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Penn Connections: Provost William Smith’s Sermon on “the Death of a Beloved Pupil,” Printed by Ben Franklin in 1754

Eric White


A Sermon Occasioned by the Death of a beloved Pupil by William Smith, Inscribed half-title (left) and title page with mourning border (right). Bridwell Library Special Collections, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. Posted in honor of Franklin who was born January 17, 1706.

For many people, the most interesting rare books are those whose histories reveal authentic connections to known people, institutions, or events. One such book is Bridwell Library’s copy of a sermon printed in 1754 on the occasion of the death of a student at the Academy of Philadelphia, the first incarnation of what is today the University of Pennsylvania (my alma mater). It was printed by Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), founder of the Academy, and inscribed by its author, Rev. William Smith (1727–1803), who soon became the first Provost of that Academy, for presentation to a fellow educator back in England. The inscription on the half-title page reads: “The Author / To the rev. Dr. Green Master of / Bennet College, Cambri[dge] / Philadelphia / Oct r. 19th. 1754.” A brief review of the circumstances surrounding this inscribed pamphlet reveals both an intriguing personal drama and early connections between academic life and the printing press in colonial America. [Read more]

Master & Pupil: A Rare Textbook Used at the University of Padua in 1486

Eric White


Armandus de Bellovisu, Expositio super Thomae de Aquino libellum de ente et essentia. Padua: Matthaeus Cerdonis, 29 August 1482. Bridwell Library Special Collections, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.

It is a commonplace in book history that early typography often served the purposes of the major universities, whose administrations and faculty quickly took advantage of the new printing press technology to supply books for its students. However, it is extremely unusual to find a copy of a fifteenth-century printed book that can be associated with a particular student enrolled during a particular academic term at a particular university within a particular class taught by a particular professor. [Read more]