The Collected Letters, Volume 28


TC TO J. W. DONALDSON ; 15 May 1853; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18530515-TC-JWD-01; CL 28: 141-143


Chelsea, 15 May, 1853—

My dear Sir,

You did not come to see me according to your promise and intention; which fact costs us, among other losses, the trouble of this Letter; for I had a question to put to you, which I did not recollect while at the Athenaeum.

Among Frederick the Great's Officers is a certain “Major Quintus Icilius,” whose real name was Guichard, originally a poor Flemish Scholar, candidate for Professorships &c,1—upon whose Book, Mémoires militaires sur les Grecs et les Romains (Hague, 1757, 2v. 4to) I should like very well to hear your opinion, had you ever thought of looking into it or forming an opinion, some day or other. That, however, is not the present question; the present question is of Guichard's nickname merely.

It seems, the learned marching Captain, having offered his services, after writing this Book, to King Fritz, and been accepted; came, about the beginning of 1758, to Breslau where the said Fritz was; and being a man of intelligence was frequently admitted to a long evening talk with the King,—about the Battle of Pharsalia,2 the Tenth Legion, and a world of other kindred topics. In regard to the Tenth Legion and Battle of Pharsalia, and especially to the sublime exploit of a certain Centurion in that Legion, which had as usual the extreme right for its position there, and did, by its dexterous Centurion, and something they call the schiefe Stellung (“oblique order,” suddenly assumed),—give Pompey an ugly slap on the face:—in regard to this, I say, Fritz and the new Captain were emphatic in their admiration; and Fritz said, “This Quintus Cæcilius must have been a first-rate fellow.”— “Pardon me, your Majesty, his name was Quintus Icilius,—the name of that clever Centurion of the Tenth Legion at the Battle of Pharsalia!”

—Some argument hereupon; but next day Guichard produced “the Book” (which!), and the name was found actually to be Qu Icilius. “Well, yours shall be Quintus Icilius, too,” said Fk, who did not usually own himself wrong and beaten in such cases, but was wont to ride off on any broomstick he could clutch: “You are Q. Icilius!”—[T]his is a fact, for Guichard himself told it to Nicolai, the most authentic of men. And another fact is that, in a few weeks afterwards, a new appointment of a “Major Quintus Icilius” appeared upon the Prussian Order Books,—somewhat to the wonder of several, but uncontradictible by any;—and “Quintus Icilius,” the name Guichard quite extinguished, did feats of arms (especially of plunder, on an occasion), and continued very conspicuous about Sans-Souci till his death long after the War was done.

And now after this long preamble comes my question to you. Nicolai cannot find this Centurion Quintus in any old Book,—nor can I (even if I tried!);—and the question is, Do you know anything about such a Centurion, & such a feat, in the Battle of Pharsalia?

Nicolai, in his whole survey of Ancient History, finds only 3 Iciliuses, two in Livy, one in Appian: Spurius Icilius (Livy 1. , c. 58), Lucius do (Virginia's man, Livy III, 44); and Publius do, one of the Proscribed after Caesar's death (Appianus, Bello Civili, IV. 27):3 Nicolai has tried, and can do no more. The story of Guichard is told in a hundred other German Books; but none, except Nicolai, has even tried to get at the bottom of it.— In this condition it arrives at Bury St Edmunds; with a new hope lighting its poor dim old eyes.

If you can without much trouble settle this matter, it is really a thing which Scholarship ought to have done; and as German Scholarship (blinded by Academic tobacco and other sad causes) has never seen the problem, let English now try it!— For the rest, I need not say, it is not a great question, alas no! But I will leave it with you, making no apologies; and send you another too, if another arise.

Yours very sincerely /

T. Carlyle