Famous Last Wishes: Franklin and Shaw

Many people have a fascination with the last wishes of well known personalities in history because they provide a glimpse into their beliefs and lives. Some of the last wishes also shed light on some of the thoughts that passed through the minds of famous people as they approached death. In this article, two men wrote their final wishes when they were aware the end was near.

George Bernard Shaw

As one of the most beloved British playwrights since the 17th century, the last wishes of George Bernard Shaw are not only of interest because of his accomplishments, but also because of what he left behind. When he died at 94 years old in 1950, Shaw had left behind three-quarters of a million dollars, which for his time, was the largest ever left by a writer. In Shaw’s will, he was tough on religion. He showed no fear that he’d offend a God whose existence he questioned.

Shaw believed that if he had a religious ceremony that he would be accepting of the beliefs of an established church. Shaw wished that no religious service be performed and another of his final wishes was that his tombstones not “take the form of a cross or any other instrument or torture or symbol of blood sacrifice.”

Benjamin Franklin

In 1790, Benjamin Franklin, one of the most well known of U.S. Presidents, died in Pennsylvania. He enjoyed a life full of making inventions and running the country. Because of Franklin, we have the bifocal spectacles, Franklin stove, and the lightning rod. With a kite and a key, he also conducted experiments to show that electricity flows with positive and negative charge. Over the course of his life, Franklin also printed publications, wrote, and dabbled in science.

Franklin sensed his end following a fall on his garden steps. It was January of 1788 and he was 82 years old. The injury left him with a recovering wrist and arm. During his recovery, he was forced to take opium for the pain of a chronic kidney stone ailment. He could barely move and needed people to transfer him from room to room while sitting in a chair. By summer, he wrote his will.

Franklin’s inventions and the money he received from writing his Poor Richard’s Almanacks meant that he left behind a nice sum of money for his children. Everyone was well provided for with the exception of his son William, who had quarreled with his father over politics. Their bitter break became evident in the will. A notable gift went to his daughter, Sarah Bache , a portrait of Louis XVI, which was set in a gold frame that had 408 diamonds as embellishments. She could have the painting if she promised not to use any of the diamonds to create jewelry.

Because of this, Franklin expressed as one of his last wishes that that in democracy, his daughter not engage in “the expensive, vain and useless pastime of wearing jewels.”