In The Revolutionary War: One year and a fateful final fortnight
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© Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, 2009
George Dudley Seymour asserted that the last words attributed to Hale were derived from Joseph Addison's Cato, a universally popular play in the 1700's. This is Seymour's copy, with his marking where Cato, gazing on his son lying dead on his shield, says:
"….What pity is it that we can die but once to serve our country!"
More recently a scholar at the University of New Brunswick has argued that Hale's inspiration could have been John Lilburne, a radical 17th century British pamphleteer who spent most of his adult life in the Tower of London. Hale's "I only regret…" was closer to Lilburne than to Cato. In 1648 Lilburne wrote: "I am sorry I have but one life to lose in maintaining the truth, justice and righteousness of so gallant a piece." [He was referring to a manifesto of basic rights.] Another time he wrote that "if I had a million of lives, I would sacrifice them all against you."