in Bertrams

Chapter 25 – Does He Know It Yet?

panem et circenses

Trollope is writing a mini-essay following his mention of George Bertram’s arrival in Paris.  He is lamenting that Paris has begun a steady decline marked by its citizens’ interest in the material and not honor, virtue, etc.  In answering his own rhetorical question about what men want, he states that men want panem et circenses, Latin for “bread and circuses.”  This is a phrase taken from the satires of Juvenal, in which he laments that the people of Rome are no longer interested in participating in politics, but only in bread and circuses, gifts of the rulers to the populace.  Trollope sees something similar in 19th century Paris, albeit in a broader sense.  By using this phrase instead of just stating that men only want creature comforts, Trollope is able to use the historical and literary weight of the phrase to his advantage.  Further, it allows Trollope to set up his true theme for this sort of essay section–Victorian England itself.  Trollope sees Paris as already having fallen, but Britain could be close behind.  By using a Roman source, Trollope taps into Victorian England’s vision of itself as the heir of Rome; the Latin quotation serves as both a lamentation and a warning.  [CMC 2012]

Source:  Juvenal, Satire 10.81.


the latter days of ancient Rome

Trollope is countering the claim that England is already a nation of shopkeepers, pointing out that nations which concern themselves with the material and spectacular have fallen.  Ancient Rome in its late imperial period was said to have cared more about material goods and possessions and less about old Roman virtue.  Juvenal’s panem et circenses (discussed above) is related to this, but represents only the beginning of the period of supposed decline.  Indeed, during the Victorian era it was popularly accepted that Rome’s late decadence was a major reason for its ultimate fall.  England during the Victorian age sees itself as heir to the Roman Empire.  Trollope is warning his audience that being the heir to Rome has a darker side.  Trollope uses the seeming universality of Classics and the special resonance of Rome with his Victorian audience to make a point and issue a warning.  [CMC 2012]


Daily Jupiter

While in Paris, George Bertram reads a copy of the Daily Jupiter, the newspaper that Trollope invented to be the major news source in his novels.  George sees a story on the new government which reports that Harcourt is now Her Majesty’s solicitor-general and has been knighted.  The Jupiter’s news stories are like the thunderbolts of Jupiter, the king of the Roman pantheon.  This is especially resonant here, as the news regarding Harcourt does in fact hit both the reader and George Bertram like a bolt of lightning.  [CMC 2012]


hymeneal altar

George Bertram has just received word that Caroline and Harcourt are to be married.  Trollope says that they will be wed at the “hymeneal altar.”  Hymen was the ancient god of matrimony.  Trollope makes the impending nuptials between Caroline and Harcourt seem almost pagan rather than Anglican.  Trollope may use this image to elevate the event itself beyond an ordinary marriage (after all, it is the solicitor-general marrying the alleged heiress of a millionaire) and to strengthen the Classical associations of Caroline.  [CMC 2012]


realms of Plutus

George Bertram has just received news of the impending marriage of Caroline and Harcourt.  Plutus was the ancient god of wealth.  Henry’s star in the legal/political world is fast rising, and he is about to be married to the presumed heiress of a millionaire; thus, he is secure in the realm of Plutus and in fact may soon become Plutus in a way similar to that in which Caroline is Juno.  This reinforces earlier images in the novel of wealth being akin to god-like power–in this case, the very power of the god of wealth.  It associates Harcourt with this divine power.  The use of this phrase contrasts with the two other things Harcourt now has in spades:  success in love and politics.  Trollope’s use of  a Classical association for wealth and simple words for the other two reinforces the great significance of wealth for Harcourt and the status it brings him.  [CMC 2012]


clouded face

George Bertram has just received letters from Harcourt and Caroline which detail their plans to wed.  Trollope is remarking on the fact that bringing letters in at breakfast can be a good idea, but at other times the recipient’s face will inevitably become clouded.  The image of the clouded face may come from Horace’s Epistles.  Horace addresses Lollius and tells him to remove the cloud from his brow.  Trollope is being clever here, as he is taking a line from a poetic letter of Horace to describe the possible negative effects of receiving a letter.  [CMC 2012]

Source:  Horace, Epistle 1.18.94.


sick of the very name of the old man’s money

George is tired of other people’s advice to court Mr. Bertram with a view to becoming his heir.  The phrasing which Trollope uses to describe George’s attitude recalls the way in which the Romans’ ancient dislike of monarchy was expressed in the 19th century:  the Romans were said to “hate the very name of king.”  George balks at the way in which his uncle’s money is seen by others as a ruling concern; he prefers his freedom.  For more on this turn of phrase, see commentary for Chapter 14 of The American Senator.  [RR 2012]