in Old Man's Love

Chapter 20 – Mr. Whittlestaff Takes His Journey

Mr. Whittlestaff’s triumph

A triumph was a peculiar feature of historical Roman life, a great parade through the city of Rome to celebrate the victory of an exceptional general’s military campaign upon his return to Rome. The most familiar depictions come from writers in the late Roman Republic, in the 1st century BCE, when a triumph also indicated political power; later triumphs were only allowed to be conducted by the imperial family. The victorious general was allowed to retain his command inside the city of Rome, normally forbidden; he rode in a four-horse chariot and his soldiers were included in the procession, as well as the whole senate and all the magistrates, in procession to the Capitol. His retinue carried the spoils of war, led prisoners in chains along with animals for sacrifice, and advertised the absolute domination of a foreign land and people by this now-exalted general. So familiar a feature of life was the triumph that Roman poets often depict them to signal various modes of domination, victory, the value of public display; sometimes they also mock the practice of the triumph.

If Trollope is making any shorthand reference to this omnipresent Roman convention when he says “So far his triumph was complete,” then he is having us smile at Mr. Whittlestaff’s dilemma, perhaps at the ferocious loyalty of Mary and Mrs. Baggett and the soldier’s spirit required of him to fulfill Mary’s happiness, not his own (“a great deed,” in the next paragraph). And yet what Mr. Whittlestaff is doing has a strong heroic cast. Trollope then moves from the kindly, ironic depiction of Whittlestaff’s success in his evasion of “the two dominant women,” to note, deflatingly, that as Mr. Whittlestaff reflects on his purpose “he cannot be said to have been triumphant.” Indeed, it is a deep irony that Mr. Whittlestaff is rejecting the masculine, dominant, triumphant privilege that Mrs. Baggett so badly wants him to deploy, in order to enact his love for Mary. [CMS 2018]

Source: OCD.


robur et aes triplex

Although Mr. Whittlestaff has the strength of character to act unselfishly, he can nevertheless be stung by the opinions of others. Trollope quotes Horace—robur et aes triplex (“oak and three-fold bronze”)—to describe Mr. Whittlestaff’s deep commitment to doing the right thing. In its original context Horace uses this phrase to describe the bravery of the first man to travel on the sea. Trollope transfers it to Mr. Whittlestaff’s ethical fortitude. [RR 2018]

Source: Horace, Ode 1.3.9.



Latin per (“through”) and via (“path”) give us the adjective pervious meaning “with a path through,” “susceptible to a path through.” As a prefix per can also act as an intensifier, so that the force of the word’s meaning is enhanced. We know the word in the more usual negative form, impervious, meaning “unsusceptible (to a path through).”  Trollope’s use of the unusual, positive sense of the adjective “pervious” helps us feel keenly how terribly vulnerable Mr. Whittlestaff is to these “stings” of ridicule—he is built with a path through. [CMS 2018]


his favourite Horace

On the train to London Mr. Whittlestaff considers the point he has reached with respect to Mary and reviews the beginning when “he had brought this girl home to his house.” The novel observes that Mr. Whittlestaff had thought much about love, to be clear that he had understood the feelings he had about Mary, the flavor, “sweetness beyond all other sweetnesses.” He had thought with poets, interacted with their verses and sized up his own feelings against theirs. As we see in Chapter 18 and here, “he had told himself that Horace knew nothing of love”—he has taught himself to suspect his favourite poet, not to be so freely, maybe falsely, moved, it seems, by Horace’s gem-like verse. [CMS 2018]


Mary as docile

Mr. Whittlestaff reflects on Mary Lawrie: “She was there living in his house, subject to his orders, affectionate and docile, but, as far as he could judge, a perfect woman.” The meaning of docile here seems to recall its Latin origin—“able to be taught”—from the verb docēre (to teach). Like the phrase “subject to his orders,” the adjective “docile” underscores the degree to which Mr. Whittlestaff has power over Mary. [RR 2018]



Milton used Greek to coin this word for “the palace of Satan”, the place of all (pan) demons (demon). Trollope shows a sensitivity to the word’s Miltonian origin by contrasting the Mr. Whittlestaff’s current and future “misery of Pandemonium” with the “light and joy of Paradise” that a marriage with Mary Lawrie would offer. [RR 2018]

Source: Milton, Paradise Lost “argument” to book 1.