Poetry of the Bench and Bar: Wills in Verse

Legal Recreations: Lyrics of the Law -- Poets of the Bench & Bar at Harris County Law Library 

Where there's a will, there's a way...with words. Today's featured poetry is a small collection of testamentary documents, carefully crafted expressions of the authors’ last wishes and bequests. Much like the lyrical legal opinions currently on exhibit in the Library lobby, these wills are some of the more eloquent and engaging legal statements on record.

Published in the 19th century as part of the Legal Recreations series, the wills featured in J. Greenbag Croke's 1884 Lyrics of the Law were authored by men for whom poetry was, at most, an avocation, yet the thoughtful and creative declarations expressed in this collection of wills are truly inspired.

For at least one author, that inspiration appears to have been less poetic than polemic. With a sharp tongue (at least partly in cheek), Lord William Ruffell, Esq. of Suffolk, England begins his last will and testament by disparaging those with whom he shared a profession.

The Will of William Ruffell, Esq. (1803)

I make this my last will, as I think ‘tis quite time,
It conveys all I wish, though ‘tis written in rhyme,
To employ an attorney I ne’er was inclin’d
They are pests to society, sharks of mankind.
To avoid that base tribe my own will I now draw,
May I ever escape coming under their paw.

This poem is just one of several wills set to rhyme, which are, in turn, only a sample of the various poetic forms that exist in legal verse. As the Library continues to celebrate National Poetry Month, we will share a new example of legal verse each Friday in April.