeavouring to persuade him to desist from pulpit services owing to his state of health (Percy Anecdotes, vol. iii, p. 285).
a born gentleman.
DR SAMUEL JOHNSON (170984): "Adventitious accomplishments may be possessed by all ranks, but one may easily distinguish the born gentleman."
Above all things-Liberty.
JOHN SELDEN (1584-1654)— Motto placed by him upon his books.
.. a burglar of others' intellects.
BENJAMIN DISRAELI [Earl of Beaconsfield] (1804-81)—in a speech in the House of Commons, May 15, 1846, referring to Sir Robert Peel. Preceded by "His life has been one great Appropriation Clause"; and followed by "Search the index of Beatson from the days of the Conqueror to the termination of the last reign, there is no statesman who has committed political petty larceny on so great a scale."
in the House of Commons, May 1, 1873, referring to London.
A Conservative Government is an organized hypocrisy. BENJAMIN DISRAELI, [Earl of Beaconsfield] (1804-81)—in a debate in the House of Commons, March 17, 1845, on agricultural distress. A Conservative is only a Tory
who is ashamed of himself. J. HOOKHAM FRERE (1769-1846) -when the terms Conservative and Liberal were beginning to take the place of Tory and Whig.
a crowning mercy.
OLIVER CROMWELI. (1599-1658) -in a despatch, dated Sep. 4, 1651, announcing the preceding day's victory at Worcester: "The dimensions of this mercy are above
my thoughts. It is, for aught I know, a crowning mercy." Actors speak of things imagin
ary as if they were real, while you preachers too often speak of things real as if they were imaginary. THOMAS BETTERTON (1635-1710) -in reply to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who asked why actors were more successful than preachers in impressing their auditors.
LORD DENMAN (1779-1854)— in giving judgment in the case of O'Connell and others v. the Queen, in the House of Lords, Sept. 4, 1844. (Clark and Finnelly's Reports of Cases in the House of Lords, vol. xi, p. 351.) "If it is possible that such a practice as that which has taken place in the present instance should be allowed to pass without a remedy (and no other remedy has been suggested), trial by jury itself, instead of being a security to persons
Last words of BENJAMIN FRANKLIN (1706-90)-to his daughter, who had advised him to change his position in bed, to breathe more easily. See J'avais cru plus difficile de mourir.
a free breakfast table.
JOHN BRIGHT (1811-89)-a phrase used in addressing the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, in 1868, in favour of the repeal of the duties on tea, sugar and coffee. A friend may be often found and lost; but an old friend can never be found, and nature has provided that he cannot easily be lost.
DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON (1709-84): See A man, sir, should keep &c. After I am dead, you will find 'Calais' written upon my heart.
QUEEN MARY I (1517-58)-Last words, alluding to England's loss of that town. Another version is: "When I die, 'Calais' will be found written on my heart:" cf. "Were I to die at this moment, want of frigates' would be found stamped on my heart!" : LORD NELSON (1758-1805), in his despatches to the Admiralty (1798). (Southey, Life of Nelson, ed. 1888, p. 186)
a 'gentleman of the press.' BENJAMIN DISRAELI [Earl of Beaconsfield] (1804-81) thus styled himself in a speech in the House of Commons on England's relations with France, Feb. 18, 1853. "And
as for the Press, I am myself a 'gentleman of the Press,' and I bear no other scutcheon. I know well the circumstances under which we have obtained in this country the blessing of a free Press."
a great master of gibes and flouts and jeers.
BENJAMIN DISRAELI [Earl of Beaconsfield] (1804-81)-referring to Lord Salisbury (b. 1830) in 1874. He also spoke of him as not being a man who measures his phrases. Ah, a German and a genius! a
prodigy, admit him!
BENJAMIN WEST (1738-1820).
A little more grape, Captain Bragg !
GENERAL ZACHARY TAYLOR (1784-1850)-to Captain (afterwards General) Bragg (1815-76), at the battle of Buena Vista, Mexico, Feb. 23, 1847. Observing that a discharge of grape-shot caused the Mexicans to waver, General Taylor shouted these words.
All free governments are party governments.
PRESIDENT J. A. GARFIELD (1831-81)-in an address on the death of O. P. Morton. He also wrote "All free governments are managed by the combined wisdom and folly of the people"-in a private letter from him, dated Apr. 21, 1880. All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act is founded on compromise and barter.
EDMUND BURKE, (1729-97)—in a speech on Conciliation with America, March 22, 1775.
All human knowledge here is but methodized ignorance.