in Three Clerks

Chapter 19 – A Day with One of the Navvies – Afternoon

Meleager ab ovo

When Charley explains the literary fashion of not furnishing background information for a narrative until well into it, Harry responds: “Meleager ab ovo may be introduced with safety when you get as far as that.” With the Latin phrase, which translates as “Meleager from the egg,” Harry is referring to Horace’s Ars Poetica and a passage in which Horace recommends that an author not give extensive background information; a good poet will not include the death of Meleager when telling the story of Diomedes nor the egg from which Helen was born when telling the tale of the Trojan War. Harry conflates Horace’s two examples in his phrasing here.  Despite this possible mis-citation, the reference to this particular part of Horace’s Ars Poetica is apt. Just after the lines in which Horace mentions Meleager and the egg Horace says that a good poet “carries a reader into the middle of things (in medias res)”—which is the technique that Charley has been explaining to Harry as a contemporary innovation. Charley, whose Classical education has been less robust than Harry’s doesn’t quite understand Harry’s mention of Meleager and replies: “Yes, you may bring him in too, if you like.” [RR 2016]

source: Horace, Ars Poetica 146-149.


omne tulit punctum

In his conversation with Charley about Charley’s literary plans Harry again refers to Horace’s Ars Poetica, quoting a line in which Horace says that “he who has mixed the useful and the sweet carries every vote” (omne tulit punctum = “carries every vote”). This sentiment corresponds to Charley’s description of bringing useful information into a pleasing narrative, something which Charley says his editor “insists upon” for the sake of the “lower classes.” [RR 2016]

source: Horace, Ars Poetica 343.


censor morum

This Latin phrase, which can be translated as “magistrate of morals,” is used by Charley to elevate the press and perhaps his own participation in it. The censor morum was an ancient Roman official who, among other duties, determined the expected etiquette and moral behavior of Roman citizens. Charley jokes about the questionably moral press playing such a role in Victorian society. That Charley would call the press a censor morum is further interesting because his own participation in writing short stories for the press comes at the same time that he is undergoing a serious moral and ethical decline. [GZ & RR 2016]




Charley’s editor insists that each story contain a Nemesis or moral comeuppance. Nemesis (called Poena or Punishment by the Romans) is a Greek goddess of retribution, and Trollope himself often structures his novels so that characters meet with their fitting Nemesis by the end. For instance, see the invocation of this principle in Chapter 37 of Framley Parsonage. [RR 2016]



Just as in Chapter 5, we see Harry described as Mentor, a life-long friend of Odysseus in whose guise Athena helps Odysseus’ son Telemachus in Homer’s Odyssey. However, unlike the older Mentor, Harry is still a young man—so Trollope’s comparison is playfully ironic. It seems to Harry that Charley’s present situation has called for him to assume this position of authority, although Harry feels that it would be more pleasant for them to relate on more similar terms. [GZ & RR 2016]



This Latin motto—Higher—has already been associated with Alaric, but now it is attached to Charley as well. While in Alaric’s case it refers to Alaric’s worldly ambitions, in Charley’s case it serves more as a moral reminder. [RR 2016]