He was stronger and cleverer, no doubt, than other men, and in many broad lines of business he had
grown rich, until his wealth exceeded exaggeration. One morning in his office, he directed a request to his confidential
lawyer to come to him in the afternoon. He intended to have his will drawn. A will is a solemn matter, even with
a man whose life is given up to business, and who is by habit mindful of the future. After giving his direction he took
up no other matter, but sat at his desk alone and in silence.
It was a day when summer was first new. The pale leaves upon the trees were starting forth
upon the yet unbending branches. The grass in the parks had a freshness in its green like the freshness of the blue
in the sky and of the yellow of the sun - a freshness to make one wish that life might renew its youth. The clear breezes
from the South wantoned about, and then were still, as if loath to go finally away. Half idly, half thoughtfully, the
rich man wrote upon the white paper before him, beginning what he wrote with capital letters, such as he had not made since,
as a boy in school, he had taken pride in his skill with the pen:
IN THE NAME
OF GOD, AMEN. I, Charles Lounsbury, being of sound and disposing mind and memory, do now make and publish this, my last
will and testament in order, as justly as may be, to distribute my interests in the world among succeeding men. And first,
that part of my interest, which is known in law and recognized in the sheep-bound volumes of the law as my property, being
inconsiderable and none account, I make no disposition in this, my will. My right to live, being but a life estate, is not
at my disposal, but these things excepted, all else in the world I now proceed to devise and bequeath.
ITEM: I give
to good fathers and mothers, but in trust to their children, nevertheless, all good little words of praise and all quaint
pet names, and I charge said parents to use them justly, but generously, as the deeds of their children shall require.
ITEM: I leave
to children exclusively, but only for the life of their childhood, all and every the dandelions of the fields and the daisies
thereof, with the right to play among them freely, according to the custom of children, warning them at the same time against
the thistles. And I devise to children the yellow shores of creeks and the golden sands beneath the water thereof, with the
dragon flies that skim the surface of said waters, and and the odors of the willows that dip into said waters, and the white
clouds that float on high above the giant trees. And I leave the children the long, long days to be merry in in a thousand
ways, and the Night, and the trail of the Milky Way to wonder at; but subject, nevertheless, to the rights hereinafter given
to lovers; and I give to each child the right to choose a star to be his, and I direct the father shall tell him the name
of it, in order that the child shall always remember the name of that star after he has learned and forgotten astronomy.
ITEM: I devise
to boys jointly all the idle fields and commons where ball may be played, all snow-clad hills where one may coast, and all
streams and ponds where one may skate, to have and to hold the same for the period of their boyhood. And all meadows, with
the clover-blooms and butterflies thereof; and all woods, with their appurtenances of squirrels and whirring birds and echoes
and strange noises, and all distant places, which may be visited, together with the adventures there to be found. And I give
to said boys, each his own place at the fireside at night, with all pictures that may be seen in the burning wood or coal,
to enjoy without hindrance and without any incumbrance of cares.
ITEM: To lovers,
I devise their imaginary world, with whatever they may need, as the stars of the sky, the red, red roses by the wall, the
snow of the hawthorn, the sweet strains of music, and aught else they may desire to figure to each other the lastingness and
beauty of their love.
ITEM: To young
men jointly, being joined in a brave, mad crowd, I devise and bequeath all boisterous inspiring sports of rivalry, and I give
to them the disdain of weakness and undaunted confidence in their own strength. Though they are rude, and rough, I leave them
alone the power to make lasting friendships and of possessing companions, and to them exclusively I give all merry songs and
brave choruses to sing, with smooth voices to troll them forth.
ITEM: And to
those who are no longer children, or youths, or lovers, I leave Memory, and I leave to them the volumes of the poems of Burns
and Shakespeare, and of other poets, if there are others, to the end that they may live the old days over again, freely and
fully without tithe or diminution; and to those who are no longer children, or youths, or lovers, I leave, too, the knowledge
of what a rare, rare world it is.
About the author:
Williston Fish was born January 15, 1858 in Berlin Heights, Ohio. He attended Oberlin
College and the United States Military Academy at West Point. Following six years of service in the United States Army,
he became an attorney in Illinois. He later became a railway executive, but his true passion was creative writing.
He wrote at least three books and had several hundred stories, poems and other articles published. Fish resided
in Chicago, along with his wife Mary Gertrude Cameron. Together they had five children, two of which died
as infants. Williston Fish died December 19, 1939 in Western Springs, Illinois.
Williston Fish wrote his most famous piece, Last
Will of Charles Lounsbury as a fictional Last Will and Testament.
It was first published in Harper's Weekly on September 3, 1898. He was paid a total of ten dollars for his
effort. A Last Will was printed in book form by the author in 1907.
Charles Lounsbury was the name of an ancestor of Williston Fish. He described Lounsbury
as, "A strong vigorous man filled with the joy of living." He used his name in the fictional piece to perpetuate
Much to the chagrin of Williston Fish, many improperly edited and unattributed versions of his work came to be published.
The author wrote, "Some writers can boast that their works have been translated into all foreign languages, but when I look
pathetically about for some little boast, I can only say that this one of my pieces has been translated into all the idiot
tongues of English."