Famous Last Words: Writers/Authors

A select collection of the dying words spoken by famous writers and playwrights

Irving Gravemarker
The headstone of Washington Irving, author of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Sleepy Hollow, New York. Photo © JamesPFisherIII

Whether realized at the time they are said or only in hindsight, nearly everyone will express a word, phrase or sentence that proves the last thing he or she ever says while alive. Sometimes profound, sometimes every day, here you will find a select collection of the last words spoken by famous writers, authors, novelists, poets, philosophers and playwrights.

Jane Austen (1775-1817)
I want nothing but death.

Sir James Matthew "J.M" Barrie (1860-1937)
I can't sleep.

Dominique Bouhours (1628-1702)
Je vais ou je vas mourir, l'un et l'autre se dit ou se disent. (I am about to -- or I am going to -- die: either expression is correct.)

Bouhours, a French Jesuit priest, taught grammar and wrote several books of literary criticism that detailed how he would improve various literary phrases and examples to improve clarity. While possibly apocryphal, his last words seem quite fitting.

George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron -- Lord Byron (1788-1824)
Now I shall go to sleep. Goodnight.

Truman Capote (1924-1984)
It's me, it's Buddy... I'm cold.

The author of In Cold Blood died at the home of his friend, Joanne Carson, former wife of Johnny Carson, the late-night talk-show host. "Buddy" was the nickname given to him by a distant relative, Nanny Rumbley Faulk, when Capote was a child.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)
So, this is death.


Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (1860-1904)
It's a long time since I drank champagne.

According to an account of the Russian writer's death written by his wife, Olga Knipper, four years after her husband's death, Chekhov's doctor ordered the champagne -- possibly to help calm the writer as he lay dying from tuberculosis.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
On the ground.

The author of "A Christmas Carol" and Oliver Twist said these words to his sister-in-law after she suggested he lie down after he suffered a stroke while the pair walked outside near Dickens' home.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
Little Cousins, Called back. Emily.

Confined to her bed as she suffered from worsening kidney disease, Dickinson sent these words to her cousins in what is believed to be her last letter.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
Mehr Licht. (More light.)

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)
I am about to take my last voyage, a great leap in the dark.

Henrik Johan Ibsen (1828-1906)
Tvertimod! (Quite the contrary!)

Receiving care in his home after suffering several strokes, the Norwegian playwright reportedly uttered this response after he overheard his nurse assure a visitor that he was recovering. Ibsen died the following day.

Washington Irving (1783-1859)
Well, I must arrange my pillows for another weary night! When will this end?

Possibly apocryphal, the author reportedly said these words late in the evening of November 28, 1859, before dying of heart failure. Three days later, his remains were interred in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (see photo above) -- namesake of Irving's most famous short story, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762)
It has all been very interesting.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
Lord, help my poor soul.

Saki -- Hector Hugh Munro (1870-1916)
Put that bloody cigarette out!

Serving in the British Army during World War I, Saki (the pen name of British author Munro) uttered his last words on a French battlefield. A German sniper apparently saw the lit cigarette and/or overheard Saki's order and shot the 43-year-old. (Incidentally, there is an interesting death-related superstition revolving around soldiers lighting cigarettes on a battlefield called "Three on a Match.")

Eugene O'Neill (1888-1953)
I knew it.

I knew it. Born in a hotel room and died in a hotel room.

Recipient of both the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes, the famous playwright was born in a Times Square hotel room in New York City, New York. He whispered the above words as he lay dying in a hotel room in Boston, Massachusetts.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
Sister... you're trying to keep me alive as an old curiosity, but I'm done, I'm finished, I'm going to die.

The Irish playwright's final words are often cited as "Dying is easy, comedy is hard" (a statement oddly reminiscent of actor Edmund Gwenn's last words), but a Time magazine article published soon after Shaw's death indicates that he uttered the words above to his nurse, Gwendoline Howell, before lapsing into an unconscious state and dying the next day.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
Moose… Indian.

Dying from tuberculosis, the famous American poet, author and naturalist uttered this pair of random words while delirious. Earlier, his final coherent words appear to be, "Now comes good sailing."

Mark Twain -- Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910)
Goodbye. If we meet...

The author of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and other classic literary works reportedly said these words on his deathbed to his daughter, Clara, after clasping her hand.

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)
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.

Suffering from depression, Woolf concluded a suicide note she left for her husband with these words before drowning herself in a river near the couple's home.

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