Chapter 04 – The Doctor Asks His Question

facile princeps

The phrase facile princeps is used to set Mr. Peacocke apart from the other teachers and is Latin for “easily foremost.”  This specific phrase can be found five times in Cicero’s work and hardly at all in the texts of other Latin authors; the praise it conveys carries weight by virtue of both its meaning and Cicero’s own status within the Classical canon.  Cicero had a significant place in the Classical curriculum of the 19th c., and so it is particularly apt to use a Ciceronian phrase to describe Mr. Peacocke, the Classics master and the best of the teachers at the school.  [JE & RR 2014]

Sources:  Cicero, Post Reditum in Senatu 5, De Oratore 3.60, De Divinatione 2.87, Timaeus 2, Epistulae ad Familiares 6.10a.

Chapter 03 – The Mystery


When discussing Mr. Peacocke’s rescue of the student from the stream, Dr. Wortle tells Mr. Peacocke that he felt lucky to have had a man such as Mr. Peacocke “ready at such an emergence.”  “Emergence” here works like “emergency,” but perhaps we should also sense some of its literal etymological meaning at play:  its Latin components e– (“out from”) and merg- (“plunge”) bespeak a coming out of water, and Mr. Peacocke’s response to the emergency was to bring the student out of the stream.  [RR 2014]



Ferdinand Lefroy’s actions “solve all bonds of affection” between himself and his wife.  Trollope uses “solve” here to signify something equivalent to the Latin verb solvere from which it is derived:  “to loosen, break up.”  [RR 2014]

Chapter 02 – The New Usher

Mr. Peacocke’s Classical career

While Dr. Wortle is searching for a new teacher with a wife who could undertake domestic duties for the school, Mr. Peacocke—an Oxford-educated Classicist who became the vice-president of a Classical college in Missouri—is looking for employment.  In the 19th c., for a Classical scholar to move from Oxford, with its legacy of Classical scholarship, to a college in America with no comparable history at all, would have been considered a downgrade in terms of both quality and reputation.  For Mr. Peacocke to have made the move willingly could be viewed as a rather foolhardy choice.  Trollope describes Dr. Wortle himself as “a thorough-going Tory of the old school” who “considered himself bound to hate the name of a republic” and who “loved Oxford with all his heart.”  Yet, while he “had been heard to say some hard things” about Mr. Peacocke’s move to America, Dr. Wortle is prepared to forgive the man when he returns to the English fold and meets Dr. Wortle’s requirements.  [JE 2014]


hate the name of a republic

Trollope explains Dr. Wortle’s dislike for America by mentioning that as “a thorough-going Tory of the old school” Dr. Wortle “considered himself bound to hate the name of a republic.”  Trollope’s turn of phrase here recalls expressions of the Romans’ dislike of monarchy once they had founded a republic.  In Cicero’s De Re Publica we read that “once Tarquin was expelled, the Roman populace had such great hatred for the name of king.”  Trollope’s twist here on the Classical formulation is clever, as it employs a Classical prototype but inverts its political orientation:  the conservative Dr. Wortle supports monarchy and is skeptical of a republic.  [RR 2014]

Source:  Cicero, De Re Publica 2.52.


Mr. Peacocke’s Classical library

Mr. Peacocke’s small but comprehensive library shows that his Classical interests are focused on scholarship.  The collection’s lack of grandiosity indicates that Mr. Peacocke is not attempting to use his work with Classics to appear more cultured.  Trollope may be suggesting that Mr. Peacocke’s attitude toward scholarship is purer than that of Dr. Wortle, who is very concerned with his own public image.  [BL 2013]


Lady Altamont

Lady Altamont makes a brief appearance at Dr. Wortle’s school when her son, a pupil at the school, falls ill.  Her name underscores her lofty position in society, since alt- in Latin means “high” and mont– means “mountain.”  Her appearance in the novel provides an opportunity for readers to see the self-possession of Mrs. Peacocke in action:  when the high-placed Lady Altamont tries to give Mrs. Peacocke money for nursing Lady Altamont’s son, Mrs. Peacocke refuses it in such a way that Lady Altamont “blushed, and stammered, and begged a hundred pardons.”  Mrs. Peacocke may not have the social status of the marchioness, but her personal bearing is considerable.  [RR 2014]


decent people

Dr. Wortle is exasperated that the Peacockes will not dine at the Wortles’ house “like any other decent people.”  Mr. Peacocke explains that they are “not like any other decent people.”  Perhaps “decent” here is carrying some of the force of its Latin forebear decens, decentis, “fitting, proper.”  The Peacockes do not socialize with other “decent” people because their marital situation does not conform to social expectations of what is fitting or proper.  [RR 2014]



Although the Wortles’ choice to name their dog “Neptune” after the Roman god of the sea may seem a somewhat arbitrary use of Classics, Trollope has Neptune live up to the aquatic associations of his name when the dog pushes a young student into a stream.  [RR 2014]

When Mr. Peacocke rescues the boy, he shows a human capability above a god, even if it is just a dog named after a god.  This incident, along with the influence Mr. Peacocke has over the Jupiter-like Dr. Wortle and the esteem Dr. Wortle has for him, casts the quiet Classical scholar in the unlikely role of semi-Classical hero, though he is still only a hero in a humorous world where Dr. Wortle and Neptune the dog are gods.  [JE 2014]

Chapter 01 – Dr. Wortle

Jupiter and his nod

“As his wife worshipped him, and regarded him as a Jupiter on earth from whose nod there could be and should be no appeal, but little harm came from this.”  With this reference to the king of the Roman gods in the second paragraph of the novel, Trollope can immediately attach to Dr. Wortle associations of power and authority that revolve around Jupiter and thus more quickly establish Dr. Wortle’s character.  Both Jupiter and Dr. Wortle are the masters of their domains, and they both can dole out judgment with supreme authority.  Yet, just as Jupiter’s supreme authority does not necessarily equal supreme good for humans, neither do Dr. Wortle’s decisions automatically lead to the best outcomes for those around him.

The comparison between Jupiter and Dr. Wortle becomes uncomfortable when Trollope describes how Dr. Wortle’s wife “worships” him, elevating him to a divine status.  Not even Jupiter could effect this level of spousal obedience.  Furthermore, by holding his own opinion in such high esteem and allowing others to elevate him to a position of absolute authority, Dr. Wortle is arguably acting hubristically.

However, Trollope softens Dr. Wortle’s potential hubris, claiming with a pardoning conditional statement that “if a tyrant, he was an affectionate tyrant.”  Trollope also describes how “little harm came” from Dr. Wortle’s playing god in his household.  Yet the idea remains that Dr. Wortle has overstepped his human boundaries and is in some way too high-handed.  Through the simile likening Dr. Wortle to Jupiter we are introduced to a flawed man who is accustomed to his power and is accustomed to considering himself right yet who still manages to be likeable with this foible.  [JE 2014]

Within the simile depicting Dr. Wortle as an earthly Jupiter, Trollope mentions the force of Dr. Wortle’s nod.  Given that Trollope is making a reference to Roman mythology, his use of the English “nod” may call to some readers’ minds the various meanings of the Latin noun numen:  “a nod of the head,” “divine power,” and “divinity.”  [RR 2014]


Latin and Greek

During Trollope’s introduction of Dr. Wortle we learn that Dr. Wortle had previously had a minor confrontation with a bishop who had been concerned that Dr. Wortle was favoring his work as an educator over his duty as a clergyman.  While Latin and Greek are sometimes closely tied to the church, in this instance Classics is presented in some opposition to the church.  [BL 2013]



When the bishop who questioned Dr. Wortle’s divided attention is moved to a different diocese, Trollope calls the move a “translation” and relies on the literal meaning of the word’s Latin components:  trans “across” and lat “having been carried.”  Trollope’s recourse to Latinate etymology is perhaps especially fitting here since Trollope has been discussing Dr. Wortle’s school in which Latin is a core subject.  [RR 2014]


senior or Classical assistant-master

Dr. Wortle sets aside a special residence specifically for a senior or Classical assistant-master.  The fact that the position of Classical assistant-master is equated with a senior assistant-master shows how highly Classics is regarded.  [BL 2013]