Undesirables

A famous councilor of Zurich … relates that Guillaume de Saluces, who was Bishop of Lausanne from 1221 to 1229, ordered the eels of Lake Leman to confine themselves to a certain part, from which they were not to go out. …

The summonses against offending animals were served by an officer of the criminal court, who read these citations at the places frequented by them. Though judgment was given by default on the non-appearance of the animals summoned, yet it was considered necessary that some of them should be present when the citation was delivered; thus, in the case of the leeches tried at Lausanne, a number of them were brought into court to hear the document read, which admonished them to leave the district in three days.

— William Jones, “Legal Prosecutions of Animals,” The Popular Science Monthly, September 1880

Name Deals

In the 19th century an eccentric Frenchman willed his estate to his 12 nephews and nieces on the condition that “every one of my nephews marries a woman named Antonie and that every one of my nieces marries a man named Anton.” They had also to name each firstborn child Antonie or Anton, and each nephew must celebrate his marriage on one of St. Anthony’s days. “If, in any instance, this last provision was not complied with before July 1896, one-half of the legacy was in that case to be forfeited.” (The Irish Law Times and Solicitors’ Journal, July 8, 1905)

William Stanislaus Murphy left his entire estate to Harvard University to fund a scholarship for students named Murphy. By a will dated April 28, 1717, John Nicholson of London left the residue of his estate to poor English Protestants named Nicholson.

When Elias Warner Leavenworth died in 1887 he funded a scholarship of $900 a year for a student named Leavenworth to attend Yale. Hamilton College of Clinton, N.Y., has its own Leavenworth scholarship; it hasn’t been awarded since 1994, but, a spokeswoman told told the New York Times, “there will always be Leavenworths out there.”

Mr. Big

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One Filmer, defending witches in England, is said to have made this ingenious defense. His clients were charged, as was usual, with being accessory to the devil. Under the common law there could be no accessory unless there was also a principal; and no accessory could be convicted until the principal was convicted; for if the principal be acquitted there is no guilty principal and hence can be no accessory. Consequently until the principal be convicted the accessory cannot be tried.

Taking advantage of this state of the law, Filmer argued that his clients could not be tried until their alleged principal had been tried and convicted, and how could this be done? Only according to the law of the land. In the first place how could the devil be summoned? The officer serving the precept would either be obliged to go to the devil and summons him personally, or, failing that, would be obliged to leave a copy of the precept at his usual place of abode. Although admiring friends of the officer may from time to time have advised him to do both, yet the practical application of such advice is an impossibility. Then assuming the respondent to be duly summoned, he would be entitled to a trial by a jury of his peers. But His Satanic Majesty has no peers, and even if he had, they would be certain to be in collusion with the respondent and would certainly acquit him. Under any circumstances therefore how could his accessories be tried?

— H.C. Shurtleff, “The Grotesque in Law,” American Law Review, January-February 1920

A New Man

In 1944, a San Francisco judge refused to let Tharnmidsbe L. Praghustspondgifcem change his name.

He’d asked to change it to Miswaldpornghuestficset Balstemdrigneshofwintpluasjof Wrandvaistplondqeskycrufemgeish.

The man, whose given name was Edward L. Hayes, had requested the first change in order “to do better in my business and economic affairs.” Evidently he felt he hadn’t gone far enough.

“Good and Bad”

If I was as bad as they say I am,
And you were as good as you look,
I wonder which one would feel the worse
If each for the other was took?

— George Barr Baker

Anthologist Carolyn Wells explains: “This remark was made by a bad, bold convict to his vain, virtuous visiting chaplain. Your personal answer to the question is an indication of your character.”

Getting Organized

In the mid-19th century it was already said that American Smiths would fill Boston Common; Mark Twain dedicated his Celebrated Jumping Frog to “John Smith” in the hope that if every honoree bought a copy, “a princely affluence” would burst upon him. Today more than 3 million Americans share the name.

This has consequences. In his 1950 book People Named Smith, H. Allen Smith reports that a desperate publicist at Warner Brothers founded the Organized Smiths of America in order to confer an award on the undistinguished actress Alexis Smith. He was surprised to find the story picked up across the country, and the awards became an annual event.

In 1942, University of Minnesota graduate student Glenn E. Smith, irritated that his professor’s lectures always centered on characters named James Smith, founded the National Society to Discourage Use of the Name Smith for Purposes of Hypothetical Illustration. Its hundreds of members pledged themselves to confront offenders with a card that read “When you think of Smith, say John Doe!”

But popularity has its limits. Smith himself was once assigned to cover the New York convention of the Benevolent and Protective and Completely Universal Order of Fred Smiths of America. He was impressed at first to find more than 40 delegates, all presumably named Fred Smith — but he lost some respect when “a man named Smith Frederick who sought admission to the banquet hall was permitted to enter walking backward.”

Manners Maketh Man

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From Notes and Queries, March 14, 1863, Charles I’s “twelve golden rules” for deportment at table:

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They were found in a collection of proclamations and broadsides held by the Society of Antiquaries. “Unquestionably the maxim-loving monarch’s jealousy of all interference with his prerogative, even in conversation, as also his constitutional dread of contention, and ‘counterblast’ hatred of tobacco, are reflected in these counsels to a sufficient extent to fix him with their authorship.”

On the Job

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A revealing detail from the life of the 18-year-old Queen Victoria, newly crowned in 1837:

At twelve o’clock she presided at a Council, ‘with as much ease as if she had been doing nothing else all her life’; after which she received the archbishops and bishops, to whom she said nothing, but showed an extreme dignity and gracefulness of manner. This ceremony finished and the duties of the day at an end, she retired with slow stateliness; but forgetful that the door through which she passed had glass panels that allowed her retreat to be seen, she had no sooner quitted the council chamber than she scampered light-heartedly away, like a child released from school.

From Joseph Fitzgerald Molloy’s The Sailor King: William the Fourth, His Court and His Subjects, 1903

A Poet’s Proposal

I think I can offer this
simple remedy for a part
at least of the world’s
ills and evil I suggest
that everyone should be
required to change his
name every ten years I
think this would put a
stop to a whole lot of
ambition compulsion ego
and like breeders of dis-
cord and wasted motion.

— James Laughlin, quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 24, 1978

Sure Thing, Boss

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I cannot omit a rather childish story which Vasari tells about the David. After it had been placed upon its pedestal before the palace, and while the scaffolding was still there, Piero Soderini, who loved and admired Michelangelo, told him that he thought the nose too large. The sculptor immediately ran up the ladder till he reached a point upon the level of the giant’s shoulder. He then took his hammer and chisel, and, having concealed some dust of marble in the hollow of his hand, pretended to work off a portion from the surface of the nose. In reality he left it as he found it; but Soderini, seeing the marble dust fall scattering through the air, thought that his hint had been taken. When, therefore, Michelangelo called down to him, ‘Look at it now!’ Soderini shouted up in reply, ‘I am far more pleased with it; you have given life to the statue.’

— John Addington Symonds, The Life of Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1893