Chapter 09 – Mrs. Wortle and Mr. Puddicombe

Horace echoed

When the Peacockes discuss their situation, Mrs. Peacocke asserts that she is not ashamed of herself.  Mr. Peacocke assures her that he is ashamed of neither her nor himself.  Their conversation echoes the sentiment which Mr. Peacocke used Horace to express in Chapter 8 (see commentary on nil conscire sibi).  Mr. Peacocke’s use of Horace in conversation with Lord Carstairs consolidates the gentlemanly bond between them; when talking with his wife, Mr. Peacocke does not have recourse to Latin.

Mr. Peacocke complicates Horace’s sentiment somewhat here.  Although the Peacockes can take some comfort from their clear consciences, Mr. Peacocke reminds Mrs. Peacocke that the mores of their social context also matter, and their living situation runs counter to those norms.  [RR 2014]



There are many variant accounts of the phoenix in Greek mythology, but they hold in common that the phoenix is a long-lived bird, bursts into flames on its death, is reborn from its ashes, and is associated with the sun.  By calling Mr. Peacocke “the very phoenix of school assistants,” Trollope is connecting Mr. Peacocke to a rare mythical beast and to the sun itself; Mr. Peacocke is a shining paragon in his field whose equal it would be difficult to find.  Trollope could also be foreshadowing Mr. Peacocke’s own “rebirth” after his “annihilation,” that annihilation being the revelation of his uncertain marital status and the destruction of his reputation.  [JE 2014]

Phoenix is also the name of Achilles’ tutor, so perhaps Trollope is making a double Classical allusion here:  As “the very phoenix of school assistants,” Mr. Peacocke is both a rare bird and the equal of a famous mythological teacher.  [RR 2014]



Dr. Wortle thinks of himself as if he were in a battle against the bishop’s phalanx.  The phalanx was the primary military formation used in classical Greece.  It was an interlocking block of hoplites, citizen-soldiers armed with spears and shields.  Each hoplite was protected by half of his own shield and half of his neighbor’s shield.  As a result, the phalanx relied heavily on group coordination.  Dr. Wortle’s solitary stand against the phalanx may reflect the clash between individualism and collectivism that is present throughout the book.  Another important aspect of the phalanx is its rigidness.  The phalanx excelled at charging straight forward.  However, its interlocking structure made it difficult to change directions fluidly.  In this way, the likeness between the church and the phalanx may also show the church’s difficulty in adapting to the complexity of Mr. and Mrs. Peacocke’s situation.  [BL 2013]


Fortune and sin

When the Wortles are discussing Mrs. Peacocke, Dr. Wortle ask his wife, “Ought we not to be kind to one whom Fortune has been so unkind?”  Mrs. Wortle responds, “If we can do so without sin.”  While Dr. Wortle’s description of Mrs. Peacocke employs the Classical personification of Fortune, Mrs. Wortle’s response takes its key from Christianity.  The tension between these perspectives epitomizes the conflict of views about the Peacockes’ situation.  [RR 2014]

Chapter 08 – The Story is Told

Mr. Peacocke’s Greek verbs and a passage from Caesar

Mr. Peacocke has concerns weighing on his distracted mind, but he is still able to teach his students their Classical material effectively.  Yet, as he ironically says to Clifford junior in a kind of vicarious reprimand, “Caesar wants all your mind.”  [JE 2014]


nil conscire sibi, nulla pallescere culpa

As he did in Chapter 6 (see commentary on dabit Deus), Mr. Peacocke again quotes a Classical text when discussing his personal situation with Lord Carstairs.  This time Mr. Peacocke’s source is Horace, and the quotation can be translated “to be conscious of no guilt, to turn pale at no blame.”  Mr. Peacocke uses Horace to express his ethical standard of being right with himself.  Trollope quotes the same bit of Horace in The Claverings (see commentary for Chapter 43) and The Last Chronicle of Barset (see commentary for Chapter 62).  [RR 2014]

Source:  Horace, Epistle 1.1.61.

Chapter 06 – Lord Carstairs

Lord Carstairs’ education

Lord Carstairs’ private tutorials in Latin and Greek resemble a Roman or Athenian education in which a young man might be privately educated by a tutor.  This form of education could build a lasting sense of fellowship between the tutor and pupil, and we see the development of a friendship between Mr. Peacocke and Lord Carstairs.  Mr. Peacocke’s influence over Lord Carstairs may also be evident in Lord Carstairs’ adoption of Mr. Peacocke’s unusual level of individualism in romantic pursuits.  [BL 2013]


Classics in America

When Mr. Peacocke discusses with Lord Carstairs his time in America, he includes mention of the differences between Classics in America and Classics in England.  This distinction becomes one way of describing or assessing cultural differences between the two countries.  [BL & RR 2014]


Dabit Deus his quoque finem

In a conversation with the young Lord Carstairs Mr. Peacocke quotes this Latin phrase that means “God will give even to these things an end.”  The quotation comes from book 1 of Vergil’s Aeneid, as Aeneas comforts his sailors during a storm.  When Mr. Peacocke uses the phrase, he aligns himself with Aeneas, the hero who fled the burning of his city, Troy, and who suffered hardships with his people during their travels.  Much like Aeneas, Mr. Peacocke has already endured much in his past and must continue to endure.  Yet this phrase also foreshadows an end of suffering, for both Aeneas and Mr. Peacocke.

Trollope makes the choice to capitalize Deus.  This seemingly minor change opens up a new set of connotations.  The capitalized Deus becomes a monolithic entity separate from the plurality of the Roman pantheon and can be associated instead with the single God of Christianity.  For Trollope’s audience, the capitalization could add a degree of solemn spirituality to the quotation that the more intellectual Classical reference alone might not supply.  Trollope and Mr. Peacocke are finding a way to synthesize Classics and Christianity.

In discussing a personal situation with his pupil Mr. Peacocke enlists Classics as a touchstone which they have in common.  This demonstrates both the use of Classics as a hermeneutic lens for understanding one’s present situation and the recognition of Classics as a “common language” shared by gentlemen.  [JE & RR 2014]

Source:  Vergil, Aeneid 1.199.


Classical matutinal performances

Trollope tells us:  “Mr. Peacocke, of course, attended the morning school.  Indeed, as the matutinal performances were altogether classical, it was impossible that much should be done without him.”  When Trollope switches to the adjective “matutinal” in the second sentence rather than re-use “morning,” the variation linguistically underscores the Classical focus of the morning lessons, since “matutinal” is derived from the Latin adjective matutinus (“morning”).  [RR 2014]

Chapter 05 – “Then We Must Go”


Whereas the reference in Chapter 1 to Dr. Wortle as Jupiter was made by Trollope-as-narrator, in this instance Mrs. Peacocke introduces the Classical reference.  Whether or not a character is able to deploy Classics appropriately is a testament to their ability to judge the situation or characters around them and draw an apt comparison.  In repeating and reinforcing a use of Classics employed earlier by the author Mrs. Peacocke is shown to have an insight into Dr. Wortle’s character similar to the author’s own.  This conversation between husband and wife also shows that they are equals, able to banter as peers using the Classical reference.  Mrs. Peacocke is even able to transfer the joke from Jupiter-the-god to Jupiter-the-planet, demonstrating her quick wit.  [JE & RR 2014]



Mr. Peacocke describes the Peacocke’s relationship and living arrangement “as fixed by fate.”  Mr. Peacocke appeals to a Classical and abstract idea of a higher power affecting human life; he does not invoke a Christian God in this context, since his living situation with Mrs. Peacocke violates Christian convention.  [RR 2014]