The last words of the famous can be touching and sometimes funny, but one cannot always be certain they were the real thing, or are simply words attributed to them by tradition and popular acceptance.
“Kiss me, Hardy,” Admiral Nelson is reported to have said to his second-in-command, as he lay dying aboard his embattled flagship Victory. “Nonsense,” said my old friend, Sir Edmund Gibson, who was something of a history buff. “Nelson wasn’t like that. What he said was: ‘Kismet, Hardy’ (Fate, Hardy).” No doubt Nelson had picked up the expression ‘kismet’ in the course of his naval campaign off Egypt.
Dear old Sir Edmund, who lived to be 84, often said: “Growing old is a rotten business, Ruskin. Don’t even think about it.” Well, it’s too late now. I have to start thinking about it.
William Pitt the Younger is supposed to have uttered these touchingly patriotic last words: “Oh, my country! How I love my country!” In actual...