in Doctor Thorne

Chapter 16 – Miss Dunstable


This alludes to the ancient Roman tradition of auspicium, literally meaning divination from the flight of birds, but actually referring to five different kinds of auspices:  from birds, from the sky, from pulli (holy chickens), from four-legged animals, and from unusual events or happenings.  Any individual was allowed to partake in the auspices, which told whether or not the gods approved of an action or event.  In this case, Frank Gresham is about to begin his courtship of Miss Dunstable, at his aunt Lady DeCourcy’s request, and it is said that in his own best interests, it would be fortunate if he could “do so under the best possible auspices,” so that he would have the best possible chance of success.   [MD 2005]

Sources:  OCD.


slow and sure

This sounds like a version of the maxim “slow and steady,” which is a phrase used in Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare.  In this story, a tortoise challenges an arrogant rabbit to compete with him in a race, to which challenge the hare agrees. However, the hare is so confident in his speed that he decides to take a nap while the tortoise plods toward the finish line. When the rabbit finally wakes and runs the length of the course, he find out that the tortoise has already finished; thus the phrase, “slow and steady wins the race.”  Trollope uses this expression as advice from the Lady DeCourcy, which she gives to her nephew, Frank Gresham, regarding his courtship of Miss Dunstable.  If Frank acts hastily, like the hare in Aesop’s story, he will share this animal’s fate and lose the race, or in Frank’s case, Miss Dunstable.  However, if he approaches the prospect of marriage with her at an even pace, he should ultimately succeed in wedding her, just like the tortoise which beat the hare.  [MD 2005]

Sources:  A translation of the fable at Laura Gibbs’ Aesop site.
Entry in Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.