My Only Regret Is That I Have Not Drunk More Champagne In My Life

John Maynard Keynes? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Quotations that were supposedly spoken by famous people shortly before death are notoriously unreliable. I heard that the prominent economist John Maynard Keynes on his deathbed was asked whether he had any regrets, and he said something like:

I should have drunk more champagne.
I only wish I had drunk more champagne.
My only regret in life is that I did not drink more champagne.
My only regret is that I have not drunk more champagne in my life.

Is one of these quotations accurate, and when was it said?

Quote Investigator: There is evidence that Keynes made a remark similar to this, but he was not speaking from his deathbed. Keynes attended King’s College, a constituent college of the University of Cambridge in England. He maintained a strong connection to the College throughout his life. For many years he was a lecturer in economics at Cambridge, and he also acted as Bursar for King’s College.

After the death of Keynes in 1946 a memoir was prepared by direction of the Council of King’s College and was published in 1949. This memoir included an instance of the quotation: 1

His own leisure was admirably as it was variously employed: in inspecting his pigs; in attending a sale of pictures; in perusing (unlike some bibliophiles) a minor Elizabethan poet, his latest acquisition; in listening to a piano recital, recumbent in a box of the theatre he had built; in gossip and good talk and a glass of wine. ‘My only regret’, he said at the close of a College feast, ‘is that I have not drunk more champagne in my life.’ And so it was that he knew what leisure could give and desired that all should share the gift.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1965 Time magazine referred to the words of Keynes and said they were spoken “shortly before his death”: 2

His only regret in life, said Keynes shortly before his death of a heart attack, was that he had not drunk more champagne.

In 1972 The Times of London published a biographical essay about Keynes by Roy Jenkins. The article mentioned that Noel Annan heard the quotation spoken by Keynes at a Feast: 3

He spent some time in Cambridge, and told Noel Annan at a King’s Feast that one of the few regrets of his life was that he had not drunk more champagne;…

In 1975 the collection “Essays on John Maynard Keynes” was published, and the editor was the nephew of the famed economist. The volume included an essay by George Rylands, a literary scholar and theatre director, who knew Keynes at Cambridge. Rylands stated that he heard the quote from Keynes, and it is possible that more than one person heard the remark at the Feast: 4 5

Nearly twenty-five years later, next to me at a College Feast, he voiced his one regret that he had not drunk more champagne in his life.

In 1981 the top-selling author George J. W. Goodman writing under the pseudonym Adam Smith in “Paper Money” presented an instance of the quote. Goodman also used the phrase “at his death” to describe the setting: 6

He married a ballet dancer and managed a ballet company. He was a successful financial speculator and the chairman of an insurance company, as well as a director of other companies. When, at his death, he was asked what he regretted, he said he wished he had drunk more champagne.

In 1984 Time magazine referred to the words of Keynes again and specified the chronology with the phrase: “shortly before his 1946 death”: 7

So full were his days on earth that Keynes was able to recall only one regret shortly before his 1946 death: he was sorry, he said, not to have drunk more champagne.

In 2008 the Daily Mail newspaper of London printed the quotation and specified that Keynes was on his deathbed: 8

He was no scholarly drudge, though, but a lover of beauty and pleasure. (Asked on his deathbed, in 1946, whether he had any regrets, he was said to have remarked: ‘I should have drunk more champagne.’)

In conclusion, the best citation in 1949 indicated that Keynes said “My only regret is that I have not drunk more champagne in my life” during a College Feast at King’s College, Cambridge. The citations in 1972 and 1975 supported this setting. Keynes may have made the remark more than once; however, QI has located no substantive evidence that he said it on his deathbed.

(Great thanks to Skylar for providing QI with access to the 1949 memoir.)

Notes:

  1. 1949, John Maynard Keynes, 1883-1946, Fellow and Bursar, (A memoir prepared by direction of the Council of King’s College, Cambridge University, England), Quote Page 37, Printed at the University Press, Cambridge, Printed for King’s College, Cambridge University, Great Britain. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1965 December 31, Time, Volume 86, Issue 27, “We Are All Keynesians Now”, Page 74, Time, Inc., New York. (Academic Search Premier Ebsco)
  3. 1972 March 21, The Times (UK), Maynard Keynes: Architect of the post-war order, (Biographical Essay by Roy Jenkins), Start Page 14, Quote Page 16, London, England. (The Times Digital Archive)
  4. 2004 (online edition May 2010), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, “Rylands, George Humphrey Wolferstan [Dadie] (1902–1999)” by Paul Edmondson, Oxford University Press. (Accessed July 11, 2013)
  5. 2005 (First published in 1975), Essays on John Maynard Keynes, Edited by Milo Keynes, The Kingsman by George Rylands, Start Page 39, Quote Page 48, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. (Google Books Preview) link
  6. 1981 Copyright, Paper Money by Adam Smith (pseudonym of George J. W. Goodman), Quote Page 39, Summit Books division of Simon & Schuster, New York. (Verified with scans)
  7. 1984 June 4, Time, Volume 123 Issue 23, Book Audits by John Greenwald, Page 59, Time, Inc., New York. (Academic Search Premier Ebsco)
  8. 2008 November 8, Daily Mail (London), The Great Keynes Con by Dominic Sandbrook, Page 16, London, England. (Questia)