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THE ALL-ABSORBING TOPIC.

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,ROM THE PAPERS

,1 THE FATAL ACCIDENT IN A…

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A CO-OPERATIVE SOCIETY.

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THE SHROPSHIRE WILL CASE.

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THE SHROPSHIRE WILL CASE. (From the Daily News.) The Court of Probate La; been occupied for a foitnight past wth one of those curious and perplexing inquiries which sometimes arise when a will is disputed on the ground of the insanity of ihe testator. The will in ques- tion was that of Mr John Knight, of Henley Hall, Staf- fordshire, who died in September 1 st, at the age of 69. Mr Knight left behind him personal property to the amount of £ (52,000, an estate producing a net rental of £1,500 a year, and the house in which he lived, with the park around it. The property Lad come to him only twenty years before, and all the earlier part of h s life had been passed in straightened circumstances. He had lived abroad, and ha.l brought up and educated his three sons and an only daughter on an income of £ 200 a year. His wife died ten years before he came into possession of the property his daughter, to whom he was greatly attached, was married in 185o and died in lStil, leaving three children. Mr Knight seetns to have been f. nd of these grand-children, but, he had quarrelled in succession with each of his sons, and was iu t on speaking terms with any of Lhem, though lie wrote violent letters about them. He was not a social man, lie neither made nor received visits, but lived in a very eoc n'ric fasi.ion, and wrote a great maty letters. In 1808 he wrote to a neighbour, Sir Charles Bonghton, to whom he was distantly related., and with whom he was on friendly but not intimate terms, asking for the name of some local solicitor whom he might em I-y to make his will. Sir Charles Bonghron recom- mended Mr Marston, of Ludlow, and Mr Knight at once instructed Mr Maiston to draw up th.' document which has been the subject (if the inquiry. Thi dispoi ion of the property was eccentric. Ir Knight It ft tIO,OOO to a brother at Melbourne and £1,500 t. a favourite sister, but nothing to or for a r who was insane and dependent on him. He gave his eldest son the interest of £ 10.000 for life to his second son he bequeathed £8,000, and to his youngest son £ 7,000 but omitted the three children of his deceased daughter altogether. Three smaller legacies, amounting to £ 1,300 and £ 1,000 to each of his executors, completed his list. Then follow, d ihe strongest part of the will. The executors were Mr Marston and Sir Charles Broughtoi-i; and to the latter Mr Knight devised the whole of his real estate, with the Hall and Park, and re-idue of bis personal property, amounting to more than £ 20,000. This bequest was all the more strange from the fact that Sir Charles Boughton is the descendant of a person to whom in 1840 a Chai.cery decision had given an estate which bad previously b(en regarded by the Knight family as their property. The only reason Mr Knight assigned for thus alienating the remaining estate from his family was the fear that his fans might sell tt. to Lord Boyne, who had already purchased all outNiiig oi part of it. There was nothing to "bow that Lord Boyne wanted to buy the land, or to prevent its entail in the line of the testator's family. Mr Knight explained in one of his letters that he "'had at heart the future desti- nies and fortunes of the estate. He therefore gave it to one neighbour to prevent its being bought by another, and left his own family out in the cold. This eccentric disposition of the property was not the point on which the fuinily trusted to upset the will. Their arguments was that the making of such a will was only one of many eccentric acts of an insane person. It was ad- mitted that Mr Knight was peculiar and eccentric. He was fond of German bands, and entertained th )se wander- ing minstrels at the Hall, a,d let the sevants dance to their music. He shunned the company of his equals, anI culti- vated that of the lower animals, feeding his dogs with mutton. His house swarmed with rat.s, and he Si ^etimei fed and petted them, and sometimes shot theiii. He built splendid greenhouses and fruitenes, but either allowed the fruit to rot upon the trees or fed the animals with it. He made his grooms ride races in a ring, while he stood by to enjoy the fun and he took a maid-servant with him when he went out shooting rooks. He would dress himself in skins, paint stripes on his face, and rush in among his servants, gun in hand, to enjoy their frights These were the good- humoured sides of his character. On his ill-humoured side he was suspicious, merose, and cruel. He had been unkind to his wife, and had treated his sons with the greatest severity, even in their boyhood, sometimes stripping and beating them from meie sudden caprice feeding them on bread and water, and tying them to the door handle be- cause they failed to learn lessens which wereabo\e their capacity- His dislike of visitors .showed itself sometimes in a most curious form. Sir Charles Boughton called on him but a short time before the will was made in his favour, and Mr Kuight n -t only refused to see him, but li,d himself locked up in the cellar. He thought there was a conspiracy to poison him, and it was admitted that he was subject to hallucinations. As far back as 1843 he had believed that he was suspected of theft and on a later. occasion, when the same delusion recurred he consulted a solicitor as to his defence He believed he was watched and at a railway station one day fixed on some stranger as one of his watchers, and challenged him to fight He was in constant fear of robbers, and kept firearms ready loaded with ball for self-defence. To be much about him and to have t. do with him was, as a general rule, to incur his suspicion and enmity. It seems to have been his habit to dislike his own kindred, and to tieat most of his relations with suspicion and jealousy. In this re-pect, at any rate, the will was in general accordance w,th his character and conduct; though it rather exaggerated his eccentricity, as it omitted all mention of the relatives for wdiom he appears to have retained the most regard. The case for the will was that, notwithstanding all these eccentricities, the testator knew perfectly well what he was doing, and showed no incapacity whatever in the manage- ment of h's business affairs. There was no suspicion of any undue influence the will took the chief legatee by surprise, quite as much as it did the disinherited family. The sole question really before the jury, as put in the able sum- ming up of the Judge, was whtther these eccentricities and occasional delusions, taken inconnection with what Sir James Hannen called an "unnatural will," proved that the tes- tator was insane. The juiy had no hesitation in saying Yes. They deliberated only live minutes, and then gave a verdict against the will. The case is probably one which will be hereafter quoted as a precedent; and the careful summing up of Sir James Ham,en is therefore of unusual in- terest We are glad to note in that able statement an emphatic declaration that eccentricity must not be regarded as evidence of insanity, The tendency of social life is to repress all singularities, and destroo individuality and it is better that the law should regard all such exhibition with too tender rather than with too strict a criticism. There was as Sir James Haunen said, really nothing in Mr Knight's freaks to prove that he was unable to make a will; and probably, apart from the fact thit he had capri- ciously left his estate away from his family, there would have been no disposition tJ regard him as insane. His delusions were the exaggerated fancies of a suspicious mintl but even unfounded suspicions are no proof uf insanity, though there is, of course, a point at which the exaggera- tion of them passes the line. The English law leaves reat freedom to a testator; it may be a question how far ihat freedom is wise; but too much c Ire cannot be txeicised in fin ling a testator legally insane when he acts in what we may C(,Ii, call 3:1. insa.ie manner, or mekes what may in the same colloquial language be described as au in- line will. A mere unbalanced judgment, as Sir James Hannen says,is not evidence of insanity. "To define true "madness," rays Pol onious, "what, is ie bit to be nothing else but matI but whether Hamlet was mad or not is still nsmnch in dispute as it. veas in the Court of Denmark. It is not at all unlikely th*t in Mr Knight's case eccen- â tricity had run intoe insanity, and the finding of the jury, which declares that it bad done so, will nel be dissented frf m. rrirTT-.TTTiri-- ThârvitJ"-

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