Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice

January 11, 2004|By Michael Pakenham

Farewell, Godspeed: The Greatest Eulogies of Our Time, edited by Cyrus M. Copeland. Harmony Books. 336 pages. $18.95.

At first blush -- first chill? -- the idea may seem lugubrious, the contents depressing. Sixty-four funereal tributes to notable women and men of the last couple of generations are an awful lot of sadness. But no. The departeds range from Karl Marx (by Friedrich Engels) to Virginia Woolf (by Christopher Isherwood), from Henry Ford (by Edgar A. Guest) to Robert Frost (by John F. Kennedy). Each is accompanied by a crisp biographical chronology, in case you miss the importance. A few are mawkish. A few others may anger or appall (Fidel Castro on Che Guevara is a bit more than I could take). But by and large, read through selectively or as a sort of staccato narrative, they are informative and often eloquently, sometimes magnificently so. It is impossible to read the tributes and contemplate the lives then just ended without feeling immense pride of the accomplishments and humanity of people of accomplishment. And it is impossible to read many of them without weeping, a nourishing experience of humility.

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