Most Beautiful Last Will and Testament in History

About the most beautiful last will and testament in history written for Charles Lounsbury by Williston Fish.


When a person sits down with his or her attorney to prepare a last will and testament, one would expect the document produced by this meeting to be legalistic, dry, morbid. Certainly, one would not expect inspired prose verging on poetry.

Yet when Williston Fish, an attorney in Chicago, Ill., sat down in 1897 to draft a will for one Charles Lounsbury, what Fish produced as a testament proved to be sheer prose poetry.

In its time, Lounsbury's will was printed and reprinted around the world. To generations of attorneys, it became a classic.

However, if a will is defined as "a written instrument legally executed by which a man makes disposition of his estate to take effect after his death," then the Lounsbury will was no legal will at all. It was, in fact, a literary article. There was only an attorney-businessman, and part-time author, in Chicago named Williston Fish who created the fictional will as a literary effort.

Williston Fish was born on January 15, 1858, in Berlin Heights, O., the eldest son in a family of 8 children. Self-taught in Greek and Latin, he briefly attended Oberlin College, then won appointment in 1877 to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In 1881, the year of his graduation, he married, and subsequently had 3 children. He remained in the Army for 6 years, studying law on the side. After resigning from the Army, he was admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1887, then chose to enter into a business career. But his heart was always in writing, and he published at least 3 books and 500 articles, stories, poems for periodicals.

In 1897, he hit upon the idea of a perfect will and upon a wealthy, nonexistent client named Charles Lounsbury.

As Fish recalled it later: "The name, Charles Lounsbury, of the divisor in the will, is a name in my family of 3 generations ago--back in York State where the real owner of it was a big, strong, all-around good kind of a man. I had an uncle, a lawyer, in Cleveland named after him, Charles Lounsbury Fish, who was a most burly and affectionate giant himself and who took delight in keeping the original Charles Lounsbury's memory green. He used to tell us of his feats of strength. . . . His brain, my uncle always added, was equal to his brawn, and he had a way of winning friends and admirers as easy and comprehensive as taking a census. So I took the name of Charles Lounsbury to add strength and goodwill to my story."

The will that Williston Fish had written found its way into print for the 1st time the year after it was created. It appeared in Harper's Weekly on September 3, 1898. It was picked up and reprinted widely. But in recent years, it has been forgotten.

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