Who said 'I should have drunk more champagne'? Did Nelson really utter 'Kiss me Hardy' from his deathbed? Which statesman was, at the end, 'bored with it all'? Which king begged, 'Let not poor Nelly starve ...' An extraordinary number of deathbed sayings have been recorded over the years, some proving irresistible to embellishment, others displaying wry humour, still more showing remarkable lucidity in the final hours of life. The last words of politicians, kings, queens, actors, philosophers, scientists and writers are sometimes profound, sometimes prescient, often strange, funny and usually poignant. They can reveal the essence of an extraordinary life or tell us something about a celebrated person's final hours. In our ultimate moments, it seems, we are not averse to cracking a joke, losing our temper or begging for help from those we are leaving behind. The most interesting, controversial and insightful of these exit lines are collected here, from deathbed desperation to the fondest of farewells.
Claire Cock-Starkey was series editor of Schott's Almanac, her latest book How to Skin a Lion was published in 2015.