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Subject: ‘Famous Last Words’

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Greatest of all Romans, Julius Caesar bestrode the world like a colossus

Posted in Ancient History, Famous battles, Famous crimes, Famous Last Words, Historical articles, History on Tuesday, 31 January 2012

This edited article about Ancient Rome originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 621 published on 8 December 1973.

Ides of March, picture, image, illustration

‘The Ideas of March’ by Sir Edward John Poynter, depicts  Calpurnia trying to persuade Caesar not to go to the Senate

‘This young man,’ said the Roman dictator Sulla, ‘hides the soul of a Marius.’

Marius was Sulla’s great and deadly political rival, one of the most powerful men in the Roman republic in the last century before the birth of Christ.

The tousled-haired young man of whom Sulla spoke did indeed hide the soul of a Marius. But he hid much more than that. For although the daggers of assassins were to bring the career of Gaius Julius Caesar to an untimely end, he stands as one of the few men who, single-handed, changed the history of the world.

Arguably the greatest soldier of all time, a scholar and writer of distinction, and an orator and statesman of wonderful insight, Caesar, born in the year 100 B.C., was the greatest of all the Romans.

His parents were wealthy patricians, but there was nothing aloof about young Caesar. He had a ready smile and wore his clothes carelessly. Who would not have laughed to scorn the suggestion that this relaxed and affable youth would some day be the conqueror of the world and the most powerful man in Rome?

During the civil wars between Marius, of the popular or plebeian party, and Sulla, of the aristocratic or patrician party, Caesar had to hurry into exile. This was because Sulla, during the period of his dictatorship, was brutally executing all who had supported his rival Marius.

When he returned to Rome at Sulla’s death, Caesar concealed a shrewd purpose under that smiling exterior. He had seen in exile how vast the Roman dominions had grown, and yet how corrupt was the rule of the republic in Rome. In that rule the distribution of wealth was fearfully unequal, and capital and pauperism faced each other menacingly. There was only one way to put that right, Caesar decided, and that was by the iron rule of one man.

And that one man was himself.

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The trial and execution of England’s first Utopian, Sir Thomas More

Posted in Famous crimes, Famous Last Words, Historical articles, History, Royalty, Saints on Monday, 19 December 2011

This edited article about Sir Thomas More originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 881 published on 2 December 1978.

Thomas More and Henry VIII, picture, image, illustration

Sir Thomas More and his wife entertain Henry VIII at their home in Chelsea by Ken Petts

The moment Sir Thomas More entered the courtroom, people could tell that he was a dying man. Even if he was found not guilty of high treason, and was not beheaded, his weak, shuffling walk, dim eyes, and stooped figure, signalled his impending death.

A murmur of sympathy sounded through London’s Westminster Hall, as the great statesman and writer moved slowly towards the dock. He used a stick to keep himself upright. But, even so, he twice almost fell as he faced the Court of the King’s Bench.

The Attorney-General, Sir Christopher Hale, was one of the few who did not feel sorry for the sick man. He eyed More coldly, as he told how the former Lord Chancellor had refused to take the Oath of Supremacy and accept King Henry VIII as supreme head of the English Church.

Looking much older than his 57 years, Sir Thomas listened attentively to him and replied: “Concerning the matters you now charge and challenge me with, the truth is so wordy and long that I fear that neither my wit nor my memory, nor yet my voice, will serve to make as full and sufficient an answer as the seriousness of the matter does demand.”

This short, but emotional, opening speech visibly took its toll of More, who had suffered a long and painful confinement in the Tower of London. He swayed as he addressed the jury, and was then allowed to sit down.

With effort, he continued his defence by stating: “For my taciturnity and silence, neither your law, nor any law in the world, is able justly and rightly to punish me.”

Immediately, the Attorney-General jumped to his feet protesting: “Though we have not one deed or word of yours to object to against you, yet we have your silence, which is an evident sign of the malice in your heart.”

“That is not so,” replied More, with a determined show of spirit. “He who keeps silence gives his consent. I have never openly criticised His Majesty for breaking with the Church of Rome. I have merely refused to sign an oath supporting his action.”

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Charles I betrays Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford

Posted in Famous Last Words, Historical articles, History, Politics, Royalty on Monday, 12 December 2011

This edited article about Charles I and the Earl of Strafford originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 876 published on 28 October 1978.

Earl of Strafford. picture, image, illustration

The Earl of Strafford on the way to his public execution by Hyppolyte Paul Delaroche

“He wants to be dictator of England! He’s the King’s favourite! He has his own private army and he plans to suppress the people with it!”

The awed whispers that had started in London became shouts of rage and indignation as they swept round the country. The subject of them, Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, did not bat an eyelid. He was a charmless, hard-headed Yorkshireman who never showed any emotion – so right to the end no one could honestly say whether or not he was planning to become the dictator of England.

But Strafford, called “Black Tom” by all who knew him on account of his dark hair and his gloomy, foreboding countenance, and the fact that he always wore black Puritan clothes, was certainly the King’s man. Charles the First, friendless wherever he turned as the melancholy clouds of war brooded over England, relied more and more upon Black Tom for advice. The King had made him Lord President of the North and Lord Deputy of Ireland.

Now it was rumoured that Black Tom would soon be Lord of All England. Who would have dreamed that between these two friends, the haughty Yorkshireman and the lofty King, staunchly united against the people, there would one day soon be a terrible betrayal?

In the early years of the 17th century, it was not a far-sighted man who chose to become the friend of King Charles the First. At Portsmouth, the King’s feckless favourite, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, was run through with a sword. “God bless you!” cried the people, as the murderer stood back to admire his handiwork.

For any friend of the King who believed he ruled by God’s divine right, and therefore could rule as he chose, was considered to be an enemy of the people.

Black Tom was different from the fast-spending and unscrupulous Villiers. As Leader of the House of Commons – he had become an M.P. through the wealth of his father, a Yorkshire wool-merchant – he tried to play a double game. He supported all the measures in the Commons aimed at curbing the power of the arrogant King and at the same time did his best to curry royal favour.

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Triumph and tragedy – the death of Admiral Lord Nelson

Posted in Famous battles, Famous Last Words, Famous news stories, Flags, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, War on Wednesday, 7 December 2011

This edited article about Admiral Lord Nelson originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 869 published on 9 September 1978.

Death of Nelson, picture, image, illustration

The Death of Nelson by Benjamin West

With a tremendous roar, the French ship Achille, which had been burning for an hour and a half, blew up. Her wreckage rapidly vanished beneath the waves and the Battle of Trafalgar was finally over. It was the greatest naval victory in British history since a combination of English sea dogs, fine ships and a friendly wind beat the Spanish Armada. That had been in 1588, but now it was 5 o’clock in the afternoon of 21st October, 1805, and the combined French and Spanish fleets had suffered a decisive defeat.

It was difficult in the confused aftermath of victory for the British ships to communicate with each other, but when night came a shadow fell across the hearts of every sailor in the fleet.

No admiral’s lights were to be seen aboard the flagship Victory, and soon everyone from senior captains to humble powder monkeys – the boys who carried powder to the guns – knew that their beloved commander, Admiral Lord Nelson, had been killed.

A musket ball from a French sniper, perched high in the mizzen mast of the Redoutable, had struck the Admiral’s shoulder and finally lodged in his spine; but he had lived long enough to know that his ships were completely victorious.

The consternation and grief around the fleet was best summed up by an ordinary sailor writing a letter home, which, far more than more august efforts, shows what he and his comrades had felt about Nelson:

I never set eyes on him, for which I am both sorry and glad for, to be sure, I should like to have seen him; but then, all the men in our ship who have seen him are such soft toads. They have done nothing but blast their eyes and cry ever since he was killed. God bless you chaps, that fought like the Devil and sit down and cry like a wench.

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Archimedes: Famous Last Words

Posted in Famous Last Words on Friday, 17 June 2011

Archimedes of Syracuse was a Greek mathematician, physicist, inventor and astronomer born around 287 BC. Few details of his life are known but his works are still known to this day as he founded some of the basic principals of maths and physics.

picture, Archimedes, Siege of Syracuse, Roman soldier, sword

Archimedes was killed by a Roman soldier during the siege of Syracuse

Amongst his mathematical innovations was a method to calculate the area under an arc, various formulae and a remarkably accurate approximation of pi; in physics he explained the principals of the lever and laid the foundations for studies in hydrostatics and statics. He is also credited with a number of innovative machines, including siege engines and the screw pump that carries his name.

Famously, he discovered that he could measure the density of an object by determining how much water it displaced, the principal of which he realised when he lowered himself into a bath. He took to the streets naked, excitedly shouting “Eureka!”

Archimedes died in circa  212 BC during the Siege of Syracuse, killed by a Roman soldier despite orders that he was not to be harmed. As the soldier came in to deliver his fatal blow, Archimedes asked:

“Wait until I have finished my problem.”

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Sir Isaac Pitman: Famous Last Words

Posted in Famous Last Words on Thursday, 16 June 2011

Sir Isaac Pitman is best known for his creation of a shorthand system known as Pitman shorthand. Born in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, on 4 January 1813, Pitman became a teacher and taught at a private school he founded in Wotton-under-Edge.

picture, Sir Isaac Pitman, Wotton Edge, shorthand

Sir Isaac Pitman, who opened a school in Wotton-under-Edge to teach his newly developed shorthand. Illustration by Angus McBride

Active in the local church where he lived in Bath, Pitman was a non-drinker and vegetarian who distributed books and tracts locally, especially about his fascination for the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. He developed his system of shorthand which he first described in his book Stenographic Shorthand, published in 1837. To capitalise on its success, he set up Pitman Training, a company to provide training in office skills, at first teaching only men.

Pitman died on 12 January 1897, having left a message to those who might be interested:

To those who ask how Isaac Pitman passed away, say “Peacefully, and with no more concern than passing from one room to another to take up some further employment.

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Oliver Goldsmith: Famous Last Words

Posted in Famous Last Words on Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Oliver Goldsmith was an Anglo-Irish author, poet and physician, born in Ballymahon, Co. Longford, Ireland, on 10 November 1730, although some sources give his birthplace as Elphin, Co. Roscommon, and the date is also also disputed.

picture, Oliver Goldsmith, portrait

A portrait of the author Oliver Goldsmith

Goldsmith was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and University of Leiden, before travelling around Europe earning a crust by playing his flute and busking. Returning to England, he made his name as a writer; some of his better known works including the novel The Vicar of Wakefield and the plays The Good-Natur’d Man and She Stoops to Conquer.

Disorganised and always in debt because of an addiction to gambling, Goldsmith died on 4 April 1774, aged only 43. At the end, a doctor asked “Is your mind at ease?”, to which Goldsmith replied:

“No, it is not.”

Many more pictures relating to authors and their works can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

Charles Dickens: Famous Last Words

Posted in Famous Last Words on Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Charles Dickens has proven to be one of the most popular writers of all time, his works constantly in print since they appeared in the 1830s to 1860s.

picture, Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, David Copperfield

Charles Dickens surrounded by scenes with some of his famous characters. Illustration by Ralph Bruce

Born in Landport, Portsmouth, on 7 February 1812, Charles John Huffam Dickens, first came to London aged three where his father at first worked in the Navy Pay Office, but ended up in debt and in prison. Charles fortunately did not share the imprisonment of the rest of his family and instead was raised by a Mrs. Roylance, a friend of the family.

He worked 10 hours a day at Warren’s Blacking Warehouse, putting labels on shoe polish, and these early experiences greatly influenced Dickens who infused his novels with social messages about the inequality and squalour faced by the working classes.

Dickens’s novels include such famous works as The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop, Barnaby Rudge, A Christmas Carol, Martin Chuzzlewit, Dombey and Son, David Copperfield, Bleak House, Hard Times, Little Dorrit, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend and the novel he never completed,The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Dickens died following a stroke on  9 June 1870, aged 58. His last words were reported by The Times to have been:

“Be natural my children. For the writer that is natural has fulfilled all the rules of art.”

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George Crabbe: Famous Last Words

Posted in Famous Last Words on Monday, 13 June 2011

The English poet and naturalist George Crabbe was born in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, on Christmas Eve, 1754, and developed his love of poetry as a child. He became apprenticed to a local doctor but was more interested in writing and chose that as a career after finishing his training.

picture, George Crabbe, portrait

A portrait of George Crabbe, after a painting by T. Phillips

He struggled – as do many novice writers – and was ordained as a clergyman. His best known works were The Village (1783) and The Borough (1810), the latter the inspiration for Benjamin Britten’s opera, Peter Grimes. In 1814, he became Rector of Trowbridge in Wiltshire, where he remained until his death on 3 February 1832. He died claiming:

“All is well.”

Many more pictures relating to authors and their works can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

William Blake: Famous Last Words

Posted in Famous Last Words on Sunday, 12 June 2011

William Blake was an English poet and painter, whose work went largely unrecognised during his lifetime but who is now recognised as a seminal figure in the Romantic Age.

picture, William Blake, portrait

A portrait of poet and artist William Blake, after a portrait by T. Phillips

Born on 28 November 1757, he lived in London for all but three years of his life. The son of a hosier, he began engraving copies of drawings of Green antiquities bought by his father, who sent his to drawing classes and apprenticed him to an engraver. In 1779 he became a student at the Royal Academy.

His most ambitious work was Jerusalem, which he wrote and illustrated between 1804 and 1820. The famous hymn of the same name has no connection, but does begin “And did those feet in ancient times,” lifted from the preface of Blake’s Milton: a Poem. Blake was working on a series of engravings based on Dante’s Divine Comedy when he died in 1827, aged 69, his last words said to have been to his wife:

“Stay, Kate! Keep just as you are – I will draw your portrait  – for you have ever been an angel to me.”

He drew the portrait and, singing hymns and praising the saints, died.

Many more pictures relating to authors and their works can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.