Wednesday, June 02, 2010
Those who follow my occasional tweets will know I have recently moved all my books into brand new bookcases (oh the bliss of having enough shelf space – until I buy more books that is). In the process I have rediscovered a few gems, books I have acquired over the years and while they cannot really be justified under the serious heading of “research”, they are certainly fun to read!
For example, there’s a lovely little book from 1950 entitled “The Book of Queer Stories” (one wouldn't perhaps use that title now) featuring delightfully odd little tales from the likes of G K Chesterton, H G Wells and Robert Louis Stevenson(and what is it about these writers that they had to have a third name or initial? Perhaps I should be Melinda H Hammond, or Sarah Jayne Mallory... but I digress)
Also, I found an interesting little tome from about 1980 called “Where There’s a Will” by Robert S Menchin. Now this can be classed (loosely) as research, since it contains fascinating extracts from wills written over the centuries (including one written on a tractor mud-guard by a dying farmer and another scratched onto an eggshell).
I liked the nineteenth century Englishman who left his wife “one shilling, in recompense of her having picked my pocket of sixty guineas and taken up money in my name, without my leave or license" and another who left his wife just five shillings. “It is sufficient for her to get drunk for the last time at my expense.”
John Aylett's will was proved in 1781. He wanted his executors to "lay out five guineas in the purchase a picture of a viper biting the benevolent hand of the person who saved him from perishing in the snow……and…. in memory of me, present it to Edward Bearcroft, Esq. a King’s Counsel, whereby he may have frequent opportunities for contemplating on it.This I direct to be presented to him in lieu of a legacy of three thousand pounds which I had, by a former will, now revoked and burnt, left him.”
And finally there’s the case of Charles Millar, a Canadian who left a large part of his estate “...to the Mother who has…given birth in Toronto to the greatest number of children.” Eventually four Toronto mothers, each with nine children, shared the prize of $568, 106 (and one of the poor women declared that she was now going to start practicing birth control!)
Wills are often used in plots, but in future I shall not be worried if I include one - however implausible the reader may consider my fiction, this little book proves that fact can often be even more bizarre.
Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory