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Amazing Famous Last Words

Updated on May 22, 2010

Famous Last Words

After the resounding success of my previous entry (top quotes ever) I have decided to write about my favorite selection of famous last words by once again looking at the life and context of the lives of those who spoke them, as well as the words themselves and the effect they have had on society as a whole.

I have tried my best to offer as diverse a selection as possible, from the gripping to the humorous to the inspiring. I have also tried to ignore phrases which are based on tenuous evidence -- with the exception of a quote which I hope you'll excuse me for adding despite its questionable relevance, but I couldn't resist!

Now onwards!

The Quote

"I am not the least afraid to die."

Charles Darwin (1809-1882)

At first glance, the quote appears relatively mundane and straight-forward -- if rather ballsy. I freely admit that this quote's beauty may be purely subjective, the essence of its inspiration and poignancy lies at the heart of the often-debated critique of morality and existentialism. But more on that in a minute.

After having published his controversial and ground-breaking book "The Origin of Species" in 1859, Darwin would spent much of the rest of his life debating theistic evolution and design with liberal clergymen and the Church of England.

The reason I mention this is to highlight the remarkably changed man he would become. Preceding the heady days of natural selection and common ancestry, Darwin was a young man who took the bible and its contents literally.

"DURING THESE two years I was led to think much about religion. Whilst on board the Beagle I was quite orthodox, and I remember being heartily laughed at by several of the officers (though themselves orthodox) for quoting the Bible as an unanswerable authority on some point of morality." From Darwin's autobiography.

Twenty years later, Darwin would have become the negative of his earlier convictions, which, whether you agree with his philosophy or not, requires courage and strength. The beauty of this quote lies in both the times and this remarkable reversal of beliefs. In an age where religion still claimed moral exclusivity, Atheism would have been regarded as a sad and nihilistic philosophy. Especially having once, as Darwin had, tasted from the cup of immortality that theism offered its believers. 

In claiming that he was not afraid to die, I believe that Darwin saw the importance in standing for the beauty of a material creation, that a short, furious life as envisioned by Darwinists is neither morally ambiguous or gray. 

The Quote

"They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist…"

General John B. Sedgwick (1813-1864)

It would be unfair to General Sedgwick to affirm that he is most famous for his unfortunate last words (the context of which should be fairly self-explanatory).

The full ironic proceedings as listed as follows, courtesy of Wikipedia's mirthful explanation of his last famous words:

"His corps was probing skirmish lines ahead of the left flank of Confederate defenses and he was directing artillery placements. Confederate sharpshooters were about 1,000 yards (910 m) away and their shots caused members of his staff and artillerymen to duck for cover.

Sedgwick strode around in the open and was quoted as saying, "What? Men dodging this way for single bullets? What will you do when they open fire along the whole line? I am ashamed of you. They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance." Although ashamed, his men continued to flinch and he repeated, "I'm ashamed of you, dodging that way. They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance."

Just seconds later he fell forward with a bullet hole below his left eye."

To his credit, "Uncle John" as he was fondly named by the army, was revered for his care and respect for his soldiers. He was a solid and dependable General whose death, according to Lieutenant General Ulysses Grant, was equivalent to that of an entire division.

An embarrassing state of affairs

The Quote

"This is no time to make new enemies." 


Voltaire (1694-1778)

Volatire's notoriety derives from his writings on philosophy and civil liberty and his critique of the established religious order. Despite the controversy he created throughout his life by critisizing the church, Voltaire was a form of Pantheist and at the age of 83, believing he was about to die he was quoted as saying:

"I die adoring God, loving my friends, not hating my enemies, and detesting superstition.".

But fortunately for both us and him, he recovered his strength after his crippling journey and life went on as heartily as ever(he had better in store for us).

His life was one of constant friction of authority, an authority which included the influence and control of the church. His letters, poetry and prose made fun of religious morality and exposed the oppression that the church exerted on society.

The beauty of this quote lies in remaining true, to the very end, to his convictions. Before Voltaire died, he was asked by a priest on his deathbed to renounce Satan. The answer was the quote in question: "This is no time for making new enemies".

I can think of no better way for Voltaire to have secured his legacy and cemented his character for eons to come.

The Quote

"Don't disturb my circles!"

Archimedes (287-212 BC)

Without a doubt my favorite quote of them all. In short, Archimedes was and is one of the most influential interdisciplinary geniuses of all time. his list of accomplishments is simply to great to list in a mere hub, so I will save my hand and instead direct you to a separate and entirely serviceable link if you are curious about just how much this man was able to pioneer.

List of accomplishments: Archimedes.

Now, to the quote itself. Preceding the death of Archimedes, his town of Syracuse was in the sights of the Roman empire. Archimedes's fascination with mechanics and siege engines cost the Roman invasion dearly. Ultimately, the Romans resorted to trickery, by attacking during a holiday in order to overrun the city of Syracuse.

Archimedes, who was absorbed with his work, failed to realize that his city had fallen and continued to work on his drawings on the ground.The story leading up to his famous last words was summarized by Plutarch as follows:

"But nothing afflicted Marcellus so much as the death of Archimedes, who was then, as fate would have it, intent upon working out some problem by a diagram, and having fixed his mind alike and his eyes upon the subject of his speculation, he never noticed the incursion of the Romans, nor that the city was taken. In this transport of study and contemplation, a soldier, unexpectedly coming up to him, commanded him to follow to Marcellus; which he declining to do before he had worked out his problem to a demonstration, the soldier, enraged, drew his sword and ran him through." Plutarch (AD 45-120)

Temporarily removed

I've had to remove the 5th entry, and will have it up as soon as possible! Sorry!

Have you ever thought about what your last words should be?

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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I like Saki's (Hector Hugh Munro's) last words. He was on the trenches during the first World War. His last words were: "Put that bloody cigarette out!".

    • QudsiaP1 profile image


      7 years ago

      Well, who really knows of the circumstances around their death; still I hope that if my last words are awesome; someone should record it and in the event I say some thing foolish; the people around me should be deaf.

    • edelhaus profile image


      7 years ago from Munich, Germany

      What a great hub! Your evaluation of the quotes and their history was fascinating. thank you.

    • Positive Muse profile image

      Positive Muse 

      8 years ago from Flagstaff, AZ

      Enjoyed them all. Can't wait to see what #5 will be!

    • Tim Blackstone profile image

      Tim Blackstone 

      8 years ago

      My last words may be, "What was the 5th Quote?"

      An interesting hub. Thanks

    • chgfocus profile image


      8 years ago

      What a great piece and a joy to read an intelligent and thoughtful piece of writing!


    • vlind profile image


      8 years ago

      This is great! Thanks for sharing!

    • Jarrod1240 profile image


      8 years ago

      This was interesting...I never knew the last words of any of these people and it makes one ponder the eternity of legacy and one's place in history...thank you for this hub.

    • thooghun profile imageAUTHOR

      James D. Preston 

      8 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Haha great comment ltfawkes

    • ltfawkes profile image


      8 years ago from NE Ohio

      General John B. Sedgwick is my new all-time favorite historical figure. I'm still lau . . . argh. Thanks.


    • myownworld profile image


      8 years ago from uk

      Brilliant hub....and a fascinating read. Voltaire last words were the most wonderful of all....

    • RGNestle profile image


      8 years ago from Seattle

      Mind that bus!

      What bus?


      Potential famous last words as quoted from "Red Dwarf".

      I wouldn't have thought about famous last words as a history lesson. Glad you did!

    • profile image

      flying dutchess 

      8 years ago from Nigeria

      am not a history buff but excellent hub

    • beoutside profile image


      8 years ago from alabama

      this is an excellent hub, Im very impressed. funny, interesting, and knowledgeable. not a common combination. congrats, you earned another follower

    • jlwhets profile image


      8 years ago from West Branch, Iowa

      Excellent words, great layout!

    • sajal.mark profile image


      8 years ago from Bangladesh

      Really enjoyed it. Thanks and waiting for more like this one.

    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 

      8 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Very interesting hub.

    • profile image

      Butterman Jones 

      8 years ago from Logan, Ohio

      General Sedgwick's is by far one of the funniest I've ever heard. Great Job

    • Shinkicker profile image


      8 years ago from Scotland

      Great Hub

      I enjoye reading this very much


    • pinkboxer profile image


      8 years ago from Louisiana

      A perfect blend of history, humor, and relevance. Archimedes' quote is the absolute best!

    • oishi profile image


      8 years ago

      Very interesting. I read about the Archimedes one long back and that's the best. Thanks for the nice post.

    • WA Christopher J. profile image

      WA Christopher J. 

      8 years ago from First American Ruins, MI

      Haha. "They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist…" is the perfect way to go.

    • Petra Vlah profile image

      Petra Vlah 

      8 years ago from Los Angeles

      Just as great as the one with famous quotes. I will be back to read the fifth one. Thank you again

    • DustinsMom profile image


      8 years ago from USA

      Another great hub packed full of information!

    • The Design Mommy profile image

      The Design Mommy 

      8 years ago from Los Angeles

      Fantastic idea for a hub! I am a history buff and definitely appreciate the information you provided on each of the depictions. Well done!


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