He Can’t Say That, Can He?

Curt-lineby Curt Kovener

In this business there are sometimes things people say that make me do a double take. “Did they really mean to say that?” I think to myself.

Then there are those quotes that make me think “Durn, I wish I had said that.”

It is on that latter premise that this week’s tome is focused. But much of the work was already done by Kentucky writer and historian Bill Ellis whose essay in Kentucky Monthly highlighted memorable quotations.

George Washington in his 1796 farewell address warned “Steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.” That 230 year old advice of the Father of our Country should be heeded in today’s world.

In 1820, Thomas Jefferson, who owned nearly 600 slaves at one time, understood the impossibility of devising a plan to free all of his slaves or end the institution peaceably when he wrote “We have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him nor safely let him go.” And such is our situation in Iraq and Syria.

Andrew Jackson, who had profound hatred for his southern contemporaries John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay, allegedly said on his deathbed “My only regrets are that I did not hang Calhoun and shoot Clay.”

Death is final but sometimes the literary post-mortems are funny.

When told of an illness of a person he did not like journalist Irvin S. Cobb reportedly quipped, “I have just heard of his illness. Let’s hope it is nothing trivial.”

Mark Twain, who had plenty of quotations, once said about the death of a nemesis, “I did not attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.”

Acerbic attorney Clarence Darrow had similar sentiments when he said “I’ve never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.”

Then there is the story attributed to historian Thomas D. Clark: “An old man who died had not lived an exemplary life. The funeral would be large owing to his multitudinous family. But it was difficult to find a minister to officiate owing to the irascible nature of the old man. But a young pastor, new to the community, jumped at the chance to deliver an oration. He highly praised the deceased, claiming the man had lived a life of self-sacrifice and sobriety, had given sacrificially to the church, and had been a friend of man and beast alike. When the preacher stopped to catch his breath, the widow nudged a son sitting beside her, saying ‘Go up there and see if that’s your Pap in that coffin’.”

To close this column which started out with quotes but seems to have ended on death, let me leave you with a title of a book by the late southern writer Lewis Grizzard: “Elvis Is Dead, and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself.”