in Three Clerks

Chapter 06 – Sir Gregory Hardlines

ne plus ultra

The narrator makes use of this Latin phrase (“not more beyond”) when we learn that, beyond his promotion, Mr. Hardlines also receives a gift of £1,000. The use of Latin in this context, its meaning, and the monetary and social elevation of Mr. Hardlines all strengthen one another and reinforce the greatness of his change. [GZ 2016]


Undecimus Scott

Because he was selected as the right-hand man of Mr. Hardlines, Alaric becomes acquainted with the Honorable Undecimus Scott. Also known as Undy, he is the eleventh son of a noble family. Undecimus is a Latin adjective meaning eleventh. Numbering one’s children was an ancient Roman tradition, with two common examples being Quintus, meaning fifth, and Octavius, meaning eighth. However, the name Undecimus takes a Classical tradition to an exaggerated and humorous end. Although Undy comes from an influential family, it would have been customary at this time that only the first born son (and occasionally the first few sons) be fully supported financially—and his position as the eleventh son signals to us that Undy has to support himself. While we see that Undy comes from a privileged background, reinforced by his Latin name, we are simultaneously reminded that because of his generic name he is left to make his own name for himself. [GZ 2016]


men’s minds

Because mens is a Latin noun meaning mind, the phrase “men’s minds” becomes a subtle and playful juxtaposition of English and Latin. The fact that Trollope uses this phrase twice in adjacent sentences suggests that he was likely aware of it. Through what may have otherwise been an overlooked phrase, we are made aware of Trollope’s familiarity with both languages and his ability to weave Classics effortlessly into his writing. [GZ 2016]


detur digno, detur digniori

In scrutinizing the merits of civil service examinations, the narrator contrasts detur digno, Latin for “may it be given to the worthy one,” and detur digniori, “may it be given to the more worthy one.” The former phrase is used to describe the principle supported by the narrator that a position in the civil service ought to be given to a worthy person. The latter phrase describes a principle by which an employee is selected by competition with his peers. This is called “a fearful law” by the narrator. The use of Latin to express these philosophies of promotion makes them appear more abstract and law-like. [GZ & RR 2016]


Greek iambics

One of Trollope’s objections to the idea of detur digniori is based on the shifting standards for what might make someone more worthy than another: “It may one day be conic sections, another Greek iambics, and a third German philosophy.” Along with mathematics and philosophy Trollope includes a knowledge of Greek meter as one possible measure of worthiness, but in the next sentence Trollope implicitly contrasts knowledge of ancient languages with that of modern ones, when he mentions that “Rumour began to say that foreign languages were now very desirable.” That Classical knowledge is included in this list of possible standards shows Classics’ traditional place in British education, but we also see that its place may not be paramount. [RR 2016]


Mr. A. Minusex and Mr. Alphabet Precis

Before the process of the examination, the narrator introduces several characters who are likely candidates for the position of senior clerk. Mr. A. Minusex is an “arithmetician” whose name underscores his algebraic background: a minus x. Algebra is a branch of mathematics using letters to stand in for unsolved quantities, and the English word minus comes from the Latin adjective minus, meaning smaller or less. Mr. Alphabet Precis has a penchant for language and stylized writing, and his first name, which comes from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet (alpha and beta), similarly underscores his own characteristic strength. Trollope commonly uses a character’s name to self-reference particular traits. [GZ & RR 2016]



Mr. Precis is introduced to us with a description of his writing style, which would have been scorned by Paternoster Row but was esteemed at Downing Street and thought to be “superior to Gibbon.” Edward Gibbon, a master stylist, was the author of The History of the Fall and Decline of the Roman Empire, which was referenced already in Chapter 2. Paternoster Row refers to a street in London once known for its publishing houses (see Proper Names list), while Downing Street is known for its association with the government. Thus, Mr. Precis’ writing style becomes a way for Trollope to critique the writing conventions of the government rather than a way to praise Mr. Precis. [GZ 2016]