in Three Clerks

Chapter 11 – The Three Kings

other Charleys to her bow

When Harry spends more time with Charley, the bar-maid with whom Charley flirts consequently sees him less. Trollope tells us that she doesn’t suffer in Charley’s absence because “she had other Charleys to her bow.” Trollope uses an English turn of phrase whose origin rests in the fact that an archer would carry an extra bowstring. Although this image is not of Classical origin, Trollope often employs it when talking about romantic relationships, which conflates the “bow” of the saying with Cupid’s love-inspiring weapon. [RR 2016]

source: Entry in Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.



The word prodigy comes from the Latin noun prodigium, which refers to an omen or sign that revealed a disruption of the normal order of things. While such prodigia were believed to portend dangerous consequences for ancient Romans, we are led to believe that Charley’s punctuality indicates an improvement of his character and that he is taking his job seriously (although it is in the Internal Navigation Office). [GZ 2016]


an infant Hercules

The narrator likens the Office of Weights and Measures to a “cradle” in which Sir Gregory Hardlines, as “an infant Hercules,” spent his time before being promoted to the civil service examination board. Hercules is the Roman spelling of the name of the Greek mythological hero Heracles. When Zeus sired Heracles with Alcmene, Hera (Zeus’ wife) became jealous and angry, sending a pair of snakes to kill the baby. Despite his age, Heracles easily killed the snakes and showed his strength. The image that the narrator employs reinforces the idea that Sir Hardlines was a powerful man when he was the head of Weights and Measures. Sir Hardlines is even more powerful now: his position on the examination board signifies that he has moved from the “cradle” to a mightier position. [GZ 2016]


viva voce and quantum

The narrator uses the Latin phrase viva voce (“with living voice”) four times in Chapter 11 in reference to Mr. Jobbles’ oral examinations. It is fitting that this phrase is used with Mr. Jobbles, who taught university students for many years, because use of the Latin language is a marker of privileged education. Furthermore, the fact that this phrase is used so frequently and always in regard to Mr. Jobbles underscores his stodgy attitude generally. [GZ 2016]

Later in the chapter, the phrase “a quantum of Mr. Jobbles’ viva voce” compounds Latinisms in describing Mr. Jobbles’ examination practices. [RR 2016]



In Classical mythology Icarus was the son of Daedalus, the inventor who made wings from feathers and wax for Icarus and himself so that they could escape from Minos’ labyrinth on the island of Crete. Daedalus warns Icarus not to fly too close to the sun because his wax will melt, causing the wings to fall apart. Icarus, seemingly deaf to his father’s worries, flies near the sun and then dies. The narrator mentions Icarus here to indicate the degree of hopelessness in the situation when someone writes to the Treasury lords and expects a quick response. A response will not be given quickly because “they are deafer than Icarus” to the concerns of the outside world. [GZ 2016]

source: Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.183-235.



Mr. Jobbles’ examinations are said to be difficult. Even though a candidate may think he is prepared to succeed because he has learned everything about the relation of the earth and the moon, Mr. Jobbles will instead quiz him on botany. The surprising lack of questions about the moon is as “if Luna were extinct.” Luna is the ancient Roman moon goddess and is itself the Latin word for moon. This Classical reference, along with questions pertaining to the planet Jupiter during the same examination, highlights the fact that a candidate is thought to need a strong educational background to be able to succeed on Mr. Jobbles’ examinations. It is ironic that Alaric succeeds despite the fact that he may have the weakest traditional education of all of the candidates. [GZ 2016]



Trollope summarizes Alaric’s ambition by saying that “his motto might well have been ‘Excelsior!'” Excelsior is a Latin adjective meaning higher. The word is also the title of a well-known poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, published in 1842. The poem tells the story of a youth hiking up a mountain who pushes himself higher and higher until he perishes with a banner bearing Excelsior still in his hands. A Latin motto would be apt for someone of Alaric’s ambition, and the allusion to Longfellow’s poem foreshadows Alaric’s later troubles. [RR 2016]