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At a meeting of the Council of the SURTEES Society, on the fourth day of December, 1834, it was
Resolved— That four hundred copies of a Selection from unpublished Wills and Inventories of all Classes of Persons from the Eleventh Century downwards, illustrating the History, Manners, Language, Statistics, &c., of their respective Periods, to be made and transcribed under the superintendence of the Secretary, be printed by the Society.
“ THERE are two entire classes of public records, both highly important, which I am conscious have been but imperfectly used—I mean the Inquisitions Post Mortem and the early Wills. Of the early Wiils we do not possess even a printed catalogue of the names of Testators, much more any work which should communicate to the public the choicer portions of the information, topographical, historical, biographical, literary, which is lurking, unseen by every eye, in the dispersed, the dark and dusty depositories of the testamentary evidence of England. I am persuaded, by experience in such enquiries, that there is no department of antiquarian research, topography, public or literary history, lives of our eminent men in every department, manners, language, which would not be essentially benefited by a publication of matter, which to an experienced eye would appear of importance, in Wills of the Plantagenet, Tudor, and Stuart reigns, while a better acquaintance with these evidences would be the creation of a new world in our gentilitial Antiquities."
The preceding remarks, made by the Rev. Joseph Hunter, in the Preface to the second Volume of his History of the Deanery of Doncaster, induced the Council of the Surtees Society to turn their attention to such early Wills and Inventories as are preserved in the
Registry of the Diocese of Durham, illustrative of the public and private history, language, statistics, &c. &c., of the Northern Counties of England ; and the present volume is the result of their investigation. In the earlier part of the volume, many new and valuable documents are brought to light, from which the public or local historian may derive the most novel and correct information. That these are not more numerous is owing to frequent chasms in the Registry, occasioned by time or neglect. Those early Wills and Inventories, however, which have presented themselves, and which are now (thanks to public spirit and the press) secure against the attacks of time or accident, * are of sufficient importance to throw great light upon their respective periods, and to excite the Members of the Society to investigate more minutely and effectually this most copious, and hitherto almost entirely unexplored, source of correct public or private information. The early Registers of the Archbishops of York abound with documents of this nature, of the particulars of which almost nothing whatever is known, save the appointed burial place of each individual Testator. To ascertain this trifling fact, Torr, the Historian of York, and the Compiler of much valuable information relative to the Diocese and Province at large, still in MS., seems to have examined them, one after another, with great care, closing his eyes, however, to the clear light which they
A Registrar of the Consistory Court of Durham, during the first half of the last century, was in the habit of lighting his pipe with one of the Wills under his charge, and of glorying in his deed. “Here goes the Testator," was his usual exclamation when he was so employed. Things are not so pow.