Thursday, July 27, 2006

Any Last Bequests?

Here are a few selections from Virgil M. Harris's 1911 classic Ancient, Curious, and Famous Willsmentioned a couple of weeks ago on Randy Seaver's blog.

A Woman Hater
Altogether unique was the whim of a rich old bachelor, who, having endured much from "attempts made by my family to put me under the yoke of matrimony," conceived and nursed such an antipathy to the fair sex as to impose upon his executors the duty of carrying out what is probably the most ungallant provision ever contained in a will. The words are as follows: "I beg that my executors will see that I am buried where there is no woman interred, either to the right or to the left of me. Should this not be practicable in the ordinary course of things, I direct that they purchase three graves, and bury me in the middle one of the three, leaving the two others unoccupied." [p. 131]
Will of an English Farmer
A Hertfordshire farmer inserted in his will his written wish that "as he was about to take a thirty years' nap, his coffin might be suspended from a beam in his barn, and by no means nailed down." He, however, permitted it to be locked, provided a hole were made in the side through which the key might be pushed, so that he might let himself out when he awoke. However, as his death took place in 1720, and in 1750 he showed no signs of waking, his nephew, who inherited his property, after allowing one year's grace, caused a hole to be dug and had the coffin put into it. [p. 143]
Must Marry "Anton" or "Antonie"
An eccentric Frenchman left his estate to his six nephews and six nieces on the condition that "every one of my nephews marries a woman named Antonie and that every one of my nieces marries a man named Anton." They were further required to give the Christian name Antonie or Anton to every first-born child according to the sex. The marriage of each nephew was to be celebrated on one of the St. Anthony's Days, either January 17th, May 10th, or June 13th, and if, in any instance, this last provision was not complied with before July, 1896, one-half of the legacy was in that case to be forfeited. [p. 178]
A Premium on Pigmanship
A wealthy tradesman, M. Thomas Heviant, died at the village of Crône-sur-Marne in 1878. In his will he made a number of singular bequests, among which is the following, which is carried out at the annual fête of the village. He ordered that among the amusements should be a race with pigs, the animals to be ridden either by men or boys. The sum of 2000 francs was set apart as the prize to the lucky rider of the winning pig. The prize was not to be handed over, however, except on the condition that the winner wore deep mourning for the deceased during two years after the competition. The municipality accepted the eccentric bequest, and these singular races have been held agreeably to the terms of the will. [p. 102]
No Underclothes in Winter
A crabbed old German professor, who died at Berlin in 1900, entertaining a great dislike for his sole surviving relative, left his property to him, but on the absolute condition that he should always wear white linen clothes at all seasons of the year, and should not supplement them in winter by extra undergarments. [p. 159]
Must Pay for her Drinks
Mr. Davis of Clapham, England, left the sum of 5s. "to Mary Davis, daughter of Peter Delaport, which is sufficient to enable her to get drunk for the last time at my expense." [p. 160]

Randy Seaver


Excellent find! You are good.

It seems to be readily avaialable at several book outlets, including Amazon. Pretty good deal 492 pages of dry reading material for insomniacs for $34.95, except for the odd funny page.

Cheers -- Randy


I actually ran across it at the state library on Thursday, jotted down a few notes, and only later found that you had recently blogged about it.

The "ancient" and "famous" wills are far less interesting than the "curious" ones, but if you're into this sort of thing $34.95 is a small price to pay. The fact that it's still in print (or at least back in print) 95 years later is pretty remarkable for this type of book.

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