in Bertrams

Chapter 45 – The Will

last sad duty to his brother’s remains

Sir Lionel, writing to Hadley, excuses himself from attending his brother’s funeral because of his health and the train schedule from Littlebath to Hadley.  These circumstances “unhappily” hinder Sir Lionel from giving the “last sad duty to his brother’s remains.”  This is perhaps a reference to the Roman poet Catullus, who wrote a poem concerning the death of his brother and his journey to his brother’s tomb in order to perform funeral rites.  Catullus writes that he undertook the journey “in order that I might give the last duty of the dead.”   The reference to this poem is meant to be humorous, since the relationship between Sir Lionel and Mr. Bertram had been practically non-existent and hostile for many years.  Sir Lionel is presented throughout the novel as a something of a dissimulator and scoundrel; he isn’t unhappy at missing his brother’s funeral since he doesn’t possess any fraternal love.  The letter is his own excuse for missing the funeral and a reminder to the reader of Sir Lionel’s character.  A reference to a poem famous for fraternal feelings highlights Sir Lionel’s lack of brotherly affection.

Source:  Catullus 101.


Mr. Mortmain

The undertaker who prepares the body of the elder Mr. Bertram for burial has a fitting surname.  “Mortmain” means “dead hand.”  The name is composed of Latin elements filtered through French:  mort- (death, dead) and man- (hand).   Not only does Mr. Mortmain handle the dead, but he also provides George Bertram with black gloves for the funeral.  [RR 2012]


ipsissima verba

Ipsissima verba is a Latin phrase meaning “the very words themselves.”  It refers to laws or legal cases and documents being quoted verbatim.  The narrator gives no exact details of Mr. Bertram’s will, saying that no critic shall be given the chance to think it illegal.  In this instance, ipsissima verba probably refers to the kinds of legal terms and provisions that are a part of wills in general.  The narrator also says that he is far from any legal practitioners who could give him advice, and this adds to his decision to not include any exact wording from Mr. Bertram’s will.  [CD 2012]

Source:  Garner, B. A., and H. C. Black. Black’s Law Dictionary.  8th ed.  St. Paul:  West Group, 2004.