in Three Clerks

Chapter 01 – The Weights and Measures

antipodistic of the Circumlocution Office

In describing the efficiency of the Office of Weights and Measures, the narrator claims that it is so well run that “it is exactly antipodistic of the Circumlocution Office.” The English adjective antipodistic, meaning opposite, derives from the Greek suffix anti-, meaning against, and the noun pous, meaning foot, conveying the idea of two diametrically opposed parties as if standing on opposite sides of the globe. The English noun circumlocution comes from the Latin preposition circum, meaning around, and the verb loquor, meaning speak. Using somewhat circumlocutory vocabulary itself, this sentence simply says that Weights and Measures is the opposite of the less efficient Circumlocution Office. Also, the juxtaposition of two relatively uncommon, Classically-derived words highlights the degree to which class and education are valued in the civil service. [GZ & RR 2016]


sport with Amaryllis in the shade

Clerks in Weights and Measures soon learn that their jobs are not conducive to great leisure. To convey this, Trollope quotes a line from Milton’s “Lycidas,” which evokes the Classical pastoral tradition; in three of Vergil’s Eclogues (1, 2, and 3) a love interest is named Amaryllis. Unlike pastoral lovers, clerks in Weights and Measure will not dally with their beloveds. [RR 2016]


touching his trembling ears

The narrator claims that the demanding nature of the jobs in Weights and Measures might cause some clerks to yearn for a place in a less demanding bureau. When a clerk thinks about that, however, Phoebus is said to “touch his trembling ears.” Phoebus Apollo similarly touches the ear of Tityrus, a poet and shepherd in Vergil’s Eclogues, when the young man begins to err from singing his usual songs. The chief clerk becomes humorously cast in the role of Apollo and redirects his underling not to pastoral poetry but to office work. [GZ & RR 2016]

source: Vergil, Eclogues 6.3-5.


Henry Norman and his education

Henry’s last name might echo the Latin noun norma, which refers to a carpenter’s square or any standard rule of measure (hence English norm and normal). Henry’s surname befits a clerk in Weights and Measures and more broadly suggests that Henry himself embodies gentlemanly norms. Not unsurprisingly Henry received the education expected of a gentleman, first at a public school and then for a year at Oxford, where Classics would have figured substantially in his curriculum. [RR 2016]


Alaric Tudor’s education

Unlike Henry’s education, Alaric Tudor’s was less systematic and did not follow the gentlemanly norm. He went to a private, not public, school, tutored at a German university, and claims only a “smattering of Latin and Greek.” Alaric’s less orthodox education marks him as somewhat of a social outsider and perhaps presages some of his less orthodox, ungentlemanly business dealings later in the novel. [RR 2016]


a hospital for idiots

When the Board suggests to Mr. Hardlines that his standards for testing candidates may be too harsh, he bitterly remarks: “If the Board chose to make the Weights and Measures a hospital for idiots, it might do so.” Trollope may be drawing on the etymology of idiot here. While we commonly use idiot as a word for a foolish or unthinking person, it is derived from the Greek idiotēs, a noun referring to someone who is involved in their own affairs rather than issues of public interest. As someone running an office of the civil service Mr. Hardlines is dismayed at the prospect of a staff of idiots and idiotēs. [RR 2016]