Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Last Words of George Buchanan?

Father Garasse, quoted in The Dictionary Historical and Critical of Mr. Peter Bayle, 2nd ed., Vol. II (London: Printed for J.J. and P. Knapton..., 1735), p. 181:
I will tell our new Atheists the wretched end of a Man of their Belief and Humour, as to eating and drinking. It was George Buchanan, a perfect Epicure during his Life, and a perfect Atheist at his Death. This Libertine, having spent his Youth in Debauchery at Paris, and at Bourdeaux, more sollicitous after the Ivy of an Alehouse, and the Bush of a Tavern, than after the Laurels of Parnassus, and being called back to Scotland towards the latter part of his Days, to instruct the young Prince, who is at present the Most Serene King of Great Britain, continuing his gluttonous Courses, fell into a Dropsy by drinking, tho' it was said of him by way of banter, that his Distemper was, vino intercute, not aqua intercute. How sick so ever he was, he abstained no more from drinking Bumpers, than when he was in Health, and drank his Wine as pure as he formerly did at Bourdeaux. The Physicians, who visited him by Order of the King their Master, seeing their Patient's Excess, told him plainly and angrily, that he did what he could to destroy himself, and that, in his way of living, he could not hold out above fourteen Days or three Weeks at longest. He desired them to call a Consultation to know how long he might live, in case he abstained from Wine; they did so, and the result was, that he might live five or six Years longer, if he could command himself so long; upon which he made an Answer agreeable to his humour. Get you gone, said he, with your Prescriptions, and your Course of Diet, and know, that I would rather live three Weeks and be drunk every Day, than six Years without drinking Wine; and immediately discharging his Physicians, like a desperate Man, he ordered a hogshead of Graves Wine to be set at his Bed's head, resolving to see the bottom of it before he died, and behaved himself so valiantly, that he emptied it to the Lees, literally fulfilling the Contents of that pretty Epigram of Epigonus concerning a Frog, which, being fallen into a Hogshead of Wine cried out,
                                    φεύ τίνες ὕδωρ
πίνουσι μανίην σώφρονα μαινόμενοι.

Alas! some drink Water, being sober mad.
When he had Death and the Glass between his Lips, the Ministers made him a Visit to settle his Mind, and prepare him to die with some Sentiments of Religion: One of them exhorted him to repeat the Lord's-Prayer; and he opening his Eyes, and looking sternly at the Minister, What is that, said he, that you call the Lord's-Prayer? The Standers by answered, That it was the Pater-noster; and that if he could not say that Prayer, they desired him at least to say some other Christian Prayer, that he might go out of the World like a good Man: As for me, said he, in his undisturbed and perfect Senses, I never knew any other Prayer than this:
Cinthia prima suis miserum me cepit ocellis
  Contactum nullis ante cupidinibus.

I who to Love a Stranger e'er had been,
Cinthia's sparkling Eyes was first enslav'd.
And scarce had he repeated ten or twelve Verses of that Elegy of Propertius, when he expired among the Glasses and Pints; so that it may truly be said of him, purpuream vomit ille animam: and such is commonly the End of all Epicures.
Doubtless an exaggerated and unreliable account, but the description of the unrepentant humanist quoting Propertius on his deathbed is interesting. The French can be found in François Garasse, Doctrine Curieuse des Beaux Esprits de ce Temps (Paris: Sébastien Chappelet, 1623), pp. 748-750.

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