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Unusual Writers' Last Wills

Unusual Writers' Last Wills
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Palina Dolia

Have you ever wondered about your last will? Surely, you have, because none of us lives forever, unfortunately. One day there will come the time to leave this mortal world; before that, take care of your will, so that numerous friends and relatives will immediately know who your favourite was. Well-known writers, of course, also made their last wills – and often their instructions and wishes were unusual at least, and eccentric at most.

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Francesco Petrarca (1304–1374)

The poet's last will was as touching as his sonnets. In the last years of his life, a close friend of Petrarca, Giovanni Boccaccio, dragged out a wretched existence, was seriously ill and often complained in his letters about cold winters. With this in mind, the poet bequeathed 200 florins to his friend (according to another version, 50) with a clear indication – “to buy a warm winter mantle”. Another curious detail about Petrarca's will: despite the fact that he had an extensive library in Venice full of rare manuscripts, he never bequeathed it to anyone – it is not mentioned in his last will at all. Even during his lifetime, Petrarca had an agreement with the authorities of Venice: they kept his collection, and Petrarca, in return, made it available to anyone who wanted to see it. True, the agreement only worked as long as Petrarca lived in Venice; but one day he left for Padua, the worst enemy of any Venetian. That's when the library disappeared.

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Ryhor Baradulin (1935–2014)

A will is sometimes not a notarized paper with a detailed description of property and its new owners, but creative work. Like Baradulin’s one. Back in 1995, his "Appeal" was born, a very sincere and touching poem, which begins with the following lines: "When I'm gone, put a gray boulder and a cross on top of it for me." The poet did not want bulky monuments – he considered them a relic of the Soviet past. A good old boulder, like in the cemetery in Ushachy is much better. After the death of Baradulin, it was firmly decided to fulfill his last will: to put a boulder with a carved cross instead of a tombstone on his grave. Problems began from the very start, though. The stone weighed 2.5 tons, Baradulin was buried in the centre of the cemetery, cars could not get there. The challenge was to deliver the stone. Local porters politely refused to perform the task because they didn't possess the skills to raise multi-ton stones, and therefore it was decided to attract aviation, State Emergency Service and volunteers with buckets. MI-8 helicopter took off from Minsk airport and half an hour later was in Ushachy, where the locals had been preparing the foundation, passing over 800 buckets of cement along the chain. The boulder was lifted by helicopter and successfully lowered between the trees directly to its destination. Thus, Baradulin's "Appeal" turned into reality.

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Francois Rabelais (1494–1553)

The author of the famous satirical novel "The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel" was a man of a very unconventional mindset, and therefore he managed to furnish mysteriously even his death from old age. His last words "I go to seek a Great Perhaps" say a lot. Intriguing, isn't it? Sure. A great choice of words for the exact designation of the unknown that awaits the dying, open ending, in which Rabelais does not just passively wait – he is looking for it. What were we saying? Oh, yes, his last will. It was also beautiful in its brevity: "I have nothing, I owe a great deal, and the rest I leave to the poor."

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John Donne (1572–1631)

One of the greatest metaphysical poets, though he was versed in jurisprudence, he could not leave his will without a couple of high sayings. John Donne left 500 pounds to support his elderly mother and a whole poem of 54 lines, called "The Will." However, one of his last sermons, "Death's Duel", is recalled more often as the last saying of the poet. It was read just a month before Donne's death and it consisted of reflections on human mortality and what awaited him after. “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee," the sermon read. By the way, the full text of the sermon can be found in the National Library – in the book "For Whom the Bell Tolls".

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Charles Dickens (1812–1870)

Let's make a lyrical digression from Donne's pompousness and recall an unusual clause in the will of another famous Englishman. Dickens, in addition to large sums of money for the maintenance of his family, from which he was separated, also left rather detailed instructions on how to conduct... his own funeral. After all, who could take care of this better than the dying man himself? Dickens thought so too. And, apparently, he had a dislike for Victorian fashion, because he introduced a strict dress code at his funeral. No scarf, cloak, black bow, long hatband, or "other such revolting absurdity." It is likely that if a tastelessly dressed mourner arrived at the event, Dickens would be forced to return from the dead to speak out.

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Heinrich Heine (1797–1856)

The German poet Heinrich Heine, the author of "Lorelei" and "A Winter's Tale", was no less a peculiar person than Dickens. His relationship with his wife was very difficult. Heine met Matilda (Crescence Eugénie Mathilde (Mirat)) when he was 37, and his chosen one was 19, and together they spent 22 years, the last of which were full of quarrels and pent up mutual hostility. Therefore, Heine left all his fortune to his wife on one condition: after the death of her spouse, she would remarry. Heine explained this unusual condition simply and harshly: "Then there will be at least one person who will sincerely regret my death."

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Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

The British critic and poet remained very religious all his life and, of course, kept this trait to the verge of death. His will not only distributed personal belongings and furniture between a few relatives and friends, but at the same time mentioned one interesting lot: " I bequeath to God, a soul polluted with many sins, but. I hope purified by Jesus Christ." Very pious. In addition, most of Johnson's fortune – as much as £ 2,300 – went in an annual annuity to his loyal black servant, Francis Barber. The relatives were furious, although they got a house and an extensive library.

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William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Forget about Heine and Dickens: Shakespeare, due to the unusualness of his will, takes the cake. At first glance, his will seems quite ordinary: he left his possessions in Stratford to his two daughters, Judith and Suzanne, some little things after the death of the playwright went to his friends and family members. Everyone except his wife. Shakespeare mentioned his dear Anne Hathaway only once and bequeathed to her... his second best bed. Together with other furniture. Such an unusual clause was written at the very end, quite in passing, and hardly pleased the newly-made widow. After all, why not the first best bed? Who got the best? In this respect, there is an interesting assumption: the first best bed could be intended for guests (you must keep a brand in front of them), but the second was for the spouses. In any case, whether it was a cruel joke on poor Anne or the last chord of unhappy family life, we will never know.

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Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

The author of the iconic "Treasure Island" and "Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde", for all the adventurousness of his works in life, was still a kind person and got along wonderfully with children. So much that he even mentioned the twelve-year-old Annie Eid, the daughter of his old friend in his will. The girl suffered from a big tragedy: her birthday fell on Christmas, and therefore everyone always forgot about it on the eve of a much more popular holiday. Annie was terribly upset by this, and Stevenson sympathized with her sincerely. Therefore, in his will, he left the girl his own birthday – November 13. “I, Robert Louis Stevenson ... have transferred and do hereby transfer to the said A. H. Ide, all and whole my rights and privileges in the thirteenth day of November, formerly my birthday, now, hereby and henceforth, the birthday of the said A. H. Ide." Isn't it charming? You bet. The court declared this paragraph invalid because the birthday is not property, but Annie's family began to celebrate November 13 as a special day for the girl.

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Adam Bahdanovich (1862–1940)

Adam Bahdanovich went down in history as the father of one of the most iconic poets of Belarusian literature, but he himself is no less worthy of attention. Ethnographer and folklorist, author of many unique manuscripts about the Belarusian people and their culture – well, a man to respect. All his life he had been collecting an extensive library (and this had to be done even twice: the first burned down in 1918). Why are we mentioning this? Bahdanovich's will contains only 12 clauses on as many as 15 pages, and it is almost entirely devoted to... books. There are literally a couple of words at the beginning about the property: this and that to my wife, to children. But the most important thing begins from the fourth clause. Adam Bahdanovich thoroughly wrote down clear instructions for the distribution of books between relatives and at the same time for the publication of his manuscripts. He didn’t even notarize it: he relied on his family's decency. The publication failed because of the war, though. In the end, the last will of Bahdanovich was finally fulfilled only in 2012, when the books “I've been striving for the light all my life” and “My memories” were finally published. Now everything is correct.

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