in Three Clerks

Chapter 41 – Mr. Chaffanbrass

corpus delicti

The Latin phrase corpus delicti, translated as “body of crime,” is a common legal term used to indicate the material evidence of a crime. Alaric, having just begun his trial, says that he wouldn’t be surprised if he were found guilty because the corpus delicti was visible to everyone in the court. The use of the Latin in the passage directly follows a string of the various hurdles that Alaric will face in his trial, namely the many ways in which Alaric has blatantly misused Clementina’s trust money. Using Latin to punctuate this list of Alaric’s misdeeds adds to the severity of the situation. [GZ 2016]

source: Dictionary of Law (Oxford UP).


cock of this dunghill

Mr. Chaffanbrass, Alaric’s fierce defense lawyer, is described by the narrator as “the cock of this dunghill” when he enters the courtroom. This is a reference to a phrase used by the Roman author Seneca, and it refers to the idea that a person is most confident when they are in familiar territory. The court is Mr. Chaffanbrass’ territory, and his comfort in navigating such a space and Alaric’s defense give us hope for Alaric. See the gloss in Chapter 10 for more. [GZ 2016]

source: Seneca the Younger, Apocolocyntosis 7.


torture and truth

Though it’s likely not an intentional reference to ancient practices, Trollope’s conjunction of torture and truth while describing the rough handling of courtroom witnesses recalls ancient Greek trials, in which torture was sometimes a touchstone or guarantee of truthfulness. [RR 2017]

source: Page duBois, Torture and Truth (Routledge 1991).



Mr. Chaffanbrass, one of Alaric’s lawyers, is described by the narrator as a gladiator. In ancient Rome, gladiators were fighters and a source of entertainment, battling other gladiators or even animals in arenas like the Colosseum. To call Mr. Chaffanbrass a gladiator who continues to fight even when he doesn’t have to paints a vivid illustration of a bloodthirsty lawyer. Furthermore, it reinforces the idea that his defense of Alaric is a performance that eager spectators line the courtroom to watch, much like ancient Romans would have filled the Colosseum to observe gladiatorial games. [GZ 2016]



Mr. Chaffanbrass shines when he argues difficult cases in which Justice, Truth, and Mercy seem aligned against him. Trollope’s personification of these abstractions continues ancient practices and animates the principles opposing Mr. Chaffanbrass. [RR 2017]


black into white

Mr. Chaffanbrass takes pride in his career and in his ability to turn “black into white.” This refers to his ability to rescue his clients from a guilty verdict by arguing for their innocence (white) in spite of their apparent guilt (black). This phrase comes from one of Juvenal’s satires, in which the author’s friend decries the declining state of Rome and the Romans who turn “black into white,” referring to public men and their ability to influence popular opinion as they see fit. The irony is that we are made to delight in the possibility that Mr. Chaffanbrass can effect a not-guilty verdict for Alaric, while Juvenal expresses dislike for people who do this. [GZ & RR 2016]

Source: Juvenal, Satire 3.30.


basilisk eye

Trollope describes Mr. Chaffanbrass’ “basilisk eye” trained intently on a witness during questioning. According to Pliny the Elder, the basilisk is a reptile having the ability to kill with its sight; Mr. Chaffanbrass’ courtroom practices are thus given a gloss of the legendary. [RR 2017]

source: Pliny the Elder, Natural History 8.78.


domestic tyranny

While Mr. Chaffanbrass’ public performances in court are formidable, at home he is “devoid of any feeling of domestic tyranny.” In ancient Greece, a tyrant was a ruler above the laws; in contrast, at home Mr. Chaffanbrass “chooses to be ruled by his own children.” [RR 2017]