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Serial: Appletons' journal: a magazine of general literature.
Title: Curiosities of Wills [Volume 9, Issue 52, Oct 1880; pp. 317-324]
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318APPLETONS' JOURNAL. as a precautionary measure the system of depositing them in a public office, and appointing witnesses to the fact. Demosthenes mentions in one of his orations that, at the end of a testamentary document, it was customary to imprecate the most formidable curses on those who should attempt to violate the wishes of the testator. Among the Romans, wills do not appear to have been known before the Twelve Tables, on which foundation they were made to rest; but afterward the practice became greatly elaborated and systematized, and Justinian describes three different categories under which wills could be made. Of the Roman wills cited in the present volume that of Vergil is chiefly remarkable, because in one clause of it he ordered the "/,Eneid" to be burned, "Ut rem emendatam imperfectamque." Being assured, however, that Augustus would never consent to have this vandal behest carried out, he subsequently added another clause in which he ordered that, in case he should die before he had time to finish and revise his MSS., the verses should be published exactly as he left them. A long abstract is given of the will of Augustus Caesar, which has an important historical as well as personal interest. In it the distinguished testator calls attention to the fact that he left to his heirs only one hundred and fifty million sesterces (about six million dollars), although he had received by testamentary donations more than five milliards of sesterces (about a hundred and sixty million dollars); and adds that he had employed all the rest in the service of the state, as well as his two paternal patrimonies (that of Caius Octavius, his own father, and that of Julius Caesar, his adopted father), and his other family inheritances. Besides those mentioned above, the section of "WvVills of Remarkable Persons" includes the wills of Saladin, Sultan of Egypt (I 193); of Louis VIII of France (I226); of Edward I of England (1307); of Petrarch (I370); of Johann Ziska (I424); of Christopher Columbus (I 5o6); of Erasmus and Melanchthon; of Hans Holbein, Rabelais, Mary Stuart, Tasso, Cardinal Richelieu, Scarron, Dryden, Racine, Bossuet, Lord Chesterfield, Garrick, Agassiz, Cardinal Antonelli, Harriet Martineau, and two or three score others. Of these the most impressive, as it is certainly the most original and characteristic, is that of Saladin; and we quote it as summarized by the author: "Interesting to record is the last will and testament of the celebrated Saladin, born in II36; he died in II93 after filling the two continents of Europe and Asia with his fame. Sultan of Egypt, he conquered Syria, Arabia, Persia, Mesopotamia, and took possession of Jerusalem in I187. His con quests suffice to enable us to judge of the extent of his power and wealth; at his death, however, he showed that no one was more intimately convinced of the utter hollowness of the riches and greatness of the world and the vanity of its disputes. "He ordered, by his will, first, that considerable sums should be distributed to Mussulmans, Jews, and Christians, in order that the priests of the three religions might implore the mercy of God for him; next he commanded that the shirt or tunic he should be wearing at the time of his death should be carried on the end of a spear throughout the whole camp, and at the head of his army, and that the soldier who bore it should pause at intervals and say aloud,'Behold all that remains of the Emperor Saladin! Of all the states he had conquered; of all the provinces he had subdued; of the boundless treasures he had amassed; of the countless wealth he possessed he retained, in dying, nothing but this shroud!'" More curious than this, and also more suggestive, as showing how much more surely the passions are embittered by religious and partisan strife than by regular war, is the will of Johann Ziska, the blind chieftain of the Hussites. He left a dying behest to the effect that immediately after his death his body was to be flayed, his skin preserved and tanned, in order that a drumhead might be made of it. " The noise of such a drum," said he, "will alone suffice to scare the enemies of the tribe, and to preserve to it all the advantages I have obtained for it." In the will of the great satirist, Rabelais, is the following highly characteristic clause: "I have no available property; I owe a great deal; the rest I give to the poor." The remainder of the wills of eminent persons are of a more commonplace character, though few are without some interesting feature; and it is in the other sections of the book that its more readable and piquant contents will be found. The classification, it should be observed, is not very exact, but it will be more convenient, perhaps, to follow it as nearly as may be. After the general introduction, the first chapter is assigned to "Eccentric Wills," though, as the compiler admits, other wills equally abnormal are found under other headings. This chapter begins with the will of a splendid Greek miser, Dichaeus Dichaeanus, which is too long to quote; but the immediately following "Will of a Jilted Bachelor'" is both brief and pointed: "A French merchant, dying in I6Io, left a handsome legacy to a lady who had, twenty years before, refused to marry him, in order to express his gratitude to her for her forbearance, and his admiration for her sagacity in leaving him to a happy bachelor life of independence and freedom." Worthy of being placed beside this is the will of Lieutenant-Colonel APPL.ETONS' JO URNA,L. 318