That squib on Sir Lancelot set me thinking of other famous life-assessments. Here are a couple of perhaps the best known. First, this:
He was a man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again.
Perhaps better supported is Plato’s final assessment of Socrates—or Plato’s through the voice of the narrator of the Phaedo. Much or most of Plato’s work was dedicated to the task of memorializing his great master, so he surely feels he had justified this verdict:
Such was the end, Echecrates, of our friend, whom I may truly call the wisest, and justest, and best of all the men whom I have ever known.
(This Jowett translation has always seemed a bit flat to me, but it is the easiest to find on the Internet, perhaps not least because it is out of copyright.)
Not all assessments are so positive. Here is Hamlet again, in his mother’s bedchamber, having run his sword through Polonius behind the arras:
Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell!
I took thee for thy better:
But perhaps my particular favorite is the memorial of a man who seems to have been beyond all praise or blame. This is a log entry from the HMS Victory near the end of the battle of Trafalgar:
Partial firing continued until 4.30 p.m., when, a victory having been reported to the Right Hon. Lord Nelson, K.B., and Commander-in-Chief, he died of his wounds.