in Dr. Wortle's School

Chapter 12 – The Stantiloup Correspondence

Latin and Greek vs. the soul

When Mrs. Stantiloup supposes that Mrs. Momson’s son will be withdrawn from Dr. Wortle’s School, Mrs. Momson responds negatively, excusing herself by citing her husband’s esteem of Dr. Wortle and their concern that Augustus do well at Eton.  In reply, Lady Margaret insists, “What is Latin and Greek as compared to his soul?”  Latin and Greek were the basis for a gentleman’s education in Trollope’s time, but—as Lady Margaret points out—intellectual pursuits do not necessarily align with spiritual ones.  Though Classical material had been somewhat harmonized with Christian doctrine in Trollope’s time, there were still fundamental differences.  While Lady Margaret is emphasizing the moral importance of the soul above education, Trollope might be noting a general tension between a Classical education and Christian religion.  [JE 2014]


morals of a Latin grammar teacher

Mr. Momson does not care about the morals of his son’s Latin teacher.  His view seems to be that since Mr. Peacocke is not in charge of his son’s moral education, Mr. Peacocke’s morals do not matter.  In Victorian England studying Classics was an important part of a privileged education.  Mr. Momson’s sentiment suggests that, in wanting to keep Augustus at Dr. Wortle’s school, Mr. Momson is concerned about his son’s cultural education and advancement.  Mr. Peacocke’s instruction is seen as a serviceable means to an end, akin to a hired woman’s maintenance of Augustus’ clothes.  [BL 2013 & RR 2014]



Mrs. Stantiloup, doubting her own influence, hopes to carry out her schemes against Dr. Wortle through Lady Grogram, “who was supposed to be potential over those connected with her.”  Our current understanding of “potential” is related to possibility.  “Potential” is related to Latin potens, which can mean capable or powerful.  Trollope here uses “potential” with these other meanings in mind.  The Oxford English Dictionary shows this usage of the word as early as c. 1500 and as late as 1935, but it has since become rare.  [JE 2014]


as many sons as Priam

John Talbot sends Dr. Wortle a reaffirming, positive letter, assuring him of his support while other parents withdraw their children from the school or question Dr. Wortle’s choices.  In the letter, Talbot gives a ringing endorsement—that if he had “as many sons as Priam” he would “send them all” to Dr. Wortle.  Priam was the king of Troy during its fall and father of 50 sons, including the famous Hector and infamous Paris.  While Priam’s story is ultimately tragic, Talbot’s position is not, and Talbot seems to be employing the reference for comic juxtaposition instead, particularly when he mentions immediately following that “the cheques would be very long in coming.”  The reference to Priam also alludes to the Classical education and the gentlemanly friendship that Talbot and Dr. Wortle share.  The exchange of the Classical reference becomes equivalent to a handshake between peers.  The two refer to Mrs. Stantiloup as “Mother Shipton” (a British prognosticator), and the comparison of Mrs. Stantiloup to a homegrown British figure further excludes Mrs. Stantiloup from the gentlemen’s Classical circle.  [JE & RR 2014]


Classics in America

In a letter to John Talbot, Dr. Wortle states that Mr. Peacocke’s decision to teach Classics in America was rash.  The point here may be that Americans would not properly appreciate Mr. Peacocke’s scholarship.  Since Classics was considered an important part of a cultural education, Dr. Wortle may also be assuming that America is culturally deficient.  [BL 2013]



In his letter to John Talbot, Dr. Wortle mentions that “Fortune had been most unkind” to Mr. Peacocke.  Dr. Wortle had earlier invoked personified Fortune when discussing Mr. Peacocke’s situation (see commentary for Chapter 9).  While that earlier reference to Fortune was contrasted with Mrs. Wortle’s Christian concern about sin, here Dr. Wortle’s Classical reference may not meet similar resistance, given the Classical background which Dr. Wortle and Talbot share.  [RR 2014]