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Found: “Gulielmi Ellery Liver”: Or, the Book of William Ellery

This post is contributed by Gabriella Angeloni, Supervisory Buchanan/Burnham Fellow

This 1740 copy of Isaac Watts’ Improvement of the Mind: Or, A Supplement to the Art of Logick belonged to William Ellery, a Rhode Island Signer of the Declaration of Independence, and was recently discovered in a box of nineteenth century books in the NHS collection.

Inscribed in the upper right corner of the title page is: Gulielmi Ellery Liver 1744. In Latin, Gulielmus is the equivalent of William. “Gulielmi [Latin possessive] Ellery Liver” thus translates to: William Ellery’s Book.

Ellery was sixteen to seventeen years old at the time he wrote the inscription in 1744, coinciding with his matriculation at Harvard College after studying the classics under his father’s tutelage. He graduated from Harvard three years later in 1747. Here, the young Ellery is not only claiming ownership over the book (possibly given to him as a parting gift by his father, or so I like to imagine!), but also demonstrating his proficiency in Latin.

Praised by famous contemporary lexicographer Samuel Johnson as “a work in the highest degree useful and pleasing,” Watts’ Improvement of the Mind was also included in the personal libraries of Ellery’s fellow Signers Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

Ellery’s copy is currently undergoing much needed mold remediation. When treated, it will join others in our Ellery Library collection, including a 1763 volume of Virgil’s works with Ellery’s illustrations inside the cover pages, John Milton’s Paradise Lost printed in 1711, Jeremy Collier’s Supplement to the Great Historical, Geographical, Genealogical and Poetic Dictionary printed in London in 1705, originally belonging to his father, as well as Ellery’s complete set of Robert Bell’s first colonial edition of Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England.

To learn more about William Ellery and his library collection, check out this FOUND! post from 2011.