In a Box

Deborah Friedell

George Washington’s last words to his physician were ‘do not let my body be put into the vault in less than two days after I am dead.’ That wouldn’t have been enough for Schopenhauer, who made his undertakers wait five days, or for Gogol, who didn’t want to be buried until he started putrefying. Chopin was dissected at his own request, as was King Leopold I of Belgium. Hans Christian Andersen, convinced that foreign doctors were all charlatans, carried a card when he went abroad that said ‘I am not really dead.’ In the same will in which he established the Nobel prizes, Alfred Nobel also required that his arteries be opened after his death, just in case. Harriet Martineau bequeathed ten guineas to the doctor willing to decapitate her; for others, the amputation of fingers or toes would do.

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