We select some of literature’s most memorable farewells, from Byron to James Joyce.


  “Come, come, no weakness; let’s be a man to the last!”




  Byron was attended by two young doctors on his death bed in Missolonghi. Faced with the terrible problem of treating a world-famous figure for an illness which neither knew anything about, they fell back on the usual treatment of the time—to bleed the patient and so reduce his fever. Byron resisted, saying that there had been “more deaths by lancet than by the lance”, but gave in when warned that the disease could “deprive him of reason”. The weakened poet sank into unconsciousness and died under his terrified doctors’ hands.


  “I must go in; the fog is rising.”




  Dickinson’s health declined sharply over the last years of her life, until she finally became confined to her bed and was only able to write brief notes. According to her niece, Martha, her “briefest last message” was reminiscent of “an oft-repeated family caution, ‘it was already growing damp.’” Her physician gave the cause of death as Bright’s disease, a kidney ailment now called nephritis.


  “What’s that? Do I look strange?”




  In poor health from 1880, Stevenson had settled in Samoa in 1890 to recuperate, but probably died of a cerebral haemorrhage. According to his biographer, “At sunset he came downstairs … talked of a lecturing tour to America that he was eager to make, ‘as he was now so well,’ … suddenly he put both hands to his head, and cried out, ‘What’s that?’ Then he asked quickly, ‘Do I look strange?’ Even as he did so he fell on his knees beside her. He was helped into the great hall … losing consciousness instantly, as he lay back in the armchair that had once been his grandfather’s …”


  “It’s a long time since I drank champagne.”




  Terminally ill, he went with his wife Olga to Badenweiler. Later she recalled his dying moments: “Anton sat up unusually straight and said loudly and clearly (although he knew almost no German): ‘Ich sterbe (I’m dying).’ The doctor calmed him, took a syringe, gave him an injection of camphor, and ordered champagne. Anton took a full glass, examined it, smiled at me and said: ‘It’s a long time since I drank champagne.’ He drained it, lay quietly on his left side, and I just had time to run to him and lean across the bed and call to him, but he had stopped breathing and was sleeping peacefully as a child …”

  契诃夫在病重的后期和妻子奥尔佳一起去了巴登韦勒(编者注:德国的一处疗养胜地)。她后来回忆起他临终时的情形:“安东坐得异常地笔直,用洪亮且清晰的声音说(虽然他基本不会说德语) :‘Ich sterbe. (我要死了。)’医生帮他镇定下来,拿来注射器,给他打了一针莰酮减轻疼痛,并点了一杯香槟酒。安东拿起满满一杯酒,仔细看了看,微笑着对我说:‘我很久没有喝香槟了。’他把酒喝得干干净净,然后静静地朝左侧卧躺下,而我只来得及跑到他身边,俯身趴在床上喊他,可他已经停止了呼吸,像个孩子一样平静地睡去……”

  “Death, the only immortal, who treats us alike, whose peace and refuge are for all. The soiled and the pure, the rich and the poor, the loved and the unloved.”




  After suffering a heart attack in Bermuda, Twain went back to his Connecticut home to recover. Having predicted in 1909 that he would “go out” with Halley’s comet—which appeared in the year of his birth—he died the day after the comet’s closest approach to Earth. According to Albert Bigelow Paine he said “Goodbye”, and Dr Quintard, “who was standing near, thought he added ‘If we meet’—but the words were very faint.”


  “We all reveal… our manifestations… This manifestation is over … That’s all.”




  Tolstoy left his estate, aged 82, to begin a new life as a peasant. Reaching the small town of Astapovo he contracted pneumonia, and died a few days later in the stationmaster’s house. According to the stationmaster, his last words were: “But the peasants … how do the peasants die?” His friend Vladimir Chertkov preferred to remember something from the night before. “He was lying on his back, breathing heavily … and all of a sudden—as if arguing with himself—broke out in a loud voice: ‘We all reveal … our manifestations … This manifestation is over … That’s all.’”


  “I feel certain that I’m going mad again …”




  Fearing that she was on the brink of the latest in a series of breakdowns, Woolf committed suicide by loading her pockets full of stones and wading into the River Ouse. Her suicide note told her husband that she would rather die than endure another such episode. “I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do … I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. V.”


  “Does nobody understand?”




  Joyce died in Zurich, two days after surgery for a perforated ulcer. The Irish government declined his wife’s offer to repatriate his remains. According to Richard Ellmann, a Catholic priest tried to convince his widow that there should be a funeral Mass. She replied: “I couldn’t do that to him.”




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