Little mysteries in an old edition of Cicero

See this update

How this book came into my possession, I really can’t say, but it’s probably the oldest one I own, a copy of select orations of Cicero (together with Asconius’ commentary) as well as De Senectute and De Amicitia, originally edited by Charles de Mérouville, S. J., and printed in London in 1750. In fact, this edition is a British reprint of the original French edition in the Delphin Classics series produced ad usum Delphini, for the use of the Grand Dauphin, Louis (son of Louis XIV and father of Louis XV). My copy is the seventh edition of this volume; you can find the twelfth edition (1780) on Google Books.


The book’s not in great condition–the pages are very brittle, the binding almost entirely undone, but it’s a charming old thing.

And it’s full of mysteries. To wit, from the flyleaf:


Here’s how I transcribe it:

This Book was borrowed by the

subscriber in the Year 1789 of Mr. Samuel

Welles Junior—Who then informed me

that it was the property of Mr. Elijah Smith.


As the said E. Smith hath absconded

himself & left his debts unpaid, This Book

was taken by Mr. Gideon Hale for a just &

lawful debt which the said Elijah Smith

owed him  & was presented by the said Gideon

Hale to Elias Hale whose property it

now is  divino jure

April 11, 1790             Elias Hale

Septimius G.

Huntington                   1795

Pretium 10/

Evidently the book was valued at 10 shillings (Pretium 10/ ) which, according to the UK National Archives currency converter, means its present-day value is £38.38 ($49.72).

But who are the people in this sordid tale? Who is the ne’er-do-well Elijah Smith, classically educated and once wealthy enough to own an expensive volume of Cicero until “abscond[ing] himself” and pissing off his friend? Who are the self-righteous brothers Elias and Gideon Hale, who believe it is their divine right to just take their suffering buddy’s book? And what about the figures who lurk on the fringes, Samuel Welles Junior, whose only involvement is borrowing a volume of Cicero, or Septimius Huntington, who may be no more than a later owner of the book just as I am? They’re none of them mentioned in the Dictionary of National Biography, as I had hoped.

Furthermore, on pp. 444 & 445–right in the middle of the Second Philippic, someone at some point has pressed a leaf.



I wrote to my friend Ken Smith, in Sewanee’s Forestry department, to ask for his opinion. He sent the picture around to some colleagues, and wrote back, “The panel has decided….. Somebody strolling by picked an orchid of some kind.” Who or when is hard to say, but I like to think of Elijah Smith sitting in a field somewhere one spring, more attentive to the flowers around him than his studies or to the bills and obligations he has piling up. He sighs, picks an orchid, and absconds.




About Uncomely and Broken

I am a classicist in Sewanee, Tennessee.
This entry was posted in Classics, Education, England, Italy, Language & Etymology, Rome, Sewanee, Time, Trees & Flowers, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Little mysteries in an old edition of Cicero

  1. Pingback: In Search of Elijah Smith: Glastonbury | uncomelyandbroken

  2. Tex Red says:

    Hello. As a fellow classicist (sort of, more Greek than Latin) and a resident of Pickering (now Jefferson) County, I’m intrigued by your quest. Two local sources are the most knowledgeable about local history (after me, that is): Mimi Miller at the Historic Natchez Foundation, and Ann Brown, who has tramped the woods of Jefferson County and inventoried every cemetery in her books on same. Of course, the Miss. Dept. of Archives and History (online catalog is accessible via the Net) has much information about the Mississippi Territory, including books about the earliest settlers, etc. My own folks arrived a bit later, in 1806, in Adams County. As someone noted, Pickering, the second county created in the Territory after Andrew Ellicott came to take possession for President Jefferson in 1795, extended to the east to an indeterminate boundary (perhaps as far as the Georgia state line), but most incoming settlers would have aimed for Natchez, on the Miss. River and also the terminus of the Natchez Trace and a center of culture and trade. Those settlements to its east would have been quite small and primitive and also in danger from Native Americans. If I can provide more information, do let me know. meinin aeide thea Peleiadeu Achilleus

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