1854-June 1855

The Collected Letters, Volume 29


TC TO J. W. DONALDSON; 5 August 1854; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18540805-TC-JWD-01; CL 29: 137-138


Chelsea, 5 Augt, 1854—

My dear Sir,

Doubtless you can recollect what a struggle there was, last year about this time, for a day or two, in searching for the mystery of Major Quintus Icilius.1 He remained, I must confess, and does still remain, considerably a riddle to me. Nicolai's account of Prussian things is usually exact:2 but in what circumstances (whether à propos of Pharsalia and the Tenth Legion, or of what) the learned Captain Guichard “Produced the Book next morning,” and convinced Frederick of his royal error, and got the title Major Quintus Icilius ever afterwards,—above all things, what “Book” it was that he produced?3 There are still questions; and except that the game is rather worthless, a good deal of excellent candle might still be spent in prosecuting it. I accepted your ingenious solution as the plausiblest attainable, and keep it safe, being unwilling to waste human intellect farther in such a pursuit.

However, there came yesterday, extracted from a late edition of the Conversations Lexicon (later than mine of about 1830, which contains no article Guichard), the following sentence given under that Head of Guichard: “Einstmals in Gesprüch über den Centurier Ilicius, der beim Polybius, erwähnt wird und den der König Icilius nannte”4—which gives a new figure to the inquiry, and throws Nicolai as it were out of the game.

The problem now would be to find a Centurion Ilicius in Polybius, whom the King could have misnamed Icilius;—or vice versa would do equally well, and be still more likely as an origin for Guichard's nickname. But alas on going to Donne5 yesterday with this discovery, and trying all his editions of Polybius (the French Folard and the Greek Schweighäuser)6 there is nowhere in the Indexes such a name as either Icilius or Ilicius; and as of course there cannot be any talk of Pharsalia &c in Polybius, we are thrown out into the beach again, and remain almost more helpless than before!

Far be it from me to wish or even permit you to search into dim old Books for such a waif as this Ilicius the extremely insignificant Centurion (if he were even that, or were anything) of 2000 years ago: only I could not but report the new phasis of the riddle to you; and will say, If you do ever in Polybius or elsewhere come upon such a name, pray mark it down, and give me notice.7

We are here all autumn; nearly drowned with rain at present; and not in any respect too triumphantly circumstanced. If you ever come to Town in these months, in all likelihood we are to be found here.

Yours always truly /

T. Carlyle

Revd Dr Donaldson &c &c