Tuesday 21 December 2010

Mortgage and Death

Those landed readers who have invested in the property market will be unsurprised to discover that a mortgage is, literally, a pledge to the death. The idea is that a mortgage is a gage, or pledge, that can die in one of two ways. Either you pay the whole debt and the deal dies, or you can fail to make a payment and the deal dies and your house is repossessed and you are forced to live under a railway bridge exchanging amusing etymologies for crack.

Or to put it another way:

It seemeth that the cause why it is called mortgage is, for that it is doubtful whether the Feoffor will pay at the day limited such summe or not, and if he doth not pay, then the Land which is put in pledge vpon condition for the payment of the money, is taken from him for euer, and so dead to him vpon condition, etc. And if he doth pay the money, then the pledge is dead as to the Tenant, etc.
   - Institutes of the Laws of England (1628)

It's mortifying.

Of the six surviving signatures of Shakespeare, two are on a mortgage. Shakespeare's views on such deals are amply displayed in sonnet 134, where he is complaining to his mistress about her having an affair with his best friend:

So, now I have confess'd that he is thine,
And I myself am mortgaged to thy will,
Myself I'll forfeit, so that other mine
Thou wilt restore, to be my comfort still:
But thou wilt not, nor he will not be free,
For thou art covetous and he is kind;
He learn'd but surety-like to write for me
Under that bond that him as fast doth bind.
The statute of thy beauty thou wilt take,
Thou usurer, that put'st forth all to use,
And sue a friend came debtor for my sake;
So him I lose through my unkind abuse.
Him have I lost; thou hast both him and me:
He pays the whole, and yet am I not free.

That, dear reader, if you can follow the metaphor, is some sub-prime loving.

Mortgages were, at least, prettier then.

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