“Always to be best;—always to be in advance of others”

Anthony Trollope, The Last Chronicle of Barset, Chp. XLI

The next day he was better, and insisted upon getting out of bed, and on sitting in his old arm-chair over the fire. And the Greek books were again had out; and Grace, not at all unwillingly, was put through her facings. “If you don’t take care, my dear,” he said, “Jane will beat you yet. She understands the force of the verbs better than you do.”

“I am very glad that she is doing so well, papa. I am sure I shall not begrudge her her superiority.”

“Ah, but you should begrudge it her!” Jane was sitting by at the time, and the two sisters were holding each other by the hand. “Always to be best;—always to be in advance of others. That should be your motto.”*

“But we can’t both be best, papa,” said Jane.

“You can both strive to be best. But Grace has the better voice. I remember when I knew the whole of the Antigone by heart. You girls should see which can learn it first.”

“It would take such a long time,” said Jane.

“You are young, and what can you do better with your leisure hours? Fie, Jane! I did not expect that from you. When I was learning it I had eight or nine pupils, and read an hour a day with each of them. But I think that nobody works now as they used to work then. Where is your mamma? Tell her I think I could get out as far as Mrs. Cox’s, if she would help me to dress.” Soon after this he was in bed again, and his head was wandering; but still they knew that he was better than he had been.

“You are more of a comfort to your papa than I can be,” said Mrs. Crawley to her eldest daughter that night as they sat together, when everybody else was in bed.

“Do not say that, mamma. Papa does not think so.”

“I cannot read Greek plays to him as you can do. I can only nurse him in his illness and endeavour to do my duty. Do you know, Grace, that I am beginning to fear that he half doubts me?”

*This is a translation of the Greek phrase αἰὲν ἀριστεύειν καὶ ὑπείροχον ἔμμεναι ἄλλων, which occurs in twice in Homer’s Iliad: at 6.208, and 11.784, as the advice which Hippolochos gave to Glaukos, and Peleus gave to Achilles.

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