in Bertrams

Chapter 12 – George Bertram Decides in Favor of the Bar

ancient Latins

In describing the Romansh language, the narrator states that their dialect originated with the “ancient Latins.”  The Romansh language is a Romance language spoken in Switzerland that is almost directly descended from the spoken Latin language.  [CD 2012]

Source:  Entry on “Rhaetian dialects” in the Encyclopedia Britannica, online academic edition.


summum bonum

See commentary for chapter 10.  The phrase is used ironically in this passage, as Sir Lionel’s highest good isn’t an ethical good, but material wealth.  [CD 2012]



See commentary for chapters 5 and 11.   George Bertram senior is an extremely rich businessman, and Henry Harcourt assumes that George Bertram junior is in line to be his uncle’s heir.  In referring to George’s uncle as a “Croesus,” Harcourt can be confident that his Classically educated friend will understand the reference; it can function like an “in joke” between them.  [CD & RR 2012]


white and black

George Bertram, thinking over future career prospects, has reservations concerning becoming a lawyer.  His friend Henry Harcourt, a young lawyer, tells of his success in a case, which the narrator says was dependent upon his turning white into black.  This is a jab at the work of a lawyer and intimates disgust at the use of rhetoric in attempting to sway people.  This particular reference comes from one of Juvenal’s Satires in which Juvenal has a character, Umbricius, lament the moral decline in Rome.  See commentary for Chapter 5.  [CD 2012]


Aeneas and Styx

The narrator declares that Mr. Pritchett is as in awe of George’s travels in Palestine as he would be of Aeneas’ journey beyond the River Styx.  In Book 6 of the Aeneid, Aeneas travels to Cumae and then crosses Styx into the Underworld to meet and receive a prophecy from his father, Anchises.  Likewise, George Bertram has traveled to a place far away from England in order to meet his father, and Mr. Pritchett is amazed.  [CD 2012]

Source:  Vergil, Aeneid 6.


golden egg

George is worried about being able to live without an income while he is studying law. Mr. Bertram, however, gives him a yearly allowance, and the problem is solved.  George’s worry had led him to ponder how he would subsist “till he might be able to open the small end of the law’s golden eggs.”  One of the fables attributed to Aesop tells of man who cut open a hen that laid golden eggs and found no gold in its corpse.  Here, the law is described as the bird, since it is the thing which will provide money for George.  However, George will not make money from practicing the law for quite a while, so he must rely on his uncle’s allowance till he gains a steady income.  [CD 2012]

Source:  A translation of the fable at Aesopica, Laura Gibb’s Aesop site.