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The Last Will of Williston Fish

About the Exhibit

Attorney businessman, and part-time author, Williston Fish created the sentimental "Last Will of Charles Lounsbury" in 1897. As Fish recalled later: "The name, Charles Lounsbury . . . is a name in my family of three generations ago – back in York State where the real owner of it was a big, strong, all-around good kind of a man . . . [s]o I took the name of Charles Lounsbury to add strength and goodwill to my story. "Original Text in harper's Weekly, 1898The imaginary Lounsbury was variously identified as a wealthy client of Fish, an anonymous millionaire, a Chicago attorney housed in the Cook County Asylum, a hobo, and a destitute millionaire in a Chicago jail cell. In most versions, the will was found in the pocket of a tattered overcoat after the death of the owner.

This work, also known as A Last Will, The Hobo’s Will or The Happy Testament, first appeared in Harper’s Weekly in 1898. It was reprinted so many times, often in a garbled or “improved” form, that a correct edition was published in 1908. Both the 1898 and the 1908 editions appear here. This fictional “prose-poetry” testament was often printed in the guise of an actual legal instrument, frequently without attribution, or at least accurate attribution. For generations of attorneys, it became a classic that circulated widely around the holidays as a gift-book or holiday greeting.

This online exhibit is based on a physical exhibit staged by Rare Books and Special Collelctions during the holiday season 2008-2009, November 26, 2008-January 30, 2009.

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