in Three Clerks

Chapter 42 – The Old Bailey

yielding the palm

When Mr. Chaffanbrass says, “I yield the palm,” he means that he will concede victory to Alaric’s prosecutor (specifically in a contest of meanness). In ancient Rome and Greece, palm fronds were associated with the goddess of victory and were given to the winners of athletic competitions. In this context, yielding the palm gives Mr. Chaffanbrass the advantage of distinguishing himself morally from the prosecutors and making us feel negatively about the prosecuting party. [GZ 2016]


black and white

Mr. Chaffanbrass attempts to persuade the jury of the innocence of Alaric compared to Undy Scott, thereby lessening Alaric’s apparent guilt. To do this, Mr. Chaffanbrass must whiten the relative “blackness” of Alaric’s crimes by comparing them to the crimes of Undy. This notion, mentioned earlier in a gloss from Chapter 41, comes from the writing of the ancient Roman author Juvenal which laments the state of Roman affairs by mentioning Romans who turn “black into white.” Although we might wish that Alaric will be acquitted of his charges, the use of Classics, with its elevated moral associations, cues us in to the fact that acquitting Alaric would be problematic for the overarching moralized themes of the novel. For this reason, we are made subtly aware that his acquittal is unlikely. See the gloss in Chapter 41 for more detail. [GZ 2016]

source: Juvenal, Satire 3.30.


whitewash and Excelsior

During Mr. Chaffanbrass’ questioning of Undy Scott Alaric had begun to imagine that he would be “whitewashed” by Mr. Chaffanbrass’ blackening of Undy (see preceding gloss) and that he would once again urge himself on with the Latin motto Excelsior, or Higher. [RR 2017]