in Old Man's Love

Chapter 12 – Mr. Blake’s Good News

contretemps or misadventure

Contretemps is from Latin via French meaning a “mishap,” or a “delay,” a “hitch”, and in English comes to include the sense of a “disagreement.” The Latin combines contra “against,” and tempus, “time,” thus “inopportune.”  Misadventure is a hybrid word, mis– being a Germanic prefix to indicate “badly”, or “wrongly,” combined with Latin adventus “chance” or “outcome,” so misadventure has a more pronounced sense of “bad luck.”

This phrase, “contretemps or misadventure,” alludes coyly to Mr. Blake’s encounter with Mr. Baggett in the stable, where, because the stableman Hayonotes was absent discussing the problem of Mr. Baggett with Thornybush, Mr. Blake has stabled his own horse. The two mostly synonymous words give some latitude to our interpretation of Blake’s response: a disagreement, French and humorously posh, or a disagreeable event for Blake being asked by Baggett to get him some cream (i.e., gin), or a misfortune that Mr. Blake had to stable his own horse?

The scene is a lead-in to Mr. Blake’s glorious narcissism, where he reflects anxiously on the “disagreeable incidents” (e.g. Baggett’s occupation of the stable) that might be his were he himself yet wealthier. [CMS 2018]

Sources: American Heritage Dictionary.
Oxford Concise English Dictionary.



Mr. Blake will receive the living at Little Alresford upon the death of the incumbent Mr. Harbottle. In anticipation of this event, Mr. Blake talks “frequently of the good things which Fortune was to do for him,” Fortuna (or Fortune) being the Roman goddess of luck. Although this is conveyed in the narrator’s voice and hence with some wryness, it seems to be reflecting Mr. Blake’s penchant for inflated, “educated” speech without ironic overtones. [RR 2018]


I wouldn’t for worlds that the train should come in

Mr. Blake’s diction here is formal and Latinate, in word order and word choice, a nutshell summary of his education and character as a privileged representative (a cohort widely satirized not only by Trollope) of the Church of England. Would is the conditional mood of will, and will is used with the archaic sense of “desire” or “wish for;” Blake attaches to would what grammar books call a noun-clause, “that the train should come in,” with a careful subjunctive verb (should come)—a perfect rendition of a Latin construction. (Contemporary English might say “I wouldn’t want the train to come….”) Blake’s resort to formal diction perhaps dramatizes his anxiety about Kattie Forrester, but also hints at his pomposity, and repeats his advertisement of his Oxford credentials which John Gordon has just teased him about (“‘The university and your society together’, suggested Gordon”). [CMS 2018]