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S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.


  • [J. C. Friedrich von Schiller, born at Marbach, Wurtemberg, 1759; wrote “The Robbers,” 1777; removed to Mannheim, thence to Leipsic and Jena, where he became professor of history; completed “Wallenstein,” 1799; produced other dramatic works, concluding with “William Tell,” from that time to 1804; died 1805.]
  • One look at the sun.

  • These last words of Schiller, einen Blick in die Sonne, have often been placed side by side with Goethe’s “More light” (vide). They are equally unauthentic; although Mrs. Austin, the German scholar and translator, wrote Carlyle, as he says in a letter to his brother, July 2, 1832, that Goethe’s last words were, “Open the window-shutters, that I may have more light” (Macht die Fensterladen auf, damit ich mehr Licht bekomme.—FROUDE: Life of Carlyle, ii. 241. But Hertslet, in his very interesting and amusing “Treppen witz der Weltgeschichte,” asserts that Schiller, on the day before his death, asked to see the sun. According to Immermann (Memorabilien, Hamburg, 1840–43, iii. 165), Goethe fell into a soft slumber at last, and said nothing, so that his daughter-in-law, Ottilie von Goethe, who was present, was not aware of the moment of his death. The supposed last words of Goethe may have been attributed to Schiller. There is no authority for the latter’s final saying, “Many things are growing plain and clear to me.” Düntzer (“Life of Schiller,” 1883) says, that during his delirium, from May 5 to 9, 1805, the poet repeated passages from his “Demetrius,” and that before falling asleep he called out, “Is that your hell? Is that your heaven?” and then looked upward with a calm smile. “Dear, good one” (Liebe, gute), addressed to his wife, were the last words he uttered before falling into the final sleep, during which he had been left alone. Hegel’s last words were also invented: “Only one of my pupils has understood me, and he has misunderstood me.” No authority except tradition can be given of the last words of Louis XIII. (vide). Equally unworthy of belief are the words put into the mouth of John Huss at the stake, “Sancta simplicitas!” as well as the pun on the words “goose” and “swan” (vide). They are not mentioned by credible historians, and the pun was invented centuries after Huss to connect him with Luther. Equally impossible is it that the dying Rabelais ordered a domino to be thrown over him because the Bible says, Beati qui moriuntur in Domino. That pun, and all the “last words” put into his mouth by Freigius in the first volume of his “Commentaries on Cicero,” as well as his celebrated testament, “I have nothing; I owe much; the rest I give to the poor,” are inventions. Of these and many such may be said, “They o’erstep the modesty of nature.” Equally due to later inventive genius are the last words attributed to Frederick the Great (vide); and those others: “I am tired of ruling over slaves” (Ich bin es salt über Sklaven zu herrschen), which are probably derived from a letter of the king to Baron v. d. Goltz, Aug. 1, 1786, wherein he says that certain peasants must have the fee of their farms, because they ought not to be slaves. Another saying may with greater credibility be assigned to Frederick in regard to the natural and geographical influence of France over Europe: “Were I king of France, not a shot should be fired in Europe without my permission” (Wenn ich König von Frankreich wäre, so dürfte ohne meine Erlaubniss kein Kanonensschuss in Europa fallen). The last words of William Pitt were reported by the Hon. J. H. Stanhope as, “How I love my country!” (vide); but upon re-examination of Mr. Stanhope’s manuscript, his relative, Earl Stanhope, Pitt’s biographer, had no doubt that the word “love” was a mistake for “leave,” which made the statesman’s dying utterance in perfect conformity, says Timbs (“Historic Ninepins,” 205), with the state of national affairs at that time. But, on the other hand, because it is perfectly natural, Schlegel may have uttered the closing “Aber-” (“But-”) to a long career of criticism. The text and significance of veritable “last words” are also often unduly enlarged. Thus those of Marshal Saxe are given as, “The dream has been short, but it has been beautiful;” whereas he really said to his physician, M. de Senac, “I have had a beautiful dream.” There is no doubt, however, of the last word accompanying the noble act of Arria, wife of Cæcina Pætus, condemned to death A.D. 42, who stabbed herself to give courage and fortitude to her husband, saying, as she handed him the dagger, “Pætus, it is not painful” (Pæte, non dolet); and Flavius Subrius, also put to death by order of Nero, being told to stretch out his neck manfully, replied, “I hope thou mayst strike as manfully.” It was said in the spirit of Giordano Bruno to the judges who convicted him of heresy, Feb. 9, 1600: “You are more afraid to pronounce my sentence than I am to receive it.” They were the last words he spoke in public. (To Bruno must be assigned the first use of the Italian proverb, Se non è vero, è ben trovato, attributed to Cardinal d’Este [vide]. It occurs in Bruno’s “Gli Eroici Furori,” 1585, Part II., Dialogue 3, in the form, Se non è vero, è molto ben trovato.) The last word of the Emperor Septimius Severus, on his death-bed at York, whither he had been borne on a litter from the foot of the Grampians, “Laboremus” (“Let us be doing:” vide), indicated the constant toil by which alone the Roman Empire was to be preserved. Sir Walter Scott said, after his first stroke of paralysis, “If I were to be idle, I should go mad;” and he had a maxim, “Never be doing nothing.” The saying of Louis XIV., “It is by toil that kings reign” (C’est par le travail qu’on règne), may be put with Voltaire’s “Always at work” (Toujours au travail). Bossuet was so distinguished in college for his ardor in study, that the other students called him Bos-suetus aratro, “the ox accustomed to the plough.” “My life is nothing but toyle,” wrote Hampden to his mother.