Romeo Elton (1790-1870), professor of Latin and Greek, was born in Burlington, Connecticut, in 1790, His father was a farmer, and in early life Romeo Elton, of frail constitution and gentle disposition, engaged in agricultural pursuits for which he was not particulary suited. He entered Brown University in 1810 and graduated in 1813. After graduation he taught in Philadelphia and in the South, while he studied for the ministry. He was ordained in 1817 and became minister of the Second Baptist church in Newport. He left that position because of a hemorrhage of his lungs, and, after a period of rest, became pastor of a Baptist church in Windsor, Vermont. In 1825 he was appointed professor of Latin and Greek at Brown, but did not begin teaching immediately, as President Messer recommended that he first spend two years studying in Europe at his own expense. He taught until 1843. Of his teaching it was noted in his obituary, “He had little taste for the drill of the recitation room, and he instinctively shrank from asking questions which he thought the students could not answer. His scholarship, however, was respectable for the time, and his general knowledge in literature and theology was highly creditable. His lectures, also, on classical antiquity were attractive and inspiring, and received by the students with marked favor.” Charles T. Congdon 1841 wrote in his Reminiscences:
“We had another professor of the Greek and Latin languages in the Rev. Romeo Elton, S.T.D. It was without any accurate prescience of his future proportions that his parents gave to him the name of the elegant young lover of Verona, for he was a little, round man, of a presence by no means romantic. It is impossible now to say by what concatenation it happened, but the irreverent undergraduates of a bygone period had bestowed upon the sesquipedalian professor the name of ‘Bump,’ and though he was exceedingly popular, he was seldom called anything else. Whether he was a strong classical scholar or not we never could find out, for he was so absurdly good-natured and so punctiliously polite and of such confirmed mauvaise honte withal, that we did much as we pleased in his class-room. It was upon the ground floor, and when the exercises became dull, and the windows were open, the students occasionally jumped through them after roll-call and went away. They were not missed by the good doctor, who would probably be engaged at the time of the exits in a bland illustration of the Iter Brundusinum or some other part of Horace, drawn from his personal observation when abroad.”
Living abroad was what appealed to Elton. He moved to Exeter in England in 1845 and remained there until 1867, at which time he moved to Bath. During this time he made only one visit to the United States in 1852. In 1869 he returned and spent the last few months of his life in Newport and Boston. He died at the Parker House in Boston on February 5, 1870. He had spent his years of retirement studying, speaking and writing. He published a memoir of Roger Williams in 1853. He preached for churches which had no minister, and during the Civil War he arranged public lectures to inform the British about the situation in America. He gave a scholarship to the University and bequeathed $20,000 to establish the Romeo Elton Professorship of Natural Philosophy.