Pliny the Younger (A.D. 62?–c.A.D. 113). Letters.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.
XCII. To Rufinus
THE COMMON notion is certainly quite a false one, that a man’s will is a kind of mirror in which we may clearly discern his real character, for Domitius Tullus appears a much better man since his death than he did during his lifetime. After having artfully encouraged the expectations of those who paid court to him, with a view to being his heirs, he has left his estate to his niece whom he adopted. He has given likewise several very considerable legacies among his grandchildren, and also to his great-grandson. In a word, he has shewn himself a most kind relation throughout his whole will; which is so much the more to be admired as it was not expected of him. This affair has been very much talked about, and various opinions expressed: some call him false, ungrateful, and forgetful, and, while thus railing at him in this way as if they were actually disinherited, kindred, betray their own dishonest designs: others, on the contrary, applaud him extremely for having disappointed the hopes of this infamous tribe of men, whom, considering the disposition of the times, it is but prudence to deceive. They add that he was not at liberty to make any other will, and that he cannot so properly be said to have bequeathed, as returned, his estate to his adopted daughter, since it was by her means it came to him. For Curtilius Mancia, whose daughter Domitius Lucanus, brother to this Tullus, married, having taken a dislike to his son-in-law, made this young lady (who was the issue of that marriage) his heiress, upon condition that Lucanus, her father, would emancipate her. He accordingly did so, but she being afterwards adopted by Tullus, her uncle, the design of Mancia’s will was entirely frustrated. Form these two brothers having never divided their patrimony, but living together as joint tenants of one common estate, the daughter of Lucanus, notwithstanding the act of emancipation, returned back again, together with her large fortune, under the dominion of her father, by means of this fraudulent adoption. It seems indeed to have been the fate of these two brothers to be enriched by those who had the greatest aversion to them. For Domitius Afer, by whom they were adopted, left a will in their favour, which he had made eighteen years before his death; though it was plain he had since altered his opinion with regard to the family, because he was instrumental in procuring the confiscation of their father’s estate. There is something extremely singular in the resentment of Afer, and the good fortune of the other two; as it was very extraordinary, on the one hand, that Domitius should endeavour to extirpate from the privileges of society a many whose children he had adopted, and, on the other, that these brothers should find a parent in the very person that ruined their father. But Tullus acted justly, after having been appointed sole heir by his brother, in prejudice to his own daughter, to make her amends by transferring to her this estate, which came to him from Afer, as well as all the rest which he had gained in partnership with his brother. His will therefore deserves the higher praise, having been dictated by nature, justice, and sense of honour; in which he has returned his obligations To his several relations, according to their respective good offices towards him, not forgetting his wife, having bequeathed to that excellent woman, who patiently endured much for his sake, several delightful villas, besides a large sum of money. And indeed she deserved so much the more at his hands, in proportion to he displeasure she incurred on her marriage with him. It was thought unworthy a person of her birth and repute, so long left a widow by her former husband, by whom she had issue, to marry, in the decline of her life, an old man, merely for his wealth, and who was so sickly and infirm that, even had he passed the best years of his youth and health with her, she might well have been heartily tired of him. He had so entirely lost the use of all his limbs that he could not move himself in bed without assistance; and the only enjoyment he had of his riches was to contemplate them. He was even (sad and disgusting to relate) reduced to the necessity of having his teeth washed and scrubbed by others: in allusion to which he used frequently to say, when he was complaining of the indignities which his infirmities obliged him to suffer, that he was every day compelled to lick his servant’s fingers. Still, however, he lived on, and was willing to accept of life upon such terms. That he lived so long as he did was particularly owing, indeed, to the care of his wife, who, whatever reputation she might lose at first by her marriage, acquired great honour by her unwearied devotion as his wife.—Thus I have given you all the news of the town, where nothing is talked of but Tullus. It is expected his curiosities will shortly be sold by auction. He had such an abundant collection of very old statues that he actually filled an extensive garden with them, the very same day he purchased it; not to mention numberless other antiques, lying neglected in his lumber-room. If you have anything worth telling me in return, I hope you will not refuse the trouble of writing to me: not only as we are all of us naturally fond, you know, of news, but because example has a very beneficial influence upon our own conduct. Farewell.